Book Reviews, Conferences, Fiction

Red Hot Carolinas!

I recently attended Red Hot Carolinas, the annual conference for SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) — long story short, it was a lot of fun and I met so many talented writers and artists. But my favorite part was learning about all the brilliant Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction books out right now.

I trained as a creative writer in an MFA program that focused solely on literature for adults — I hadn’t realized what I’ve been missing out on all these years! I’ve just started reading two Middle Grade books, and I have to say that they are every bit as insightful (maybe more so) and beautifully written as “grown up” fiction.

Orphan Island is hauntingly lovely, reminding me a tiny bit of Lord of the Flies, but much less violent. It tells the story of 9 children who live on a strange but wonderful island, alone. Every few years, the oldest must leave and a new young child appears.y648

Call Me Sunflower takes me back to being the new kid in middle school! The description of the cafeteria — the smell of boiled cabbage, the tables full of kids who already know each other — made my stomach lurch. I’ve been there. The way the snooty kids act when an “outsider” sits at their table without being invited made me tense up. I’ve been there, too. 9781510711792-frontcover

Some more books that are now on my reading (and “to buy”) list:

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

Goldie Blox series by Stacy McAnulty

Tea Cakes for Tosh by Kelly Starling Lyons

There are many more, but I’ll save those for later reviews!

 

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Book Reviews, Fiction

Kids’ books to beat winter boredom!

If you have children, you probably have mixed feelings about the holidays–excited and scared at the same time! Two weeks! How am I going to keep them busy for two whole weeks?? There are only so many holiday crafts, parades, and Christmas films.

How about supplying the kids with books to keep their brains active and you sane!! Here are a few I’ve read and liked…

Picture Books

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The Gingerbread Witch is a fun story written by Lisa Logan with help from her 4-year-old son, Dean. My kids (age 7 and 4) love it because it’s not your typical sweet-as-sugar children’s book (often written more for the parents than the kids!). There’s an actual story here–a really good one! And a lesson to be learned.

Chapter Books

        

Straight from the horse’s mouth — my daughter and I both like these mysteries involving Cam, a girl with a photographic memory and her best friend Eric. They are great at solving mysteries! We especially like the very first in the series, Cam Jansen and the Mystery of the Stolen Diamonds.

Young Adult

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Into The Land of Snows by Ellis Nelson is a fast-paced story about 16-year-old Blake who must deal with his parents’ recent divorce. When he gets into trouble, his father demands that Blake join him — at Mount Everest! I haven’t finished reading this book yet, but I’m enjoyed it so far and have read lots of Nelson’s well-written book reviews. I have high hopes for this book!

 

Book Reviews

Reading the clear, confident style of Haruki Murakami

Sorry for the delay in postings — and in replies to comments! I’ve been busy with the kids, other family stuff, and trying to not get heatstroke with the 95+ degree weather in NC! The water in our paddling pool is like a Jacuzzi’s! Needless to say, not much reading being done, but I did manage to finish the mammoth 1Q84 (over a period of months) and am currently working on another Haruki Murakami novel, slightly shorter!

I love Murakami’s clear, ram-rod-straight writing. I love the way he creates mystery and gradually reveals what he’s up to, like weaving embroidery threads together. But you don’t end up with a plain-old woven braid; his stories are never predictable. At least not the ones I’ve read so far! He’s not afraid to be different, and he doesn’t sacrifice a good story for elitist-sounding “literature”!

Book Reviews

Great Book on Typography and Stenciling!

I have recently (last weekend!) started to learn how to paint. I really enjoy it, but I also wondered if there was a way to incorporate my writing into pictures… Then I saw the review of this book of typography and stencils in the blog Fifty Shades of Wonderful. I’m curious — I love putting together digital book covers and messing around with graphic design (very amateurly!). And I think letter stencils would be a great way to mix the visual and the textual, so to speak. I’ll keep you posted…

Fifty Shades of Wonderful

I am addicted to all sorts of Fonts and Typography.  I use it on my handmade cards, scrapbook pages and free-form art I create.  When I had the opportunity to receive and review Dina Tanamachi’s newest book; DIY Typography & Stencils I jumped all over it!  This book may not impress everyone, but to artists from amateur to intermediate they will quickly recognize what a fabulous asset this is to their toolbox arsenal for lettering.
You will find this book to be amazingly simple with very little text.  Dina describes her personal experiences in design and provides how she has used lettering in her day to day life as well as taking her ideas to market.  Aside from that small section of the book, the rest is comprised of two sets of lettering stencils which can be removed from the book and used as reusable templates (Lower and Uppercase).  There…

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Book Reviews

Full Disclosure!!

I am behind in blogging, in finishing edits of The Rain Catcher, and in putting together the next issue of The Apple Core! My excuse? Blame it on the kids! With a busy husband, nearly 2-year-old, and daughter about to start kindergarten, I have been run off my feet these past few weeks. Luckily, Southern Bend Books is a labor of love and not, currently, a full-fledged corporation or other business entity relying on income for its existence!

What else have I been doing? Reading self-help books! Not to go into too much detail, but I’ve discovered two really good books I think everyone should read. The first, The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner, is directed toward women, but it’s really for men or women. And it’s not just about anger — it’s about improving relationships by noticing the patterns we keep repeating. Her best advice is to OBSERVE what’s going on and see where you and the other person need to make changes. It’s easy to read, non-intimidating, and very helpful!


The next book has a tough title that would scare anyone away: Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. But, really, it could apply to anyone. Sure, there are some awful parents out there, but even well-meaning moms and dads slip up and are not always good at validating their kids’ feelings. This book is not judgmental; it offers clear examples and advice on how to overcome past neglect. Most importantly, it talks about self-care and how we all must value ourselves in order to pass that down to our children.


NOTE: Southern Bend Books is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. This basically means, that if you choose to click on a link and buy a book from Amazon, Southern Bend Books could potentially earn a few pennies, which Louisa will then put back into the business of creating books!

Book Reviews

Taking Scotland by storm!

In honor of my upcoming novel, The Rain Catcher, which is set in Scotland, I’ve decided to share two Scottish books that I think are great! The first, Women Talking Dirty by Isla Dewar, my aunt sent me years ago. It’s one of the few books I’d label “irreverent,” and every time I read it I feel better about life!


The novel describes the eclectic friendship between polar opposites Cora and Ellen. Cora’s a Highlander, while Ellen grew up in the drab Edinburgh suburbs. Cora’s a single mum, struggling with two boys and a lifetime-worth of guilt over her misspent youth. Ellen’s a reclusive comic-strip artist, caught up in a dead-end relationship with Daniel, whom she recklessly marries. The two share laughs, buckets of tears, bottles of vodka, and the secret to a successful dinner party — the edible bloody Mary!

 

The second book, I actually never finished. When I was 10 and still living in Scotland, my teacher read The Hill of the Red Fox by Allan Campbell Mclean to the class. We were hooked! But before she finished the book, I moved with my mom to the States. I always wondered how the book ended! I don’t remember much about it, other than it’s kids’ thriller set in the Isle of Skye. The main character 13-year-old Alasdair takes a train ride through Scotland and on the way encounters a shady character who slips him a note before disappearing from the train. I honestly can’t remember what happens, but our whole class loved it and was hooked on our teacher’s every last word! All I remember is being enveloped in this mysterious Scottish landscape — it was really magical!

Book Reviews

Review: Valley of Thracians

Our first issue of The Apple Core talks about the elements of suspense writing: the reader knows something bad has happened, and the author delays the answer to the problem, making us crazy with anticipation! When you think of suspense, you probably think of Alfred Hitchcock and murder mysteries, and perhaps “Columbo,” who knows the identity of the murderer but makes us wonder if (and how) he’ll ever figure it out!

But as we’ve seen in my previous post, children’s books can be suspenseful, too. In fact, any kind of  book (including the classic The Secret Garden) can contain elements of suspense. Valley of Thracians: A Novel of Bulgaria by Ellis Shuman is a somewhat unconventional thriller. Set in Bulgaria, it’s also part travelogue, and the “hero” is an elderly gentleman with a limp. Not your typical “noir” setting or private “I”! But that doesn’t make it any less suspenseful. From page one, I was hooked!


Shuman describes the cities and culture of Bulgaria with vivid detail– I wish I could describe settings that well! His main characters are fascinating and believable — a grandfather in search of his grandson who went missing after joining the Peace Corps and is presumed dead, and a mysterious female friend the grandfather meets in Bulgaria, who seems to good-naturedly want to help him. But does she have something to hide? I loved that Shuman kept me waiting for the answers to all the questions that kept popping up — in perfect suspense fashion! And I enjoyed learning about Bulgaria and the ancient Thracian culture — it was never dry or dull, and the story pulled me along until the very end!

My advice — don’t read the book description on Amazon. I just saw it for the first time today and was so relieved that I didn’t read it before beginning Valley of Thracians. In my opinion, the book is much more suspenseful WITHOUT knowing some crucial details about what happened to the grandson. Personally, I love not knowing what’s going on in a book — that’s what keeps me reading, to solve the mystery! Anyway, check out Valley of Thracians — it’s written for adults, but it would be appropriate for teens, as well as voracious younger readers!

P.S. Full Disclosure: Southern Bend Books is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. This basically means, that if you choose to click on a link and buy a book from Amazon, Southern Bend Books could potentially earn a few pennies, which Louisa will then put back into the business of creating books!