Monday, June 24, 2019

Once Upon a Twisted Tale- A Review and Giveaway

Congratulations to Deborah Allmand who won Among the Imposters from last week's blog.

This week I bring you a new book from Gayle Krause, no stranger to my blog. This time, her creativity explodes in wacky, poetic, fractured fairy tales. Ever think of combining Jack and the Beanstalk with The Emperor's New Clothes? Or, what would happen if a princess was turned into a frog as a part of the Pied Piper's march through the streets? How about imagining the Big Bad Wolf falling into Little Hen's kitchen? Gayle Krause has thought of all of these and more as characters from one fairy tale end up in something silly, fun, and unexpected. 


I think the best way to review this collection is to provide teasers from three different tales. 

The Emperor's Bodyguard

Jack fled down the beanstalk
and crashed into the King,
whose royal backside was exposed.
He didn’t wear a thing.

The naked King was trembling.
He only wore his crown.
“Turn back,” yelled Jack. “I need to hack
the giant’s beanstalk down.”

“I need the big guy’s help,” he cried.
“I’ll give him a reward
to catch the thieves who hoodwinked me.
This cannot be ignored.

FracturedA Story-time Pantoum

What makes this a fractured tale of “fairy?”
Spouting poetry, free verse, and rhyme.
Eavesdropping children must be wary,
as I weave these tales at story-time.

Spouting poetry, free verse and, rhyme.
Frogs are Kings, and a princess seeks a quest.
As I weave these tales at story time.
Answers to riddles must be guessed….

A Rat’s Life   

A piper with a flute
led the pesky
rats through town,
down to the river,
where all but
one would drown.
The rat that
survived the deadly
rat parade
was turned into a coachman

for a pretty cinder maid….

Gayle used different types of poems in this collection -- from hip hop to free verse to pantoum-- and readers will be exposed to a variety of poetry forms. With lively illustrations by Caroline O' Neal, this book will delight young readers and the parents or caretakers who read it aloud. Middle school language arts teachers could compare these tales with the original fairy tales and encourage their students to come up with their own fractured fairy tale. 


To enter this giveaway for an autographed copy of Once Upon a Twisted Tale (Clear Fork Publishing, 2019), please leave me a comment by June 27. Make sure you leave me your email address if you are new to this blog. If you want two chances, leave your idea for a twisted fairy tale in the comment box. If Cinderella met the Big Bad Wolf what would the outcome be? Gayle will send an autographed copy of the book to the winner and we promise not to steal your idea. (But I can't vouch for the Gingerbread Man. You never know what he might do!)

Monday, June 17, 2019

Among the Imposters: An Audio Book Review and Giveaway

Among the Imposters is the second book in the Shadow Children series by Margaret Haddix. Although I hadn't read the first book, Among the Hidden, Ms. Haddix's reputation is legendary and when this book was available through Recorded Books, I was glad for the opportunity to review it. 

As expected from an award-winning author, the reader is quickly acquainted with Luke Garner's history and enough information to make this second book understandable and enjoyable. Although classified as young adult, upper level middle grade readers will also enjoy this dystopian novel.


The only link Luke Garner has to his parents or his brothers, Matthew and Mark, or to his best friend Jen who recently died, is his real name. But it is no longer safe to be Luke. It is only safe to be Lee Grant.

Luke is a shadow child. Just like all third children, his parents hid him from the Population Police so that he would survive. (The population laws came about because of a famine and not enough food for everyone.) His goal in coming out of hiding is to help other third children although it is unclear to him how he will accomplish this. 

Now, at twelve-years-old, Jen's father risked his own career to obtain an identity for him and bring Luke to Hendrix School for boys. Never having been off his family's farm, Luke feels out of place and is frightened that the teachers or the other boys will discover he is not who he is pretending to be and that he is an imposter.

Inside the school he is the victim of bullying but also experiences a great deal of anonymity as the teachers pay little attention to him. Gradually he realizes that many of the boys are autistic or agoraphobic and he wonders what Hendrix School is really about--which he figures out by the end.

An accidental encounter with a door leads him outdoors. Remembering the woods and how his parents grew food, he decides to plant a garden. The garden is a great source of pleasure and gives him unexpected confidence.

Eventually, Luke recognizes that, everyone at the school is a chess piece and most of the boys are pawns. Life gets complicated when he meets other third children and he wonders if Hendrix is a place for all of them to hide. His antagonist tries to befriend him but then Luke discovers he is a traitor. Power shifts and double crossing throughout the novel keeps readers guessing--who are the imposters?

Hendrix writes in a close third person POV and Luke's "What if?" questions lead the narrative. In a world where nothing is as it seems, Luke gains voice and agency throughout the book. He determines, "He was not a pawn to be moved across a chess board according to other people's plan. " In a satisfactory manner, the ending allows Luke to reach his goal of helping other third children and makes readers want to read the sequel. What happens next? 

The book raises important questions about population control, the role of the government, loyalty, friendships, and dishonesty. I checked on Goodreads and there are many reviewers (both teens and adults) who loved the book. One reviewer found that the Shadow Children series became more and more violent as the books progressed. Therefore, I recommend reading/or listening to it yourself before passing it along to a young reader. In my judgement, this particular novel was not violent.

The book is ably narrated by John Kroft. Here is a link to the audio snippet. 


Please leave me a comment by June 21 along with your email address (if you are new to my blog) to enter this contest.  

Friday, June 14, 2019

Two Free Writing Workshops!

If you're in the Greenville, SC area and you want to find out how to take your ideas for stories or articles from brainstorming to publication, then join me at the Mauldin library on June 29.  

Turning Your Ideas into Publishable Works will meet from 10:30-12. From Finished Work to Publication will meet from 1:30-3:00. 
Registration is limited but there are still slots available. We will brainstorm, write, and have fun. No publishing experience is necessary. 

Come for one or come for both!

Please share on social media or with your friends in the Greenville area. Thank you!

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Next to the Last Mistake: Review and ARC Giveaway

For a second week in a row I'm happy to bring you another clean, contemporary YA novel. I requested The Next to Last Mistake by North Carolina author Amalie Jahn from the publisher, Light Messages, because of the racial themes. It was interesting to see how Jahn handled interracial friendships since that is a theme in my WIP, Half-Truths


Tess Goodwin's peaceful, uncomplicated life in rural Iowa changes the moment her father announces he has reenlisted in the Army. The family moves to an army base in Fayetteville, NC  and Tess is forced to say goodbye to her not-quite-a-boyfriend, Zander, and her beloved cow, Daisy. 

Conflicts navigating her huge new high school mirrors her conflicts over making new friends. When Leonetta, a black girl, is assigned to be her mentor, Tess is surprised by what they have in common as well as how their friendship develops despite racial differences. 

Tess's eyes are opened when Leonetta receives prejudicial treatment, and when she herself is the recipient of cynical comments because she's Leonetta's friend. Tess is enraged by the way her friend is treated and Leonetta explains the rules about being black. Throughout the book Leonetta guides Tess into a greater awareness of Tess's own hidden biases:
"You said it because you have your own biases you carry around with you. We all do. We can't help it. We're human. But that doesn't give us a free pass. You gotta check your privilege, keep an open mind, and consider other people's feelings before you open your mouth. If you do that you'll be okay." (p. 141)
Jahn based this book on interracial friendships she had when she moved to Fort Bragg and her husband was deployed. Good fiction often comes out of her own life experiences. I appreciate Jahn wanting to honor these relationships by showing what her black co-workers taught her about friendship across racial barriers. But some of the dialogue was heavy with lessons and doesn't sound like teenagers bantering back and forth. 

Despite that concern with the novel, there are scenes that are teen-age authentic. When the girls confront the school bully at the prom; when Tess's father announces that he is being deployed to Syria and he gives a "weary, splintered sort of smile that nearly breaks my heart (p. 227); when Zander and Tess begin to figure out their relationship going forward; and when Tess sees Daisy again and breaks down and sobs. 

The motif of chess threads naturally throughout the book. Tess, who played with her father and Zander, begins a chess club at her new school which does surprisingly well. In one conversation with her father over who will win the war in Syria, we find the reason behind the book's title:
"There's this saying in chess: 'Victory goes to the player who makes the next to last mistake.' It basically means during a game of chess you can make mistakes a long the way and still come out ahead as long as you learn from those missteps and adjust accordingly. You don't need to do things perfectly from the beginning to eventually get it right in the end. I've found over the years the theory applies to life as well. And I'm pretty sure it will be the same for war." (p. 253)

Some readers might find that there is too much backstory in the beginning about Tess's life in Iowa as well as a lot of flashbacks about Zander. But overall, I would recommend this book to teen girls who are interested in exploring interracial relationships. Kudos to Amalie Jahn for sensitively tackling a difficult subject as a white author--and keeping it clean. 


To enter the giveaway, please leave a comment and your email address if you are new to my blog. I'll also be giving this away in conjunction with the summer issue of Talking Story, Celebrate Teens. Please leave a comment by June 14. 

Monday, June 3, 2019

The Perfect Candidate: Audio Book Review and Giveaway

Congratulations to Theresa Jones who won Emily Out of Focus from last week's blog. Remember, when you don't win a book, check it out of your local library. If it's not in their catalog, you can request a purchase. Another way to support authors!



I am always delighted to find a well-written young adult novel to recommend. The Perfect Candidate by Peter Stone passed my "Is it clean?" standards with a book that is entertaining, suspenseful, and will be enjoyed by both girls and guys.

Cameron Carter, a recent graduate of Lagrima High in California, is excited about his Washington, D.C. summer internship with his congressman, Billy Beck. He wants to honor his late mother's memory because she was also an intern on the "Hill." Since he's from a small town and a lower-middle class family, he feels out of place in D.C. but is convinced that this internship will jumpstart his political future and provide an opportunity to "make a difference."

He quickly discovers that there are reasons that D.C. is referred to as the "swamp." His fellow-staffer, Ariel, gives him a mysterious message about contacting a girl named Caitlin if anything should happen to her. When she dies in an apparent drunk driving incident, Cameron is left with a lot of questions--and a dizzyingly fast cover-up by Representative Beck who is accused of having had an inappropriate relationship with Ariel. Who is speaking the truth and who is spinning public opinion? 

When he is contacted by a stranger who turns out to be Memo, an FBI agent, Cameron is both spooked and intrigued. Memo insists that Cameron is in a unique spot as an intern. He has "all the access but no profile" to investigate the apparent suicide of Branson, a pharmaceutical CEO. Cameron reluctantly agrees because of Memo's carrot--Cameron's father will receive a large landscaping bid that will set his business for life.

Cameron's research, interrupted by a romance with the Mexican ambassador's attractive daughter, leads him from one disturbing clue to another. Why did Branson commit suicide? How was his death related to Ariel's? Who was Caitlin and why did Ariel want him to contact her? Why did Ariel's mother (a junior congresswoman who has been assisted by Beck) say, "We all tell the stories we want to believe"? How is this all connected to Congressman Beck, who appears genuinely interested in him and concerned for his constituents? 

Cameron's slightly sarcastic voice is authentic for a rural teen experiencing D.C.'s subterranean train system as well as the inner workings of the political system. The life and death stakes make this a page turner (if you're reading the book) or keep you entertained on a long car trip. And by the way, you'll never guess the surprise ending!

Here is an audio snippet from John Kraft, the able and entertaining narrator: The Perfect Candidate.


To enter to win my copy of this debut YA book by Peter Stone, please leave me a comment by June 10. I'm giving it away in conjunction with the summer issue of Talking Story Celebrate Teens. Please leave your email address if you are new to my blog. 

And remember, "When you don't know who's watching you, you don't know what's being watched."

THE NIGHT WAR: A MG Historical Novel Review

  By now you should have received an email from my new website about my review of THE NIGHT WAR by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. (It'll com...