Monday, October 29, 2018

Back on Earth: A Review and Giveaway

Congratulations to Bridgett Bell Langson who won, The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl.

"I wrote BACK ON EARTH: When Men First Landed on the Moon in anticipation of the fiftieth Apollo Eleven anniversary in 2019," North Carolina author Gretchen Griffith said. "I wanted today's young readers to understand how significant this event was to the children who witnessed it."

Illustrated by Bobbie Gumbert, this non-fiction picture book for elementary school students invites readers to participate in the experience. Here is the opening paragraph: 
Two of us landed on the moon July 20, 1969. Those of us back on earth stared into the sky. "Was the moon any different?" we wondered. 
Gretchen used the first person plural to emphasize that, "This story is much bigger than my personal reflections. It is a story about a world-wide corporate experience." In choosing that unique point of view, she aligns those watching the launch, the landing, and the recovery with the astronauts who made history plus implies that the reader is also part of the historic event. 

"Those of us at the launch site felt the ground tremble under our feet. We saw birds rousted from their nests."

In BACK ON EARTH there is a great juxtaposition of ordinary events along with what was going on in outer space:
While we waited [for the landing], we played space games. We designed helmets with tin foil and pretended we were astronauts. We pretended we could fly like birds. We strapped thermos jugs to our backs for make-believe air tanks...We mixed orange flavored powder in glasses of water and sipped the same tangy drink as the astronauts. 

After three long days of waiting, the Eagle landed!
"That's one small step for man,
One giant leap for mankind." Neil Armstrong

Gretchen included a list of YouTube titles, a glossary, and information on how to interview others who witnessed the moon landing with the hopes that "this will start the conversation between generations."

Just in case you want to watch (or re-watch) the landing, YouTube offers this:

GIVEAWAY: Leave me a comment by November 1 with your email address if you are new to my blog. Gretchen will send the winner a personally autographed book. US addresses only. 

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl: A Review + a Giveaway!

Congratulations to Rosi Hollinbeck, my California blogger counterpart, who won the E-ARC of Lisa Kline's book, ONE WEEK OF YOU.


Authors are always encouraged to write an opening hook that will make the reader keep on reading. If this opening doesn't make you want to read more, I'm not sure what will:
I don't remember the moment that changed my life 4 years ago. Call it a side effect of being struck by lightning. That bolt of electricity burned a small hole in my memory. It also rewired my brain, transforming me into Lucille Fanny Callahan, math genius. (p. 1)

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl (Random House, 2018) is by North Carolina writer Stacy McAnulty, a former mechanical engineer. Stacy's previous career explains why she can write a book that seamlessly weaves math into every page of the book.  

Lucy's newly acquired brilliant math skills is central to this middle grade novel that both boys and girls will enjoy. But the book is much more than that. Along with Lucy's new skills, she struggles with obsessive compulsive habits that make her feel different than others and leave her perfectly happy to be home schooled by her grandmother. But, Nana has other ideas. When her grandmother insists she attends East Hamlin Middle, Lucy thinks,
...Nana is forcing me to be part of this germ-infested community where people are called my peers only because we are the same age. My real peers [people she interacts with online] are creating algorithms and solving problems. They'll be changing the world while I'll be wasting time memorizing textbooks and ducking dodgeballs. p. 23
In school, she is cruelly teased for her OCD habits, but, "The dirt and germs bother me more than the nasty comments." (p. 38) 

In an effort to blend in and not be seen as a freak, she deliberately makes mistakes in math class. 
Nana wants 1 year, 1 friend, 1 book, and 1 activity. I calculate this will be easier to achieve without being a freaky genius. I can be normal smart. It's only middle school. This is about survival. (p. 55)
Lucy is grouped with Windy (the girl who knows everything about everybody) and Levi (a quiet photographer who "sees things in an instant that I must miss every day" (p. 113) for a service project. When the unlikely trio bond over their project at a pet adoption agency, for the first time, Lucy has friends who stick up for her. Working at the agency takes this plucky protagonist out of her comfort zone and proves to be a turning point for her. Suddenly, people (and dogs) start mattering to her more than getting the right answer to a math problem. 

In the end, 
Since starting at East Hamlin, I've climbed the 55 steps in the school 232 times and counted all 950 lockers. I've grown 3/4 of an inch and gained 6 pounds. I've had 77 math classes with 1 amazing teacher. I've read 2 books in language arts class (or 91,255 words). I've helped save 23 dogs so far and fallen in love with 1. I've even made 2 friends. I can add it all up, but the total doesn't begin to tell the story. As it turns out, I'm more than just numbers. (p. 283)

Teachers will like the comprehensive Educator's Guide; Educators and Counselors will appreciate the Empathy Guide that stimulates discussion on stereotypes and relating to someone who is different than oneself. 


Random House is giving away a copy of LIGHTNING GIRL. Leave me a comment by October 25 for a chance to win. Make sure you leave me your email address if you are new to my blog. US addresses only. 

Monday, October 15, 2018

ONE WEEK OF YOU- by Lisa Kline's new YA novel and a Giveaway!

Congratulations to Jo Lynn Worden and Julian Daventry who won copies of DRIVE from last week's blog post. 

I am always honored when an author asks me to host their cover reveal. So, when Lisa Williams Kline asked if I was interested, of course I said yes! Her latest book, ONE WEEK OF YOU, (Blue Crow Publishing, February 2019) stars 15-year-old Lizzy who has to carry a flour baby for a week for her health class. During that time there are three prank fire drills and evacuations at school. In just one week, Lizzy realizes that adulthood brings complicated responsibilities


Lisa Williams Kline
Here Lisa shares some of the backstory of the book. 

CAROL: What prompted the story idea?

LISA: This story is fictionalized from two different real events. One year in high school my daughter had to carry a bag of flour for a week in her health class called a “flour baby.” I thought this was an interesting way to address human sexuality that had some comic potential. 

The second event took place several years later when there was a week in which there were three bomb threats in my other daughter’s high school. I was interested in the way the students handled that week. When I started writing this story, I thought, what if there were scary disruptions to the school schedule during the same week the kids had to carry the flour babies. I was partly interested in combining a somewhat comic story thread with one that wasn’t comic at all, and that has been one of the challenges in writing this story. It’s also a story of a first crush, and I based that on a combination of a couple of high school crushes of my own. And I have always been a forgetful person, and I incorporated that character flaw into my main character Lizzy. 

CAROL: Did you interview or research the book in anyway? If so, who did you talk to and how did you research it?

LISA: Yes, for example, part of my story involves student hacking of the school computer system, and I interviewed an IT expert on how the students could do this hacking. I also interviewed a teacher about school evacuations. I also had some teens read it and give me feedback about the voice. 

CAROL: I understand that you put aside the manuscript for awhile and then came back to it. Had the story changed in your mind in the interim? If so, how?

LISA: The story has evolved quite a bit over the time that I have been working on it. I put it away when I was working on the Sisters in All Seasons series. When I took it back out, I thought, hey, I think I can work on this again, there are some good moments here. Various editors and agents have all had suggestions for changes, and the story is quite a bit different than it was starting out. 

CAROL: What is the message you hope your readers will take away?

LISA: I wasn’t really thinking about a message when I wrote this book. I just wanted to tell a story that I hoped would be engaging. Many of my books end up being coming of age stories, and I think this one is too. I guess if there’s any message it would be to be kind to everyone. 

CAROL: Can you share some of your path to publication for ONE WEEK of YOU

LISA: While I’ve had an agent in the past, I do not have an agent now. I sent the manuscript directly to the editors at Blue Crow Publishing. 

I queried Blue Crow Publishing and in a few weeks they asked for the manuscript. Lauren Faulkenberry wrote me about six weeks later, after she’d read it, with a revision request. In that revision, she wanted me to mostly ramp up the tension more and make a change to the ending. I worked on that revision for a little more than a month, sent it back, and after a few weeks she send me a publication offer. I was absolutely thrilled!

Lauren and Katie at Blue Crow have been wonderful to work with. After I signed the contract, Lauren wrote me an editorial letter in which she asked for more changes, such as fleshing out the setting more and describing the characters more fully. I also did another round of revisions for Katie. Blue Crow is an indie press, and the personal attention has been fantastic. I really feel as though Lauren and Katie were one hundred percent behind me and my book. So far it’s been a great experience. 

CAROL: Thanks for sharing all of that, Lisa. It's great to hear of an indie press that's working hard for its authors! And now for the moment you've all been waiting for (unless you cheated and scrolled down)--here is the lovely cover for Lisa's new book!


Leave your name (and email address if I don't have it) to enter the giveaway of an eARC for ONE WEEK OF YOU. Enter soon! Giveaway ends October 18!

Monday, October 8, 2018

DRIVE: A Review and Two Giveaways!

Congratulations to Clara Gillow Clark and Dorothy Price who won the downloadable version of Eyes on the Prize from last week's blog.

The night that I stayed up late to finish reading Joyce Hostetter's fourth book in the Bakers Mountain Stories series, DRIVE (Calkins Creek, 2018), I texted Joyce: "This is going to be a hard book to review. There are too many wonderful things to say about it. Somehow you're able to catch the heart of emotions so well. I'm still crying."

The funny thing is that I almost didn't read the book. I'd read several drafts and thought that I knew the story. Boy, was I wrong!

After all the brainstorming, outlining, and drafting that I'd read, Joyce added layers of characterization, sensory details, and plot points that deepened the story. Having read those earlier drafts, I look back and see how she added flesh to the bones of her story--and I got to see a book develop and grow. 

One other interesting background note. When Joyce was brainstorming DRIVE, I had just given up writing Half-Truths from two points-of-view. I told Joyce of my struggles to make each character act and sound differently from the other. There's no mistake: Joyce pulls this feat off beautifully. This is a story of twin sisters vying to hold onto their sisterhood at a time when they're growing up and apart.



Mommy says Ida was born ten whole minutes ahead
   of me
and I spent the first years following after her,
doing what she did
and trying to be as good as she was.

Then, when Daddy came home from war
with hurts we couldn't see
and moods he couldn't predict,
the uncertainty hit Ida hardest of all.
She pulled back like a turtle inside its shell,
slowing down while I sped up.
I soon realized I liked running ahead,
hearing people cheer for me.

But sometimes, it was Ida they'd be bragging on,
And when they did,
I always felt that I was losing.
Life became a competition that one of us had to win.

And I was determined that the winner would be me. (p. 5)


Competition. This theme pervades the book as Ellie and Ida prepare to enter their first year of high school. As the reader meets the girls, we see how Ellie thinks she's not as good as Ida and aches for a normal family:
I wanted a father who didn't get frazzled over a bad dream or loud noises. And a mother who wasn't always aching over her husband. I didn't actually want another family; I just needed to not be embarrassed by the one I had. (p.28)
Ida, who describes herself as the quiet one, avoids the spotlight and feels as if Ellie has the drive to succeed but she doesn't. 
...I stared at the red velvet curtain on the stage and thought how I never got to pull it open and shut. It was the only job I ever wanted in any play we ever did. But thanks to being a twin, I almost always had to be out front, doing something cute with Ellie and feeling like a country bumpkin in the shadow of a movie star. (p.29)
I loved seeing the sisters from each other's POV. This is Ida talking about their different reactions to their father:

Ellie wasn't scared of Daddy the way I was. She was more like Ann Fay. Bold. Always acting like there was no mountain so tall she couldn't climb it. No race so fast she couldn't win it. And no daddy so mean she couldn't charm him. (p.42)
In this section, Ellie thinks about taking Latin in school.
Ida wouldn't want me to because then we wouldn't have all our classes together. But that also meant I wouldn't always be compared to her. I could have a class that was all my own. A hard one that she couldn't show me up in.  (P.59)
Ida feels lost and shy in their new school but Arnie, a fellow freshman, reaches out to her. Ellie who is used to being the strong twin, sees Ida with Arnie and suddenly realizes that Ida might not need her anymore. What's worse is that Ellie has a huge crush on Arnie. This conflict leads to more tension and misunderstanding between the sisters. 

Throughout the book the word drive is used in a number of ways. One of the plot threads is Ellie's passion for racing and the Hickory Motor Speedway. Whereas Ida can't stand the noise and grit of the races, Ellie thrives on the excitement and exhilaration of watching the cars zoom around the track. Unfortunately, this love for a thrilling adventure leads to a devastating accident. Without a spoiler, let me simply say that Ida is the only one who can bring Ellie out of the no-man's land of her near-death injury. 

Joyce interlaces history throughout this skillfully written story.  The 1952 presidential election, the threat of communism, and the Korean conflict are all important backdrops to the drama taking place in the little town of Hickory. 

But that's not what made me tear up. Forgiveness, love, character growth, individual accomplishments against high stakes--all of these made me root for both Ida and Ellie, as I'm sure you will too. Although written for the upper middle grade reader, adults will also resonate with the coming-of-age theme interwoven into DRIVE

As I told Joyce, I'm a lot like Ellie. I think many of us will see a little bit of ourselves in the two sisters. And isn't that what a great book is about?



After Daddy came home from war
with wounds we couldn't see
and moods he couldn't predict,
I pulled back and let Ellie take the lead.

I didn't mind so much if she wanted to run on past
and steal the show from me.
I didn't need to be seen or heard the way she did.
Art was my voice.

But then in her race to be first
Ellie crashed
and I had to go around her--
to face scary unknowns
and accept good things that came my way.

I think we both learned
that life is not a race with one of us winning
and the other losing.
We can drive on our own separate tracks
without competing.
And when we do
We'll each come out a winner. (p. 342)


Since so many of Joyce's fans read my blog, Boyds Mills Press kindly agreed to give away TWO copies of DRIVE. Leave me a comment by October 11 with your email address if you are new to my blog. If you want additional chances to win, share this on social media or follow my blog and I'll add your name twice to the hat--but make sure you tell me what you did. 

And while I'm on the topic of Boyds Mills Press--who wants the Bakers Mountain Stories to be published in audio format? I think they'd be perfect! If you agree with me, please join me in tweeting @boydsmillspress. 

Monday, October 1, 2018

Eyes on the Prize - Audio Book review and Giveaway

Congratulations to Megan Hoyt and Becky Scharnhorst who won copies of Viviane Elbee's book, Teach Your Giraffe to Ski.

It's hard to review a book that covers the entire Civil Rights period in as much detail as Eyes On the Prize by Juan Williams does. The book, suitable for adults and young adults, is simultaneously comprehensive, academic, and personal. Williams wrote it as a companion to the first season of the NPR series with the same title. As noted below, several segments are now on YouTube. 

Even though I have read many books on the civil rights era, William's book showed how one event led to another--like dominoes falling in succession. I recommended it to one of my experts, Vermelle Ely, who enjoys audio books. When we had talked previously my questions were about Charlotte and Second Ward High. When I asked her about Little Rock she said, "Sure we knew about it. But back then, news didn’t travel so fast." Her remark was historically revealing.

Although I have chosen different portions of the book to highlight, it is very difficult to summarize any of these historical events. For more detail--please read the book!


Charles Hamilton Houston served as a mentor to a generation of black lawyers leading up to the Civil Rights period. He was instrumental in attacking the "separate but equal" rules that governed the Jim Crow South. He investigated educational discrimination by creating movies of the schools for black children. Although he started with elementary schools, his goal was to develop graduate programs that were nonexistent for blacks. Houston was instrumental in pulling together the cases (including the historic challenge in Clarendon County, SC as I blogged about here) to create the lawsuit that eventually led to the Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954. Interestingly, Williams said that Emmit Till's murder did more for civil rights than Brown vs. the Board of Education as it brought the plight of southern blacks to national attention. 


Since blacks frequently used buses for transportation to work, Williams noted that it was no accident that bus boycotts throughout the South became the stage of protest. "Indignity suffered alone was debilitating, but indignity shared was powerful."  Although blacks feared white reprisal for their boycotts (losing their jobs and physical violence) a growing sentiment was that the time had come to take a stand for freedom. 

During this time Martin Luther King, Jr. preached nonviolence. Segregationists put pressure on white commissioners not to give in to black boycotts. The boycotts received national attention and
bus segregation started to be challenged in courts. 

The behind the scenes politics in all the cities, but especially Little Rock, AK were fascinating.  Desegregation was a political football from the local level all the way up to President Eisenhower. The politicians, including Governor Faubus, were often more interested in grandstanding than fair play. 

It was also interesting to track the role of the NAACP Youth Council as young adults and college students became involved in the movement. Williams features Diane Nash, John Lewis, and Jim Lawson who were leaders in nonviolent protests at lunch counters throughout the South. President Kennedy was deeply influenced by the student protests and became an important advocate of civil rights. An interesting segment at the end of the book details where these individuals were in 1987 when the book was published.


In this section I heard the sad story of Medgar Evars, a WWII veteran and civil rights activist who was murdered in 1963 by a Klansman. "All we wanted was to be ordinary citizens. If the Japs and Germans didn’t kill us, it looked like white Mississippians would." He was rejected at the University of Mississippi law school and was very active in the NAACP. This invovlement could lead blacks to being called niggers, alligators, apes, coons, possums and was often equated with being a Communist. 

Similar to the political maneuverings in Little Rock, the behind-the-scenes events among the Mississippi delegation and Lyndon B. Johnson's negotiations at the 1964 Democratic convention were insightful and fascinating. 

I can't possibly summarize Freedom Summer in 1964 when blacks were trying to register to vote. Whites threatened economic reprisals even though at times the blacks were better educated than the whites registering them. It was a summer of violence when President Johnson was spending money on Vietnam while blacks were being killed. But black teenagers singing the Star Spangled Banner and the marches from Selma to Montgomery were a source of inspiration to many. 

Williams noted that the decade between 1954 and 1964 saw more social change and more court decisions than any other decade. The lives of blacks and whites were forever changed because of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954, the Civil Rights Act of 1960, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Television forced the print press to be more honest. The white perspective was no longer the only one heard.

Listen to this audio snippet of the book and see what a fine job actor Sean Crisden did. 


Leave me a comment by October 4 with your email address if you are new to my blog. Tantor Audio will provide a code for the winner to download the book.


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