Saturday, July 23, 2011

Guest Post: What I Do When I'm Not Writing (Janet Ruth Young)

Music is my main focus when I’m not writing. Like Dani, I’m a singer. I sang in choruses throughout school (in high school that meant the big general chorus plus the selective Concert Choir and the more selective Madrigal Choir) and later studied voice in the continuing education program at New England Conservatory. Now I perform popular songs of the 1920s, 30s, and 40s with my group Hixville Swing Trio, which includes my sister Diane Young as lead vocalist and our friend Tin Pan Haole (John Hicks) on guitar, ukulele, and vocal harmony. We describe ourselves as “The Andrews Sisters if one of them was a brother.”

I also sing backup for my boyfriend Tony Hilliard, a regionally recognized singer of Celtic, maritime, and folk music. Together we perform as The Dorymates. (A five-piece Canadian bandalso calls themselves The Dorymates but Tony says we’re the real Dorymates because only two people fit in a dory.)

Having both writing and music as creative outlets provides a wonderful balance. A book takes three years or more to plan, write, and publish, but to share a song you just sing it to a crowd and get an immediate response. Singing also gets me out with people after hours of solitude in my study.

Music has been a huge help in processing my emotions. When my mother died last year, she had dementia that made her unable to understand what was happening to her or to say goodbye properly. I felt like she left without giving me any kind of signal or direction. When Tony and I came across the song “The Joy of Living” by Ewan McColl, I decided that that song contained part of what my mother would have said if she knew she was dying and wanted to tell me how to go on.

Three years ago my literary career hit a detour when Atheneum changed the order in which my books would be published. Tony sang me two songs, “The Field Behind the Plow” by Stan Rogers (about an economically strapped farmer who continues to work one small section at a time) and “Heart Alone” by Bill Staines (about a racehorse with the endurance of a champion) that helped me stay dedicated to the work at hand without worrying too much about the outcome.

You can click to view them: Hixville Swing Trio and The Dorymates.

Janet Ruth Young, who lives in Gloucester, Massachusetts, graduated from Salem State College and from the creative writing program at Boston University. Her debut novel, The Opposite of Music, published in 2007 and garnered enthusiastic reviews from Booklist, School Library Journal, and others. The Babysitter Murders, about a babysitter who has thoughts of harming the child she cares for, is Janet's second novel.

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Check out The Babysitter Murders at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or The Book Depository.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

London Day 1: Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey

We flew into London and immediately took the Eurostar to Paris and stayed for a few days. I will get to those days later since we spent more time in London and I'm more excited about recounting that!

Our first full day in London, since my husband is very interested in military things, we headed to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard. I was more concerned about seeing where the royal wedding had taken place not long before.

Apparently, a lot of other people were interested in seeing this, too. I didn't really see much that actually had to do with the guards changing because we were about four rows back from the front gate, and I'm 5' 3".

I did, however, get to listen to the band's lovely rendition of Ricky Martin's Bailamos and Livin' La Vida Loca. I'm not kidding!!!
A better view of the palace as we head toward St. James's Park.

This is somewhere in or near Trafalgar Square. I just posed with random buildings and objects most of the time because I can't get over how steeped in history every square inch of this city is.

I had to have fish and chips even though I don't really like fish. This was heavily breaded enough that I almost couldn't taste the fish! Yummm! And the mushy peas were minty, so that was a little off-putting for me.
Me standing by Westminster Bridge near The London Eye (in the left corner).

Here it is - Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

Ah.... Westminster Abbey - my desired destination of the day! This still fully-functioning church is home to Poet's Corner, where some of my literary idols are entombed. I was really planning on taking a gazillion pictures in here only to find that photography was not allowed inside. So, alas, I don't have any pictures of the graves of some awesome people - like Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, Jane Austen, the Brontes, Chaucher, Shakespeare, Tennyson, Lord Byron, and many others.

I did, however, decide that I would risk being thrown out like the crazy American tourist that I am over the issue of getting a photo of Charles Dickens's grave, the reason I wanted to come to Westminster Abbey in the first place! I'm kind of hoping that by being that close to him, maybe some of his literary expertise will come to me through osmosis.
The Underground!! The complexity of all these trains and how they provide transportation for the city is amazing in and of itself.

I have so many pictures that it's hard to narrow it down to just a few a day. My husband and I aren't the best at capturing amazing photos, both of us usually just preferring to experience what we're experiencing instead of taking a picture every five seconds. In hindsight, I kind of wish we had!!!

More coming tomorrow!!!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Guest Post: What is it About Girls and Horses? (Emily Edwards)

Why do girls and horses go together like peanut butter and jelly? It’s a well-known fact  that many young girls want to own and ride horses, but it’s not always clear why they want horses so badly. A lot—but not as much as you might think—has been written about girls’ love affairs with horses, and I would argue that it has quite a bit to do with feelings of empowerment and confidence. When a girl truly communicates with a horse and succeeds in having the horse do what she asks, she feels in charge of both the horse and her life and that feeling is very powerful.

In The Trouble with Being a Horse, the main character, Olivia, is unhappy because she feels that her life is out of her control—and, in the beginning, she is very passive and simply lets things happen to her. Turning into a horse is a shocking event for her—as it would be for anyone!—but it is the way she handles her unusual situation that leads her on a path of self-discovery and empowerment. When Olivia realizes she has a choice to make she begins, as so many girls do when seeking to control a large and unpredictable animal, to learn to manage the strong emotions she feels about her life and her situation. Olivia is transformed through her experiences with and as a horse into a capable, more thoughtful girl who takes responsibility for her own problems, all of which lead to her being happier with her life.

Ironically, I hadn’t set out to write a book about empowerment for young girls but I’ve come to realize that the genre itself is necessarily about self-discovery. Any attempt to harness—either literally or figuratively—an animal ten times your size requires a reevaluation of your own abilities, and in fiction this provides infinite possibilities for character development. Alec and Velvet are transformed from ordinary adolescents into champion jockeys in The Black Stallion and National Velvet, Ken undergoes tremendous personal growth in My Friend Flicka, as do Paul and Maureen in Misty of Chincoteague. In fact, it is very difficult to think of a horse book in which substantial character growth does not occur. Horses allow girls to become assertive and confident, and horse stories illustrate how this happens. The Trouble with Being a Horse is no exception—I just made the connection between horse and girl a little closer than usual!

Emily Edwards is from the small town of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, and has a PhD from Trinity College Dublin from the Centre for Gender & Women's Studies. She has wideranging writing experience and currently works as a Research Associate. The Trouble with Being a Horse is Emily's first work of fiction, and is published by Single Stride Publishing. She has been an avid equestrienne for over twenty years, participating in Pony Club and the Trinity College Dublin Equestrian Team. 

Check out The Trouble with Being a Horse at Single Stride Publishing or Amazon.  

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Review: The Light of Asteria: Kailmeyra's Last Hope (Kailmeyra 1) by Elizabeth Isaacs


If Nora Johnson hadn't been on campus she would've never known her destiny. Helping her friends move, Nora meets Gavin Frey. His touch unleashes a power within, and she's now captivated by his presence.

But he's not who he claims to be.

And there are others. Others who fear the power of love, who haunt her dreams. Others who want her dead. Is she strong enough to survive?


Published January 31st 2011 by Elizabeth Isaacs, via Smashwords

Available: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Smashwords

The Elliott Review:

The concepts in this book are an elegantly conceived love story. When Nora meets Gavin, she is stunned by their otherworldly first encounter. As she comes to know him and those like him, she learns of a connection that can exist that is intensely spiritual and emotional as much as physical. The pure, light-filled passion that exists between the two of them keeps the reader interested in what will happen to their celestial-like love, wondering anxiously how they will be able to become one.

The power of love of all types resonates throughout this book as well. The energy forces that exist between the people of Kailmeyra are not just important as far as emotional intensity is concerned - their rightness and wholesomeness matters, as well. Selfishness and deceit have drastic consequences, and the connections forged between all people are of utmost importance, the energy of certain decisions having far-reaching consequences. Nora must stay true to herself and her origins as well as to her beliefs as she navigates this strange new world.

This book is different from many others in its genre in that the ideas contained within it are somewhat abstract, elegantly conceived, and very thought-provoking as well as intense.

Source: Thanks to The Teen {Book} Scene for organizing this tour. You can view other stops on the tour here.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

ARC Review: Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey


Why must it be me? I wondered. When I am so clearly inadequate to my destiny?

Raised alongside her numerous brothers and sisters by the formidable empress of Austria, ten-year-old Maria Antonia knew that her idyllic existence would one day be sacrificed to her mother’s political ambitions. What she never anticipated was that the day in question would come so soon.

Before she can journey from sunlit picnics with her sisters in Vienna to the glitter, glamour, and gossip of Versailles, Antonia must change everything about herself in order to be accepted as dauphine of France and the wife of the awkward teenage boy who will one day be Louis XVI. Yet nothing can prepare her for the ingenuity and influence it will take to become queen.

Filled with smart history, treacherous rivalries, lavish clothes, and sparkling jewels, Becoming Marie Antoinette will utterly captivate fiction and history lovers alike.


Publication date: August 9th 2011 by Ballantine Books 

The Elliott Review:

This book is an extremely compelling read. The author blends very intricately detailed research with a narrative that is stunning in its poignancy. Marie Antoinette's character is developed extremely well, and her struggles to become worthy of marrying Louis are exciting and shocking all in one. Although modern day readers cannot fully understand this process, we can relate to the feelings that she experiences.

The strange fact of Louis not consummating their marriage until seven years into it is a large part of this book. Grey characterizes Louis in a way that neither makes him into a horrible, weak person nor glosses over his awkwardness. As his relationships with Marie Antoinette grows, he becomes a very sympathetic character who I really, really, really wanted to see great things happen to! The issue of their marriage being consummated becomes important throughout the story, obviously, and the tension between them kept building. The emotional toll that Louis's issues take on the couple leaves the reader filled with almost as much frustration as they must feel!

When I began reading, I didn't realize that this is the first in the Marie Antoinette trilogy, so certain things that I expected to happen due to history (consummation and death) did not occur at the end of the book and will obviously be dealt with in books to come.

I would recommend this book to any reader of historical fiction. It's the perfect blend of history and romance.

Young Adult Notes:

This is an adult book, but I think that it would be a great crossover book for older YA readers. The prose is more complicated than a typical YA read, so it may appeal more to especially high school aged readers. There is not much in this that would give concern to parents of said high schoolers other than a few maybe too-intimate details in certain scenes, but that would be (to me) more of a middle school aged concern since it's nothing overtly graphic.

Source: Thanks to Ballantine for sending a copy of this book for a fair review.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Guest Post + Giveaway: Why I Need to Write (Guiseppe Bianco)

I need to write because if I don’t, I might just short-circuit. Sound crazy? Let me explain. It is my belief that everyone needs a creative outlet to plug into. Does that mean everyone should write, or paint or direct a movie? Absolutely not (unless you want to). Having a creative outlet, to me, means being able to do something that brings you joy and peace through your own actions; something that comes naturally to you, that helps you express what you’re thinking and feeling. An activity where, even if it takes time and a lot of effort, it never seems like a chore because it is a piece of you that is being expressed. It can be planting a garden, volunteering at your local animal shelter, organizing events for your child’s school, building a birdhouse, etc.

My daily routine consists of the following: I get up in the morning and I get to spend about 15 minutes with my beautiful wife and lovely daughter before I have to run for my train. My commute to Manhattan is about an hour. I then work about 8-10 hours for Corporate America before sitting on the train for another hour, headed home. On days where I get out on time, I only get to spend about 45 minutes with my daughter before she’s off to bed. After that: dinner with my wife, catching up with one another, and sometimes a little TV. If there is time, late evening, I’ll do some chores around the house so as not to deal with them on the weekends.

My time with my wife and daughter are truly precious to me and I live for it. But let us rewind to that whole Corporate America thing, shall we? Hey, we all need to make a living and pay the bills and I am fortunate enough where I get to work within a creative environment with incredibly talented people, and I even get to wear jeans and sneakers to work. Very cool, right? However, at the end of the day my job is not my life; it is just a job to me. I appreciate it in terms of financial support, and I give 100% while I’m there, but everything I work on has so many hands on it, by the time it is completely executed, none of it is truly mine. I’m not complaining, just explaining. 

So, let’s recap: Spending time with family is amazing, but my job, although creative, and although I devote 100% of my efforts and energy to the work, in the end, the work is not 100% of me. That is, the work is done to appease other creators, art directors, clients, consumers, etc. So what of all of the ideas swirling around in my head? The yearning I feel when intuition screams to create something? This stuff has to come out somehow. I need to express myself and expel all of the things buzzing around in my mind. When most of my day is spent executing projects for someone else, be it creative or otherwise, I still feel like something is missing. Emotionally my wife, child, other family and friends fill me with joy and love. Mentally, however, I have so many ideas, creative images, and visual triggers, that I need a way to express that energy. For me, that form of expression is storytelling. When I sit on the train during my commute to and from work, I write. I write stories, I write my feelings on a particular subject, I’m writing this blog post right now…

The point is, everyone has creative expression inside of them. EVERYONE! Why keep it in? Even if you don’t decide to share it with anyone, do it for yourself. Scale that rock wall, paint that still-life, take that cooking class you’ve been meaning to take, and never let anyone or anything make you feel like you always have to play someone else’s music; compose your own. By day’s end, one very important question must be answered: “Did I get to be me today? When I write, whether people like my stories or not, the answer is always, “Yes!”

Find your creative outlet, plug into it, and you’ll run just fine.

Giuseppe Bianco lives in Long Island, New York with his wife, Lorraine, and his daughter, Brianna.

Follow Guiseppe:
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Check out A Girl Named Willow Krimble at Amazon, CreateSpace, and Guiseppe's website

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Guest Post + Giveaway Info: When I'm Not Writing (Matt Blackstone)

When I’m not writing, I’m a 10th grade English teacher at Mott Haven Village Prep High School in the Bronx.  It’s an exhausting job, but it’s a great source for book material.  Also, it is a great source for jokes.  Also, it is a great source for fingernails in school lunches.  That is not a joke.  Last year, a student found a lunch lady’s fingernail—the whole thing—in her chicken patty.  It was white and red.  The fingernail, I mean.  I don’t know what color the chicken patty was but it probably wasn’t the color it should’ve been. 

One last thing about my school:we are tennis juggernauts.  Them, not me.  I just coach the team.  My players can all beat me.  Even the beginners.  Not sure why they keep me around… 

Outside of school, I’ve been learning how to clean and wash things.  My wife gives me daily lessons since we got married a year ago.  Also, I’ve been taught that ironing is your friend.  I respectfully disagree.  I have little interest in being his friend.

I’m a huge sports fan.  I wanted to be a professional baseball player, but I was, what the medical profession refers to as, “extremely uncoordinated.” Sports scientists, with the help of modern technology, later diagnosed me as “bad” and/or “unskilled.”

I’ve learned that I’m good at shuffleboard.  I’ve also learned that it isn’t socially acceptable to play that game until I’m older. My 30th birthday is on July 31.  40 years to go until I’m allowed to play.

What else…I love cooking elaborate meals and then drowning my food in barbeque sauce…I sing too loudly in my car…and I’m a Leo, but I assure you that I don’t have any of the bad Leo qualities.  

Follow Matt:

Rene, an obsessive-compulsive fourteen year old, smells his hands and wears a Batman cape when he’s nervous. If he picks up a face-down coin, moves a muscle when the time adds up to thirteen (7:42 is bad luck because 7 + 4 + 2 = 13), or washes his body parts in the wrong order, Rene or someone close to him will break a bone, contract a deadly virus, and/or die a slow and painful death like someone in a scary scene in scary movie. Rene’s new and only friend tutors him in the art of playing it cool, but that’s not as easy as Gio makes it sound.

Check out A Scary Scene in a Scary Movie at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or The Book Depository.

Enter to win a copy HERE!!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Spoiler-Free Review: Forever (Wolves of Mercy Falls 3) by Maggie Stiefvater


The thrilling conclusion to #1 bestselling Shiver trilogy from Maggie Stiefvater


When Sam met Grace, he was a wolf and she was a girl. Eventually he found a way to become a boy, and their love moved from a curious distance to the intense closeness of shared lives.


That should have been the end of their story. But Grace was not meant to stay human. Now she is the wolf. And the wolves of Mercy Falls are about to be killed in one final, spectacular hunt.


Sam would do anything for Grace. But can one boy and one love really change a hostile, predatory world? The past, the present, and the future are about to collide in one pure moment - a moment of death or life, farewell or forever.


Publication date: July 12th 2011 by Scholastic Press

Available: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | The Book Depository

The Elliott Review:

I will keep spoilers from this review for obvious reasons. I'm not really going to discuss the plot at all so that there is not even a taint of spoil anywhere. However, I am going to gush wildly about Stiefvater's writing style! 

The writing in this book, along with that in Shiver and Linger, is probably some of the best writing in the young adult fiction world. The lyrical qualities of the prose is like a poem that makes you want to cry, no matter the situation. Each word seems perfect and appropriate. Every detail, no matter how simple, is chosen in such a way that the emotional urgency and intensity quietly build in a perfect arc in the background.

All the characters - Sam, Grace, Cole, and Isabel - all have voices that are distinct and that compel the reader to keep reading. Even if it was only from the perspective of any one of these characters, I would've kept reading, desperately wondering what will happen to him/her.

Teacher Notes:

As a teacher, I feel that I could choose almost any sentence, paragraph, page, or chapter from this book to show students what good writing looks like.

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

Saturday, July 9, 2011

London and Paris: A Tale of Two Cities

I'm going to be absent from the blog (and maybe twitter *sighs*) for a week or so as I embark on a vacation of a lifetime! My husband and I are cashing in on all the miles we've earned from using our debit/credit cards, and we're spending some time in London and Paris. I'm still trying to get my mind around this...

Anyway, I have some posts scheduled to go up (hope they are all okay). I'll miss hanging out here, but I'll be back to announce my blogoversary winners and post some highlights from the trip. Can we say literary heaven??

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Guest Post: James Mascia on Why Superheroes are Popular

Superheroes have been around since the beginning of civilized society, the Greeks had tales of their gods, and heroes such as Hercules and Achilles. The Romans had Jason and Aeneas, Northern Europe had Thor and Beowulf. The one thing all of these characters had in common is they are more than human, usually in strength or cunning. In that sense, they are not at all dissimilar to today’s modern day versions of the superhero. Superheroes have been around for thousands of years, and they show no sign of disappearing.

Why do we continue creating stories, comic books, and movies about these great heroes today? Is it because they are great tales of the human condition? Or is it as comedian, Jerry Seinfeld, once said, “When men are growing up and reading about Batman, Spiderman, and Superman, these are not fantasies, these are options?”

In a way, I believe Seinfeld may be correct. There aren’t many people out there that don’t aspire to be something greater. And who hasn’t at one point in their life said something like, “I wish I could see through that wall,” or “I’d love to know what she’s thinking,” or even “If only I could turn invisible?” So, in part, I think seeing these superheroes, either in print or on the big screen, is a way for men and women of all ages to live out these fantasies for a short while at least. If they can believe for even a short while that a man can fly, then they themselves will be able to fly.

However, it can also be argued that these stories tell us more about ourselves. Like the tales of Odysseus and Thor told great tales of morality, The Flash and Iron Man also teach us a little more about ourselves. A very popular Iron Man story from 1979 called “Demon in a Bottle” taught its readers the dangers of alcoholism, and even featured, as did the 2010 Iron Man sequel, a drunken Tony Stark wearing his famed technological suit. Yes, we laugh when we see that scene, but our hearts also stop because we know just how dangerous a situation it is. Tony Stark wearing the Iron Man suit while intoxicated is no different than a truck driver on the highway after slugging back one too many beers.

If you think about it, what makes these characters so enjoyable to watch, is that because like Tony, they are, at their core, human. They have flaws, and great tragedies in their lives, and yet they overcome them to be the heroes we need them to be. I emphasize need because I also believe that as people we need heroes to look up to, to help us strive to be better. And real or not, these heroes are people, or in some cases aliens, we can look up to.

If you’re reading this article and saying to yourself, superheroes aren’t popular, look at this. The media has recently been overrun by superheroes, especially with the release of four mainstream superhero movies just this summer alone. Thor, released in the beginning of May, which tells the tale of the Norse god’s downfall and exile to Earth weaves the new age of superheroes with the old. X-Men: First Class tells the story of mutants fighting for their survival. Green Lantern is the origin story of a man who has a great ring of power that work entirely on the force of will. Then Captain America, coming at the end of July, shows the story of Steve Rogers, a World War II soldier who is genetically enhanced to become a super-soldier.

What do any of these characters have in common? Nothing, but they all have some power that makes them more than human. No matter what your view on the popularity of superheroes, there is no denying the fact that we love them.

And the popularity of superheroes is spreading. Where ten years ago, you’d be hard pressed to find many superheroes outside the pages of comic books or Saturday Morning cartoon shows, now they seem to be everywhere, even outside of the visual realm they have enjoyed for the last century.

When I began writing my novel, High School Heroes, which is a superhero story about a group of kids in high school with superpowers, the only novels you could find about superheroes would be the occasional Superman, Spider-Man or Batman novel, and even those would usually be based on one of the character’s comic adventures. If you did an Amazon search for “Superhero Novels” a year ago, you wouldn’t find many books that weren’t a graphic novel on their site. Do a search today for that same term and you can see several pages of content, none of which is comic book related. Since September, when High School Heroes was released, there have been no less than a dozen other novels in both print and ebook editions that have also been released including titles like “Sexy Superheroes”, “Nobody Gets the Girl” and “In Hero Years I’d Be Dead.”

Maybe there is no definitive answer as to why superheroes are so popular. It could be that they represent our need to aspire to something greater, or it could be because they show us the deeper parts of our humanity despite being “more than human”. I think it may be a combination of both. When we believe that superheroes can actually exist, we get that warm feeling inside, even though we know it is only a dream. So, I look forward to seeing more novels, comics, television and movies about superheroes coming out in the future. It appears that superheroes are here to stay and we better prepare ourselves for the next generation of them.

What discovered you had the ability to read minds? What would you do with that power? On Christine Carpenter's first day of her sophomore year at Thomas Jefferson High School she makes a startling discovery. She can hear peoples' thoughts. After convincing herself she's not going crazy, Chris must learn to control her amazing mind-reading ability. Using her power she quickly realizes her crush, the captain of the football team, is also blessed with a special ability. She is soon sucked into a world she never thought possible when two more of her classmates, and a teacher, turn out to have powers as well. What are they meant to do with their special gifts that can either help, or harm others? Christine soon finds out when a monster, lurking in the depths of her school, threatens to murder the student population. When it becomes apparent that the creature is someone she knows, she must decide whether to try and save him, or destroy the beast. If she chooses destruction, can she live with the consequences? 

Available: Amazon | Barnes and Noble

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