Monday, February 18, 2019

Celebrate Black History Month With These Books

Congratulations to Connie Saunders who won Vijaya Bodach's new novel, BOUND. Thanks to all of you for your comments the last three weeks; both Vijaya and I appreciated hearing from you.


Many of you have been following my blog for years and some of you are new readers. My "old" followers are familiar with the books that have helped me write Half-Truths. To recognize Black History Month, I thought I'd provide links to these past reviews, particularly for my new readers. I hope you'll add some of them to your "to-be-read" list. 

The order in which the books are displayed reflects the order in which I read them; most recent book is on top.

Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy  Written by North Carolina professor, Elizabeth Gillespie McRae, this book opened my eyes to the role that white women in the South played in maintaining segregation.

Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop Alice Faye Duncan's debut picture book told from the perspective of a young girl who "meets" Martin Luther King.

Eyes on the Prize This excellent book on the Civil Rights decade is written by Juan Williams. If you're looking for an in-depth overview of the Civil Rights movement, then you've come to the right book.

Be Free or DieThe Amazing Story of Robert Smalls' Escape from Slavery to Union Hero. This is a great panoramic view of South Carolina before, during, and after the Civil War and an eye-opening biography of an amazing man.

Crossing Ebenezer Creek This middle grade novel, based on true events, deepened my understanding of what ex-slaves experienced after "freedom."

Midnight Without a Moon. This book takes place in Mississippi in the mid-50's. Linda Williams Jackson's debut novel uses Emmitt Till's murder as a background for Rose Lee Carter's decision not to flee the South. 

Loving vs. Virginia. This is a great curriculum resource written in free verse which shows Mildred and Richard Loving's struggles to legalize their marriage in Virginia. 

The Lions of Little Rock This classic civil rights book is set in Little Rock, AK in 1958. I now use it as a comp title in my pitch for Half-Truths!

Carver: A Life in Poems. Lillian, my most important secondary character, wants to be a scientist. Reading about George Washington Carver helped me think more deeply about Lillian.

Primary Lessons: A Memoir by Sarah Bracey White Sarah grew up in the Jim Crow south and here I share excerpts describing her experiences. 

Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond. This book was a fascinating look into Strom Thurmond's bi-racial daughter and the many challenges she and her mother faced. I blogged about it extensively. 

The Color of Love. This is an autobiographical account of a boy whose mother falls in love with a black man in the Jim Crow South. 

Mixed: My life in Black and White  A candid autobiography written by Angela Nissel. She describes what it was like to grow up in Philadelphia as a bi-racial child during the second half of the 20th century.

Fly Girl A beautifully written YA novel about a young black woman who becomes a pilot during WWII.

A Lesson Before Dying. A book review of a powerful book portraying racism in Louisiana in the 1940's.

Here are a few of the books that didn't make it into this list!

Have you read any books about African American history that you would recommend? Please share in the comments below. 

(This post was originally published on the Write2Ignite blog.)

Monday, February 11, 2019

Behind the Scenes of Bound: Author Interview Part II

On last week's blog, Vijaya Bodach shared her inspiration for her debut YA novel, BOUND. This week she provides insights into her publishing journey and she and I talk shop.


CAROL: Did you try to publish BOUND through “normal” publishers? If so, was there a pattern to your rejections?  

VIJAYA I tried the trade route for a couple of years, but got tired of even the good rejections. Many loved the writing and the characters but wanted a different outcome! That was non-negotiable. Early on, one agent sowed the seed for self-publishing. He said the industry was shifting and less open to publishing a book that was counter-cultural. When I was down to small presses, I remembered his words and decided to take all the risk to publish BOUND. It’s been so empowering, I feel a certain lightness. I would definitely recommend this as a path to publication.

CAROL: Can you share some of the ups and downs of self-publishing?

VIJAYA: I prayed about this decision for a year, but once I took the plunge (after another good rejection, lol) it was a whirlwind six weeks trying to learn everything necessary to publish BOUND myself. I still have much to learn, but what joy! I was able to use my contacts in the industry to hire a designer. I loved having the freedom to be true to my characters and have control over the entire process. And the best part is knowing that Rebecca and Joy are taking up residence in others’ hearts and minds as well.

But the most difficult part has been growing my readership. All my other books magically found their way into schools and libraries, but BOUND hasn’t been reviewed by any of the journals that librarians read, so they don’t even know of its existence.

I’m learning that to be successful in this business, one has to be good in three areas: writing, publishing, and marketing. I am good at writing, competent in publishing, but dismal at marketing. So this year, I plan to learn how to advertise more effectively. But at this stage, as a novice novelist, I believe my efforts are best concentrated on writing the stories that will make a difference and trusting that impassioned readers (like you!) recommend it to their circles, and so on and so forth to grow organically. I am grateful for each and every one of my readers. By the way, it will help if your readers request BOUND at their local library! 


Vijaya was willing to discuss the choices she made while writing BOUND. Here are two observations I made about the novel and her responses. 

CAROL: I thought that Rebecca’s “conversion” from being against abortion to being pro-life was too abrupt. One minute she was taking Joy to the abortion clinic, the next minute she’s totally changed her mind. I actually found their father’s transformation was more gradual and believable.

VIJAYA: I’m glad you brought this up. Rebecca’s transition mirrors mine and it was like scales falling off my eyes. And speaking of mirrors, Jim Bell, talks about the “mirror moment” at the midpoint of a story. This is where a character is at a transition. She can see who she is and who she’s becoming. She must make a choice. It’s a moment of clarity. And in that scene (which ironically has Rebecca looking in a mirror) once Rebecca understands what’s at stake—the life of a child—she’s able to recall the wisdom of her mother’s words. And she does what she has to do without counting the cost. So yes, it feels sudden, yet natural. 

CAROL: The only parts that I found “didactic” were Rebecca's college interviews. I thought that Rebecca was long-winded and those could have been either shortened.

VIJAYA: I wrote BOUND for the ICL Book Course and my wonderful instructor, Nancy Butts, warned me about this exact danger. But by the third revision I knew that Rebecca had to articulate her position even if it cost her a seat in medical school.  

ONE LAST WORD FROM VIJAYA: Thank you for writing such an in-depth review and your thoughtful questions. I hope your readers feel encouraged to never, ever give up on a story they believe in. God bless all the works of your hands!

Bio: Vijaya Bodach is a scientist-turned-children’s writer, an atheist-turned-Catholic, and most recently, a writer-turned-publisher (Bodach Books). She is the author of over 60 books for children, including TEN EASTER EGGS, and just as many magazine articles, stories, and poems. BOUND is her first novel. To learn more, please visit:


Leave me a comment if you want to enter to win an autographed copy of BOUND. It's fine if you already entered; I'll put your name in twice. If you are new to my blog, please leave your email address. The winner's name will be drawn on Thursday, February 14. A great book about love--just in time for Valentine's Day. 

Monday, February 4, 2019

Behind the Scenes of Bound: Author Interview Part I

Last week I reviewed Vijaya Bocach's new YA book, BOUND. Vijaya graciously agreed to an author interview and since she had a lot of information for readers and writers, I've decided to run it for two weeks. We hope you enjoy it! 


CAROL: I’m very curious about the inspiration for BOUND. Are they individuals you knew or are Joy and Rebecca from your imagination? 

VIJAYA: I borrowed the circumstances of my two cousins, Sangeeta and Aradhana, to explore many questions Rebecca was asking. Sangeeta was born deaf and had congenital heart defects requiring surgery due to my aunt contracting Rubella (German Measles) during pregnancy. The doctor advised an abortion because these children can have a lifetime of difficulties but my aunt refused and braved every challenge of raising a child with special needs. Later they adopted Aradhana, who nearly died in a fire as a small child. Both miracle babies!!! They are now happily married and Sangeeta is also a mother to a teenage boy. From the beginning, Rebecca and Joy were their own persons with their own agendas. Joy was my favorite character to write. 
CAROL: You have a lot of detail about burns and medical treatment. How much research did you have to do?

VIJAYA: I began with my cousins, who corroborated my memories as well as discussions with my aunt. I also read memoirs and a lot of medical texts on severe burns and their treatment. I am fascinated by the human body and how it functions, so really enjoy this type of research. 

Vijaya's cousins, Aradhana and Sangeeta

CAROL: Why did you write BOUND?  

VIJAYA: About ten years ago, our family was going through RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) and Rebecca was talking in my head and asking hard questions about life, love, and responsibility. It was clear that a short story wouldn’t give me the space I needed to explore the central dramatic question: “Are you your brother’s keeper?” Rebecca and Joy were the perfect characters to help me examine this through my newly-developing Catholic conscience. 

CAROL: Obviously, your ethnic identity comes out clearly in the book. Was that part difficult or easy to write? 

VIJAYA: The ethnic part is easy—it’s in my very cells  I grew up in India and so am very familiar with Indian mentality—there’s great diversity so there’s no such thing as a typical Indian. I had great fun writing Meanie Auntie. She came fully formed in my imagination.

CAROL: I also loved how there are many ways that the girls are different and also the same. Was that all purposeful on your part? (ie, both are damaged in some way.)

VIJAYA: Yes. My working title for this story was DAMAGED and from the beginning, I knew Rebecca would be a highly intelligent burn survivor like my cousin, with Joy damaged in the opposite way. I also wanted to make her an unfit mother in the eyes of the world. I thought about all the worst-case scenarios where people say it’s best to have an abortion and make a case against it through my characters.  

CAROL: I like BOUND so much better! It is a layered title that hints at the story. By the way--I think the cover is fantastic for the same reason!

CAROL: What has been the response to BOUND? 

VIJAYA: The response has been overwhelmingly positive. I love that I get a share in building His Kingdom. To God all the glory.  



Next week Vijaya will share her publishing journey and we have some "shop talk" about decisions she made while writing the book. Giveaway date has now shifted to February 14. Each time you leave a comment I'll enter your name again. Remember to leave me your email address if you are new to my blog.

Vijaya Bodach is a scientist-turned-children’s writer, an atheist-turned-Catholic, and most recently, a writer-turned-publisher (Bodach Books). She is the author of over 60 books for children, including TEN EASTER EGGS, and just as many magazine articles, stories, and poems. BOUND is her first novel. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

BOUND: A Review and an Autographed Giveaway

Within the first pages of Bound by Vijaya Bodach, the reader realizes that this is going to be a book that deals with serious issues. The main character, Rebecca Joshi who was adopted from India at birth, was burned six years earlier over 50% of her body; her older sister, Joy, is intellectually impaired; their mother died a year ago and their father has emotionally withdrawn from his daughters. To be honest I thought, is all that drama necessary in one novel? 

Guess what?

It is.


Rebecca struggles for freedom. She wants to get rid of her burned skin--a constant reminder of how freakish she looks. She remembers her first "so-called cosmetic surgery... At age eleven-and-half. Yes, sir. Cosmetic. Because nobody ever died from looking hideous." (p. 13)

And she wants to get rid of her time-consuming and emotionally-draining responsibility for Joy. Rebecca, not their father, is the one who makes sure Joy gets to work. Rebecca is the younger sister who sticks up for her big sister when Joy is called a "retard." Their father, Rebecca concludes, is his own god. 

One evening Joy urges Rebecca to come folk-dancing with her. 
"I'll hold your hand," Joy says. "I'll never leave you." 
That's what I'm afraid of sometimes. I don't want us to be like a binary star system--circling each other forever. (p. 6)
Rebecca wants desperately to go to medical school so she can return to India and help impoverished children. Hand in hand with this desire is her yearning to fling off the burden of always watching over Joy.

Rebecca helps Joy become more independent which relieves her of some of the responsibility she inherited after their mother's death. But as a result, Joy spends more and more time with a man from work and gets pregnant. Although Joy feels letdown by her boyfriend who wants no part of being a father, she quickly becomes attached to her unborn child. Rebecca sees the baby as one more obstacle to her leaving home for medical school and takes Joy to an abortion clinic. 

At the abortion clinic Rebecca removes the ultrasound gel from Joy's belly and remembers her burn treatment.
They soaked me in a warm tub and my dead skin would peel off. What didn't come off had to be scrubbed off. They'd hold me down and rub away the stinking flesh. The nurses always said they knew I didn't have inhalation injuries because of my strong lungs. I wonder how I survived as I scrape the paper towel over Joy's beautiful belly one last time. She doesn't realize how lucky she is the pregnancy is not permanent. She can return to her normal life after this crisis is over. I have not been so fortunate. The massive burns have changed me and my life forever. I'm not even the same person I used to be. (p. 94)

Joy rejects abortion--much to Rebecca's and their father's disapproval. But gradually, Rebecca changes her mind as the unborn child becomes more real to the family. The three return to India to visit a beloved grandmother. In the familiar country of her birth, Rebecca thinks about why her mother put her up for adoption. After she considers the possible scenarios she concludes, "Whatever the cause she didn't want me. But at least she didn't deny me my life." (p. 165) 

The dichotomy between Rebecca's high intelligence but deformed body, and Joy's simplistic thinking yet voluptuous body runs throughout the book.  An additional thread is the mystery of the events surrounding Rebecca's accident. The reader discovers bits and pieces of what happened when Rebecca was 11--but the true story is not revealed until close to the end.

This beautifully written story shows a realistic portrayal of a young adult facing many personal, family, cultural, and moral dilemmas. The satisfactory ending--including the father's change of heart and accepting responsibility for Joy's future--will leave the reader feeling hopeful for Rebecca, Joy and her baby, and their family. 

In our present socio-political climate, I applaud Vijaya Bodach for her brave pro-life position. I hope Bound will be a meaningful tool that counselors will use with young women experiencing an unwanted pregnancy.  


Next week I'm interviewing Vijaya about the backstory to Bound. Leave a comment this week and I'll enter your name once. Leave me another one next week and you'll be in twice. Winner will be chosen on February 8th. Please leave me your email address if you are new to my blog.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

A NEW Emotional Thesaurus Books is Coming!

As many of you know, I am a big fan of Angela Ackerman's and Becca Puglisi's blog, Writer's Helping Writers, their Emotional Thesauri, and their incredible online tool, One Stop for Writers. Not only is this dynamic duo dedicated to helping other writers--their materials are excellent. (See their Pinterest board for a simple of their resources.)

Their new book is coming out on February 19!

This is the Amazon blurb:
The bestselling Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression (Second Edition), often hailed as "the gold standard for writers" and credited with transforming how writers craft emotion, has now been expanded to include 55 new entries!  
One of the biggest struggles for writers is how to convey emotion to readers in a unique and compelling way. When showing our characters' feelings, we often use the first idea that comes to mind, and they end up smiling, nodding, and frowning too much.  
If you need inspiration for creating characters' emotional responses that are personalized and evocative, this ultimate show-don't-tell guide for emotion can help. It includes:  
  • Body language cues, thoughts, and visceral responses for 130 emotions that cover a range of intensity from mild to severe, providing innumerable options for individualizing a character's reactions.
  • A breakdown of the biggest emotion-related writing problems and how to overcome them.
  • Advice on what should be done before drafting to make sure your characters' emotions will be realistic and consistent.
  • Instruction for how to show hidden feelings and emotional subtext through dialogue and nonverbal cues.
  • And much more!

The Emotion Thesaurus, in its easy-to-navigate list format, will inspire you to create stronger, fresher character expressions and engage readers from your first page to your last. Use The Emotion Thesaurus to go deeper to craft compelling descriptions that match each character’s personality and emotional range.
If that's not enough, here's more:

  • Euphoriavindicated, and schadenfreude are just a few of the new entries. You can also browse the Table of Contents to see all 130 emotions in this volume.
  • If you already subscribe to One Stop for Writers this thesaurus will be available to you in February.
  • Angela and Becca are celebrating their new EMOTION THESAURUS (Second Edition) with FREE EDUCATION! Stop in to grab the link to a recorded webinar on showing emotion 
  • The instructive portion of the book has more than doubled and includes new material on how to power up dialogue with emotion, use subtext and other techniques to show hidden emotions, what character development is necessary to determine emotional range so actions are authentic to each person's nature, and more.
You can pre-order on AmazonKobo, Apple Books, and Indiebound. Get read to add it to your stack of Thesauri! 
                  No photo description available.

If you preorder, send a screenshot of the order to this special email address and you’ll receive a bonus PDF of entries that Angela and Becca completed but chose not to add to the 2nd edition.

The dynamic duo, Angela and Becca, presented together at
the CARWA workshop in 2016.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Plan to Persevere

Congratulations to Becky Scharnhorst for winning A Tough Act to Follow and Acting Innocent and to Mel Hager for winning WONDERLAND.

    One of my favorite stories to listen to as a child was, The Little Engine That Could. The voice of the little blue engine who took on the insurmountable challenge of bringing toys, dolls, and “good things to eat to the good boys and girls on the other side of the mountain,” still echoes in my head: “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” 

      Fast forward 60 years. I’m a grandmother with dozens of articles and two non-fiction books under my belt. For the last ten years I’ve been working on my first young adult novel, Half-Truths. I have revised the story fourteen times; not including the hundreds of times I’ve rewritten scenes and chapters. 

      Did I know what I was getting into when I first started this project? Definitely not.

      So, besides hearing the little blue engine in my head, what has kept me going for all these years? What keeps me chugging along from one revision to another?


      Plus, a healthy dose of belief in my story.

      Take a minute to list your definition of perseverance as it relates to your writing career. Here’s mine:

1. Not giving up on a reasonable goal. 

2. Making sure that my goal is God-honoring and worth completing.

3. Not allowing myself to be distracted from that goal by other activities.

4. Being willing to sacrifice (time, ego, money, etc.) to complete my goal.

    Now, consider what is the opposite of perseverance? In other words, what will keep you from being the little blue engine who climbs that "I'm published!' mountain? 

     Here are some obstacles I thought of:

1. Abandoning the idea because it takes too much time and effort.

2. Listening to self-doubts and fears.

3. Listening to the nay-sayers who mock the goal. 

4. Not being willing to make changes suggested by serious, constructive feedback.

5. Not being willing to put in the time and effort it will take to revise, revise, revise.

6. Not having the tools and abilities to reach your goal AND not trying to obtain them. (i.e., diligently practicing all types of writing, take classes, attend conferences, join a critique group)

7. Rejections from agents and/or publishers.

     When I began my novel, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. But I had an idea that I loved: a story set in the early 50’s in Charlotte, North Carolina about the unlikely friendship between Kate Dinsmore, the granddaughter of a rich, society woman, and Lillian Harris, her grandmother’s teenage black help. Their friendship uncovers a century worth of secrets, including their shared ancestry.

     Although I’d written two non-fiction books, when I began Half-Truths, I didn’t know how to write a novel. So, I did what you’re supposed to do: I read craft books, attended writing conferences, and received dozens of critiques. I also didn’t know much about African American or southern history. So, I read books (many of which are listed here) and interviewed African Americans who lived in Charlotte during the time period. Each book and interview took time, but they all enriched my work.

      One of the influential books I listened to was Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years 1954-1965 by Juan Williams. Besides giving me a fuller understanding of the scope of the civil rights struggle, it also provided a meaningful example of perseverance.

     Civil rights activists, including Martin Luther King, had their eyes on the prize of obtaining equal rights for blacks. Did they always know what they were getting into? Maybe not. Certainly some, like Dr. King, Medgar Evers, and the protestors who were beaten and imprisoned, ended up losing more than they’d anticipated. But did they believe in the equality they were working towards? 

    Without a doubt, they did. 

    I for one, am glad they persevered. 

     My need to persevere as a writer is minuscule compared to those who unfailingly fought for equality and persevered in the face of discrimination, danger, and death. 

    But, as I begin the next step of my publishing journey—finding an agent--I have a plan: I must persevere. I have no choice.

    And I must believe in my story.

    I'm looking forward to being able to repeat the little blue engine's refrain as she came down the mountain:

    What about you? How will you persevere in meeting your writing goals in 2019?

    If you are reading this blog and aren't a writer, I'd love to hear your stories of perseverance also!


(This post first appeared on Write2Ignite's blog.)

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Wonderland: A Review and Audio Book Giveaway

Browsing a recent Recorded Books catalog, I was pleased to find Wonderland (Farrar Strauss and Giroux, 2018), by North Carolina author, Barbara O' Connor. I hope one of your students, children, or grandchildren will enjoy it as much as I did.


The book opens with10-year-old Mavis Jeeter leaving Hadley, Georgia for the same reason she's left so many other homes--her mother's job hasn't worked out and she decides it's time to move on. Mavis is brave and spunky--but because of their frequent moves, she never ends up having a best friend. The reader quickly figures out Mavis's internal goal: to live somewhere long enough that she can have a "true" best friend. 

Therefore, when she meets Rose Tully, the shy daughter of her mother's new employer, Mavis announces, "You'll be my new best friend." Since Rose doesn't feel like she fits in with the other girls in their exclusive Magnolia Estates neighborhood, that suits her just fine. 

The story sweetly shows their ups and downs in navigating this new friendship. Since Wonderland is written from multiple-POV's, the reader gets to see the agonies each girl suffers when they feel as if they've blown it with the other person. The author does a great job of showing their gaffes as well as how the two girls forgive one another. 

The main conflict centers around Mr. Duffy, the elderly gatekeeper at Magnolia Estates whose dog recently died. Since Queenie's death, Mr. Duffy has become depressed and increasingly forgetful. Rose and Mavis love Mr. Duffy and fear that he's in danger of losing his job. When Rose's arch-enemy, Amanda, discovers a loose dog in the woods behind her house, Mavis is convinced that "Henry" (as Amanda names him) is the answer to all of Mr. Duffy's problems. 

The story has a happy ending--Mavis proves to be right--but there are enough obstacles that get in the way of that perfect solution to make the story interesting for elementary school girls. 

A neat addition to this friendship story is that Henry has his own POV. Readers will enjoy "hearing" Henry's thoughts and "feeling" his emotions as the greyhound longs for freedom and a person of his own to love him. 

I asked Barbara about her reason for including Henry as a POV character and she said, 
I know that most kids love dogs and have no problem thinking of them as an actual character in a story. I needed Henry (the dog) in order to add another emotional layer to the story. I needed the reader to know Henry’s feelings and motivations for his actions. Having a third POV character also kept the story moving forward but in differing, yet parallel, ways.
I enjoyed Mavis's child-like optimism that her plans would work and her persistence to come up with a "Plan B" when they didn't. In the end, she has gained what she wanted--but not exactly in the way she had expected. Rose's character arc--from a shy, quiet girl to a brave 5th grader who speaks her mind to her mother--is believable and worth cheering for.  

Besides Rose, Mavis, and Henry, the secondary characters including Mr. Duffy and the two mothers are well developed. Mr. Duffy's colorful language, Ms. Jeeter's petulant complaining, and Mrs. Tully's constant criticisms of her daughter and Mr. Duffy, show all these secondary characters well--and serve both Mavis's and Rose's journeys. 

The story will help young readers to consider what truly makes a best friend. In the end, as all three main characters reach a new normal I thought, "Is this Rose, Mavis's or Henry’s story?"

That will be for the reader to decide.


I am giving this book away in conjunction with the winter issue of Talking Story in which Barbara is our expert. Leave a comment here and I'll enter your name once. Leave it through the newsletter and you'll have two chances to win. Hurry! Giveaway ends January 21. 

Here is an audio excerpt as a teaser.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Two O'Dwyer and Grady Books and One Giveaway

Congratulations to Linda Townsend and Barbara Younger for winning copies of Run to the Light from last week's blog.

Eileen Heyes, a North Carolina author and writing instructor, sent me these two companion books. Based on her father's stories about his life in the movies during the depression, these books will appeal to readers in grades 4-7. Their fast pace and easy readability make them great choices for reluctant readers.


Billy O' Dwyer and Virginia Grady are eleven-year-old actors. For them, home is a movie studio and their days are filled with make-up, costumes, and re-takes--rather than with school. From the beginning the reader sees two kids who not only know how to act for the camera, but know how to put on an act for adults. 

They are also super sleuths. When a movie actress is found dead and Billy's friend and mentor, Roscoe Muldoon, is declared to be the killer, Billy and Virginia decide to prove Roscoe's innocence. In a light and breezy style that moves the story along, the pair find clues, pursue red herrings, and are instrumental in finding the real murderer. 


The partners are at it again. This time, they discover a skeleton while looking through an abandoned house for props for a skit. The mystery is not a whodunit like in Acting Innocent, but rather who is the rightful heir to the house and the treasure that the deceased owner (John Wilkinson) squirreled away? 

The duo are divided. Virginia becomes convinced that Eddie Talbott who worked for Mr. Wilkinson because his rich, son, J.J, deserted him, should get the property.  Billy--who keeps wanting the investigation to be over and gets dragged in deeper by Virginia's love for sleuthing--feels sorry for J.J. who has been estranged from his father for several years. 

On top of that, they're not even sure what the treasure--which Mr. Wilkinson wrote about in a poem--really is. The story includes fake wills, a dangerous boat chase, and of course, discovering the treasure.

The two young thespians provide enough drama to make this a page turner that both boys and girls will enjoy.


I am giving away both of these titles through Talking Story, the quarterly newsletter which Joyce Hostetter and I co-publish for educators and media specialists. Our winter issue is on Dormant Readers (also known as reluctant readers) and will come out next week. (Click here if you wish to subscribe). Leave me a comment here and I'll enter your name once. Leave a comment through the newsletter and I'll enter your name a second time. A winner will be drawn on January 21. 

Monday, December 31, 2018

Run to the Light: A Review and Giveaway

Congratulations to Deborah Allmand for winning THE PLAYER KING from last week's blog post.

My blog readers know that I generally read and review books for children and teens. Every once in awhile I come across a book for adults that I want to share with you. Run to the Light (Bedazzled Ink, 2018) by Laura King Edwards is one of those. 

But first a disclaimer: Laura Kings Edwards' book about her sister Taylor's battle against Batten Disease is not an easy book to read. Batten, a rare inherited neurological condition that causes vision loss, progressive cognitive and motor decline, and seizures, usually strikes children between the ages of 5-10 and is always fatal. Laura does not hold back on describing her fear, anger, depression, and anguish during the twelve years that Taylor bravely fought the Batten monster. But she also eloquently shares the joy she experienced in the moments she shared with her brave little sister. 

If you've been reading my blog long enough, you will recognize this story. Laura gave me the privilege of hosting her cover reveal on my blog last March. Now, you'll hear about the story. Read it, and be inspired.

Read the story behind this cover here.


In 2006 Taylor was not quite eight when her family realized that her vision and school problems signified something far worse than any of them imagined--they were Taylor's first symptoms of Batten Disease. In evocative detail, Laura shows the reader the disease's progression, how it impacted Taylor and her family, Laura's journey to find acceptance, and most of all--how Taylor became a symbol of courage to her Charlotte, NC community and to the Batten world at large. 

Throughout the progression of the disease Taylor never asked, "Why me?" "Even as her body started failing her, she sought a normal life and never asked for extra help or attention." (p. 26) Taylor's resilience amazed Laura more than anything else.

Although there were the common stages of denial and numbness that we all experience when we receive shocking news, the King family--particularly Laura and her mother Sharon, turned their anger towards fighting the disease. Several months after the diagnosis, Sharon invited a small group of women to come for lunch. Laura listened as Sharon "declared war on Batten disease and urged the rest of us to join her on the battlefield."

"The doctors said there's nothing we can do," she said. "But I'm not going down without a fight." Her voice cracked as she described our opponent, ticking off the symptoms that had crept into my sister's life and the awful ones yet to come. But her resolved never wavered. "Nothing about this will be easy. There's little being done for Batten disease. There aren't many kids like Taylor. But we have to start somewhere. Someone has to take a stand." 
In that moment, Taylor's Tale was born. (p. 29)

Taylor's family enjoying
The Magic Kingdom post- diagnosis. 2006

Sharon's decision to fight Batten led to taking Taylor cross-country to participate in a clinical trail to receive purified neural stem cells at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. It led to raising thousands of dollars for research, attending umpteen Batten disease conferences, and learning the foreign language of medicine and science. It even led to a new North Carolina law that established the first rare disease advisory council in the country.

At the same time, Laura joined the battle by educating others by blogging, attending conferences, meeting leading scientists in the field, and working hard to raise money for research. Laura's personal journey intermingles with her running career which became a metaphor for her own fight. She was afraid to give up, thinking that Batten would win. "All my life I'd been running; I wasn't about to lose this race." (p. 54)

Two years later Taylor inspired Laura by running a 5K-- the only blind person in the race. Taylor ran tethered to her running buddy by a bungee cord.

Whereas I'd often felt only anger toward Batten disease, my sister had beaten her demons by ignoring them--by focusing not on what she'd lost, but on what she could still do. She didn't waste her time worrying about what Batten disease had taken from her. She paid it no mind, and she ran her race. 
Before the trees bloomed in the spring, I'd started running for her. ( 101)
Although Laura began running for something greater than herself, the specter of not crafting the perfect blog post or not answering an email to Taylor's Tale on time haunted her. Would she hurt her sister's chance of survival? As she moved from being a sprinter into a long-distance runner, Laura realized,
I'd come to understand the value of a long-term plan. I'd learned how to push my body past the limits of what I'd previously believed it could achieve. 
And yet, my sister's body was failing her. (p. 129)

Taylor and her dad on a family trip to
the U.S. Virgin Islands, 2010.
It took me a long time to learn that Batten disease is more like a marathon [than a sprint]. You start off strong, with lots of energy. You have runner's highs and lows. Some days you think you could run forever. But then some days you feel like when you cross the finish line, you'll be so glad to see it--so exhausted--you'll just be happy it's over. Some families, families whose kids have died, have told me in the end that it's like that. It's so bad, so freaking ugly, they can't face it anymore. It isn't even about making happy memories at that point. it's about their kid's dignity and their own survival, and about finding peace. (p.209)

Taylor's Fletcher School classmates raised $3500 for Taylor's Tale in 2013.
Taylor is third from the right.
The last race that Laura describes in the book is the one she ran blind--just like Taylor did. She trained for five months and used the same bungee cord that Taylor had used several years prior. She was cheered on by other runners, the media, and her family.

I'd run 13.1 miles in the dark But I didn't take a single step alone. As I ran the final stretch of Thunder Road, led by the voice of a friend and the courage of a dying girl, I understood: Batten disease may have cast a dark shadow on our world, but I wasn't running away any longer. 
I was running to the light. 
I believed.
And I felt free. (p. 225)

Taylor in 2016


"Together with other dedicated advocates, Taylor’s Tale is uniting elected officials, healthcare providers, public health officials, researchers, biotech industry representatives and patient advocates. This important work is creating real, lasting progress in the development of breakthrough treatments and life-changing legislation for rare disease patients."

Also, Linda Phillips most recent YA novel in verse, Behind These Hands, is a story of a young girl struggling with the fact that her two siblings are diagnosed with Batten. It is based loosely on a family in Charlotte. 


This giveaway began in March with Laura's cover reveal. Add your name to that list by January 3 and you'll be in the drawing also. This time you have an extra chance to win since both Laura and I are giving away a copy. Please leave me your email address if you are new to my blog.

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