Out of the Silent Planet (The Cosmic Trilogy), by C.S. Lewis (1938)

out of the silent planetA huge fan of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series, I recently purchased the first in his “adult” sci-fi trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet. It’s comparable to H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, who wrote a few decades earlier than Lewis. But I found I didn’t care for this one as much as the work I’ve read by either of those authors.

In this space travel book, Ransom, “a philologist and fellow of a Cambridge college” (so a figure rather like Lewis himself), is kidnapped and wakes to find himself aboard a spacecraft. Eventually, he finds out he is bound for is Mars, or Malacandra to the locals. Convinced he is about to be sacrificed to aliens, he flees his captors and falls in with another alien race, and intelligent animal-like species. He learns their language and discovers there are three intelligent species on Malacandra, each living in harmony with each other and beneath the deity-like Oyarsa. Slowly, he comes to realize that Earth is the only planet in the solar system that suffers from selfishness, greed, hatred, and a lust for power. I’ll let you find out if he ever makes it home or if he chooses to stay on the peaceful Malacandra.

While Malacandra was really cool, and the races unique, distinct, and interesting, I have found that I don’t absorb worlds that are vastly different than Earth (Thulcandra) very well, which takes me out of the running for many sci-fi books. Out of the Silent Planet has scads of diehard followers. It’s a pretty huge name in the sci-fi crowd. But the story did not resonate with me like Narnia. The characters weren’t as loveable, and the plot not as compelling. And Lewis’s theology, which I agree with, that is so unobtrusive and beautifully rendered in Narnia was a little more abstract and obvious in this one.

Don’t get me wrong. Lewis has plenty of deep and wonderful and beautiful moments. (“A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered.”  “It would be a strange but not an inconceivable world; heroism and poetry at the bottom, cold scientific intellect above it, and overtopping all, some dark superstition which scientific intellect, helpless against the revenge of the emotional depths it had ignored, had neither will nor power to remove.”) I love children’s lit over sci-fi. If you’re a diehard sci-fi fan, maybe you’ll benefit from this review from a sci-fi lover who hated Narnia. :) We balance each other.

What about kids reading this adult book? As is the case with many classics, the story is perfectly fine for kids other than a few mild profanities and an occasional mild sexual reference (ie. the shape of an island is compare to a breast). But the ideology behind the plot is challenging. Kids will most likely miss it. But I’d have no problem handing this one off to a twelve-year-old fan of Jules Verne.

Out of the Silent Planet is four bucks on Kindle.

Grounded Trilogy, by G.P. Ching


Sometime in spring or early summer I picked up the first book in the Grounded Trilogy on a lark as a free BookBub download. Last week I rediscovered Grounded on my Kindle and gave it a try. Five days later, I have finished not only Grounded, but I purchased Charged and Wired and devoured all them too! (Shhhh…don’t tell, but I finished the last chapter today in Sunday school!) Now I am writing up a quick review that will jump in line and post tomorrow.

This is Young Adult Amish dystopian science fiction. Wait…what? Yes, it’s the most bizarre blend of genres I’ve ever seen. It’s also the best series I’ve read this year.

Lydia Troyer grew up in the Amish community hidden behind the wall near the nuclear reactor that the outside world feared. Until her first experience with electricity set her on a path to discover what she really was…the product of an experiment that gave electro kinetic powers to humans. Her unusual abilities make her an unwilling pawn in the conflict between the despotic Green Republic and those instigating revolution and land her in plenty of danger.

This is a wild blend of adventure, sci-fi, and romance. Twists, turns, lots of action and imagination…this one has it all.

According to the author’s end notes, the series explores the role and influence of conservative groups within wider society and contrasts the desire to do good with the corrupting element of power. As a conservative Christian in a increasingly secular society, I resonated greatly with the protagonist, who struggles to keep her faith when she is forced into situations that compromise her beliefs. I also appreciated the positive spin her point of view lends to unborn life, adoption, and human life. The book also addresses other notable themes such as forgiveness, sacrifice, and freedom. It even touches on the morality of animals as food, and profits made off mandated green legislation. This isn’t a religious book by any means, however. It’s just an extremely compelling context and an oversized adventure.

Mom warning: there is a smattering of language. And while the romance is chaste (Lydia and Korwin wait for marriage), encounters between them certainly heat up at times. But even their attraction is unique. Physical contact recharges their electrical energy and prompts the healing of their frequent war injuries. What a great twist!

In conclusion, the Grounded trilogy gets my highest rating. I’d give it the go-ahead for readers 14+.



The Educational Benefits of Audiobooks

“The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children. –Jim Trelease, author of The Read Alound Handbook

audiobook kids

The Benefits of Reading Aloud

When I attended college back in the 1990’s, we elementary education majors got an earful about the 1985 findings of the U.S. Department of Education’s Commission on Reading. Study after study was telling us that reading to children is one of the very best ways to help children become successful readers.

That consensus hasn’t changed much in the intervening years. It’s a philosophy that was pushed heavily in the schools where I worked. When I stopped teaching to raise a family and it became apparent that two of my kids struggled with varying degrees of dyslexia, I read widely on the subject. Guess what the experts recommended? Reading aloud in a variety of formats: teachers reading to students, students reading to teachers, teachers reading chorally with their students, students reading chorally with other students, students performing practiced text aloud to an audience, students recording practiced text, etc, etc, etc.

brainAgain and again studies suggest that listening provides many of the same benefits as reading. And it seems that taking in language audibly and visually creates connections within different parts of the brain that aid a variety of reading skills: decoding, comprehension, increased vocabulary, fluency, word recognition…

I opted to homeschool my low readers so I could impliment these suggestions liberally throughout the school day and across the curriculum. It was a wise decision. Though they aren’t quite up to grade level, their proficiency has improved by leaps and bounds over the last few years.

Audiobooks: A Practical Solution

But very few teachers have a 1:2 teacher to student ratio. And parents may not have time to read aloud as much as they would like to. Let me suggest a very practical solution: audiobooks.

Many teachers I know actually record themselves reading classroom books and provide their students with MP3 players so they can listen while reading along. I did this with my boys. It’s a great way for kids to practice reading without direct help. But pre-recording all those books takes a lot of time. And the quality? Um… Let’s just say listening to professional voice artists is far more enjoyable. Reading along can be really FUN!

But aren’t audiobooks expensive?

They don’t have to be! If you buy an ebook on Amazon, the audiobook is often available for a ridiculously low price. For example, the audiobook for The Candle Star lists on Amazon for $14.95. But if you purchase the ebook for 99 cents, you have the option of adding the audiobook for another $1.99. That is a significant savings! Just look for “Add Audible narration” on the page listing.


I don’t know how to listen to an audiobook.

No problem. You can turn any device you own into an audiobook player (Kindle Fire, Kindle Touch, Kindle Keyboard, Android phone, iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad, Android tablets, even your PC or MP3 player). Just download the appropriate app and bingo! You’re listening.

If you’re still not certain you want to jump onboard the audio bandwagon, let me suggest that audiobooks are absolutely AWESOME for family road trips. (They’re not bad for work commutes, lawn mowing, cooking, or other brain-free, hands-busy moments either.)

Before you go, please pop over to my audiobook page where you can listen to the first chapter of each of my audiobooks free. My comrads over at Emblazon also have a growing selection of kid-friendly titles, often for dirt cheap through Amazon’s narration option. Now that you know about that little secret, you can watch for it on thousands of Amazon titles.

Audiobooks should never replace the special one-on-one time a parent and child share reading books together. But they’re an effective, practical, and inexpensive option for all those other “listenable” moments. Pick one out to enjoy with your family today.

Read an excerpt from chapter one of The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease, “Why Read Aloud?”


Alora series, by Tamie Dearen

Today I have the honor of introducing you to author Tamie Dearen. I met Tamie last spring. We’re in the Clean Indie Reads group together. When she asked for initial proofreaders for book two of the series that features below, I had just finished up Ella Wood, so I volunteered.  (My mini-review: clean, compelling, hugely imaginative, and lovely. I’d suggest age 12+.) It releases soon. Here’s a sneak peek and cover reveal guest post from Tamie…

Cover Reveal for Alora: The Portal

The compelling story of the young soulmates, Alora and Kaevin, continues…

The adventure begins with Alora: The Wander-Jewel.

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Fifteen-year-old Alora has visions.

Only while in the shower. And only of one stranger: a handsome boy with long brown hair, intense green eyes, and the oddest clothes. A boy who vanishes whenever she opens her eyes.

And then one day, he doesn’t…

Alora’s safe world is soon turned upside-down as she’s thrust into another realm where her soulmate waits, magic abounds, and unfathomable evil seeks to claim her.

The epic fantasy continues in Alora: The Portal.

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Cover design by StunningBookCovers.com

If one of them dies, they both die.

Bound together as soulmates, something compels Alora and Kaevin to abandon the safety of their refuge for the dangers of Kaevin’s realm.

The soulmates arrive in the midst of a raging battle as Stone Clan warriors defend their capital, an attack made more deadly by the pervasive evil of her father. Alora and Kaevin face mortal danger as they fight against man and magick to preserve Kaevin’s home and heritage.

For Alora’s father will have her allegiance. Or her death.

Praise for Alora

“…I have to admit – I wish the book had not ended! …The romance is sweet rather than steamy making this a clean read for young adults, but the action and adventure is thrilling enough to keep any age reader turning pages…” Today’s Visions

“I found Alora to be a breath of fresh air in the YA fantasy genre! … A YA fantasy with characters you will adore and cheer for, Alora is a book I would recommend to any of my friends!” Books Are Sanity

Alora: The Portal is available on Amazon for the special pre-order price of 99¢ through the August 31 release date! As a bonus, Alora: The Wander-Jewel will be FREE on August 30 through August 31!

Find Tamie Dearen on her website, Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter.

Excerpt from Alora: The Wander-Jewel

Alora fought the urge to beat on the tile wall. He’d disappeared again. Who was this
boy she kept seeing? Why did he only appear when she was in the shower? He seemed so
real, and she could have sworn he looked as confused as she felt. As if he was trying to
figure out who she was, as well. Was he a figment of her imagination? His eyes were so
unusual. They were green. Not an ordinary green, but a deep, intense jade, the color of
her aunt’s emerald ring. He was really cute, although he wore his wavy brown hair a little
long for her taste. Yet she could only see his head—never his clothes or the background.
Today he’d tied his hair back in a ponytail. Surely the fact he’d changed his hair was
significant. Wouldn’t a figment of her imagination have his hair the same every time?

She peeked around the shower curtain at the clock on the bathroom counter. It was
five a.m. on a Saturday, and she had chores to do, feeding the horses and letting the
chickens out. But it was winter, so she had plenty of time to spare before the rising sun
tolled the beginning of her responsibilities. Living on a ranch in the backcountry of
Montana meant cold winters, lots of work, and little time for leisure. It was the only life
she’d ever known, and she usually enjoyed it, despite the heavy work involved.
But right now, she wanted another stab at seeing that boy. The image was always so
fuzzy. If only he wouldn’t disappear when she opened her eyes. She couldn’t summon his
visage at will. He didn’t come every time she closed her eyes in the shower; it seemed to
happen when she was relaxing and letting the water beat down on her head and shoulders.
Maybe, if she were soaking in the tub, she might see his image again.

She pushed the curtain back, put in the stopper, and turned the faucet on full blast. As
an afterthought, she added bubble bath, filling the tub with fragrant suds. Soon the bath
was full, with aromatic bubbles foaming on top. She eased into the soothing water,
closing her eyes at the blissful caress of the heat on her tight muscles. And she waited.
Anticipating. Would he come? She tried to stay alert, but the relaxing warmth seeped into
her skin, lulling her to sleep.

Awakening with a start in the cold water, disappointment formed a knot in her
stomach—he’d never appeared. She released some water down the drain and added hot
water, swirling it around until the temperature was comfortable again. She had five more
minutes before she had to abandon her bath to start her workday. She lay back down,
sinking below the water with her eyes closed, swishing the fresh water over her skin to
remove the bubble bath film, her face floating above the surface to breathe.

He appeared. She held her breath, clamping her eyes shut tight, trying to hold the
image as long as possible. Though the apparition was still slightly blurry, she could see
all of him, head to toe. She took advantage of her increased perception, thoroughly
studying his image. She almost clapped her hands when her mental measurement
estimated his height at over six feet. At five feet ten, she was taller than most boys her
age. But she scolded herself for examining him as if he were a potential boyfriend. He
wasn’t even real. His clothes were made of supple-looking brown leather. The attire was
odd—held together with ties and toggles rather than buttons or zippers. The fit was close
enough that his well-formed muscles were evident. She noted his long hair was tied back,
as it had been earlier. She could only see the front of him as he stood frozen, stock-still,
with his mouth agape, his jewel-green eyes wide and… moving. His eyes were moving, up
and down, as if he were scanning her body as she had done. And it occurred to her if she
could see all of him, he might be able to see all of her.

She gasped, opening her eyes to dispense with the specter. But his image remained,
now sharp and clear. And he seemed to be standing in her bathroom. She cowered under
the water, attempting to hide under the few remaining bubbles. His eyes dropped down to
her navel, and as they widened, he whispered, “Wendelle?”

Lunging for her towel on the floor, she screamed at the top of her lungs. Hastily
covering herself and preparing to leap from the tub, she looked up, only to discover the
vision was gone—if indeed it had been a vision.

Read the first two chapters of Alora: The Wander-Jewel here.

Redwall, by Brian Jacques


(I just got home from 2 weeks without internet. I’ve been off the grid and out of touch, but I’m back and trying to catch up!) :)

I’m very late to this party. Before there was Harry Potter (90’s), there was Redwall (80’s). Where was I?

I thought perhaps I had read this long ago, as I had faint impressions of it, but on the advice of This Kid Erik, I decided to grab a copy and read it again. It was completely new to me. Then I found out a cartoon series has been done of this series. After looking it up, I’m pretty sure that’s where my obscure memories stem from. I must have seen an episode or two.

So how’d I like the book?

It was really cute and adventurous, though I wasn’t blown away by it. Probably as a kid I would have been. It’s the bigger than life kind of tale I would have treasured.

Redwall is a monastery. The mice of Redwall are peaceful and practice good to all. But a monstrous rat, Cluny the Scourge, sets out to capture the abbey and claim it as his own. This is the epic battle between Cluny’s evil army of rats, stoats, and weasels against the loveable woodland creatures on the side of right. And at the center of the adventure, an old legend of the long-ago hero of Redwall blends with a brave young mouse who possesses the heart of a champion.

The cast is comprised of all animals. Though the goings-on inside Redwall have a distinctly middle ages flavor—it feels almost historic, other than there are no humans. I’d judge the reading level to be approximately fifth grade, but I’d rate entirely appropriate for ages 8+ with one caveat. Keep in mind that the entire pretext is a battle, with weapons and death, villains and heroes. The violence is not gratuitous, and the animals give it a fairy tale flavor. It’s definitely a high stakes adventure. But not all the furry woodland animals make it to the end of the book, if that poses a problem for your young reader. Definitely an engaging tale. It’s no wonder it’s considered a classic by so many. Highly recommended.

News! News! Two Audiobooks!

Just a quick post with news. Summer gets so nuts, I don’t think I ever announced that my Song of the Mountain audiobook released a couple weeks ago. And today Taylor Davis and the Flame of Findul released. So excited! Both narrators are absolutly fantastic!

Song is probably my favorite book to date, but Taylor had me laughing out loud as I proofed the audio on a road trip over the Fourth of July. My daughter (who was trying to sleep) kept grumbling, “Mom, quit laughing. You wrote it.” She’s obviously underwhelmed having an internationally famous author for a mother. :)

Song of the Mountain


Buy it links:
Audible | Amazon | iTunes

Click here to get a free copy of Song of the Mountain with a 30-day trial membership on Audible.

Taylor Davis and the Flame of Findul

FlameOfFindul_Audiobook_coverBuy it links:

Audible | Amazon | iTunes

Click here to get a free copy of Taylor Davis and the Flame of Findulwith a 30-day trial membership on Audible.

The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd

the-invention-of-wings-sue-monk-kidd_t580This book isn’t exactly children’s literature, though it is appropriate for a young adult audience. I’m featuring it today because its subject is so incredibly intertwined with that of my latest book, Ella Wood. In fact, The Invention of Wings was recommended to me by two of my blog readers after I began sharing snipets of research this past spring in anticipation of Ella Wood‘s May release. I had dedicated an entire post to the Grimke sisters. I chose not to read Ms. Kidd’s book until Ella Wood was completed. A couple months have now passed, and I finished The Invention of Wings last night.

This is the slightly fictionalized story of Sarah Grimke and a fictional slave whose character was inspired by Sarah’s actual childhood maid. It’s a beautiful, engaging tale that breathes life, motiviation, and emotion into an important historical figure, making her eminently relateable. Ms. Kidd has a grace and beauty to her prose. You all know how I love word pictures. Her writing is chock full of them. And her characters live. The harsh backdrop of history provides the only villian needed. I guarentee you will become engrossed in Sarah’s struggle to change the institution of slavery and suffer along with Handful as she endures the cruelties inflicted on her. This is a story, not a history text. One that will capture you from beginning to end. One I highly recommend.

I must stay again, Sarah and Angelina Grimke were an amazing pair of ladies. Pioneers in the abolitionist and women’s movements. Ms. Kidd, in her author note at the end of the book, mentions how shocked she was to never have heard mention of them before, and she a resident of Charleston, the Grimke’s home town. I felt much the same way when I first discovered them. I’ve done so much reading and research about the Civil War, how had I not come across these names sooner? But I did, last year, and I had to work them in Ella Wood, even though it takes place a few decades after Sarah and Angelina stopped lecturing. They provided a historical justification for my character of Emily, both for her anti-slavery and female ambition leanings, and their literature proved an excellent resource for Emily’s growth.

I read two of the biographical sources Ms. Kidd listed in her bibliography during my research last winter. Being familiar with the Grimke’s life stories made reading this fictionalized account doubly fascinating. But you don’t have to have background knowledge to enjoy a beautifully rendered tale grounded in our country’s past. Pick it up for yourself!

I know Ms. Kidd is leagues above me in fan base and notoriety, but I tweeted her anyway. I also know how busy authors are, and how obnoxious other authors begging for help can be. But Sue, if you actually read my tweet and landed here, I assure you I’m not looking for a leg up. If you’re so inclined, I’d simply like to offer you a complimentary copy of Ella Wood with no strings attached. Just because we share a love of history as well as admiration for these two fabulous ladies. And because the two books compliment each other so beautifully.