THE 3RD ANNUAL VALENTINY WRITING CONTEST!!!

I’m going to try something completely different today…  Author Susanna Leonard Hill is organizing a “Valentiny Writing Contest.” The challenge? Write a Valentine’s story appropriate for children, maximum 214 words, in which someone is hopeful.

So… here’s a little piece of my writing out for all to see. (GULP!)

The Happy Little Paper

(207 words)

Light shines into the drawer where I live with the other unused paper. A chubby little hand slides inside.

“Pick me! Pick me!” We all cheer.

The hand grabs me and I fly up, up, up out of the drawer. I flutter a corner of my page to wave goodbye to my friends.

I wonder what I will become?

Will I be a grocery list, reminding Dad to bring milk home from the store?

Will I be a paper airplane, feeling the wind on my wings as I fly through the air?

Will I be a beautiful picture, hanging on the fridge for everyone to admire?

Gosh! I hope I won’t be one of those crumpled up papers sitting on the table by the markers!

The hand sets me on a table with markers and crayons laying all around.

This is it! I can’t wait!

The hand picks up a crayon and starts to draw.

Hey! That tickles!

I hear the child singing softly as the hand draws a big shape in my middle and little doodles around my edges. The big shape has bumps on top and a point at the bottom.

Oh! I’m the best surprise of all:

“Happy Valentine’s Day Mom, Dad, and Alex”

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Nothing gives me more peace than photographing nature.

I’m so excited to have a guest joining our blog today! The following is a post from author & nature photographer Lieve Snellings, the creator of a series about Margot the groundhog. Thanks to our groundhogs here in America, we know we’re in for another six weeks of winter. But perhaps this post about the beauty and inspiration of nature will help make that time pass quickly!

Margot

About 10 years ago I was introduced to this heavenly pleasure of nature photography. I was so charmed seeing all these pretty animals and birds in our Quebec garden. I had seen cats washing themselves, but here I also saw birds, squirrels, groundhogs… doing the same. Observing them was so much fun.

I don’t know if these lovely creatures have emotions like humans have, though I could hear them talk. And Margot the woodchuck started to tell me I had to publish their story, to show small and big kids that all creatures in nature are living beings and that they love to live too.  Of course Margot wanted to play the first violin in the orchestra, but that was OK. She loved to share the attention with her family and friends.

It was Margot, who told me about Eufrazie the hairdresser and how she create a special hairstyle for every critter, also birds, when some festivity is coming up. It was exciting to see all those birds with this special haircut. I had to photograph them and share this with you all.

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Maybe you are interested in how to photograph birds too. I’m glad to offer you these 14 easy tips:

  1. If you want to start photographing birds, you do not have to go far. It is best to start in your garden or street or a park or field in your area.
  2. It is important to get to know the behavior of the birds you want to photograph. Around what time of the day do they show up? On which branch do they usually sit? Do they show up alone or in the company of others?
  3. Use a tripod.
  4. Hide yourself, make use of a shelter, something you’ll not too visible. An old paravan, with opening to pierce the lens of your camera through can also be a handy thing to hide.
  5. Don’t make sudden movements.
  6. Birds adhere to the same habits, they regularly return to the same place. Choose a spot, prepare your camera and wait until the bird returns to that spot.
  7. Set your camera to a fast shutter speed (S in high number) and the aperture or diaphragm as large as possible (F in small number) – this is to allow as much light as possible to come in and to make the shutter speed as short as possible.
  8. Take your photos in the larger format (highest megapixels) because otherwise you lose a lot of quality when you make a cut-out afterwards.
  9. Make sure you are dressed warm enough because you may have to sit still for a while.
  10. Pay attention to the foreground and background.
  11. Birds like to fly against the wind direction to keep more control. So when you choose to photograph birds in flight, draw with your camera in the flight direction.
  12. Experiment with different points of view.
  13. Photographing birds is in fact, like top sport. Patience, exercise and perseverance are important.
  14. It is pleasant to have a bird encyclopedia or a bird app on your smartphone or tablet, so you can look up which birds you just saw and to learn more about them.

I wish you can enjoy as much as I did and do.

Bird

…if you want to learn more about my work.

Thanks for sharing these fantastic tips, Lieve!

The Legend of Jack Riddle

What if? What if fairy tales were true stories? What if they were about children cursed by an evil witch who liked to cast a spell over one kid every generation to teach others a lesson? What if you found out you were her next target?

Jack Riddle

With these questions begin The Legend of Jack Riddle. Over his objection, Jack is sent to visit Aunt Gretel, a relative no one in his family remembered they had until she called and invited Jack to visit. He follows Aunt Gretel into the woods at night, talks his way past a goblin into a magical part of the forest, and sees her with a group of witches. After that, he can’t get home fast enough. Back to the land of cell service and wifi. Back to the land where everything makes sense.

But the things he brings home with him from Aunt Gretel’s house scare him. He soon finds himself talking with the bumbling old history teacher at his school, Professor Footnote. Professor Footnote explains the truth about fairy tales and that Jack is Gretel’s next target.

Jack is thrown into an adventure that he didn’t ask for and doesn’t want any part of. His smartphone is no use, his friends can’t help, and his parents are acting strange. He has to rely on the help of the muddled Professor and an unusually friendly cat as he embarks on a quest to save himself and generations of children to follow.

Some books are fun to read but you can easily put them aside. Other books call to you even when you are busy doing something else. The Legend of Jack Riddle falls into the latter category. Any time we had a spare moment, Alex was beside me, asking: “Riddle?” He didn’t care if we only had time for a page or two, he just wanted to see what would happen next. (And I have to admit, I was tempted a few times to read ahead after his bedtime…)

This is author H. Easson’s first novel. And what a way to start! She’d better have many more where this one came from, because she’s got two big fans in our house!

I’m grateful to Ms. Easson and Capstone for giving me the opportunity to read this book. I received an advance reader copy of The Legend of Jack Riddle in exchange for my unbiased review.

Have you read any great books lately?

Ellie, Engineer

I approached this book with mixed feelings, but was quickly enchanted by this fun-loving kid who loves to invent and build.

Ellie Engineer

In the opening pages of this chapter book, we meet Ellie and her best friend, Kit. They are deeply absorbed in building a large water balloon launcher out of broomsticks, exercise bands, and Ellie’s dad’s funnel (let’s hope the holes Ellie drills in the funnel don’t prevent him from changing his oil!).

While the invention itself is cool, I adored the reason WHY Ellie needed to build a giant water balloon launcher. The neighborhood boys are playing soccer a few backyards over, but when Ellie asked to join, they told her that only boys were allowed to play. So Ellie created the Water Empress to shoot water balloons across a few backyards at them.

Hey boys! Girls just wanna have fun, too!

Ellie runs into a problem when she discovers that the birthday present she is making for Kit doesn’t work. She only has a few days to come up with a new invention and build it without Kit noticing! After deciding on the perfect present, she researches designs and then gets to work.

The boys-versus-girls opening sequence remains a theme throughout the book; however, Ellie befriends one of the soccer-playing boys and agrees to let him join her in the research and development phases of her work. Trouble starts when Ellie’s need to keep the present a secret from Kit makes Kit start feeling left out!

I was delighted to discover that Ellie isn’t just a one-sided character (which was the root of my apprehension as I began the book). She isn’t simply a tool to create a STEM book, but a girl with wide-ranging interests and personality traits.

As I read Ellie, Engineer to my six-year-old daughter, Ellie reminded me of my daughter. My daughter asked Santa for a pink toolbox she saw at Lowe’s one day last fall, and she kept talking about that toolbox until it arrived Christmas morning. She has used the pink hammer to decorate her room, the screwdrivers to replace batteries in her toys, and has worn the tool apron around the house.

Tool kit

Like my daughter almost any day of the week, when we first meet Ellie, she is wearing a fluffy skirt. And, like my daughter, that skirt doesn’t stop Ellie from any of her activities—whether working with her hammer and cordless drill or doing cartwheels and rolling down hills.

I highly recommend Ellie, Engineer for your boys and girls. It is fun to read, and informative (we even get a lesson on flat-head and Phillips screwdrivers). I am grateful to have received an advance reader copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review.

Jackson Pearce is the author of middle grade books such as Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures and The Doublecross and Other Skills I Learned as a Superspy and the young adult Retold Fairytale series. Check out her books at www.jackson-pearce.com!

Have you read any great books lately?

Lions and Tigers and Boys – $50 gift card GIVEAWAY!!!

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A little magic. A little romance. A little shape-shifting… Tawny Stokes’ Lions and Tigers and Boys has it all!

To start us off, here’s the official description of the book:

The last thing a girl as awkward as Dani Gale should be doing is trying to learn the high wire. Yet that’s exactly where Dani ends up—at OZ, the Oswald Zinzendorf School of Circus Arts. Trying to overcome her shyness is near impossible when her new partner—the hottest guy she’s ever laid eyes on, and whose touch seems to give her poise she thought impossible—also seems to be sabotaging her progress.

The last thing Cai Coppersmith needs is a distraction, especially in the form of the new, cute shy girl. He needs to focus on trying not to shape-shift into a tiger on school grounds, and completing his mission to keep Dani from winning the school’s high-wire competition. In fact, the entire safety of OZ is relying on Dani not succeeding. But there’s something about the girl that draws him in. She has magic, he can feel it. So he’ll do what he can to protect her, even if it means pushing her away.

Lions Tigers and Boys

This was a sweet romance story told from the perspective of the two main characters, Dani and Cai. Sixteen-year-old Dani has just started attending an obscure circus school in the deep woods of Oregon. Part of her doesn’t want to be there, but she also wants to follow her dreams to be a high-wire walker – a promise she made to her mother on her deathbed.

Cai is the adopted son of Frank Coppersmith, who handles the school’s lion and tiger. We learn in the prologue that Cai is also a shape-shifter, and roams the school’s grounds in the form of a tiger. He is also part of a secret group led by one of the school’s teachers, Professor Marvel. They are practicing a plan to steal a pair of ruby slippers from an art and history museum in Salem.

The alternating perspectives throughout the book was very effective. It allowed me to follow Dani’s and Cai’s growing feelings for each other and to understand why Cai kept pushing Dani away (if the book was just written from Dani’s point of view, it would have meant many more questions throughout the book).

This paragraph may be a spoiler, although I’m trying to write it in a way that does not spoil anything. I got to the end of the book and felt a little unsatisfied with the conclusion. I gather from the ending that Ms. Stokes may anticipate writing a second book about these characters. However, there was so much emphasis on preparing for the matter that was left unresolved, that I expected getting to that point in the story. I simply felt unfinished even though the book was over.

About the Author:

Tawny Stokes has always been a writer. From an early age, she’d spin tales of serial killers in love, vampires taking over the world, and sometimes about fluffy bunnies turned bunnicidal maniacs. An honour student in high school, with a penchant for math and English, you’d never know it by the foot high blue Mohawk and Doc Martens, which often got her into trouble. No longer a Mohawk wearer, Tawny still enjoys old school punk rock, trance, zombie movies, teen horror films, and fluffy bunnies. She lives in Canada with her fantastical daughter, two cats, and spends most of her time creating new stories for teens.

You can find Ms. Stokes on twitter @Vivi_Tawny.

Lions and Tigers and Boys was released last week. I received an advance reader copy of the book as part of this blog tour in exchange for my unbiased review. You can get a copy from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and from your local independent bookstore.

So, you’re probably wondering, WHAT ABOUT THE GIVEAWAY??? You can win a $50 gift card to an e-retailer of your choice. Enter here.

Have you read any great books lately?

White Knights – 2 GIVEAWAYS!!!

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It’s tough being a teenager these days. It’s even tougher being a geek among the “Technologically Gifted and Talented” at a Washington, DC, exclusive school. Sixteen-year-old Angel Sinclair just wants to get through her senior year without being bullied too badly, and to find her long-missing father. But instead, she is drawn into an investigation that involves spies, the latest in medical technology, and good, old-fashioned intrigue!

Here’s the official description…

My name is Angel Sinclair. I’m the youngest senior at Excalibur Academy for the Technologically Gifted and Talented in Washington, DC. I was pushed ahead a year because of my high IQ and considerable prowess behind the keyboard, making me an outcast even among my own peers. I’ve been looking for my dad all my life. A brilliant mathematician and cryptographer, he disappeared under mysterious circumstances when I was eighteen months old. Although my mom tells me I must put him in my past, it only makes me more determined to find out what happened to him. When weird accidents start happening at my school and the vice principal is involved in a deadly incident, I don’t see it as a coincidence. After launching my own investigation, with the aid of an unexpected set of allies calling themselves the White Knights, I discover a threat far greater than I ever could have imagined. I could take my discoveries to the authorities, but my own investigative methods would be at risk. Can anyone say hacking? No, it’s up to me to set things right. My objectives are straightforward: clear the name of the vice principal, learn the truth about my father, and stay alive. In other words, save the day and try not to look too much like a dork while doing it.

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I loved how this book started, and I have to admit, the first sentence had me calculating how many days I have been alive. And wondering if I felt good about that (hey, I’ve had many, many great days!) or bad about it (holy cow, I’m OLD!!!).

I don’t usually include lengthy excerpts in my reviews, but since this one has that awesome first line that had me counting days, here you go:

On the 5,802nd day of my existence, my safe virtual life exploded into reality.

I should have seen it coming—I’m smart enough. My name is Angel Sinclair and I’m a geek. For most of my nearly sixteen years, I’ve lived online, roaming the information highway—hacking, gaming, and manipulating the environment to suit my every whim. The Internet is my world. I control kingdoms and maintain important and critical alliances. I don’t need real-life entanglements, friendships with people who will come and go, or a boyfriend so I don’t feel alone. I’m never lonely online.

I’m not bragging when I say I’m good at what I do. When I was eleven, I broke into my school’s computer system, just to see if I could. At thirteen, I changed the Twitter profile of a well-known gamer to read “Geek Girls Rule” after he posted a particularly sexist and ugly meme about women in the tech field. Later that same year, I hacked into the local police department looking for information on my father. I’ve hacked a lot of places since then, getting better and faster each time. I’m not into cracking—hacking with malicious intent. But I’m not above a hack when I feel it serves the greater good.

My older sister, Gwen, is always getting on my case to go out, hang with people, be social off the computer. Why would I? The girls at my school are always talking about guys or taking selfies to make sure they post the best angle of themselves. Who cares how you look while you’re eating in the cafeteria? I’d rather connect with the people who do matter via my phone or laptop. Online I’ve got constant access to what and who is important, and it is way less stressful than a face-to-face conversation.

So, my plan for my senior year of high school was this—survive by keeping my head down, restricting my social life to online, and not making any waves.

Simple, right?

Wrong.

I desired invisibility but would have accepted peaceful coexistence.

Instead, they brought me war…on the very first day.

This is a fun, fast-paced mystery / spy thriller. It champions the quiet computer geeks, making them the heroes of the story. Angel reluctantly accepts the help and friendship of two other geeks (plus a jock) and discovers that she isn’t always better at doing everything alone. Her friendship with weird Wally, quirky Frankie, and charming Colt grows along with the excitement and tension of the book.

White Knights kept me captivated from start to finish. I couldn’t put it down – it drew me into the world of hacking (NOT cracking – there’s apparently a difference!), espionage, and the occasional high school drama. Add it to your list for 2018!

There are TWO giveaways for this book! First, you can snag an ebook and a magnet HERE! To get a paperback copy of White Knights and a magnet, go to this giveaway! You can enter both giveaways, but do it soon – they end at midnight on January 8!

If you don’t win a copy of the book, you can pick up a copy at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and your local bookstore.

About the Author:

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Julie Moffett is a bestselling author and writes in the genres of mystery, historical romance and paranormal romance. She has won numerous awards, including the 2014 Mystery & Mayhem Award for Best YA/New Adult Mystery, the prestigious 2014 HOLT Award for Best Novel with Romantic Elements, a HOLT Merit Award for Best Novel by a Virginia Author (twice!), the 2016 Award of Excellence, a PRISM Award for Best Romantic Time-Travel AND Best of the Best Paranormal Books of 2002, and the 2011 EPIC Award for Best Action/Adventure Novel. She has also garnered additional nominations for the Bookseller’s Best Award, Daphne du Maurier Award and the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence. Julie is a military brat (Air Force) and has traveled extensively. Her more exciting exploits include attending high school in Okinawa, Japan; backpacking around Europe and Scandinavia for several months; a year-long college graduate study in Warsaw, Poland; and a wonderful trip to Scotland and Ireland where she fell in love with castles, kilts and brogues. Julie has a B.A. in Political Science and Russian Language from Colorado College, a M.A. in International Affairs from The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and an M.Ed from Liberty University. She has worked as a proposal writer, journalist, teacher, librarian and researcher. Julie speaks Russian and Polish and has two sons. She greatly enjoys interacting with readers at her website: www.juliemoffett.com. You can also follow her by clicking on the following social media sites: FacebookTwitterInstagram.

Don’t forget to enter the giveaways – click HERE and HERE!

Have you read any great books lately?

Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes

2017 Debut Authors Bash Banner

I have a secret. Like Annabelle’s Mom in Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes, I have trouble throwing things away. I frequently worry that we will need or have a use for something that others would typically just toss out. It hurts when my husband insists that we don’t need to keep a shoebox with the other 47 we have stored “just in case” the kids need one for a diorama.

So I’ve been looking forward to Mary Lambert’s Family Game Night with anticipation . . . and a little bit of fear.

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The newspapers fell on my sister at breakfast this morning.

A fabulous first line for a novel. It had me sucked in from that moment on. . .

I just sat there, waiting to see if today would be the day the newspapers finally fell. It was the “highs in the mid to upper 70s” pile that came crashing down. The newspapers are organized by weather report, and since it’s almost June, Mom has been adding to the “highs in the mid to upper 70s” pile every day. Lately she’s had to stand on her tiptoes in order to reach the top, and this morning—before she could even add to it—it was already swaying from side to side, back and forth. It looked like a Jenga tower right before someone loses, and today Leslie was the loser.

Annabelle Balog has just finished Seventh Grade. She flirts with boys, texts with her friends, and tries to ignore the mess at home when she is away. She also has a Five-Mile-Radius Rule—she refuses to let anyone from school come within five miles of her house. Her mother is a hoarder, and none of her friends know.

After the newspapers fall on Annabelle’s sister, their parents have a fight of monumental proportions. Her father storms out, announcing that her mother knows what he expects while he’s gone. With that, the household is turned upside-down.

While dealing with this crisis, Mary Lambert’s novel illuminates various emotions and reactions that can exist in a household where one member hoards. Annabelle is embarrassed by her mother and her home, and has reacted to the condition of the rest of the house by refusing to allow any clutter in her room (on the other extreme). She protects her own space from clutter almost religiously, having discovered that her mother will sneak items into her room while she is not home.

Annabelle’s siblings—poor younger sister Leslie, who started the book covered with mildewy newspapers, and older brother Chad—respond to their mother’s lifestyle in different ways. Leslie has nightmares about people dying in piles of clutter, and Chad spends as little time at home as possible.

Annabelle’s mother, who is faced with her husband’s ultimatum, is the character I sympathized with the most throughout the novel. Ms. Lambert adeptly shows the altered priorities of a hoarder in some of the interactions involving Mrs. Balog.

For example, when Leslie is knocked into her cereal bowl by a stack of newspapers, her mother rushes into the kitchen:

“What happened?” Her voice cut through the sound of the running water. I turned to watch Mom fly into the kitchen. It may not look like it, but Mom can really move when she wants to. “No! No, no, no,” she said, rushing to Leslie’s side. But instead of wrapping Leslie in her arms, she started gathering her newspapers.

“Which pile fell?” she demanded.

Things haven’t gotten as bad at our house as they have at Annabelle’s (there are no leaning towers about to collapse on us). But I still acutely felt Mrs. Balog’s pain and discomfort at the thought of making any changes in response to her husband’s demands. I wanted to reach into the book and hug her and tell her that she would be okay.

Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes is Mary Lambert’s first novel, but hopefully we’ll see many more where this came from! You can find out more about Ms. Lambert (including whether her own mom was a hoarder) at www.maryelambert.com.

Now, I think I’ll go recycle the 14 years’ worth of law magazines I have stored in my back bedroom because I’ve been convinced “I’ll read them someday” . . .

Have you read any great books lately?

Greetings from Witness Protection – GIVEAWAY!!!

2017 Debut Authors Bash Banner

What would it be like to leave everyone and everything you know and begin a brand-new life? Have you ever dreamed about running away and starting all over?

Greetings from Witness Protection

Foster kid Nicki Demere is given this choice when U.S. Marshals show up at her group home. Their offer: she will be placed with a family that cannot send her back. She will leave behind her juvenile record and start anew. The only catch: she has to leave immediately, without saying goodbye to any of her friends, and she will be giving up any hope that her long-lost father will come back for her.

Oh yeah, and the family she is placed with is in Witness Protection because they are hiding from one of the most notorious mob families in the country. If the mob finds them, they will undoubtedly kill them all.

One of Nicki’s biggest tasks is to make sure they remain “under the radar.” She has to stay out of trouble, but not be notable. She has to keep her grades down at a B- average (which means she needs to do her homework twice—once correctly, and then again with enough answers wrong to maintain her average). And, most of all, she has to take care of her new younger brother, who is angry about the Witness Protection situation and resents Nicki’s presence in his family.

This book came to me as part of the YA Reads Debut Authors Bash blog tour. And… it can come to you if you win this GIVEAWAY. I have a signed copy of Greetings from Witness Protection for one lucky winner!!!

Greetings from Witness Protection was so much fun to read! It was such a novel idea to have the main character living in Witness Protection—something I’ve never seen in children’s literature. Nicki still deals with the everyday problems of being in Seventh Grade—peer pressure, mean kids, boys—but then has the Witness Protection excitement layered on top.

I have two avid readers at home, but lately it has been tough to get my ten-year-old to read anything that doesn’t have “Harry Potter” or “Wimpy Kid” in the title. We were on a long drive in the car one night and he had nothing to read, so I nonchalantly said, “you could read my book, I guess,” hoping he’d pick it up. The rest of the drive was filled with comments like “ha! listen to this…” and “I wonder…” Then I had to fight him just to be able to finish the book!

Jake Burt keeps the action high throughout the book, which meant I read well into the nights turning “just one more page” or “one more chapter.” He has included a nice little twist at the end, which you’ll have to read the book to discover!

Jake Burt is a writer and a Fifth Grade teacher living in Connecticut (probably not in Witness Protection!). He can be found online at www.jburtbooks.com. There’s also an interesting discussion between Mr. Burt and Mr. Schu, the Ambassador of School Libraries for Scholastic at this fabulous blog.

DON’T FORGET TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY!!!

Have you read any great books lately?

Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire – GIVEAWAY!!!

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This is the second of four posts I’m doing at the end of this year as part of the Debut Authors Bash blog tour! I haven’t had a chance to read this one yet, but it’s definitely on my TBR shelf! Lucky for all of you, I am offering a GIVEAWAY for an Advanced Reader’s Copy of Susan Tan’s upcoming book, as well as an adorable crocheted rainbow unicorn (SO JEALOUS!!!).

Cilla Lee Jenkins

Since I haven’t read Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire yet, I’m going to share the official description of the book from the Goodreads page:

Cilla Lee-Jenkins is 50% Chinese, 50% Caucasian, and 100% destined for literary greatness! Introducing an irresistible new character who shares stories about a new sibling, being biracial, and her destiny as a future author extraordinaire in this middle grade novel.

Priscilla “Cilla” Lee-Jenkins is on a tight deadline. Her baby sister is about to be born, and Cilla needs to become a bestselling author before her family forgets all about her. So she writes about what she knows best—herself! And Cilla has a lot to write about: How did she deal with being bald until the age of five? How did she overcome her struggles with reading? How do family traditions with Grandma and Grandpa Jenkins differ from family traditions with her Chinese grandparents, Nai Nai and Ye Ye?

Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire is a novel bursting with love and humor, as told through a bright, irresistible biracial protagonist who will win your heart and make you laugh.

Sounds awesome, right???

Book Two in the Cilla Lee-Jenkins series continues the tale of Cilla’s work as an author, this time as she sets out to write “a Classic.” At the same time, it promises to tell tales of Cilla’s struggles to “be more Chinese” and of learning to share her best friend.

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About the Author:

Susan Tan has worked with children’s books since the age of 14, when she was a Page in the children’s room of the Concord Public Library. She went on to study English at Williams College and earned her PhD at the University of Cambridge in Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature. While in graduate school, she began to write a children’s book of her own which became her debut novel, Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire.

Cilla is based on Susan’s own experiences growing up in a mixed-race family, and deals with the questions, challenges, and many joys that navigating different racial and cultural identities can bring. A second book in the Cilla series titled Cilla Lee-Jenkins: This Book is A Classic is scheduled for release in 2018. Susan was the 2015 Gish Jen Emerging Writers Fellow at the Writers’ Room of Boston and currently teaches at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

You can follow her on Twitter (@susansmtan), or on her website, www.susantanbooks.com.

DON’T FORGET TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY!!! Don’t let me keep that RAINBOW unicorn!

Rainbow Unicorn

Have you read any great books lately?

Braced – GIVEAWAY!!!

2017 Debut Authors Bash Banner

Remember Seventh Grade? Not just the fun stuff, but also the awkwardness, the self-consciousness, all that stuff that came along with puberty? Now imagine all of that with one more layer on top.

Braced

Rachel Brooks is your typical Seventh Grader. She loves soccer, she texts her friends nonstop, she is embarrassed by her parents, and she is starting to get interested in boys. She also has scoliosis.

So far, her scoliosis has simply meant doctor’s appointments twice a year with her spine doctor. Even the appointments have become pretty routine to Rachel. But this time, instead of sending her off to return again in six months, the doctor announces that the curve in her spine has gotten much worse and she will need to wear a back brace. Twenty-three hours a day for six months to a year, until her spine stops growing.

The brace is hard plastic with cushioned padding inside, and spans from Rachel’s armpits to her hips. It hurts where it rubs against her skin and creates blisters that might scar. Rachel can’t fit into any of her old clothes because of the bulk of the brace. Even with bigger clothes, Rachel is certain everyone can see the lumps and bulges of the brace.

My heart broke over and over as I read Rachel’s struggle to find peace with this new reality that she finds herself in. Alyson Gerber captured the middle grader’s self-consciousness with remarkable skill and accuracy.

I do not mean that to suggest that Braced is all about tears and sadness. To the contrary, Rachel shows astounding determination in the face of her challenge. Before her doctor determined that Rachel would need to wear a brace, Rachel was having a promising start to the year on her soccer team. So she decides that even with the brace, she will play soccer, and she and her friends work toward that goal. Her friends help pick clothes that will flatter her, and provide support as she goes to school in the brace each day.

Readers will see themselves in Rachel or gain inspiration from her. While Rachel’s situation is fairly unique, her feelings are not. Kids will recognize the feeling of being different and the certainty that everyone is looking at or talking about them. This might be because they wear a back brace, because they are in a wheelchair, or because they: wear glasses; wear braces; are too short, too tall, too fat, or too thin; or any number of other reasons why they feel insecure. No matter how large or small the reason, at this age, anything can feel insurmountable, and that is why Rachel’s story is so encouraging.

I have no idea how I missed this fabulous debut novel when it came out earlier this year! I am so glad that Ms. Gerber decided to participate in the 2017 Debut Authors Bash so that I could discover Rachel Brooks and Braced.

Ms. Gerber’s website is www.alysongerber.com. Her News page includes a description of how wearing a back brace impacted her growing up and a link to the Barnes & Noble blog, where she discusses her experience at summer camp in a back brace. Ms. Gerber includes links to websites with more information about scoliosis on her website as well as in the Author’s Note in Braced.

I am excited to be participating in this year’s Debut Authors Bash! Over the next two weeks, I will be sharing three more new novels by debut authors (either with full reviews or just some details about the books).

And… most exciting of all… there are giveaways for most of these books! Not just here on 2 Cooks Crafting Books, but at many of the other bloggers’ sites as well! So check out #17DABash on Twitter to find other debut authors featured this month (and maybe snag some of their books!).

Ms. Gerber is giving away a copy of her book, Braced. This giveaway is open to winners from the US and international locations.

DON’T FORGET TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY!!!