Tuesday, June 28, 2011

It's Magic!

I tweeted a new site about magic recently, but I want to discuss it at more length today:  The site is The Magic Broadcast ,  where you can read about professional magicians and their events and listen to great interviews with top magicians.  

Now why, you may ask, would a children's writer devote a post to a magic site?  Well, in my first book, The Fourth Wish , a key character is a professional magician whose magic goes all wrong when a wish enables him to do the real thing.  I'm finishing up two other books, a mystery and a historical novel, and then I've planned three sequels to The Fourth Wish  -- so I need to understand my magician, The Great Mondo (aka "Pete Garrity") in more depth.
The Magic Broadcast offers me (and any writer who has a magician as a character in a WIP) a golden opportunity to listen in on a professional magician's thinking about the profession or follow a professional magician's life as he or she prepares for bookings or encounters problems during performances.  It's a fun way to research, and it's quite enlightening.   

The Fourth Wish will also be coming out in Kindle soon.  I'll keep you posted.  Meanwhile, check out The Magic Broadcast and enjoy a little Abracadabra.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Book Review Friday -- Arthur of Albion

I have mentioned before, I am entranced by the King Arthur and Merlin legends, so when I had a chance to request Arthur of Albion and received it from Sacramento Book Review for review, I was delighted.  I got hooked on the Merlin legend when I read T. A. Barron's series The Lost Years of Merlin.  This led to reading Mary Stewart's wonderful Merlin Trilogy that starts with The Crystal Cave.  My husband and I both enjoyed that one and then had to track down The Hollow Hills and The Last Enchantment.  Mary Stewart is a writer who completely immerses a reader in the worlds she creats.  And she, of course, while telling the legendary world of Arthur through Merlin's eyes, hooked me once again on King Arthur.  (I was earlier captivated by the movie in the 70’s, Excalibur.)

So, as I say, when I saw Arthur of Albion listed in books to choose for review, I got my dibs in, and I wasn't disappointed.  John Matthews is an expert on the Arthurian legends, and he tells ten of the main ones here in this lovely collection.  If you get a chance (and if you are smitten with the Arthurian world as I am) get a copy of this book for your own private libary.  And visit Sacramento Book Review for more interesting reviews by various reviewers.

What about you?  Are you hooked on a particular theme or series in literature?

To the review, then:

Arthur of Albion

By John Matthews
Barefoot Books,$12.99,136 pages

This beautifully illustrated book retells the stories of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.  Written by John Matthews, a leading expert on Arthurian history, it covers ten key tales from the rise to the fall of Arthur’s Camelot.

“Gawain woke to the noise of dogs and hunting horns. The warmth of his bed only reminded him more keenly of the ordeal that lay ahead of him. For as surely as the Green Knight had risen living from the blow of the axe, Gawain knew he could do no such thing.”
In the first tale, Arthur discovers he can pull the strange sword Merlin planted in stone, thus proving he is true King of Albion. In the last tale, his nephew, Mordred, stirs up rumors about Lancelot and Guinevere that cause internal war and the destruction of Camelot.  Wounded, Arthur is taken for healing to the mysterious Avalon, from which, it is said, he will one day return, bringing light again to a dark world.
Between these two tales, young readers encounter the Questing Beast, Arthur’s magical sword, Excalibur, and a mystical shining cup considered the Holy Grail.  Merlin casts spells.  Knights go adventuring.  Damsels die for love.  Honor and valor go hand in hand.  Witchy Queen Morgause, Arthur’s half-sister, schemes with Mordred for Arthur’s defeat.

Tatarnikov’s muted illustrations are reminiscent of fine old tapestries, depicting a world long vanished. Matthews’ lyrical storytelling creates an intriguing introduction for young people to a legend that never dies.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Blog Awards -- Two Nice Surprises

It is always nice to be surprised when I click on my blog, and today there were two lovely surprises.  Kenda Turner at Words and Such passed on two awards to me, The Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award and The Stylish Blogger Award.  Thanks so much, Kenda! 
                   Here are the awards:

There are general guidelines for accepting
and passing on the awards:

1. Thank and link back to the person who passed on the award.
2. Share 7 random tidbits about yourself.
3. Pass the award on to 5 others (the number varies at times from 3-10!) and link to their blogs.
4. Let those people know you've given them the award.

Well, I've already done #1, but # 2?  Hmmm....  7 random tidbits about myself....  OK, here goes.

1.  I have a demented Christmas cactus in the bathroom that never blooms at Christmas.  August, sometimes.  March, maybe.  Once in late January.  It just finished blooming two weeks ago.  Never at Christmas.  Why?  Is it something I said?

2.  I am not a dessert person, except for cookies.  I heart all cookies.  Oatmeal.  Sugar.  Shortbread.  (We're talking homemade ones, here.)  (For store-bought cookies, Oreos.)  I LOVE Tarta de Santiago when we're in Spain, and I finally figured out why:  it's like a giant, almond-paste, pudding-textured cookie.  

3. I want to go to Ireland.  Someday, somehow -- Ireland.  I love Irish music.  I love the Irish turn of phrase.  I love Irish soda bread.  And I'm writing a MG novel about Irish immigrants.  I must go to Ireland.

4.  An Irish writer I have discovered is Frank O'Connor.  His short stories are wonderful.  Exquisite.  And he can be funny.

5.  I am entranced by the blogosphere.  No, really.  I ventured into it rather timidly because at a workshop I attended Nathan Bransford advised writers to explore blogging.  (Timidly, because I'm no techie and can be one click away from messing things up on my computer.)  But what a wonderful world opened to me:  I've met so many new writing friends, read so many wonderful blogs, and everyone is so generous with information and advice.  

6.  My husband and I have been married for 37 years -- almost 38 -- and we are still having a wonderful time going through life together.

7.   When I'm not writing or reading, I love to paint.  For the past year and a half I've been taking a course in pastel landscape painting by one of my favorite artists, and it's a high point in my week.

For #3, I'd like to pass on the awards to the following bloggers.  Do go visit these sites, they are always a good read:

1.  Rachna Chhabria at Rachna's Scriptorium  
2.  Alexia Chamberlynn at The Life and Literary Pursuits of Alexia Chamberlynn
3.  Jennifer Bertman at Jennifer Bertman: From the Mixed-Up Files
4.  Michelle Fayard at Bird's Eye View
5.  Renee Hand at The Cripto-Capers Review
6.  Mayra Calvani at Mayra's Secret Bookcase
7.  Nicole Ducleroir at One Significant Moment at a Time

Go visit and enjoy.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Book Review Friday -- The Brontës Went to Woolworths: A Novel

It's Book Review Friday again, and this is one of my favorite books that I reviewed for Sacramento Book Review.

I've always loved reading about the Brontës.  I read biographies about them when I was a teenager, and even tried to write an itty-bitty novel in tiny handwriting, like they did.  (I was a Brontë wannabe.)  I loved various movies made of Jane Eyre.  Of course, I now realize what a creepy guy Rochester really was!  (Would you want your daughter to marry a man who kept his mad wife hidden in the attic, and said she started the very fire she died in?)   But Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights were favorite reads of mine.  Both were tightly written, suspensful books that kept me turning pages.  Those sisters knew how to keep a plot moving.

Likewise, I'm always charmed by how English writers can tell a tale.  So I was delighted to read a novel that had Brontës in the title, written by an English writer with a sly sense of humor.  The Brontës Went to Woolworths, a revived classic by Rachel Ferguson, does not disappoint.

One of the joys of writing reviews for Sacramento Book Review , by the way, is that they send me FANTASTIC BOOKS!  Go check out their site:  They have tons of fine reviews of great books by really good reviewers.

Here we go with today's shared review:

The Brontes Went to Woolworths: A Novel

By Rachel Ferguson
Bloomsbury Press, $14.00, 188 pages
The Carne family – a widow and three daughters – live in 1930s London.  Dierdre, a journalist in her twenties, is writing a novel.  Katrine, also in her twenties, studies Drama.  Shiel is young enough to have a governess – the distraught Miss Martin, ever befuddled by this family’s favorite entertainment.

The Carnes have invented a game turning actors, literary figures, even their dog and a doll into imaginary friends who ring them up and give them birthday presents.  They invent dialogues for these characters, quoting them in a heartbeat.  Miss Martin never is sure what’s real and what isn’t. 
Then Dierdre accompanies her mother to jury duty.  When Judge Toddington sweeps into court, he becomes woven into the game as “Toddy”.  One day Dierdre covers a charity bazaar where the real Lady Toddington has a stall.  Lady Toddington takes a liking to Deirdre, inviting her home.  Very funny scenes unfold as a friendship develops between the two families, just when Miss Martin is sure the relationship is fictional. 
In this sly tale, all of the characters captivate, including the governess and the Toddingtons. 
A séance brings the Brontes into the story.  So as not to be a spoiler, I’ll say no more. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The After School Art Club's Recent Art Show

I mentioned in a blog post last year that one day a week I teach an afterschool art "club" at the South Natomas Community Center.  It's a wonderful class.  The kids sign up specifically for art lessons and their parents are very supportive of the program.  Originally I planned the class for 8-o-12-year-olds, but this year a very talented 7-year-old joined the class, and he was an excellent student.  We started out small a couple of years ago, but word spread, and for the year that just ended, our enrollment was 22 students.  Luckily, I have four helping moms that come in and help with setting up, cleaning up, and passing out supplies.  They also circulate and guide the students in utilizing the skills they've been learning.  I would be lost without them

Each year, Sharon and Jim Tanovitz, owners of Art Ellis Supply (2508 J Street, Sacramento, CA), give the club an art show in their window gallery for a month.  It gives the students a place to highlight and exhibit their best work, and even to sell it.  It's great fun for them, for me, for the store, and for the community.  Jim and Sharon have offered my students this opportunity for years.  When I was teaching full time, I ran an after school art club at my school, and the Tanovitzes let them show their work each spring.  

What the classes cover: Students learn landscape, still life, portrait, figure drawing and painting.  (Clothed figures for this age group.)  They learn to use soft and oil pastels, acrylic paints, and watercolor paints, as well as charcoal and colored pencils.  We explore ethnic arts and artists for  El Dia de los Muertos, Cinco de Mayo, Black History Month (Harlem Renaissance), and Women's History Month, and we use bamboo brushes for special techniques during Tet or Asian New Year.  The students do a variety of styles from Impressionism to abstract, and they keep portfolios that they get to take home at the end of the year.

It's always exciting to see their growth by the end of the year when they select a piece of their art to exhibit.  This year was no exception.  Their work will be up for the rest of June.  Already 7 pieces have sold ($5.00), and Saturday we had a small "Second Saturday" reception from 10:00 a.m. to noon, passing out punch and cookies.   My four "super helper moms" are shown inthe first picture above.  A picture of two of the artists and their moms and Sharon at the reception are shown next.  And an overall shot of the 22 pieces of art in the show is shown to the right, followed by close ups of the works.

If you are in the area, stop buy, enjoy the art, and visit the store.  I buy most of my art supplies there, and they offer discounts for teachers and students.  If you are not in the area, support art somewhere, somehow.  It makes such a difference in young people's lives, and school art programs are being wiped out by budget cuts everywhere.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Book Review Friday -- The Ghost Downstairs, and Nocturne

It's Book Review Friday again, and today I want to mention two books: 

One I reviewed for Saramento Book Review , Nocturne, by L. D. Harkrader

One is an e-book I won in a giveaway contest, The Ghost Downstairs, by Molly Ringle.  

I'll share The Ghost Downstairs first:

The Ghost Downstairs   by Molly Ringle

For some reason I was not able to upload a picture of the jacket, but you can see it at Molly's site.  Normally I only review children's books or YAs on this blog, and this book actually falls closer to adult than YA.  But I love ghost stories, and I love a mystery.  This book has both, as well as a steamy romance (thus the "adult" comment).  

I don't want to give the plot away, because the whole idea is so original.  Let me just say that The Ghost Downstairs involves ghosts (two of them), broken hearts (two of them), manslaughter, suicide, and a young man with a mysterious past.  The story unfolds with one surprise after another and the ending was the biggest surprise of all.  Once I started reading it, I simply had to finish it.  Go check it out for yourself.  

And thanks, Molly, for an enjoyable read! 

Next is Nocturne, a YA novel with lots of atmostphere.  No ghosts , but  magic, mystery, and the question of who to trust. . . . .


By L.D. Harkrader
Mirrorstone, $9.95, 245 pages
Fifteen years ago, Flannery Lane was left on the doorstep of the village wizard, Monsieur Anatole. A mysterious note advised, she will do better with someone of her own kind. Monsieur Anatole has raised Flannery as his niece, admonishing her never to use her own magic. Why? Magic draws evil to itself.
“Flan squared herself before the immense gates, and as she stood there, searching for a bell or knocker on the fat stone pillar, the gates groaned and swung open.” 
But, it’s hard not to use natural talent. At fifteen, Flan surreptitiously dabbles in small spells. An incident at the local blacksmith’s earlier eroded villagers’ trust in Anatole’s protective magic. People come to him now only for simple amulets and spells. When a sudden curse weakens his powers, he becomes bedridden. Flannery tries to cure his curse while keeping his condition secret. Two mysterious strangers come to town. Each takes an interest in Flan: one claims he wants to become a vampire hunter. But, does he? The other claims he’s a relative of the last Viscount Blakely, the vampire hunter who protected the village when he was alive. But, is he? People disappear. A violin plays a nocturne in the still of the night.
This suspenseful tale brings new surprises on each page, and the author avoids a predictable ending.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Interview with Michelle Fayard

Dear Blog Friends,

Michelle Fayard, who wrote a nice review of my book, The Fourth Wish, on her blog, Bird's Eye View,  has followed it up with a two part interview.  I hope you will go to her site and read and comment.  Meanwhile, due to renewed interest in the book, I'm looking into making it available on Kindle. I'll keep you posted about that.

Friday I'll be sharing a new book review, so please stop by; and next week I'll be back to my normal blogging.

Meanwhile, I do want to pass on a nice share from Angelica Jackson's latest post, and that is Pitch University , where you can learn all about pitching -- for free!

Ciao for now,

Friday, June 3, 2011

Book Review and Giveaway Contest

Here's someting special I'd like to share:  Michelle Fayard has a nice review of my book, The Fourth Wish on her blog, Bird's Eye Viewhttp://michellefayard.blogspot.com/ , along with a giveaway contest, where the winner gets a free copy of The Fourth Wish.

Check it out and leave a comment for her and you could win.

Book Review Friday -- The Shadows, Volume I of The Books of Elsewhere

Oh, my goodness!  It's that time of week again.  What a busy week it has been, too!  My after school art club has an art show tomorrow, and I've been matting, and affixing artist statements with pictures, and making artist name tags, etc. -- things that always seem like they are going to be quicker work than they are.  But I'm thrilled with their work and plan to take lots of pictures tomorrow to share on a future blog.

Meanwhile, it's review time, and once again I am re-posting a review from Sacramento Book Review of a simply wonderful book, The Shadows.  This is Volume I in a series called The Books of Elsewhere, and I was so absorbed in the fantastical world Jacqueline West created, that I can hardly wait for Volume II.

The Shadows: The Books of Elsewhere: Volume 1

Dial Books for Young Readers, $16.99, 241 pages
Olive Dunwoody’s mathematician parents are in an abstract world of their own. They don’t notice – as Olive does – that the old house they’ve moved in is creepy. Olive feels as if something in the house is watching her. One night, a large orange cat comes into her bedroom and begins to talk. In one of the paintings, Olive can see a distant figure running back and forth. Putting on a pair of spectacles she found in a dresser drawer, she sees the paintings come alive, and she can enter them. In one, she meets a frightened little boy and begins to learn of the house’s history.  Before long, Olive too, is running for her life.
I found The Shadows mesmerizing, partly due to the story itself; partly due to Jacqueline West’s remarkable writing. This is a tale of terror that makes you laugh. West’s imagery captures plot, setting and character in a simple turn of phrase. Olive’s quirky personality makes her a protagonist one can only look forward to meeting again in following books. Poly Berntene’s illustrations capture the house’s musty gloom and danger as well as Olive’s winsome spirit. A brilliant book all around.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Some Websites I'd Like to Share

As some of you know, I've been writing my brains out these past couple of weeks (and even longer, but the past two weeks have bumped my blogging to some extent, while I was meeting deadlines for contests.)

Now it's time to share: There are two travel-writing contests going on:  I've entered one: Amazing Travel Stories, with a submission deadline of August 31st, and I want to enter the second one next: Dave's Travel Corner has a travel writing essay.  The deadline for that is July 1st.  Both are no fee contests, and you can submit online.  I got these notifications via my friend Rosi Hollinbeck who is currently sharing great news about a Highlights workshop she just returned from on her great blog, The Write Stuff.  Thanks, Rosi!

I know, I know, this is a blogsite normally about writing or reviewing children's books: PBs, MGs, YAs.  But even children's writers travel, and your article doesn't necessarily have to be about traveling abroad. Check them out.

The Writer's Digest contest deadline was yesterday.  That is so famous that it didn't occur to me to post it.  Sorry.  I also made a mistake in reading the guidelines, but recovered from shock and submitted two picture books.  (They only wanted children's fiction 2,000 words or less.  Ha-ha.  My children's mystery is 24,000.)  It does pay to slow down when you read those guidelines.  But the good news is that I polished up that book so many times, getting ready to enter it, that now I'm ready to query on it.

Meanwhile, here is a contest that is still open:  Children's Writer Poetry or Verse Story Contest .  Their deadline is October 31st.  If you already subscribe to their newsletter, your first submission is free and later submissions are $15.00 each.  If you do not subscribe, then each submission is $15.00.  (You can submit more than one.)

The following website, isn't a contest, but it provides useful tools for checking your own WIP for interest level, reading level, and wordcount.  I got this from another writing friend, Teri, in one of my writing groups.  It's  Renaissance Learning.  Some of you may already know about it.  (I am often the last to know about things.)  But at the site, you can click on any children's book they have in their "library" (PB, MG, YA) and learn the reading level, the interest level, and the word count and see how your own WIP compares as you labor on.

That's it for today.  Back to work.  Happy reading.  Happy writing.  And do enter one of these contests.  (You don't even have to write the perfect query letter for any of these!)