Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Two Nature Picture Books and Two Giveaways!

Congratulations to Jan Brent for winning the ARC of Jo Hackl's debut novel, SMACK DAB IN THE MIDDLE OF MAYBE.

NATURE'S FRIEND: The Gwen Frostic Story

Like myself, you might not have heard of Gwen Frostic, a 20th century Michigan artist. Author Lindsey McDivitt and illustrator Eileen Ryan Ewen have produced a beautiful tribute to a woman who would not allow her physical disabilities to keep her from the art she loved (Sleeping Bear Press, 2018). 

As a baby, Gwen contracted a disease similar to cerebral palsy. Although it left her with slurred speech and she frequently fell down, she worked her hands extra hard just to learn how to write. "She sketched and scribbled. She doodled and drew. Gwen's grip grew stronger and stronger."

Throughout her childhood, "Nature felt like a friend, pulling her out to play." In high school she signed up for mechanical drawing--"learning to use rulers and compasses to draw machines--and the men squawked like angry blue jays." 

In art school Gwen discovered how to make prints from blocks she carved out of linoleum. Eventually she launched Presscraft Papers stationary company which is still in business today. Drawn to the outdoors, she relocated to Lake Michigan's Betsie Bay so she could capture nature in her artwork.  

Nature's Friend is a lovely tribute to a woman who once said, "Love this earth, love its waters...care enough to keep it clear." 


In another lovely nature picture book, Author Karlin Gray and illustrator Steliyana Doneva, team up to bring young readers a story in rhyme celebrating an ordinary moth (Sleeping Bear Press, 2018). 

Although the moth feels like it's not as massive as an Atlas moth, as beautiful as a butterfly, or as graceful as a Luna Moth, a young boy is delighted when he finds it:

"A moth! A moth!"
a boy then screams.
He's running up to me.
I freeze and blend in with the wall.
Maybe he won't see.

But when his twinkling eyes shine bright...
his smile grows wide with pure delight...
His happy face is such a sight...
I move forward toward his joyful light. 

I enjoyed the moth's "metamorphoses" at the end -- not into another insect-- but rather into an appreciation of itself. This last poem reminds me of Miriam Franklin's debut novel, EXTRAORDINARY.  

So how 'bout that?!
I'm someone's FAVORITE!
Little, grayish me--
proof of how
Ordinary can be.


I am giving away these books, both excellent curriculum supplements with activities included, through the summer issue of Talking Story on "The Great Outdoors."  Leave me a comment here (including your preference) and I'll add your name to the list. Leave a comment through Talking Story and your name will go in twice. Don't forget to leave your email address if you are new to my blog. Giveaway ends July 23. 


Since to my knowledge a book that I've featured has never been on a billboard before, I have to share this picture that I grabbed from Eileen Ryan Ewen's Facebook page!

Monday, July 9, 2018

Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe: A Review and ARC Giveway

Introducing Jo Hackl

Over two years ago I had the pleasure of sharing Jo Hackl's path to publication. (Both Part I and Part II are great reading; Jo shared how she came up with the ideas for the book and the process of acquiring a publisher). Jo and I have been friends through SCBWI-Carolinas for over ten years, and now that her hometown of Greenville, SC is also mine, I proudly claim her as my critique partner also.

It is with great joy and pride in her publishing accomplishment that I share my review of Jo's debut middle grade novel, SMACK DAB IN THE MIDDLE OF MAYBE. 


Read these opening paragraphs and hear voice oozing out of every sentence:
Turns out, it's easier than you might think to sneak out of town smuggling a live cricket, three pocketfuls of jerky, and two bags of half-paid-for-merchandies from Thelma's Cash 'n' Carry grocery store.
The hard part was getting up the guts to go.
 It happened like this: There I was in Thelma's produce section, running my fingers up and down a bundle of collards. Collards never did make for good eating, but I was wondering if maybe they were some kind of sign that it was time for me to skedaddle. Collards always reminded me of Mama. She used to make me drawing paper out of collards, sumac seeds, dryer lint, and newspaper Daddy chopped up in his wood chipper. She plunked things in her paper the way other people stuck things in scrapbooks. Thread from the hem of her wedding dress, a four-leaf clover, Daddy's first gray hair. Mama's paper held so much life, it made my drawings pop off the page.
That was the kind of Mama and Daddy I used to have.  (p.1-2)

Who wouldn't keep reading after a hook like that?

Soon the reader discovers that Cricket is on a quest to find Mama who ran off and left her with Aunt Belinda. Taking a cricket who she names Charlene, a little bit of food, her father's pocketknife, a doogaloo, and a small notebook full of Mama's paper, she sets off. 

By nightfall she gets to the woods near her family's property. Here is a setting description that I used in my writing classes this summer: "The woods smelled like a hundred and fifty years of dark. A goose-bumpy ghost-town kind of dark."(p. 19)

She climbs into the tree house that "smelled like cedar, clean and wild," which her father built before he died. There, she reviews a letter addressed to her mother indicating her Grandmother's tombstone was to be placed on March 1-- in exactly eleven days. On it her mother had scrawled before, "I'm off looking for my birds." This brings back memories of all the times her mother left to find the "Bird Room" so she could prove it was real. 

With her few supplies, Charlene to keep her company, hope, and a pocketful of clues, Cricket begins her quest--but first she has to learn how to survive living outdoors. 

Like all good stories, Cricket's search has several twists and turns that test her gumption:  raccoons steal her food, snow, and a copperhead bite. The last is too much for her to deal with alone and she seeks help from Miss V., an eccentric woman who provides more answers about her mother and the bird room than Cricket could have dreamt of. At the same time that the story moves forward, the author provides bits and pieces of backstory that help put the puzzle pieces together. 

SMACK DAB is not only a story of outdoor survival or putting puzzle pieces together. It is also a story of a young person coming to grips with her mother's mental illness. Beautifully woven into the text is Cricket's slow realization that her mother's behavior was eccentric, unexplainable, and unstable. Like Laura in CRAZY by Linda Phillips, Cricket begins to see a different picture:
What about all the sharp looks in the grocery store? The looks at Mama. The looks at me. 
If my mama was crazy, just what exactly did that make me? 
The floorboards felt like they were shifting. Nothing felt solid. I grabbed hold of the wall. 
Is this what going crazy feels like? (p. 141)

After I finished reading SMACK DAB I told Jo, "When I grow up I want to be like Cricket." Readers young and old will be inspired by Cricket's courage and spunk--as well as her love for her mother and the truth. And of course, also for her love for the outdoors.


Just in case my review didn't sufficiently entice you, here is the trailer:

I took this picture when Jo hand-delievered
the ARC to my house!

Please leave your name and email address (if you don't think I have it) in the comments for my gently read autographed copy of this ARC. Winner will be drawn on July 13. Jo, our expert for the summer issue of Talking Story is also giving away a personally autographed copy too (anyone see an outdoors theme here?). Share this post on social media (and tell me what you do) and I'll enter your name twice. 

Monday, July 2, 2018

Strange, Unusual, Gross and Cool Animals by Charles Ghigna: A Review and Giveaway

Congratulations to Joan Edwards who won the audio CD of "The Road to Bittersweet." Thanks to all who left comments. Keep persevering and entering. More giveaways coming up--starting today!

Charles Ghigna, the Father Goose of children's books and no stranger to this blog, has done it again. But this time, it's not a clever book in rhyme for the youngest readers. Strange, Unusual, Gross, and Cool Animals  (Animal Planet, 2016) will appeal to kids of all ages who want to get up close and personal to some very weird animals. 

The animals are divided the way the title predicts: Strange, unusual, gross, and cool. Within each section there are four types of pages: a gallery spread which shows animals that live in different parts of the world but have adapted to their environment in similar ways; a featured creature that highlights one phenomenal animal through details about its life, stats, and maps; a creature collection which compares and contrasts a large group of animals; and macroview pages which show tiny details of very small animals.

Charles Ghigna gave me a "behind-the-scenes" look at the book's creation. After he agreed to write this book in nine months, he realized it would be a book that was, "Full of facts. No fanciful word play. No imaginative nonsense rhymes for toddlers. My tranquil treehouse would become the center of the universal pursuit of the biggest, baddest, best creatures on the planet. No more loose and loony alliteration. This was serious business."

Enter Strange, Unusual, Gross and Cool Animals--an accessible, factual, humorous book that will make every young reader want to learn more about the animal kingdom--even if she's scared of snakes and spiders like me. And guess what? Ghigna couldn't resist including a rhyme or two.


Strange how we as humans
view creatures great and small--
for we who see their strangeness
are the strangest of them all!

How strange is the star-nosed mole? Pretty strange. "It's nose is covered in 22 sensitive appendages that are so good at detecting vibrations they can tell when earthquakes are coming...It can even smell underwater by blowing bubbles it then breathes in through its nose." (p. 10)


Unusual is what we call
The weird, the fast, the rare.

We classify each creature--

But do they really care?

The thorny dragon looks like it comes from prehistoric times. Besides having a camouflaged body covered in hard, sharp spikes and two horns--it also has a false head growing on its shoulders! The sharp spines make it difficult for a predator to swallow. Besides, as Ghigna points out, "Who would want to eat a thorny, two-headed , puffed-up dragon?"


Gross is used instead of yuck
for words like poop and pus,
but all these animals agree--
it's only gross to us!

From my experience with kids, many are delightfully intrigued by gross stuff. From finding out that honey is really regurgitated nectar and millipedes can secrete yucky liquid that burns other bugs, discovering parrotfish who poop out sand, reading about a Goliath bird-eating spider that can be up to five inches long and when threatened, has a hiss that can be heard 15 feet away--readers looking for gross animals will find it in these pages.


Cool is how we think we look
when we try to impress,
but animals are born that way-
with lots of cool finesse!

Because of its translucent skin on its belly, "you can see through the glass frog and see its liver, heart, and intestines without an X-ray machine, just like Superman can!" (p. 108) Some see-through creatures include glasswing butterflies, the pelagic octopus, and the big skate that looks like a slimy ghost! Other cool animals glow in the dark, sport blue feet (blue-footed booby) or climb walls like Spider Man (mwanza flat-headed rock agama). 

A book to leaf through or read from cover to cover, young readers will enjoy discovering new animals just as much as Ghigna did: "The Blobfish first caught my eye. Icky pink and bulbous looking. Voted the “World’s Ugliest Animal,” I knew that one would become a hit with the 8-12 year old crowd. Who could resist the Rosy Wolfsnail, the fastest snail on earth? Who just happens to be a cannibal from Hawaii. And who just happens to inhabit my home state of Alabama and throughout the Southeast. Or the Fangtooth Fish whose teeth are so large it can never close its mouth?"

Ghigna told me, "I am glad I could be a part of this irresistible collection of amazing creatures whose lives will be explored by an endless parade of curious kids who might even put down their iPhones to ponder these scary, stunning pictures of exotic animals from around the world taken by some of the world’s top photographers."


In mid-July Joyce Hostetter and I will publish our summer issue of Talking Story on "The Great Outdoors." Since all of these animals can be classified as existing somewhere in that category, I'm going to give away this tremendous classroom resource through Talking Story. Leave me a comment here (with your email address if you are new to my blog) and I'll enter your name once. Follow the directions to enter the Talking Story giveaway (and if you don't know about this quarterly newsletter for teachers and librarians here is a link to the spring issue. You can subscribe through the link) and your name goes in twice. Winner will be drawn on July 21. 

Monday, June 25, 2018

Behind the Scenes with Donna Everhart- Part II

Last week Donna Everhart, author of The Road to Bittersweet, relayed how she discovered her story, why she made Laci Stamper autistic, and why she included a traveling carnival. Thanks for coming back for this concluding post as we look behind the scenes of her writing process.


CAROL Were you conscious of the themes you wanted to include as you wrote, or did they come out of the story?

I was not, at first, conscious of any themes and I didn't write with this in mind at all.  This is something that often happens for me through the simple process of beginning to explore a story.  I've said in the past I'm a true pantster sort of writer,  (i.e. write by the seat of my pants) and although I'm writing to a contract - meaning I have to put together a proposal for each book consisting of a synopsis and the first three chapters -  there are still many aspects to each story not covered when it's sent off to my editor.  My synopses tend to run about five pages, but then I have to sit and write about three hundred pages and while I have the overall main ideas down, there's still plenty of room to explore. This is usually how I end up with something happening like a theme.  

In this story, I began recognizing there was an overarching theme and in this case, it was obviously the water.  As I began to put together the instances where it had a significant impact to my characters, the most obvious was the flood.  Then there was the necessity of drinking it for survival.  That, along with the fact that (without giving away any spoilers) it can kill us by drinking it, this all began to surface (no pun intended!) as a true foundation of this story.  Then I began to view the waterfall as having significance, as if their lives were in a free-fall, and that they really had no sense of control for much of what happened to them.  I love when I have those unanticipated moments in writing where something unexpected adds in a layer, making it more meaningful and significant. Those are the moments which I find truly magical, and I wish they'd happen more often!  
CAROL: That's interesting because for me, the theme was about Wallis Ann accepting herself. I loved the carnival chapters becausetthen she was forced to think about who was "normal" and who the "freaks" were. The ending was perfect!


CAROL: What can you share about your research process?

DONNA: I hope this doesn't come as a disappointment, but I mostly relied on good old Google.  I did speak to one person on the phone who was a lifelong resident in Jackson County and I needed her to clarify how the bridges that were out impacted the flow of traffic - although highly unlikely that there was "traffic," per se.  I found her on some site that blogged about Jackson County, and it was really happenstance to find her and that site. She confirmed you could go northbound, but not southbound on Highway 107 for instance. Little details like that matter.  

I also spent an extensive amount of time researching about dialect for that timeframe too.  What's been amusing to me, is when I talk about the dialect used in the book at a book event, and I tell those who came just before I read the book that Wallis Ann will say things like, "I won't going there," instead of "I wasn't going there."  Some laugh and shake their heads and say, "Well shoot, that's how I talk anyway."  (and they're not from the mountains.  :)   

One particularly helpful site where I studied about dialect was done by the University of South Carolina, College of Arts and Sciences.  I listened to actual recordings taken in 1939 of residents in various mountain counties of North Carolina, and Tennessee.  This work was done by a gentleman by the name of Joseph Sargent Hall or his assistant Bill Moore, and the transcriptions and recordings are available to listen to and read.  They have done an extensive amount of work on this site for the speech patterns of Appalachia - which the pronunciation of in of itself can get people worked up, as in whether you say App-a-LAY-cha, or App-a-LATCH-a.  

I always find this part of the work really interesting, and feel as if I
come away from each book with a little bit of knowledge I'd never had before.  Like the fact they called Coca-Cola "dope."  The fact that Wallis Ann and Laci could have Snickers, or Lays potato chips, and what cotton candy was called back then (spun sugar).  I learned about making a log cabin, and how to start a fire like Wallis Ann did - using "punk wood" and quartz rock.  Other parts of the research had to do with studying topography maps as I wrote (click on the link to see the map Donna consulted), so that I could put Wallis Ann and her family into certain areas with some sense of what they might have experienced while traveling. One part that I studied long and hard was along the Tuckasegee River, as well as the ridges nearby like Cherry Gap and Cullowhee Mountain.  I will be going to that area later this year, and can't wait to take pictures of the river and possibly some of the other spots mentioned in the book.
Donna Everhart


Last week I shared a picture depicting Laci. Here is "The Pretty One" written by Pam Tillis. This is part of Shari Smith's ingenious TRIO exhibits: "One book is given to both a songwriter and a visual artist. They write a song and create a work of art inspired by the book they read fulfilling their TRIO. Each TRIO selection will be installed as part of an exhibit debuting at the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance in September of 2017 and traveling to museums, galleries, and literary events throughout the following year."

Donna is working on her fourth book, SHINE MOUNTAIN (working title). The main character, Jessie Sasser, is sixteen years old, who is quite unhappy with her lot in life.  Born into a family legacy of moonshining, she wants no part of it because she's certain it killed her mother. The story takes place in 1960, in Wilkes County, in an area known as the Brushy Mountains. 


This is your last chance to enter the giveaway for the Audiobook fantastically performed by Amy Melissa Bentley. Random.org will select a winner on Thursday, June 28. Leave me your email address and name and I'll add your name to the list. If you've already entered that's okay, I'll add your name again!

And one last thing. Check out the cover reveal for Donna's next book, The Forgiving Kind. It's gorgeous!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Behind the Scenes with Donna Everhart--Part I

Congratulations to Darlene who won the seven audio book giveaway last week.

As promised two weeks ago, Donna Everhart generously agreed to give us a glimpse into how she developed THE ROAD TO BITTERSWEET. (If you haven't had a chance to read my review, I hope you will now. This interview will make a lot more sense if you do!) I find it fascinating to see how authors come up with their stories and I bet many of you do too. 


CAROL: How did you decide on the main idea for the story? Was it hearing about the flood of 1940 in Silva, NC?  

DONNA: I was nervous about coming up with an idea for my second book after my debut, THE EDUCATION OF DIXIE DUPREE was so well-received.  It's hard to follow up a story like that, one that's gritty, graphic, and delivers such a gut punch. 

One thing I did know; I wanted to write something very different, and I wanted to set the story in the North Carolina mountains, first, because I love the region, second, because it has so much history.  I've stood at many a lookout on a bright day with the sun shining, staring at the peaks and valleys, watching the shadow of clouds passing over the hillsides, enjoying the beauty of the scenery, yet, I have also felt a sense of the mysterious, and an appreciation for the rugged hardiness of those who came and made a life for themselves in the area.

Back in the late 90s, my husband and I hiked to a preserved, historic cabin in Doughton Park, called the Caudill Cabin.  It's maintained by descendants of the Caudill's and North Carolina's Parks and Recreation system.  The hike, which totaled fifteen miles, was strenuous, but worth it.  Getting to see something built in the early 1900s and that was still standing, was extraordinary.  This cabin, as the signage says, is one of the only remaining structures left standing from the 1916 Basin Cove flood. It housed a total of eight people, two parents, and six children. The number of inhabitants originally was thought to have been sixteen, but someone at some point (maybe a member of the Caudill family) corrected that.  The interior of the cabin couldn't have been more than about 150 square feet, and it was mind boggling to think about it sheltering eight individuals. 

Caudill Cabin, Hikers of Iredell Club

I am fascinated by this sort of thing, a piece of history right before my very eyes, and I have always had this tendency to want to let my mind wander about, thinking about the people who lived in it, how they managed to survive, picturing what their lives must have been like.  On top of that, there was the flood that forced this family to move.  I did some research on flooding in the western part of North Carolina and learned there had not only been the 1916 flood, which the Caudills were part of, but one in 1940, which was just as devastating. I began to think, "what if a family tried to make it after this sort of devastation happened?"  I had to believe there were some who did, and then I began to think, "exactly how would that work? If they had nothing?"
Pictures from Donna's hike with her husband. Look carefully at the picture on the lower right
 and you can see Donna peeking out from the cabin doorway.
The combination of my love for this part of my home state, the interesting hike to a cabin that depicted the reality of the lifestyle, and the floods all provided the inspiration. That was a LOT of material to work with, and after I settled on the 1940 event as the timeframe I wanted to write about, I began writing. 

Near Marshall, NC 1944


CAROL: Why (and perhaps how) did you decide to make Laci autistic? 

DONNA: The why likely comes from the fact I like to work in areas where I have little knowledge, to explore differences in order to better understand them. A lot of progress has been made with regard to autism, but just like those who first began to diagnose it in the 1800s, who knows where the research will be fifty years from now.  The term "idiot" was used in earlier time frames for those who appeared to have strange behaviors, and seemed incapable of learning in the same way as the rest of society.  I researched about autistic savants, those who have an uncanny ability for mathematics, music, or memory.  We likely all think about the movie RAIN MAN when we think of an autistic savant.   

According to the Autism Research Institute, "The reason why some autistic individuals have savant abilities is not known... Dr. Rimland speculates that these individuals have incredible concentration abilities and can focus their complete attention to a specific area of interest. Admittedly, researchers in psychology feel that we will never truly understand memory and cognition until we understand the autistic savant."

How I decided is the desire to include what might offer a different twist, to explore a uniqueness in a very different setting from today, to consider unusual situations a family might encounter with others, and their perspectives. I began to think what if there was a young girl in 1940 in a remote area, with extraordinary musical talents, who'd been diagnosed as an "idiot savant."  What would this mean to the family dynamic, and in particular, how would it impact a younger sibling?  

Laci by Cyndi Hoelzle
This picture is a part of Trio.


CAROL: Why and how did you decide to include a traveling carnival? 

DONNA: Although I haven't been to our state fair in about twenty years, I do remember how captivated I was as a child when my parents would take me and I'd see all of those mysterious colorful banners and the carnies screaming about "Freaks!" and "Come see them all!" There was this air of suspense, and intrigue as I passed by the tents.  My parents never allowed my brother or I to go see the Man With The Alligator Skin, or, "The Two-Headed Goat," for instance, but I sure wanted to. People who were being exploited back then, like the bearded woman, (androgen excess, or hypertrichosis) can today be explained away by a medical reason, but there is this wish as a kid to believe in the bizarre, the inexplicable, when it comes to the "attractions" that were and are so typical of those traveling shows or carnivals. Because of Laci's situation, it seemed like this would make for an interesting dynamic to the story, to have them experience something they'd never experienced before, yet to have it sort of backfire when one of their own is used for that exploitation.

Aside from that, it was also the fact this family had been through so much post-flood, and I needed some way to give them a break, a reprieve.  Because they performed in some sort of musical capacity from the beginning, I felt it could work as a natural progression for the story.  I actually thought about having them stick to what Wallis Ann feared - go around the countryside "begging."  However, this was just coming into the post-Depression era, and while I knew people of the mountains would gladly give what they had, they wouldn't have much to spare.  In reality, the Stampers wouldn't be able to do this for long and get anywhere.  I could see early on if I wrote it like that, I was setting them up for more failure and when would the starvation, hardships ever end?  How would I turn the story so they stood the chance to not only survive, but to recover what they'd lost?  

                             Clogging Video by David Hoffman, shot in 1964

Come back next week for Part II when Donna shares some aspects of her research.


If you are interested in winning the audio book of THE ROAD TO BITTERSWEET (courtesy Tantor Audio) please leave me your name and email address, particularly if you are new to my blog. I'll draw a winner on June 28.


THE FORGIVING KIND, will go on sale, January 29th, 2019, with an official publication date of February 5th, 2019. That story is also a southern fiction coming of age novel, and is about a
twelve year old young girl called Sonny Creech, who lives with her family in Jones County NC, on a cotton farm. Sonny has the special gift of water divination, a talent she shares with her father.  After a tragic accident claims his life, she and her family become entangled with a reclusive neighbor named Frank Fowler who offers to finance that year's cotton crop. It's set in 1955.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Audiobook Tour = Amazing Giveaway!

I'm pleased to be a part of the Audio Publisher's Association's celebration of JIAM-- June Is Audiobook Month. This is my second time to participate and it's a great opportunity to remind you of some terrific audiobook titles--just in case you'd forgotten them. PLUS there's a fantastic giveaway that you don't want to miss. 

Audio books like the ones highlighted here are great company on car trips, if you're recuperating from an illness or surgery, when you exercise, or take a walk. I've found audiobooks make boring, routine jobs (think weeding, raking, or dusting) more fun. Writers and readers alike can delight in the spoken word as amazing narrators bring the stories to life. Several of these books have stayed in my mind and become mentor texts because of the powerful narration.

In no particular order, these are the last four audio books I've listened to.

If you're looking for a superbly researched Civil War story, then Be Free or Die by Cate Lineberry will fit the bill. This book is both a biography of an unsung African American hero, but also an in-depth look at what was happening in South Carolina before, during, and after the war. 

I bet I walked at least thirty miles while listening to this insightful book into misogynous relationships. Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them is written by Dr. Susan Forward, a psychologist whose practice includes women who struggle to respond appropriately to their husbands. I highly recommend it to women and men who need insight into this difficult situation.

If you're taking a trip to Italy (or dream of visiting this historic peninsula as I do) then The Pursuit of Italy should be on your reading list. Comprehensive in terms of history, politics, geography, art and music, this book by David Gilmour is packed with everything you ever wanted to know about Italy--and didn't even know to ask!

You might think that I ordinarily read non-fiction based on the previous three titles, but that's actually not the truth. My most recent audiobook, The Road to Bittersweet by Donna Everhart, is now one of my favorite titles I've listened to. The narrator, Amy Melissa Bentley, added depth to an already wonderful novel through her authentic portrayal of the North Carolina mountain characters. 


Leave a comment (and your email address if you're new to this blog) to win the audiobooks listed below. Random.org will pick a winner on June 15. Click here to visit other bloggers who are also promoting audiobooks this month. Leave your name on their blogs and increase your chances of winning ALL of these books! (Books are courtesy Audio Publishers Association.)

  • Seven by Paula Cizmar, Catherine Filloux, Gail Kriegel, Carol K. Mack, Ruth Margraff, Anna Deavere Smith, and Susan Yankowitz 
  • Gone to Dust by Matt Goldman, narrated by MacLeod Andrews
  • Bring Me Back by B. A. Paris, narrated by Kevin Hely and Cathleen McCarron
  • Wings of Fire Book One: The Dragonet Prophecy by Tui T. Sutherland, narrated by Shannon MacManus
  • Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan, narrated by Todd McLaren
  • Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan, narrated by David Shih
  • A Girl Stands at the Door by Rachel Devlin, narrated by Robin Miles
  • Torn from Troy, Book 1 in the Odyssey of a Slave Trilogy by Patrick Bowman, narrated by Gerard Doyle

Monday, June 4, 2018

Beware! Blogger Issues!


I hate to overload your inboxes from my blog, but Blogger is having issues letting me know when you leave a comment. Since I'm hosting several great giveaways in the upcoming weeks, please email me at cbaldwin6@me.com if you want to add your name to the giveaway list. (You can also try to leave a comment; Blogger is promising to fix it--but who knows when!) I don't want any of you to miss out on winning a good book.

Thanks for your support of my blog.


The Road to Bittersweet: An Audio Book Review and Giveaway

When I read in the Tantor Audio new release list that The Road To Bittersweet was set in North Carolina in the forties, I knew this was a book for me. This was my first book by Donna Everhart, but I suspect it won't be my last. Today's post is a review of the book that is based on the Flood of 1940 in Silva, NC. On June 18th and 25th I am posting a two-part interview with Donna that provides the backstory for this dramatic novel that both young adults and adults will enjoy. (Note: Since I reviewed this as an audio book, quotes might not be exact. I did my best to capture the words as I listened.)


The book opens with Wallis Ann Stamper, the protagonist, turning fourteen and telling a birthing story. Not her own story, like the reader might expect, but rather the story of her older sister, Laci, "whose name alone conjures a frail and delicate bein'." Wallis Ann repeats what she's heard her mother tell: how when the granny woman delivered Laci she "come out the color of a ripened blueberry." Although Laci survived that difficult birth, she doesn't fit in with the harsh way of life in Western North Carolina, but "exists as a whisper you barely hear" or a "shadow on a partly cloudy day."

Granny women
From Donna Everhart's Pinterest board

Mute from birth but gifted musically, the local doctor diagnoses Laci as an idiot savant; Laci hears a tune once and then plays it perfectly on the one thing that matters the most--her fiddle. (Today she would be diagnosed autistic savant.) Wallis Ann is given the responsibility of taking care of her sister; as a result Laci, tags along behind her older sister wherever Wallis Anne goes. Since the author spends so much time in the opening scenes showing Laci through Wallis Ann's eyes, the reader knows that Laci will be an important secondary character.

Wallis Ann's family including her little brother Seth, lives besides Stampers Creek. On the night of Wallis Ann's birthday, a monstrous storm hits their cabin. As the creek rises, Wallis Ann sees her father's face get tight, "smoothing out the normal crinkles and curves." With Laci clinging to her fiddle, they pack the truck cab "tight as ticks" and try to escape the rising waters. The fear in Wallis Ann's mouth "tastes like bitterness."

The creek, fed from the roaring waters of the Tuckaseigee River, becomes their enemy rather than a stream by which Wallis Ann and Laci had rested; Laci sitting on the Wishing Rock playing her fiddle, Wallis Ann thinking. In excruciating, tension-filled detail, the author shows as each family member is swept off the roof of the truck. "The muddy wall of water is like a charging, angry bull." As Wallis Ann fights the current, she sees dead animals and people floating downstream and wonders if it's selfish that she doesn't want her family to go under. 

Flood of 1940

"As spent as a nickel in a dime store," Wallis Ann finds refuge by climbing a tree where she stays for several days. When it's finally safe to come down, she is exhausted, weak, and starving. She's worried about her family but "I refused to cry over what I didn't know." 

On the road trying to get back to Stamper's Creek, Wallis Anne is met by Joe Calhoun and his son; Joe's wife was crushed by a pine tree that fell on their house. Wallis Ann smells his grief and misery, even as they lift the tree and rescue his little daughter. 

When Wallis Ann returns to the property, there aren't even two chairs left from their home. The oak that her great-grandpa had planted as a sapling had fallen down. Nothing was left but the stone foundation which her father had built twenty years ago. "A part of my history had been taken away."

Like Cricket in Jo Hackl's debut middle-grade novel, Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe," Wallis Ann listened to her father's stories about survival and is able to build a fire, boil water, and with the gifts of food from Joe, can sustain herself. When her family comes back together again they're convinced they've seen the worst--but unfortunately, that's not the case. 

Flood of 1940

I risk giving away too many spoilers but Wallis Ann watches Laci become more unstable without her lost fiddle; her parents desperation trying to survive increasingly colder weather without shelter, food, or warm clothing; disease and death. As Wallis Anne observes, "All of us was collapsing like the barn."

Their "salvation" comes in an unlikely place. They leave Stamper's Creek to find work and shelter, and end up on the road singing in churches for enough food and gas money to keep them going. Wallis Ann meets Clayton, a high dive act in a carnival. When Clayton finds out the Stampers are a musical family, he convinces them to join the carnival--a further blow to Mama's pride. 

This new period in Wallis Ann's life is rich with symbolism. After they perform she observes, "People stared at us like we were a side show of freaks rather than regular people." The carnival is full of freaks but when the carnival owner puts a sign up that advertises Laci as  "The Mountain Mute," Wallis Ann's father finally draws the line.  Wallis Ann and her mother are haunted by the question of who is normal and who are the freaks.
Circus Freaks were not unknown in the past. 

Laci's beauty and musical abilities attracts attention--even from Clayton who Wallis Ann crushes on--and she experiences annoyance over her sister's constant attachment. "How will anybody notice me with Laci beside me all the time?" And, "I'll never be able to separate from her and go after my own wishes."

Wallis Ann witnesses Laci and Clayton's love and her jealousy drives her to a response that she deeply regrets. This deep point of view shows how a well-developed secondary character can impact the protagonist and how motivations drive actions. "I wanted someone else to hurt as much as me."  When the couple disappears after Wallis Ann betrays them, she is consumed with guilt; she and her parents are overcome with grief. "Afterwards, we moved about the camp site like we was strangers. Like we’d each gone up a different mountain and stationed ourselves far apart." 

After much trouble and sorrow, The Road to Bittersweet  has a satisfying ending. When the family returns home, Joe Calhoun's wise words help Wallis Anne find a way out from under her paralyzing guilt that "tugs at her soul like the Tuckaseigee." 

Amy Melissa Bentley, the narrator, does an excellent job portraying both male and female voices. The perfect Appalachian North Carolina dialect lends authenticity to this period novel. Here's the snippet which opens the book.

The Caudill log cabin which inspired Donna's depiction of
the Stamper family's cabin.
Photo courtesy Iredell County Hiker's Club


Please leave me your name and email address if you would like to enter the giveaway for this audio CD. A winner will be chosen on June 28, following the two-part interview with Donna. Leave comments on each of those blog posts and I'll add your name for additional chances to win. 

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