Bingo Summer, by Dawn Malone

bingo summerFirst time author Dawn Malone has crafted a winner in Bingo Summer. Charming, sweet, and artfully written, it takes top honors in my summer reading list. It’s just a superb example of middle grade lit. I loved it!

Okay, the initial catalyst for the plot is pretty unlikely. (Summer wins ten million dollars with a lottery ticket.) But the emotions the story conjures up once it gets rolling are absolutely universal. Forced to move across the state by her impetuous mother, Summer starts eighth grade in a new school where kids dress differently and act differently than she is accustomed to. She soon finds herself changing to become like everyone else and not liking the way it makes her feel. Her new friends aren’t friendly. Her dirt-poor past is an embarrassment she tries to hide. She’d give the money back if only she could go home! Rich or not, Summer’s emotional journey is an altogether human response that every single kid out there can identify with.

Now for my favorite part. Drop dead gorgeous writing. Let me show off some of the ingenious images Ms. Malone creates for us…

“…her pout stuck out far enough that I could have pegged her lower lip with my pea-shooter if I had it on me.”

“I followed her into the dining room with a table long enough for a plane to land on.”

“Snow had erased the horizon. Sky and landscape blended together in one solid, white wall. The woods across the road looked like tree-shaped ghosts, draped in snowy sheets.”

“Once I started talking, I couldn’t stop. It all spilled out, at first a little drip-drop of information as she looked over the pictures and articles. Then the words ran together, widening like a fast-moving stream, tumbling over a mountain waterfall, and they wouldn’t quit until I ran dry of every last detail.”

Squeaky Award 2“My throat closed up when he reached for my hair, so any words I had were stuck somewhere between my collar bone and the back of my tongue.”

Doesn’t this remind you of the quality you find in an ALA notable book? Too bad the ALA doesn’t consider self-pubs or this one could sweep their awards! As it is, I’ve decided to honor it with the first Squeaky Award I’ve given out in quite some time. I highly recommend you grab this one up today for your 4th-8th grade reader. (It’s only 99 cents. How many traditional presses price like that?!) Two thumbs way up.

IMG_16032Breaking News

“…And in other Olympic news, Michelle Isenhoff SMASHED her mountain bike goal earlier today by completing 1,000 miles a full SIX WEEKS ahead of schedule. And she’s not done yet, Al. Isenhoff is hoping to complete another five hundred miles before snow puts an end to her season. It’s a truly remarkable story. Tune in later this evening for complete coverage and her interview with Bob Costas…”

(Hee, hee, hee!)

Lightning Road Series, by Donna Galanti (book trailer reveal and giveaway!)

joshua and the lightning roadEarlier this summer, I read the first book in Donna Galanti’s Lightning Road fantasy adventure series, JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTNING ROAD. It just so happens that today Ms. Galanti is unveiling the trailer for book two,  JOSHUA AND THE ARROW REALM, which will be releasing on August 30th, so I waited to post my review until today. You’ll find my review all the way at the end of this special guest post.


The Midwest Book Review calls book one, JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTNING ROAD, “a heart-pounding thrill ride full of unexpected twists and turns from start to finish.” Grab book one for just 99 cents now through September 20th. 

Be sure to enter the fun giveaway package at the bottom of this post that includes a paperback of book one, poster of the Lost Realm, bookmarks, and a $25 B&N gift card (U.S. only). Sign up for Donna’s Thunderclap book release campaign and help her zap the world through social media with her lightning message!


Joshua and the Arrow Realm ebookOn August 30th take the lightning road back to a world of beasts, bandits, and heroes in book two of the Lightning Road series. Join Joshua in a new fight for power in the Arrow Realm. Can Joshua and his friends conquer an unstoppable evil?

Joshua never thought he’d return to the world of Nostos but is soon called to the Arrow Realm to free his imprisoned friend, King Apollo, kidnapped as a power pawn in Queen Artemis’s quest to conquer every realm. With his loyalties divided between our world and theirs, Joshua wonders whether he alone can restore magic to the twelve powerless Olympian heirs and save all those enslaved. But when he finds himself abandoned in his quest, he fears he cannot only save those imprisoned—but himself as well.

“Fast-paced and endlessly inventive, Joshua and the Arrow Realm is a high-stakes romp through a wild world where descendants of the Greek gods walk beside you, beasts abound, and not everything—or everyone—is as it seems.” ~ Michael Northrop, New York Times bestselling author of the TombQuest series


(Quick aside from Michelle….Sometimes WordPress is tempermental, so if the embedded trailer doesn’t work, you can still click here.)


A faint rumble groaned through the whistling wind.


Thunder ripped the sky overhead.

Charlie reached the frozen pond, spinning across it. “Woohoo! I win! You Americans can’t beat us at speed!”

Lightning flashed. It zinged across the pine trees like brilliant sunlight. A seed of terror flickered inside me.

Boom! Boom!

Another flash scorched the sky.

Charlie’s smile fell to a frown as he raced across the ice, peering up into the swirling clouds.

We both knew what lightning could do.

Suddenly, sneaking outside for a moonlit sled ride before Bo Chez got home from his monthly poker game didn’t seem so smart.

The sleet turned to snow. Icicles flew off trees like glass splinters, shattering on the hard snow. As I shot toward the pond, a tree on the edge moved. Its branches swayed in the swirling snow.

It wasn’t a tree, but a girl! She stumbled through the mad flurry, arms outstretched.

“Charlie, look!”

Gusts snatched the words away as my sled hit the ice and careened out of control on the bumpy surface. The girl staggered and fell onto the pond. I twisted my sled away to avoid hitting her and smashed right into Charlie. With a yelp, he pulled me up, and we clumped toward the girl. We lifted her up, half dragging her back up the hill to the house in the pelting snow and sleet.

“Who is she?” Charlie yelled.

“No idea,” I yelled back.

He said more, but his words were lost in the wind.

My lungs burned with the cold and effort. There was only one reason someone would appear with lightning—to steal us. This girl might appear like a waif unprepared for a storm but I couldn’t trust that’s all she was.


Amazon | Barnes & Noble



Donna Galanti is the author of The Element Trilogy (Imajin Books) and The Lightning Road series (Month9Books). She attended an English school housed in a magical castle, where her wild imagination was held back only by her itchy uniform (bowler hat and tie included!). There she fell in love with the worlds of C.S. Lewis and Roald Dahl, and wrote her first fantasy about Dodo birds, wizards, and a flying ship. She’s lived in other exotic locations, including Hawaii where she served as a U.S. Navy photographer. She lives with her family and two crazy cats in an old farmhouse, and dreams of returning one day to a castle. Donna is a contributing editor for International Thriller Writers the Big Thrill magazine and blogs with other middle grade authors at Project Middle Grade Mayhem. You can find her at


E-book ARCs are available for this next thrilling book in The Lightning Road series! Email donna(at) for copies and specify the format you’d like.


(Another aside from Michelle… WordPress is VERY particular about rafflecopter embeds, so unfortunately, I’ll have to do this one with an ugly link.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Queue Michelle Again…

I’m back. And as I promised way at the top of this post, here’s my review of book one, JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTNING ROAD.

Joshua and the Lightning Road is a middle grade fantasy adventure with similarities to Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. The premise is summarized nicely in an excerpt from Leandro’s History of Our People, a book within the book: “The Olympians heirs [of ancient gods] believed their time had come to an end, when one discovered that mortal children of Earth had powers to fuel their world. And so began the stealing of these children for vile purposes.” Twelve-year-old Joshua is one of these stolen children, and so is his friend Finn. Joshua just wants to find Finn and escape back to Earth. But could he be the Oracle, the prophesized one who would set the Lost Realm to rights?

Ms. Galanti’s prose is often as lovely as anything I’ve ever read. (“The blue sun hung over us in an early morning lavender sky as tentacles of fog reached up to grab it.” Beautiful!) She also creates some great, kid-pleasing details, like malumpus-tongues—people who can speak to animals—and a society built around the descendants of ancient gods. The story is well crafted, with small clues written into the beginning that I didn’t even know were so vastly relevant until I went back and reread the first chapter. And the bedtime tale that Joshua’s grandfather tells him ends up having tremendous meaning. The progression works. The plot comes together. There’s action, decent characters, and a fantasy world that will please kids.

Yet, I have a few criticisms. Several times there were abrupt mention of things that could have been worked into the story earlier, like “the very horse on which he’d carted me from wherever we landed.” What horse? Did I miss something? I went back. I could find no mention of them riding in on a horse. Or “no waking from the nightmare this time.” Joshua was having nightmares? I went back. No nightmare. I also thought there were too many twists based on one or two characters. How many times can one person be a good guy/bad guy? How many times can a fallen character get up again? But mostly, this story simply didn’t grip me.

I don’t want to end on a minor note, though. Donna Galanti has some great things going, but I really, really struggle with stories written in unfamiliar worlds. We probably weren’t the best match. Still, the story is solid and the writing lovely. I’m certain kids will find this adventure fun and engaging. For 99 cents, it’s worth seeing if yours is one of them.

Echo, by Pam Munoz Ryan

echoI’ve seen this one on a few different sites lately, particularly on the review blog of Patricia Tilton, who always has great taste, so I picked it up. It’s Ms. Ryan’s newest, released only last year, and it lives up to her classic style. It claimed Newbery honors this year.

Being a writer myself, I found the book and story layout really interesting. Readers jumps right into the tale on the very first page. There’s no title page. No copyright. Nothing. Just the initial scene, much like television shows do when they save the theme song and opening credits till after they’ve hooked their viewers. In this case, the initial scene acts as a prologue. It’s written like a folk tale that takes place long ago, with pretty pages decorated in a border to set it apart, with black text on white paper, then white text on black paper. Very engaging. Then comes the title page. Then the main story, which takes place in Germany in 1933. It’s sort of an abrupt jump from the folk tale, but it all ties in eventually.

A little more about the folk tale. We’re introduced to a young boy named Otto who gets whisked away to another time and place where three little girls are threatened by an evil witch. Incidentally, the story he brought into the woods with him, the story with his name in it which he reads to the girls, narrates the their story. But it is unfinished. He will be one of the characters who helps the girls to their happily-ever-after. Of particular importance is the harmonica they give him.

The rest of the book is actually the passing of the harmonica to three different children in our world. The first is Friedrich in Germany. But before Friedrich’s tale concludes, the story takes another leap when the harmonica moves on. This time we meet Mike, an American orphan in 1935. And long before we want to leave him, we’re jolted to California in 1942 where we’re introduced to Ivy, a third generation Mexican American. Her story, too, ends abruptly.

I haven’t taken time to tell you how Ms. Ryan develops each character, or how the historical context is so richly created. Or how the struggles each child faces are broken down to a very human level that kids can understand and relate to through her characters. Ms. Ryan illustrate the Nazi regime, including such delicate policies as the sterilization of those considered inferior. She shows the difficulties orphan had during the Great Depression. And she illustrates the inequality Mexican Americans faced as well as that horrible chapter in American history when we incarcerated Japanese Americans during the Second World War. Actually, I rolled my eyes a bit at all the sappy melodrama. But for kids who are experiencing this history for the first time, it’s a startling introduction.

So all the way through the book we’re left hanging. First the three girls and the witch, then each of the other characters. Their stories all mingle and come to completion in the final section of the text. The ending is extremely coincidental, but it wraps up the story nicely. The beginning and ending tie up in a nice neat bow. This wasn’t my favorite story by Munoz. The abrupt leaps drove me nuts. But it turns out sweet, story threads are intricately woven, and the language is eminently beautiful. I think kids will find it more intriguing than I did. Ages 10+

Bean Counting for Authors

Today’s post certainly won’t grab fiction readers, but I know there are plenty of authors who tune into my blog. I’m slipping this one is in specifically for them, because it’s the best resource I’ve read on the subject yet.

BeanCountingECover-742x1113Becoming a self-published author is frightening. Not only are you opening your creativity to significant criticism, you also have to navigate the entire world of Authorship alone. That means finding editors, formatters, and design artists; learning how to use new software and navigate unfamiliar publishing websites; and learning the ins and outs of marketing and promotions. It also means keeping accurate records for tax purposes.

This was by far the most terrifying aspect of authorship for me. I have zero experience with anything business, nor can I wrap my head around such concepts easily. Words and grammar, spacial art and design, historical research–yes! Numbers, accounting, IRS, legaleese–NO!

In all honesty, I’ve been winging it for years. I keep track of expenses and income, but beyond that, I just do a lot of finger crossing. How does one actually set oneself up as a legal business? What tax filing is required? What other records should I be keeping? Christina Mercer, self-published author and former CPA, answers all those questions and many more that I didn’t know enough to ask in her book Bean Counting for Authors. It was something of a relief to find out that I’d actually been operating as a Sole Proprietorship for four years and my feeble attempts to be on the up-and-up are sufficient from a legal standpoint. But Bean Counting does more than that. It describes other business models available for authors along with the pros and cons of each. It also breaks down legal terms, defines applicable taxes and an author’s legal responsiblities, and is filled with tips for more efficient management.

I’m actually still working my way through some of the meatier sections that require a little extra chewing. Most of the difficult stuff doesn’t really apply to me at the moment, and might never, but I want to understand it anyway. Fortunately, Ms. Mercer lays out her content clearly, concisely, and with a gentle humor. She gets that we’re not all going to grasp this stuff quickly, so she leads us through it gently, with lots of illustrations as to how, say, COGS (Cost of Goods Sold), NEXUS, or Sales and Use Tax might be relevant to an author. It’s tough stuff, but it’s need-to-know stuff, and it’s helping me gain confidence in my…yes, my author business.

Very well done and very helpful. I highly recommend it for those like me who really don’t have a clue what they’re doing from a business and financial standpoint. Grab a copy here!

The Break (Tales of a Revolution), by Lars D. Hedbor


the breakAs you know by now, I’m a history addict and a fan of Lars Hedbor’s historical fiction series, Tales of a Revolution. Over spring break, I had the honor of reading two of his latest releases. The first, The Wind, posted right after I read it. This is the second. It’s sort of fitting that it’s posting on Independence Day.

The Break is another off-the-beaten-path story of the Revoutionary War. This one starts in that very familiar epicenter of rebellion, Boston, and portrays quite realistically the violence visited on those who chose to remain loyal to the crown. Susannah Mills’ father is faced with the difficult choice—stay and take a chance with his family’s health and safety, or abandon his holdings and forge a new life in a safer locale. Like many Tories, he leaves Boston and repairs to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Though the lower colonies tried to enlist the Canadian colonies to join their rebellion, Canada remained steadfast. This is part of that story.

I particularly enjoyed reading this account from the flip viewpoint. The Tory perspective is neglected, even vilified, in our history books, but Hedbor very accurately reminds us that this was indeed a civil war, one that split friends and families down the middle as much as that greater Civil War of a later date, and that theirs was a valid viewpoint. Actually, it was the more reasonable, more conservative of the two. Sometimes we forget that the Royalists weren’t villains. The fact that The Break is told from this point of view, without ever changing to a more “patriotic” loyalty, makes for a unique and authentic voice. It’s odd to think that if history had turned out differently, it would be the firebrands who would be held in disdain today.

Having applauded Susannah Mills’ unique perspective, I confess I had a difficult time actually “seeing” the war through her eyes. The reader’s vision is constricted by the daily life of this proper middle class young lady, with most of the scenes confined to the inside of her own house, the store, or a small scope of the town. Vital information such as the battles for Quebec and Montreal, even the skirmishes and the building of forts very near to Halifax, are passed to us secondhand. It gave me a greater sympathy for the sheltered life of young women. But I wished it had been told through the freer perspective of Colin MacRae, her would-be suitor, who I found to be the more interesting character.

Even so, we’re treated to a broad scope of the rebellion and to the daily lives of those who lived through it. And once again, Hedbor brings particular life to these people through his magical use of language—through dialogue, through letters authentically penned with random capitalization and antiquated (British) spellings, and through the use of wonderful old words that we have, sadly, let go from our modern vocabulary (like my favorite, “poncy”). Let me give you a few examples of his gift for vernacular:

“They are small boys, playing with fire in a storehouse because it pleases them to see their shadows leap upon the walls. They will soon discover to their regret that they are not so large as their shadows permit them to believe that they are.”

“I will not stay here and expose you to the whims of the mob as they drag our community into the very flames of the hereafter.”

“I forget at times that I am not at my table of peers, and that your interests are far different from the high questions of philosophy that haunt the depths of our cups.”

“The loss and pain that we experience between the cradle and the grave is all part of the plan of the great Author of the world to instruct our souls on the meaning of strength and faith.”

As always, The Break is beautifully written and history faithfully portrayed. Written for adults, it is nevertheless appropriate for a high school audience. Ages 14+

Grab a copy from Amazon!



The Beloved Daughter, by Alana Terry


I don’t rave about books very often, but this one blew me away. I’ve familiarized myself with some of the inhumane activities going on in North Korea under the current Kim dynasty. It’s gut-wrenching. Nauseating. I almost can’t believe these Nazi-like atrocities are going on in the 21st century, but then again, I’ve been shocked by recent events in the Middle East. Obviously, people still have the flaws of power, greed, lust, and violence. Dictators seem to have them in abundance.

Let me warn you now. The Beloved Daughter is highly disturbing and appropriate only for a mature audience of high school age or older. From everything I’ve read, this fictional account is extremely accurate and takes no pains to soften the truth of what’s really going on behind North Korea’s closed borders. Chung-Cha is abused in every way. But this isn’t a dark, morbid read. It’s a celebration of life and love and of the human spirit. It’s also a hard look at why God lets such atrocities go unaccounted for.

The Beloved Daughter is written from a Christian perspective. The atheistic communist government allows for the worship of only one god, the “Beloved Leader” (emperor). Anyone who runs amuck of the ruling dynasty finds themselves dead or imprisoned, and Christians are among the most hunted subgroups. But the book is not at all preachy. It’s brutally honest. After giving the most horrific examples of evil, it cries out, “How can a God of love permit this to happen?” The answers are as hard and muddied and honest as the question.

This is a phenomenal read. It’s won numerous awards. And I’m proud to say it’s independently published. Put it on your must read list. Ages 14+

Grab a copy from Amazon!