Friday, August 31, 2012

Back to the Books GIVEAWAY

Welcome to my Back to the Books Giveaway! This giveaway hop is being hosted by 
With school starting this week, I'm not feeling real creative, so I'm giving away a...

$20 Gift Card 
The Book Depository

  1. Open internationally.
  2. Must be over 13 to enter.
  3. Please only enter once.
  4. Winner will be notified by email and will have 48 hours to respond before a new winner is chosen.

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

BLOG TOUR and Giveaway: The Star of Eldon by M.L. Hamilton

THE STAR OF ELDON (#3 of the World of Samar series)
by M. L. Hamilton
Wild Wolf Publishing, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-1907954269
Grades 9 and up
Copy received from author for review/blog tour.
No compensation was received for this review.
All opinions expressed are solely my own.

 The Seven Protectorates have enjoyed years of peace under Tav’s leadership, but a growing worry has surfaced. What about the land beyond Loden’s border? Where once there had been overtures of trade, now there is nothing. Tav decides to send a diplomatic expedition to re-establish contact, but who should go?

Adventure runs in the blood of Tash’s children, especially in his head-strong daughter, Shara. Shara wants nothing more than to be part of the expedition to Nevaisser, but her father will never agree. He fears for her safety, but a rash decision on his part takes the choice out of his hands and sets up a chain of events that will have far reaching consequences.

Nevaisser is a land teeming with conflict and at the heart of it is a mysterious stranger, hiding secrets that will test the alliance of the Seven Protectorates. A journey begun to protect Loden may result in tearing it apart.


ML Hamilton has been teaching high school English and journalism in Central California for the last 20 years. Teaching students to appreciate literature has made her career rewarding; however, she always dreamed of publishing her own novel.

That dream came true. Her first novel, Emerald, was published by Wild Wolf Publishing in 2010. The sequel to Emerald, The Heirs of Eldon, followed in 2011. Now with the publication of the third novel in the series, The Star of Eldon, the world of Samar seems like home.

In addition to teaching and writing, she has three sons, three dogs, and two cats. If she isn’t writing, you can find her at a band concert or a baseball game.


What is the 'story behind the story' where did the idea come from, the setting, characters, etc.

The Star of Eldon is the third book in the World of Samar series. The idea for the first book came from the rock band Styx and their Kilroy Was Here album. I played that album obsessively as a teen and the story just came to me while listening to it. The character of Kai, from Emerald, developed from my love of Shakespeare. After reading Hamlet, I became intrigued with the idea of a reluctant hero and wanted to create my own, but when it came to Talar, one of the main characters in Star, I feel like I perfected it. He is the epitome of a reluctant hero.
There are only a few books about which I feel very strongly within just a few pages.  This is one such book.  Shara and her family quickly became people I cared about. Shara with a fiery spirit to match her auburn hair who longs for something she can't quite name but knows has to do with traveling to Nevaisser, despite her father's disapproval.  Tav and Tash (Shara's father and uncle) quickly won my heart with their determination to care for those under their care.  Tav, as Lord of Loden, carries heavy responsibility well. Tash struggles with letting his children guide their own lives because he so longs to protect them from harm. 

I also was fascinated with the world that Hamilton has created. For me, if the setting isn't believable, especially in a fantasy such as this, then the story doesn't feel real.  The detail and care taken in creating this world drew me in immediately. The depth that the author has created and the realism of the difficulties inherent in keeping seven separate kingdoms united was apparent from the beginning. It felt real.  I guess that's the best compliment that I can give.

Plotwise, all I can say is whoa.  The relationships between the characters ebbed and flowed just as real relationships do.  The characters exhibit strengths and weaknesses that make them seem very real.  I am eager to go back and read the first two books in the series, but this book stands on its own fairly well. It does refer to things that obviously happened in previous books but gives enough information that I didn't feel lost, just curious to know more.
NOTE: There is a moderate amount of swearing (no 'f's) and one incident of premarital relations which makes this more appropriate for young adults (15 up).
To find out more about the previous books, visit the blog tour page here.
For information about the author and book or to purchase, see the following:

  1. Open internationally.
  2. You need to be over 13 to enter.
  3. Please only enter once.
  4. Winner will be notified by email and will have 48 hours to respond.
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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wild & Wonderful Wednesday: Two Fabulous New Picture Books

On Wild and Wonderful Wednesday's I highlight books I've read that have characters or settings or plot that strike me as wild and/or wonderful.  The Library Dragon is definitely a wild charcter and The Fantastic Flying Books has well, fantastic flying books. :)

by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Michael P. White
Peachtree Publishers, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-56145-621-5
Grades K-3
Reviewed from personal copy.

After 682 years of faithful service, Miss Lotty is retiring from guarding books. But before she can check out of Sunrise Elementary for good, disaster strikes. Someone has ordered all the books removed from the library and replaced with machines! It s enough to make Lotty feel a little...dragon-like. When she bursts into a fiery rage, only one thing can make her shed her scales: assurance that someone will fight to keep her precious books in the hands of Sunrise s children. Lotty is sure she ll have to stay on and do the job herself, until a surprise appearance from Lotty s old friend Molly Brickmeyer changes things for the better. 

For those who loved The Library Dragon comes the return of Miss Lotty.  Miss Lotty is getting ready to retire and enjoy some personal time. But when she is informed that the books have disappeared from the library and been 'replaced' with computers and e-readers, she starts smoking. When Mike Krochip informs Miss Lotty that the library has become a 'cybrary' Miss Lotty's scales start returning, until Molly shows up and takes care of things.  I loved the emphasis here on books.  While many changes have come and will be coming to libraries both public and school, the book has not been replaced and I sincerely hope never will be.  There is nothing quite like holding a book in your hand and turning the pages, plus you don't need to worry about the book turning itself off.  That doesn't mean that technology isn't very much a part of the changes coming to libraries because it very much is.  I think the author did a great job showcasing the importance of meeting the needs of all patrons.  I also very much enjoyed the wordplay and humor of the book (I mean seriously, a character named Mike Krochip?!). I recommend this book to all who enjoy a good story, but also want children to understand that libraries have much to offer besides technology.

by William Joyce
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4424-5702-7
Grades K and up
Reviewed from personal copy.

Morris Lessmore loved words.
He loved stories.
He loved books.
But every story has its upsets.

Everything in Morris Lessmore’s life, including his own story, is scattered to the winds.    

But the power of story will save the day. 

I loved this book. Part of that is because I love books and being a librarian and can relate the Morris. But the story is also wonderful with beautiful illustrations. I find that this is the sort of story that you can read over and over and end up smiling every time.  I love thinking of the library as a place where books 'nest.'  I also enjoyed seeing Morris as a book doctor helping to repair injured and damaged books.  From experience I can say that this is not always an easy thing to do.  While I hate to see books damaged, if it means they are being well-loved, it's worth the price. I can also easily relate to Morris becoming lost in a book, I don't do that as much any more, I don't have the focus I used to have, but it still happens and it always reminds me of what I love so much about reading.  I highly, highly recommend this book for all book lovers of any age!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Summer Reading Weekly Book Giveaway

Summer Reading Book Giveaway 2012
The Summer Reading Weekly Book Giveaways are hosted by Mother Daughter Book Reviews, a website where Mom and her daughter (and sometimes her son too!) share their opinions about some of the books they’ve read. Mother Daughter Book Reviews has been giving books away all summer and in this final week of giveaways, they’ve brought on board six other fabulous bloggers who feel as passionately about children’s books as they do! And I am participating this week! I recommend you check out these great blogs and enter the giveaway. Check out the other blogs to find out what their recommendations are. You are free to enter at any of the participating blogs and may choose from any of the recommendations or a children's book of your choice from The Book Depository.


My Recommendations

Click on the picture to see my review of each book.


Contest closes: September 3, 12:01 am, 2012

Open: Internationally

How to enter: Please enter using the Rafflecopter widget below.  There is no mandatory entry.  Enter using any or all of the options below.  As with the previous weeks’ giveaways, all current email subscribers to the Mother Daughter Book Reviews website will be entered automatically, but will only receive one entry into the draw (for subscribing).  You must visit and follow the participating sites to gain extra entries through all the additional options.

Terms and Conditions: The randomly drawn winners will be contacted by email within 48 hours after the giveaway ends. Winners will be announced by the following Friday after the giveaway ends. Books will be ordered for delivery to the winners within one week of the end of the giveaway. If you have any additional questions, feel free to send us an email!

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MMGM: The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee by Tom Angleberger

by Tom Angleberger
Amulet Books, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4197-0392-8
Grades 3-6
Reviewed from personal copy.

With Dwight attending Tippett Academy this semester, the kids of McQuarrie Middle School are on their own—no Origami Yoda to give advice and help them navigate the treacherous waters of middle school. Then Sara gets a gift she says is from Dwight—a paper fortune-teller in the form of Chewbacca. It’s a Fortune Wookiee, and it seems to give advice that’s just as good as Yoda’s—even if, in the hands of the girls, it seems too preoccupied with romance. In the meantime, Dwight is fitting in a little too well at Tippett. Has the unimaginable happened? Has Dwight become normal? It’s up to his old friends at McQuarrie to remind their kooky friend that it’s in his weirdness that his greatness lies.
With his proven knack for humorously exploring the intrigues, fads, and dramas of middle school, Tom Angleberger has crafted a worthy follow-up to his breakout bestsellers The Strange Case of Origami Yoda and Darth Paper Strikes Back.

To be honest, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this.  When I first read The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, I didn't particularly care for it much but I knew my students would and I was right, they loved it.  It's right up there with Diary of a Wimpy Kid in terms of popularity.  In fact, I shared it with some fourth graders this week and had several ask for it afterwards (an indication of success to a librarian). By the time I finished the second book, Darth Paper Strikes Back, I'd really become rather fond of these kids, even Harvey redeemed himself to some degree. I thought this book would follow the same ark as the first two, but it surprised me by taking a different path. I should know better than to expect Tom Angleberger to take any expected path, the man is full of surprises.

I think one of the things that shines through in this series of books is the fact that everyone is different and that's okay.  In fact life would be very boring if everyone was the same, people like Dwight add spice to the world, as Tommy and his friends discover in this book.  By the time the book is over, I wanted Dwight back with all his idiosyncrasies.  If you enjoy books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Dork Diaries you will most likely like this book also.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Blog Tour: Millie Fierce by Jane Manning

written and illustrated by Jane Manning
Philomel Books, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-399-25642-4
Grades K-2
Copy provided for blog tour in return for an honest review.
No compensation was received for this review.
All opinions expressed are solely my own.

If Fancy Nancy got angry. Really, really angry.

Millie is quiet. Millie is sweet. Millie is mild. But the kids at school don't listen to her. And she never gets a piece of birthday cake with a flower on it. And some girls from her class walk right on top of her chalk drawing and smudge it. And they don't even say they're sorry!

So that's when Millie decides she wants to be fierce! She frizzes out her hair, sharpens her nails and runs around like a wild thing. But she soon realizes that being fierce isn't the best way to get noticed either, especially when it makes you turn mean. So Millie decides to be nice--but to keep a little of that fierce backbone hidden inside her. In case she ever needs it again.

With bright art and an adorable character, it's easy to empathize with Millie. Because everyone has a bad day, once in a while.

Bullying is such a big issue that there are more and more books coming out about it, both fiction and nonfiction.  Some of those titles are told from the bullies perspective but the majority are told from the perspective of the victim.  This book is told not only from the bully's perspective but it shows one way that bully's can be created. As I read this story about Millie and how overlooked she was until she became 'fierce' and started behaving badly, I immediately thought of some of the children that I work with and why they sometimes act out.  Everyone needs to be noticed in a positive way and if it doesn't happen, sometimes people behave negatively in order to receive any attention at all.  This is very true at school and undoubtedly true elsewhere as well.

I thought this story was told very well, in a straight-forward manner with no excuses.  This kind of book can very easily become didactic, which I really dislike, but this book doesn't fall into that trap.  The story is simply told leaving the reader to decide what they think of Millie and her choices.  The illustrations are striking and the changes in Millie's demeanor and actions are very clear.  I also appreciated that the story also reveals how other people's actions change based on how Millie behaves.  A lot of times it is easy to forget just how much our own behavior effects those around us.  I highly recommend this story to not only teachers but to anyone who wants an interesting and thought-provoking, discussion worthy picture book.

Three Giveaway Winners!

First, I must apologize for being so slow to announce these winners. With the start of school things have just been really crazy. But here are the winners:


Renee Cormier
Deb A. Marshall
Jess Haight
Giedre Sliumba

The WONDER by R.J. Palacio Giveaway

 reading mind


 Emily F

 All winners have been notified.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Fantastic Friday: The Mapmaker and the Ghost by Sarvenaz Tash

by Sarvenaz Tash
Walker & Company, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-8027-2340-6
Grades 3-6
Reviewed from personal copy.

Goldenrod Moram loves nothing better than a good quest. Intrepid, curious, and full of a well-honed sense of adventure, she decides to start her own exploring team fashioned after her idols, the explorers Lewis and Clark, and to map the forest right behind her home. This task is complicated, however, by a series of unique events—a chance encounter with a mysterious old lady has her searching for a legendary blue rose. Another encounter lands her in the middle of a ragtag gang of brilliant troublemakers. And when she stumbles upon none other than the ghost of Meriwether Lewis himself, Goldenrod knows this will be anything but an ordinary summer . . . or an ordinary quest. Debut author Sarvenaz Tash combines an edge-of-your-seat adventure, a uniquely clever voice, and an unforgettable cast of characters to prove that sometimes the best adventures of all are waiting right in your own backyard.

 I knew I had to read this book the moment I saw the word mapmaker in the title.  Being a lover of geography including maps, I was immediately intrigued.  And the book did not disappoint, though I was surprised at the actual storyline.  There wasn't as much fantasy as I was expecting, but it does play a strong role in leading Goldenrod into the woods where she not only receives her quest but runs into The Gross-Out Gang.  The name of the gang is a big clue that there is a good amount of gross humor involved, and there is, but it mostly just made me roll my eyes.  I know a lot of kids will get a big kick out of the body humor.

I enjoyed Goldenrod and her tenacity and intelligence. I always enjoy reading about characters who use brains as well as or in place of brawn. After all, not all of us are athletically endowed and have to rely on other talents to solve problems. I liked reading about the different relationships between the characters, both the 'bad guys' (who weren't all bad) and the 'good guys.' But my favorite character, outside of Goldenrod herself, was the mysterious old lady.  There is one scene in the book that had me grinning as I read it just because of the humor and unexpectedness of it.  

There were plenty of twists and turns, especially with the quest for the blue rose.  Just when I thought I had things figured out, the author tossed in another twist which made the book very interesting to read right up through the satisfying ending. I recommend this book to those who enjoy a fun adventure story with just a taste of fantasy.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Blog Tour: Six Weeks to Yehidah by Melissa Studdard

by Melissa Studdard
All Things That Matter Press, 2011
ISBN13: 9780984651702
Grades 6 and up
E-Copies received from author for review.
All opinions expressed are solely my own.

"The thing you would notice most was the rain, how the rain fell and fell and never seemed to stop. The sky was constantly swollen with it, then birthing it, swollen, then birthing again, and the hills, like greedy babies, suckled up all that rain. They shone and glistened green as the backs of frogs on bright green lily pads.

Annalise was ten then, old enough that she’d begun thinking about grown up things, like picking her own clothes out for school, yet young enough, still, to indulge in fanciful imaginings of enchanted trees and talking hills. Her best friends were the clouds that canopied her village and the verdant hills that hosted her most precious and outrageous dreams."

As spunky young Annalise travels from one adventure to another, she learns ancient wisdom traditions and gains deeper and deeper insight into herself and her world. Eventually she must make the most important decision she's ever faced -- whether or not to return to the self she has always known.


Melissa Stud­dard is the author of the best­selling novel Six Weeks to Yehi­dah, and its companion journal, My Yehidah (both on All Things That Matter Press). Since its August 2011 release, Six Weeks to Yehidah has been the recipient of many accolades, including the Forward National Literature Award and January Magazine's best children's books of 2011. It was also named a finalist in the National Indie Excellence Awards and is a current finalist for the Readers Favorite Awards. Along with Scott Lutz, Melissa is co-author of For the Love of All (Trestle Press), which is the fifth story in the Mark Miller’s One series and debuted in the number one spot for Hot New Releases in Literary Criticism and Theory in the Amazon Kindle store. As well, her poetry, fiction, essays, reviews, and arti­cles have appeared in numer­ous magazines, jour­nals, and antholo­gies. Melissa cur­rently serves as a Reviewer-at-Large for The National Poetry Review, an editorial advisor for Lapis Lazuli Journal of The Harold Pinter Society of India, and a con­tribut­ing edi­tor for Tiferet Journal. She is also the host of Tiferet Journal’s radio program, Tiferet Talk. Melissa received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and is a professor at a community college in Texas and a teaching artist at The Rooster Moans Poetry Cooperative.

As you might have guessed already, she loves anything related to writing and reading, whether it's sitting alone with a book and a cup of hot tea, or attending a large poetry reading or literary festival. She also loves travelling, meditating, going for walks, bicycling, practicing yoga, and spending time with family.

She currently resides in Texas with her wonderful daughter and their four sweet but mischievous cats.


This is a very unusual sort of book, at least compared to what I normally read. I don't read a lot of literary fiction, I prefer a straight-forward kind of story, but I found this book very thought-provoking. I couldn't just read it as a story, I had to think deeper about what the author was trying to say or what she seemed to be saying. This is the sort of story that what you see in it depends on what you bring to it. For example, when Annalise first enters the world above the clouds she runs into a hag named Hagski who starts running her through a bunch of nonsense rules about rules.  When I read this I immediately thought of government red tape and how so much of the good that government agencies could do becomes pointless because of all the paperwork and requirements that must be met. I have a feeling that a teenager reading this would see something very different.

I especially enjoyed the section about the Utopia Falls and how the people there have learned to let go of the need for power or money or pride, and see no one as more important than anyone else.  Annalise learns that silence is all around us and that much can be learned just be being still and listening and the satisfaction of a job well done. This is a book worthy of much thought and discussion both in and out of the classroom.

For those looking for the opportunity to jot down some of their own thoughts and ideas based on Annalise's experiences as well as their own, there is a journal that complements the book. There are beautiful illustrations to color as well as prompts for writing about one's own thoughts and feelings about different aspects of Annalise's experience, such as really listening to something rather than just trying to get a noise to stop.

I recommend both these books for those who want to look at the world in a new way, see things you've never noticed before and enjoy the beauty that surrounds us.

Pick any color and describe what you think it would feel like to be this color. What sorts of things would it say if it could speak? What would its voice sound like? What would it smell like if it had a scent?

Based on the bestselling, award-winning novel Six Weeks to Yehidah, this companion journal takes children (and the young at heart) on a journey of meaningful exploration and creativity through drawing, mandala coloring, and writing prompts.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Blog Tour: Pip Goes to Camp by Donna L. Peterson

PIP GOES TO CAMP (The Misadventures of Phillip Isaac Penn)
by Donna L. Peterson
Bonneville Books, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4621-1077-3
Grades 2-4
Reviewed from copy provided for blog tour.
No compensation received for review.
All opinions expressed are solely my own.

Pip's parents are sending him to summer camp--the one place he absolutely, definitely does not want to go! Now he's in for eight whole days of torture: playing games, making crafts, and boating on the lake. But worst of all are the people! From Whiner Winston keeping him awake all night with his complaining to Corrector Cora sticking her know-it-all nose into everyplace but her own business, Pip will need to do whatever it takes to get himself kicked out of camp and sent back home where he belongs. 

Pip is a rather likeable kid, despite his tendency to act first and think later. A very human tendency, especially for children. Pip has a hard time knowing how to deal appropriately with the other kids around him, especially the ones who annoy him, like Bossy Billy or Joker Joey. Sometimes he responds well and stays out of trouble and other times he doesn't. 

One thing I like about this series is how Pip continues to learn about good and bad ways to respond to different people and their idiosyncrasies.  And he does stand by his friends and is willing to admit when he messes up.  I don't particularly like the labeling of children by monikers such as 'whiner' or 'corrector' when people have a variety of weaknesses and strengths and can't be defined by just one characteristic. However, I do understand the authors point about the dangers of those kind of behaviors. I also didn't appreciate that the counselors were more than willing to blame Pip simply for being nearby when others made poor choices. Sometimes he did carry some of the blame but not always. Of course, that's realistic, after all life is rarely fair. And as a teacher, I can say that while I wish I were always fair, I'm no more perfect than anyone else. Reading this book makes me want to be more careful about assigning blame. There is much here worth discussing though about friendship, choices, and mistakes.

Check out the rest of the tour here.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Blog Tour: Beneath the Slashings by Michelle Isenhoff

by Michelle Isenhoff
CreateSpace, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-1475294088
Grades 3-6
Copy provided by author for blog tour.
No compensation received for review.
All opinions expressed are solely my own.

After four uncertain years of war, twelve-year-old Grace Nickerson is desperate to return to a sense of normalcy. But when her father returns from the army, he sells the farm and drags the family off to a lumber camp in Michigan's northern wilderness. Grace is devastated; she's never been brave. When her tears and tantrums won't change Pa's mind, she stops speaking to him altogether.

Grace spends long hours working with her brother Sam and Ivan, the surly Russian cook, but at least in the kitchen she is safe from the lumberjacks. She's seen them from the window. They're rough, unkept, and terrifying. But slowly, with Sam's help, she comes to understand they're all missing home and recovering from loss, just like she is. Her fear begins to evaporate--until she learns one of them is trying to kill Pa.
Who is sabotaging the camp, and why? Will the winter in the woods bring the healing Grace needs? Or will it drive a wedge into her family?


Today I have a special guest post by Michelle Isenhoff in which she shares an exclusive interview between herself and twelve-year-old Sam Nickerson, Grace’s twin, who features in her brand new middle grade historical fiction novel, Beneath the Slashings.

Sam, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. I confess, I’m very curious to hear your opinion of spending a winter in a lumber camp.

It was great! My Pa grew up in camps on the East Coast, so he used to tell me and Grace all about it when we were little. That was before he left for the army. His stories were so exciting. I used to pretend I was a lumberjack when I had to chop firewood for the stove, but I never thought I’d actually get to work in a camp. Then Pa came home from the war and announced we were moving to Manistee! I hired on as chore boy, just like Pa did when he was young.

Would you say your sister was excited to move?

Gracie? Naw, she wanted to stay at Aunt Sally and Uncle Peter’s house where we lived during the war. She was pretty mad at Pa. I’ve never seen her so angry. You know, she didn’t speak to him for months? I felt kind of bad for her, actually. I think she was lonely without any, you know, girls around to talk to. But I did get pretty irritated with her when I had to run messages between her and Pa because she just wouldn’t drop her grudge. Sisters.

What kind of chores did you have to do in camp?

I was the first one up every morning because I had to start the fires at 4:30. One in the cook stove and one in the bunkhouse where the men sleep. That wasn’t so hard. I always woke up early on the farm back home. Then I had to help Ivan—he’s the cook—with breakfast. Grace helped too. Then I’d wake up the men, serve breakfast, help clean up, chop firewood, fill the wood box, haul water, pack a lunch out to the men. You know, that sort of thing. There was always plenty to do. And with forty men in camp, we had to cook a LOT of food. Seems like we were always peeling potatoes. When the men came back to camp at night I was everyone’s errand boy, too.

Sounds very busy!

It was, but it was fun to be part of everything, too.

Were you aware of all the mysterious activity going on in camp?

Not at all. I was too busy. I didn’t know anything till it all broke open. Grace knew somehow, but she was too scared to say anything. She gets scared a lot. I’ve always had to sort of look out for her that way. She can’t really help it.

So after everything that happened, would you be willing to work in a lumber camp again next season?

You bet I would! Someday I want to be the foreman just like my Pa.


I loved this book.  I loved the characters, the setting, and the plot. This is what historical fiction should be, realistic and compelling. Not only did I find the setting fascinating, but the descriptions were so vivid I could almost feel the cold. I am sincerely grateful that I did not grow up in a nineteenth-century lumber camp. I had great sympathy for Grace being the only female in the whole camp, especially as a 12-year-old. I also sympathized with her father, who was trying to do what he felt was right for his family while living with the aftereffects of the Civil War.  War changes people, both those who fight and those who stay at home.  Neither Grace nor her father were prepared for the changes in each other and the fact that their relationship could not be the same as before the war.

I also appreciated the way Grace's twin brother, Sam tried to help both Grace and their father come to grips with those changes. I think one of the things that I especially appreciated about this book was that not everything worked out hunky dory. Not all the problems were solved and there wasn't necessarily a 'happily ever after' ending, but the ending felt real as Grace and her family faced the future together.  The secondary characters were great as well, Gideon the teamster (whom Grace has a hard time admitting she likes, Johansen, the blacksmith, and Ivan, the Russian cook, all add greatly to the story. I highly recommend this book to those who enjoy historical fiction. I'm very much looking forward to reading the other books by Michelle Isenhoff.

Friday, August 17, 2012

BLOG TOUR: Guest Post and Giveaway: Count Down to Love by Julie N. Ford

Count Down to LoveCOUNT DOWN TO LOVE
by Julie N. Ford

Bonneville Books, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-59955-516-4

Adult Fiction

Copy received from author as part of blog tour.

No other compensation was received.

All opinions expressed are solely my own.

Abandoned at the altar, Kelly Grace Pickens finds herself left holding not only the bouquet but also the exorbitant bill for an A-list wedding. Homeless, a once promising singing career floundering, and her life bearing an uncanny resemblance to one of her country music ballads, she reluctantly accepts a last minute offer to appear on a reality TV show akin to the bachelor. Pitted against silicon-enhanced supermodels in four-inch heels, Kelly feels confident that she will be among the first would-be fianc├ęs to be excused. Only, when the mysterious bachelor from New York City, Dillon Black, invites her to stay, Kelly finds herself thrust into the vortex of a game she doesn’t have the first idea how to play. Nursing her hopelessly broken heart while avoiding the foils of her fellow contestants, Kelly is oblivious to Dillon’s affections as she wades through hurt and betrayal to discover, in the end, that she has landed firmly on both feet.

Author Bio
Julie has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and a minor in English Literature from San Diego State University. In addition, she earned a Masters in Social Work from the University of Alabama. She has worked in teaching, childbirth education and family therapy. Besides writing, she spends many hours working along side her husband at their UPS Store franchise, but hopes to re-enter the Social Work field someday.
She is the author of three women’s fiction novels, The Woman He Married (March 2011) and No Holly for Christmas (November 2011), published by Whiskey Creek Press. The third, Count Down to Love (July 2011), published by Bonneville Books.
Currently, she lives in Nashville, TN with her husband, two daughters and one very feisty fish.

GUEST POST: Goin’ Country with Count Down to Love

About a year after moving to Nashville I awoke from a dream one morning with an idea for a novel. The story would be about a washed up country star named Kelly Grace Pickens who is ditched at the alter and ends up on a reality TV show akin to the Bachelor. And to sweeten the plot, I’d have her writing a song that develops as the story unfolds.

The only problem: how can a person who doesn’t even listen to country music write about a country singer, much less come up with the lyrics to a country song?
She can’t, that’s how.
You see I was raised on rock-n-roll—Tom Petty, Elvis Costello, The Cure . . . a true music lover, always believing that nothing spoke volumes to the soul like a well-written song. However, for the sake of my story I would abandon my rock-n-roll roots and turn my car stereo to one of Nashville’s many country stations. Okay so now I was listening to songs about drinking, hooking up, eight-second rides and big green tractors. And I might be reading too much into his song, but is Jason Aldean singing about an actual piece of farm equipment or is his “tractor” really a metaphor for something else? I’m just sayin’ is all.
Needless to say, it wasn’t too long before I was reminded of my teenaged years and how grownups often warned us kids not to listen to rock music because the lyrics would undoubtedly lead us straight to hell. And wondering how country music had managed to fly under the moral radar all those years?
But as I continued my research into the genre of country music, I soon found that most of the songs were about love, family, and forgiveness—downright heart trending material.
Try as I might, after a month or so of paying close attention to the themes and structure of the songs, the fact still remained—I was just not a music writer. A simple solution to my dilemma would have been to change Kelly’s character but I seem to have an inexplicable aversion to taking the easy road. So in order to create something resembling a country ballad, I turned to a couple of singer/song writer friends, Brad Hull from the country band, Due West, and Aaron McBride.
A few weeks later I was sitting in my living room across from two scruffy boot wearing, guitar-toting men, and as long as I kept the kettle corn and jellybeans coming, they were happy to just hang out bouncing tunes and lyrics off each other. Watching them work, and the way the music flowed naturally from their minds to their fingertips, was truly magical. It was kind of how narration and dialogue sometimes flow effortlessly through me as if being sent from a special place I have yet to discover—like my own little miracle. Only with these guys, the process looked way cooler. And when they allowed me to write a line or two, the whole experience got even better.
Of all the works I’ve had a hand in creating, I think I’m most proud of the song, Who I Am. This experience was likely my first, and last, delve into writing lyrics, but I will carry the memory, and the knowledge that I helped create a real-live song, with me for the rest of my life.
To hear Who I Am you can go to my web site:
I've always been a sucker for a sweet romance, but I've never been a big fan of supposed reality shows that claim to help a man or woman find 'love.' These shows seem anything but real to me.  So I was a bit wary going in about how much I would like this, but Kelly sounded like an appealing character so I gave it a try, and I'm glad I did. 

There are characters in this book who definitely made me roll my eyes and wonder how anyone could be happy living such empty, image-focused lives but there were other characters that I couldn't help but like.  I really liked Kelly and admired her efforts to find herself amid the ruins of all her plans. Trevor, her fiance and a big jerk, who abandoned her at the alter does unfortunately make an appearance later in the book, in what turns out to be a very emotionally powerful scene. Dillon, the 'bachelor' up for 'grabs' is a fascinating character. One almost expects him to be a shallow, self-centered person, but he really isn't.  He is of course gorgeous, but that is not what stood out for me while reading this book. Clearly he is looking for something beyond his business and money but he can't seem to find it. Maybe that is why he seems to see Kelly for who she really is.  I think that is what I liked best about their romance (although there are some great kissing scenes as well), is that they helped each other find themselves and see that there is much more to life than fame and money.
 There were some great secondary characters as well. Lexi, a fellow contestant, a bright red-headed gal from Texas, who seemed very comfortable in her own skin. Sissy, Kelly's cousin, a producer on the show, who encourages Kelly to look beyond Trevor and see the possibilities (although there is one scene in which I got very mad at her).
I appreciated that the story was clean, the most that goes on is some intense kissing. There is some mention of belief in and prayer to God, but it is not preachy in any way. I recommend this book to those who enjoy a good romance with some depth to it, where the relationship develops rather in spite of the so-called reality show. I'm not any more a fan of reality shows than I was before, but I am a fan of Dillon and Kelly. And I enjoyed the song that was written to go with this story, so be sure to check it out.
Grand Prize Giveaway
As part of the tour, Julie is generously offering a grand prize giveaway of a hard copy of Count Down to Love, a CD of the band Due West, and a copy of the single, “Who I Am”, which Julie and Due West wrote and recorded specifically for the book. All you have to do to enter is leave a comment on this post or any of the other stops on the tour. (Visit the tour page for the full tour schedule.) The more stops you comment on, the more entries you have into the contest!

  • Must be over 13 to enter
  • Open internationally
  • Winner will be emailed and have 48 hours to respond
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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Blog Tour: Woodrow for President by Peter W. Barnes and Cheryl Shaw Barnes

by Peter W. Barnes and Cheryl Shaw Barnes
Little Patriot Press, 2012
Grades 3-6
Reviewed from copy provided for blog tour.
All opinions expressed are solely my own.

Election year is upon us and what better way to teach children about campaigning, voting, and the election process than through Cheryl and Peter Barnes’ critically-acclaimed book Woodrow for President!

Featuring Woodrow G. Washingtail, a civic-minded mouse with presidential ambitions, Woodrow for President follows Woodrow as he runs for president of the United Mice of America.

Taking children on a journey from Woodrow’s schoolmouse days full of hard work and community service to his time as governor of Moussouri to his bid for president of the United Mice of America, Woodrow for President introduces children to campaigning, elections, volunteering, and more through this fun—and educational—story of one mouse’s dream to become the nation’s "Big Cheese.”

Featuring a contract for voting between parents and kids as well as fun activities such as "find the secret service agent” in every illustration, Woodrow for President is perfect for any child in K-4 who might one day aspire to be the "Commander in Cheese.”

Explaining the electoral process to young children can be a difficult thing to do. This book does a nice job of helping readers understand what running for president requires. The descriptions are of course simplified and idealized. If only elections were this neat and tidy. But all the major steps are included: political parties, conventions, campaigns, debates, voting, etc. I enjoyed the use of a mouse society to present the facts mixed with a story, this makes all the information easier to swallow. I also enjoyed the play on words, such as 'Moussouri' rather than Missouri. While the rhymes were occasionally forced, the content is just right for upper elementary students.

The illustrations are pleasant and quite detailed. The addition of the secret service agent to search for in the illustrations is fun. Unfortunately, while the detailed illustrations do a fantastic job complimenting the text, it makes the book hard to use as a classroom read-a-loud, unless the teacher has a document camera or can enlarge the pictures in some way. If that is the case there are many different things that could be discussed in terms of humor as well as the election information. 

I appreciated the emphasis on 'public service' rather than the greed and power that sometimes seems to motivate candidates and his/her political party, not to mention the money that has come to play such a large role in the process. While this is idealistic, I believe it is an ideal well worth seeking. I recommend this book for parents and teachers who wish to help their young students to understand the importance of voting and participating in a democracy. The additional information at the back of the book about the major points included in the book is helpful in further explaining the text.
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