Amanda in New Mexico – Ghosts in the Wind – PLUS GIVEAWAY!!!

Today, I’m thrilled to be joined by Darlene Foster, author of a series about a traveling twelve-year-old named Amanda.

In book six of the Amanda Travels series, Amanda in New Mexico – Ghosts in the Wind, the book follows Amanda and her class on a school trip from Calgary to New Mexico. Their exploration of different parts around Taos, New Mexico, is interrupted by a ghost. Ms. Foster’s description of the New Mexico geography, architecture, and artifacts is truly amazing! Ms. Foster brings New Mexico to life for readers as she details Amanda’s travels. 

Amanda in New Mexico

Welcome, Darlene!

Thank you so much for inviting me to be a guest on your blog, Elizabeth.

You asked me what drew me to Amanda as my main character. The wonderful thing about being a writer is that you can create any character, place and situation you want. You are totally in control. Well almost, sometimes your characters take over the story. I know Amanda does.

Amanda Jane Ross seemed to pop into my head and wouldn´t go away. She is a spunky young girl whose love for travel takes her around the world to many interesting places where she meets intriguing people, learns a lot about the culture and always has an adventure. She is curious, brave and cares about other people, which sometimes gets her in trouble. I would have loved to be able to travel all over the world when I was her age.  I guess you could say Amanda is the twelve-year-old girl I would have liked to be.

My books are inspired by my travels. I have been to all the places Amanda goes to. Although I didn’t have the opportunity to travel as a young person, I have explored much of this amazing planet as an adult. Every time I visit a new place, I feel like a child experiencing something awesome.  I try to incorporate these thoughts and feelings into my stories which is why I like telling the stories from a tween’s point of view. My books feature places I myself have found fascinating such as the United Arab Emirates, Spain, England, Alberta, Germany, Austria and Hungary. In recently released book six, Amanda in New Mexico – Ghosts in the Wind, Amanda visits the enchanting state of New Mexico. I spent some time in this state a couple of years ago and immediately knew it would be the perfect setting for an Amanda adventure.

The character of Amanda tags along with me everywhere I go now. I am constantly thinking about what she would like about the place and the adventures she could have. I take lots of pictures and keep a notebook handy to jot down ideas. I have often said in my out loud voice, “Amanda would just love this!” My husband has got used to having my imaginary friend with us.

Where is Amanda planning to go to next? She is scheduled to visit Holland, a remarkable place with brilliant tulips fields, charming windmills, wooden shoes and many bicycles. While visiting the sites of Holland, she learns more about World War II and attempts to find out what happened to a great-uncle who went missing in action in that country many years ago.

The more Amanda travels, the more she learns about the world and herself. To me, that is what travel is all about. My wish is that my books will encourage readers of all ages to explore new places.

I have a question for you and your readers, if you could travel with any fictional character, which one would you chose and why?

Awesome question, Darlene! Can’t wait to see who folks say they would want to travel with (and why)!

Darlene is offering an amazing Amanda in New Mexico GIVEAWAY for U.S. and Canadian residents (if the winner is from a location outside those two countries, he or she will win digital copies of the full series)!

A little more about Darlene:

Brought up on a ranch in southern Alberta, Darlene Foster dreamt of travelling the world and meeting interesting people. With a desire to write since she was twelve, her short stories have won a number of awards. She is the author of the exciting Amanda Travels series featuring spunky twelve-year-old Amanda Ross who loves to travel to unique places. Her books include: Amanda in Arabia – The Perfume Flask, Amanda in Spain – The Girl in The Painting, Amanda in England – The Missing Novel, Amanda in Alberta – The Writing on the Stone, Amanda on The Danube – The Sounds of Music and Amanda in New Mexico – Ghosts in the Wind. Readers of all ages enjoy travelling with Amanda as she unravels one mystery after another. Darlene, her husband and their dog, Dot, divide their time between the west coast of Canada and Orihuela Costa, in Spain. She was encouraged by her parents to follow her dreams and believes everyone is capable of making their dreams come true.

You can follow Darlene on her website, on her blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter!

DON’T FORGET TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY!!!

Monster Or Die 2: Into the Shadowlands

Let’s get into the Halloween mood with a monster story! Into the Shadowlands is a fun middle grade adventure involving ogres, trolls, frankenstein monsters, and so much more!

Monster or Die.jpg

Monster or Die is a series set in Uggarland—a world full of monsters set apart from humankind. In Uggarland, there are Monsters, and then there are OMOs, or Odd Monsters Out.

The OMOs don’t act as monsters are expected to behave. Among the many OMOs in Uggarland are sixth graders Frank, the frankenstein who has blue skin and likes his clothes to be crisp and his hair neatly combed; Oliver, the mummy who prefers to be unwrapped; Vanya, the ogre who prefers sparkly, pretty outfits and things; and Stan and Dan, the two-headed gargoyle who likes humor over scaring people.

Life is difficult for the OMOs. Uggarland rules require them to purge themselves of their misfit ways and become more monsterly (“monster or die!”), or they will be exiled to a horribly sunny and warm island to live out the rest of their days.

Malcolm the troll is a classic Monster. He hates the OMOs, or misfits, as he calls them. So he is shocked to discover that his father, who he believed died a hero’s death four years ago, was actually living a life of exile with the misfits.

Malcolm already loathed the misfit Frank. But when Malcolm learns the truth about his father and Frank is there to see it, Malcolm decides both his father and Frank must be destroyed.

This is a wonderfully fresh book of middle-grade self-discovery and acceptance. It addresses differences in others and finding the best in people. It explores themes of the marginalization and exclusion of minority groups, and calls to mind the forced conformity and assimilation to European ways found in the Native American boarding schools of the early 20th Century.

The language in this book is entertaining. There are many monster words (such as the “slybrary” and exclamations like “snotfargle extremo!”) to keep readers entertained. The characters’ names all make kids chuckle (e.g., Mr. McNastee). And there is plenty of action to keep the story moving.

Ms. Reeg is a former librarian and author of both middle grade and picture books. She has many suggestions for games, crafts, and puzzles for kids available on her website, www.cynthiareeg.com. For parents and teachers, Ms. Reeg offers a number of resources, including grammar games, study guides, and book lists.

I didn’t read the first Monster or Die book, but that didn’t impair my ability to read and enjoy this one. I received an advance reader copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review.

Have you read any great books lately?

Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker

Beatrice has always been just a little unusual. She sees the world with a different perspective—literally.

Beatrice Zinker

Beatrice does her best thinking upside down. Whether she is hanging from a tree limb, standing on her head, or swinging off the top bunk of her bed, Beatrice is happiest when her head is where her feet should be.

At the end of Second Grade, her teacher awarded her the “Best Upside Down Thinker” award.

But things have changed in Third Grade. Her teacher does “not tolerate upside down antics” in the classroom. And Beatrice’s best friend wants to play with a new student instead of be a ninja-outfit-clad spy with Beatrice!

This is a delightful chapter book that will charm readers from the first moment they meet Beatrice. Kids will root for Beatrice as she adjusts to life in a classroom with an unsympathetic teacher. They will cheer her on as she fights to win back her best friend.

The pictures on every page add to the story and give a little more insight into Beatrice’s character. In many pictures, Beatrice is hanging upside down in a tree. When she is not (or when the focus of the pictures is not on Beatrice), something in the picture often adds a little humor or a detail not found in the text.

Shelley Johannes is author and illustrator of Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker. On her website, www.shelleyjohannes.com, Ms. Johannes tells the story of the “evolution of Beatrice Zinker” in a fabulous biographical slideshow that includes many of her early sketches of Beatrice.

I received an electronic copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. I am looking forward to Beatrice Zinker’s next adventure!

Have you read any great books lately?

Puppy Rescue Riddle

Animal Planet has entered the world of chapter books with an adorable series called Animal Planet Adventures. Each book focuses on a different kind of animal (so far, dolphins, farm animals, puppies, and zoo animals).

puppy rescue riddle

The third book in the series is Puppy Rescue Riddle. One Saturday, Elliot Flynn goes to a dog shelter with his older brother and two neighbor girls. The girls are excited to be there, but Elliot is afraid of dogs and doesn’t even want to pet puppies.

Driving home from the shelter, they get caught in a rainstorm that has washed out the road. Worried about the dogs’ safety, they return to the shelter and take all of the dogs and puppies with them to higher ground. But they lose a puppy in the process. Can they find her again, or will she be lost in the storm?

There are two parts to this book. There is the story of Elliot and the dogs. The writing is aimed at early readers, and it is illustrated with color pictures. The action is exciting, there are fun riddles to answer, and puppies are always a hit in stories for kids!

There are also fact pages about pets sprinkled every few pages throughout the book. These pages are full-color pictures, and they teach kids about topics such as owning pets, puppy behavior, vets, and animal shelters. The facts are fun to learn and easy to remember, so kids come away with greater knowledge on the subject and can parrot the facts back at a later time.

Catherine Nichols is one of two authors creating the Animal Planet Adventures series. Ms. Nichols wrote both Puppy Rescue Riddle and book one of the series: Dolphin Rescue. She is the author of more than 60 children’s books. Her website is www.catherinenichols.com and her blog is The Cath in the Hat.

I received an advance reader copy of the book in exchange for my unbiased review. The kids and I will be checking out the other books in the series to see what facts we can learn while reading a cute story!

Have you read any great books lately?

Unicorn Princesses: Sunbeam’s Shine

If you’re writing a chapter book for girls, you really can’t go wrong adding in a unicorn or two. There’s just something magical about unicorns.Unicorn PrincessesEmily Bliss’s new chapter book series, Unicorn Princesses, captures that magic for young readers to enjoy. The Unicorn Princesses series tells of the Rainbow Realm, which is ruled by seven unicorns. They need help from a human girl who believes in unicorns.

Book 1, Sunbeam’s Shine, opens with a wizard-lizard casting spells—poorly. With a slip of the tongue, he causes a jewel that hangs around the neck of one of the Unicorn Princesses (Sunbeam) to disappear. That jewel is the source of Sunbeam’s magic, and now she can’t make the sun rise over the Rainbow Realm. Only a human girl who believes in unicorns can reverse the spell.

Sunbeam travels to the human world and finds Cressida Jenkins, who can only be described as obsessed with unicorns. She agrees to travel to the Rainbow Realm to help find Sunbeam’s jewel and return Sunbeam’s magic to her.

This book was a lot of fun to read. My little one did not want to put it down, and we read it any time we had a spare minute until Sunbeam’s jewel was found. The unicorns and magic were both definite selling points, but the pacing and action were also perfect for my little chapter book reader.

My only warning with this book is that when Sunbeam finds Cressida, they have a long discussion about needing a human girl “who believes in unicorns” and how hard it was to find one. Cressida mentions that her mother keeps telling her that unicorns are imaginary, but that she believes anyway. If you are not ready to plant that seed of doubt about the existence of unicorns, magic, and other whimsical matters in your little one’s mind, you may want to wait a bit on this one.

According to Ms. Bliss’s page at Bloomsbury Publishing, there are already six books planned for the Unicorn Princesses series. The first two were released earlier this month, two more will be released in December, and then another two in April 2018. I received an advance reader copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. We’ll be on the lookout for the next ones!

Have you read any great books lately?

Heartwood Hotel: A True Home

A hotel is often said to be a “home away from home.” This is how the animals of Fernwood Forest see Heartwood Hotel. In A True Home, Kallie George brings this adorable new chapter book series to life and introduces us to Mona the mouse.Heartwood HotelFlooding drives Mona the mouse out of her newest home. With her suitcase in hand, she heads out into the storm. Fate sweeps her to the door of the Heartwood Hotel.

Mona discovers a ballroom full of animals—rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels, hedgehogs, birds, a lizard, and even a badger. They are dressed up, dancing, eating, and laughing. These are the guests (and some staff) of the Heartwood Hotel. A bird band is providing entertainment, and there is a table stacked with food.

Gilles the front-desk lizard intercepts Mona and regretfully informs her that the hotel is fully booked due to the Acorn Festival. But Mr. Heartwood, the owner, takes pity on Mona. He offers her a temporary position for the night as a maid and a place to sleep in the staff quarters.

The next day, Mr. Heartwood offers to extend Mona’s single-night job through the fall festivals. Mona is grateful for the hospitality and pledges to “give her all” to the hotel.

Although Mona works hard, she can’t win the friendship of the other maid, Tilly the squirrel. Mona also attracts trouble over and over again—with skunk guests, with Tilly, and even when a bug tries to stay at the hotel!

Mona is sure to become a much-beloved character in many young readers’ homes. Her hard work on behalf of the hotel, her penchant for mishap when she is trying to help others, and her creative solutions to problems will make her a favorite among little ones. Those young readers will be spellbound by Mona’s tale, as they worry with her about where she will go after the fall festival season is over.

Kallie George is the author of a number of children’s books, including both picture books and chapter books. Her picture books include The Melancholic Mermaid and Duck, Duck, Dinosaur. In addition to the Heartwood Hotel chapter book series, Ms. George is the author of The Magical Animal Adoption Agency series. Her website is www.kalliegeorge.com.

Heartwood Hotel also has its own website, where you can check on the availability of rooms, apply for a job, learn more about the rooms and staff of the Heartwood Hotel, and take quizzes. The Magical Animal Adoption Agency’s website tells about animals available for adoption, assists people in making adoptions, provides “tips and alerts” and “pet care” information (“Owning a unicorn is a big—and wonderful!—responsibility…”), and offers a downloadable “Magical Egg Handbook.” Lots of fun!

I received an advance reader copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review and am looking forward to the next books in this series! Book 2, The Greatest Gift, was released July 11, 2017, and Book 3, Better Together, is planned for February 6, 2018.

Have you read any great books lately?

My Rotten Stepbrother Ruined Beauty and the Beast

The Beast kidnapped Belle and held her in the castle against her will. She fell in love with him because she had Stockholm Syndrome.

This is how Maddie’s Rotten Stepbrother Holden “Ruined Beauty and the Beast.”Rotten StepbrotherEleven-year-old Maddie loves fairy tale princesses. For Halloween, she decides to dress up as Belle. Her new stepmother suggests that Holden should dress up as the Beast. After creating a truly horrifying costume, Holden presents his Stockholm Syndrome alternative to Maddie’s true love fairy tale.

Holden is forced to change out of his costume before they go to the school Halloween party. Maddie’s dad suggests that he wear a suit and tell people he’s a lawyer.

After the party, Holden notices that his tablet (what lawyer goes anywhere without one?) is still turned on. He looks at it and calls Maddie over. They see pictures from the story of Beauty and the Beast, but the tale doesn’t end the way they remember. They realize that Holden has somehow changed the story. Before they know what’s happening, they are transported into the story so that they can fix it.

Maddie is transformed into Belle. Holden is. . . the lawyer.

Maddie and Holden enter Beauty and the Beast just as Belle is marrying the Beast. But the Beast hasn’t changed back into a human. Before they can be married, he is arrested for kidnapping.

Holden is the Beast’s lawyer. He has to overcome his feelings about the fairy tale and work with the Beast to find a strategy to fight the kidnapping charge.

Meanwhile, Maddie has her own challenges. Holden’s statements have her questioning whether Belle’s love for the Beast is true love or the result of brainwashing. She sets out to find out the truth for herself and for Belle!

Jerry Mahoney has created a hilarious new spin on the classic fairy tale. His story combines a wonderful step-sibling dynamic and adds in the natural language barriers inherent in transporting two 21st-century kids to a secluded French village “once upon a time.”

Jerry Mahoney is the author of Mommy Man: How I Went from Mild-Mannered Geek to Gay Superdad, his memoir. After reading just a few posts on his blog, I bought a copy of the book—it looks like it will be just as entertaining as his children’s books! His website is http://www.jerry-mahoney.com.

My Rotten Stepbrother Ruined Beauty and the Beast will be released on August 1, 2017. I received an advance reader copy of the book in exchange for my unbiased review. Three other titles in the My Rotten Stepbrother Ruined Fairy Tales series are being released on August 1 as well. I can’t wait to read My Rotten Stepbrother Ruined Cinderella (the first book in the series), My Rotten Stepbrother Ruined Aladdin, and My Rotten Stepbrother Ruined Snow White!

Have you read any great books lately?

Binny Bewitched

This was my introduction to Binny and her family, and I was bewitched from the start. This is the third Binny book by Hilary McKay, and I hope Ms. McKay has many more tales to tell about this enchanting character!BinnyTwelve-year-old Binny (Belinda) Cornwallis lives with her mother, her seventeen-year-old sister Clem (Clemency), and her six-year-old brother James. They live in a small house, where they had to move after Binny’s father died four years ago. Money is tight, but fortunately they have some help fixing up the house from a handyman named Pete.

Binny is walking home from school one day, wishing she had money to buy her mother a birthday present. As she passes the bank, she spies a pile of money left in the ATM. It appears her wish has been granted! Magic or miracle, Binny is glad to accept the gift.

She soon decides that the witch who lives next door, Miss Piper, knows about the money. Guilt begins to gnaw at her, and Binny realizes that she has to return it to the bank. But when she looks for the money, she discovers she’s lost it.

Binny asks Gareth, her best enemy and most loyal friend, to help find the missing money. They create a list of suspects and then begin an investigation so that they can cross names off the list. Against her better judgment, Binny allows herself to be convinced to include friends and family as suspects.

Through her investigation, Binny begins to mistrust even people closest to her. She finds out how easy it can be to hurt those she cares about, and learns how wrong she can be about people. She has to work to repair her relationships, and even starts to like Miss Piper. She concludes that money can’t solve all of her family’s problems.

Although I haven’t read the other two Binny books, I suspect that this is not the only time that Binny’s wild imagination and impetuous nature has gotten her into hilarious situations. Binny is the kind of kid who makes you smile—or laugh out loud—as you root for her. And yet, you know that if you were her parent, you would simply shake your head and sigh, “Oh Binny!” before pulling her into your arms.

Hilary McKay is the author of a number of children’s books, including the Binny books, the Casson Family series, the Lulu chapter book series and the Meet Charlie—He’s Trouble chapter book series. Ms. McKay explains on her website (www.hilarymckay.co.uk) that she left a job as a biochemist so that she could devote more time to her writing (and her children). Thank-you Ms. McKay!

Ms. McKay describes the first stage of writing a book as “a bit like cooking.” I love her analogy, and am adding the whole recipe to my “Ingredients for Cooking a Book” page!

I received an advance reader copy of Binny Bewitched in exchange for my unbiased review of the book. But I’m on the lookout for other Hilary McKay books now—starting with the first two Binny books! I’m so glad to have been introduced to this fantastic author!

Have you read any great books lately?

Wilf the Mighty Worrier is King of the Jungle

The unique star of the Wilf the Mighty Worrier series by Georgia Pritchett is a sweet, endearing hero who will grab readers’ hearts and have them cheering until the very end.WilfBefore I go on, let me clarify one thing: I did not make a typo in the title of this post. Wilf is, indeed, a Mighty WORRIER. He worries about many things. He even carries a leaflet around called “How To Stop Worrying,” which he consults throughout the book. He also keeps extra copies handy so that he can pass the leaflet out when he learns of others’ fears.

When presented with a challenge, Wilf will consult the leaflet. Then he often has a great big old worry, and then he has a great big old think, and then he thinks so hard that his brain feels dizzy—then he’ll get an idea! This habit gets him out of many scrapes!

Wilf the Mighty Worrier is King of the Jungle opens with Wilf making a list of thing that he is afraid of. This list includes: scarecrows, poodles, being eaten by animals, beetles, snakes, and crocodiles. One might imagine that he’s unlikely to run into many of the things on his list at home. But then his mom tells him that they are going on vacation to Africa!

To make matters worse, they are going on vacation with the next-door neighbors—Alan and Pam. Alan is full of evil plans to destroy the world, and the trip to Africa doesn’t slow him down at all.

Wilf finds himself in the middle of Alan’s plans for destruction, and has to save the world. He must also face many of his fears and keep his baby sister safe.

Wilf the Mighty Worrier is King of the Jungle is aimed at early readers, and features the occasional fart or poop joke to generate laughter. My youngest laughed out loud for a long time at the mention of Alan’s great invention—the Premier Official Optimum Beast Understanding Machine, or “POOBUM.” Most of the book is accessible for young readers; however, it does have some invented words (like “exhaustipated”) that will be tough to figure out.

The illustrations in Wilf the Mighty Worrier is King of the Jungle bring additional humor to the book. There are pictures on nearly every page. In a few instances, they provide details not found in the printed story (such as the items on Wilf’s list of things that he is afraid of).

There are currently four books in the Wilf the Mighty Worrier series, with a fifth expected soon. Wilf has his own website: www.wilfthemightyworrier.com, where you can find “The Worrier Checklist: How to Stop Worrying.” The checklist is similar to the leaflet Wilf takes to Africa—some of the suggestions are the same. There is also a Wilf Quiz, an Extra Story, and many video clips.

Wilf the Mighty Worrier is King of the Jungle will be released tomorrow, July 11, 2017. I received an advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review.

Have you read any great books lately?

Hubble Bubble: The Great Granny Cake Contest!

What do you do when your Granny is a witch and won’t stop using her magic? Sometimes you just have to follow her around and clean up her messes! Hubble Bubble: The Great Granny Contest is a humorous collection of three stories about Pandora and her witchy Granny, Araminta Violet Crow.Hubble BubbleThe Great Granny Contest begins with a family trip to Creakington Hall, a “stately home” full of dungeons and treasures. Pandora, Granny, and Pandora’s parents visit Creakington Hall for an afternoon tour of the old house.

They haven’t even made it inside before Granny starts making magic. While they are waiting in line to buy tickets, Granny’s pet frog, Croak, jumps onto the head of the man in front of them! Granny waves her wand and Croak disappears (but leaves some froggy poop behind).

During the tour, Pandora’s parents read every information card. Granny is quickly bored, and begins making magic to keep herself interested. Soon, portraits are winking at guests, mannequins start a food fight, and a suit of armor is moving around the room. Pandora has to get everything back to normal, make sure people don’t suspect Granny of causing the trouble, and stop Granny from creating any more chaos!

The other two stories in the book are equally amusing. In one, Granny and Pandora compete in the Great Granny Cake Contest, and the rules expressly prohibit using magic. But Pandora quickly discovers (on live TV) that Granny is not much of a baker when she can’t use magic to help her! How will they make it through the contest?

In the last story, Granny helps Pandora and her school gardening club when the garden starts looking a little wilted. The garden doesn’t exactly look like it should when Granny is done with it!

The Great Granny Contest is a chapter book by the creators of the Hubble Bubble picture books: author Tracey Corderoy and illustrator Joe Berger. Ms. Corderoy and Mr. Berger have joined together to publish five chapter books and three picture books starring Pandora and Granny.

The Great Granny Contest is written in language that is easy for young readers to read. The stories are fun, the pacing is quick and keeps kids entertained, and the characters are lovable.

Tracey Corderoy can be found online at www.traceycorderoy.com. She is the author of a number of children’s books, including Little Penguin Lost, and the Shifty McGifty series. Joe Berger’s website is www.joeberger.co.uk. Check out all of the books and cartoons he has worked on!

I received an advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. Thank-you to Ms. Corderoy, Mr. Berger, and Candlewick Press for giving me this introduction to Pandora and Granny and the Hubble Bubble series!

Have you read any great books lately?