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In Black Lightning, by K.S. Jones, readers meet Samuel, whose mother was recently killed in a car accident. Because Samuel’s father disappeared some time ago, the boy is deemed an orphan. Although his mother intends for him to live with his grandfather, Samuel’s uncle’s wife has different plans for the boy. All this leads to Samuel’s running away and eventually ending up in another world where surprises and challenges await him. When Samuel experiences a test of faith in himself, he learns not to give up on his dreams—even when others have told him that something is impossible.
Few things make me happier than to find a great read for a middle-grader. The reason should be obvious: there are so few of them. Yes, at times one stumbles upon a good story. But rarely does one stumble across a great story that is also well told, and therefore, appropriate for recommending to middle-grade readers. I was delighted to find just such a thing with Black Lighting. In it, K.S. Jones provides her readers with a suggested and intriguing connection to the Native-American culture. Best of all, the story, which is told as a fantasy of sorts, includes elements with an almost sci-fi bent. If you’re looking for something for your middle-grade reader, check out this Literary Classics award winner, Black Lightning.
Thank you, NetGalley, for this opportunity to read and to review, Code Girls.
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It should come as no surprise to learn that woman played extraordinary roles in assisting the U.S. armed forces during WWII, but having an actual account of some of the roles they played is quite unusual. Liza Mundy offers, in Code Girls, an interesting history of the (primarily young) women who helped to break the communications codes of the axis powers. I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about these women and especially appreciated the account of how they set up entirely false units and communications to assist with keeping the plans for the Normandy landing on D-Day a secret from the enemies of the U.S. and its allies. For anyone interested in code-breaking in general, and in learning more about these times, I highly recommend Code Girls.
In the past, when I noticed time flying quickly by, I’d comment with things like, “It must be due to the holidays,” or “It must be the season.” I’ve long since learned, however, that it is always the season for being busy. And so, as the calendar moves to September and autumn approaches, we Quills return once again with our thoughts on “books we love.” (How it is that we actually find time to read them remains one of the greatest mysteries of all time.)
First up this time, is Robin Lythgoe, author of As the Crow Flies.
I really love chatting with my readers, and in a recent email exchange someone recommended a book for my Flinch-Free Fantasy list: The Dragon and the George, by Gordon R. Dickson.
Hey! I’ve read that!
About a million years ago…
I recall liking it, and the foggy memory tickled my brain until I had to go pick up a copy and read it again. It didn’t disappoint. True, the style is dated and it took a little too long for the real action to start, but what a fun read.
A modern couple is transported into another version of our world. The kicker? Our hero ends up in the body of…
Now let's turn our attention to P.S. Broaddus, author of A Hero's Curse. Take it away, Parker!
The Hardy Boys series is formulaic and simple, and often plods into the cliche. I couldn't help thinking however, how well they build their mysteries through the story. While bland, they get the formula right. I just finished a second one in as many weeks, and it was a good study in the structure of the genre. While I may not want to copy The Hardy Boys series when writing my own mystery, there's value in internalizing the genre, the beats, and the structure on display. You've got to know the rules before you break them and I love that the series feels like a set of training wheels for writers. Fun, whimsical, dated training wheels.
But I didn't come here to talk about The Hardy Boys. I've actually been ruminating on a story I just finished that involved an old man and a big fish...
Finally, here are my thoughts.
Recently, I read Robin Hobb’s Liveship Traders Trilogy, consisting of Ship of Magic, Mad Ship, and Ship of Destiny.
While I wouldn’t say I “love” these books, exactly, there are parts of this series that I very much enjoyed—so much so that I quickly read them one right after the next.
I liked the set-up of the Bingtown’s oldest families and I loved the concept of the liveships. As for the characters, I appreciated their diversity. That said, I found that while Althea was often in the spotlight, she wasn’t one of my favorites. Neither were any of the others in her family—with the possible exception of her nephew, Wintrow. In fact, I found that some of the worst characters in terms of their morality or lack thereof, were some of my favorites. I thought the pirate, Kennit, was well drawn, and Hobb offered a believable story as to how he came to be the man he was. I also rather liked his woman, Etta. She was ruthless and cruel, but there was something vulnerable about her at the same time. I did find a fair amount of repetition, although I appreciate that such can happen in a series. Finally, I discovered as I have with various Hobb’s characters in the past, that some are frustrating “whiners,” including Althea’s niece, Malta, by way of example.
All that said, I appreciated the concept of the dragons and how they played into the story (although I didn’t care much for the time spent with the "serpents"). I also found that I couldn’t buy into the concept of the “dead dragons” who clearly lived on. So . . . there’s that . . .
In the end though, I recommend this series.
So, what great reads would you like to share with us?
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No One Needed to Know, by D. G. Driver, opens when Heidi (who so wishes she’d been named something more fitting, like “Storm”), and her brother, Donald, engage in a make-believe battle on a “boat” set that sits in the midst of their local park. Right off, the reader learns something interesting about Heidi who, in response to Donald’s question about whether he’d stopped the bad guy, tells him, “No.” She can’t explain why her “impulse was always to turn him down,” yet it was. Soon, the reader discovers that Donald is not your “typical” 16-year old. Rather, his learning disability means that Heidi, his younger sister, is already ahead of him in some regards. Her awareness of that fact is growing in her pre-teen years, and with it comes her frustration with his behavior—behavior she cannot fully understand. Seeking to engage in more “grown-up” ventures, new troubles take hold for Heidi, as she discovers that Donald is bullied. But in her attempts to help him, she too becomes a victim of harassment. Fortunately for the both of them, Heidi eventually provides the means for building a bridge toward understanding--for herself and for others.
D.G. Driver offers middle grade readers a lesson in bullying in her award-winning, No One Needed to Know. Having been bullied herself as a girl—because she had a “differently-abled” brother—Driver quickly gets to the heart of the matter. When someone stands out as “different,” often others may not know how to speak, what questions to ask, or even how to act. Driver’s story illustrates for both the young and the not-so-young, that bullying is never acceptable, and that a better understanding will likely bring about better results.
August is upon us and we Quills now turn our attention to our favorite songs to write by—our top 10, that is!
I thought I'd go ahead and share first this time. My fellow-Quills, Robin and Parker, have thoughts to share with you as well, so keep reading.
I thoroughly enjoy having music playing while I write. It can create such an emotional environment. Sometimes it’s presence makes for the difference between my simply feeling something internally as I write it—and actually laughing out loud--or perhaps even weeping. I find that my tastes tend—for writing purposes anyway—toward the melancholy. Thus, here are my top 10. As a bonus for you, in most instances, they are not just for single song titles. Rather, they are full soundtracks. So, here goes--
In addition, I would add almost anything “Celtic” and/or from Enya. Here's where Spotify and Pandora come in handy.
These tunes and others like them help to set my mood and to keep me creative.
What about you? What ideas do you have for me that I should add to my list?
Next up is Parker. That's P.S. Broaddus, author of A Hero's Curse.
Imagine a busy journalist's bullpen, with phones ringing, reporters talking, laughing and yelling, screens flashing, and papers occasionally flying. I can write there. A busy mall, with the flurry of shopping and eating. I can write there. A quiet office, with nothing but the occasional hum of the air conditioner or the click of the printer. I can write there. So long as the environment doesn't demand my personal attention and intervention, I can write. (It's harder to write at home with the boys running around my desk - they aren't just noise. They necessitate intervention).
So when it comes to music, I can write to a lot of things. Pandora Radio might be tuned to a Mumford & Sons or Lumineers station, or country, or Christian radio. Like many writers, I do enjoy instrumental music. Something with a cello is sure to be listened to with favor.
Then there are a few select songs that I turn on, not as background noise, but as a part of my writing process. Songs that run through my blood and sometimes even shape the story as I go...
Read more at http://www.psbroaddus.com/2017/08/04/a-drift-of-quills-writing-musically/.
Finally, Robin Lythgoe, author of As the Crow Flies, has some music-inspired ideas for us.
I write better when there is music playing.
I dream better.
Music is powerful stuff. Thanks to my mom and older sisters, I grew up listening to a wonderful variety of music. Sadly, not a one of us can play any instrument but the stereo. But just like with my reading and writing, I gravitated to certain genres of music.
When I’m writing, that selection narrows even further.
I need music with no words—unless the words are…
more at http://robinlythgoe.com/drift-quills-muse-department-music.
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Every now and then I hear someone say that she is not a fan of “fantasy.” That always makes me chuckle, because I’m fairly certain that if asked, most of the people who say that would admit that the stories they most enjoyed (whether reading them or watching them in movie form) over the past years, will include a healthy number of stories with some element of fantasy/magic. (Examples include the Pirates of the Caribbean stories, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Lord of the Rings, and so on, and so on!) In truth, these are the stories that seem to capture the greatest audiences. So it is that A Shift Toward Prey should certainly find its place among readers. This Literary Classics award-winner, provides a new world, a cast of intriguing characters, some political nuances, a healthy dose of life lessons, and more!
Natalie Allison introduces readers to a world divided into two halves—one forever enjoying the light of the sun, inhabited (for the most part, anyway) by humans, and one never enjoying the sun’s light—inhabited by the Shifters—those who may change back and forth between their human and animal forms. With war about to erupt on both sides of the divide, the adventures begin. The humans, looking for potential allies and acting on rumor, journey to the Everdark. Meanwhile, inhabitants of the Everdark prepare themselves for an invasion of a species that their legends warn may be incredibly dangerous. Caught up in the political machinations in the Everlight, is Matthias. His counterpart on the Everdark side, is Chiari. Each reaches for understanding of the world of the other, while being drawn into a series of dangerous and exhilarating adventures. Lovers of fantasy, take note. You’ll want to follow this series!
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In my experience, the hardest age group for which one can find engaging, well-written stories, is middle-grade—and in particular for the third-fourth grade or so. These young people have moved beyond baby stories and picture books. They want magic and adventure—and their parent’s want things for them that are well-written, in full sentences and with the limited use of slang, and so forth. Well, young readers and their parents will be delighted to find The Six, by K.B. Hoyle. Drawing parallels with stories that came before, such as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, this adventure finds six young—new—friends off on an adventure. Unfortunately for Darcy, a recent reduction in her family’s economic situation means that she will give up her former summer camp days at Gregorio’s Equestrian Camp. Instead, her family visits a camp in Michigan. A couple of long time acquaintances of her, including Samantha, have vacationed there before. Sam intends to show Darcy around and introduce her to her other camp friends, but Darcy isn’t all that interested. As these things tend to play out, the two are thrown together, along with a few additional young ones, when they happen upon a magic place guarded by gnomes.
As a child, I loved mysteries, magic, and adventure stores. As a parent, I looked for those elements in stories for my own children. Often I found that the stories themselves were spellbinding, but they weren’t really written for young ones to read for themselves. Sometimes this has to do with the style of the writer. Other times, it has to do with a lack in subject matter—or at least in the “purpose” of the story. Not so with K.B. Hoyle’s works. Here young ones will find subtle, but powerful reminders about kindness, honesty, self-inspection, inclusiveness, and more. If you’re looking for a good read for your young one, look no further than the award-winning, The Six.
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My 21-year old daughter mentioned to me the other day, the difficulty she has in finding “girl super-hero stories” for the little one she nannies. We talked about how girls will read stories with boy-heroes, but how if they never read those with girls heroes, the subliminal message seems to be that there are some things that will not be available to them in this life. Well, I’m happy to know that Carmela Dutra offers up a little girl “super” hero, in Little Katie Goes to the Moon. You see, Katie would love to visit the moon to find out if there really is a man there. Soon, she and her puppy, Smudge, prepare themselves for their trip, complete with space suits that will keep them warm and that will allow them to breathe. Then, comes the blast-off!
One of the things most fun about children’s books is what can be taught to inquisitive little minds while they are being entertained. With her award-winning Little Katie Goes to the Moon, Carmela Dutra teaches young ones some facts about the moon, comets and satellites; what the “ground” of the moon would feel like under your feet; lunar laser ranging experiments; some famous historical astronauts; distances and gravity; and even moonquakes. In the end, upon discovering that—of course—Katie and Smudge, were playacting in her backyard, I was reminded of a conversation I had (several times, actually) with my son some years ago, when he was a preschooler. He told me that he wanted to go to the moon someday. I smiled, nodded, and said, “That sounds good. Just don’t move too far away from home. Okay?” Likewise, Katie visits the moon, but she eventually determines that it is time to return home. Fortunately, along the way, she accomplishes what she’d first set out to do when she discovers that the dark spots on the moon do indeed make it appear as though there is a man in the moon!
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C.M. Huddleston, a retired Registered Professional Archaeologist, treats middle grade readers to another adventure in her Literary Classics award-winning, Greg’s Second Adventure in Time. A time traveler by virtue of his DNA, Greg travels back to 1778. There, he learns about the hardships of the early settlers who traveled beyond the Alleghenies, as well as about Native Americans, including raw information about where they lived and what they ate. But this is not a “history” book. It is not a story centered around dates and places of past events. Rather, it is one that engages the minds and hearts of young readers as they can imagine hardship, loss, accomplishment, danger, and ultimately, the exhilaration of a victory that will allow them to live to see another day. With the story centered in large part around Daniel Boone and the Siege of Boonesborough, Greg’s adventures introduce readers to a variety of interesting characters while also, along the way, offering interesting facts about the science of archaeology.
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: it is difficult to find engaging reads for middle-graders that meet all the requisites of the readers themselves, and of their parents. C.M. Huddleston’s stories offer up a witty and sometimes “mouthy” main protagonist, in the form of Greg. At times he talks too much, he’s startled by the changes he is beginning to experience (at age 13) in terms of the girls he finds interesting—and he still finds “potty humor” to be engaging. (Case in point: Greg’s definition for “guano,” the excrement of bats—from which saltpeter, used for making gunpowder, may be leached, is “bat poop.”) I find Greg to be a genuine representation of a 13 year old, with the added benefit of having an intact family (notwithstanding that “Dad” is almost never home!). Young ones who love adventure will find just that, in Greg’s Adventures. Along the way, they’ll learn take in a healthy dose of some good history!
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Author Steve Wilson delights readers with his fourth Michael Neill Adventure, the award-winning, in Eye of Charybdis. When Marine Corps Lieutenant Michael Neill and his love interest, Marine Staff Sergeant Christina Arrens, struggle to find a way to come together in an organization that forbids their union (at least as things stand), Neill prepares for another clandestine operation. He is named part of a team that seeks to solve the mystery of a downed commercial airliner. Given the resulting death of all of its passengers, governments around the world, including the U.S. government, wonder who is responsible, and what political and/or military actions may be appropriate to take in response. Before long, evidence suggests that the Russians are experimenting with a massive airplane that flies just above the ocean, and that is outfitted with a weapon that can send an electro-magnetic pulse to disrupt, or even to destroy, the electronics used to operate surrounding air- and sea-craft.
As is the case with the earlier Michael Neill Adventures, Steve Wilson offers readers in Eye of Charybdis interesting historical details, a peek into the workings of the U.S. military, a variety of interpersonal relationships, and a man of faith at the center of it all. Also, as he has done before, Wilson brings together players from various backgrounds, each of whom hopes to thwart the Russians' efforts, including Dr. Taylor Brisbane, an Australian physicist; Bailee Russo, her research assistant; a few Ukrainians with an historical relationship to Neill; and Neill himself, along with his team. Once it is determined that the flying weapon they seek may be hidden along the Russian coast, Neill’s team sets out to find it and, hopefully, to destroy it. Soon, they are faced with a dilemma. Will they get the assistance they need from the brains behind the weapon, the Ukrainian scientist, Dr. Zhukov, and his daughter, Tanya?
Eye of Charybdis by Steve Wilson offers numerous examples as to why Americans can be proud of their military and grateful for the sacrifices of its members. Men are sure to enjoy the background and the military mission. But women, too, will enjoy this book, as Wilson introduces a number of critical female leads. These characters are scientists, military specialists, and more. It is a tribute to the author that he has done this, as women play such crucial roles in so many areas in this day and age. Of that, we can all be proud—and of this installment of the Michael Neill Adventure stories, Wilson can certainly be proud.