Blog Tour: Return of the Library Dragon

In case you haven't noticed, I love Peachtree Publishers, and am always happy to be a stop along their blog tours. Today is no different! Emily has set up another wonderful tour, which you can check out here, and there's even a way-too-fun costume contest going on that you should really check out! But first, I have a review + excerpt + a giveaway! Yes, another awesome Peachtree giveaway! ((In case you missed it, check out my guest post by Leslie Bulion for another Peachtree blog tour and a chance to win a copy of The Universe of Fair -- there are super low entries, so your chances are great, but it closes soon!)) Now then ...

Return of the Library Dragon
Carmen Agra Deedy & Michael P White (Illustrator)
Peachtree, 2012

You guys. I'm a huge fan of picture books. And I have a Master of Library Science. So what's not to love about a picture book about libraries?! Also, it features a dragon - and I'm developing a bit of a soft spot for dragons.

Miss Lotty, faithful and beloved librarian of Sunrise Elementary, has decided it is time to retire. She makes this decision with a sense of peace and anticipation (minus the concern that a computer would enter her library!), which is totally apparent in this gorgeous excerpt:

When she walks into her library, for her last day of work, Miss Lotty discovers her replacement -- Mike Krochip -- has kidnapped all the books. Well, that doesn't set well with Miss Lotty, and her old friend Miss Lotta Scales shows up to take care of things. Which saves the library, but who's going to take Miss Lotty's place now? Enter a girl whose job I envy -- as well as the nameplate on her desk. Molly has spunk and is fearless in defense of all things library-y! She's a lot like Miss Lotty, actually, without any of those dragonish tendencies ...

Return of the Library Dragon is fun and quirky, and makes my book-loving heart skip a beat. I'm all for advances in technology, I even have a Kindle, but in my heart of hearts? Nothing will replace the feel and smell of a physical book. With a easy-reading story and bright, colorful illustrations, I think Return of the Library Dragon just might help others remember that wonderful feeling too.

Book provided by publisher for review.

Are you curious? Do you love those illustrations? Would you like your own copy? I'll make it really, really, really easy to enter: Just leave me a comment with your thoughts on libraries (and/or librarians, dragons, or cookies) -- and make sure you leave an email address so I can contact you if you're the winner! The contest is open until 12:00am on Friday, November 2nd -- a winner will be selected randomly from all eligible comments and emailed, they will have 48 hours to reply to my email, or I'll have to select another winner.
Also, please note: This giveaway is for US addresses only. Comment away, and good luck!


Sisters of Glass

Sisters of Glass
Stephanie Hemphill
Knopf, 2012

I confess to being captured by the cover of this one. Well, the cover and the fact it is about a family of Venetian glassblowers. (I love Venetian glass, and stories of Italy in general in general, but especially glassblowing - ever since I took a glassblowing workshop a few summers ago. Fell. In. Love! I digress...) What I didn't realize when I requested the book on NetGalley was that it's a novel in verse -- talk about a happy surprise.

The story is simple: Maria, the youngest daughter, has been selected to marry into the nobility instead of her older (and the expected and socially accepted choice) sister Giovanna. Maria's love is the fornica, she loves the entire process of her family's glassblowing business and takes great pride in mixing the recipes to perfection. Giovanna on the other hand is perfectly suited to life among the nobility, and finds it very difficult to adjust to her sister taking her place. The family dynamics and sisterly love-and-tension are beautifully depicted, and it's easy to get a sense of the state of things. And then, the family hires a new glassblower to assist them in the fornicas. Luca is rough and sometimes rude, an orphan with no idea of his family, and incredibly gifted. Without realizing it, Maria falls for him -- just as her family arranges for a nobleman to marry her. What happens next is a testament to the bond of sisterhood, and proof that "love conquers all."

A note about the format of the book: the verses are not very structured. It actually took me a bit to realize that it was actually written in verse, as opposed to strange formatting on my Kindle. They're free verse, which I pretty much expect of a verse novel, but a bit prose-y at times. Some of them are fractured, or seem random out-of-the-sky, but it does work within the larger context of the novel. It helps build a contextual depth that would be missing otherwise: glimpses and tidbits of the family dynamics and Maria's personal struggles to balance who she really is with who her family expects her to be. It won't work for everyone, but it is a sweet story. And now I really want to be back at a fornica myself ...

eARC provided by publisher for review.


Blog Tour: Guest Post with Leslie Bulion

Hello, hello! If you're here following the Peachtree blog tour of The Universe of Fair, then welcome! Feel free to make yourself and home and poke around the corners of this blog - I hope they're not dusty, and that you find something to make you come by again.

Tuesday, I posted my review of The Universe of Fair, Leslie Bulion's fun middle grades read. Today, I'm happy to hand over the reins to Leslie herself, who has taken a trip down Memory Lane and is sharing a bit of her science-y past with us ...

The Science of Encouragement
Like Miller in The Universe of Fair, I’ve loved science as a kid, and I still do. Early on I had engaging and creative science teachers who egged me on, beginning with our elementary school science-on-a-cart, which in my memory was mostly field biology—thanks, Mr. Beaver! Fast forward a bit to ninth grade biology, a class that became the stuff of legend when our brave soul science teachers carted twenty-some-odd fourteen year olds to Fire Island National Seashore for a week. We arrived by boat, slept dorm-style in the ranger station, and lived in and studied the marine ecosystem, hands-on, all day long.

One of our teachers offered crack-of-dawn bird-watching. Each morning as the sun rose over the ocean, Mr. Soviero would introduce new friends: the red-winged blackbird, the rufous-sided towhee (drink-some-teeeeea!), the brown thrasher. While I was falling in love with birding, I also fell heartlong into a peer group of kindred spirits in a way I never had in school before—a joyful week on every level.

When we returned to civilization we were required to present an individual study project. I still (mostly) remember a particular group’s Dr. Pepper jingle take-off: Poison ivy, so misunderstood. If anyone would try you, they would sure itch good! During those years and many beyond, I never imagined myself a writer. So funny to me now that this bit of personal history connects me with the inimitable Anne Lamott’s beloved
book of writing advice, Bird By Bird. Unlike Anne’s night-before brother, I spent weeks rendering each Fire Island bird I’d seen in colored pencil drawings on four-by-six cards. My science teacher had already created a devoted birder, but he wasn’t finished encouraging me. He took my bird cards to the Fire Island ranger station, where the rangers hung them in their nature center for visitors to see. Bird by bird, card by card, my drawings ringed the inner perimeter of the small building, igniting in me a life-long enthusiasm for sharing science with others.

Thanks, Leslie, for a great post. And I love that you had a science teacher named "Beaver" -- that. is. awesome! You've now got me drifting down Memory Lane, remembering the patient science experts who indulged my so-very-bookish queries about stuff ...

And now, if you've read my review, you know I hinted about a giveaway ... Well, here it is! Just fill out the Rafflecopter form, and you're good to go. I try to keep things nice and easy, but I would like to point out that this giveaway is for US residents only. Also, if the randomly selected winner does not return the announcing email within 48hrs, a new winner will be drawn. I'd hate to have to do that, but gotta keep things fair. Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway


Guest Post: Phillipa Ashley

I'm taking a slight detour from the Peachtree blog tour for The Universe of Fair today to play host to Phillipa Ashley, who is in the midst of celebrating the launch of her latest novel Miranda's Mount. Phillipa, who I've gotten to know a little via facebook, tells a great story -- I reviewed Just Say Yes over the summer, and thoroughly enjoyed her writing style. I'm also crazy intrigued by the newest novel (isn't that cover so much fun? I heart British novels, I really do!), and Phillipa's guest post just whets my appetite more ...

... Without further ado, grab a cookie (or two), sit back and see what Phillipa has to say on the topic of "New Love vs. Old Love" ...

You could argue that romance novels have two basic premises. New lovers meet or old ones rediscover their passion for each other e.g. P&P vs Persuasion.

I’ve tackled both scenarios in my 7 novels to date and I’ve found there are distinct challenges of when you’re writing about lovers reunited or strangers meeting.

My first novel, Decent Exposure, was about Emma, who flees to the Lake District to start a new life and there she persuades a mountain rescue team to pose nude for a fundraising calendar. She also comes up against opposition from the gorgeous but combative Will who disagrees with her ideas.

Emma and Will are strangers when they meet so you have all the fun of two people, with opposing ideas and personalities, sparking off each other – with the spark of sexual attraction right from the start. Gradually, they start to uncover and understand the issues that are keeping them apart. But you have to work hard to create that powerful sense of attraction and gradual falling from lust to love throughout the book. It has to be paced properly so that the reader really believes in the couple’s bumpy path to love.

With my second novel, Wish You Were Here, I deliberately set out to explore what would happen when two people who had been deeply in love, were reunited many years later. With this scenario, you have the deep and poignant emotion there on the page from the first page. The reader knows the couple once loved each other – and your task as a writer is to show why they split up and also get them back together eventually. I think it’s probably more of a challenge to have old loves reunited, as you have to dig deep to have a strong and credible reason for them splitting up and staying apart.

But no book is easy to write and romance is so character driven that emotions and motivation are everything.

Since then I’ve written both types of romance but my new one, out now from Piatkus Entice is the Strangers Meet premise – although the heroine, Miranda, has heard a little about the hero, Jago, before the book starts, his arrival is a shock and he proceeds to turn her whole world upside down – her home, her work and her emotions. Jago is Miranda’s biggest ever challenge but perhaps, it’s he who really needs to examine his life choices, rather than her.

Phillipa Ashley
I’ve also just finished the manuscript of a new novel, which is most definitely old lovers reunited and is probably my most intense and emotional novel so far. It was challenging in a different way, but has been incredibly satisfying to write. The relationships in it are very tangled and at times it has seemed impossible to me that the couple will ever get together...

We’ll have to see what happens.

Thank you for having me on the blog Rebecca. I’d love to know what readers and writers think about the two different scenarios .

Thank you, Phillipa, for agreeing to discuss love with us! I know I personally love both scenarios, and it's hard to pick a favorite. New Love romances offer hope that out there, somewhere, is still Someone New To Meet -- but Old Love? Ah, now there's a promise for you: a shared past, a love tested and strained - but not broken ... They both present such compelling storylines, and real-life encouragements.


Blog Tour: The Universe of Fair

Hello, hello! I'm happy to be a stop along the way of Peachtree Publishing's blog tour for the entirely-too-fun middle grades novel The Universe of Fair! Today I'll be featuring my review, and on Friday, swing back by to catch a guest post by Leslie Bulion. And you never know, there just may be a giveaway too. Also, for more blog tour fun, make sure you visit the main page over on Peachtree's blog. Emily has done a wonderful job lining up great bloggers and posts, and you don't want to miss any of the adventures.

The Universe of Fair
Leslie Bulion & Frank Dormer (illustrator)
Peachtree, 2012

Miller Sanford is eleven-and-a-half, and has been waiting on this day for a long, long time. What day? Why, Fair Friday of course! The day all schools and businesses close, and everyone in his little town of Holmsbury flock to the fairgrounds and enjoy a day "alone" before all the neighboring towns come. This year, Miller is striving to prove he is reliable and responsible enough to be on his own at the fair -- even going so far as to be nice to his little sister Penelope and her friends Andrew and Lou Ann. (And that should tell you something, ha!) Funny thing about being eleven-and-a-half though, things don't always work out the way you plan. Soon, Miller's fair plans are one big, huge, giant, tangled mess. Who knew that so much could go wrong in one day? Miller definitely gets a chance to show off his new, older, more responsible side.

Miller's day of misadventures is told in an easy, humorous, and oh-so-very realistic style. Miller's a bit of a science nut (physics, to be exact), and he spends a lot of time breaking down his surroundings and decisions into scientific parts. (It's actually eerily like the way my brother would look at life from a more naturalistic/biological perspective, so Bulion got the science-boy aspect spot-on!) And the loose black and white illustrations are perfect accents to the story. There's a little mystery, a lot of dramatic build-up, and some wonderful miscommunications. I loved the little kids too, and Miller's best friend Lewish -- who is glued to his video camera. All in all, The Universe of Fair definitely made me want to go spend a day at the Fair ... only, without quite so many mishaps -- even though everything worked out, I'd rather read the (admittedly comic) drama than live it.

Book provided by publisher for review.


Psst, see the pretty?

Okay, so I normally put new books in the New Book posts, but this is just too pretty not to share. Plus, by blogging about it, I sort of earn some more points in the contest to win an ARC of Stacey Jay's upcoming retake on Beauty and the Beast (just being honest here). And we all know how I feel about Beauty and the Beast ...

Isn't it pretty??? I had to go on and include my copy of Juliet Immortal in the picture, because it's such a nice little matched set. (I do so love when my books match each other). I am totally excited to dig into the reading -- I have high hopes it will be as pretty as the books are on the outside. And that sweet swag along the bottom? Totally a perk of pre-ordering a signed copy of Romeo Redeemed from Hicklebee's.

If you think it's as pretty as I do, go to the bookstore! Romeo Redeemed is totally available every where now!


Finnikin of the Rock

Finnikin of the Rock
Melina Marchetta
Candlewick, 2010 (originally published 2008)

As you may have noticed, I have a slight penchant for fantasy. Even excluding fairy tales from the mix, I am happy to willingly suspend my disbelief and embark on a reading adventure into impossible worlds populated by impossible beings. One of my blogging buddies - the wonderful Jen of Jen Ryland YA Romantics - however, is not a fan of fantasy. At all. So when she starts telling me how good something was, I know I need to read it. Case in point: Finnikin of the Rock. Let me sum up this read in one, succinct word: Wow.

It's fantasy. So it's set in a strange world. But it's not too strange. And people are people, regardless of their world -- with thoughts and dreams and fears and passions. Finnikin grew up with Prince Balthazar and his cousin Lucian (as well as all the princesses of Lumatere), and their bond was a tight one. So tight that as young children they made a blood pact to protect the Kingdom. A pact that would haunt Finnikin in years to come as his beloved kingdom was rocked to its core - the entire royal family assassinated, and the kingdom cast into a darkness-shrouded captivity. The content of Finnikin of the Rock takes place years later, as Finnikin and his mentor - Sir Topher (the King's Man) - travel around the neighboring kingdoms, checking on their exiled countrymen and trying to make sense of things. When a young novice named Evanjalin claims the heir of the Lumatere throne is alive, and she alone can lead them, Finnikin and Sir Topher start a new journey. A journey home.

Their journey is fraught with misadventures and horrifying experiences for all parties. It also holds surprises of a happier nature, and challenges Finnikin to look past the way he's always seen things, forcing him to look not only deep inside himself, but also reexamine everything he's always known. It's a sweeping, forceful tale. Hard to read at times, because of the rawness of the events, but I couldn't put it down. I confess, I figured out the major plot twists pretty early on, but that didn't detract from my reading -- I wanted to find out how it'd all play out and prove my suspicions correct. Definitely an impressive fantasy read, and I'm intrigued to know how Marchetta will pick up and continue the story in Froi of the Exiles.

Book provided by my local library.


New Books!

Hello, hello! It's early October, football season is in full swing (and I am giddy), and it's time for me to show off my September book haul. I got a lot of wonderful Peachtree titles for review this month, and can't wait to show off some of the fun stuff in the works ... Blog tours, giveaways, zany posts galore await you, my readers, as the nights get longer and the days colder.

Without further ado ... The Books of September ...

I won a 75th anniversary addition of The Hobbit, complete with a tote bag with the book cover on it. So awesome!

For Review:

Is there any question that I am seriously excited about the SEC book? Love my SEC football!

Swap/Purchase/Otherwise Received:

 Even though my To Read list (translate: pile) is growing really, really, really fast - faster than I can read right now, actually - I'm A-OK with this, because winter is coming and I need reading material for dark nights and dreary days ... But for now, I'm going to enjoy the amazingness of fall!


A Path Toward Love

A Path Toward Love
Cara Lynn James
Thomas Nelson, 2012

Readers, I have learned something about myself. I would have totally been okay with spending my summers in the Adirondacks, wearing more-relaxed-but-still-beautiful dresses and spending my days enjoying the fresh air and country solitude (with all the comforts of home). Shoot, I'd *still* be okay summering in the Adirondacks, and it's my goal - one day - to find a pretty lodge and have a vacation. But I digress ... I love reading about the socialites and their rustic summers. Parties, expansive lodges, private piers. Yeah, that's my kind of rustic all right. But it's not just the atmosphere - I love reading about the people. Not just the glamour, but getting a peek inside the characters. A Path Toward Love gave me a wonderful look inside the hearts and minds of the members of this tantalizing and fascinating segment of historical society.

Katherine Osborne married young, against her parents' wishes, and has been paying the price for the last eight years. When her father arrives at her orange plantation in Florida (inherited upon her husband's untimely death), with longtime best friend Andrew in tow, Katherine knows things are fixing to change. Convinced to return and spend the summer at her family's lodge in the Adirondacks, Katherine finds surprising strength and comfort in being reunited with Andrew. He helps her sift through the baggage of her past and the surprising revelations and events still unfolding, showing her that God's Hand is on all things and He is willing to speak to His children's hearts and lives. Katherine's mother on the other hand is less willing to let God speak and is quick to point out the new plans she's made for Katherine's life, since her past decisions indicate the girl is clearly unable to make wise choices on her own.

Through a summer of struggling to find herself again, let alone figure out where her future is leading her, Katherine grows as a woman and as a Christian. Katherine finds herself torn between the leaning of her heart and the socially accepted norms she's always known. And the mom-guilt complicates her own confused sorting out of life. Her journey is realistic, and doesn't feel forced, and the supporting characters add much color and depth to the story itself. There's enough historical and social context to build the elite (but rustic!) world of summering in the Adirondacks, but not so much that the setting becomes the story. The characters - particularly Andrew and Katherine - are allowed to shine. And shine they do.

Book provided by publisher for review.


Keeper of the Lost Cities

Keeper of the Lost Cities
Shannon Messenger
Aladdin, 2012

Oh. My. Goodness. I loved this book! I cannot thank Melissa Buell enough for sending her extra ARC my way -- I've passed it along to another blogger, sharing the love, because I quickly realized I must have a finished copy of this in my library. It's really that awesome, you guys.

Sophie always knew she was different. Aside from being a genius (or possibly even smarter than a genius), she hears voices. Actually, not "voices" so much as thoughts. Sophie can read people's minds. Everyone's mind. There is no off-switch. She has told nobody about it, but when she stumbles into a mysterious - and handsome - boy on a field trip, she discovers that he can read minds also. And that's only the start of an incredible journey of discovery. See, Sophie - and this new dude, Fitz - are elves. Yup. Elves. (Be still my beating heart!) Fitz takes Sophie home, to this semi-alternate world, which is comprised greatly of "mythic cities" in human history (there's a wonderful history to all this, but I won't paraphrase - you need to experience this yourself) - and so begins Sophie's strange and wonderful transition from weird human to extremely talented elf.

There are so many awesome elements to this story. Between refraining from complete fangirling and not wanting to totally spoil the reading experience, this review is tricky to write, ha. Let's talk about characters. Sophie is a trooper. She keeps getting thrown curveball after curveball, and keeps finding ways to rise above the obstacles. She's crazy smart too, and adjusts to being an elf in an elven world beautifully. For the most part. She also meets some amazing people, making a surprising circle of friends. Like Dex - goofy, clutzy, somewhat untalented Dex. He's adorable, very much like a long-legged puppy trying to adjust to growing up. And Keefe - the resident Bad Boy of the Academy. He's such a smart alecky charmer too - I can definitely understand why "Team Keefe" has a huge following. I was tempted myself, but had to be true to my heart's first instinct: Fitz. Oh, Fitz. The honorable, trustworthy, also-crazy-smart-and-talented Fitz. He not only finds Sophie, but he plays a huge role in helping Sophie survive. He's swoony.

All the characters are well-rounded and intriguing. There's a lot of backstory that you know is going to come into the open sooner or later, affecting character dynamics and explaining the mysteries surrounding Sophie's very existence. There's history and depth and believability to Keeper of the Lost Cities - something sort of hard to achieve in fantasy, but Shannon manages. I could almost fancy myself meeting a handsome elf who could whisk me away on a beam of light to a wonderful world of tasty desserts and fantastic animals... but I digress. For all the fun, quirky details in Keepers, there's a darker thread too - a bit of a mystery, a taste of danger, an element of the Unknown. It keeps the story moving, it helps grow the characters - especially Sophie - and it makes this book kick butt. I inhaled the ARC, staying up way too late, and cannot WAIT for the next installment! Read it people, just read it. You won't regret it! ((Oh, and just because it's technically "middle grade" - don't let that throw you. It's a story anyone can read and enjoy, regardless of how long ago middle school was.))

ARC provided by my personal library.