Thursday, December 22, 2011

Guest Post: You Are Beautiful (Amy Machelle)

When I was asked to do a guest post here, I struggled with what to write. “It just needs to be writing related,” Florence, Tell-Tale Publishing’s director of PR, told me. “Writing related? That could cover any number of things,” I thought, but the more I contemplated it, the more I knew I wanted to direct this post to struggling writers out there. I could have used this tour stop to answer more interview questions, but I’ve done that at several stops already. I wanted to speak to you, the inspired creators in the world, because I know how difficult it can be to share your creations. I hope you’ll read this and be encouraged. If you’re not a writer, please don’t let that keep you from reading. I think you’ll find inspiration here as well.

I’ll start by saying every step toward Saving Elizabeth’s publication has been a milestone – a smoothing of the rough edges each writer begins his journey with, but there are many rough edges yet to be smoothed. I’m not convinced there will ever come a time when any of us step back, look at ourselves in the mirror and think there’s no sand papering needed … no growth left to do. As a matter of fact, one of my jagged edges, “fear of man,” recently reared its ugly head during the publication of Saving Elizabeth. As much as I’d like to tell you otherwise, what people think or say means a lot to me….more than it probably should. People -pleasing was ingrained in me at an early age, and for as long as I can remember, I’ve done my best to make everyone happy, despite how unhappy living up to others’ expectations may have made me. I’m a perfectionist, to say the least, but I’m also a very passionate person who wears her emotions on her sleeve. When combined, those two character traits can create a wonderful novel. Unfortunately, they can also create a doubtful, nervous author who’s sometimes afraid of reading reviews. I imagine I’m not alone in these character traits. Have you ever been afraid to share your writing with others?

I thought so.

I wish I could give you an easy solution that would erase your fears. Someone once said that when a writer screams at the page, the reader only hears a whisper. How true that is! Writers are passionate people by design. Our emotions must lie close to the surface in order for us to easily tap into them and create something that moves readers. We feel deeply, which means rejection often crushes us to the core. There’s no built in emotional switch that can be flipped on when it’s time to write, and then flipped off when our work is finally presented to the world. We must realize we are who we are. Our work is beautiful, regardless of what others have to say about it. It always has been, and always will be because essentially, it’s us on the page. It’s our thoughts, our ideas, our emotions, our desires that make up our stories, and what right does anyone have to tell us that we are not beautiful? At a recent writing conference, Tosca Lee shared this quote by Marianne Williamson. “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”

Translation? When you shove your writing in a drawer because you’re afraid of what people will say, remember, you and your writing are both brilliant. Keep dreaming. Keep writing. Keep bleeding on the page despite what others might think. A few may not be ready for it, but there are others out there who NEED to hear your stories. Happy writing! 

Amy is a teacher who uses writing to escape after long days of tying shoelaces, opening ketchup packets, and begging children to please use tissues instead of sleeves. While it had always been a hobby for her, writing swiftly turned into an obsession during the sweltering summer of 2009. A year of clacking away on her laptop later, she typed the final period of her young adult paranormal romance, Saving Elizabeth. Satisfied, she packed her laptop away, but the characters she'd invested a year of her life in insisted on being shared with the world. Keep your eyes peeled for Saving Elizabeth, coming sooon from Tell-Tale Publishing.

Follow Elizabeth:
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Blaming God for the death of her father, sixteen year old Elizabeth Bridges denounces her faith and vows never to utter His name again. She tries to distance herself from anything spiritual, but the events that occur after an unwanted move make that difficult.

First, the dreams come – dreams of evil creatures, and rendezvous with the gorgeous stranger she thinks her mind created to escape her miserable life. But her first day at Glacier High proves there’s more to it than that.

Elizabeth meets Riel, the boy from her dreams, and he knows more about her than is humanly possible. He says she possesses a coveted gift that all of Hell is clamoring to seize. The monsters she dreams of are real, and they’re battling for her soul. Soon, Elizabeth is thrust into a spiritual realm where she doesn’t know friend from foe. She battles demons in the storage closets of her high school, with Riel, her only protection.

Will Elizabeth be able to trust Riel and help him save what matters most, or will they both join forces with darkness and turn their backs forever on the only One who can offer them the love and peace they so deeply desire?

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Available: Amazon (affiliate link)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Review: A Million Suns (Across the Universe 2) by Beth Revis


Godspeed was fueled by lies. Now it is ruled by chaos. 

It's been three months since Amy was unplugged. The life she always knew is over. And everywhere she looks, she sees the walls of the spaceship Godspeed. But there may just be hope: Elder has assumed leadership of the ship. He's finally free to enact his vision - no more Phydus, no more lies.

But when Elder discovers shocking news about the ship, he and Amy race to discover the truth behind life on Godspeed. They must work together to unlock a puzzle that was set in motion hundreds of years earlier, unable to fight the romance that's growing between them and the chaos that threatens to tear them apart.

In book two of the Across the Universe trilogy, New York Times bestselling author Beth Revis mesmerizes us again with a brilliantly crafted mystery filled with action, suspense, romance, and deep philosophical questions. And this time it all builds to one mind-bending conclusion: They have to get off this ship.


Publication date: January 10th 2012 by Razorbill

The Elliott Review:

I'm always terrified of second books. There's this sense of uncertainty, wondering if it will measure up to the first book that got you hooked. Well, um, let me just say that A Million Suns has that same breathless suspense that Across the Universe has. From start to finish, I was totally absorbed in Amy and Elder's story. Their voices resonate so much that I felt entirely wrapped up in what happened to both of them.

Now Elder is in control of the ship, attempting to rule fairly without controlling people with Phydus in their water and without other dictatorial measures taken by Eldest. However, with their increased self-awareness, the people of the ship start hungering for revolution against the whole Eldest system, and they are beyond unwilling to accept a sixteen-year-old as their leader. When someone starts killing, leaving messages that say "Follow the leader," everyone assumes that Elder is behind it all, secretly as dictatorial as Eldest. Things become dangerous for him and for Amy, the freak who doesn't look like everyone else.

Furthermore, Orion has left video clues for Amy, letting her know why he acted the way he did before he was frozen. Although Amy hates him for the intended murder of her frozen parents, Amy and Elder follow the clues to the most shocking revelation yet. I'm going to come out and proudly say that I called it from the last book. I don't know why, but I had already guessed it. This makes me feel proud, especially since I hardly ever do that! However, although I knew what was up, I had no idea why... And that is the most disturbing part of what Amy and Elder uncover.

I still love the bloody pants off Elder, too. He has sacrificed everything he has believed in to do the right thing, only to be unappreciated and challenged and threatened. Glimpses into his childhood also make me want to just give him a hug. Living with Eldest was no picnic, but he managed it with strength. His feelings for Amy mixed with his uncertainty are a powerful combination.

This book is just so amazing, I considered immediately re-reading it when I finished. It's part of a series that cannot be missed.

Young Adult Notes:

Mention of rape, mild sensual scenes, mild language, mild violence.

Source: Thanks to Razorbill for providing a copy of this title in exchange for a fair review.

Monday, December 19, 2011

2011 YA Scavenger Hunt

I'm today's hunt stop for the 2011 YA Story Scavenger Hunt!

Follow the hunt every day during the month of December! Answer the daily trivia questions from MG and YA books published during 2011 to be entered into the YA book giveaway.

Today's question is from Defiance by Lili St. Crow.

Question #38: What does kochana mean?

Remember to fill out your answer in the form at Most Important Letter here!

Good luck!!!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Guest Post: From Sketch to Chapter Art, an Illustrator at Work (Richard Due)

For me, getting to work with Carolyn Arcabascio was a dream come true. On The Moon Coin, we worked from a master list of scene options, with Carolyn picking out scenes she liked and making sketches. For the prologue, Carolyn drafted three options. All three were great, but two in particular were spectacular. I first went with option 3 (one of my scene suggestions). I think we spent more time on this sketch and subsequent color drawing than on any other piece. But it never seemed right. At the eleventh hour, I asked Carolyn how hard she’d hit me if I suggested scrapping the thing and instead going with the pinky promise scene you see below (one of her scene suggestions). Carolyn responded: "There would be no hitting involved!" and told me it wouldn't be a problem. You sure can't ask for better than that.

From the Prologue: Bedtime Tales

Click on image to enlarge.

Richard: Did you make all these sketches in the same location, Carolyn?

Carolyn: Yes, I do all of my work at a drafting table that's situated in a little nook of my apartment in Acton, Massachusetts. There's a bookshelf to my right and a wall of "inspiration" to my left, where I hang prints of other artists' and illustrators' work. On either side of my drafting table are drawers of supplies, and stacks of sketchbooks and old paintings. The drafting table faces a window overlooking a quiet street and the woods beyond it.

From Chapter Two: A Coin of the Realm

Click on image to enlarge.

Richard: Do you use models when you're sketching?

Carolyn: I use a combination of models and photo references. If I need to work out the nuances of a character's posture and really understand the perspective of it, I'll ask whatever friend or family member is handy to pose for a sketch. Often, I'll get into the position myself or mimic the facial expression I want to portray in order to get the feel of it. And sometimes, if there's a character being portrayed multiple times across scenes, I'll make a rough model of their head out of clay so I'll have it to refer to.

From Chapter Four: To Barreth

Click on image to enlarge.

Richard: When drawing fantastical creatures, do you use bits and pieces of real animals for inspiration, or have you actually seen a wirtle and you're just not telling us? ;)

Carolyn: No wirtles native to Massachusetts, fortunately! When figuring out the look of fantastical creatures, I use photo references of different animals to understand the way the anatomy might work, and then combine features as I see fit and as the story calls for. To understand the wirtle's legs and paws, for example, I referred to a series of photographs of show dogs leaping over hurdles. The severely arched, scruffy back was influenced by photos of hyenas on the prowl. The bone-structure of the face ended up being something of a cross between a cow and a warthog, and I wanted the snout to be bare—kind of gross and raw-looking. Add it all up and, voila! We have a wirtle.

The Moon Coin, by Richard Due, is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the iBookstore.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Review: Wintertown by Stephen Emond


Every winter, straight-laced, Ivy League bound Evan looks forward to a visit from Lucy, a childhood pal who moved away after her parent's divorce. But when Lucy arrives this year, she's changed. The former "girl next door" now has chopped dyed black hair, a nose stud, and a scowl. But Evan knows that somewhere beneath the Goth, "Old Lucy" still exists, and he's determined to find her... even if it means pissing her off.

Garden State meets Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist in this funny and poignant illustrated novel about opposites who fall in love.


Published December 5th 2011 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

The Elliott Review:

This book drew me in with its realistic characters and situations. I felt like I was reading an account of actual people and the events that happened to them over the course of their lives. The story starts from Evan's perspective, and I loved his way of approaching the world. He's intelligent and hard-working and obedient - all the things his parents love, but he's also creative and fun-loving deep down, something that has become somewhat surpressed over the years in his attempt to please his parents.

When Evan sees Lucy again this year, the comfortable and familiar things about her seem to have disappeared. Even as he wonders about her, Lucy is hiding things in her new life from him, aching to tell him and really, really scared. Halfway through, the narrative switches to Lucy's perspective and the reader is able to see the mess her life as become, how confused and scared she is. Seeing Evan from her eyes makes him even more lovable.

My favorite part about this book is that it wasn't your typical ending where all problems are fixed absolutely. In keeping with the realism of the story, the resolution of the plot is real. For Evan and Lucy to have any kind of a future together, they have to grow and change, and that process is not easy.

I also really enjoyed the comic strips interspersed throughout the text along with the illustrations. It helps showcase the eclectic, interesting friendship that Evan and Lucy have built over time as well as Evan's talent.

Young Adult Notes:

Mild sexual references, mild language, sensitive topics.

Source: Thanks for Faye at Little, Brown for providing a copy of this title for a fair review.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Attention Aspiring Writers! - Manuscript Feedback for Essay Contest Winner!!!

The president of the Book Wish Foundation let me know about this awesome contest that may interest some of my readers! I know if I actually had a manuscript ready to show, I would be all a bout doing this myself! You have the chance to win a literary agent or acclaimed author's feedback on your unpublished manuscript for young adult or middle grade readers!  This rare opportunity is being offered to the six winners of an essay contest recently announced by the literacy charity Book Wish Foundation.  See for full details.

You could win a manuscript critique from:
  • Laura Langlie, literary agent for Meg Cabot
  • Nancy Gallt, literary agent for Jeanne DuPrau
  • Brenda Bowen, literary agent and editor of Karen Hesse's Newbery Medal winner Out of the Dust
  • Ann M. Martin, winner of the Newbery Honor for A Corner of the Universe
  • Francisco X. Stork, winner of the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award for The Last Summer of the Death Warriors
  • Cynthia Voigt, winner of the Newbery Medal for Dicey's Song and the Newbery Honor for A Solitary Blue

All that separates you from this prize is a 500-word essay about a short story in Book Wish Foundation's new anthology, What You Wish For.  Essays are due Feb. 1, 2012 and winners will be announced around Mar. 1, 2012.  If you win, you will have six months to submit the first 50 pages of your manuscript for critique (which means you can enter the contest even if you haven't finished, or started, your manuscript).  You can even enter multiple times, with essays about more than one of the contest stories, for a chance to win up to six critiques.

If you dream of being a published author, this is an opportunity you should not miss.  To enter, follow the instructions at

Good luck and best wishes!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Top Ten Reasons You Need a Dog (W. Bruce Cameron)

10. Without a dog, you’ll have to hump the neighbor’s leg yourself.

9. Without a dog, you won’t have anyone to dig up your carefully planted flowers.

8. Someone has to bark when the doorbell rings. Who’s going to do it, you?

7. It’s so much more enjoyable to eat with someone staring at you, wondering when you’re going to drop a piece of food on the floor.

6. Wouldn’t it be nice to take a car ride to the grocery store with someone who thinks it’s the most fun in the world?

5. Tell your dog you invented bacon. He’ll take it at your word.

4. Without you even asking, your dog will make sure none of your tennis balls are too dry.

3. Your dog will always remind you when you forgot to put the lid on the garbage can.

2. Your dog will always be happy when you walk back in the door. Can you say that about anyone else in your life?

1. No matter what you do, what mistakes you make, what failures you have, your dog will think you are the best. No one else in the world will ever believe in you like your dog.

Follow Bruce:

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Review: Death Sentence (Escape from Furnace 3) by Alexander Gordon Smith


Alex's second attempt to break out of Furnace Penetentiary has failed. This time his punishment will be much worse than before. Because in the hidden, bloodstained laboratories beneath the prison, he will be made into a monster. As the warden pumps something evil into his veins - a sinisterly dark nectar - Alex becomes what he most fears . . . a superhuman minion of Furnace. How can he escape when the darkness is inside him? How can he lead the way to freedom if he is lost to himself? 


Published August 2nd 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

The Elliott Review:

This book had me dying to read it and waiting for it to come to me. I knew horrible, horrible things would happen to Alex in this book, but I still couldn't avoid it. As it turns out, the process of Alex being turned into a super-powered monster a la Frankenstein on steroids was not as graphic as I thought it would be which was great! As he is pumped full of the dark nectar created by Alfred Furnace, Alex is indoctrinated into the ways of Furnace, trained to be a blacksuit - one of them. Remembering only that he can't forget his name, he manages to hold onto some semblance of himself, only stronger.

After his transformation is complete, Alex goes psycho on the warden and attempts another escape with Zee and Simon. Alfred Furnace still has some horrible tricks up his sleeve as he begins to squash the riot caused within the prison.

This book is just as suspenseful and heart-wrenching and disturbing as the others in the series. I am DYING for the next book to come out in the US.

Young Adult Notes:

Violence, psychological violence, mind control

Source: Library

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Review: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater


It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.

At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.

Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.


Published October 18th 2011 by Scholastic Press

The Elliott Review:

This book is a book of substance. There is love, excitement, danger, and all the things that make books amazing, but I don't feel that the book is just about any one of those things. It's a life book, depicting the two main characters in crucial times in their lives. Are they falling for each other? Yes. Is the book only about that? No. It's definitely about a whole lot more.

The characterization and gradual release of the plot does a lot to make this book feel so realistic, like the characters are actually living and breathing entities you might actually meet could you  go to their island. Even the mythology of the water horses is so deftly and simply drawn that I had to Google cappail uisce to make sure that I hadn't missed some strange breed of horse that actually does exist (to save you the time - it really is mythological. I don't feel stupid or anything...).

I love the way the characters are revealed gradually. How we come to know what really matters to Sean Kendrick, how we see Puck gathering her courage to do what she has to for the family. The way the two lives begin to intersect because of the Scorpio races is just beautiful. It's very subtle, the way they start to feel for each other, and in that way it's very real.

When Sean can only buy Corr, the horse he loves like a family member, from his boss if he wins the races and Puck can only keep her house from being foreclosed on if she wins the races, the stakes in the book are raised so high. Throughout the whole ending I was preparing to be heartbroken in one way or another. I won't give that away. But I will say that, to me, the ending was just perfect. It's the sort of ending that's my favorite!

Young Adult Notes:

Mild violence

Source: Thanks to Scholastic for providing a copy of this book at ALA.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Greetings From NaNoWriMo!!

Hey everyone!!! I may be a little scarce around here during the month of November! I'm currently trying to finish a novel in a month! I'm writing my "big" idea that I think can go somewhere someday... This won't be easy with work being stressful, being preggo and EXTRA tired, and, well, actually getting over the inner critic is never easy.

Anyway, my username at the NaNoWriMo site is: sicaelliott ... if you would like to join me over there!! 

Anyone else writing this month???

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Review: Solitary (Escape from Furnace 2) by Alexander Gordon Smith


Alex Sawyer and his mates should have known there was no way out of Furnace Penitentiary. Their escape attempt only lands them deeper in the guts of this prison for young offenders, and then into solitary confinement. And that's where a whole new struggle begins—a struggle not to let the hellish conditions overwhelm them.  Because before another escape attempt is even possible, they must first survive the nightmare that now haunts their endless nights.


Published December 21st 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

The Elliott Review:

This book continues Alex's journey after his first unsuccessful attempt to escape from furnace. He and Zee are placed in solitary confinement in the underbelly of the prison for one month. Usually, no one can survive even a week in that hellish environment. Alex and Zee develop a strange, banging code to communicate with each other. They also find that the intrigue of the prison extends beyond what anyone in the general population comprehends.
Beneath the prison is where the wheezers conduct their tormenting experiments on inmates, changing them into super-powered, mutant monsters. Some of these experiments have gone horribly awry, and these creatures live beneath the surface, always threatening to eat the prisoners in solitary. Alex finds an ally in Simon, one of these experiments who has not lost his sense of self. Together with Zee, they concoct an escape plan. 

There are so many moments in the book that make me want to look away, but I just can't. I'm like, "No, this is horrible. I can't believe I'm reading this. How could they do this? This is so evil and demented and twisted." And I put the book down for a minute, but then I can't stop thinking about it and pick it back up again. Every moment spent reading this book is one of utter terror and disgust and very intense interest. There are so many heart-rending moments, disturbing moments, and even humorous moments that kept me completely gripped from start to finish.

Based on the summary of the next book, Death Sentence, it's pretty obvious what will be happening to Alex and Zee next, and even though the thought of that horrifies me, I am pretty much dying to get my hands on it!!!

Young Adult Notes:

Mention of suicide, grotesque violence, torture

Source: Won

Monday, October 24, 2011

Review: Lockdown (Escape from Furnace 1) by Alexander Gordon Smith


Furnace Penitentiary: the world’s most secure prison for young offenders, buried a mile beneath the earth’s surface. Convicted of a murder he didn’t commit, sentenced to life without parole, “new fish” Alex Sawyer knows he has two choices: find a way out, or resign himself to a death behind bars, in the darkness at the bottom of the world. Except in Furnace, death is the least of his worries. Soon Alex discovers that the prison is a place of pure evil, where inhuman creatures in gas masks stalk the corridors at night, where giants in black suits drag screaming inmates into the shadows, where deformed beasts can be heard howling from the blood-drenched tunnels below. And behind everything is the mysterious, all-powerful warden, a man as cruel and dangerous as the devil himself, whose unthinkable acts have consequences that stretch far beyond the walls of the prison. 

Together with a bunch of inmates—some innocent kids who have been framed, others cold-blooded killers—Alex plans an escape. But as he starts to uncover the truth about Furnace’s deeper, darker purpose, Alex’s actions grow ever more dangerous, and he must risk everything to expose this nightmare that’s hidden from the eyes of the world.


Published August 3rd 2010 by Square Fish (first published October 27th 2009)

The Elliott Review:

I expected this book to be intense, but I didn't expect that it would scare the crap out of me the way it did. This is something utterly original, fast-paced, and horrifying! As Alex learns the ropes of his new life in Furnace Penitentiary, I felt as though I was being sucked into the abyss with him. This book is unlike any prison book that I've ever read. There are so many dark, raw secrets here, but surprisingly none of them involve any kind of prison rape like one might expect. The horrors that Furnace holds are a terror all their own.

After a string of gang murders one summer, the nation decides that a hellish prison for juveniles is the way to deter murders. Alex, after being framed for the murder of his best friend by some of the prison's worst masters, is thrown into this hell hole for life without parole. With the help of his cellmate, Donovan, he learns the ropes - how to navigate the gangs, hard labor, and nightly terrors. Eventually Alex and his friends find a way that could be an escape, and they grasp onto that hope against all the dangers they face.

There are so many disturbing events in this book, and I mean this in a good way. I kept reading and reading kind of like people passing a car wreck keep looking and looking. I wash terrified at what I might see, but I wanted to find out how Alex would deal with each thing he encounters. This book had me riveted from start to finish with the quick flow of writing, likeable characters, and unique content. 

Although I think a wide readership would enjoy this, I think that boys would be especially drawn to the fast paced adventure and disturbing horror.

Young Adult Notes:

Violence and grotesque images; no language or sexual content

Source: Thanks to Zeitghost Media and Macmillan Publishing for providing a copy of this book for a fair review.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Guest Post + Giveaway: Stories Are Simple (Ryan Jacobson)

Stories are simple. Most of them do exactly the same thing—in their own, unique ways. This doesn’t mean that writing a story is easy, but it does mean that aspiring writers need not be quite so scared or intimidated by the big, bad “story.” You just need to understand what you’re trying to do.

And what is that? What’s this “same thing” I just mentioned? Well, it goes a little something like this: There’s this character. S/he suddenly has a problem. The problem gets worse…and worse…and worse. Then the character solves the problem (or doesn’t). The end.

That’s it. That’s a story. The truly brilliant ones do it with a few surprises and twists, but most storylines can be boiled down to two basic components: (1.) a character with a goal and (2.) conflict.

When I work with writing students, I tell them to start with a goal. What does the main character want to do? Destroy a precious ring? Get a guy to dump her in 10 days? Win the lead in the high school musical? Overthrow an evil galactic empire? The goal can be just about anything. (One of my favorite student stories was about two kids who wanted to buy a bag of Skittles.) But there’s a catch. In order for a story to work, the goal has to be really important to the character. More on that in a minute.

Next comes the fun part. Conflict is, quite simply, anything and everything that prevents the character from achieving the goal. That’s easy enough to add—whether your conflict is a blizzard, Darth Vader, an overbearing mom, a best friend who’s dating your character’s secret crush or an evil stick of butter. Writing conflict is great because this is where you get to let loose your inner monster (bwahahaha)! You get to make life miserable for your character. The trick is to keep cranking up the conflict throughout the story. Don’t let up. Don’t give your character an easy way out. Make the conflict/problem worse…and worse…and worse. I mean, even in Disney movies, there’s always a tear-jerker song just before things get better.

This brings us back to the goal. Why does it need to be really important to the character? Because if it isn’t, either the character will give up (boring!) or the story will not be believable (bad!). I mean, let’s say your character’s goal is to balance her checkbook. All of a sudden, a crazy man with a hockey mask and a chainsaw shows up and tells her to stop. Um, yeah, I’m pretty sure she’s going to stop. Right? As it stands, the goal isn’t important enough; it’s definitely not worth battling a crazy man with a chainsaw. Now, if she were racing to balance her checkbook to win Justin Bieber tickets, that’s another story…

See? That’s not so bad. Your story awaits. All you need is a character, a goal and problem. But remember, the evil stick of butter was my idea.

Follow Ryan:

Win a copy of Can You Survive Jack London's Call of the Wild!!!

US only.
Ends November 1st.

Fill out THE FORM to win!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Trailer + Giveaway: My Life Undecided by Jessica Brody

...Brooklyn Pierce, a fifteen year-old girl notorious for making bad decisions, enlists the help of the online blog reading population to vote on how she should live her life. But some things in life simply aren't a who you fall in love with.


Enter to win a copy of MY LIFE UNDECIDED!

Thanks to Zeitghost Media I have a copy of this title to give away.

US/Canada only.
Ends October 13th.

Please fill out THE FORM to enter!

Good luck!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Review: Stanley Seagull by Cathy Mazur; illustrated by Colleen Gedrich


Meet a young seagull named Stanley. Follow him as he wanders far from home and tries to find his way back. Join Stanley on his journey as he learns how humans affect the balance of nature.


Published June 29th 2011 by TB Press

The Elliott Review:

Stanley loves the new green trucks that appear and bring loads of interesting food for Stanley and his friends. However, since he misses the alert to fly away when the truck is loading, he finds himself miles and miles away from his wonderful seaside home in a nasty landfill.

His journey home will be followed by kids who are captivated by the interesting pictures. The book has much that it can teach children and adults alike. If we don't take care of our world, it becomes ugly and uncomfortable not just for animals but for people too!

Source: Thanks to Tribute Books for providing a copy of this book for  fair review.

Meet the Author:

Born in Scranton, Pa., Cathy Mazur is the daughter of Gary and Catherine H. Errico. She was educated in the Dunmore public school system and graduated from Dunmore High School in 1971. She received a bachelor’s degree in Library Science from Mansfield State College in 1975. She received a Reading Specialist Certificate from the University of Scranton in 1978. Cathy was employed as an elementary school librarian for the Mid Valley School District from 1975 until her retirement in 2010. While at Mid Valley, she instituted and coordinated the RIF (Reading Is Fundamental) program for 33 years helping students to develop a love of reading outside the classroom. Cathy served on the Board of Directors for the Valley Community Library in Peckville, Pa. for over 20 years acting as president for one year and board secretary for 19 years. She presently serves on the library’s Developmental Committee chairing various fundraising events. She resides in Dickson City, Pa. with Frank, her husband of 31 years. They are the parents of two children, Gary, 27 and Gia, 19. Now in her retirement, she is focused on writing books for children like Stanley Seagull.

Meet the Illustrator:

Colleen Gedrich, a lifelong resident Throop, Pa., earned a BFA in illustration from Marywood University in 2002. She is a freelance illustrator specializing in animal-themed work. She enjoys creating her art using mostly watercolor and pastel. As a dedicated animal rights activist and full-time program coordinator for International Society for Animal Rights (ISAR), Colleen lives her dream of joining her passions for animals and art to promote a more harmonious world with a touch of beauty. Recent works produced by Colleen include t-shirt and invitation designs, children’s book illustrations (A Different Kind of Hero), and book covers (With God There Is Hope). Colleen has also teamed up with her very talented artist mother, Kathy Holmes Gedrich, and paints murals for children’s nurseries.



Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Guest Post + Giveaway: After the War Was Lost (Monika Schroeder)

After the War was Lost – Why I write about Post-War Germany

I have always been interested in history. Germany, my home country, has started two World Wars in the last century. Both wars not only brought death and terror to large parts of Europe but also ended in defeat followed by fundamental changes of the political system. I have tried to imagine how regular people dealt with these changes. I find it fascinating that a German person born at the beginning of the 20th century could have experienced a monarchy, a failed democracy, a fascist dictatorship, a socialist totalitarian regime and then again a democracy, just within one life span.

In my first novel, THE DOG IN THE WOOD, I wrote about the end of World War II and how people in a small village in east Germany experienced the arrival of the red Army. This story was based on what my father had told me about the end of WWII and how his family was affected by it. My new novel, MY BROTHER’S SHADOW, is set in 1918, another important transition time in German history. I tried to imagine what it might have been like for a young man who had grown up under the Kaiser to see the monarchy disappear and be confronted with socialist ideas and women’s emancipation. The defeat in the war led to a socialist revolution in Germany. The split between those who considered this a hopeful event and those who thought of it as treason foreshadowed the conflicts to come during the Weimar Republic.

Nothing is the way it used to be for Moritz, the 16-year old protagonist of MY BROTHER’S SHADOW. His mother and sister attend illegal socialist meetings and talk about how the Kaiser has to leave and the war needs to end. His older brother, Hans, returns from the war, maimed and bitter, blaming Germany’s defeat on Jews and socialists. Then he meets Rebecca, a Jewish girl, who is also a socialist, and he can’t stop thinking about her. When a revolution sweeps away the monarchy he has to make a choice between his dangerously radicalized brother and his love for the women around him, who usher in the new democracy. Which side does he choose? Read MY BROTHER’S SHADOW to find out.

Monika grew up in Germany in a small town near the Ruhr Valley. After finishing her university education with a master’s degree in history and social studies, she worked as a research assistant in the German parliament. In 1995, she met her future husband while on a vacation in Egypt. At the time he was a teacher at Cairo American College, and in the summer of 1996 she joined him in Cairo. Since then she have taught in international schools in Egypt, Chile and Oman. In 2002, they moved to India where she first taught grade four and then was the elementary school librarian at the American Embassy School in New Delhi. Since the summer of 2011 they live in the mountains of North Carolina.

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Missing in Action

You may have noticed that I haven't been posting as much. This is mainly due to work related stress and life-related things... I don't know that I've finished a single book since school started this year! Almost a whole month!!!

I will hopefully resume posting as usual soon.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Audiobook Review: Split by Swati Avasthi; narrated by Joshua Swanson


Sixteen-Year-Old Jace Witherspoon arrives at the doorstep of his estranged brother Christian with a re-landscaped face (courtesy of his father’s fist), $3.84, and a secret.

He tries to move on, going for new friends, a new school, and a new job, but all his changes can’t make him forget what he left behind—his mother, who is still trapped with his dad, and his ex-girlfriend, who is keeping his secret.

At least so far.

Worst of all, Jace realizes that if he really wants to move forward, he may first have to do what scares him most: He may have to go back. First-time novelist Swati Avasthi has created a riveting and remarkably nuanced portrait of what happens after. After you’ve said enough, after you’ve run, after you’ve made the split—how do you begin to live again? Readers won’t be able to put this intense page-turner down.


Published January 12th 2010 by Listening Library

The Elliott Review:

Sometimes I review as a teacher or as a librarian or as a writer - any number of hats I wear while reading. I shall be wearing my fangirl hat for this review. I just can't help myself. I hope that my words clearly convey the reasons why you should run or click to the bookseller of your choice and buy this book NOW... However, if I am gushy and ranting crazily, please excuse me. I stand in the presence of greatness. The emotional intensity in this book left me aching, and the writing left me stunned.

While the summary of this book had intrigued me for some time, I made the decision to listen to it on audiobook primarily because I enjoyed Joshua Swanson's narration of another book. I was not prepared for the cocktail of awesomeness that I found in this. With almost every book I read or listen to, I am in a rush to read fast - especially if the book is good. In this case, however, I seriously was almost afraid to listen too often because I didn't want the experience to end. Every single word, scene, and sentence left me almost physically paralyzed by how much tension, complexity, and heartbreak that resonated in each one. You think I'm exaggerating the physically paralyzed part, but I'm not.

I can't find any of the right words to describe how well Jace's perspective is written throughout the entire book. Okay, I'll try. I sympathized with him, felt sorry for him, rooted for him, felt every single one of his emotions. At times I just stared into space with abject horror at some of the experiences that he just so matter-of-factly relates; at other times, I'm thinking he couldn't be any more of a jerk. He's filled with so much anger and sorrow that he can't control, and it's all eating him alive. Not telling the truth about his situation is killing him slowly because if he doesn't, he can't truly move on. 

The way Jace's secret unravels despite his best efforts to keep it hidden is just ... moving. The more he holds it in, the more his need to tell becomes apparent. The relationships in the book are interconnected and truthfully depicted. Jace's need for acceptance from his brother, Christian. His anger and hatred toward his abusive father even in the midst of loving him. His frustration and despair over his mother's refusal to leave. His longing for a relationship with Dakota, mingled with the fear he carries along with his baggage from his ex, Lauren. Mirriam, who Jace opens up to grudgingly. Every character in this book is developed so deeply to the point that I feel like the book isn't exclusively about Jace; it's about each one of them individually, as well.

Since the only exposure I've had to Joshua Swanson had been through his funny and engaging reading of The Lost Hero, I wasn't sure what to expect for his take on an edgy, broken, and angry boy. I was amazed. Just stunned. After a while, I completely forgot that there even was a narrator. There was only a kid named Jace telling his horrible story. There were scenes that I had to rewind over and over again because I was seriously unable to believe how amazing the writing was. I thought every single sentence in the last chapter was the end of the book because of how definitively it was portrayed. Josh's acting ability makes this already amazing book an actual experience.

Young Adult Notes:

Strong language; graphically portrayed domestic abuse.

Source: Library

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Trailer + Giveaway: All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin

All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin is released today! Hooray! This book looks and sounds interesting to me. I mean, how could I not be interested in something that has a dripping chocolate heart on the front of it. A world where chocolate and caffeine are illegal sounds like the ultimate apocalyptic event for me!!!

About All These Things I've Done:

In 2083, chocolate and coffee are illegal, paper is hard to find, water is carefully rationed, and New York City is rife with crime and poverty.think she's to blame. Suddenly, Anya finds herself thrust unwillingly into the spotlight--at school, in the news, and most importantly, within her mafia family. Gabrielle Zevin introduces readers to an unforgettable teenage heroine in a groundbreaking new series, starting with All These Things I've Done.



Enter to win a copy of ALL THESE THINGS I'VE DONE! 

Thanks to Zeitghost Media I have a copy of this title to give away.

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Good luck!

Guest Post + Giveaway: Losing Ourselves in Other Worlds (Vicky Alvear Shecter)

Thank you, Jessi, for allowing me to guest-post on your wonderful blog. I love historical fiction for many reasons, the main one being that I get to lose myself in another world and another time. I wanted to create that sense of actually being in Egypt and Rome in my young adult novel, Cleopatra’s Moon. So I steeped myself in the sensory experiences of those worlds by asking:

What did things smell like? 

The Temple of Isis in Egypt smelled of sharp, smoky incense, lotus oil, and roses, the favorite flower of the goddess.  The streets of Rome smelled of sausages cooking on small outdoor braziers, of scorching hair and flesh as the dead burned on pyres right outside the city, or of the heavy sweetness of blooming narcissus and iris flowers at the public gardens.

What did you hear?

In Egypt’s temples, you heard the drone of chanting priests and priestesses, the tinny jangling of sacred sistrums  (like small, all metal- tambourines), and sacred prayers recited in the “Old Tongue.”

In Rome, you heard the cries of the baker, sausage maker, and wine seller hawking their wares in the accents of their native lands, Britannia, Germania, or Persia.  Or, if you walked by the arena, you heard the roar of the crowds as the gladiatorial games began.

What did things feel like? 

In Cleopatra’s palace, you could run your fingertips over the cool smoothness of yellow-streaked Numidian marble or slip into a dress of linen woven so finely the fabric moved like water.

In Rome, you could sink up to your chin in the thermae, the hot baths, as scented steam swirled around you. Then you could hop into the frigidarium, the cold-water baths, for a bracing wake-me-up.  

What did you see?  On Cleopatra’s rooftop palace garden, you saw potted palms and papyrus stalks rustling in the breezes in front of a sparking turquoise Mediterranean sea, set off by the brilliant white marble of the giant Lighthouse of Alexandria.

In Rome, you saw men wrapped in togas, arguing politics as they walked to the Forum; chickens roaming in muddy, crowded lanes; and slaves of all nationalities rushing to satisfy the needs of their increasingly wealthy Roman masters.

How did things taste?  

In Egypt, flamingo-tongues roasted in vine leaves were smoky and sweet while beer brewed in the ancient ways was heavy and bitter. In Rome, tiny dormice roasted in honey were popped into the mouth whole for a light, sweet snack while garum—salty, fish sauce—was poured over almost everything, including meats, soft cheese and vegetables.

When I read historical fiction, I want to be transported into another world. So, in writing Cleopatra’s Moon, I did my best to create that experience for readers as well.

Thank you again, Jessi, for having me here!

My pleasure, Vicky! :)


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Ends September 20th.

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Monday, September 5, 2011

Guest Post + Giveaway: What's In Your Fanny Pack? (Ilsa J. Bick)

A question most ask about ASHES, the first book in my new YA post-apocalyptic trilogy, is whether the backwoods survivalism Alex practices really works or is stuff I’ve done. The answer to both: you bet, and here’s why I learned about all that. Personally, I doubt that many people have ever had a truly wild wilderness experience, one where the trails aren’t nicely laid out; a cell won’t hack it; and your next meal might be, well . . . a long time coming. Still, you don’t have to go into the woods to find a disaster. It doesn’t take a genius to look around and realize just how fragile our civilization really is—and how quickly it could collapse.

Bottom line? I like feeling competent. Knowing what to do—and conversely, what to avoid—makes me feel just a little calmer because when emergencies happen, they happen fast. Now, I sincerely hope the world doesn’t collapse any time soon. For one, I happen to like my Starbucks. Yet there is a certain confidence that comes with knowing what to do before the worst happens. This is one area where on-the-job training works against you.

Similarly, there are people who want to a hike, experience nature. Great. Go have fun, but while you might hope for the best, you must expect the worst: that you might get lost or caught in a storm or break your ankle. You should expect a night, or two, in the woods.

So... what to bring in that fanny pack your mom gifted you a while back? What follows are my suggestions and they are only that. I’m not an expert. Yes, I’ve taken classes. Yes, I know how to use what I have. But this list is mine and what I think will keep me safe and alive for about seventy-two hours. Why only three days? Easy: presuming I’ve been a responsible hiker, people know where I am, how long I expect to be gone, when they ought to hear back—and I’m usually with at least one other person who might go for help if I can’t. But if I do find myself alone for whatever reason and I don’t show, I can hope that people will get worried and alert the authorities who, in turn, will look for me. The focus here is on surviving until I’m rescued, not on becoming Daniel Boone.

What I suggest is also no substitute for a good bug-out bag, with a few more creature comforts. Further, you may add or subtract from this list as you please. What follows reflects the bare minimum I carry whenever I hit a trail—because you just never know.

Oh, and a few things I won’t get into: building a shelter is one. Like so much of what follows, there’s nothing that beats hands-on experience. (The fastest I’ve ever built a debris shelter—with optimal conditions, placement, materiel, and another set of hands because it was a two-man—took three hours.) And, honestly, you can live without a shelter-shelter, provided you can keep yourself dry and warm some other way. But, boy, nothing beats a great shelter when it comes to getting a little rest.

Similarly, I’m not going to get into how to find water. That’s a post for another day. Ditto foraging for edible plants or other food.

So let’s assume you’re out hiking and gotten lost. Now what?

First order of business: DON’T PANIC!!

I’m serious. Panic is a killer. So assuming that you’re not in imminent danger of drowning or falling off a cliff . . . go hug a tree. Or sit down. Do yoga or sing your favorite song, but do something to calm yourself down. Really. Panic will get you or someone else killed. When I worked the emergency room and they brought in a code? First rule of thumb: I always took my own pulse. I couldn’t help anyone if I wasn’t calm enough to do it. Same principle here.

Second order of business: get warm. 

This frequently translates to finding shelter, building a fire, peeling out of those wet clothes, whatever. Avoid hypothermia because that will kill you pretty fast. Successfully getting that fire going is a real morale boost, too. In addition, you want a little redundancy here; I always make sure I have at least three different strategies for when the first two fail.

Here’s what’s in my fanny pack:
  • A flint and striker;
  • Waterproof matches in a box in a Ziploc bag because I don’t trust anybody;
  • A lighter;
  • Ziploc baggies with dryer lint and frayed jute (for my fire nest);
  • Cotton balls coated with petroleum jelly (light one of those suckers and you’ve got flame for a good couple minutes: long enough to start your fire or cook a hot dog);
  • Char (easy to make as, for example, here: ; catches a spark from your striker fast, too);
  • Alcohol swabs in individual packets;
  • A couple folded squares of tin foil (good for reflecting and directing heat off that fire-wall you’ll build from rocks and place next to your shelter, but aluminum foil is also GREAT for catching rainwater or signaling that rescue helicopter).

For added warmth and/or shelter, I also always carry an emergency blanket and a folded rain poncho. The blanket’s good for signal purposes, too, and the poncho can serve as a makeshift tarp, if you want. Also, both catch rainwater. So they’re definitely win-win.

Got your fire going? Warm and toasty? Thinking you might survive after all? You bet. It’s also occurred to you that a signal fire is a great thing, too, so you’ll keep this going. But now . . . well, all that hard work and you’re kind of thirsty.

Which brings us to water.

It’s a fact that you can live for three weeks without food, but try going three days without water—and you’re history. So water is key. In crummy conditions—say, it’s really hot—you can figure on needing a quart every couple of hours. So bring at least one canteen, and I would suggest you not settle for only a Nalgene bottle. Yes, they’re virtually indestructible and I have several (one wrapped with duct tape because that stuff is great if you break your arm or leg, or split your forehead). But a stainless steel water bottle is incredibly valuable because you can set that over the fire to boil water, something you can’t do with Nalgene or any kind of plastic, and unless you have a nice Katadyn Mini (which I do: ) then you must boil your water, even if you collect rain.

For the sake of argument, we’re going to pretend there’s a water source: a scummy pond, a stream, rain, whatever. Well, you can’t just drink. There are all sorts of nasty things floating around in there. But, lucky you, there are two basic ways to purify water: heat and chemicals.

  • Heat: boil water, and you’re set, and because you’ve taken my advice and brought along a stainless steel bottle, you’ve got your cooking vessel. How long? Easy. Just until it comes to a rolling boil because all the nasty bugs that will hurt you will die right around 160-185 degrees F ( ). Since water boils at 212 degrees, give or take for altitude, atmospheric pressure . . . well, you do the math.
  • Chemicals: There are a number of ways, but along with my Katadyn filter, I always bring:
    • Purification tablets. (I use Katadyn Micropur MP1. If you go for Potable Aqua instead, be sure to get a little bottle of P.A. Plus which will get rid of that awful iodine aftertaste.)
    • A small bottle (and dropper) filled with household chlorine bleach. Two drops per quart; shake and wait thirty minutes, or a little longer if the water’s cloudy. Drink. Don’t just take my word for it:
    • A small bottle of 2 % tincture of iodine. Five drops per quart; again, shake and wait. Hate the taste but when you’re thirsty . . .

Lastly, there’s food, which is easy. A couple power bars, a few packets of Kool-Aid, and two or three pouches of energy gels (I like mocha J). In a pinch, you can make that one power-protein bar do for a day. Would knowing the region’s edible plants help? You bet, but again this is a huge topic and all we’re covering here is what to bring in your fanny pack.

What else should you bring? Depends on who you are, but in my pack, you’ll find

  • A good, sharp knife. Two, actually. I always wear one, carry the other. A knife is mandatory and the most important piece of equipment in your survival arsenal. If I somehow lost my fanny-pack, I would still have a decent shot of making it with only a knife. I wouldn’t enjoy it, though;
  • A whistle because you can hear those suckers a mile away and blowing your whistle gives you something to do while you wait for rescue;
  • A signal mirror. Don’t bother with that fancy-schmancy metal thing you buy at a camping store; a CD works just as well;
  • Toilet paper (three guesses why);
  • A small bottle of Purell;
  • Three-day supply of prescription meds;
  • A small LED headlamp (I like both hands free);
  • Extra batteries;
  • A staple or thin paperclip; coupled to a battery, I can start a fire in a pinch;
  • Spec 550 paracord;
  • A little vial of 100% DEET because while smoky fires will deter mosquitoes, those critters can be mighty persistent;
  • A mini-deck of playing cards for something to do when I’m bored with counting ants or blowing my whistle;
  • A notepad and pen/pencil for the same reasons as l. Also, in case I decide rescue’s not happening and I must leave my encampment, anyone who stumbles on where I was will know which way I went.

Notice what I don’t include: an extra cell phone; an iPod; a transistor radio; a GPS, a small portable stove. Electronics won’t help you much out here unless you spring for a power pocket of solar panels—oh, and have service for that cell—and then we’re getting into knapsack territory, not a bare-bones survival fanny-pack.

I also didn’t include a bow-drill because that doesn’t fit into my fanny pack. Do I know how to make one—the spindle, board, bow, bearing block? Sure, and in a pinch, that’s where a good knife—and that strong paracord, which has a whole ton of other uses and can be worn as a fashion statement to boot (—come in. But a bow-drill is very time-consuming and making a friction fire is such a drag because you can get tired very quickly. (News Flash: the way Tom Hanks made fire in Castaway? Not possible. Never happen. Guy should’ve been dead. It’s Hollywood.) When it comes to fire, I’d much rather scrape my sparker or flick my Bic and save my sanity.

Anyway, there you have it: what I think you should have before hitting the trails. Make up a pack of your own, learn how to use the tools, and go have fun.

But watch out for those zombies, you hear? 

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