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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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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