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Friday, August 1, 2014

First Friday - Five Favorite Things - Debut Novel Day

US book cover for "Far from You"

by Dave Amaditz and
Marcy Collier

As summer is winding down, Marcy and I still have a lot more on our reading list. If you’re looking for a terrific debut novel, check out our post today for a book we couldn’t put down.

Welcome to August’s version of - First Friday - Five Favorite Things - Debut Novel Day. In this monthly series, we ask five simple questions about a debut novel that will hopefully entice anyone reading this post to pick up the novel and read it themselves, and/or give them at a glance some insight into the author's writing style and voice as well as how some of the characters might think or act. We do this by presenting, first, answers to our Five Favorite Things, followed by the author's answers in a follow-up post.

This month we're pleased to highlight debut YA novelist, Tess Sharpe and her novel, Far From You. To describe the story in one word… Wow! To describe the story in a few sentences… It’s a love story, a murder mystery, and the quest for a young girl, Sophie, to begin the search for who she is - - without the help of her best friend, who has been murdered.

1) What is your favorite line or paragraph from the novel as it relates to the main character's development and/or growth?

Dave – As with Marcy (see her answer below) I chose a mantra that is repeated throughout the novel. To me, this is another thing that helped define Sophie… who she is and what motivates her.

This section comes from early in the novel when Sophie is riding with her aunt, Macy, a bounty hunter. Mina is the name of Sophie’s best friend who was murdered.

Macy taps her fingers against the steering wheel. She’s itching to get going, to chase down that guy and put him in jail where he belongs.

I know that feeling, that drive for justice. All the women in my family have it. Macy’s is wrapped up in the chase, in the hard and fast and brutal judgment, and Mom’s is wrapped up in rules and laws and juries, the courtroom her chosen battlefield.

Mine is wrapped up in Mina, magnified by her, defined by her, existing because of her.

Marcy – This mantra is repeated over and over (days and months changing and increasing) throughout the novel. For me, this helped carry Sophie and her story through the book. If she focused on how long she had been drug-free and stayed clean, she might be able to get through all of the awful things that were happening in her life.

Six months. Five days. Ten hours.

That’s how long I’ve been clean, and I repeat it over and over to myself. As long as I focus on that, as long as I’m committed to making that number rise, minute by minute, day by day, I’m going to be okay. I have to be.

2) What is your favorite chapter ending or cliffhanger?

Dave - I think I could’ve listed every chapter ending because they were all so tense and they all made me want to keep reading. Plus, there were so many cliffhangers throughout the story that made me sit on the edge of my seat. And yes, I had on my list the one Marcy picked below, so I won’t list that. And I won’t list the one that was my very favorite because it’s at the end of the book and will give away the story. So I’ll pick another. I think you’ll like it, too.

A click. It’s familiar. Dread surges through me. I’m blocking Trev. Maybe I can save him, like I should’ve saved her. I spin around, instinctually, toward the noise, and for the second time in my life, I’m looking down the barrel of a gun.

Marcy – Usually I go for the cliffhanger ending, but this time, I chose the tearjerker. I won’t go into details. You’ll have to read the novel to find out!

I curl my fingers around the ring so tightly, I’m surprised the word stamped into the silver doesn’t carve its way into me the way she did.

3) Who is your favorite secondary character and why?

Dave – There are so many great secondary characters in this story. All have such strong personalities. All are so believable in everything they do. I went back and forth between picking Mina and Trev (as well as Rachael for a while, too). In the end, however, I settled on Mina. I hope this short passage helps to explain why.

“Oh, Soph.” Mina practically deflates. She sits down next to me. “What happened to you was horrible,” she says. “Beyond horrible. And it isn’t fair or right that Trev and I came out of it fine and you…” She trails off. “But gross?” She presses her hand against my heart. Her thumb brushes up against the edge of the scar on my chest. “This isn’t gross. You know what I think when I see this?”

I shake my head.

Her voice drops. She’s whispering, a secret for just the two of us: “I think about how strong you are. You didn’t stop fighting, even when your heart stopped. You came back.”

Marcy – I chose Rachael as my favorite secondary character. Rachael is the one who finds Sophie after she witnesses the murder of her best friend Mina. Rachael is an offbeat character who genuinely wants to help Sophie. She always believes her new friend and is never judgmental. This scene takes place when Sophie comes to Rachel’s house and asks for help in solving Mina’s murder. These two paragraphs show how Sophie sees Rachael.

She smiles, a big stretch that shows all of her teeth, so genuine it almost hurts. I don’t think I can even remember how to smile like that.

There’s a determination in Rachael that I’ve never seen before. She has conviction. In herself, in what she wants, in what she believes. I want to be like that. To be sure of myself. Rachel had stuck around when she didn’t have to. When everyone else, everyone who’s know me forever, had turned their backs. That means more to me than anything.

4) What is your favorite line or paragraph of description?

Dave – Again, there are so many to choose from, but I picked this particular passage from early in the novel because it says so much about the conflicted feelings Sophie experienced. And for me, anyhow, and without giving too much away, was a much more powerful passage once I read further into the story. (Sophie is with Trev, Mina’s brother and close friend since early childhood.)

I let myself be touched. Kissed. Undressed and eased back onto the wooden floor scarred with the remnants of our childhood.

I let myself feel it. Allow his skin to sink into mine.

I let myself because this is exactly what I need: this terrible idea, this beautiful, messy distraction.

And if somewhere in the middle both of our faces are wet with tears, it doesn’t matter so much. We’re doing this for all the wrong reasons, anyway.

Later, I stare at his face in the moonlight and wonder if he can tell that I kissed him like I already know the shape of his lips. Like I’ve mapped them in my mind, in another life. Learned them from another person who shared his eyes and nose and mouth, but who is never coming back.

Marcy – This powerful paragraph left a punch and a strong image in my mind that haunted me until the end of the story.

The second time, I remember everything. The beam of the car’s brights. The shooter’s eyes shining at us through his mask. How steady his finger is on the trigger. Mina’s hand clutching mine, our nails digging into each other’s flesh.

After, I’ll trace my fingers over those bloody half-moon marks and realize they’re all I have left of her.

5) What is your favorite line of dialogue?

Dave – This line, well, actually two lines, are from the end of the novel. A short discourse between Sophie and her mom.

“That can’t be an excuse,” I say. “There can’t be any excuses. Every single therapist you’ve sent me to will tell you that. I’m an addict. I’ll always be an addict. Just like I’ll always be crippled. And you’ve never been okay with either. I am. It took me a long time, but I am. You need to be, too.”

“I’m okay with who you are, Sophie,” she says. “I love who you are. I love you no matter what.”

Marcy – Sophie has a strained relationship with her mother and isn’t afraid to be blunt sometimes when talking with her.

“You want me to play the gimp card?” I cut in, and she flinches like I’ve slapped her.

To read more about Tess Sharpe’s debut YA novel Far From You please go to:

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Audiobook reviews: 5-star MG novels for family listening

by Susan Chapek

Today I'll piggyback on the recent post in which Kitty Griffin suggests two "musts" for selecting audiobooks.

The audiobooks on this list meet both of her criteria, and I found them all on my neighborhood library shelf. 

I'd recommend any of them for a family car trip with middle graders as the youngest passengers. I chose novels I consider new classics—honored books that some kids might postpone reading on the page ("too serious; too long; too literary"). But for a read-aloud? They're the audio equivalent of page-turners. And that would go for most adult listeners, too. 

I list them in order of original print edition publication date.

The versions I recommend are performed by narrators on my personal 5-star list. 

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (Mildred Taylor; Random House/Listening Library edition narrated by Lynne Thigpen) 

The Westing Game (Ellen Raskin; Recorded Books edition narrated by Jeff Woodman) 

The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 (Christopher Paul Curtis; Random House/Listening Library edition narrated by LeVar Burton) 

When You Reach Me (Rebecca Stead; Random House/Listening Library edition narrated by Cynthia Holloway)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Story Starts From Images

by Cynthia Light Brown


I'm vacationing on Bald Head Island, NC (a truly lovely place). There's a golf course on the island, weaving between the maritime forest here and ponds. At one pond there's always a large alligator, above. Couple of days ago, there was a smaller one - about 4' long, swam out to the center, and this guy swam after him and attacked. There was a ferocious rolling....and then there was one. I didn't actually see it - arrived that evening - but talked to a guy who saw it.

The alligators sometimes stroll on the greens, so maybe your mc is out for a round of golf, and....
Or your mc is fishing...
Or in your picture book, an alligator waits perfectly still, only his nostrils flaring.

Or how about this? Two friends:

This is a snowy egret and an ibis, although it's hard to tell. Someone walked by and they both flew off....to the same tree a hundred yards away.

Or put all 3 together for an interesting tale.

Friday, July 18, 2014

What Happens on the Playground Stays on the Playground by Andrea Perry

Are any of you familiar with Iona and Peter Opie's The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren?
Taken directly from the oral tradition of British schoolchildren, 5000(!) of them during the 1950's, the Opies compiled a unique anthology of children's games, punishments, wishes, beliefs, and regulation.  From 70 varied schools in cities as well as remote rural areas, Iona and Peter worked independently with no grants, no funding, and no publishing advances to provide an amazing view of the "unadulterated" lore of the schoolchild.  This encyclopedic text is exhaustively indexed by general category, contributing schools, geography, and first lines. I have had this book for months and still am only about a quarter of the way through it, delighting in every detail.
The chapters of the book include  Riddles, Topical Rhymes, Nicknames and Epithets, Children's Calendar, Pranks, and Unpopular Children: Jeers and Torments to  name but a few.
Though nursery rhymes pass from mother to child, school rhymes circulate from child to child and are not intended for adult ears.. All of the rhymes were generated by and for children only.  I doubt there is anyone who would read this treasure and not recognize something:

In Pranks:  Bell Ringing
"Me don't know, me can't tell,
 Me press a button and run like hell"

Children's Calendar:  Pancake Day ( Shrove Tuesday)
"Tippety, tippety tin
 Give me a pancake and I will come in
 Tippety tippety toe
 Give me a pancake and I will go"

Nicknames and Epithets:  School Food
"Say what you will,
 school dinners make you ill
 And Shepherd's Pie
 Makes Davy Crockett cry:
 All school din-dins
 come from pigs' bins
    -that's no lie"

 Unpopulare Children: Lament
"Nobody loves me
 everybody hates me,
 Going in the garden to eat worms.
 Big fat juicy ones
  little squiggly, niggly ones
 going in the garden to eat worms."

Skipping Rope Rhynes:
"I like coffee
 I like tea
 I like radio and tv"

"Marilyn Monroe
 Fell in the snow
 Her skirt blew up
 and the boy said, "Oh!"

Though the topics and terminology have changed with the times, there is much here that we all remember.  As a matter of fact, some of the rhymes used for counting-out or skipping are practically identical to rhymes known 130 years ago. 
Even if you are not a hopeless rhymeaholic like I am, you will find something to love in this encyclopedia of childhood.
I will leave you with a favorite tongue twister:

"A woman to her son did utter
  Go, my son, and shut the shutter
  The shutter's shut, the son did utter
  I cannot shut it any shutter."

Submitted by Andrea Perry

Friday, July 11, 2014

Building Balance

The Good, the Bad, and the Clunky  Audiobook Reviews
 By Kitty Griffin 


I’ve become infected. I’ve always enjoyed hearing stories read aloud, so this isn’t a new infection. It’s just an old one reestablishing itself.

I’ve just joined Audible.

(And it’s good. Not as comfy as my dear Grampy’s big lap. I don’t smell Old Spice. I can’t feel his whiskers, but I’ve found comfort.)

When teaching, I often encouraged my students to look at a story from as many angles as they could. In fact, the mid-term was to take a beloved book, one that had been turned into a movie, and compare every creative aspect of it, determining what worked and what didn’t.

It’s wonderful to read stories.
It’s wonderful to listen to stories.
It’s wonderful to see them (unless Hollywood does what they did to Ella Enchanted then it’s not wonderful, it’s sickening—but that’s another review).

Let’s start with what makes an audiobook work.


There are two voices in an audiobook. The voice of the main character and the voice of the reader. Those two voices have to be in harmony for things to work well. They need to balance, with one side not heavier/lighter than the other.

So I’ll give you a story that became C, or CLUNKY for me. A story that didn't balance.

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas.
Reviews of the book are quite good. Folks loved it. I had the chance to get the book and the audio version for a very decent price (like two bucks).

I didn’t listen to the sample. BIG BOO BOO.

So, I get to the gym, turn on my player and
Thunk. Clunk.

The voice I heard was so harsh it was like fingernails on a chalkboard to my ears.
It made me hate the main character, Celaena Sardothien. I mean hate her so much that after an hour of listening I was done. Later, I tried to read the story but that harsh voice scraped my brain and that was that. My money was wasted.

Go and listen to the free sample on Amazon. See what you think. The narrator, Elizabeth Evans, has read quite a few books. I find it interesting that in the review for a book called “Jesus Land” the writer said this: “She afforded the mother a sharp, intolerant voice that I may not have been as affected by.”

Exactly. A sharp voice.

Even a soothing, mellow voice of Scott Holst couldn’t help Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter for me.

When you keep saying to yourself, “Is he serious?” until that phrase separates you from the story, it’s time to give up.
So, good voice, story stretched beyond my very pliable “suspension of disbelief” boundary.
(I know, a lot of folks loved this book. Shrug. It’s all personal taste and this one just didn’t work for me.)

So that’s an audiobook that got a B. Bad story didn't work for me. 

Now we come to G for good.  

We’ll start these reviews with A FOR ADVENTURE!

Airman by Eoin Colfer

This is ADVENTURE ADVENTURE! Yes. I’m shouting that. Fourteen year-old Conor Broekhart dreams of flying, for these are the early days, before man has figured out how to do it. After a horrible series of horrible events (warning: if you have a sensitive child, you may want to read this book first, Colfer doesn’t hold back with violence). Conor ends up in prison where he must find a way to break out if he is to save the princess and keep his beloved country from being ruled by a madman.
(I told you it was an adventure!)
The reader, John Keating (who also reads many of the Ranger’s Apprentice series) is very skilled at changing his voice. The prison guard has a whine, the old magician’s voice is thin and scratchy, the tutor has a French accent, and Conor speaks with a wonderful Irish brogue, the timbre of his voice is like a lovely Irish tenor, smooth and so delightful to listen to.
G for good, yes, very good.

The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima is part of a quartet calld the Seven Realms.

The Exiled Queen
The Gray Wolf Throne
The Crimson Crown

If you go to Good Reads you’ll see that this book has 24,894 ratings and it’s earned a 4.22 out of 5.
Seriously superior, and it has the awards to prove it.

This is a YA, Young Adult book, but easily readable for younger readers who are skilled. 

This series involves a number of characters and the story switches between them.

The two main characters are Princess Raisa and Han Allister.
It is adventure, it’s fantasy, and it’s romance. More of a girl’s book, but it wouldn’t surprise me if boys might not secretly enjoy it, too. After all, there’s plenty of adventure, battles, one on one combat.

I really enjoyed the series. I’m not sure I would’ve been caught up with the stories had I chosen to read the books.

The reader, Carol Monda has a smooth, wonderful tone. She changes into various characters with ease. She makes these changes with accents or adding gruffness, whatever the changes are so believable that without a doubt she adds to the story.

I loved listening to these books and I forgave the over-writing and story stretches. 
G for good, wonderfully good.

Trickster’s Choice by Tamora Pierce

Trickster’s Queen

Again, adventure and fantasy, this pair of books by the fantasy master, Tamora Pierce.
With nearly 30,000 ratings on Good Reads, this book has a 4.24.

It's considered YA, Young Adult. It's adventure and coming of age, and there's romance that buds and leads to marriage and kissing that leads to a bit more. It's high fantasy on a world that has gods and magic and mystery, which all leads to mayhem! 

This story dances with one of Pierce’s liveliest and fiercest girls, Alianne, the daughter of the Lioness and the Trickster. At the start of the story, Ali is bored. She seeks adventure, and it’s what she finds when she takes a little boat planning to prove to her parents…well, whatever she wanted to prove is lost when the pirates grab her.

The reader for this set is Trini Alvarado. Again we have a voice that is flowing, charming and inviting. She makes changes with such subtlety that it becomes musical.

I was really quite enchanted with the fantasy, the mystery, and the excitement.

G for good, great, glorious!


Monday, July 7, 2014

First Friday Five Favorite Things - Nil

by Lynne Matson

This past Friday, July 4, 2014, Marcy and I posted our answers to Lynne’s debut novel, NIL. We would like to congratulate Lynne on her debut novel and for providing us with her responses which will give you terrific insight into her intricate characters.

BIO: Lynne Matson grew up in Georgia in a house full of books and a backyard full of gnarly pines. Back then, Lynne would stay up late, reading Nancy Drew books under the covers (with a flashlight . . . a weak attempt at ninja stealth). Now she still stays up late reading books and writing them. When she doesn’t have a book in her hand, you’ll find her listening to music, messing around with paint, or hanging out with her husband and their four boys. Cookies are her kryptonite, especially Thin Mints.:)

Thank y’all so much for having me! I love the format of this interview, and the questions!

1) What is your favorite line or paragraph from the novel as it relates to the main character's development and/or growth? 

I chose the following paragraph (okay, I cheated, because it’s actually a few paragraphs :D) from Charley’s point of view. Charley is the newcomer. She’s still putting the pieces of Nil together, and the following excerpt shows how she thinks: how she both sees the island and questions it at the same time . . . even as she struggles to figure the island out. The following excerpt also highlights the beauty and horror of Nil, a dual vibe running throughout the novel.

The sun sparkled, rising into a cloudless sky. The ocean lay ahead, stretching until it met the horizon, blue kissing blue. Close to shore, the waves broke and retreated. But for the first time since I’d set foot on Nil, the beach was full of people and activity. A firepit wafted lazy smoke into the air. Around the fire, kids laughed ad talked. Two shirtless boys were playing catch with a coconut, their shoulders and backs rippling under a sheen of sweat. The girl built like a Playboy bunny was sprinting down the beach beside a tall boy with dreadlocks, like an advertisement for island athletic wear. Other kids floated on surfboards past the whitewater. It looked like an island retreat, like the perfect Hawaiian vacation spot.

Something twanged, like when a violinist strikes a sour note.

“Natalie,” I said, turning, “where are the adults? The little kids?”

2) What is your favorite chapter ending or cliffhanger?

Oh, great question! And tough. :D Probably the very last one, but since I don’t want to give away the ending, I’m going to pick one of my absolute favorites from early in the novel. From Charley’s point of view, and it’s the same one Marcy picked! Why? Because this chapter ending drives home how surprising Nil is at the most unexpected moments…and how frightening too.

I took another step and my toe hit something hard. My sandal caught and stuck. I looked down, and when I realized what I’d kicked, I screamed. 

It was a human skull.

3) Who is your favorite secondary character and why?

Nil has a full cast of secondary characters, and this question is like asking me to pick among my children!  (I have 4 boys btw…so I know all about large casts of characters. :D)

Rives is one of my absolute favorites. He’s strong, a Leader-in-waiting, and he’s not only one of Thad’s Second, he’s Thad’s undisputed wingman, the one Thad trusts most. He’s close to Thad, and Charley, and he’s clearly the glue of the City in Thad’s wake. Through his relationship with Talla, the reader learns that Rives is more than he appears, that pain lurks beneath the easy-going exterior. Plus, he’s got the most international background of all the teens on Nil, giving Rives depth that Nil barely scratches the surface of.

Another favorite secondary character? Dex. I love Dex. How he arrives, and grows as a character. Dex provides much needed humor at just the right moments. Other faves? Ramia, because she’s creepy and mysterious. Jason, Li, Natalie….I’ll stop.:)

4) What is your favorite line or paragraph of description?

I have so many! I love the one that y’all both picked, the one from Thad’s point of view.

Here’s another. From Thad’s point of view as well, but Charley is the speaker. It captures the tick tock of Nil, the sense that it’s temporary--that everyone arrives with a personal expiration date already stamped in invisible-yet-permanent ink. That even though it’s gorgeous, danger lies beneath Nil’s beauty:

She shook her head. “I’ve never seen such beauty. The black sand, the Crystal Cove. The Flower Field. Even the red lava field was beautiful in its own freaky way. But it’s not really real. Because in three hundred fifty-two days, it will all disappear, right?” Charley turned to me, and her golden eyes were haunted.

The façade was gone. For Charley, Nil’s mask had finally cracked, this time for good.

5) What is your favorite line of dialogue?

Again, I have many.:) But I’ll pick one where Natalie, a veteran and former Leader, is talking to Charley in their hut one night. The dialogue comes in the contest of a conversation about Thad, but the implications are much broader.

Twisting her covers between her fingers, she spoke quietly. “I know this sounds old school, but don’t waste a minute. Not one. Time flies here, faster than you’re ready for. No regrets, okay?”

Time does fly fast on Nil, and the idea of “no regrets” plays a big role. Time flies fast everywhere, actually. :D #deepthoughtfortheday

Thank for having me! Welcome to the #NILtribe, Marcy and Dave!

To read more about Lynn Matson’s debut YA novel Nil, please go to:

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/LSMatson        
BookMark (signed copies):  Atlantic Beach, FL. (http://www.bookmarkbeach.com)