The Gypsy Pearl: Tye (Gypsy Pearl, 3), by Lia London

gypsy tyeThis has been one of my favorite recent series. And it just so happens to be written by a friend of mine, Lia London. (But she became a friend after I’d been introduced to her fabulous writing.) Today, I’m featuring the newly released  third and final book in her Gypsy Pearl series, which I had the pleasure of beta reading.

Caz has been given three gifts. She’s been named the Gypsy queen. Now she’s arrived on the last planet in the Granbo System. But as she makes her way to the rendezvous point where she will complete the cycling of the pearl and take up her mantle, she wonders why the third gift has given her no special powers like the first two did. And as she is exposed to the variety of cultures on Tye, she begins to have doubts. How can she unite so many different governments and people groups?

“Unity is a vague term, isn’t it? What does it really mean? Can humanity ever really be united? What would it take? What would we have to give up to achieve it?”

Good questions. And we see Caz struggling here in this book more than in any other.

The Gypsy Pearl: Tie reminds me of Taran Wanderer, by Lloyd Alexander. Just as Taran explores and is shaped by the kingdom he will one day rule, so too with Caz. We see her maturing, problem solving, and though she does not know it, preparing for leadership. And along the way, she absorbs some important lessons. Like the one spoken by Nathani, an old woman who lends Caz aid:

She tapped her forehead. “Knowledge is up here, and it’s all facts and figures and skills. It’s what and where and how.” Spreading her palm across her concave chest, she said, “Wisdom includes the why. It is compassion and selflessness. If knowledge grows faster than wisdom, it ceases to breed kindness.”

This story resonates with gentle nudges of wisdom that are well balanced by Caz’s quick wit. Chose to be happy. Decide to survive. And it changes Caz. At one point her boyfriend Alf observes, “You are not a wave watcher, Caz. You are the wave.” It is Caz who drives this series. It is her growth that is so admirable and fun to watch. And it is so satisfying to see her journey reach its conclusion. Loved this series!

Grab a copy. They’re often .99 and never more than 2.99.

Gypsy Pearl: Caren
Gypsy Pearl: Craggy
Gypsy Pearl: Tye

It just so happens that while I was beta reading the last Gypsy book, Lia was beta reading my newbie, Ella Wood. Very blessed to give and take with someone of Lia’s calibre. She recently posted her response to Ella Wood as well as a short 4-question interview. Catch them on her website!

Still with me? Good! Because another of my beta readers, Patricia Tilton, featured Ella Wood on her blog today. Head over to Children’s Books Heal!

The Distance Between Us, by Kasie West

distance between usI’ve got one more cutsie YA romance for you. Yup, read it while I was writing Ella Wood, to absorb some of the light romanciness that my system doesn’t produce naturally. Actually, the book was pretty readable. I even liked it. I guess there’s just enough demand for a happily ever after in me to push me to the end, though I still prefer a little more substance. I was cringing mightily as I looked up the cover image and ran across all the hot guy and gal fan images overwritten with the book’s most gushy quotes.

This is sort of a star-crossed lover type story. Caymen is poor, poor, poor, and Xander is filthy stinking rich. The whole plot is basically Caymen trying to convince herself it will really work. To Ms. West’s credit, there are some well done side threads going on, specifically the secrets between Caymen and her mom, that kept me wondering till the end. Some I guessed right away. Others I didn’t see coming. The secondary characters–Caymen’s friend Skye, her boyfriend, and the lead singer in his band–are each unique and individual. Sharply and distinctly so. I liked that. A band sounds kind of teen cliche, but their chemistry works well and they feel real, not typecast. And, of course, Xander is loveable. He borders on the too-good-to-be-true stereotype, but he has just enough quirks and personality of his own to get a nod from me.

But what really made this story work for me was Caymen. She is so fabulously fashioned. Insecure about the father she never met, self-sacrificing yet struggling to break free of her mother’s failing store to pursue her own dreams, and wonderfully, delightfully sarcastic. Her sharp wit makes the dialogue totally entertaining.

Overall, I was actually quite impressed. For a lighthearted romance with nothing world-changing going on in the plot, there was a surprising amount of depth to the characters. And it was perfectly clean. It will get passed along to my daughter, who will likely be ga-ga over it.

And this concludes my venture into teen romance for the time being. I’ll be ordering books from the library with a little more literary weight for my summer reading, most likely of the middle grade genre. Back to our regularly scheduled programming…

The Kindle edition is a lovely 1.99.

Chosen (Amish Bloodsuckers Trilogy) by Barbara Ellen Brink

chosen

This is an unusual book to classify. I love that indie publishing allows for these unique books that don’t really fit into a comfortable niche, ones that publishers often reject for that very reason, no matter how well written the story might be. This one warrants a place on the virtual shelves.

Jael, named for the Old Testament slayer of Sisera, is a normal fifteen-year-old girl. At least, she wishes she was normal. But coming from an unsocial family living 30 miles into the dessert, she’s often teased about hiding out in a commune with lots of sister-wives. And none of the other girls she knows train three hours a night in martial arts. But one of her classmates, an Indian named Shadow with unusual skills, knows what she is. He learns before she does, and he puts out an alert that she’s been found. For Jael, though she doesn’t know it yet, was born to slay vampires.

I don’t normally read vampire novels, but Amish bloodsuckers? I had to find out. And the combination is certainly unusual. Jael’s parents have fled from an Amish community where bloodsuckers have taken over positions of authority.

I like that vampires are portrayed as evil. And I liked the unobtrusive statements of faith worked in a quiet odd moments. “Faith is never plain or simple, despite the life we came from and once knew. It’s a daily ritual of taking self and sacrificing it on the alter of obedience—trusting that the Creator knows what we need more than we do.” Good thoughts, though I’ve never seen them combined with slaying vampires before. It made me laugh, but it actually works in the story.

Despite Jael’s Amish background, the book isn’t really about religion. It’s about kicking vampire butt. And it was a pretty entertaining read. And pretty innocent. Not gory, but high action, no language, with a mild romantic element, though date rape is mentioned. However, one question did sort of bother me though the whole book. What’s the connection between the vampires and the Amish? True, they aren’t particular about their victims, but I never understood the reason they take over the Amish community and nowhere else. Because the Chosen One comes from the Amish line, I assume? If it gave a solid reason, I missed it.

Chosen is unique, clean, and appropriate for age 14+. I dare you to read it and not purchase the next one.

Kindle edition:
Chosen (Amish Bloodsuckers Trilogy, 1)

El Deafo, by Cece Bell

el deafoThis year’s Newbery was announced not long ago, so I rushed to grab a copy of the new winner. I was rather disappointed. In fact, I haven’t really liked a Newbery winner since 2011, Clare VanderPool’s Moon Over Manifest. Perhaps all the edgier, more experimental types of literature like graphic novels and verse I’ve been seeing lately are leaving me in a bygone era. I don’t know. I just know I much prefer the old-fashioned literary novel.

El Deafo is a graphic novel, 233 pages that took only 90 minutes to read, that tells the real-life story of author, Cece Bell. It is emotional, focusing on the feelings she experienced as she traversed grade school with an oversized, strap-across-her-chest hearing aid with cords that went up her ears. It shares the challenges she faced (kids speaking too slow and emphatic, staring, teasing) as well as the triumps. We get a pretty funny account of Cece acting as auditory lookout for the off-task classroom when her teacher, who wears a microphone, leaves the room. There is much that I related to, and much that I learned.

However, I found the graphic format of the novel mildly obnoxious. The entire 233 pages are laid out like a never-ending comic strip, and the rabbit-people characters come off looking a little ridiculous. I know lots of kids take to graphic novels, and there are arguments to be made for the benefits they pose to low readers, but I just want to READ my books minus all the goofy drawings. The thing I disliked most, however, is that the pictoral format limited, in my opinion, the emotional output of the story. Bell has a very touching story to tell. She’s the odd one out, a child who’s longing for acceptance and friendship among her peers. But the simplified story failed to elicit much emotion in me, and the writing just isn’t very pretty. Dialogue bubbles don’t leave much room for artistry of that sort. The force of the message could have been amplified tenfold in a more traditional telling.

So there you have it, my bias against graphic novels. I just don’t like them. At all. While this one was acclaimed all over the web last year, and I am sure there are kids out there somewhere with whom the story resonated, I’m having a hard time giving it much of a recommendation.

New Release–Ella Wood … and Audiobook Winners

Ella Wood new cover11After nearly a year in the writing, Ella Wood released yesterday! I now have links for you at the top of my sidebar. Paperbacks will follow in a few weeks.

If you’re new to my blog and have never heard of Ella Wood, you can get the scoop here.

Apparently, I didn’t do a very good job publicizing my audiobook contest last week as I finished Ella Wood rewrites. I have five copies to give away and only two contest entries. I’ll get those two out. If anyone else would like those last free audiobooks of The Candle Star, l’ll send them out to the first three people to request them in the comments below.

And now that Ella Wood is on the virtual shelves…I’m taking a break from further writing this week. I’m going to read a book!

Pictures of Hollis Woods, Patricia Reilly Giff

Hollis woodsI’d seen this book on the list of Newberry honors (2003), so when I stumbled on it as a library Kindle download, I grabbed it to read over Christmas break. It’s a good one, in a relaxed, lazy day kind of way. I couldn’t help but feel for Hollis, a twelve-year-old orphan girl whose dream for a family mingles freely with her talent for drawing pictures.

The book feels a bit disjointed at first. Each chapter has an italicized prelude describing one of Hollis’s drawings, always done in the past. First, her desire for a family, drawn as a class assignment with a father, mother, sister, and brother. Then pictures of one family, nearly perfect, that she paints one by one. Chapters tell her present situation, entering a new foster house. An old lady this time, Josie, a former art teacher, someone who recognizes Hollis’s talent and her dreams. As Hollis slowly comes to love Josie, she also recognizes how forgetful Josie has become. How old. Josie needs Hollis as much as Hollis needs her.

But what about the perfect family? Slowly, we learn the backstory, the tragedy that tore Hollis away, the running. And slowly the stories merge. To protect Josie, Hollis must go back. To the empty house she once loved. And what she finds there…

Nope. You’ll have to read it for yourself.

Giff really gets us into Hollis’s head, showing us how this angry, trouble-making child is really an individual with talents and dreams and a nobility all her own. Two thumbs way, way up.

Grab the Kindle version.

It’s also a 2007 made-for-TV movie.

The Candle Star AUDIOBOOK…and a GIVEAWAY

TheCandleStar_Audiobook_coverMy first audiobook is finished! And let me tell you my narrator, Fred Wolinsky, did a knock out job. Fred reads with a grandfatherly voice that I was drawn to immediately. It sounds so appropriate for this audience. He creates fabulous character voices, and he also put forth extra effort in the pivotal Frederick Douglass speech scene. To prepare, he studied Martin Luther King recordings to nail his lofty speaking style, then he adjusted the acoustics to make it sound like it really is taking place in a church. AND he actually got online and found the old freedom hymn I end the meeting with…and he sings it!

The Candle Star audiobook is available on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. But I’m giving away coupons for five free audiobooks. Did you hear that?

I’m giving away five free audiobooks!

I’ll draw winners next Monday. Want to enter? Just say so in the comments below.

If you don’t know much about audiobooks, keep reading. My friend, author Susan Kaye Quinn, gave me permission to use this snippet she wrote up for the audiobook uninformed.

How Do I Listen to Digital Audiobooks?
Virtually any device you own will play digital audiobooks (Kindle Fire, Kindle Touch, Kindle Keyboard, Android phone, iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad, Android tablets, even your PC or MP3 player). All you have to do is download the Audible App for your device and BOOM you are listening to audiobooks. EASY PEASY.

Aren’t Audiobooks Expensive?
Since CDs are no longer required, digital audiobooks tend to be cheaper.
Plus, if you own the ebook, often you can get the audiobook for RIDICULOUSLY CHEAP.
Look for the Whispersync! 

I don’t have Whispersync…yet. It takes Amazon a month or two to run quality control and make sure text and audio are the same. So hold on…

In the meantime, if you didn’t win or don’t want to enter, there is one more easy way to get The Candle Star audiobook free. Try a free 30 day membership on Audible. Here are the details.

By the way, if you aren’t familiar with The Candle Star, venture over to my sidebar. All digital editions are free. You can read the blurb here. Or read about the Divided Decade Collection here. (I’m in the process of making all ebook versions of all three books in the Collection free. I want to make them easily accessible for classrooms. Where they haven’t gone free yet, they’re only .99. Know a librarian, teacher, or homeschooler? Give them a nudge for me, please!)

Good luck. And enjoy the read…er…listen!