January/February Book Subscription Boxes – Kids & Middle Grade

Lately I’ve been trying random book subscription boxes just to try to figure out which one I want to get on a regular basis. For January/February, I tried the following two boxes:

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This first box was the January Book Drop subscription. I picked the middle grade option, although I was torn between that and the young adult option. This subscription box sends you one book per month (along with a card about the book and little extras like bookmarks) and is pretty cheap (about $10 including S&H for this shipment). The Book Drop is run by an independent bookstore, which makes buying it even better since I like to support small businesses.

The book they sent this month was Winterhouse by Ben Guterson. I really enjoyed this mystery novel! The main character is a book nerd and loves to do puzzles, just like me! I did figure out the plot of the book pretty early on though, so the mystery wasn’t all that hard for me.

Here is the second box I received, this one in early February:

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This box was from Kids Bookcase Club. It cost $9.99 plus S&H. You get three kids books a month. This was the 7-8 year old box. Out of the three books they sent, my favorite by far was Terrific by Jon Agee. This picture book is sarcastic and hilarious! I love the grumpy old man who is the main character! The Very Fairy Princess was a cute picture book, but not exactly my taste. The Animal Planet Dolphin Rescue book was a young reader chapter book and it was cute and interesting, but obviously a simple read. For next month’s box, I decided to up the age to the preteen box to see what kind of middle grade books they send.

For the upcoming month I am also trying out the Scribbler subscription box for writers and the SpearCraft Book Box (which comes with all kinds of cool reader goodies)! So stay tuned!!!

2 Great YA Books About a Sensitive Subject

Suicide is a sensitive subject, and one that people often shy away from, even if it has touched their own lives personally. However, as someone whose life was deeply impacted by a loss due to suicide, I try to be open about its reality and unafraid to tackle it head on. In the spirit of that, I want to share the following two videos I made about young adult novels I’ve read recently that really handled the subject well in my opinion, and will give readers plenty of food for thought:

If you enjoyed these videos, please subscribe to my channel on YouTube and leave a comment here or there!

Do the 2016 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge with Me!

I decided to do the 2016 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge this year! I have already started and plan to make YouTube videos each month to update which categories I have completed in the challenge. If you would like to do the challenge with me, please visit the official POPSUGAR page where you can print off a copy of the checklist. Don’t worry about whether you will be able to complete every category or not. This is simply for fun and to get all of us to read books we otherwise might not. You could even do it as a family if you wish!

Check out my first YouTube video for the challenge below!

New school year starting! Author visit time!

I am thrilled to see the start of another school year because that means I get to do what I love best, visit schools and share my love of literature with kids and young adults! This year will be especially happy for me because I am visiting my old stomping ground. Although most of the school author visits I conduct are close to the Dayton, Ohio area (where I currently live), this year I will be going back to my hometown of Muncie, Indiana!

Why does this excite me so much? Well, some of it is plain, old-fashioned pride. I loved growing up in Muncie and am excited to return there to share my two published books. I am also thrilled to get the chance to be the featured author and speaker at Muncie’s Young Author’s Conference. This is pretty much a dream come true for me since I went to the Young Author’s Conferences myself as a child and dreamed of someday being an author just like those I met there…and now, I have achieved that!

I also plan to visit my old elementary school and my old high school (among other school visits). I just can’t imagine how it will feel to be back within those walls of the schools I once loved so much. I really hope to be able to inspire the kids there and show them that we all have the potential to make our dreams come true!

Review of the Alice Parker’s Adventures fantasy series

Instead of just reviewing one book in this post, I have decided to go ahead and do short reviews of the first two books in the Alice Parker’s Adventures fantasy series. This new series, written by Nicola Palmer, is a fun foray into magic, adventure and mystery for middle grade readers and young adults. It is an original and interesting take on the whole “fairy” genre that is so popular with kids and teens right now. So without further ado…here are my reviews of the first two books.

Book #1 – Alice Parker’s Metamorphosis 

I have always loved the fantasy genre, but will admit to being picky about what series I will actually take the time to read. I look for books that are well-written, plausible (even fantasy needs to be believable) and most importantly, I want stories with characters that aren’t flat or boring. I am happy to say that Metamorphosis met and even surpassed my expectations.

From the moment I started reading this book, I actually found it rather hard to put down. The plot was engaging and carried enough suspense to keep me reading clear to the end, while the characters became almost like friends to me. I felt like I actually got to know Alice and her crew personally, which in my opinion is the ultimate aim of any fiction. I especially enjoyed the relationship between Alice and her brother, Thomas.

I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but I will say that I was also very impressed with the author’s ability to create a new world that readers will want to call their own. This is a book that I can wholeheartedly recommend to kids and teens (or even adults if you like a good fantasy story).

Book #2 – Alice Parker & the Mind Magician

The second book in the Alice Parker series picks up a few months after the events of the first book, but the transition is done well enough that readers pick up on the storyline without skipping a beat. It quickly becomes apparent that the trials Alice is going to face in this sequel are even darker and more dangerous than the hurdles she overcame in the first book.

As the title suggests, much of this book’s battles are waged in the human mind, a very dangerous and disturbing scenario. Without getting preachy or slowing down the plot, this book manages to address some fairly sinister concepts, such as mind control and the corruption that often accompanies having too much power. I was wondering throughout the course of the book how the author was going to manage to bring the plot to a satisfying conclusion, but was pleasantly surprised to see that she managed to do just that.

After finishing the second book I was actually a little bit sad that it was over. I am definitely looking forward to the third book and hope that there will be many more volumes to come!

For more information on the Alice Parker’s Adventures series, please visit the author’s website, www.nicolapalmerwriter.blogspot.com.

Cursing and sexual terms – ok in literature for young adults?

Lately, as I have been working with my editor to get my first book for young adults ready for publication, I have been thinking a lot about what is ok and isn’t ok to put in young adult literature. My new YA book is a poetry collection, and while it certainly isn’t riddled with sexual stuff or bad language, there is one poem where I use the word “damn” and one where I use the word “sperm”.

Now, I want to state up front I am not really a bad girl. I have never been one to turn to bad language, especially since I am around kids all the time and believe in setting a good example. In the poem where I used the word “damn”, I just felt that any lesser of an expression would look weak and stupid. The mood of that particular poem is serious and heartfelt, with the person speaking coming from a place of desperation. Saying “darn” just wouldn’t be honest to the depth of the feelings represented.

As for the use of the word “sperm”, it isn’t even really used in a sexual way, but more in a technical way. As in, the thing that eventually becomes a human baby is a sperm. Surely, no one could balk at that, right? But a part of me wonders. I know some parents and teachers can be so conservative and protective of their kids that they run from any sign of impropriety. Plus, many kids that aren’t even in the young adult age bracket still read young adult books. I know 10 and 11 year olds that have read “The Hunger Games”, which I’m sure is geared for an older audience.

I know this quandary of mine might seem ridiculous. After all, in a world where many young adult books are laced with the “f-bomb”, gruesome violence and descriptive sex scenes, why in the world would I worry about something like “damn” or “sperm”? I guess it’s just because I always tend to worry about what parents and teachers think. Maybe too much. Of course, it could be that I am just nervous because this is my first foray into the young adult literature world.

So what do you guys think? How much is too much in young adult literature? And how young is too young to read young adult literature?

Author Anxiety

You would think after you have your first book published and spend lots of time out in the public marketing it, that you wouldn’t be so nervous about future releases. Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case. At least, not for me.

Of course, I think part of the reason I am anxious right now is due to the nature of the current project I am working on. You see, my first published book was a picture book, but the book I am currently editing for publication is a poetry collection geared for young adults. There are several reasons that this particular project makes me nervous, so I figured that maybe if I put a name to these worries and move them out of the dark corner of my mind, perhaps they won’t have such power over me. So here they are, the anxious thoughts that have been haunting my dreams and my waking hours too:

  1. The first worry is just that the book will be a big flop. Now this is a worry authors seem to have with every book they write, but I think the concern is greater with poetry books. Why? Because normally poetry just doesn’t sell. It’s sad but true. I do have a little glimmer of hope though since my book will be geared towards young adults, who actually do read books in verse, as long as they aren’t pretentious and boring.
  2. Since this book is for young adults, that brings insecurities of its own. I’m used to reading my work to little kids who treat me like a superstar because I am an author. I’m not sure how teens will treat me. I guess my biggest fear is that they will roll their eyes, fall asleep or pronounce my work “lame”.
  3. I know this may seem like a silly concern, but punctuation weighs heavily on me at times. Everyone seems to have their own opinion about the correct way to punctuate poetry. There are the grammar police who think you should punctuate poetry exactly like you would prose. Then there are the free spirited folks who don’t want to see much punctuation. Honestly, I don’t think that teens will care much about the punctuation, BUT their teachers might…and they are the ones I have to impress to book school visits.
  4. Lastly, I am plagued by insecurity simply due to the vulnerability of poetry. Yes, as an author I do put a bit of myself into any book I write, but poetry takes that intimacy to an entirely different level. We put so much of ourselves into our poetry…fill it with our hopes, dreams, pains, struggles and our most private thoughts. If my poetry was rejected, I would honestly feel like I was rejected, because there is so much of myself contained within those verses.

You may be wondering by this point why I am even bothering to publish this book if I am so anxious about it. The fact is, regardless of how it turns out, I want to put myself out there. I want to be honest and real, expose the parts of myself that most people don’t see. Why? Because those are the kinds of books that have changed my life, and I want to do the same for the kids I come in contact with. I think the rewards will eventually outweigh the heartache…at least I hope they do.

Interview with author Tammy Ruggles

(Before we get to the actual interview, I just had to say that this author really made me happy!  Since Edgar Allan Poe has always been my favorite author, it is a joy to get to write about another devout fan of his!  Also, the first two writers I would choose to meet, living or dead, are the exact same ones this author chose!)

OK, now on to the interview…

Tammy Ruggles is a writer who dabbles in many different areas.  She has had a fair share of success with her most recent published work, Peace: Quotations & Aspirations for a Peaceful Planet, but may be even more well-known for the audio books she has created for young adults under her pen name, Miss Tammy.  These audio books are gritty and realistic, meeting kids and teens right where they are, in the midst of this confusing, often messed up world we live in.

I could tell you more about Miss Tammy, but perhaps it would be best to let her tell you in her own words…

1. When did you first decide that you wanted to be an author? What made you want to choose this career path?

I first got that dream when I was about 13, which was when I started writing short stories and my friends passed them around to each other at school. My classmates really liked them and I really liked creating the stories, so I kept doing it, but I didn’t have any aspirations of becoming a real, professional, published writer. It was something I did on the sidelines as a hobby, just for myself. I didn’t choose it as a career path until I was 40, when I had to retire from my first chosen career, which was social work. Even at 40 I wasn’t sure I could write professionally. I still felt like that 13-year-old writer. It still seemed like a hobby. But I gave it a chance. It took a lot of query letters, but it worked. The first article I ever sold to a magazine was about babysitting, and I got a check for $35. It felt like Christmas!

2. Who are some of the authors that greatly influenced your writing style? What were some of your favorite books as a kid?

Well, I wish I knew what my style is! I don’t know. But I dearly loved Dr. Seuss books, and still do. He really sets the imagination free. I liked Chalou, which was the story about a dog, because it’s a story that tugs on your heart. Later, Harold Robbins was a writer whose style I liked to read, which was simple and easy. William Peter Blatty riveted me with The Exorcist. Peter Benchley is another writer whose basic, direct style was something I liked. And I cannot leave out Edgar Allan Poe. There is an elegance and a rhythm and pace to his stories that I really get into.

3. Did you have a hard time getting your first book published?

I think it was a little hard trying to break in at 40. It took about 500 rejection letters from all kinds of publishers to get that one yes for Peace.

4. Assuming that you write for children or young adults, what made you decide to write for those age groups? Do you still feel connected to your “inner child”?

I think I have a connection with kids. They seem to like me. I still feel like a kid at heart sometimes. I haven’t forgotten the ups and downs of childhood and adolescence, and, being a retired social worker, writing about and for kids and teenagers in trouble comes easy for me. I don’t mind writing about touchy subjects. It’s reality, what kids are really going through. Like with my two new audio books coming up: How To Save A Life is about a boy who tries to save his best friend’s life, and Summer Doesn’t Dance Anymore is about a teenage girl afraid to tell even her best friend that she’s been raped. Then I have a 3rd one, an Edgar Allan Poe story, The Tell-Tale Heart, which is a little different for me because I didn’t write it.

5. What are some of your hobbies, other than writing?

I love going to movies. I love sketching. I love cooking. I love listening to music.

6. Do you have any sage advice for new authors who are just entering the field?

One, keep trying. If you give up too soon, you’ll regret it. Try not to take it personally when your material gets rejected. That’s part of publication. Just learn from it and go on. Grow. Two, although writing is an art, it’s also a business, so keep that in mind when dealing with editors and publishers. Three, write what makes you feel good, what comes easy to you, always try something new or different, and finish projects that you start. Four, don’t just talk about writing. Actually write. And five, don’t forget the query letter. Publication begins with querying. You must do this continually. It’s probably the most important part of becoming published.

7. Do you hold any other jobs outside of your writing? If so, do you find that this helps your writing or gets in the way?

Since I’m retired, I have a lot of free time for writing, and I love doing it, but I don’t let writing get in the way of my family, friends, and faith. I like to have a balance of things. I think it helps the writing when you fill yourself up with life and doing other things besides writing. Then you’ll have something to come back and write about.

8. If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

I would like to meet two of them. Edgar Allan Poe, and Emily Dickinson, because I’d want to ask them, “How do you do it?” but I’d probably be too nervous to meet them.

9. Do you have any other information you would like to share, such as a website, author page, awards won, etc.?

I don’t have any awards, but I do have a professional website that tells about my stuff:

http://tammyruggles.tripod.com/

Then there are a few websites where you can go and hear my audiobooks:

www.learnoutloud.com

www.teachoutloud.com

www.youtube.com/misstammyschannel

And other places on the internet like amblingbooks.com or audiobooktreasury.com. Just google it and you’ll find the places I didn’t mention.

“Mystified” – young adult novel review

“Mystified” is a book that truly kept me guessing from the beginning until the end.  This young adult novel, which was written by T.C. Booth, is a unique blend of fantasy, faith, romance, angels, spiritual warfare, family issues and the ordinary dilemmas that are part of being a teenager in today’s world.

The plot seems simple enough, a teenage girl named Erin Colley finds herself torn between a popular jock at her school and a mysterious hottie who happens to show up whenever Erin finds herself in need of assistance.  As Erin gets to know the mysterious stranger more, she realizes that he is more than human and finds out that she has some special gifts as well.  As the story progresses, Erin finds out that what at first appeared to be blessings may create bittersweet yearnings as she learns to merge her gifts with her normal human life.

This story does definitely have some spiritual and Christian overtones, but in no way do they detract from the story or slow down the pace.  In fact, the mix of fantasy and spirituality work together to enhance the story, making it richer and deeper.  I also liked the fact that the characters were realistic.  They all had their own unique personality flaws, but they also have the confidence to be themselves and choose the right path, even when things get hard.  As the characters grow and mature, they come to realize that popularity isn’t really all that important, especially when it means compromising your beliefs.

If you have been looking for an inspiring, yet exciting tale, this might be just the book for you.  To find out more about the book, please visit the author’s website.  While there you can read a little more about the book, including character descriptions and discount promotions that are currently available.  There are also links to purchase the book in eBook form from Amazon, Smashwords and Barnes and Noble.