Blood on the River, by Elisa Carbone

blood on the riverI discovered this book several years ago, when I was looking for historical fiction to suppliment an American history class I was teaching to my then-homeschooled daughter. I’ve just finished reading it with both of my boys for the same class. I’m still impressed.

This is the story of Jamestown, told through the eyes of a young boy who was there. Little is known of Samuel Collier, but he really did serve as Captain John Smith’s servant. Ms. Carbone has developed him into a rich character, a London orphan assigned to the voyage as punishment after a run-in with the law. His fighting spirit serves him well in the harsh New World, though he must learn to temper his independence and cooperate with others if the struggling new colony is to survive.

Ms. Carbone illustrates in rich detail the arrogance and ineptitude of the wealthy gentlemen who signed with the Virginia Company, men so ill-suited to the realities of wilderness living. And she contrasts them well the “commoner” they refuse to heed, Captain John Smith, the only man among them with the experience and discipline necessary to ensure the settlement’s survival. This butting of heads provides the real life conflict that drives the story. And Captain Smith’s many close calls, both at the hands of the Indians and the hands of the gentlemen, will thoroughly captured readers’ attention. Meanwhile, they’ll be picking up so much information about the era’s social class struggles, the various motivations behind colonization, details of day-to-day life, and the power struggle between the ignorant representatives of the English king and the mighty Powhatan emperor.

Superbly narrated, artfully crafted, and historically accurate, Blood on the River is a top-notch resource for studying this time period in American history. Experiencing events through story is the next best thing to going back in time. Highly, highly recommended for ages 9+.

Rafflecopter Giveaway!

This giveaway is awesome!

The following comes directly from the Emblazon website. It’s too good not to share.

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We love our readers!

The Emblazon authors are celebrating two years at the forefront of great tween literature. To thank our readers for hanging with us, we will be raffling off a brand new Kindle Fire loaded with over 50 of our books. That’s a $300 value and hours of reading entertainment!

The contest runs November 17 through December 1 and is open to anyone who loves tween literature as much as we do.

Click here to enter!

Note: Signing up for our annual catalog is required for entry. Current subscribers are also eligible. Winners must reside in the United States or Canada.


Constance, A Story of Early Plymouth, by Patricia Clapp, 1968

constanceConstance Hopkins was a passenger onboard the Mayflower. The daughter of Stephen Hopkins, neither she nor her father were part of the congregation of Separatist we commonly call Pilgrims but members of the Virginia Company. At least Steven was. Constance was merely fourteen when she made the journey. This is her story, the tale of the first five years within Plymouth, America’s second permanent settlement.

I first read this book six years ago, when teaching American history to my then-homeschooled daughter. I liked it even more with this second reading. The tale is meticulously researched. As a history buff, I’ve dug into the “true story” of the Pilgrims on my own, and it was an absolute pleasure to watch names from old documents develop into personalities and relationships. It is my favorite part of historical fiction—bringing humanity to the stories of our past.

Ms. Clapp does a tremendous job sketching the town, the tasks, the everyday survival of the settlement. Of course the book includes the first hard winter when fully half of the 102 settlers succumbed to starvation and disease. It introduces us to Squanto and  Samoset, the English-speaking Indians who befriended the pilgrims, as well as Samoset’s daughter and Massosoit, chief of the friendly Wampanoag tribe. That is where most schoolbook knowledge ends, but the book goes farther. Soon after the harvest feast we fondly remember as the First Thanksgiving, trouble begins anew. Another English ship delivered more settlers—and no supplies.

Few of us are familiar with the second winter, another time of hunger (though not as deadly as the first) when Oceanus, the famous baby born aboard the Mayflower, succumbed to malnutrition. Nor are we aware of Squanto’s arrogance, his mischief that lead to minor tensions with the Wampanoag, his faith in the white man’s God, or his death only two years after the Pilgrim’s arrival. We rarely consider the lingering debt the settlers were obliged to pay off to the investors who financed the settlement. We never learn of the continuing stream of settlers or the trouble wrought by two angry maligners who slandered the colonists to their investors and caused no end of grief. We hear little of the close call with unfriendly tribes.

The book does a marvelous job filling in these details for us. But ending five years after the Mayflower‘s arrival, it cannot fully convey the magnitude of the lasting peace (fifty years!) due in great part to the strong, fair leadership of two brilliant men, Governor William Bradford and Chief Massasoit. It does, however, show the stark contrast between Plymouth, which was prompted by freedom, settled by families, governed with fairness, and guided by godliness, and Jamestown, settled fourteen years before by men concerned primarily with making a profit. The difference in lives lost is astounding!

Constance is considered juvenile fiction. Because it includes some (innocent) romance, enough old-fashioned vocabulary to make it challenging, and plenty of domestic themes within this society so dependent on stable marriages, it’s probably best for ages 11+. But 11-year-olds will most likely miss the witty undertones between characters that makes the dialogue so enjoyable for readers of a bit more maturity.

I highly, HIGHLY recommend Constance as supplemental reading for an American history class or for those wishing to familiarize their children or themselves with the truth behind the story we celebrate each Thanksgiving. If you’re like me and thrive on this history stuff, I’d also recommend reading through this related Wikipedia article for some brief background on Constance’s father, the remarkable Stephen Hopkins. His real life adventures were truly amazing!

The Gollywhopper Games, by Jody Feldman

gollywhoppers gamesEvery now and again I read a review on some book I’ve never heard of and locate a copy for myself. ThisKidErik is particularly good at growing my tbr list. The Gollywhopper Games is one he recommended. He gave it five bookworms. I give it four.

This is a really fun book. Sort of a Survivor meets Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Not quite as literary as I like, but it kept me turning pages. It’s fairly thick at 305 pages, so I was surprised just how quickly it read.

Gil wants to get out of town. His father lost his job with the Golly Toy and Game Company in a false and widely publicized embezzlement “Incident”, and Gil can’t seem to live that down. He wants to move away from his former friends who now gossip and accuse, but that will only happen if he can win the “biggest, bravest, boldest competition the world has ever seen!” The Gollywhopper Games, sponsored by the company that spurned his father.

The most difficult part of the book for me the heart of the book–the riddles. The games are centered around solving riddles based on Golly products. I am not a riddler. I don’t like board games or video games. I don’t play cards. I hate jigsaw puzzles. I have no eye for patterns. I don’t like number games. Math made me break out in a cold sweat at school. I can’t handle crossword puzzles, Sudoku, or even word searches. And these puzzles were far beyond my ability to enjoy. But the story of Gil’s trials, his mistakes, his determination, his interaction and reconciliation with old friends, those intrigued me. And I liked the bright, imaginative settings of Golly’s magical world.

If this game-handicapped reader could happily while away a few hours between these pages, I’m pretty sure it will appeal to kids with more puzzle talent than I possess (which is basically all of them). Recommended for ages 9+, due to its length, but suitable for younger listeners.


Bone by Bone by Bone, by Tony Johnston

bone by boneFirst let me give you fair warning. This one has excessive language. Often very offensive language. Obscenities, profanities. So why on earth am I featuring it? Because for mature readers, it offers a very honest, hard look at prejudice.

Bone by Bone by Bone takes place in Tennessee in the 1950’s. David Church is the son of the town doctor, a paradox of a man who cares tenderly for sick and dying Whites but has an obsessive hatred for Blacks. His temper is harsh and shifting, and David is never sure which father might show up at any given moment. In fact, he’s not sure his father isn’t part of the Klan. But when David befriends a black boy by the name of Malcolm Deeter, he knows how his father would respond. The boys’ antics are a well-kept secret—for a while. But as they grow up, friendship between Black and White becomes much more difficult in a society hell-bent to keep them apart. And when Dr. Church does find out about the friendship, he threatens to shoot Malcolm if he ever steps foot in his house. And as David finds out, he wasn’t joking.

Bone by Bone by Bone is compelling. It’s not a book I love, but it is a book that teaches. The relationship between David and Malcolm is a beautiful thing, and the author’s skill is considerable. It’s written for middle grade, but because of the excessive language and some really hard topics, like a Klan murder of a black character, I’d probably wait a few years on that. So, I’m giving a 14+ age recommendation on this one.

Apparently, Bone by Bone by Bone is not available as an ebook, but here’s a look at hard- and softcover versions on Amazon.

The Starlight Chronicles, by Lisa Orchard


I’ve got a new series and a fantastic price to share with you guys today. The Starlight Chronicles Box Set, by Lisa Orchard is on sale for $.99. That’s three full novels for 99 cents! Here’s the blurb:

Lark Singer is seventeen years old and already on the way to a brilliant music career. But as she and her band, Starlight, gear up for a competition, life seems to be throwing her a few curve balls. The mysteries of her past seem to be unraveling, and she’s no longer certain she wants to know those answers or how knowing about her past will affect her difficult relationship with her mother. And when her best friend, Bean, changes things between them, all her plans for a musical future are placed in jeopardy. How can she balance her complicated personal life to keep her musical goals on track?

I read the first book last year and didn’t realize the entire series was finished until this summer. Books two and three are now on my tbr list. Here’s the review of book one I left on Amazon:

This book was a pleasant surprise. At first, high school stereotypes leaped off the page at me, (heroine) Lark’s bad attitude got annoying, and her negative reactions seemed too strong for the situation. I settled in for a tedious read. Then the book took pains to break those stereotypes, and Lark got a reality check that made her much more likeable. The book became much more engaging.

Ms. Cole’s writing style is very nice. Her prose flows smoothly. Her word choices are thoughtful and deliberate. There were a few abrupt moments, when the heroine makes connections too quickly, and sometimes she’s narrating in her head what a reader can infer from the text. But the imagery is especially lovely. It makes for a very pretty read.

A few more random thoughts: The story sort of had a 60’s feel to it. It’s present day, but Lark’s love of music and strong desire to leave her crummy hometown and take her band on the road reminded me of a bit of the “hippie” era. This gives it teen appeal. I wouldn’t recommend for readers younger than 12 due primarily to some strong language. Adults are treated with disdain by the adolescent main characters, and in fact few adults display behavior worthy of respect. The book addresses drug use and teen parenting, though neither are explored completely. Romance is also undeveloped, though all three themes will probably intensify as the series continues.

Let me say one more time, the BOX SET CONTAINS ALL THREE BOOKS IN THE STARLIGHT SERIES: Gideon LeeLark Singer, and Starlight. Interested? Here’s where to grab it on Amazon.

20111210_ABS_1296[1]Lisa Orchard grew up loving books. She was hooked on books by the fifth grade and even wrote a few of her own. She knew she wanted to be a writer even then. Her first published works are the “Super Spies Series.” These stories revolve around a group of friends who form their own detective squad and the cases they solve. “The Starlight Chronicles,” is the next series that Lisa created with musical misfit, Lark Singer as her main character.

Lisa resides in Michigan with her husband, Steve, and two wonderful boys. Currently, she’s working on the next book in the Starlight Chronicles Series along with a few new ideas that may turn into stand-alone novels. When she’s not writing she enjoys spending time with her family, running, hiking, and reading.

Connect with Lisa on FacebookTwitter, and her website.

The Caretaker’s Guide to Fablehaven, by Brandon Mull

fablehavenI’m super excited to be part of a blog tour featuring Brandon Mull’s new release, The Caretaker’s Guide to Fablehaven. My son and I are currently choral reading (both out loud, together) the Fablehaven series as a fun way to help bump his reading level. Imagine my delight when I received an invitation to preview the new guide! I said yes immediately.

Let me state right away that this is not an addition to the plot. The series is completed and remains unchanged. No, this is a compilation of creatures, artifacts, locations, etc. that feature in the series, all neatly described and indexed. It’s designed to assist current and future caretakers of the Fablehaven with their awesome task, and the very first sentence includes the reader among this important audience. (“If you are in possession of this book you are assumed to be the caretaker or an apprentice caretaker of Fablehaven.”)

This could be a sterile list, but it’s sprinkled with bits of humor, like when the satyrs or Seth and Kendra handwrite notes (arguments) in the margins. It also includes bits of history, observations and wise quotes from characters, and beautiful illustrations of mystical creatures. Some are taped or paperclipped into the book (via illustration, of course) to give it a feeling of use. It’s very personal–directed at the reader–and makes a handy reference when reading the series.  It’s very well done, but be warned. The guide does bluntly state some surprises that take a long time to develop in the story text (such as Raxtus’s origins, or the revelation of the artifacts and their locations). Personally, I’m glad I read it AFTER I finished the series, so as not to give away any of those fun discoveries in the text. (I’m rereading the series with my son–for the third time!)

As an adult, I’m not really into “extras” such as this. But kids immerse themselves in a story far differently than adults. Dearly loved tales become part of their experience, part of their identily. They own them. And they love extras! A guide addressed to them? I can totally see kids eating this up. If you have one of those child Fablehaven enthusiasts, might I remind you that Christmas will soon be upon us? Perfect gift!

In closing, let me mention a fun fact that was included in the original email asking me to join the tour. “The book is also a springboard to the Fablehaven sequel series, Dragonwatch (releasing Fall 2016) and features clues to the characters and creatures fans will find in the upcoming books.” Just letting you know, there are more great Fablehave stories yet to come!


The Caretaker’s Guide to Fablehaven
Written by Brandon Mull and Illustrations by Brandon Dorman
Shadow Mountain

Release Date: October 13, 2015

$ 24.99

ISBN: 9781629720913

Brandon Mull, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Fablehaven and Beyonders series, travels the country visiting schools, promoting literacy, and sharing his message that “Imagination Can Take You Places.”
Brandon Dorman is the illustrator of the New York Times bestseller The Wizard. His work has appeared in childrens books and on numerous covers, including the Fablehaven series and The Candy Shop War series.