Wednesday, December 20, 2023

A Holiday GIft: Haikus from Two Friends Plus Two Announcements

 I'm going to end my blogging for 2023 with some delicious word morsels from two writer friends. They'll take you less than a minute to read, yet I suspect it took Jo Hackl and Michelle Nott hours to craft them. Savor each verb and taste every image. Let the flavor of their figurative language roll around on your tongue.

These word treats pack no calories--just pleasure!


Leaves fell but still I

cling, waiting wafts of wind, to

glide to waiting soil.  -- Jo Hackl

Image courtesy Jo Hackl

Leaves in shades of wine

Dance with secrets on a breeze

Encore and applause. -- Michelle Nott 



Image courtesy Jo Hackl


Straw basket beckoned me near

and now it is mine. -- Jo Hackl


Image courtesy Michelle Nott. Photo taken in Savoie, France while snow-shoeing.


Grains of dust, frost-kissed

Crystallize, waltz, bow, whisper

Warm wishes to all. -- Michelle Nott


💗 Congratulations to Erin Hecker who won THE MEMORY QUILT which comes out on January 9.

💗 I will be leading writing workshops again in 2024. My first one is Ten Steps on Your Path to Publication at Steele Creek Library in Charlotte, NC on March 19. Join me in this hands-on workshop as I share ten steps toward making your writing dream a reality. We will also touch on the pros and cons of self-publishing.

The workshop is free and all attendees will take home a journal to inspire them on their path to publication. Registration is required and opens on January 1. 


Happy Holidays to all of you. I'm taking some time away from blogging and will welcome you back here in 2024 for book reviews from myself and my team of tween and teen bloggers; giveaways, and more!

Sunday, December 17, 2023

TEARS TO DANCING: A Middle Grade Review by Guest Reviewer Mara Scudder


Tears to Dancing (Dancing Bear Publishing: 2012) by Laura Thomas is an intimate book tracing one young ballerina’s struggle with losing both her parents and her ability to dance in a traumatic car crash. The protagonist, Bethany, takes center stage in this character-driven novel. Few outside forces (aside from the car crash) affected the protagonist or much of the cast at all. Instead, the author explored their inner dialogue and struggle with grief through slow-paced, intimate chapters that echo character-centered classics.

One of the biggest drawbacks of the work was the fact that it opened with the death of Bethany’s parents. As a result, it was difficult to mourn with or even understand what she had lost throughout most of the novel. The first time the readers heard of her parents was when they learned that they had died, and this made it more difficult to relate to Bethany’s grief, which was the biggest element of the work.

Another issue I found was that several of the characters played the strawman -- Bethany’s best friend is very much the one-dimensional “rich girl” cliche, while her “church friend” is a teenager with a heart of gold. This was a detriment to the dialogue, as well as Bethany’s relationships.

Aside from that, there were definitely some very heartwarming scenes and powerful themes that came from the protagonist’s discovery of the gospel. Although it was certainly not perfect, the work had some powerful ideas to share. Bethany developed dramatically over the work, and I am looking forward to reading the next two parts of the trilogy.


Hi! My name is Mara, and I’m a Christian artist, violinist, and blogger. I remember the day that I decided that I would learn something new about what makes a good story from every book I picked up — whether it was good, bad, or a mixture of both. I use my blog as a way of sharing some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned and highlighting which books, cartoons, and movies have taught me the most about writing an awesome story. I’m in tenth grade and live in Philadelphia.  

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Q & A with the Author & the Illustrator of THE MEMORY QUILT + A Teen Review + A Giveaway

To follow up on Georgie Bartlett's review of THE MEMORY QUILT, (Monarch Educational Services, 2024) here are author and illustrator interviews, a teen review, PLUS more!


CAROL: What were your hopes for this The Memory Quilt?

LORI:  I see The Memory Quilt as a catalyst that sparks deep conversations about death with children. My hope is that it will engulf them in a world where vivid colors interweave, where soft whispers and tearful laughter coexist harmoniously. Along this journey, they will experience the bittersweet fragrance of memories lingering in the air and feel the comforting warmth and hope that can emerge from the depths of grief.

CAROL: What was your inspiration for writing The Memory Quilt?

LORI: During a dinner with friends, we heard about their son's passing and how his brother repurposed his clothes as memory quilts for the family, which he gave as Christmas presents. This touching story stayed with me for years until I finally wrote The Memory Quilt. 

CAROL: Did you know of a young child who died?

LORI: Sadly, I have known multiple children who have passed away at very young ages.

CAROL: Why did you not mention why Jason died?

LORI: To connect with individuals who have experienced the loss of a child, I deliberately omitted Jason's cause of death. Regardless of the circumstances, grief is a universal experience that we must all navigate.

CAROL: Are the children based on anyone you know?

LORI: Grace and Jason are inspired by children who have gone through a difficult experience of loss. However, the two characters are not based on any specific individuals.

CAROL: Can you tell us about your publishing journey? How long did you work on it and how did you find Monarch?

LORI: It took several revisions and ample feedback from critique partners before The Memory Quilt was ready for submission. It wasn't my first attempt at breaking into the publishing industry. It all began with my debut novel, Butterfly Ink, which is scheduled for release in June 2024. Despite facing initial rejections from various agents, I finally discovered Monarch Press through a fellow critique partner who had recently signed with them. After submitting my manuscript, Jen Lowry, the publisher requested a full manuscript and then offered me a publication deal. Two months later, I found out that Jen was starting a new imprint, Caterpillar Books, which specializes in picture and chapter books. After I submitted several stories, Jen ultimately selected The Memory Quilt.

Becoming the first Caterpillar author is an exceptional honor, and the journey of collaborating alongside Jen has been an incredible privilege.

CAROL: What was your experience working with the Alyssa?

LORI: Alyssa is a skilled digital artist and a joy to work with. She even conceived the cover idea that portrays Grace reminiscing about her moments with Jason, clutching the quilt. Her stunning illustrations brought the story to life.

CAROL: How did your Christian faith influence this story?

LORI: My faith plays a significant role in shaping the stories I create. All my stories are designed to meet the needs of children, whether it's to help them deal with grief, provide a moment of levity, impart new knowledge, or allow them to see themselves in a story that relates specifically to their unique experiences.



CAROLCan you describe the process of creating the illustrations?

ALYSSA: I created the illustrations from both the written words of the story and from some notes that Lori had written about how she imagined the scene. Then I worked up the rough drafts and began the process of completing full illustrations for each page. Sometimes I would have a different idea for a scene than what was written in Lori's illustration notes, so I would run the idea by Lori to see which direction the illustration should go.

CAROL: Was the subject matter personal to you or difficult in any way?

ALYSSA: I loved the concept of a memory quilt to celebrate and remember the life of a loved one. My grandma was a quilter and I found myself thinking of her as I worked on the illustrations.

CAROL: As you worked on the illustrations, what were your hopes for the children who will read this book?

ALYSSA: My hope is that children experiencing loss would recognize that they are not alone in their grief. One of my favorite parts of Lori's story is that Grace's mom actively helps her daughter to process these painful emotions.


The Memory Quilt is a story about loss.

We live in an age where loss, hurt, war, and general inhumanity are prevalent and on the rise. Because of this, wouldn’t it be wise to acquaint children - the next generation - with these weighty topics? We want them to be prepared.

Lori Keating’s book puts forth the topics of death and loss gently in the character Grace, who makes a quilt out of her deceased friend Jason’s old clothes. She makes the quilt as a gift for his grieving parents.

As Grace makes the quilt, she’s forced to remember the times she had with him, which makes her sad, but she learns to look to the future with hope and joy (giving the gift to his parents).

Overall, the illustrations fit nicely with the book. They are clear and easy to understand and support the story. Thank you, Lori Keating for this book! -Janelle Ekpo



If you are interested in winning this book, please leave a comment by December 18 along with your email address if you are new to my blog. If you share this on social media or sign up for my blog, I'll give you an extra chance to win. U.S. addresses only.

Congratulations to Gail Hurlburt who won The Double Crossing from my last giveaway. 

Thursday, December 7, 2023

THE DOUBLE CROSSING by Sylvia Patience: A Middle Grade Historical Fiction Review, Author Interview, & Giveaway

 Sylvia Patience, the author of The Double Crossing (Paper Angel Press, 2023), reached out to me with a request to review her historical middle-grade book. She suspected that it was a book that would interest me and she was right.


I first learned about the ocean liner, the St. Louis in Barbara Krasner's picture book, Liesl's Ocean Rescue. One of Alan Gratz's characters in Refugee was a boy on board the luxury ocean liner. This novel is a unique in-depth story of the ocean crossing told from alternating points of view of thirteen-year-olds, Hannah Coen and David Jantzen. Like the other books, it takes place in 1939 and the 937 passengers are escaping Nazi Germany in hopes of finding a safe haven in Cuba. 

Quickly the reader learns that Hannah's father was arrested during Kristallnacht and sent to a concentration camp. Her mother promises to join her as soon as possible but Hannah is distraught over leaving her. She meets David who is traveling with his family. David's father is Jewish and his mother is Aryan.  Although their backgrounds and personalities are different, Hannah and David bond over bird watching.  

Early in the book, there are hints of problems to come. David's father hears a rumor that there might be problems landing in Cuba. Leo, a friend who is a steward for the pro-Jewish Captain Schroeder, tells them that the Nazi propagandists have been trying to get Cubans to change their minds about admitting the Jews. Hannah worries about why they would get sent back; if Hitler is starting a war, and if she'll ever see her parents again.

Hannah and David overhear conversations among the Nazis on board. Specifically, they learn of Gestapo official Otto Schiendick's plan to gather secret documents from Robert Hoffman. Although both kids are nervous about what to do with the information, Hannah is determined to stop Schiendick from carrying out his plan--no matter how dangerous that is. It is at this point in the story, that their different perspectives become very interesting. Hannah concludes that they must do something; David thinks they have no options. The following is from Hannah's POV.

As we descended the stairway from the bridge deck, David whispered, "See? If even Captain Schroeder can't do anything, what can we do?"

"If the captain can't do anything we have to. Whatever he says. Even if we get in trouble. Because we know about it. And it's wrong. It could mean war!"

And from David's POV: 

Since our talk with the captain and my argument with Hannah, I'd been going around and around in my head. If you know something is wrong, do you have to try to stop it? Even if you don't have much of a chance? Even if it's dangerous? And even if the grown-ups in charge tell you not to?

Together, they face the disappointment of not landing in Cuba and the hardships on the return voyage. Although separated once they return to Europe, the ending suggests that are reunited. It's a sweet conclusion that leaves the reader wanting to know more.


I enjoyed the role that birds played in the book. In the beginning, Hannah and David rescue an injured petrel. They hide him in a lifeboat whey they push small bits of food down his throat. When Leo asks what it was like to be Jewish in Germany she answers, "Kind of like what's happening to Peter," she said. "He's trapped and can't get out. He probably feels scared and helpless."  After the ship is prohibited from landing in Cuba David observes, "Like the birds flying over the ocean, rumors flew on board." 

Even if you have read other accounts of the St. Louis, you will find this touching, suspenseful story a worthwhile read. 


Carol: What was the inspiration for this story?

Sylvia: I first saw an article in a news publication that talked about the St. Louis' 1939 voyage. It caught my interest. I'd never heard about it. This was probably around eight years ago. I immediately thought it would make an interesting story to write, started doing research, and read some other books about it and the time period in Germany. The story grew in my mind.  

Carol: What was your path to publication?

Sylvia: As far as publication, as you probably know it's very difficult to find an agent these days, let alone a publisher. I sent out a lot of queries. I was very lucky to hear of Paper Angel Press, as they had published works of another local author. They are an independent publisher and have done an excellent job with the book, and my other book, The Weaver's Daughter


I appreciate how Sylvia pulled together so many facts when she wrote The Double Crossing. As soon as I finished it, I read her Author's Note and Glossary. The Author's Note provided all the factual information about the important secondary characters who were real people. I hope you'll take the time to look at the links I provided in this review; you'll see how Sylvia's impeccable research was woven into this fictional story. It almost goes without saying that this would be a great curriculum resource when studying WWII. 


I'm giving away my copy to one fortunate reader. Please leave a comment by December 13 along with your email address if you are new to my blog. I'll do my best to get it into the mail ASAP so you can give it to your favorite middle-grade reader or add it to your library's shelves. Share this on social media or sign up for my blog and you'll get an extra chance. As usual, if you are a teacher, home-school educator, or librarian, you'll get an extra chance. If you prefer, email me to enter. U.S. addresses only. 


Congratulations to one of my teen bloggers, Janelle Epko, who won the Ebook of A Study in Terminal. 

Friday, December 1, 2023


 Please welcome Amanda Moyer, my guest blogger for a review of Kara Linaburg's suspenseful novel, A STUDY IN TERMINAL (Monarch Educational Services, June 2022). 


A Study in Terminal by Kara Linaburg is a young adult novel telling the story of Sean Brogan, a young man trying to face the demons of his past that have haunted his nightmares since he was a kid. The book broaches intense topics such as self-hatred, depression, and suicide but concludes with hope, healing, and letting go.

We meet Sean first through a page of his journal and a flash-forward to the climax, where we discover that his mother ended her life ten years ago and that he intends to do the same. He has been haunted his entire life by the bad luck of watching people die because he either arrived too late or didn’t have the courage to save them.

His goal is to return to the small town he lived in with his mother before she died and finish writing his novel before following her. His plans change when his motorcycle breaks down just a few miles shy of town, and he gets picked up by the Kenzies, a family he’d known well. Throughout the book Sean reconnects with his childhood friends, Joe and Rina Kenzie, but he never explains that his mother’s death isn’t the only thing bringing him here. He is also being hunted down by his New York gang for betraying them.

Rina delivers a touching theme when she and Sean are talking about Sherlock Holmes. Sean doesn’t think much of the detective because “Sherlock only solved murders—never prevented them,” which echoes his own despair over bad luck. Rina counters: “True, but he had to learn to care for the people first before he could save them.”

When the gang members finally catch up with him, they choose to take their vengeance out on him by kidnapping and threatening Rina. Sean is terrified that she’ll just be one more person he couldn’t save, but his luck finally changes, and they all make it out alive. Despite the victory, the events solidify his determination to end his own life to prevent more people from being in danger because of him.

But this time, Rina saves him.

When she follows him into his abandoned childhood home, he suddenly remembers this wasn’t the first time. She had been there when they were kids, the day his mother died. Since then she has struggled with the same nightmares and the same guilt. She saves him by being present and caring for him. He allows her to meet him in the darkness, a darkness she knows well, and he begins to see hope and freedom he didn’t know was possible. She gives him the power to save himself by showing him that he is worth caring for.

I appreciate that the author set the tone and theme for the book from the very first page which helped me mentally prepare for the rest of the story, but also root for Sean and identify with his darkness. Sean walks out of his childhood home with a different perspective and a second chance at life. He realizes that moving forward and creating a life worth living is the only way for him to let go of the past. The story does mention Christian themes, but never directly says he found faith. In a way, it doesn’t need to. It ends with the beautiful feeling that the story isn’t over, that there is more healing to be done and that Sean will continue moving forward. 

The intense themes and vivid storytelling do warrant a caution for those who, like myself, have personally struggled with mental health, but the ending could not have held as much hope if the story had not held so much darkness. In Rina’s words: “Sunsets remind me that the darkness won’t last forever, that the light will come if I only wait for it.”


If you are interested in receiving an E-book, please leave me a comment with your email address by December 4. Remember, I need to approve your comment before it goes live. 

As you can tell from Amanda's review, this book is full of sensitive issues. Click here for the reader's guide that will help parents, teachers, or counselors use A STUDY IN TERMINAL with teen readers struggling with depression and/or suicidal thoughts.

Amanda Moyer lives in Pennsylvania where she works as an accountant. She has always had a love of young adult fiction and fantasy and enjoys writing and worldbuilding with her cousins.

Congratulations to Rebecca Dollins who won THE ORANGE HORSE.

Monday, November 27, 2023

THE ORANGE HORSE: A Picture Book Review and Giveaway

 Although The Orange Horse written and illustrated by Hsu-Kung Liu (Reycraft: 2019) was published four years ago, the theme and message of the book are timeless. Written and illustrated with simple language and child-friendly illustrations, this book is playful yet simultaneously touching and serious.


I love the believability of how the story opens:

Every child knows that horses aren't orange, they don't walk on two legs, and they don't carry suitcases through the city. But none of that matters. The child reader suspends disbelief and is immersed in the story world.

Unfortunately, the only clue he had to find his brother was half of a photograph of an orange horse just like him.  

So, he did whatever any normal orange horse looking for his brother might do. He placed an ad in the newspaper. 

He received an answer!

But, it was from a HOUSE. Not a HORSE.

He decided to make his ad more specific:

Notice how each part of orange horse's thought process would make sense to a child. 

After a race car shows up, orange horse decides his third ad needs to be even more specific and he rewrites the ad. "My brother should have a black mane and a black tail." (Notice the classic pattern of three obstacles!)

His third try flops and the orange horse feels ready to give up. He goes to an art gallery, meets a brown horse, and begins to enjoy his company. They chat, run, and eat together. 

Notice the wrong conclusion that the orange horse comes to because of the way he is thinking. What a wonderful discussion point in preschool and K-first-grade classrooms!

After the brown horse mentions that he also had a long-lost brother and half an old photograph, they tried to match their photographs up. "But no, their half-photographs were not a match."

Both horses were upset. The orange horse wished the half-photos didn't exist so they could still hope they were brothers. Angry and upset, the brown horse trimmed the two half-photographs. 

Then he stuck the two halves together. "Don't cry," he told the orange horse. "See? From now on, we are brothers."

The beautiful conclusion is shown on the last page:

I think it is easy for writers to want to moralize and teach a lesson in their story. The Orange Horse is a great mentor text to show us all how NOT to do that. After all, there is more than one way to be a friend. Right?


Thank you to Reycraft Books for generously supplying the illustrations and the giveaway. It will make a wonderful holiday present for a young child on your gift list or for your child's teacher. Just leave me a comment if you wish to enter (with your email address if you are new to my blog) or send me an email. U.S. addresses only. The giveaway ends November 30. If you sign up for my blog, share this on social media, or are a teacher or librarian, you will get additional chances to win this book. 


In this video, Wiley Blevins, editor at Reycraft, reads The Orange Horse. 

Congratulations to Barbara Cantor who won THE LUCKY DIAMOND. 

Saturday, November 18, 2023

THE LUCKY DIAMOND: A Fantasy Middle-Grade Review by Guest Blogger, Luther Matarazzo

Please welcome my new tween book reviewer, Luther Matarazzo, as he reviews a fellow MMGM book blogger.  



The Lucky Diamond, by Valinora Troy, is one of the best books I’ve ever read. This book has been created by a truly wonderful writer and her writing style is so interesting. This gem of a book is fairly new, but in my opinion, its author deserves a place with the great writers of the past. One day, this book will be famous and people will talk about Valinora Troy’s excellent book! One of these people will be me, Luther Matarazzo. 

The author, Valinora Troy, has been writing since childhood. When she was just six, her powerful imagination formed the story that would one day be this book. She recently completed an M.A. in Creative Writing, specializing in Children and Young Adult fiction. She has written many short stories for adults that have been published in numerous venues. She used to live in Louth, Ireland, then she moved to Dublin for a time but has recently returned to a “magical” writing cottage in the Louth area. This book, The Lucky Diamond, is her first novel to be published. 

The remarkable setting for the story takes place in the magical land of Nivram. This is a world of fantasy, filled with spooky forests, enchanted rocks, haunted woods, monsters, castles, witches, and dwarf-like people called Nilkens. The impression I get is the setting for the story is like 16th-century Germany or Ireland, but instead filled with enchanted castles, creatures, and forests.

 The story begins with a prologue about a man named Matt, the uncle of five orphaned children. The oldest, Cathy, is only ten. Their uncle was executed for treason, leaving the five to care for themselves. They are unable to leave the town and are hiding from law enforcement which is intent on banishing them. After five years of the children living in secret, Cathy finds a magical, talking diamond named Lucky. Soon after, the children discover that there are evil forces at work that want to kill Lucky and invade their home, the Rock of Diamonds. The children must travel through live rocks that want to crush them; enchanted pools, evil witches, great Forest monsters, and evil Nilkens. They must brave the castle of the witch, Queen Rose. Along the way, they also make new friends including friendly Nilkens. The children must bring Lucky home, and the story ends with a battle of wills between Queen Rose of Cansis, and her evil henchmen, and the Diamonds, and the children. Of course, justice prevails.

I think kids ages 8-15 will enjoy this book just as thoroughly as I did. In my opinion, this story deserves a 4.7-star rating. Other than the fact that the book is without illustrations, it’s one of the best fantasy novels I’ve ever read. I love how the author masterfully combines fantasy, suspense, and mystery into an action-filled story! This book is sure to knock the socks off of its readers, keep them spellbound for hours, and push them to the edge of their seats. Thank you, Valinora Troy, for this great book.


My name is Luther Matarazzo. I am 12 years old and I live in South Carolina with my parents and my 6 sisters. I enjoy shooting, playing with my siblings, exercising, biking, taking care of our chicken flock, and building with Legos. When I'm not doing my homeschool work I also enjoy reading. I especially like books about U.S. special forces or firearms.


Valinora is offering a paperback copy of The Lucky Diamond to one of my blog readers. To enter, please leave a comment by November 22. If you are new to my blog, make sure you leave your email address. If you prefer, email me. 

You can find more great middle-grade books on Greg Pattridge's MMGM blog on Monday.

Saturday, November 11, 2023


It's been a long time since I've published a "You Heard It Here First" blog post

It's been an even longer time since I first began writing Half-Truths

My first blog was in 2007 when I wrote about attending a SCBWI-Carolinas conference and finding my character's voice. Since then, I've written over 100 blog posts about this writing journey. The list includes the books I've read, 

a few of the over 100 people I interviewed, the workshops I took, and some of my major revisions. I applied for several SCBWI WIP grants and queried agents and publishers. Although I never won a contest or received a bite (although a few rejections were encouraging and personal), my vision for my book became clearer. 

One of my special interviewees, Price Davis.
He is standing in front of his childhood home in Cherry, NC.

Ask me how many drafts I've completed and I can't answer. Officially, I have ten drafts in Word and fourteen in Scrivener. Each of these drafts was revised countless times. 

One way of visualizing where scenes would go.

Sixteen years is a long time to be working on one book, but as I soon realized after beginning this task, I didn't know what I didn't know. There were times that I took breaks and worked on other projects too. Each time I returned to the manuscript, I still loved the characters and the plot. 

In the beginning, I had an idea about a white girl (Kate) who moved to the Myers Park neighborhood of Charlotte, NC from a farm in either South Carolina or North Carolina. She would feel like an outsider as she tried to figure out where she belonged in the world of 1950s debutantes. Soon after moving to her grandmother's home, she would meet a Black girl, Lillian. They would have an off-and-on friendship but would eventually bond over finding a remedy for Kate's goat's ringworm. There would be betrayal, the uncovering of long-buried family secrets, and clandestine trips to a funeral home and a cemetery. 

All that has stayed the same. But, so much has changed. 

I wrestled with how to begin the story and rewrote the beginning at least 50 times. I put in the murder of Lillian's brother and then took it out. I gave each girl a boyfriend and then, based on Rebecca Petruck's advice that I was getting too far away from my theme, I took them out. I spent two years writing it from both girls' POVs and then abandoned that idea. I made up a fictional town named Crossroads, NC until my mentor, Joyce Hostetter, convinced me that there was real history in Tabor City, NC that I should use. I changed the names of characters, deleted scenes that I loved, battled confusion and discouragement, and tried to figure out if this was a middle-grade or young adult book.

Until I found Monarch Educational Services in July. 

My Talking Story newsletter partner, Rebecca Wheeler, published her debut YA novel, WHISPERING THROUGH WATER with Monarch in January. She recommended querying the publisher, Jennifer Lowry. Despite being afraid of another rejection, within thirty minutes of sending my query, Jennifer responded that it was stellar. A few minutes later she asked for the full manuscript. That was beyond my craziest dream!

In September Jennifer provided detailed editorial input. One of her first reactions was that she saw Half-Truths as a young adult book and not as middle grade. Monarch is committed to clean reads and provides content ratings for all of their books. Since Half-Truths includes a reference to a sexual encounter between a slave owner and his slave, Jennifer felt strongly that it is a young adult novel. Since I've debated this issue so many times I'm happy to identify it as YA and for this conflict resolution! By the way, I've seen this book as upper middle-grade and expect that it will interest readers from 12 and up. 

Finally, after years of writing, rewriting, planning, and proofreading, I'm thrilled to announce, that Half-Truths will be published in June 2025. 

If you're my Facebook friend, you may have wondered why the picture of Blue Willow china has been my profile picture for all these years. If you want to be one of the first to find out its role in Half-Truths, leave me a comment (including your email address if you think I might not have it) and I'll send you a digital ARC (Advanced Reader's Copy) about six months before the book releases. The only qualification is that you post a review on Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, or Independent Book Review.  (Amazon won't allow you to post a review until the book's release.)

Thank you for joining me in this publication journey. 

Friday, November 10, 2023

ZORA & ME: THE CURSED GROUND by T.R.Simon: A Middle Grade Book Review

I don't know how I missed Zora & Me: The Cursed Ground by T.R. Simon when I was reading books in order to inform Half-Truths, but I did. Fortunately, it's never too late to find a great read! 

Anyone who is familiar with Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) will know that she was a renowned storyteller who portrayed racial struggles in the early 1900s. If you google Zora Hurston + children's book, you'll find several story books that she wrote, some picture books by contemporary authors, and a few biographies.  But I didn't find anything close to this captivating fictionalized account of Zora's childhood adventures with her best friend Carrie--the book's narrator. This is a book that Ms. Hurston would be proud of. The dual timelines of Eatonville, Florida 1903 and Westin, Florida, 1855 are captured beautifully and then come together perfectly at the end.

Here is the publisher's summary:

When Zora Neale Hurston and her best friend, Carrie Brown, discover that the town mute can speak after all, they think they’ve uncovered a big secret. But Mr. Polk’s silence is just one piece of a larger puzzle that stretches back half a century to the tragic story of an enslaved girl named Lucia. As Zora’s curiosity leads a reluctant Carrie deeper into the mystery, the story unfolds through alternating narratives. Lucia’s struggle for freedom resonates through the years, threatening the future of America’s first incorporated black township - the hometown of author Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960). In a riveting coming-of-age tale, award-winning author T. R. Simon champions the strength of a people to stand up for justice.  

I'm going to quote some favorite passages. Although I'm quoting them without any context, I believe you will experience the depth of this story, the evocative sensory writing, and the book's profound meaning for today's readers.

"I do not think a slave who has seen the power of the whip can truly sorrow for someone who owns people, no matter how benevolently he owns them. If there is a kindness that can soften the blow of stolen freedom, I have not seen it." (p. 70)

"Beyond the split-rail fence, Mr. Polk's property turned wild; a forest of tall pines, dense thicket, uncut cane, and rebellious scrub led you into deep shade. Daylight was there, but tall trees had conspired to shrink the sun's power, and the density of the dark was palpable." (p. 78.)

"I shivered. It felt funny standing here on Mr. Polk's land, looking at this hull of a house. Everything about it raised questions, and I wondered if not speaking at all was the only way Mr. Polk could keep so much to himself." (p. 84)

"As long as there are slaves, the free benefit. If it were not for slavery, we would all be merely human. It's our slavery that makes you free."  (p.113)

"These white folks pay for what they do. They just don't know it. They pay with a little bit of their soul every time they put their boot on us. Ain't no man nor woman can bring another soul low without losing they own soul. They might not think they lost, but they are." (p. 126)

I had thought Zora was looking to solve a puzzle for the past two days. What she had really been doing was piecing together a quilt, made from the fleeting scraps of the said and the unsaid. She was starting to unfold and show us a whole cloth of Eatonville's history. (p. 174)

My throat burned and my eyes stung. Our lives mattered just as much as theirs, but the truth of that had been erased by slavery. Slavery itself might be over, but neither the Thirteenth Amendment nor anything that had happened since could make us human in the eyes of these men. That was why our parents had fought so hard to create and sustain a corner of the world where we determined our own value. (p.232)

"Why do they hate us so much?"

Old Lady Bronson reached down and took my chin in her hand, firmly yet gently. "They have to hate because you can't take another person's freedom with love."

It was a simple answer, yet contained a universe of truth. (p.248)


I've given you some of the bones of this book; I hope you read and discover the entire story. This would be an excellent resource for students who are studying the aftermath of the Civil War.


For T.R. Simon's thoughts on writing this book, watch this video.

For some background information about T.R. and her co-author, Victoria Bond, watch this short video.


Congratulations to Kathy O'Neill who won A MEMORY QUILT by Lori Keating.

On Monday, Greg Pattridge will feature this book and other great middle-grade books on his MMGM blog. Check it out!

Saturday, November 4, 2023

WHISPERING THROUGH WATER: Two Reviews of Rebecca Wheeler's Debut Young Adult Novel

In this blog post, I'm trying something new. Teen reviewer Mara Scudder and I both read Rebecca Wheeler's book, Whispering Through Water (Monarch Educational Services, 2023) and we each wanted to share our thoughts about it. Today you get a teen's and a senior's take on a book that is obviously for all ages!


Whispering Through Water is a YA summer romance wrapped up in a mystery. The protagonist, Gwyneth Madison, is a high school senior with her eyes set on a college in the far-away city of Boston. Desperate to escape her monotonous small-town life, Gwyn would risk almost anything to get to art school. Her wealthy Aunt Delia, who once promised to pay for her college, is disappointed in her decision and determined to keep her from attending school out of state. When Gwyn finds a mysteriously personal letter addressed to her aunt, she decides to investigate.

The mystery sends her on a series of hunts as she digs through family secrets to discover what really motivates her seemingly pedantic and entitled aunt. Along the way, she meets and falls in love with Isaac, a college sophomore, and grows to understand that there is much more to her family history than she ever thought.

The character arcs throughout this work were well done. Few characters were two-dimensional or static, and many relationships changed and evolved over the course of the novel. These dynamics brought a deeper level of meaning to the themes drawn throughout the book and overall turned the book from a rather dull summer romance into an exploration of what makes a family and what it is worth.

The mystery was also well-written, with the leap from an average high school senior to a teenage detective an understandable one. None of her adventures seemed unattainable or particularly incredible, which made for a more realistic mystery. Her drive to get to the bottom of the family mystery was also understandable, and aside from the romance (which was rushed along a bit too quickly), the plot was well-paced. The character arcs, mystery, and plot were all very well done. Overall, it made for a pleasant read with tangible characters, strong values, and meaningful themes.
Illustration by Terri Moore

CAROL'S REVIEW  (Warning: Spoiler alerts)

As some of you know, Rebecca is my new partner for the Talking Story newsletter. We've gotten to know each other since working together. But as I was reading her manuscript, I kept texting her: "You're not going to believe the similarities between your book and Half-Truths!" In both our books older female foils hold the purse strings to the college education that the protagonists want. Each girl must tolerate tables with fine china, clothes that don't fit their style or taste, and a special luncheon. But most of all--there are family secrets that both teens decide must be brought to light--with serious consequences for the older women. Our stories are separated in time by about 40 years, but both our protagonists learn the difficulties involved in speaking the truth--especially with people they love. 

I particularly enjoyed how authentically vulnerable the characters were portrayed. They made mistakes and sought forgiveness. Even the sweet romance includes conflict as Gwyn and her boyfriend realize that relationships have ups and downs. 

Here are some of my favorite lines from the book:
When Gwyn first confides in Isaac about her struggles with her aunt, she says: 
"It's like in my mind, I feel as if I'm dreaming for her to understand what I want, what I need, but then when the words leave my mouth, I feel as if--"I paused to gather my thoughts--"as if I'm just whispering through water."  (p. 79)
In a very touching moment, Isaac's mother, Brenda, becomes Gwyn's confidant. After Gwyn shares what she has discovered, Brenda says,
"Even the deepest hidden secrets find their way to the surface." (p. 167)
In a soul-revealing conversation when they talk about the child Aunt Delia was forced to abandon, Aunt Delia says: 

"They told me I would forget about him. They promised I would...They were the ones who lied, Gwyn. Because I could never forget." (p. 180)

One of the first times I heard about objective correlatives was from Christine Kohler. I still have our email correspondence about it from seven years ago. When I read this last conversation with Aunt Delia, I thought about how Rebecca skillfully showed Gwyn's emotions. 

My gaze followed a ladybug as she pulled herself over the window ledge and disappeared. A sudden feeling of peace passed through me.
      "So, you're letting me go," I said softly.
      "Yes, dear. I'm letting you go."

Gorgeously written, this story will stay with you long after you've finished reading it.


Please leave a comment by November 8 if you are interested in winning an EPUB of Whispering Through Water, courtesy of Monarch Educational Services. No limitations on who can win it! IN ADDITION: Rebecca is giving away an autographed copy of the paperback!

Please leave me your email address if you are new to my blog. If you are more comfortable, you can email me to enter. 


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