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.


  Although I moved to WordPress for my new website , I'm still having issues with sending out blog notifications. Here's this week&#...