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Harry Potter Meets The Princess Diaries ⇉ Review of The Crowns of Croswald by D.E. Night

Thursday, July 20, 2017
Deeply buried secrets. A magical school. A quest to save the kingdom . . .

The Crowns of Croswald is part Harry Potter (with the chosen one and magical school setting) and part The Princess Diaries (with the MC Ivy being a strong heroine in the process of discovering and learning about her special heritage, and also embracing her gender and enjoying a pretty dress).


WHAT I LIKED


A School Life Story
Though it is a story about a heroine learning about her role in saving the world, The Crowns of Croswald is also very much a school story in which the heroine must attend to her role as a student even as she searches for clues to her identity. I love magical stories that take place in a school setting. It's so much fun to learn about the world with the students as they attend class and, of course, sneak off on secret adventures.

A Compelling Mystery
Though Ivy's heritage is pretty apparent from the beginning, there are many mysteries surrounding her situation, and more mysteries continue surfacing as she searches for answers. These mysteries kept me in suspense from start to finish, and even though most of the questions have been answered, there is enough left to keep me in anticipation of the next book in her story.

The Promise of Adventure
The Crowns of Croswald is filled with adventures in and out of class, and it ends with the promise of more to come. I like how this book sets the stage for the next part of Ivy's journey.


WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE (AS MUCH)


Un-Memorable Characters
While I have a soft spot for some of the characters, none of them were particularly memorable in the end. They're one dimensional and lack complexity; there are opportunities for the characters to show vulnerability and depth to them, but instead they continue moving forward as they have always done. Ivy, in particular, continues to exude self confidence and charisma in moments when she could have opened herself more to the reader and shown more to her character.

As for the supporting cast, we don't see enough of any of them to get to know them beyond what is their relationship to Ivy (and how she views them). There were lost opportunities to flesh out their characters. An example: As much as we love to hate on Malfoy in the Harry Potter series, he's still endearing—that's because we see more to his character than someone who cares about the purity of a wizard's blood. In comparison, Ivy's "rival" is only portrayed as someone who loves attention as much as she enjoys tormenting Ivy.

A Harry Potter Retelling (for the first half or so)
There were many details in the first half or so of the novel that felt like they came straight out of Harry Potter. (Some examples - highlight to see: the chosen one who never knew he she had magical abilities, ghosts in the dining hall, the magical shopping district, the diminutive professor who needs a stack of books to be seen . . .)

For some time, I wondered if I was reading a Harry Potter retelling or fan fiction. Eventually, the differences did make themselves clear, but I do get a strong Harry Potter vibe from this book. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but there were a few too many strong similarities such that I wonder how large an influence the Harry Potter books were in the writing of this novel.

How or When Did This Happen? (Missing Explanations and Awkward Time Skips)
There are several incidents in which some things seem to happen without cause or an action was missing to explain a situation. There are also some awkward time skips where a summary of events would have helped facilitate the transition through the passage of time. The same awkwardness goes for descriptions of characters and the setting. For the most part, these incidents don't hinder the reader's understanding of the text, but they did make the difference of a star in my final rating.


FINAL THOUGHTS


Though the characters have yet to prove themselves to be particularly memorable, the plot and world building is interesting enough that I'm open to revisiting this world with the next novel in the series. As this is a first novel, there is room for the writing to mature. I look forward to seeing what D.E. Night brings to us next!

★★★☆☆


In Croswald, the only thing more powerful than dark magic is one secret...

For sixteen years Ivy Lovely has been hidden behind an enchanted boundary that separates the mundane from the magical. When Ivy crosses the border, her powers awaken. Curiosity leads her crashing through a series of adventures at the Halls of Ivy, a school where students learn to master their magical blood and the power of Croswald’s mysterious gems. When Ivy’s magic—and her life—is threatened by the Dark Queen, she scrambles to unearth her history and save Croswald before the truth is swept away forever.








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CHAT WITH ME


If you owned a magical crown, what special ability would it allow you to wield? (Possible answers: transform into magical creatures, set things on fire, freeze water. . .)



Publication Info
  • The Crowns of Croswald by D.E. Night
  • Published by Stories Untold
  • On July 21, 2017
  • Genres: YA Fantasy
  • Pages: ??? Pages
  • Format: Paperback
Series
  1. The Crowns of Croswald
  2. TBD
Content
  • Bullying / Snobbery
  • Someone is locked in a box in a closet (found afterwards)
  • Someone seemingly disperses into gold glitter

A Whimsical Adventure with Family at Its Heart ⇉ Review of The Queen is Coming to Tea by Linda Ravin Lodding + #GIVEAWAY

Thursday, July 13, 2017
The Queen is Coming to Tea is a delightful, whimsical read in which a young girl visits many different countries in search of delicacies to serve the queen at tea. I enjoyed joining Ellie on her journey. It took me back to my childhood days when my brother and I would create new worlds and go on imaginary journeys. Seeing the queen and Ellie together at the end was a sweet moment. I enjoy books that show mother-daughter moments. (highlight to see).

This is a book that mothers will enjoy reading with their daughters. The end suggests that there will be a sequel that fathers can share with their daughters. In a future companion story, I would love to see siblings go on adventures together! Growing up with my brother was an important part of my life.


★★★☆☆


One day there was a knock at Ellie's door. There stood the Queen's Footman. "A message from Her Royal Highness." He offered Ellie a note on a silver tray.
May I please come for tea?
Sincerely yours,
The Queen Herself


When Ellie finds out the Queen is coming to tea, she snaps to attention! After all, the Queen deserves the best: cake from Paris, tea from China, lemons from Italy... "Pish posh," says Ellie. "We can do it!"

But will the Queen patiently wait? And what exactly will be waiting for the Queen?





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Fancy Nancy Tea Parties by Jane O'Connor


CHAT WITH ME


What were some of your favorite moments with your mother (or another parental figure) growing up?


GIVEAWAY


As a part of the tour, we're giving away 2 Ceramic Tea Sets and copies of The Queen is Coming to Tea.
a Rafflecopter giveaway




Publication Info
  • The Queen is Coming to Tea by Linda Ravin Lodding
  • Published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
  • On February 7, 2017
  • Genres: Children's Book
  • Pages: 32 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
    Series
    • N/A
      Content
      • N/A


      Friendship Forged and Real-World Issues Explored in the Australian Wild ⇉ Review of The Fallen Star by Tracey Hecht

      Thursday, July 6, 2017
      I loved animal books as a child, so when I had the opportunity to review this series, I knew I was in! For reviews of the first two books, click on the links in the table at the bottom of this post!


      WHAT I LIKED


      Introduces New (Australian!) Animals
      Each book of the The Nocturnals series has introduced new animals that can be found in Australia. I've enjoyed learning more about different kinds of animals. This book provides a good opportunity to research more about Australian animal life with your young reader.

      Enemies That Aren't So Bad After All
      As with the previous two novels, The Fallen Star reveals that individuals can make bad decisions that hurt others for innocent motives, motives with which we can identify. I love how these books show young readers how to consider things from the other party's perspective, forgive wrongdoings, and move forward together.

      Provides a Safe Place to Explore Real World Issues
      As I hinted above, there are real world issues in this book. Because the story is fictional and told through animal life, The Nocturnals books provide a safe place for young readers to explore real world issues. In particular, this book portrays the following: gluttony, keeping secrets, insecurity, friendship, and talking before you think.


      WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE (AS MUCH)


      Bismarck is Still One Rude Marsupial
      Bismarck often gets himself and his friends into tough spots because of his tendency to talk before he thinks. He's rude to those he doesn't like and / or who disagree with him. That said, he's also a good friend and will quickly change attitudes when he realizes there's a problem.

      Superficial Characters
      To a certain extent, the characters are still pretty superficial. We don't get to know the animals outside of the main trio. Dawn is the brave leader and the least developed. Bismarck has some depth in that his brash attitude forces him to learn a lot of lessons the hard way. In this book, Tobin shows more complexity because of his inner conflict. Overall, however, we don't get much complexity. (That said, it's for the most part age appropriate.)

      Where's the Old Cast?
      I realized in writing this review that we don't really see old comrades make an appearance outside of the original trio. While I enjoy meeting new Australian wildlife, I would love to see old friends make a reappearance. It would help connect the books and give a stronger feel of consistency. Thus far, the books feel episodic in nature (which isn't altogether bad—it means you can pick any book after the first book and not worry about having to read the rest of the books—but I would like to check in on old friends).


      FINAL THOUGHTS


      I enjoyed this book much more than the first two books. The conflict was intriguing and had me worried about the fates of the forest animals. It actually felt like they were in danger, and there was a real mystery here. I would recommend this book to young readers who love animals and would be interested in reading an animal book that takes place in a foreign country!

      ★★★☆☆


      In The Fallen Star, Dawn, Tobin, and Bismark awaken one evening to a disaster: all of the forest's pomelos have been mysteriously poisoned! As the Nocturnal Brigade sets out to investigate, they encounter Iris, a mysterious aye-aye, who claims monsters from the moon are to blame. While the three heroes suspect a more earthly explanation, the animals of the valley are all falling ill. And then Tobin gets sick, too! The Nocturnal Brigade must race to find answers, and the cure, before the pomelo blight threatens to harm them all.



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      Dawn, Tobin, and Bismarck help other animals who live in their forest. What activities do you enjoy doing with friends?



      Publication Info
      • The Fallen Star by Tracey Hecht
      • Published by Fabled Films Press
      • On May 2, 2017
      • Genres: Animals, Juvenile
      • Pages: 208 Pages
      • Format: Hardback
      Content
      • A deceitful villain uses other animals (lies to some, hypnotizes others).
      • A death is mentioned
      • Some intense scenes in which the heroes are captured and fight for their lives.

      Overcoming Death and Stereotypes ⇉ Review of What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum

      Thursday, June 29, 2017
      When I was in school, I would have friend groups for different situations. I met people in certain activities, and our interactions were limited to those situations. Or if we did go out and do something different, only people from that group attended. The older I get, however, the more I appreciate having a stable friend group that does life together.

      The initial appeal of What to Say Next is that it breaks these "class lines" and puts a girl from the "in" crowd in the time and place as a boy from the "out" crowd. In the process, we're reminded of the unifying nature of our humanity. We don't have to be one or the other. As long as we put aside preconceived stereotypes, we can be just human.


      WHAT I LIKED


      It's the Small Details (that bring the characters to life)
      In a fiction writing class I took in college, the professor told us that small details make a story more realistic. I was reminded of this early in What to Say Next because it is filled with small details about the characters from their mannerisms to beauty marks (like the cluster of freckles David notices on Kit) to their thoughts. Such details made them real to me and helped invest me in their lives.

      Crossing Social Boundaries
      High school is a microcosm of the "real world," and the social hierarchy is no different. Kit belongs to the "in" crowd (though she's not feeling very "in" right now) while David belongs to the "out" crowd. What's interesting is that Kit isn't very comfortable in her own skin while David is comfortable watching everyone from afar. Their worlds collide when . . . something happens to spark an unlikely friendship between them (see how I avoided spoilers by drawing from the synopsis below?).

      I like how the story crosses social boundaries to examine how life could be if people set aside their differences to find common ground. Okay, this might not be the original intention of the author, but it's there and it's real. It makes the story real and relatable.

      Also of note: Kit is of a diverse background, and it actually plays an important role in her life and how she perceives her identity. It's not mentioned and left forgotten like I've seen in other books. David has been diagnosed with Asperger's (and he has a problem with it being swallowed into the autism spectrum in the DSM-5, another little detail that brings his character to life).

      Invests in the MCs' Stories
      All of the above drew me into the MCs' lives. (This story is told in alternating perspectives between Kit and David.) Some parts were cheesy: like the party and what happens at the party, and like what happens in the last scene of the novel (I would've thought it'd take more time to get over what happened almost immediately before that).

      However, Kit and David feel like real people, and they deal with very real-world problems. I'm sure many readers can relate to their feelings if not the problems they deal with.

      Brings Together the Pieces
      There's a big reveal at the end (because what's a contemporary novel without big reveals?). To be honest, I could deal without another piece of drama added to the mix, but to give author Julie Buxbaum credit, this one was well done. I like how it made a lot of inconspicuous events from earlier turn into foreshadowing. If you're into rereads, it'd be worth giving this one a shot after you've seen the big reveal, so you can see how Buxbaum builds up the big reveal.


      WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE


      Some Loose Threads
      There are some plotlines that don't get developed much or get an ending. For a time, they seemed important, but they get dropped after the plot twist is revealed towards the end.

      The Content: Language & The Afterlife
      I have a list of content in the table towards the bottom of this post, but I'll be addressing a couple in more detail here.

      Language in particular comes up frequently in What Happens Next. Enough that I felt uncomfortable.

      From various details in the novel, it seems that the author is more secular minded. For example, a conversation on life after death uses a paradigm in which science and religion are considered mutually exclusive, and the characters agree that there is no life after death. While I love how the story explores real world issues, I would think twice about recommending this book because of the values expressed.


      FINAL THOUGHTS


      What to Say Next has some of the most real characters I've seen in a contemporary novel, and it explores real world issues with which we can relate. Readers who enjoy a book with well-developed characters will enjoy this one. That said, I would caution readers to check out the content in the book before delving into it as some readers, especially more conservative readers, may not be comfortable with the content. (See content list in the table at the bottom of this post.)

      ★★★☆☆


      Sometimes a new perspective is all that is needed to make sense of the world.

      KIT: I don’t know why I decide not to sit with Annie and Violet at lunch. It feels like no one here gets what I’m going through. How could they? I don’t even understand.

      DAVID: In the 622 days I’ve attended Mapleview High, Kit Lowell is the first person to sit at my lunch table. I mean, I’ve never once sat with someone until now. “So your dad is dead,” I say to Kit, because this is a fact I’ve recently learned about her.

      When an unlikely friendship is sparked between relatively popular Kit Lowell and socially isolated David Drucker, everyone is surprised, most of all Kit and David. Kit appreciates David’s blunt honesty—in fact, she finds it bizarrely refreshing. David welcomes Kit’s attention and her inquisitive nature. When she asks for his help figuring out the how and why of her dad’s tragic car accident, David is all in. But neither of them can predict what they’ll find. Can their friendship survive the truth?



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      Publication Info
      • Eliza and Her Monsters by Julie Buxbaum
      • Published by Harper Collins
      • On May 30, 2017
      • Genres: Contemporary
      • Pages: 400 Pages
      • Format: Hardback
      Series
      • N/A
      Content
      • Frequent Language
      • Kissing, making out
      • Thoughts of female nudity (not explicit)
      • Death & Descriptions of a Car Accident
      • Aspergers / Autism Spectrum
      • Bullying
      • Fight scene (not entirely explicit; it's mentioned later that some students get sent to the hospital)
      • Mentions of an affair, divorce papers, and couple therapy
      • Underage drinking / house party
      • Questions on life after death. Science and religion are treated as mutually exclusive entities. Determines there is no life after death.

      Learning to Love Yourself and What You Do ⇉ Contemplations on Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

      Tuesday, June 20, 2017
      Francesca Zappia has a talent for bringing characters and their emotions to life. I started reading this book intending to enjoy some light reading before bed . . . and stayed up flipping through the pages, intent on finding out how things develop between Eliza and Wallace after he sees her artwork.

      The high school me could relate with Eliza. I didn't like school and had a hard time communicating with my peers. Reading and writing were my means of escape from reality. I never created an online fandom like Eliza, but I did hang around the Inkpop forums before Figment took over. Given this shared experience and how the Internet has become such a large part of our culture, I was interested in seeing how Francesca Zappia would bring the two worlds together.

      I like how Francesca Zappia integrates pages from Eliza's popular webcomic Monstrous Sea, comment threads, and text messages into the novel. It gives us a broader picture of Eliza's life and how much more real her online community is to her than her offline life, where everything that can go wrong seems to go wrong. (At least, to the teenage mind.) Because of this broader picture, I can empathize with how Eliza puts more energy into her online life. It's so much easier to invest into something that's going well, especially after all our past efforts with the alternative seem to have failed.

      Regardless of whether you consider yourself an artist, I believe we can all relate to Eliza's creativity and passion. We've all felt passion for something at one part in our life. Whether or not we continued to feed that passion is another story. (Or maybe you found another passion: I can relate to that one. I was the child who tried different things but found a hard time sticking to any one thing. Anyone else relate?) I enjoy reading YA lit because of the hope it lights up in the midst of challenges. It fuels my drive to delve into my passions and create something.

      The ending of Eliza really hits home for me. There will be times when we fall into slumps. When we want to give up and let go of everything. Even after we overcome one obstacle, we may face another one later on. Eliza's continued passion for her creation in a time of trial reminds me never to persevere through the challenges. When we can get through them, the result will be so, so rewarding.

      (Her story also reminds me that authors are human too. There are authors who go on long hiatuses. Eliza reminds us that authors don't belong to their fans; they need time off too for personal reasons. I appreciate the time that authors take with their craft. Some of my favorite authors tend to take their time with their works, and the quality of their writing is worth the wait!)

      Of course, no story is perfect, and the reasons will differ from reader to reader. Some things that I didn't love so much were....

      1. The language
      It's not pervasive, but there are times when cuss words pop up

      2. The romance
      There are some intimate moments behind closed doors. (Thankfully, nothing that involves clothes coming off, but I did feel like I was invading their private space).

      My bigger problem, however, is how Wallace handles the big reveal and what he says to her the next time they see each other. (I don't consider this a spoiler because we know the reveal is going to happen eventually). Though he seems to try to be understanding, in the end, he's thinking about himself, and his backstory was developed enough for me to empathize with the way he treats her. In the end, I still don't see how they got resolve everything other than the fact that they're teenagers. (It still would have been good to see them communicate more. Too much is done at the end out of moments of passion.)

      3. Where's Monstrous Sea?
      I was looking forward to seeing the story of Monstrous Sea interwoven with that of Eliza's offline life. While we do see some of the story, it's so sparse and infrequent, that I wouldn't remember what I'd last seen of Monstrous Sea by the time the next section came around. I'm also confused as to how the storyline all fits in together. I needed to see either more of Monstrous Sea (so I could make the connections ) or less of it (so I could remember what I did see).

      4. Underdeveloped Family Relations
      While I like how Eliza's family plays an important role in her life (as under appreciated as they are in the beginning), things wrap up a little to nicely at the end. I feel like Eliza isn't given the chance to grow as much as she could have as a daughter and sister.

      Yes, her family didn't try as hard as they could have to understand her and support her, but Eliza also fails to try to understand them and assumes that they hate her. I love how her brothers take action at the end to move things forward, and I wish that more pages were dedicated to showing her respond in kind. This was a great opportunity to show character growth and shine the spotlight on the family.


      FINAL THOUGHTS


      Eliza's story is one with which many readers can relate no matter where they come from. We often think that other people live more glamorous lives than ours or judge us more harshly than they do. Who better to show us this than Eliza, whose online life is scrutinized by millions of fans? While I did have some problems with plot development (especially the later stages of the romance), I enjoyed following Eliza's high school troubles and the nostalgia of my own high school life (not that I enjoyed high school much when I was a high school student). Eliza's story is a remind that, no matter how tough things get, as long as we push forward with hope for the future, we will find joy in the midst of trials and come out a stronger person.

      Lastly, I do need to shout out the references to anime. I love anime and cartoons in general :)

      ★★★☆☆


      Her story is a phenomenon. Her life is a disaster.

      In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, she’s LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of the wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves the online one, and she has no desire to try.

      Then Wallace Warland, Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction writer, transfers to her school. Wallace thinks Eliza is just another fan, and as he draws her out of her shell, she begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile.

      But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart.



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      Publication Info
      • Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia
      • Published by Harper Collins
      • On May 30, 2017
      • Genres: Contemporary
      • Pages: 400 Pages
      • Format: Hardback
      Series
      • N/A
      Content
      • Language
      • Kissing, intimate couple moments (no sex scenes)
      • Fan work involving BL (boy love)
      • Contemplations of suicide
      • Panic attack

      The Ominous Eye by Tracey Hecht ⇉ Furry Friends and Big Dilemmas Will Encourage Young Readers to Reconsider What They Know about Right and Wrong

      Friday, June 16, 2017
      The Nocturnals are back for another adventure! Who else enjoys reading books featuring animals as the protagonists?


      WHAT I LIKED


      Friendship Focus
      The focus of the Nocturnals has always been on the strong friendship that Dawn, Tobin, and Bismark share. I like how their friendship is put to the test in this novel because it shows young readers that good friends can fight and doubt each other, but they will continue to care for each other and put in the effort to make up.

      Blurs the Line Between Good and Evil
      Like the first book, The Ominous Eye blurs the line between good and evil. Oftentimes, we look at someone's actions and judge their character based off a specific behavior at a specific point in the time, but we don't stop to question the motive behind their behavior. The Ominous Eye calls us to consider the other side's perspective.

      Caricature of the Real World
      The actions of the nocturnals in this novel reflect the actions of real-world people when bad things happen and no one knows what to do. This book provide a safe place for children to consider how they would act (or who in the novel they want to act like) should something similar take place in their lives.


      WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE (AS MUCH)


      Superficial Characters
      As in the first novel, the characters stay nicely packaged in their respective personas. While events cause tension within the heroes' relationships with one another, even the quarrel isn't very persuasive and lacks depth.

      The Characters' Attitudes and Actions
      On top of what I didn't like from the last novel, I really didn't like Dawn and Bismark's attitudes in this novel. The new major player in this novel was also pretty big "know it all." Young readers may find their attitudes and actions interesting, but as an older reader, I wanted to see more to the characters' personalities.


      FINAL THOUGHTS


      Overall, I appreciate how the Nocturnals books introduce young readers to new creatures and teaches them about friendship, hope, and perseverance through hardships. In exploring real-world concepts through animals lives, the book gives young readers the opportunity to consider the right thing to do when faced with a moral dilemma.

      ★★★☆☆


      They're baaaccckkk for another mysterious action filled Nocturnal adventure!

      Join Dawn, Bismark and Tobin as they set out to investigate the source of a violent jolt that fractures the earth! Along their journey, the Nocturnal Brigade meets an unfamiliar reptile—a tuatara named Polyphema—who reveals that a giant beast caused the destruction and will soon strike again. Polyphema with her special insights, is the only one who can help the Nocturnal Brigade stop this fearsome predator… but can she be trusted? With help from an owl, the jerboas, and some kiwis, the animals set a trap since surrender is not an option against this relentless beast.



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      What would you do if one of your best friends seemed to be taking someone else's side?



      Publication Info
      • The Ominous Eye by Tracey Hecht
      • Published by Fabled Films Press
      • On September 20, 2016
      • Genres: MysteryMiddle Grade
      • Pages: 208 Pages
      • Format: Hardback
      Series: Nocturnals
      1. The Mysterious Abductions
      2. The Ominous Eye
      3. The Fallen Star
      Content
      • Some violence

      Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel for review. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.

      5 Worlds: The Sand Warrior by Mark Siegel ⇉ Full Color Illustrations, Unlikely Heroes, and a #GIVEAWAY

      Friday, June 9, 2017
      Five worlds at stake. Three unlikely heroes. . .

      The Sand Warrior has the basics to one of my favorite plotlines in fantasy worlds. Furthermore, it's told in graphic novel format. Though I typically favor prose reads, I enjoy a good graphic novel and opened this one in anticipation of how the illustrations would bring the story to life.


      WHAT I LIKED


      Full Color Illustrations
      The Sand Warrior is filled with full color illustrations from start the finish. I appreciate the use of full color because it brings the fantasy world to life in a way that wouldn't have been possible with black and white illustrations.

      The Political Intricacies
      With the fate of 5 worlds at stake, there is unrest and political intricacy as expected. Different races fight for a say in their fates, there are power struggles, and there is the daily fight for survival. In the end, the story makes the reader question who is in the right and if there is a way to resolve everything in a way that respects all the parties involved. The twist in the last battle of The Sand Warrior further expands on the political intricacies and the moral dilemmas faced by the characters.

      Creative World Building
      Though only a few of the characteristics of the 5 worlds are explored in The Sand Warrior, it is clear that each world possesses its unique elements. The ability of the sand dancers is the focus in this first book. Oona's troubles in the academy will be relatable to many young people; I wish that her time there was explored in more detail.

      Strong Mentor Figures
      The main characters are still children. Though they must take action on their own at times (being the heroes), they do not do everything on their own. At times when they don't know what to do, they turn to their mentor figures, who play instrumental roles in providing them with shelter, important information, and learning opportunities. I am always appreciative of books with strong mentor figures. No matter how old we get, we always need them!!

      Contemporary Issues in a Foreign World
      Bullying and name calling . . . social unrest . . . political intricacies . . . racism . . . many contemporary issues are raised in The Sand Warrior. Given that events take place in a foreign world, this presents a safe place for young readers to explore these issues.


      WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE


      Does Not Build a Firm Foundation
      Soon after the start, events take place one after the other without pause. I felt like a puppet being dragged from one place to another without understanding the point of the mission. Yes, this may have happened because the characters themselves don't know what's going on, but without a clear focus, the readers will become lost as well.

      This first book certainly does its job of setting up the premise. However, it was a simple introduction and nothing more. As a first book, it's weak and doesn't have the power to stand alone, something I expect from a strong first book in a series.

      Flat Characters
      Outside of the twist introduced towards the end, The Sand Warrior fails to invest my interest in the characters' stories. The characters felt bland and cookie cutter. They fit nicely within the stereotype presented and don't act much outside of it. Though the panels will focus on their faces now and then, their expressions weren't readable and didn't tell me anything about them.

      I expect that later books will teach us more about the characters and the worlds they inhabit. That said, we shouldn't have to rely so much on sequels to let us get to know the characters, especially if they were introduced early into the novel and play a pivotal role in events.

      What's the Message?
      Lastly, because there isn't a coherent plot and the characters don't take much of an active role in pushing it forward (instead being led by others), this first book last a decisive message to pull it together. Again, I expect to see a clearer plot as the later books bring the plot threads together, but we shouldn't have to rely on later books to bring it all together. Each book should still have a clear purpose.


      FINAL THOUGHTS


      All in all, The Sand Warrior is a weak first book but sets the stage for the sequels to come. I enjoyed the full color illustrations and the creative world building. There is much intrigue in this book, and I am interested in seeing where the plot twist at the end takes us.

      If you're interested in reading more (or know someone who would enjoy reading this book), remember to enter the giveaway at the end of this post for a chance to win a copy of The Sand Warrior!




      The Five Worlds are on the brink of extinction unless five ancient and mysterious beacons are lit. When war erupts, three unlikely heroes will discover there s more to themselves and more to their worlds than meets the eye. . . . The clumsiest student at the Sand Dancer Academy, Oona Lee is a fighter with a destiny bigger than she could ever imagine.

      A boy from the poorest slums, An Tzu has a surprising gift and a knack for getting out of sticky situations.

      Star athlete Jax Amboy is beloved by an entire galaxy, but what good is that when he has no real friends? When these three kids are forced to team up on an epic quest, it will take not one, not two, but 5 WORLDS to contain all the magic and adventure!





      YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE...


      « Click to read reviews »

      Akiko and the Planet Smoo by Mark Crilley



      CHAT WITH ME


      If you were to travel to another planet, what will you do there?


      Publication Info
      • The Sand Warrior by Mark Siegel
      • Published by Random House BFYR
      • On May 2, 2017
      • Genres: Graphic Novel
      • Format: Hardback
      5 Worlds
      1. The Sand Warrior
      2. The Cobalt Prince
      Content
      • Some violence

      Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the author. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.



      GIVEAWAY


      Thanks to the publisher, I have the following to give away to a blog reader!

      PRIZES
      The Sand Warrior by Mark Siegel

      OPEN TO...
      The United States

      a Rafflecopter giveaway

      Author Interview with Sara Pascoe (Being a Witch and Other Things I Didn't Ask For)

      Saturday, May 27, 2017
      Today, I'm delighted to host author Sara Pascoe on the blog with an interview. I recently read and loved her latest novel Being a Witch and Other Things I Didn't Ask For.

      Welcome to the blog, Sara! Tell us a little about yourself.
      I come to writing fiction after a career in psychology. I had a lot of interesting and inspiring experiences from teaching chimpanzees language, to working in the US Congress. I am originally from the US and moved to Great Britain in 2004, where I now live on the south coast where we run a B&B for English Language students.

      The main characters travel through space and time in your latest novel. What did you learn in writing Being a Witch?
      I learned quite a bit about the history of both England and the Ottoman Empire around the time of the story, the mid-seventeenth century. What I found particularly fascinating was the stark contrast between the two places in the mid-1600s. Things were awful in England at this time. There were food shortages due to long-term weather conditions, the water was so dirty it was safer to drink ale, the average lifespan was 16 years of age, and ordinary folk, both men and women had very few rights.

      But in Istanbul (called Constantinople by Europeans) life was amazing. There was hot and cold running water! Proper toilets! There were soup kitchens for the poor, schools for boys and girls, free hospitals for people and animals. It was considered a good deed to feed stray cats :). Women could own businesses, and bring cases to court. I read quite a few (translated) original court documents, and diaries of European women who ran away to Istanbul for a better life. I also read original writings by two of the real-life historic figures in the book, Matthew Hopkins, the notorious witch hunter in England, and Katip Celebi, the celebrated scientist and scholar of the Ottoman Empire. I am happy to send anyone the links and references for any of the research.

      It's neat how much you can learn while writing a novel! What life experiences did you draw from in the writing of Being a Witch?
      There were two main areas of personal experience that fed into the book.
      1. Foster Kids. I'd worked with foster kids over many years in my role as a psychologist. And I always was, and continue to be, very moved by what this is like. You never have a 'forever' home. You know the grownups can throw you back if you're just that much too much of a pain. And then, at 18--flick--you're out on your own.
      2. Traveling to Turkey. We visited friends in Izmir, where there is now the Katip Calebi University, and in Istanbul. That had been my first time in Turkey, and I adored it. I had been in the middle of writing the book, and decided to bring the story there, so I had a good reason to learn more about this amazing place and the history still gloriously evident.

      While reading Being a Witch, I found myself wondering what other kinds of skills witches could learn. If you had a speciality as a witch, what would it be?
      To always be patient and in a good mood! My life is just lovely, and I am so lucky in so many ways, but I can easily slip into getting caught up in any of life's ordinary frustrations and setbacks. So, I would give myself the superpower of Constant Greater Perspective!

      I understand completely. When life happens and ruins our carefully laid plans, it can be so easy to get frustrated and let it ruin our day. Describe your witch familiar.
      Ooo, I don't think I could limit myself to just one. Of course, I'd have a trusty cat familiar who would suss out people who aren't who they seem, or pretend to be. But I also adore rats, and find they are a very under-appreciated species, so I'd have a rat familiar who would ride on my shoulder, and I think they would sense oncoming danger from natural things such as food that's gone bad, storms, earthquakes and the like. And I'd have a goat familiar whose power would be to draw in wonderful friends. It would be a very well-behaved goat who could go on walks, and people would be drawn in to him or her, to say 'hi', as people do with dogs.

      I agree. Rats are really intelligent and underappreciated. One of my first pets was a rat, and I loved playing with her. What's your favorite baked good? Do you have a recipe to share?
      Wow, another hard choice. My favourite at the moment is a banana cake with cream cheese icing. It's a big hit at gatherings and a good one for making ahead. (You'll see the part about putting it in the freezer right after baking -- this is correct. You can just freeze it from there, then thaw it out and ice it on the day you want it.) I've attached the recipe for all to enjoy. This is my altered version; the original was from another writer, Della Galton.

      That sounds delicious. I'm looking forward to trying out your recipe! If you could visit any time period, which would you visit and why?
      I may have this wrong, but I think I'd like to go back to the 1920s in the US or Europe. From what I know, this was a time of hope and expansion both culturally and socially, with the Impressionists, some of the early greats of photography, and the start of real, and positive developments for ordinary working people. It was after the horrors of losing millions in World War I, but before the global hardships of the Great Depression. Jazz was coming into it's own, the dancing was great. And they had cool clothes :).

      I love jazz music. What are you working on right now?
      Sabrina Jones' Blog from the Future (working title) is a science fiction novel aimed at adults. Sabrina, in her late twenties, lives in a entirely self-contained high-rise 'hive' where food is grown on the roof, your TV tells you when your brain chemistry is off, and sex is no longer taken personally. But her life is turned upside down when her boss is found dead, and she accidentally uncovers a government cover-up to hide the President's brain damage. The President's behaviour is putting the whole world in danger, but will anyone believe her?

      That sounds like an interesting book. I look forward to checking it out when it's released!

      Blog readers, don't forget to scroll down and enter the international giveaway of Being a Witch (and a cool pen to go along with it!).

      About Being a Witch and Other Things I Didn't Ask For



      When you’re fourteen and life has been nothing but hurt and disappointment, maybe it’s time to strike out on your own. But after leaving the boring village and foster home for the excitement of London, Raya finds out she’s a witch, with this annoying habit of time-travelling – by accident. And this sarcastic witch’s cat Oscar tags along for the ride. But why would she fling herself into the midst of the Essex Witch Trials in 1645 England? After being arrested by Matthew Hopkins, one of history’s most notorious witch hunters, her social worker and witch mentor Bryony goes back to try to save them from the gallows. But returning to present day London remains out of reach with Raya’s powers still out of control when they find themselves in 1645 Istanbul/Constantinople. There, life is more amazing than she ever dreamed. Can she stay? And at what cost?





      AUTHOR BIO

      Sara Pascoe came to writing fiction after a career in psychology. She's had great fun in a lot of interesting jobs including bicycle mechanics, teaching chimps language, studying brains under the microscope, and working in the US Congress. She also worked as a clinical psychologist, which she found to be rewarding and moving.

      After living on in various parts of the United States, she now resides in the United Kingdom, where she runs a B&B with her husband for English Language students in a beach town. Of course, she also writes.

      For more information, visit her website. You can also connect with her on GoodreadsFacebook, and Twitter.



      GIVEAWAY


      Thanks to the author, I have the following to give away to a reader of the blog. The giveaway is open internationally!

      PRIZES
      Being a Witch and a Being a Witch pen

      a Rafflecopter giveaway

      Being a Witch and Other Things I Didn't Ask For by Sara Pascoe ⇉ Witches, Time Travel, and a #Giveaway (International)

      Thursday, May 25, 2017
      I picked this one up in the midst of finalizing student grades. During this time, I generally don't read much because my brain goes on break, but I always found the time and energy to read this book. Being a Witch and Other Things I Didn't Ask For is a light, enjoyable read that has an underlying level of depth to it in the contemporary issues addressed.

      A contributing factor to the lightheartedness of the novel is the youthful tone. At fourteen years of age, Raya is still a child and has much to learn about society. In the beginning, she comes off as bratty and unappreciative, but author Sara Pascoe makes her situation understandable. It may also be that I'm reading this from an older perspective; when I was Raya's age, I probably would have put more blame on the character for her circumstances.

      I especially appreciate how Pascoe address contemporary issues through Raya's situation. Some issues addressed include foster care, the homeless, teen runaways, and social care. While I would love to discuss this in more detail, it may result in potential spoilers. Just know that I appreciate how, in the end, both the adults and the children are able to contribute to the discussion and seek mutual understanding. There are too few books out there where children are able to rely on adults or work together with them to a common purpose!

      Being a Witch has the additional treat in that it takes place in the UK, both in the present day and in the historical past during the Essex Witch Trials. There's also a side trip to the Middle East. I'll let you find out the time and place when you read the book! Having grown up in the United States, I enjoyed taking a peek into the lives and culture of the people in these locations. It was made all the more enjoyable by the presence of Oscar the cat. Cats always spice up a story with their catty personalities and commentary!

      Lastly, I want to once more acknowledge the constant presence of adults in Raya's life. I love that she's able to rely on them and receive support from them. Of course, as the heroine of a novel, she must step up and take action herself at times, but she is also able to be a child thanks to the adults who are there for her.

      Being a Witch and Other Things I Didn't Ask For is a magical story that I recommend to readers who enjoy a good fantasy, especially one with witches and (of course) a cat!




      When you’re fourteen and life has been nothing but hurt and disappointment, maybe it’s time to strike out on your own. But after leaving the boring village and foster home for the excitement of London, Raya finds out she’s a witch, with this annoying habit of time-travelling – by accident. And this sarcastic witch’s cat Oscar tags along for the ride. But why would she fling herself into the midst of the Essex Witch Trials in 1645 England? After being arrested by Matthew Hopkins, one of history’s most notorious witch hunters, her social worker and witch mentor Bryony goes back to try to save them from the gallows. But returning to present day London remains out of reach with Raya’s powers still out of control when they find themselves in 1645 Istanbul/Constantinople. There, life is more amazing than she ever dreamed. Can she stay? And at what cost?





      YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE...


      « Click to read reviews »





      CHAT WITH ME


      If you were to travel to any time period, which would it be and why?


      Publication Info
      • Being a Witch, and Other Things I Didn't Ask for by Sara Pascoe
      • Published by Trindles and Green
      • On February 6, 2017
      • Genres: Contemporary
      • Pages: 380 Pages
      • Format: Paperback
      Series
      • N/A
      Content
      • Language
      • Teen runaway
      • Violence

      Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the author. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.



      INTERNATIONAL GIVEAWAY


      Thanks to the author, I have the following to give away to a reader of the blog. The giveaway is open internationally!

      PRIZES
      Being a Witch and a Being a Witch pen

      a Rafflecopter giveaway

      The History of Hilary Hambrushina by Marnie Lamb ⇉ Junior High + All the Feels + #INTERNATIONAL GIVEAWAY

      Monday, May 22, 2017
      You know those books that make you feel all sorts of feels? The books that make you want to share them with the world, but you don't know what to say?

      That's how it feels putting down The History of Hilary Hambrushina.

      To understand what I love about this novel, we need to start off with...

      WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE

      An Immature Heroine
      To be honest, I was tempted to throw Hilary out the window after the first quarter of the novel. Hilary starts out as a terribly naive girl who thinks she's fat and desperately wants to be a part of the popular crowd. Her comments on her family, herself, and her wants broke my heart. I wanted to tell her that this is not what life is about.

      What kept me reading was the belief that Hilary would learn and mature over the course of the novel. Not only did this happen, but I wasn't ready for the feels that would come with Hilary's growth.

      Flat, Stereotypical "Villains"
      Like many school-life stories, Hilary features stereotypical villains in the form of the "in" crowd. For the most part, these characters act in predictable ways.

      That said, I like the nod to the insecurities that lead people to behave in "villainous" ways.

      As Hilary learns, there are two sides to every story. (Now, does that mean everyone will grow up, hold hands, and frolick together through green meadows? No, but at least we can try to understand why people do what they do.)

      WHAT I LOVED

      Supportive Adults That Care and Are Involved
      Too many stories feature incompetent or otherwise absent adults. Sure, like any other teenager, Hilary spends quite a bit of time upset with her mom and believes that her mom won't understand what she's going through. However, her mom and dad and a consistent presence in her life, and they're ready to step in when she needs them.

      Hilary is blessed with adults outside of the family as well. Kallie's mother provides an exemplary role model of a pretty woman who also has a job in the math and sciences. Kallie's father is an artist. (Both parents are involved in Kallie's life, and they have a loving relationship.) Kallie's grandmother gives Hilary advice, albeit through tarot card reading.

      Terrific Teachers: Recognizing Everyday Heroes
      As a teacher, I teared up over Miss Stephanopoulos's support and care for her students. I'm also a teacher, and I love how she involves her students in fun projects that make them think about who they are and where they came from. I love how she lets Hilary (and other students) know through her words and actions that she is there for them.

      Most of all, I love that she doesn't play favorites but reaches out to those that she knows is in need. (Read to the end to find out more. I can't say more on this because of potential spoilers.)

      When We Find What We're Looking For in a Likely Yet Unlikely Source
      Hilary spends much of the novel trying to fit life into her expectations of it. As veterans of life know, "life happens." It doesn't always turn out as we planned, and sometimes, the best things have always been there waiting for us to find them.

      Hilary Grows Up, and She Isn't Perfect
      Even after all she's learned, Hilary has a lot of growing to do. Because narrator Hilary is reflecting on events from five years into the future (I'm guessing around the end of high school), she recognizes her flaws. She is able to comment on the mistakes that she made and the flaws in her thinking, which she thought justifiable at the time of the story.

      I believe strongly in being a lifelong learner. I love how events do not wrap up neatly but instead challenge us to think about how we ourselves may continue growing.

      In the end, Hilary's story presents a realistic portrayal of life.

      That's what I love most about it. It's why we can all relate in some way to Hilary's story. It's why we rage, weep, and finally rejoice when the heroine makes it through her trials at the end of a novel. Because we've been her, and we understand what she's been thought.

      Themes: Friendship, Insecurity, Bullying, Family, Love (not in the romantic sense), Forgiveness


      ★★★★☆


      Hilary has one goal for her first year in junior high: to become popular. But her plans are turned upside down when her best friend leaves for the summer and a quirky girl named Kallie moves in next door. Kallie paints constellations on her ceiling, sleeps in a hammock, and enacts fantastical plays in front of cute boys on the beach. Yet despite Kallie’s lack of interest in being “cool,” Hilary and Kallie find themselves becoming friends. That summer friendship, however, is put to the test when school begins, reigniting Hilary's obsession with climbing the social ladder. As Hilary discovers the dark side to popularity, she must decide who she wants to be before she loses everything.



      YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE...


      « Click to read reviews »




      CHAT WITH ME


      What do you think is the key ingredient in a friendship?



      Publication Info
      • The History of Hilary Hambrushina by Marnie Lamb
      • Published by Iguana Books
      • On May 31, 2017
      • Genres: ContemporaryMiddle Grade
      • Pages: 206 Pages
      • Format: Paperback
      Series
      • N/A
      Content
      • Bullying
      • Name calling

      Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel for review. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.




      GIVEAWAY


      Thanks to the author Marnie Lamb, I have two giveaways for you.

      (1) U.S. / CANADA
      - Donation of C$10 to a charity of your choice (must be legit and easy to donate online)
      - A signed copy of The History of Hilary Hambrushina (for yourself or a friend)

      (2) INTERNATIONAL
      - Donation of C$10 to a charity of your choice (must be legit and easy to donate online)
      - An e-copy of The History of Hilary Hambrushina (for yourself or a friend)

      MAY THE ODDS BE IN YOUR FAVOR.


      a Rafflecopter giveaway

      Keeping the Tree Upright ⇉ Guest Post by Marnie Lamb + International #Giveaway!!

      Tuesday, May 16, 2017
      Society in the United States, Canada, and many other Western countries today is highly polarized. On one hand, difference is increasingly celebrated. Intermarriage, gay couples parenting children, and friendships between people of different faiths are becoming possible in ways not imagined even twenty or thirty years ago.

      On the other, a lot of hatred, judgment, and suspicion of those who are different remains. People continue to be pigeonholed into categories based on race, religion, and gender, and are expected to behave in ways stereotypical to those categories. Movements against these stereotypes have produced their own extremes. For instance, until around the 1960s in Western culture, women were generally expected to be modest and subservient to men, remain out of the public eye, and put themselves last. Now, a self-promotional, “me first” ethos predominates in some circles, with naked selfies shared with the Internet the norm for some celebrities. But what if you’re a woman who, like many of us, wants to be thoughtful and caring towards others without being dominated by them? Or someone who is happy with her body but doesn’t necessarily want an intimate shot of it immortalized for posterity to click on, download, and share?

      Navigating this terrain as an adult is difficult enough. What about as a tween or teenager? If I had a daughter or niece, I’d give her a few hard-learned tips about how to navigate today’s social biosphere.

      1. Be choosy about who you listen to. There are many self-proclaimed “experts” out there, but what are their credentials? What makes them experts about vaccines or nutrition? Practise a healthy suspicion of the celebrity culture. If you feel like you shouldn’t really be spending your time following someone, that’s a good indication that this person is an addiction rather than an inspiration. What is important to you? What qualities do you admire in others? Knowing the answers to these questions, you can find and follow people who display your values. Are you passionate about the environment? If so, check out Canadian crusader Severn Cullis-Suzuki. About education for girls? Look to Malala Yousafzai.

      To narrow the definition of “society,” extend this choosiness to your friendships. Sometimes, “friends” appear to have your best interests at heart, but they’re actually looking out for themselves. Beware of anyone who tries to push their way on you, even if they appear to be doing you a favour. I’ve had friendships where the other person insisted on paying my way every time we got together, despite my attempts to reciprocate. Sounds nice, right? It was until I realized that these friends had been subtly controlling me for years, always choosing where we went and how often we met and putting down any opinions of mine that differed from theirs. Paying my way was simply a beautifully clothed example of this manipulation, like new silk curtains hiding a dirty, cracked window. Anyone who tries to control you isn’t allowing you to be free to be yourself. They’re warping you into someone who serves their needs. Be alert to these patterns and prepared to take action if necessary. Society often still tells us girls to be nice, but you have to draw boundaries.

      2. Have one day a week without social media. We’re bombarded with myriad pieces of information every day. The more information that gets in, the more confused we become, especially because much of the information is contradictory. Not so long ago, a slender body was the norm to which Western girls were taught to aspire, and girls with rounder bodies were belittled. Now, “thin shaming” has entered the English vocabulary. Yet fat shaming still exists. What does that mean? Are all of us, slender or round, deficient in some way?

      Coming as it does via a website, this advice might seem counterintuitive, but we all need to take regular breaks from the too-easily accessible online world. Read a book. Get outdoors and walk. And turn off your phone. Unless you’re on call for work, you don’t have to always have your phone on. “But I might miss a text from a friend,” you say. So? Unless you’re meeting the friend immediately and need to know whether she’s still coming, the text can almost certainly wait. If you open it, you might decide to check your Facebook account and then see a link a friend has posted and click on that link, and before you can say Zuckerberg, you’ve been sucked back in, surfing the net and ending up who knows where reading who knows what. I have a rule that I don’t turn on my computer on Saturdays unless I have to work that day. If people want to contact me, they know that they have to phone me on my landline (yes, I still have one!).

      3. Find your container. In The Highly Sensitive Person, Elaine Aron talks about the need to find “containers,” spaces of nurturing that provide an escape from the stresses of daily life. Everyone, highly sensitive or not, needs such spaces, which include places away from the online world, with its rapid stimulation. Not being glued to a screen on Saturdays frees me to bask in the comfort of some of my containers, like biking on recreation paths on a sunny summer afternoon or catching up over a scrumptious brunch with a friend I haven’t seen in ages. These containers ground me and help me simply be, without worrying about becoming.

      Following this advice won’t free you from the woman vs. world conflict. But taking a moment to consider, step away, and recharge will help you steady yourself, like breathing deeply, fixing your gaze on a single unmoving point, and looking away from the other yogis as you’re trying the tree pose in yoga class. You’ll still wobble or even fall over every once in a while. But if you can block the outside distractions and focus inward as much as possible, you’ll be more likely to stay upright.


      CHAT WITH ME (MARNIE LAMB)
      What is your favourite container? It could be physical or mental.


      About The History of Hilary Hambrushina


      Hilary has one goal for her first year in junior high: to become popular. But her plans are turned upside down when her best friend leaves for the summer and a quirky girl named Kallie moves in next door. Kallie paints constellations on her ceiling, sleeps in a hammock, and enacts fantastical plays in front of cute boys on the beach. Yet despite Kallie’s lack of interest in being “cool,” Hilary and Kallie find themselves becoming friends. That summer friendship, however, is put to the test when school begins, reigniting Hilary's obsession with climbing the social ladder. As Hilary discovers the dark side to popularity, she must decide who she wants to be before she loses everything.





      AUTHOR BIO

      Though she once dreamt of heading to Hollywood, Marnie Lamb decided that writing, not acting, was the better outlet for her creative impulses. She earned a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Windsor before embarking on a short but glorious career as a globe-trotting ESL teacher. Her short stories have appeared in Journey Prize Stories 25 and various Canadian literary journals. Her first novel, a YA book named The History of Hilary Hambrushina, will be published by Iguana Books on May 31, 2017. When she is not writing fiction or running her freelance editing business, she can be found cooking recipes with eggplant or scouting out fashions—preferably ones with polka-dots—at the One of a Kind Show.

      For more information visit her website. You can also connect with her on Goodreads and Facebook.





      GIVEAWAY


      a Rafflecopter giveaway