Contests!, Reviews, Teaching Reading

Novel Madness 2018 FINALS

Yes, it’s two of the sixth graders’ all time favorites: The House of Hades and Hunger Games. Both novels have loyal followers. The contest will be decided this Wednesday, March 28, 2018. Stay tuned!

Reviews

I’ll Give You the Sun

jandy-nelson I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson, is one of the best magical realism books I’ve read for Young Adults. It features twins, a boy and a girl, named Noah and Jude. They are coming of age in a world where Jude regularly sees and receives advice from her dead grandmother, and Noah sees the world in the blazing color of possible paintings.

Jude has a ‘bible’ from her grandmother, who referred to God as Clark Gable, that contains spells and proverbs. Jude sums up every situation with one of these bits of wisdom. For example, to avoid serious illness, keep an onion in your pocket.

Both twins have artistic talent, but Noah is exceptionally talented. He’s also a serious misfit at school. This is further complicated when he develops a crush on another boy. All of his observations are punctuated by possible portrait titles. For example, when he’s angry with Jude, he thinks, PORTRAIT: My Spider Sister.

The death of the twins’ mother, as well as Jude and not Noah getting accepted at a special art school, begin to drive the twins apart. The story unfolds as they struggle to find their way back to each other and back to being comfortable in their own skin.

This is a book full of beautiful, lyrical language that evokes strong images. Some of my favorites:

“No woman can resist a man who has tidal waves and earthquakes beneath his skin.”

“Our eyes meet and we both crack up like we’re made of the same air.”

“We’re sprinting at the speed of light when the ground gives way and we rise into the air as if racing up stairs.”

Authors, Excerpts, Reviews

Author-go-Round: Tracy Lawson

003(48)Hi! I’m Tracy Lawson, and I’m so excited to be featured on Week 2 of this Author Interview-go-Round! I’m the author of Counteract and Resist, the first two volumes of the YA dystopian Resistance Series. Ignite, the third book in the series, is slated for release in summer 2016!

Here’s a quick summary of the series so far:

The Resistance Series takes place in a near-future version of the United States. The powerful Office of Civilian Safety and Defense has enacted a long list of Civilian Restrictions designed to keep the people safe from frequent terrorist attacks, but it hasn’t worked: as the story opens, the threat of a chemical weapons attack is literally hanging over everyone’s heads.

Careen takes the OCSD’s offered antidote, but the side effects cause her to hallucinate. Her erratic behavior attracts the attention of a young law enforcement officer, who mistakenly pegs her as a dissident. Careen doesn’t realize the antidote is causing her confusion…until she runs out on the day of the anticipated attack.

Tommy, recuperating from injuries sustained in a recent auto accident, is unaware that there’s a link between that accident, which killed his parents, and the chemical weapons attack that threatens him now. When he discovers that working out before he takes his dose of the antidote helps him feel more like himself, he defies the rules to regain his strength and his sanity. On the day of the attack, he meets Careen, who just might be the girl of his dreams, and tries to save her by sharing his last dose of the antidote, even though doing so could potentially hasten his own death.

What Careen and Tommy learn about the true nature of the terrorist threat spurs them to take action; their decisions lead them to run afoul of local law enforcement, team up with an underground resistance group, and ultimately take their quest for the truth to the highest reaches of the United States government.003(35) copy

In Resist, the second volume in the Resistance Series, Tommy and Careen are no longer naïve, frightened teenagers who believe the Office of Civilian Safety and Defense can protect them from terrorist attacks. They’ve discovered the OCSD’s miracle antidote’s true purpose: to create a population bereft of free will, incapable of defying the tyrannical OCSD. They join the Resistance, but on their first mission, things spin out of control and soon they’re on the run, dodging the quadrant marshals in a headlong dash for the Resistance’s secret headquarters.

Being part of the Resistance presents them with new challenges. Not everyone working for change will prove trustworthy, and plans to spark revolution go awry with consequences greater than they could’ve imagined. Tommy and Careen’s relationship is tested when their philosophical differences and the pressures of interpersonal rivalries and jealousy put a strain on their romance. Can they make time for each other while trying to start a revolution?

I love to talk to readers, and I’ve answered some interesting questions at book festivals and school visits. I’d like to share some of them with you:

How did you get the idea for your books? This question can be answered with a question. I was mentoring a friend of my daughter’s when the initial idea for Counteract came about. Chase is a pretty sharp guy and an excellent writer—and when he was in high school I had a lot of fun working with him and editing some of his short stories. We had finished working on a story about baseball, a broken nose, and a broken heart, and were ready to start something new, when he suggested we write scenes in response to the prompt: “What if everyone was on LSD and all thoughts were communal?” It was certainly thought provoking! Chase created the characters Tommy and Eduardo, I created Careen. Right away, we knew we were onto something. The story morphed and changed a lot before it became the finished version of Counteract—but that was how it all began.

What kind of research did you do while writing Counteract? A high school student asked me this question when I visited her English class, and I have to admit I totally fell for it. I responded, “Oh, I did lots of research.” Several people in the class looked surprised, and a few began to giggle. It took a second before I realized they’d asked if I’d tripped on LSD as part of my research, so I quickly qualified my answer. “I totally Googled LSD!” Actually, my browser history might look pretty odd to anyone who didn’t know I was researching a book about a society paralyzed by the fear of terrorism and an oppressive government. I’ve Googled guns, explosives, detonator cord, terrorist attacks, torture methods, and even a floor plan of the Capitol building. Don’t call the NSA on me, okay?

Did you get your ideas from another series? Is this story going to turn into another love triangle like Team Edward and Team Jacob in the Twilight series? When I was writing Counteract, and then Resist, I made every effort to craft a story that was different from the other popular teen books, like Hunger Games, Divergent, and Twilight. I even avoided reading The Hunger Games until I was finished writing Counteract so I wouldn’t be influenced. Love triangles are great devices in fiction, and Careen, my heroine, does attract the attention of two different guys, but it’s not the main focus of the story, and it does have a twist you won’t find in Twilight.

At almost every school visit, someone will ask how I chose the color orange for the CSD antidote in my book. One student noted that CSD is the same color as hallucination-causing drug that was used on Tris in the Divergent series.

At first, I’d envisioned the antidote as red, but when I saw the red liquid in the glass vial, I thought, ‘oh, no—everyone will think it’s vampire blood. This isn’t a vampire story.’ What other color could I choose? I eliminated blue, green, and purple, because cool colors are happy colors. I couldn’t use yellow (that’s when I pause until someone in the class starts to laugh) because it looks like pee. So that left orange, and that worked, because orange means caution and danger. I’d bet Veronica Roth arrived at her orange antidote using a similar process of elimination!

In the first chapter, you say something about Tommy being in an accident. I want to know more. Why didn’t you tell about the accident? This has to be one of the most amazing questions I’ve ever had, because it came from a very bright eight-year-old! My books are geared for ages 12 and up, and I don’t usually get questions from elementary-school children, but Bennett, who is the son of longtime friends, had been reading his older brother’s copy of Counteract before school that morning I visited his combined class of fourth through eighth graders.

I explained, “Bennett, you and I have known each other your whole life. But if we’d just met, and I said, ‘Hi, I’m Tracy Lawson, and I’ve come to speak to your school today. Back when I was born in Cincinnati in nineteen sixty something…’ you’d get bored and tune me out. I shouldn’t try to tell you my whole life story at once. Same with Tommy. I need you to get interested in him, and his immediate situation, before I tell you his backstory. What chapter are you on right now?” Bennett replied he’d just started Chapter 3. “Okay—you’re just about to learn about the accident that killed his parents and put him in the hospital.”

Counteract and Resist are available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble’s online store in both print and ebook editions.

Amazon buy links:

Counteract: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B013ZBPH7Q

Resist: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B013Z7URKM

Barnes & Noble:

Counteract: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/counteract-tracy-lawson/1120081568?ean=9780996610803

Resist: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/resist-tracy-lawson/1122581420?ean=9780996610827

Signed copies are available through Tracy’s website at http://counteractbook.com/lawson-publishing/

The audio book version of Counteract is nearing completion—so look for its release in February!

Want more behind the scenes info and updates about the Resistance Series?

Follow Tracy on

Twitter: @TracySLawson

Facebook: http://facebook.com/TracyLawsonAuthor

Also please visit these awesome authors: 

Eve Connelly, www.eveconnelly.wordpress.com

Nina Day Gerard, www.ninadaygerard.com

Miracle Austin, www.miracleaustin.com

Connie Peck, conniepeck.wordpress.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews

Neverwhere Book Review

neverNeverwhere, by Neil Gaiman, is a young adult magical realism novel. The main character, Richard Mayhew, struggles with his job and overbearing fiancee–who symbolizes parents/authority. He stops to help an injured girl, Door, and is plunged into a fantasy world underneath London. He follows Door on a quest to discover who killed her family. He meets mythical creatures and has supernatural experiences. The entire time he is trapped in London Below, Richard longs for his old life. When he is finally returned to London Above, he finds he has changed. In the end, he is given a way back to Below.

This novel is a classic coming of age young adult book. It is also an excellent example of magical realism. The definition of magical realism states that the story must have a blurred line between realism and the supernatural that is part of daily life. It also must have shifts in time and space, as well as a journey that uncovers a different truth about the world.

While in London Below, Richard encounters much magic. He meets Rat Speakers and attends Floating Markets that move locations every night. He is new to a world where residents interact with the supernatural every day. Occasionally he visits London Above while he is with Door, and the world never looks as he remembers it. It is eerily empty, or some structure is missing. Door herself is practically London Below royalty. She has inherited the power to open a gateway, or door, to anywhere she wants to go. Door symbolizes the pathway for Richard to adulthood.

When Richard first sees Door, bleeding on the street, he stops to help her. The next day, he is invisible. He loses his job and watches as his apartment is rented out to new people as if he never existed. This symbolizes the adolescent stage of life when a young person wants to be an adult but is not yet treated as one. On the quest to locate the angel Islington, Door and Richard go to the British Museum in London Above. They locate the Angelus, and Door opens a gateway to Islington’s underground home. Near the end, when Richard is returned to London Above, his life is waiting for him as if he never left.

During the quest, Richard must participate in a test of character. Door and her bodyguard, Hunter, have already won tests of intellect and strength. Richard’s ordeal greatly changes him, causing him to lose most of his self-doubts; he is now confident enough to interact with other beings of London Below. When he returns to London Above, he finds that his experiences have changed him so much that his job and friends mean little to him–he has become an adult and left them in childhood.

Although Richard is an adult by age in this book, unusual for Young Adult novels, his experience is one that clearly resonates with the readers in this age group. This novel is a good example of magical realism as opposed to fantasy. All the magical elements include a shift in time or space, or have some symbolism relevant to Richard’s awakening adulthood.

Reviews

Watersmeet

bookWatersmeet is the first novel in the Watersmeet series by Ellen Jensen Abbott. It is tagged Young Adult, but unlike some of today’s YA books this one can be read by younger YA readers. It’s about a girl who lives in a land with mythical creatures–including centaurs. You know how I am about horses, centaurs, unicorns, pegasi–you get the idea. On Amazon and Goodreads, this book gets a lot of rating abuse. I think those low stars are from YA readers who are expecting something edgier/more violent/sexier. Watersmeet is not like that.

Abisina is a human girl, heavily discriminated against because of her coloring and her absent father. Luckily, her mother’s healer skills are valued and Abisina is tolerated. An event turns the girl’s life upside down when she is forced, under penalty of death, to leave her village and find Watersmeet, where her father lives. She finds cruelty and discrimination as well as loyalty and love.

The world Abisina travels through is rich with history and races of creatures. The reader learns along with the girl as she encounters new things. Something I enjoyed was when Abisina is forced to realize the depth of her own prejudice–something many of us never fully understand. Discovering your own prejudices and overcoming them is an excellent theme for a YA book, and you don’t need violence and sex to accomplish it!

 

Reviews

Great Review!

A great big Microsoft Word - Document4THANK YOU to all the bloggers who hosted my Back to School Blog Hop! It was quite a heady month, reading all those new reviews, and I enjoyed the interviews, excerpts, and character interviews, too. To finish off the month, I’d like to share a new review from Amazon:

 

Format:Kindle Edition
Do you have a strong female role model in your life? I’m not talking about household names in the fight for women’s right to burn bras, I mean the everyday type, an ordinary woman with extraordinary strength, who lends strength to others to push beyond their comfort zone and spread their wings. Linda Ulleseit’s Under the Almond Trees is the story of the true grit and tenacity of women who struggled to be recognized in the male-dominated world of the mid-nineteenth century on up to the mid-twentieth century. Some wanted to be recognized as capable of running a business, to vote, to be allowed to choose what life they wanted to live and to be allowed in flourish in careers afforded only to men.Ellen VanValkenburgh was forced to be an independent woman upon the death of her husband, yet, in 1862, women were not allowed to vote, run businesses or become much more than elbow dressing on a man’s arm. Who would support her family, if not her? Who would stand up for the rights of women to be considered citizens? Instead of waiting for someone to step up, Ellen did so, herself, imprinting her belief in the right to choose on the female members of her family. Her legacy is passed down through the generations, as was her support and advice, as descendants take up their own crusades for the right to choose the path their lives took.

Are you looking for an inspirational read with a true-to-life historical feel? How about something to inspire a young woman today? Linda Ulleseit has brought history to life through her characters, her vividly depicted world and the atmosphere she has created with her words. What we would consider as archaic thinking only changed because of ordinary women with the fortitude to stand up and buck the system, over and over. I was lost in this world, living it, and horrified to actually feel how these women felt. I didn’t feel the need to raise a banner to a cause already fought, but I feel an eternal thankfulness for the pioneers depicted by these brave women. An excellent read, well-written, from a powerful wordsmith.

If that doesn’t top off a great month, what does? If you missed any of the posts during my blog hop, or you just want to check out the other blogs, you can find a full list of links here.
Authors, Reviews

Back to School Blog Hop

Microsoft Word - Document4Happy September! If your local school district is like mine, you’ve already been in school for two weeks. Nonetheless, I’ve always thought of September as Back to School month. This September, my books will be featured all month on a blog hop. Listed below are the bloggers who will be participating. Links to their blogs will be live once their Blog Hop post goes live. So put away those math books and click over to some interviews, book excerpts, guest posts, and other goodies.

Welcome to my Back to School Blog Hop!

 

September 2: Charles Ray  **  Charlie Ray’s Ramblings         
September 3: Apryl Baker  **  My Crazy Corner
September 4: Victoriya Aliferchyk  **  Vik Tory Arch           
September 5: Connie Peck  **  Connie Peck       
September 6: Angela Fristoe  **  Turning the Pages
September 7: Karin Rita Gastreich  ** Eolyn Chronicles
September 8: Courtney Vail  ** Gotta Have YA                     
September 9: Keeley  ** Keeley Reads                               
September 10: Evelyn Ralph  **  Evelyn’s Blog    
September 11: Cheryl  ** Gwyneira’s Book Blog    
September 12: Vanessa Aere  **  Book Butterfly Reviews          
September 13: Tiana Lemons  **  Ethereal Book Reviews    
September 14: Linda Ulleseit ** Chicks Writing Rockin’ YA          
September 15: DelSheree Gladden  **  The Edible Bookshelf          
September 16: Judy Goodwin  **  My Writerly World       
September 17: Emily Thompson  **  Clockwork Twist            
September 18: Charles Ray  **  Charlie Ray’s Ramblings   
September 19: Mary Collins ** Good Books Never Die     
September 20: Lauralee  **  History From a Woman’s Perspective
September 21: Kira Tregoning  **  Fantastical Reads     
September 22: Susan Stec  **  The Grateful Undead
September 23: Cathy Dougherty  **  Catherine Dougherty                          
September 25:  Dianne Bylo  **  Tome Tender
September 26: Jeanne Bannon Repole ** Beyond Words  
September 27: J.L. Campbell ** Reader’s Suite
September 28: Audra Middleton  **  Audra Writes
September 29: Jonel  **  Pure Jonel Confessions of a Bibliophile                    
September 30: Linda Ulleseit  **  Books, Books, Books
Reviews

Under a Wild and Darkening Sky

coverA review of my book by Megan, one of my students!

Under a Wild and Darkening Sky, by Linda Ulleseit, portrays Alyna and Ralf adapting to their new home in, High Meadow while working in their father’s bakery. Their parents plan out their future, but Ralf and Alyna chose not to follow in that particular path. They must also make careful decisions, and one wrong step comes the fall of High Meadow. Whew! That’s intense.

Alyna easily adapts to life in the barn, with a little help from a friend. I found this quite nice, as Alyna was never able to make friends in Merioneth. Alyna’s change adds a nice touch to the story. Ralf, on the other hand, is very adventurous. I really don’t know what to say. I can’t describe what he’s like. If I could, the word would be mixed-up-torn-loyal-maker of decisions-helper all mashed up into one word. Other than that description, he is hopeful and courageous when he helps restore- oh! I can’t give too much away, now can I? I was doubtful he would be any good when he helped his new troublesome friend, but as the story progressed, my opinions changed. I was hooked on like a fish, I suppose.

Evan, one of my least favorite characters from the beginning of the series, becomes crazed with power. People lose themselves to power, which I think is what happened to Evan. An important lesson in this part of the story is not to lose yourself to power otherwise you will get hit by- Oh no! I can’t give the book away!  And it was an exciting part about Evan! Oh well. You’ll have to read the book yourself! Anyway, as I just said, it teaches you an important lesson.

This is an excellent ending to the trilogy, and you don’t have to start from the first book, it’s easy to understand the idea of the story. I never thought I would enjoy Historical Fantasy/ Young Adult Books, but this, THIS! is truly fantastic. On my best book list!  The tension and the grabbing plot caused me to keep reading to find out what happened when Ralf and Alyna- No! I can’t reveal it! Okay, never mind. I would DEFINITELY recommend this to everyone in the whole wide world! Only if they would listen…

Response to Literature, Reviews

Compassion and Forgiveness

by Erica

How important is compassion and forgiveness? In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the book isn’t so much about forgiveness as it is about the difficulty of actually forgiving someone. Forgiveness and compassion are an ongoing process in here, and they are things that don’t come naturally to every character. Throughout the novel, we’re confronted with situations that may or may not be forgivable. Ron manages to forgive Hermione for her role in his pet Scabbers’ ‘death,’ but Snape on the other hand doesn’t get over the almost deadly prank that Harry’s father, James, and his two best friends, Lupin and Sirius, played on him as a schoolboy. Some acts seem unforgivable, such as Peter Pettigrew’s role in the death of Harry’s parents, but as Harry’s actions toward Peter demonstrate, even unforgivable acts can inspire mercy.

Reviews

Soul Stealer

soul stealerSoul Stealer, by Sam Richardson, is a new middle grade fantasy available as an ebook on Amazon for $.99.

The characters of Eve and Barney are extremely relatable for middle grade readers. In Eve and Barney they will see bits of their friends and siblings that will make them laugh and nod their heads. The adventures that the siblings in the book embark on are full of wonderful descriptions and excitement.

I like that they had to solve puzzles to get into the worlds they visited. Readers will enjoy trying to figure them out, but the book doesn’t dwell too long on the mystery, which might be frustrating. The image of a hallway of doors, and a key keeper with a robe full of pockets of keys, will stay with me for a long time, as will images from Zoltari.

Eve and Barney set off to save the world, and it’s particularly realistic that they don’t completely succeed at first. By the end of the book, they have grown a bit even though they still have a ways to go before they are fully grown up. I can see a terrific series developing around Eve and Barney as middle grade readers discover them.

My students had the opportunity to read this book in an early draft, and will be quite excited to see that the author incorporated some of their suggestions into the final draft.