New Cover

I’ve been on a mission to re-cover most of my books with professionally done images. D. Robert Pease over at Walking Stick Books has been my go-to guy for covers. He does awesome work. You may remember he re-covered Song on the Mountain back around Halloween. I still love my original image for that one, but readers have spoken. My sales did indeed go up a bit after replacing it. I’ve never liked my cover image for book two. This one’s much, much better.

Here’s it is! You can see the matching set over in my sidebar. I think they look pretty darn cool!

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I’m hoping to get the final book in this trilogy written later this year, but, well, you know, sometimes other ideas jump in line. But that’s the plan as of tonight. I’ll sneak it in between books 1 and 2 of my new Ella Wood series. (Updates on that very soon!)

The Adventures of Robin Hood, by Roger Lancelyn Green, 1956

robin hoodRoger Lancelyn Green has put together a fabulous retelling of Robin Hood. Drawing on old folk tales and ballads, he’s compiled the sometimes disjointed pieces and created a single comprehensive narrative. It’s a rousing tale of chivalry, adventure, and courage.

Robin lives in the days of Richard the Lionheart, Norman king of England during the days of the Crusades. But when Richard fails to return from the wars, his brother John abuses his power and usurps the throne. Robin alone stands in his way. But Robin proves a most formidable adversary.

Robin is rather swashbuckling. Knocking each other unconscious with staves is the general pre-dinner amusement in Sherwood Forest. Robin does his fair share of bashing and gets his own pate smashed in a few times as well, which he laughs about merrily afterward. Sometimes his bravery borders on idiocy as he goes looking for trouble for the fun of it. But he always outshoots, outsmarts, and outruns Prince John’s supporters.

This is a classic adventure for boys, still a hit with my tweens despite the passing of sixty years (or 1,000, depending on how you look at it). Lots of bows and arrows, swords and staves, knights in shining armor, and one particular kick-butt Maid Marian who was way ahead of her time. But it’s also a good dose of loyalty and goodness in the honest figure of Robin Hood.

Each chapter starts with a snippet from an actual poem or ballad. It’s a great accompaniment to medieval history and an introduction to the English literary hero. The book contains some difficult (dated) vocabulary, but I’d still estimate about a 6th grade reading level. I read it out loud to my tween low readers. There was a lot of Nerf swordplay going on in our house those two weeks, as well as more learning than they realized. Two thumbs way up!

Grab the Kindle version for just $4.74.

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Happy New Year from all the Authors in the Ultimate Reading Quest!

What is the Ultimate Reading Quest? It’s the brainchild of teacher and MG author Sharon Skretting–a unique choose-a-book experience that I found myself a part of. Sharon runs the Quest Teaching blog, that seeks to equip teachers to use literature in the classroom. I’ve contributed several lesson plans and classroom ideas over the past year. So when Sharon put together this fun event, several of my books were included.

This is the second Quest. I was too busy last year to take part, but this year it’s bigger and better. Here’s your chance to fill your ereader with titles that match your tastes. It’s sort of a treasure hunt where you track down your “perfect” book by clicking on a series of choices. A golden cache of books is waiting to be discovered! Participating authors are also giving away oodles of prizes.

Enjoy your journey as you travel through the QUEST! Don’t forget to enter the raffle on the first page. And don’t hesitate to leave comments or questions for the authors. We’d love to hear from you. What are you waiting for? Click on the button above or below to get started on your QUEST for the next ULTIMATE READ!

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                                       CLICK ON THE BUTTON TO START YOUR QUEST!

Wish You Weren’t, by Sherrie Peterson

wish you weren't

I came across this book through a friend and was struck immediately by the cover. Then I read the first chapter, which is posted on Ms. Peterson’s website. I loved it and bought the book.

That first chapter sets up the problem beautifully. Marten’s family is moving. His parents expect a lot from him. And his kid brother is a real pain in the you-know-what. The scene is beautiful. The family is sprawled out watching a meteor shower in the darkest part of the night, and I was feeling Marten’s pain. I also love stargazing and was totally mesmerized by the scene. I knew what was coming. A brilliant star whizzes past and Marten wishes his brother wasn’t. It’s age-old sibling rivalry. How was this author going to handle it?

That’s when the book took a turn for the bizarre. Marten meets a wild-haired figured named Tör and gets dragged on an adventure through time and space. Whoa! Back up the bus! I thought this was going to be a serious thought-provoker. Don’t get me wrong. The story was beautifully written and flawlessly edited. It just wasn’t at all what I was expecting. Ironically, that’s sort of the moral of the story.

“Wishes don’t always turn out the way we plan, do they?” Tör asks. Um, neither do stories!

Then I thought, you know, my boys would really like this. I tend to gravitate toward realism, but they love the wild and unpredictable. They’d really get on board with Tör and his magic watches and the adventure through the cosmos. And I have absolutely no qualms about sharing it with them. It’s a fun, clean, quality adventure. In the end, Marten even learns a thing or two about family and friendship. Not what I expected, but unquestionably thumbs up.

Grab the Kindle copy for just $2.99.

(I read this last summer. Since that time, Sherrie Petersen has become a super addition to our Emblazon team!)

The Hobbit

the hobbit

Now that I’ve seen the final Hobbit movie and laid Peter Jackson’s trilogy to rest, it’s time to return to the book review I wrote two years ago in anticipation of the first installment, which included a few predictions. Let’s see how I did…

Bilbo Baggins was a respectable hobbit. He “never had any adventures or did anything unexpected.” Until the wizard Gandalf and an unexpected party of 13 dwarves arrived one day on his doorstep. Suddenly, he found himself off to the Lonely Mountain to retrieve the dwarves’ stolen treasure from Smaug the dragon. The Hobbit is a year-long journey with classic Tolkien adventure.

The Hobbit explains how Bilbo came to find the ring of power and sets the stage for The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It introduces hobbits, elves, dwarves, and wizards and some of how they each came to be on Middle Earth. It also, in a veiled way, tells part of Sauron’s tale. It’s a fun, event-filled story all its own but it is NOT a sweeping epic with desperate stakes like LOTR. It is merely an exciting treasure hunt.

And this vast difference is why I wonder if The Hobbit will be as successful on the big screen as The Lord of the Rings. The stakes simply are not as high. Don’t get me wrong, it’s loaded with suspense and high action which I expect will make the movie highly entertaining. But it lacks the purpose given to Frodo’s task as well as the deep friendship that develops between Sam and Frodo. Bilbo is on his own among dwarves and his quest rather frivolous. It’s simply not as weighty.

Yet the story holds some surprises and ends with a history-altering event that trumps the quest for gold. In fact, by the end the value of wealth is quite called into question and a few hard lessons are learned. And once again, or rather for the first time, we are shown the nobility of this race called hobbits.

Whether the on-screen version lives up to the book or to the LOTR films remains to be seen, but either way, I think we’re in for amazing special effects, some great performances and a story with its own charm. “There are no safe paths in this part of the world. Remember you are over the Edge of the Wild now, and in for all sorts of fun wherever you go.” 

Hmmmm…I guess I’ve proven rather prophetic, haven’t I? The creators of the movie had to invent a villian for this one–the white orc with his personal vendetta against Thorin’s family–to try to up the stakes. And instead of focusing on the book’s main objective, that of reclaiming the dwarves’ treasure, they attempted to instill some nobility by turning it into a quest to reclaim the dwarves’ mountain “homeland”. Finally, they cooked up a special friendship between Thorin and Bilbo to try to recreate some of the magic of LOTR. I predicted all these issues, and all attempts to make The Hobbit more than it really is fell flat.

Though I didn’t say so, I also predicted a trilogy would be WAY TOO MUCH movie for this story. At the time of my review, the trilogy hadn’t been announced yet, and I thought maybe they could squeak a two-part movie out of the text. Maybe. I was so disgusted when I found out it would be three parts. And that has been my biggest complaint each time. They’re too long! Which makes them too slow. And the battles are way over done. It detracts from the simple charm of the book.

However, I was also right about the special effects. Peter Jackson has an amazing ability to create the impossible on the screen. And I was also right about the great performances. Ian McKellan is always incredible. But it was Martin Freeman’s Bilbo Baggins that salvages a scrap of charm. I’ll even go so far as to say he singlehandedly saves the trilogy from being a total flop. He alone is the reason I went back to see each new movie. (Okay, I did like Turiel, Kili, and Bard, too.)

My final thoughts? The Lord of the Rings is still my all-time favorite epic, both book and movie. I’ve read the trilogy at least half a dozen times and watched the movies enough to memorize large chunks of dialogue. The Hobbit (the book) is charming, but it’s a distant cousin, notable mainly because of the background it provides. I’ll probably never watch the movies again. However, I’ve become a true Martin Freeman fan. When does the next season of Sherlock come out?

The Candy Shop War, by Brandon Mull

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This was a fantastic book. The kind I’ve come to expect from Mr. Mull. The only downside? I was craving Milk Duds all week.

Nate isn’t thrilled about moving to a new neighborhood, but he quickly makes friends with Summer, Trevor, and Pidgeon, who will all be starting fifth grade with him, and is accepted into their detective/treasure-hunting/trespassing club. Little do they know, all three skills would soon be put to use.

The kids befriend the owner of the town’s new sweet shop and do errands for free candy. Before long, Mrs. White offers them magical candy that causes some awesome physical abilities, but the errands get weirder—robbing the museum, robbing a grave, wiping someone’s memory permanently. They’re in over their head. But the candy’s just so cool!

Eventually, they learn the truth about the candy maker. But by now nearly every adult in town is addicted to her behavior-modifying fudge. And the school’s three worst bullies have replaced them as her errand runners. Who can they trust? And how can they stop her?

I’d classify The Candy Shop War as definite middle grade, appropriate for ages 8+, but it’s lengthy. At 419 pages, it isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s a perfect read-aloud, however, with tons of originality and fun imagination. I highly, highly recommend it for youngsters who are craving action and adventure and for moms who want to keep those adventures clean and age appropriate.

Grab a Kindle copy!

Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth E. Wein

code name verityWow. Simply wow.

I was actually disappointed when I first opened this book. The heroine, she calls herself “Queenie”, admits right away to being a Nazi collaborator. She’s spineless, cowardly, and terrified. And she swears. A lot. But this book won several awards last year (Printz Honor Book, Boston Globe/Horn Book Award Honor Book, Shortlisted for the 2013 Carnegie Award, Golden Kite Award Honor Book), so I pushed through my initial disgust. Turns out you can’t take the narrative at face value.

The first half of the book is the written confession of a female “wireless operator” who has been caught by the Nazis in France. She’s agreed to reveal all the code she knows in exchange for her life. It is an ongoing account, written over a period of six weeks, that gives her current situation while also revealing her past.

However, the second half is an accompanying account written by Queenie’s best friend, the female pilot who delivered Queenie to France before crash landing and becoming an unintentional player in the French resistance. This second account gives a more complete perspective, giving us the whole truth and painting Queenie as the clever, courageous young woman she truly is. So don’t give up on Queenie until you find out what she’s really doing! By the end, you will have a thorough respect for the brave men and women who often gave up their lives to oppose Hitler’s evil regime as special operatives.

This book is brilliantly written and I highly recommended it to older readers with two strong cautions: there is a good deal of language, and many Nazi atrocities are detailed. In this case, I feel the historical authenticity and literary quality warrants a recommendation despite my “mom” concerns. However, I would give it a high school (14+) minimum age limit. It’s emotionally gripping as well as eye-opening, easily the most powerful book I’ve read this year.

Grab an Amazon copy here.