Saturday, January 27, 2024

TEARS TO PRINCESS: A Review of "Tears of A Princess" by Guest Blogger, Mara Scudder

Tears of a Princess by Laura Thomas is the upper middle-grade sequel to the novel Tears to Dancing. It follows the main character’s best friend, Natasha, as she deals with the news of her parent's divorce and accompanies Bethany on a mission trip to Mexico that changes her perspective forever.

Although some elements of the novel were written better than the first book, there were still two persisting drawbacks. The first was the characters, all of which were one or two-dimensional. Even Natasha, who we were supposedly watching transform from a spoiled rich girl to a selfless and caring Christian, had most of her character development done throughout the year gap between the end of the first book and the start of the second. While the girl in the first book was careless, narcissistic, and vapid, in the second book Natasha has much more substance, dealing with a few emotional outbursts, which she quickly apologizes for. I was looking forward to watching the dramatic change, but instead it seemed as though she had already accomplished most of the change without God.

Another drawback was the dialogue. Rather than letting readers discover what a character was feeling and how they were changing, the author used exposition for the characters to communicate to each other. While their thoughts were more abstract and natural, their dialogue was blunt, no-nonsense, and to the point, even during very emotional scenes. This made it difficult to read, especially in scenes that were supposed to be the most powerful.

One thing that I appreciated about this work was the overarching themes that were missing from the first. Both tears, the sunrise, and the idea of Natasha being a “princess” were echoed throughout the work. Natasha’s transformation from being her father’s “princess” as a term of indulging endearment to thinking of herself as being a princess as the daughter of the King of kings had a special impact because of its intentionality. Tying in tears as her way of breaking her family’s picture-perfect facade and becoming more honest with people around her also enhanced the continuity of the work and made the resolution much more conclusive than it would have been otherwise.

Aside from this, the plot was also more coherent, allowing a more natural flow between events than the first book, and the overarching themes made the ending far more complete and satisfying. This ending made the ideas it had to offer much more impactful, creating a stronger lead-up to the trilogy’s finale, Tears, Fears, and Fame.

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 eleventh grade and live in Philadelphia.  

Check out Greg Pattridge's Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday blog 
for more book recommendations.

Saturday, January 20, 2024

A Benefit to Blogging and How a Book is Born

Last week my friend and fellow NC blogger, Joan Edwards, interviewed me on her blog. She asked questions about writing Half-Truths including how my blog has helped me develop my writing skills. This is what told her:

My blog has helped me in two ways. I read and reviewed lots of mentor texts. Each review has taught me to analyze what makes a novel stand out. I also was able to journal my progress with Half-Truths including reviewing books about the Black experience. The books were crucial to making Half-Truths authentic and the online journal helped me answer your questions!

Yesterday as I was working on my next book, Unbroken Heat (working title) I thought how keeping track of my progress with Half-Truths was helpful to me as well as to anyone who wanted to know the book's backstory. So, here I am with this week's blog post, to tell you about Unbroken and my love for glass.

Over 25 years ago I walked into a glass bead shop and I was hooked. I couldn't believe the intricate, gorgeous beads were glass! I told the owner I wanted to write about her and she replied, "Don't write about me. I'm going to introduce you to people who are bigger than me--you're going to meet some North Carolina glass artists."

As a result of her introductions, I watched hot, molten glass transform into works of art and wrote several articles. I won two awards from Highlights Magazine for my article, "Paul Stankard's Paperweight Magic;" and signed a contract for Discover Glass about the history, art, and science of glass. I thought I was set to become the expert on glass for kids. But the publisher went belly-up and I was left with boxes full of drafts, research notes, and photographs. 

Soon after that, I started Half-Truths. I promised myself that any book I wrote going forward would include glass. I couldn't waste all my research! So, when I created my protagonist's backstory,  her grandfather's (Andrew Dinsmore) history included working in a glass factory when he was a boy.

Meanwhile, somewhere along the line, I purchased KIDS AT WORK: LEWIS HINE AND THE CRUSADE AGAINST CHILD LABOR.

Pictures like these caught my attention:,_Glass_works,_midnight,_Indiana,_1908.jpg

Who were these boys? How did they end up working in glass factories as young as 10 years old? What were their stories? Those images and questions stuck with me. 

I started researching. I thought I wanted to write about child labor in the glass industry, but as Harold Underdown reminded me when I began Half-Truths, that was only the setting. That wasn't the story itself. 

I started studying a book that Paul Stankard gave me years ago, 

and I watched YouTube videos that Wheaton Arts produced. 

I knew this was Andrew Dinsmore's story and that he had to go to work as a young teen--but I didn't know much else. Slowly, Andrew's life in a New Jersey glass factory in 1893 is getting fleshed out. I'm discovering what he wants and who or what will keep him from his goals. 

As I read about New Jersey's glass industry, I realized that besides the failed attempt at producing glassware in Jamestown, Va., the first successful glass factories were in colonial New Jersey.  Suddenly I had another story besides Andrew's--I had the story of a young indentured servant from England who landed in Philadelphia and must work off his debt in a glass factory in South Jersey. 

I had just finished reading The Blackbird Girls and was intrigued by Anne Blankman's use of two different timelines and multiple points of view. Could I do that with Unbroken? If so, what was the other timeline and how could I connect the two stories? Here's the pitch I came up with:

At the turn of the 20th century, a young factory worker is surrounded by deafening noise, blisteringly hot glass, and mind-numbing exhaustion. There is no end in sight until he finds mysterious notes from a boy who lived this life 100 years earlier.  

And now, I can begin a new page on my blog. And when Joan Edwards interviews me about Out of the Flame--I'll know exactly how it all began. 


Please go to Greg Pattridge's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday blog for more middle-grade book reviews and news.


Saturday, January 13, 2024

THE BLACKBIRD GIRLS by Anne Blankman: A MG Review and Giveaway

 We all have them. Books that stick in our heads after we've read the last page. Maybe it's the characters, the world-building, the settings, or the amazing way the author weaves together the plot. For me, it's all of those plus a story that touches my heart. This, my friends, is my latest favorite read:

Published in 2020 by Penguin Random House, it was off my radar. I've enjoyed Anne's books before so when I thought about connecting with other historical fiction novelists, I looked her up. In 2014 I wanted to give five stars to her debut novel, Prisoner of Night and Fog , and feel the same way about The Blackbird Girls (this link goes to a great interview with Anne). By the way, Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke (Harper Collins, 2015) was also excellent even though I didn't review it on my blog.


Like another historical fiction novel that I admire, REFUGEE by Alan Gratz, The Blackbird Girls has three viewpoints and several different timelines. Anne and Alan both deftly weave together story elements so that the reader is left with the sense of, "Wow--I didn't see that coming!"

The Blackbird Girls opens with the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 in Ukraine. Each of the two main protagonists, Valentina and Oksana,  have fathers who work at the nuclear power plant. Valentina is Jewish and is the victim of much anti-semitism, including taunting from her schoolmate, Oksana. Valentina's family is very afraid of expressing themselves as Jews due to government persecution and don't practice their religion. Oksana's head is full of anti-semitic propaganda she has heard from her father. As the story progresses the reader discovers that her father has poisoned her in other ways too. 

The two families live in the same apartment building but don't have much to do with each other. Although early on it is evident that the girls are enemies and the reader guesses that they will become friends (the beautiful cover shows that), it is not an easy path. Both girls are victims of prejudice and abuse and both have huge walls of distrust towards the other. 

Both of their fathers fall victim to radioactive poisoning after the meltdown in the plant, and their mothers have to quickly figure out how to help their daughters get away from the city. Valentina's mother has an escape route planned for Valentina and when Oksana's mother abandons her, she takes Oksana with them to Leningrad. She wires the only one who she thinks can offer them refuge--her mother who she hasn't seen for years.

Meanwhile, readers meet a third girl, Rifka, who lives in the Soviet Union in 1941. Her story unfolds at the same time as Valentina's and Oksana's. Rifka's mother makes her leave home to protect her from the invading Germans. She battles freezing temperatures and nearly dies before she finds shelter with a family who takes her in.

At this point in reading the book, I thought I understood the connection between the stories: two mothers who made difficult choices for their daughters' survival. 

But I was wrong. Anne Blankman indicates in the acknowledgments that the novel is based on a friend's true story about Chernobyl. She wrote to me about the true elements in the book:

When I was in ninth grade, I met a new classmate who has since become a lifelong friend. Victoria had recently emigrated from Ukraine to my small hometown in upstate New York, and as we became closer, she confided in me that she had survived Chernobyl, the massive nuclear disaster in the Soviet Union in 1986. To keep her safe, her parents made the heartbreaking decision to send their then-six-year-old daughter hundreds of miles away to live with distant relatives in Uzbekistan. 

The reason Victoria had family living so far away? Forty-five years earlier, her hosts had fled from the invading German army with scores of other Ukrainian Jews. They had ended up in Uzbekistan. These two journeys--one to run from enemy soldiers, the other to escape nuclear fallout--haunted me, and they became the inspiration for The Blackbird Girls. But I was afraid the multiple perspectives and separate timelines would prove too complicated and cumbersome for my readers, and I wrote the first draft from only Valentina's point of view. My editor encouraged me to explore Oksana and Rifka's perspectives and to flesh out the 1941 storyline. 

One of my favorite parts of the book is when the girls break through and become friends. They are attending their new school in Leningrad and on the first day, a boy teases Valentina for being Jewish and tells her to go back to Jerusalem and that no one wants her there.

In a surprise move, Oksana intervenes:

     Oksana stood up. "Nobody wants you here. Why don't you shut your mouth?"

     The boy's eyes narrowed. "What did you say to me?"

     A hush fell over the schoolyard. Children stopped playing to stare at Oksana.

     "You heard me." Oksana fisted her hands on her hips. "Leave Valentina alone."

      Valentina couldn't believe her ears. She stayed crouched on the ground, unable to move.

      "I know who you are," the boy said. "You're one of the Chernobylites. My father says you're all contaminated and you'll turn into rabid dogs."

      Oksana shoved her face into the boy's. "He's right. I think I'll take a bite out of you." She clicked her jaws, and the boy jumped back. She shouted, "You'd better run away! Next time I might bite your face!"


      Oksana's face was red. She put her hands to her cheeks. "I can't believe I did that," she whispered.

       Valentina couldn't believe it, either. This couldn't be the same girl who had mocked her at their old school. 


       Slowly, Valentina took the hand Oksana offered. She stood up. She knew she let go of Oksana's hand, but for some reason she didn't.... and while they played big bear's den they held hands the whole time, even though they weren't supposed to. (p. 144-5)

This book is about events that happened forty and eighty years ago--but are as timely today with today's conflicts in Israel and Ukraine. I highly recommend it for use in middle-school classrooms and homeschool curriculums.


Penguin Random House is offering to provide a copy of this book to one fortunate reader. Leave me a comment by January 17 and I'll enter your name. If you share this on social media or are a librarian or educator, I'll enter your name twice. Make sure you leave me your email address in the comment if you are new to my blog. U. S. addresses only. 

Join me and other bloggers on Greg Pattridge's MMGM site on Monday. 


Kim Aker, a school librarian in Bland, Va won I'M TRYING TO LOVE GERMS.

Who said Middle-Grade books were only for kids?

Uncle Bob's new favorite middle-grade book.
He lived through this history.

Friday, January 5, 2024

I'M TRYING TO LOVE GERMS: A Picture Book Review by Guest Reviewer, Helen Wheeler


The I'm Trying to Love Germs book by Bethany Barton (Viking Books, 2023) is a great way to teach elementary-aged kids about germs. It provides in-depth descriptions of microbes and germs. The book is silly and fun and gives real-life examples of how you can tell a germ is around, such as sneezing and bathroom problems. The book is packed with information and drawn in a comic book style with interactive features, like an app in book form. For younger readers, the text may be difficult to follow without an adult reading along with the child. I recommend that parents read this book to their young children. Kids aged 8-10 would be able to read the book on their own. 

The narrator is a microbe that takes the reader on an information adventure to explain the power of germs. I’m Trying to Love Germs also explains ways you can prevent illness, like washing your hands thoroughly and getting vaccines. The author assures the reader: “Germs still make contact? Fear not! These heroes break down the cell walls of most germs - destroying them before they infect you.” 


Additionally, as the title describes, the author explains to readers why they should love germs (or more specifically microbes), because people need microbes to survive. Readers learn that “Humans (like you) actually have billions of helpful microbes in their bodies, doing important stuff you need to survive.” All in all a fun book that tackles the ick factor!



Helen Wheeler is an 8th-grader who lives with her family in North Carolina. She is a competitive figure skater, participates in the Science Olympiad, tutors elementary students, and enjoys drawing. Helen’s favorite genres to read are graphic novels and YA contemporary fiction.


Viking Books is providing a giveaway copy of I'm Trying to Love Germs to one fortunate reader. Leave me a comment with your email address if you are new to my blog, by January 11. As always, if you are an educator or librarian or sign up to follow my blog, I'll put your name in twice. U.S. addresses only. 

Monday, January 1, 2024

THE CONJURER'S CURSE: A YA/Upper MG Book Review by Georgie Bartlett


The Conjurer’s Curse (Monarch: 2022) by Stephanie Cotta is an epic fantasy set in the fictional world of Mestria. We follow seventeen-year-old Rowan as he struggles with his history and searches for answers.  

Rowan is an outsider in his village. For the thirteen years since his arrival to Karahvel, his albino skin and unusual marking on his neck have caused him to be viewed as cursed by the superstitious villagers. His “curse,however, is evidenced by the mysterious deaths of his three previous guardian mothers; beginning with the first woman who took him in after his birth mother abandoned him. Even Rowan begins to worry that the rumors are true, and when his fourth guardian mother suddenly passes, Rowan is banished from his village. He must embark on a long journey to discover who cursed him and defeat them before his curse has the chance to kill anyone else.  


I am relatively new to reading fantasy, and this book was a wonderful introduction to the genre. What first struck me about The Conjurer’s Curse was the unique concept. I was immediately interested in seeing how things would play out, and it kept me on the edge of my seat. The worldbuilding and realistic, fictitious geography made Mestria intricate and well thought out. As Rowan struggles to find where he belongs, you are taken on an adventure through multiple landscapes. This includes a trip across the sea, through the jungle, and into the mountains of The Iron Kingdom. 


Rowan’s story is an exciting and heartbreaking one yet filled with hope, and within the first chapter, he is on his journey. Many beautiful and important lessons can be learned from reading The Conjurer’s Curse, such as not judging others unfairly and the importance of community and friendship.  


I believe everyone can relate in some way to Rowan’s feeling like an outsider. “Outsider. Rowan hated that word. All his life, he heard it whispered as a reminder of how different he was from everyone in Karahvel.” 


On top of that, every character has realistic struggles, making them relatable. I flew through this book and was sad when the adventure was over. I immediately wanted more. I can’t wait to read the upcoming books in the IRON KINGDOM series! I would recommend The Conjurer’s Curse to any fantasy fan, or anyone in search of a gripping story with a strong plot and strong characters.  


After you read The Conjurer's Curse you're going to want to find out Rowan's next adventures. New from Monarch Publishing, here is Book Two in The Kingdom Series: The Wraiths of Arjun.


Monarch is giving away an E-book copy of The Conjurer's Curse to one fortunate winner! Leave me your name in the comments along with your email address if you are new to my blog. A winner will be drawn on January 10. 

Georgie Bartlett is a teen living in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina with her family and two mischievous rescue dogs. She enjoys writing, crocheting, journaling, gardening, playing the drums, and above all, reading. 


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