Sunday, September 30, 2018

Review: Harvest Mouse by Ruth Owen

Wildlife Watchers
by Ruth Owen
Ruby Tuesday Books Ltd.
Picture Book / Non-Fiction
24 pages
ages 2 and up

In this title, join a tiny harvest mouse as she munches on blackberries, crunches on grasshoppers, weaves a nest from grass in a wheat field, and raises her family. The book combines repetitive text with high-frequency and familiar sight words. Unfamiliar vocabulary is supported by detailed photographic images with labels, close photo/text matches, and a picture glossary.


This takes a short glance at the life of a harvest mouse and helps kids to learn the basics of reading along the way.

Inside the cover are 'Tips for Reading Success' which give parents/readers wonderful ideas on how to lead young listeners and early readers into the pages, while making the most out of the illustrations and text. The book itself covers the life of a harvest mouse starting with food, nest building, super cute babies, predators, and how young mice head off into the world on their own. The text is kept fairly simple with only one or two short sentences on each page. Some words might need a little explanation, but learning is the point of this book.

The illustrations are true to life photos, which allow the harvest mouse to be presented in their true environment. Little bubbles provide extra information when necessary to help readers gain a deeper understanding of harvest mice. At the back of the book, there is a glossary, index, and a website address where kids can learn more about harvest mice.

It's a nice read which will help kids learn all about the harvest mouse, and bring across little tidbits that even adults might not know. The reading level is a little advanced for the very first readers, but with the tips in the beginning, it does help expand new readers' horizons.

Wildlife Watchers is a series of beautiful, nonfiction books that have been carefully crafted to help children practice their reading skills. Each book combines repetitive text with high-frequency and familiar sight words. Unfamiliar vocabulary is supported by detailed images with labels, close photo/text matches, and a picture glossary. As young readers build their reading confidence and skills, they will love peeking into the secret world of some fascinating, tiny creatures.

There are four titles available in this series:
Harvest Mouse
Stag Beetle

You can find more at Bearport Publishing

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Review: Cursed Rebel by H.G. Lynch

by H.G. Lynch
YA Urban Fantasy
175 pages

OCTOBER 5th, 2018!!!

My grandma always warned me never to trust a Faery. I never believed they were real...until I was kidnapped by one. 

Finn is an obnoxious, mercurial Fae whose job it is to bring me to the King. He's gorgeous, but in this world, the prettiest things are the deadliest. 

But if I want to survive the Fae realm and find a way home, I'll have to trust him...for now.


Slightly haunting, this tale pulls into a world where beauty is dangerous and love almost impossible.

Lucy's grandmother always warned her of the fae folk—alluring, cunning and dangerous. Being an average, American kid, Lucy new they were fairy tales. When a boy with bright, red hair dashes through her school, her gut tells her something's off, but first, when he captures her and takes her to the Otherworld, does the situation hit full thrust. She's been captured by a gorgeous fae boy, one who's job it is to lure humans to his world and present them to his heartless king. Without him, she can't return home or survive the lethal world around her. With him, she might meet a fate worse than death.

This is one fans of Young Adult romance with fairies, magic, Sidhe and loads of other fantastical creatures are sure to enjoy. There is a dark undertone the entire way through, since these are not nice fairies. The world building is well done, allowing the fantastical elements to gain a wonderful vividness. It's a lovely world to dive into.

Lucy has temperament, to say the least. She lets her feelings vent, especially in the stubborn direction and is snippy even in the first chapters to those around her. While it is usually understandable, sometimes she comes across as simply immature. But she grows on the reader and, by the end, it's hard not to cheer for her and hope she makes it through.

The first chapters are a bit rough in so far that scenes flip fast, sometimes very suddenly. It took a bit to understand exactly what was going on and sink into the characters and world. I did almost put this one down but am glad I didn't. Because after the stumbling beginning, it smoothed more and more until it became an engaging story that was hard to put down. Finn and Ryan both hit a teeter-totter of love and hate, which made for delicious tension. Magic grew, danger mounted and the layers thickened. In turns into an entertaining and lovely read.

Sneak Peek: Qualify by Vera Nazarian with Giveaway


The Atlantis Grail, Book One

by Vera Nazarian 

December 20th 2014
YA Dystopian / Science Fiction

The Atlantis Grail has been optioned for development as a feature film series and/or TV series.
You have two options. You die, or you Qualify.
The year is 2047. An extinction-level asteroid is hurtling toward Earth, and the descendants of ancient Atlantis have returned from the stars in their silver ships to offer humanity help.
But there’s a catch.
They can only take a tiny percent of the Earth’s population back to the colony planet Atlantis. And in order to be chosen, you must be a teen, you must be bright, talented, and athletic, and you mustQualify.
Sixteen-year-old Gwenevere Lark is determined not only to Qualify but to rescue her entire family.
Because there’s a loophole.
If you are good enough to Qualify, you are eligible to compete in the brutal games of theAtlantis Grail, which grants all winners the laurels, high tech luxuries, and full privileges of Atlantis Citizenship. And if you are in the Top Ten, then all your wildest wishes are granted… Such as curing your mother’s cancer.
There is only one problem.
Gwen Lark is known as a klutz and a nerd. While she’s a hotshot in classics, history, science, and languages, the closest she’s come to sports is a backyard pool and a skateboard.
This time she is in over her head, and in for a fight of her life, against impossible odds and world-class competition—including Logan Sangre, the most amazing guy in her school, the one she’s been crushing on, and who doesn’t seem to know she exists.
Because every other teen on Earth has the same idea.
You Qualify or you die.

Grab your copy for FREE!

Make sure you stop by Vera’s YouTube Channel where you will find fun videos of panels including the TAG Fan Discussion Panel where she announces the film option and explains the process of how a book gets optioned for film by Hollywood!
TAG Fan Discussion Panel video (with film deal announcement):
Alien Invasions and Apocalypse Panel video:


March, 2047.
Today is a day like any other day. Only it’s not.
Today the Qualification tests begin—at all designated schools, and public sites in remote places where they don’t have schools, all across the country and around the world—and everyone in my family is trying to pretend things are as usual.
I am at the messy kitchen counter chewing the breakfast scrambled eggs while the smart wall TV is blaring in the living room. Mom has her back turned and she is leaning over the stove making another skillet, which apparently is burning. I watch Mom’s fragile stooped back, the collar of the flannel pajama top, and the yellow cotton scarf covering her head, bald from the most recent round of chemo. The air is thick with garlic and scalded toast and things unspoken. No one else is up yet.
“Need some help burning the house down, Mom?” I say, in-between tasteless bites. Normally I love cheesy garlic eggs, but not today. Today, nothing has a taste. Especially not my forced humor.
“Thanks,” she says, without turning around. “But no, I think I am managing just fine with the arson.”
“M-m-m-m,” I say. The skillet makes another grand hiss.
Voices of various morning news show talking heads sound from the living room TV smart wall. “Qualify or die” is repeated often. I imagine there’s a running marquee with that phrase, interspersed with stock tickers and national weather and the continuing coverage of the mystery of a missing plane that disappeared thirty-three years ago, while the footage of the asteroid and then the Atlantis ships hanging in the skies like balloons among the clouds is running on repeat in a small lower window of the screen. Unfortunately that’s the spot of the smart wall surface with the greatest number of bad pixels. Our old wall needs an upgrade, but it’s not going to happen now that the world is about to end.
They’ve been showing the same footage for the last three months. The asteroid is dramatic, a blazing white monster against black space. It’s hurtling at us head-on. And then it’s always followed by the video clip of the same famous spaceship disk, silvery metallic monolith, miles above the New York skyline. Most of Manhattan ground level is two feet underwater these days, but the skyscrapers remain active centers of business and make for a dramatic backdrop amid the street canals congested with taxi speedboat traffic. There are hundreds of other spaceships of course, all around the country and the world, but they only show the definitive New York one, with the Empire State Building in the frame. The ones here in Vermont, over Burlington, Montpelier, and St. Albans, don’t warrant national coverage.
George comes into the kitchen. His dark brown hair is sticking up more than usual, which means he’s been tossing and turning all night, and probably had very little sleep, much like me. He looks bleary-eyed too, and his good-looking angular face is stuck in a frown. He’s wearing black jeans and a grey hoodie.
“Hey,” I mumble at my seventeen-year-old older brother, and he only gives me the hard thoughtful look. How well I know it, since it’s the same look that I’ve seen in the mirror this morning as I tried to comb the snags out of my own brown hair, long, wavy and unruly, and stared into my hard blue eyes. Grumpy and thoughtful runs in our family. Or at least with some of us. George and I are alike that way, prone to serious, prone to scary quicksilver moods interspersed with sarcasm. And now that Mom’s really sick, we stopped laughing altogether.
Good thing our two younger siblings don’t particularly share this hang-up. Twelve-year-old Grace has always been a giggle machine and chatterbox—though lately she gets weird anxiety attacks at night and has trouble falling asleep, then can’t wake up on time in the morning, and is always late. Dad thinks it’s because she is right on the border of the cutoff age for the Qualification, and it can go either way for her today. So she’s been quietly freaking out.
As for Gordon, fourteen and sure of himself, he just hums whatever’s playing in his earbuds, and smirks a lot, also quietly, even when he fiddles with his art and woodcrafts stuff. Gordie is convinced he will not Qualify, but he claims he does not care—which is of course crazy, but if it makes it easier for him to deal, then what can be said?
“Have some eggs, George,” Mom says. “Grab a plate.”
“I’m not hungry.” My brother pours himself a glass of cheap apple juice.
“Yes, you are. You’ll need it. You can’t run all day on that sugary swill. And it’s going to be a very long day.” Mom turns around and grimaces, looking at the transparent yellowish baby-food liquid that George loves so much. Mom’s skin has an unhealthy grey tint, and at the same time her face is reddened by the heat of the kitchen stove. Both her hands are shaking slightly with the usual tremors. But there is determined focus in her watery blue eyes. I stare at her and see the effort she is making. Margot Lark, my mother, is the strongest person I know.
“You shouldn’t be doing this. You shouldn’t be cooking.” George frowns and gulps down half a glass of juice at once. I watch his Adam’s apple move with each swallow, in tandem with the muscles of his lean neck.
“I am not cooking. You call this cooking?” Mom smiles, throwing me a wink, in an attempt to get me to make my usual sarcastic commentary that indicates I still have a pulse.
“It’s pretty good, actually,” I say, making a show of forking a large piece and chewing and swallowing with enjoyment, even though I am tasting nothing and my insides are filled with rocks. “Where’s everyone else?”
“I heard Gee Three flush the toilet.” George reluctantly takes a plate and Mom dumps half a skillet of cheesy yellow eggs onto it.
In case it’s unclear, we’re the Four Gees, in order of birth: George, Gwenevere, Gordon, Grace. I still don’t get it why our parents decided to use names starting with the letter “G” for naming all their kids. Mom says she wanted a neat musical pattern to it, and for us to sound “elegant.” Mom is a classical opera singer—or was, before she got sick—so “elegant” is important to her. Dad says it was an old tradition on his mother’s Italian side of the family to use the same initial letter. Honestly, whatever. But everyone in school now calls us the Four Gees, and we’re stuck with it.
“Gracie still in bed?” Mom continues, without glancing at George.
“You bet. Want me to go drag her out?”
Mom shakes her head, wipes a dot of skillet splatter off her nose with the back of her hand, still holding a greasy spatula. “No, let her sleep a bit longer. Your father will get her when he comes down. Give them another fifteen minutes. And now I want you to eat.”
George shrugs. “Whatever. She’ll make everyone late again.”
“No. You’ll be fine.”
I am still chewing the eggs, swallowing them dutifully like lumps of unknown stuff, and now I feel a familiar pang of fear twist my guts.
We’ll be fine. Somehow hearing this makes it worse, brings it all home.
Today’s the day. The day we’ve been prepping ourselves for, emotionally, psychologically, for weeks and months. And when I say “we,” that’s pretty much everyone on this planet. Teens and their parents. And all the people who care about them. And really, everyone else too, since they get to watch. They get to find out—even though they themselves are out of the picture, out of the running—they get to witness us make it or fail.
Today we Qualify for rescue, for Atlantis.
Or we don’t—which means we’ll die together with all the rest of the world when the asteroid hits Earth, in about nineteen months from now. . . .
There’s no way to stop it.
But at least for some of us, there is Atlantis.
Turns out, Atlantis is not a myth. It’s ancient history. There really was a great continent by that name in ancient times, somewhere in the middle of what we now call the Atlantic Ocean, spanning the infamous Bermuda Triangle, the Bahamas, and beyond, and it was home to a very advanced high-tech civilization that stretched around the globe. Supposedly, they had computers, the internet, super-medicine, weapons of mass destruction, probably gaming consoles, and all kinds of other incredible or obnoxious stuff even more sophisticated than our own modern equivalents.
And then something happened. Maybe they did it to themselves—basically ruined the planet, kind of like what we’re doing now with the environment and other species, the out-of-control pollution, carbon dioxide imbalance and resulting cascade of climate change. Or maybe it was Mother Nature, at least in part.
Because at some point more than twelve thousand years ago, something huge and terrible took place—a mega-cataclysm on such a scale that it caused a whole continent to disappear without a trace, in earthquakes and floods and who knows what—and wiped the high-level civilization off the face of the planet. To escape this global disaster—we are told—the people of Atlantis used their advanced technology to leave Earth and flee to the stars. They eventually established a human colony on a habitable planet.
They called this colony planet “Atlantis,” or whatever’s the equivalent in their language, in memory of their own ancient roots on Earth, to honor their native civilization and the terrestrial continent of their birth that started it all.
And now, after all these thousands of years, they’re back. They returned to Earth, their ancient home world, and they are here to help. That is, the distant descendants of the original Atlantean colonists are here to help. They claim to be one hundred percent human and supposedly not all that different from ourselves—if you don’t count the thousands of generations of separate evolution and branching off to live in an alien environment. Yeah, right.
Anyway, the Atlanteans share our DNA and they’re our cousins. And, just like cousins, it makes them either weird or welcome guests.
Right now, they are desperately welcome and desperately needed. The asteroid brought them here—or, like some paranoid people in the media say, maybe “they brought the asteroid.”
Whichever it is, at this point, Atlantis is all we’ve got.
When the news of the lethal asteroid first broke, months ago, almost simultaneously the Atlantean spaceships appeared in the skies all over the world. It’s as if they’ve been watching us, and waiting to make first contact. The asteroid just gave them the excuse.
Okay, at first it was a huge global mess. World governments going into panic mode and military overdrive, people on the streets screaming about alien invasions, religious fundamentalists having a field day, scientists having aneurisms, stock markets crashing worldwide, to the tune of billions.
But once the Atlantean shuttles landed, and we saw them to be human and not little green men or big green lizards, it was okay. They met with representatives of governments, the United Nations, and were received with caution and eventually with open arms. “We are you,” they told us in various languages of Earth. How they knew our languages is unclear, but it’s probably some kind of advanced tech, or they’ve been listening in on us for far longer than we know. They explained who they were—which is kind of insane if you think about it, all that mythic stuff that Plato wrote about is mostly true—and demonstrated some of their amazing technology.
Only it wasn’t all that amazing when it came to the asteroid.
Yes, they tried moving it and changing the path of its trajectory, and all kinds of other advanced science stuff, in conjunction with global space agencies and the three International Space Stations we currently have—the largest one in Earth orbit, a second small one on the surface of the Moon, and the barely functional newest one on Mars. They even landed on the asteroid’s surface and drilled and took samples. But nothing worked, at least not enough to make a difference. The asteroid is going to hit Earth and it is going to cause nuclear winter at best. And at worst—well, let’s just say there may not be much of this planet left after the impact. . . .
However, not all is lost. Because the Atlanteans are going to save as many of us as possible and take us back with them—back to the colony planet Atlantis, a fertile blue-green world that’s supposed to be beautiful beyond belief, with a golden-white sun and not one but three moons.
To that effect, they have brought enough spaceships to carry millions of people—ten million, to be precise. It sounds great but means they can only rescue a very small portion of the general Earth population of eight point five billion—no more than can fill their present fleet of monolith silver ships, since there is no time for multiple trips between Earth and Atlantis before the asteroid strikes.
There is only one condition for rescue. Those lucky few that get to board the Atlantis ships have to be young people between the ages of eleven and twenty—teenagers.
Capable, talented, special teenagers.
The best of the best on Earth.
And the only way to determine who these teens will be is to make them pass Qualification. . . .
Qualify or die.
The smart wall in the living room is playing TV snippets of a canned interview with the President. Later tonight she will address the nation live. . . . But for now it’s old footage. President Katherine Donahue is speaking in her usual droning and soothing voice that’s powerful and at the same time conciliatory, in that nasty mixture that only politicians manage. “Our children and we must be brave together, but rest assured, no one’s giving up” and “we hold them in our prayers as Qualification looms” and “the ultimate survival and benefit of humanity might ultimately depend on well-orchestrated air strikes” are some of the phrases heard.
Same old junk they’ve been saying for months, as soon as they figured out that nothing substantial could be done to stop the asteroid, and that the Atlanteans are not all-powerful after all, despite what everyone hoped.
Thing is, the governments, the global leaders, the media, the scientists, the talking heads—they all feel the guilt-ridden need to keep talking, keep trying, even up to the last, even as the world goes up in flames or ash clouds or whatever. “Vaporware Hope,” as Dad calls it, is one way to fill up the void between now and the end.
Sure, there’s Qualification. But for the human spirit that’s just not good enough. To that end, there are also numerous space missions being prepped by the United Nations and private conglomerates, by individual governments and science agencies. Everyone’s building shuttles, rockets and “payload delivery systems,” whatever that means, to see if they can blast the asteroid into manageable bits or move it out of the fatal earth-contact trajectory. Meanwhile, others are building spaceship arks, just to get off the planet—kind of like the ancient Atlanteans themselves did, thousands of years ago. I guess they think, maybe if they can just get far enough away from the blast and resulting atmospheric turbulence, the Atlanteans might guide them the rest of the way?
The Atlanteans observe these various efforts sadly, and have indeed volunteered to assist to the best of their abilities. But the reality remains grim, there’s not all that much that can be done, at least not for the majority of living beings on Earth. The asteroid is huge and supposedly made up of mostly heavy metals and some other newly discovered stuff that makes it pretty much impossible to move or damage—or so they say. And as for escape, there are simply too many people, animal species, and too few ships.
President Donahue’s words are cut off briefly with video-bytes of breaking news, basically public unrest worldwide, demonstrations around school buses that are supposed to take us all to the Qualification sites, various local police forces in riot gear, and people screaming and throwing rocks and demanding justice. “Please! Just save my baby!” a woman somewhere in the Midwest is crying in a crazed voice of despair. “What good are my tax dollars with all your idiot scientists and useless military and failed national defense? Why can’t you nuke that space rock and save us!”
The stairs creak softly under Dad’s familiar steady footsteps. He comes down, fully dressed in his nice beige blazer, black shirt, brown slacks, tweed vest. And he’s wearing a tie, which is a rare thing. My father, Charles Lark, is the epitome of academia, with his rimless spectacles, somewhat tousled, wavy brown hair and greying temples. He is a professor of classics and history at the local University, and is exactly what you might think that means. Smart, and a little eccentric, and living mostly inside his head, his lesson plans, and research, with plenty of oddball stories and trivia to tell to his kids.
“Let’s please turn the awful TV off,” Dad says tiredly. He is bleary-eyed too, and he is immediately looking at Mom.
“Good morning!” Mom throws him a cheerful look and turns her back again. “I thought all of you might want some real breakfast today. Coffee’s ready.”
“How are you feeling? You really shouldn’t be up so early, straining yourself.” Dad goes directly for the coffee maker.
“Are you kidding? This is good for me. Besides, I would never miss seeing all of you off today, of all days.”
“Why, what’s today?” George says grimly.
From the living room now comes the familiar voice of the Atlantean Fleet Commander giving his now famous inspirational speech to the United Nations. The voice is soft, rich and musical. It is pleasant in timbre despite the strange lilting accent, and the Atlantean is speaking perfect English. Which is all kind of amazing. And yet it makes my skin crawl with new pangs of fear. Because there’s all that strange, leashed power in that voice, and it’s held back somehow. How do I know this? I don’t, I have no idea. But Commander Manakteon Resoi (try saying that three times) with his pleasant, sonorous voice, his fixed handsome face, metallic-golden blond hair and contrasting black eyebrows that seems to be typical of his ethnicity, gives me the creeps. Especially when he talks about “humanitarian efforts amid failure of hope” and “technological impetus” and “a new era for Earth and Atlantis.”
“I hate that Goldilocks guy and his BS,” George mumbles.
Goldilocks. That’s the derogatory term being used lately to refer to Atlanteans, because supposedly they all color their hair metallic gold, which is a fashion statement. Or maybe it’s an indicator of rank. No one’s sure. Apparently, gold’s so common and abundant on Atlantis, that it’s considered a base metal. . . .
In that moment, the stairs groan as Gracie and Gordie come downstairs one after the other, Gracie trailing. My younger brother Gordon is slight and skinny, lacking the sinewy strength and height of George, and with brown hair that’s several shades lighter and so short it’s almost buzzed. He’s wearing his usual dingy jeans and faded black sweatshirt with paint stains on it. And his rimless glasses have dirty finger spots you can see from several feet away.
Gracie is last. She is a younger version of me, tall and slim, except without any curves and with straight long hair that’s dirty blond instead of dark like mine. Gracie is dressed up in pastel pink skinny jeans and a black sweater with sequins. She is wearing black eyeliner, mascara and lip gloss, and gaudy plastic bangles on her wrists. Normally Mom would say something about the eye junk and the lip gloss, but today Grace Lark gets to wear whatever she likes—whatever gives her strength.
“All right,” Mom says. “Everyone, get plates, these cheesy eggs are pure magic!”
“Thanks, Mom. Pile it on.” Gordie heads right for the kitchen counter and pulls up a chair, while Gracie stops in the middle of the kitchen and stares. Her face is very pale, and she looks sickly, despite her mascara and lip gloss. Or maybe because of it.
“Gracie, honey, don’t waste time, please.” Mom picks up a clean plate and starts filling it.
“I don’t want any eggs.”
Dad sits down nearby at the small side table with his mug of coffee and a plate of eggs. “Your Mom got up early and made the breakfast, and you should eat it.”
Grace is frowning. “I hate eggs, and I’m not really hungry.”
“Okay.” Mom sighs. “How about a banana and toast? You need to eat something today. You know you do.”
“We’re out of bananas,” I recall. “Gracie, come on, why don’t you just eat the eggs, just this once, okay? They’re really good! Yummy-yum-yum! Protein and fuel!”
Gracie shrugs. I can’t believe she is this quiet. She’s not even calling me an idiot.
“We have ten minutes,” George says. “Move it, Gee Four.”
Gracie silently slips onto a chair at the counter and reaches for a slice of toast.
A few minutes later we’re in the old minivan, headed for school, with Dad at the wheel. We still feel Mom’s tight desperate hugs and ringing-hard kisses on our cheeks. In my mind, she’s still standing at the porch, waving, and her eyes are red and swimming in tears as she watches us drive away. If we Qualify, this will be the last time we ever see Mom. Already I am fixing this image of her, searing it into memory.
Usually George drives us in his peeling truck, but today Dad is bringing us in, as if to make sure we are delivered properly in time for the Qualification tests. All our duffel bags are packed in the trunk, in addition to the usual school backpacks. Everything’s according to the official Qualification instructions that have been handed out, weeks in advance, by the schools that are designated RQS, or Regional Qualification Sites. Our bags contain a basic travel kit, a change of clothing, and a few personal items that are up to us. The assumption is, if we advance in the Qualification preliminary stage, we will be taken directly to the Regional Qualification Centers where the next stage of the process will take place. And we don’t get to say goodbye to anyone.
My duffel bag has a few of my favorite books including The Iliad, The Odyssey, The 101 Dalmatians, and The Birthgrave. Okay, it has a lot of books, and is heaviest, almost exceeding the forty pounds limit. That’s because these are actual honest-to-goodness books, printed on paper. Yeah, you heard that right. Some of them are rare collector editions from Dad’s library. Dad often says that an electromagnetic pulse or EMP disaster can strike any moment and destroy our digital information storage capability, so he’s been hoarding the paper print editions like precious treasure for most of his life. His personal library is amazing. And now here’s my chance to save some of those classics before the asteroid takes them first.
In addition to the load of books, my bag also has a small pouch of trinkets. There are family photos, a tiny rose crystal Pegasus figurine, and a sterling silver dancing fairy locket my parents gave me for my sixteenth birthday a few months ago. It’s not electronic-enhanced smart jewelry, but it has heart.
George has chosen to pack close to nothing of personal value, only an extra pair of running shoes and some flat rectangular thing wrapped in brown paper, plus a bunch of paper books for Dad’s sake. In contrast, Gordie’s duffel has micro-bead CDs, rare sheet music, and his skinny Backpacker travel guitar, in addition to his favorite weird quartz pieces from his extensive rock collection, a purple geode, a Swiss Army knife, a portable color pen-and-pencil art box, and a sketchbook. As for Gracie, she has taken her costume jewelry including a pair of latest version smart earrings, a cosmetics pouch, and her flute. And yeah, more of Dad’s books.
I stare outside the window at the bleary landscape. It’s March, but snow is still on the ground, and the sky is overcast.
However, as I stare southeast, the Atlantean ship in the sky over St. Albans can be seen in the corner of the window, through the tall pine and maple trees. From this distance it looks like a flattened weather balloon, silvery metal. In reality, I know it is massive, almost a mile in diameter. It hovers, motionless, silent, eternal.
Gordie, Gracie, George, my Dad, all of us glance at it periodically.
George is up in the front passenger seat next to Dad, and he voice commands the car radio on. Immediately there is a blast of riot noise, and the radio deejay comes on with frenzied commentary. The mayors of Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas, and Inland Los Angeles are being interviewed about the ramifications of crowd control and widespread urban looting, and next up, expert practical advice from a pop psychologist at something dot com: “Five Tips for Teens—how to maximize your chances to Qualify today.”
“Oh great, do we have to listen to this?” Dad says.
George invokes the scan function on the radio and it jumps to a music station.
“No, don’t turn it off!” Gracie clutches the back of George’s seat. “I want to hear the five tips!”
“No, you don’t.”
“Yes I do!
George groans.
Gordie just stares out the window with blissful indifference and his earbuds are crackling with his own entertainment.
“All right.” Dad is turning off the main highway onto a smaller road that’s near our high school and Gracie’s middle school, both in the same complex. Our schools are a designated Regional Qualification Site. The traffic is busier than usual, as parents from other school districts are dropping off their children, and everyone wants to be on time. Car horns are blaring. We make the turn into school grounds and the rows of yellow buses are already lined up in the parking lot, ready to take those of us who are lucky enough to pass the preliminaries on to the next stage of Qualification, hours later.
“You want five tips?” Dad says seriously. “I’ll give you five tips. Number one—”
“I don’t want your tips! I want what that program was going to say!” Gracie’s voice rises in that same whiny awful noise that has been produced by her for weeks now, whenever something doesn’t go her way.
“Oh, jeez—” George shakes his head.
“I want to hear Dad,” I say.
Gracie turns around and glares at me. Her hand is still clutching the back of the seat in front of her with a white-knuckled grip.
“Speak fast, Dad, because we’re almost here.”
I see my father’s sad, drawn expression reflected in the rear view mirror. He looks old suddenly, old and exhausted. He takes a silent breath and pushes his spectacles up his nose. “Tip number one—be yourself. Number two—do the best you can under the circumstances and never let fear control you and make you freeze. Number three—okay—” He pauses and I see him make the tired effort to say something constructive and hopeful. “Number three—listen to your gut instinct, always. Your gut is one smart buddy there. Listen to it. Number four—never give up. Never, ever, ever, times infinity. Number five—make the choice that will ultimately make you feel good inside about yourself—as a human being. That’s always the right choice.”
“Are you done?” Gracie says.
Dad sighs. “You know how hard it is for all of us, Grace. Take a big breath. All right, we’re almost there.”
“Thanks for the words of wisdom, Dad. That’s actually gold in them thar hills. I bet you wrote it up last night in your lecture notes. Am I right?” George mumbles while looking straight ahead, as he begins to get ready to unbuckle his seatbelt even before we are parked.
“Yeah, well,” Dad says. “What if I did? Couldn’t let you all go without saying something brilliant to help you remember your old man by. There’s actually more, but I thought the ‘five tips’ gave me a nice excuse to summarize. Want to hear the rest? No? I didn’t think so. It was worth a try.”
The minivan is still crawling along in a line of cars through the parking lot and onto the football field that has been designated as supplementary parking. Security guards stand, waving the cars into parking spots or designated drop-off points. There are also several media news vans and vehicles with video and sound equipment. Even now, they are filming us live. It’s weird to think, but all that’s happening right now is being recorded, is breaking news. . . .
We stop not too far from the side entrance to the main school building, in the yellow zone. Kids and parents are everywhere, opening cars, carrying bags. Many people are crying.
We get out, and Dad pops the trunk, which sails open slowly.
Shivering in my jacket from the chill morning air, I stand waiting for George to get his duffel bag, while Gordie has his already. Grace stands right behind me, breathing down my neck.
Dad stops the engine and comes around to help us. Or more likely he is gathering himself for the big goodbye.
I glance around, seeing students I know, other classmates, heading up the stairs and inside, past security. Carrie Willis, a girl from my class rushes by with tear-reddened eyes, dragging a bulky, ugly purple-and-orange travel bag that’s rolling along on squeaky wheels. Her mom and some other relatives watch below, waving and sobbing.
Gordie watches her also, shakes his head and adjusts the strap of his heavy duffel bag, then pulls his knitted ski hat over his reddened ears. “This is all seriously messed up.”
“Yeah, that one there seriously needs new luggage.” George steps back, shouldering his bag and his backpack with muscular ease.
“No, I mean, this, all of this situation—she, they, us, everyone, the world,” Gordie says.
I lean forward and take my turn with my stuff. It feels surreal, like someone else is going through the motions. My backpack is hoisted up and lands on my back with a thud that’s lessened by the stuffed lining of my winter jacket. I adjust the straps on both arms, then reach for the heavier duffel.
Gracie is starting to sniffle behind me, and I hear Dad embrace her in a bear hug.
Well, this is it.
I suddenly feel a burning in my eyes. In the back of my throat a huge horrible lump is gathering. No, I am not going to cry.
But the pressure is building in my sinuses, and as I keep my eyes open wide, afraid to blink, already I can feel the first stupid fat teardrop starting to well in one eye, as my vision gets blurry. I back away from the minivan, while Gracie disengages from Dad’s hug, wipes her face with the back of her hand—which smears her eyeliner on one side—and goes for her bag with trembling hands.
I stand watching the peeling spots of paint on the wall of the school building, while blurs of students are going past me up the stairs. I am momentarily distracted from needing to bawl by the familiar faces. Mindy Erikson walks by with her stuff, and her flaming red hair. . . . There goes football jock Nick Warren and his younger brother, whatshisname.
“Gwen, honey . . .” Dad’s voice cuts through everything, and it makes me turn around and look at him, and face him at last.
“Here, my sweet girl, there you go,” Dad says, reaching out for me, and I meet his eyes, and it breaks me completely. Dad. . . . This is my dad, and he is going to die.
I am glad that next comes the great big hug so he doesn’t see me start to lose it. Instead I lose myself in his chest, and crush my face against the beige blazer, and think about how he’ll have to have it dry cleaned to get my stupid tears and snot off the fabric. I stay that way for several moments, shaking silently, feeling Dad’s powerful embrace and smelling the faint aftershave and wool scent of his clothes.
“My brave, smart Gwen,” Dad says in my ear. “Love you, honey, stay strong! Promise me, never give up! Watch out for your sister and brothers—”
“Love you, Dad, I will. . . .”
I let go, and stand back, and smear my face with the back of my hand, and that’s it.
I watch Dad take Gordie in a quick tight hug, and pat his back, and then George, who evades the hug and instead gets a grownup handshake.
“Well, this is it,” Dad says. He takes a symbolic step back and nods at us, and says, “God speed, go on, all of you! I promise you, the Lark family will Qualify, hands down, all four of you!” I see Dad’s eyes are sort of red too, as he just stands there, looking at us through his spectacles.
George nods briefly, and just for a moment he is suspended, motionless, like a post. He turns and gives the rest of us a serious look. “Okay! Let’s do this. See you on the flip side.” And George heads up the stairs.
Gordie follows, trudging silently.
Gracie and I take a moment longer, to give Dad another last look.
“Go on!” he says. “Don’t be late now, hurry! Your Mom and I are rooting for you one hundred percent. Go!”
And so I take my sister by the arm, and pull her along, and we start up the steps.
We enter the school building without looking around again at Dad.
It’s easier this way.

And here she is...

VERA NAZARIAN is a two-time Nebula Award Finalist, a Dragon Award 2018 Finalist, an award-winning artist, and member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, a writer with a penchant for moral fables and stories of intense wonder, true love, and intricacy.
She is the author of critically acclaimed novels DREAMS OF THE COMPASS ROSE and LORDS OF RAINBOW, the outrageous parodies MANSFIELD PARK AND MUMMIES and NORTHANGER ABBEY AND ANGELS AND DRAGONS, and most recently, PRIDE AND PLATYPUS: MR. DARCY'S DREADFUL SECRET in her humorous and surprisingly romantic Supernatural Jane Austen Series, as well as the Renaissance epic fantasy COBWEB BRIDE Trilogy, and the high-octane adventure YA / teen dystopian apocalyptic bestselling science fiction series THE ATLANTIS GRAIL that has been optioned fordevelopment as a feature film series and/or TV series.
After many years in Los Angeles, Vera lives in a small town in Vermont, and uses her Armenian sense of humor and her Russian sense of suffering to bake conflicted pirozhki and make art.
Her official author website is
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Friday, September 28, 2018

Review: B is for Baller: The Ultimate Basketball Alphabet by James Littlejohn

by James Littlejohn
Illustrated by Matthew Shipley
Triumph Books
Picture Book 
ages 3 and up
32 pages

OCTOBER 2nd, 2018!!!

Featuring dozens of iconic NBA superstars like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, LeBron James, Wilt Chamberlain, Kobe Bryant, and Steph Curry, B is for Baller is the ultimate alphabet book for young hoops fans—whether they're taking their first shot at the ABCs or already perfecting their threes! James Littlejohn's words leap off the page and bring legends to life, while Matthew Shipley's colorful, stylish illustrations are sure to delight fans young and old. What started as a successful Kickstarter project from two passionate NBA fans is now the perfect read for little ballers everywhere!


Little (and big) basketball fans come face to face with not only a lovely way to learn the ABCs, but lots of basketball tidbits along the way.

This is not the usual type of ABC book, but rather, caters to hoop and court fans. With each letter of the alphabet, comes a different basketball star and a dash of interesting facts even some adults might not know. But this isn't a run through stars and information alone. Humor and clever word play give each page and letter an unexpected twist. While some (like B for Larry Bird) are direct and bring the humor along subtly, others are very imaginative and guarantee a few giggles.

The illustrations not only depict the players rather well but let the humorous side fly. Nick names and aspects of the players take on entirely different spins in the pictures, many of which are sure to open up to discussions with young listeners and help older readers share their own enthusiasm for the sport.

Summed up, this is an original take on ABCs and basketball (NBA), which is sure to gain a place in hoop fans' hearts.

And they are...

The author...
James Littlejohn is a writer, father and fan of fast breaks where nobody dribbles. He once tried out for a pro minor-league basketball team. He didn't make it.

The Illustrator...
Matthew Shipley is an illustrator whose art has appeared in projects with Major League Soccer, Bleacher Report, ESPN and others

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Review: Blood Crescent by Stevie Marie with Giveaway

Book One of the Divine Series
by S.M. McCoy
Broken Books
September 21, 2018
YA Paranormal

A missing mother. A magical birthright. Can she uncover the secrets of her family legacy before the bloodline runs dry?
Sixteen-year-old Crystal Dylan thought magic only existed in storybooks. But everything changes when she finds out her long-departed mom isn’t dead: she was stolen away by the same power-hungry league now hunting her own enchanted blood. In search of answers, she must make sense of a hidden mystical realm and two mysterious protectors.
Victor is more than just the boy-next-door. As a shifter, he’s lost track of the many lives he’s led and the memories of his true self. But as he stands close to the beautiful Crystal, he can sense his past coming back into focus. So when dark forces threaten to drain Crystal’s powers, he may just have to risk an enchanted kiss that could save her life… or seal her fate.
With enemies closing in, Crystal must find her mom and uncover her magical destiny before her powers fall into the clutches of evil.
Blood Crescent is the first novel in the exhilarating Divine Series of YA paranormal fantasies. If you like hidden magical realms, fresh new takes on vampire lore, and heartfelt journeys of self-discovery, then you’ll love Stevie McCoy’s spellbinding coming-of-age tale.

Buy on Amazon


Emotions seep from every page in a paranormal story with a slightly different feel, one that makes the monsters as if they might be real.

Crystal's life isn't clear even to her. Her mother disappeared long ago...her father, who knows. She's grown up with a guardian who has her fingers in auras and spiritual plains, one Crystal doesn't fully get or even believe. But if she ever thought her life could be normal someday, this idea is quickly swept aside when a bite mark appears on her throat and her inner energy is being drained. What she thought was fantasy crashes her reality full force as she learns that there are dangerous creatures out there, ones than not only captured her mother but now, want her.

This was a bit of a battle to dive into. The first chapters are written as if in a haze. Crystal's life isn't right, but it's not clear how outside of the fact that her mother disappeared and that she isn't feeling herself. But holding on through this beginning is worth it as the story does shift into a clearer and more tension filled gear. Crystal lives in a world which is so much more complicated than she knows, and it's these multi-layers which are being laid in this first book with a promise to shoot off in the rest of the series.

Crystal's life is being drained, leaving her a bit weak, hazy and uncertain of things. This holds through the book, taking away the usual clarity in stories and instead, allowing the emotions to take over. The beginning doesn't hold much dialogue but rather sticks heavily to Crystal's head. This makes it a bit sluggish...even later on...but when the dialogue comes, it sits. The other characters are intriguing, although it's not clear what or who or which goals some of them have for much of the book. I would have liked to see a bit more solid information and situations to ground all of it, but then, I can imagine other readers might enjoy this hazy atmosphere as they can sink into and experience Crystal's confusion up close.

There is a lot going on in the plot and only dips and dabs drip through, a little at a time. But it's clear that this is a rich, fantastical world on the border of reality as we know it...and it's exactly this which makes the book a, hopefully, basis laying beginning to an exciting adventure.

And here she is...

Stevie Marie is the author of young adult paranormal fantasy and the Divine Series. Born within the apex of another universe, where magic flows like leaky faucets, and forged from the fires of the Underrealm she dug her way to Earth and reluctantly participates in human society, secretly returning to her home world to relay the stories of her monsters, and the troubled love of her people. When she isn’t writing she’s crafting clothing in her sewing room, cuddling her significant-other creature, or pretending to adult by managing a portfolio of properties for an accounting business in the rainy city of Seattle, Washington.
·  Website:
·  Twitter: @authormarie


Sneak Peek: The Sage's Reign by Shakyra Dunn with Giveaway

The Sage's Reign
The Final Lesson Book 2
by Shakyra Dunn
YA Fantasy

Eternal night looms over Adrylis.

After her Grimoire is lost to the Order of Helix, Leilana is left to prepare herself in a newfound way before her return to the crown city of Linmus to help reclaim Prince Remiel's throne. One by one, countries lay burning at their feet. Magic is on its last legs, but the Orb of Concord is within their reach.

From the opposite spectrum, the mastermind awaits, playing puppet-master as they march to their doom. Time is against them as the final moonless night looms above. The final test from the Warlords of Old has finally come into play.

Goodreads * Amazon


Six moonless nights passed, and time etched away like a pen to paper. Six
months in the dark. One by one, regions fell at the hands of the Order of Helix,
and all that Prince Remiel’s party could do to quell the ordeal was train
themselves further and prepare for the war at their doorstep, all the while
keeping updated through Leilana’s radio and occasional travel.
Rem pushed open the slightly ajar door, tucking away his neck-length
scruffy dark hair. “Leilana?”
Leilana was planted in the center of her room with shut eyes, mumbling
charms in the Minsuran tongue, incense illuminating the room in place of
lanterns. Uh oh, she was in one of her zones, which meant that his timing was all
wrong. Filling any free space around her were open notebooks, every page filled,
and Rem didn’t want to overstep his bounds to approach her. One solid misstep,
or even a word out of context, and she was sure to chew him out. The last thing
that he wanted was to aggravate her. Solus was always better at handling these
She remained perfectly still, her lips continuing to move at a timed pace,
her voice hushed and hollow beneath the crackling wood of the incense. She
wasn’t going to hear him if he called her name again, so he would have to rouse
her the hard way. He stepped off of his right heel and planted a single toe rather
than his foot over one of the nearby books, bringing his left leg over to bypass
the remaining paper-bounds. He attempted to keep his footsteps as slow and
purposeful as possible, not wanting to risk her snapping out of her fixated stupor.
“You don’t have to sneak, you know.” Rem flinched at the address in fluent
Sentience, cutting through her unwavering concentration. She didn’t open her
eyes, but she did lower her head as if drifting between slumber and waking from
a long dream. “Is something wrong?”
“Not wrong at all. I think it’s something you can use to your advantage.” He
held up his index finger. “Two things, matter of fact. Gale got wind of where we
can find Lunious through his-” Leilana’s eyes snapped open, a guttural snarl
rushing past her once pursed lips. Rem nearly fell on his back out of fear alone.
Her vengeance was festering for months, but now it was in full bloom. “P-Please
don’t shoot the messenger.”
Leilana cleared her throat, tucking some loose strands of her lengthening
wavy hair behind her ear. “Sorry. What else is going on?”
“You remember that little hint you told us? Solus and I started putting
pieces together about places in Adrylis that fit the mold. It has to be someplace
recently impacted by magic, particularly fire. Maybe the ash from the flames
causes it to rain down.”
“But that wouldn’t be a permanent occurrence.”
“I wasn’t done explaining.” Leilana nearly scoffed but decided to withhold
her disdain. “Solus had another idea—what if we overlooked something on your
map? The only places remaining that could involve smoke would be towns that
have a lot of mining. It would explain the idea of ash always falling, and maybe
those people get covered in the flakes when they’re working or whenever ash
from the mines spread, which would add up ‘cloaked in shadow,’ since it’s the
same shade.”
Leilana’s lips parted. Mining. How had she not considered that? There were
farming towns and shrines, and even reserves scattered all over the landscape,
and yet mining towns never came up anywhere in her mind. Maybe it was her
overanalytical thinking that everything in scriptures had to be sentimental. It
made perfect sense. The fates sure did love toying with her head, it seemed.
“We’re going to find my grimoire, scout out as many places as we can with
that description, then we’re going to find our Orb of Concord, end the war, get
on with our lives.”
“Good plan! Great plan!” He collided his fist with hers, and she giggled at
the enthusiasm. “Got in all of your meditation for the day? Solus wants to get
things rolling while it’s still early out, and Gale’s got our breakfast all packed.”
“I think I’m prepared enough,” she replied. Resting on her bed was a long
metallic staff, freshly polished, basking under the morning glow. She could see
dust on the nightstand and assortment of books drifting about, but now that the
time to move on had come at long last, there was little left that she wanted to
accomplish in terms of cleaning up after herself.
With a sweep of her hand, the flames burning the wood-scented incense
promptly ceased to exist, a puffy haze of smoke left to fester in the room. Rem
inhaled the aroma, far used to the sensation. She stepped towards the nightstand,
clasping her hands around the staff. The bearings were rough on her hands,
tearing into her skin the harder that she grasped the weapon, but she was well
trained—the pain had gradually minimized to a dull ache rather than outright
“Are you sure you don’t want one more lesson before we get back out
there?” Rem’s face was reflecting into the metal, his confident expression
carrying her mind into a comforting place. Leilana couldn’t help but smile. He
always did get antsy when change was coming.
“I’m in the middle of one,” she replied. “I don’t want to tack on too many
side-missions knowing that. I’m one step closer to becoming a Warlord, and this
task will prove worthy in showing me how much loss has affected my skills.”
“Well, that loss is going to strengthen you, and all of us as well.” He
glanced back when he heard his name and he rested a hand on her shoulder
before gesturing towards the door. “I’m going first. Sol’s calling me. Try not to
slow me down, yeah?”
“I don’t plan to.”
As Rem departed, she allowed her gaze to waver over the surroundings she
had familiarized herself with for the last six months. Six grueling months of
working to the bone, coming to understand that magic and power can only be
formed with her own two hands, ending in the place where they began. The staff
in her hands was a symbolism of growth. She could be of better use with two
forms of attack, even after she retrieved her grimoire. Her time had come.
She decided to change clothes after going through the wardrobe in the
corner, settling with her white uniform blouse underneath a black vest, dusting
off a knee-length tan skirt. She wiggled her toes around her tanned flats, satisfied
with the feel. Afterward, she stepped into the hall, where Sien, Solus, and Rem
were awaiting her. All three of them stood near the door.
“Took you long enough!” Sien stated. On her back was a bow and a quiver
filled with arrows, her long red hair braided in two pigtails hanging past her
shoulders. She was dressed in an ankle-length tanned dress, her boots concealing
her legs. “We were worried that you were thinking of backing out!”
“There’s no way that I’d turn down this kind of opportunity.”
Solus chuckled, his tied shoulder-length hair practically bouncing with him.
“Happy to hear it.” He rested a hand on his dark brown pants, the sleeves of his
baggy shirt slightly overlapping his arms. “I was hoping that you would keep the
faith.” Rem was bouncing in his spot, a big grin plaguing his face. “All in good
faith and all that, can we go now? Please? Pretty please?”
“All right, all right,” Solus laughed, patting the boy’s head. “We’re going.
Gale and Luna have given us their regards in advance. All that we need to do is
set off. We will return here, someday. For now, we finish what we have begun.”
“Rula!” Rem called, “We’re leaving! Are you coming?” From the kitchen,
Rula came running, his tail swishing back and forth.
“Actually, I’ve decided to stay here with Lulu and Gale,” he explained.
Rem raised an eyebrow. “What? Seriously?”
Rula lowered himself into a position where it appeared that he would
pounce, and when he did, Sien caught him in her arms. “Luna says that when
Lancett is done taking care of the initial work in Linarus, she wants to go back to
help gather people to the city. Once everything is in order, I’ll be able to return
home to the mountains. I don’t want to be too far away.”
“Well, I guess if you’re sure, we won’t stop you.” Sien rubbed the young
Dirionus behind his elongated ears, and Rula graciously tilted his head to the
“You were a big help to us,” Solus stated. “We are grateful to you,
Rulakinja. Best of luck to you. Your master would be proud of you.” Rula was
gazing at each one of them as the words reached his ears before he covered his
eyes with the fuzzy limbs. Sien giggled at the embarrassment he was showing
You guys are too much!” Rula proclaimed. “Stop picking on me!”
“Aw, no one’s picking on you,” Rem replied, patting Rula’s head. “We just
want you to know that you’re loved, no matter what.”
Then you don’t think I’m just some monster?” Rula whimpered, staring up
at Rem.
“If anything, I’m a monster too.” Rem bore his teeth, holding up both arms
before chomping his teeth down. “A big scary Bloodlinch with spooky powers!
Grr!” Rula pounced forward, hitting his face with his tail, causing Rem to falter.
Leilana and Sien couldn’t help but laugh. “Rude! Very rude!”
Monsters aren’t all bad if you’re one then!”
“All right, all right, enough of the fun. We’ve got to get moving,” Solus

The Final Lesson
The Final Lesson Book 1

"Trust none but yourself."

Leilana Erovina's got a bid for power as she takes the final test to become one of her realm's Warlords. As such, she sets out to travel the lands of Adrylis and log magical totems from respectful folk with only one hitch—no ancestral help. The quest is a pilgrimage to learn the basics of human nature. Some would call concepts like gentleness and passion fables of the heart.

In another perspective, war brews in the kingdom of Linmus, throwing Adrylis into chaos. Prince Remiel Vesarus finds himself in exile, vengeance on his mind for those who tore his life asunder. His attendant Solus Brenner at his side, they plan on restoring their kingdom against all odds.

Fate has drawn these two parties together. Conjoined at the hip, the traveler, prince and right-hand will learn the old saying of magic: "It always comes with a price."

Shakyra Dunn can't stray away from the impression that there is always an adventure around every corner! When she isn't playing the role of the Creator, she is marching through the worlds of her favorite video game characters or taking drives around her city to see the sights. Born in Chicago, Illinois, she currently resides in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, striving to experience more than the little town.

Follow the tour HERE for exclusive content and a giveaway!