Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Merry Christmas 2020

It has been one of the weirdest years ever for most of us, but the calendar will change to 2021 in a few days and there is definitely a light at the end of the tunnel. If you're looking for some new books to keep you company during the winter ahead, here's my reading accomplishments for 2020. 


There are two more books I'll finish before the end of the calendar year (Beloved by Toni Morrison and Breakfast at the Honey Creek Café by Jodi Thomas), and I'd love to hear your recommendations for books old and new. Drop a note in the comments section! 

I hope you all enjoy this holiday season, however you celebrate, and I look forward to seeing you in person again soon. 

Merry Christmas from Kimba and all of us here at Serenity Mountain Publishing. 

Monday, November 30, 2020

Holiday Paperback Sales

It's that time of year again for discounts on my back stock of paperbacks. This year is a bit different, however. I got all loaded up for spring events and, well, none of them happened. Or the summer ones. Or the fall ones. I only did a couple of very small events during the whole year put together. SO! That means I have a back stock on most of my titles and have put them on deep discount. Hopefully, there will be safe spring events in the future, but for today, everything must go. 

Here's the biggest deals:

Tap on the image or go to my website to take advantage of these discounts. Individual paperbacks are also on sale ranging from $7 to $9 for my children's books. At the Corner of Magnetic and Main is only $11 as well. I'm still more than happy to autograph and personalize them for anyone you wish. 

The Tigran Chronicles is not discounted because I only have four copies left in stock. I'll have more in the future, but not in time for the holidays, so grab 'em while you can. 

These prices are only on my personal inventory, not at any other website. At this point, I do not anticipate any discounts on ebooks.  

I hope you are all staying safe and continuing to be careful. There's a promise of a return to normal on the horizon. Until then, snuggle down with a good book, or two. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Millionaires For The Month Review

Millionaires for the Month by Stacy McAnulty

's review

it was amazing

McAnulty brings her A-game to this book. The story is thoroughly delightful and kept me reading long past bedtime. I loved the relationship between the two very different characters, and I imagine researching the details for this book was a blast.

I admit, the back matter of the book made me want to run away screaming, but I didn't because my husband was asleep next to me. For those of you who enjoy math (and seeing anything involving figuring out X doesn't make you break out in a flop sweat), there are all kinds of activities that could be done throughout the book as the characters manage their money, and there are details in the back explaining many mathy things (that I skipped). Math teachers everywhere can enjoy teaming up with the reading teachers!

I highly recommend this for middle grade and YA readers -- and adults as well. What would you buy with a million dollars?

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Book Launch Day: The Tigran Chornicles Is Here!!


Wait! It IS October 1st! Happy Book Birthday to The Tigran Chronicles

This novel has been in the works for the last few years, and I'm delighted to share it with you. This is not a part of any of my current series but may be the beginning of a new one. In case you missed all my other posts about this novel, here's the detail:

Being part tiger and part human should be an advantage—
not lead to your extermination.

Taliya, a seventeen-year-old tigran, has been forced to flee her country home and go into hiding to escape the Enforcers and the Gathering that began in 2172, orchestrated by President Kerkaw and his corrupt martial law of the United States. But it isn’t long before Taliya is captured and forced into a covert military breeding program. Paired with a magnificent male white tigran named Kano, Taliya is determined to survive, whatever the cost, but she is only at the beginning of her journey. What awaits her is more challenging and life-changing than she ever could have imagined.

You can read more about this book and other updates from me in my fall newsletter by tapping here. 

If you want to join in some book launch fun, here's a jigsaw puzzle of the cover. I completed it in 6:08. Can you beat me?? 

You can get your own copy of The Tigran Chronicles at Amazon, directly from me (if you'd like a signed copy with a matching bookmark), or on ebook from nearly every other source. 

Happy Fall. And Happy Reading!! 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Writing Workshops & Book Events

Some parts of life are returning to normal, even with my fall events cancelled. I had the chance to participate in an outdoor local author event at Bookish in Fort Smith at their Bakery District location. It wasn't as well attended as they had hoped, but I met some wonderful people and we managed to share stories around our masks. 

Bookish and I are working on getting a couple of my titles on consignment there, so stay tuned for that update. I must get to the main location soon so I can meet Barrie, their store cat. 

I spent a delightful day with the White County Creative Writers over the weekend speaking to them about "Writing for Children" and "Running With Inspiration." It was odd to be in a room full of people again, but masks were worn when we left our table space and distances were kept. They are such an engaged group, striving to make their writing the best it can be. It is always a joy to be invited to hang out with other writers!

Scott & Meg at the book sales table.

Meg speaking to the group.

Meg being distracted by a close-up photo.

If you are still not comfortable or able to attend the conferences you normally do, here's a link to my "Running With Inspiration" or "What-If" workshop that I did for an event that went online. It's much shorter than what I would do in person because I had a time limit, but it might still inspire you to take pen to paper (or hands to keyboard) today. 

Now I'm back to the final steps in presenting my new book, The Tigran Chronicles, to the world. You can already purchase a paperback copy through my website (for signed copies with a matching bookmark) or through Amazon. The ebook is in final editing and should be done by next week, and the hardcover is in the final gasps as well. Almost there! 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Summer Updates, Fall Festivals Cancelled

First of all, if you follow me on social media you may have seen that I tested positive for COVID-19 on July 22nd. While it wasn't pleasant, and I just got my sense of smell back a few days ago, I was fortunate to never feel that I needed to go to the hospital. Besides continuing to tire easily, all is well. I still have no idea where I got it because I've been ridiculously careful. Wear. Your. Masks!! 

Along those same pandemic lines, I can share that the War Eagle Craft Fair and Festival, where many of you may have met me, is cancelled this year. Or "postponed," as they say, which means they don't have to return money for vendors who already paid. My booth has always been over in Sharp's Field, which is really a separate fair, and I have not officially heard from Lucy Sharp that she is cancelling as well, but I'm making that assumption. 

To say that it has been a rough year for makers and artists and writers and all of our sort is putting it mildly. My best and most productive (and most fun!!) events during the year are fairs and festival where I can meet people face to face. They've all been cancelled, and probably rightly so. However, don't forget that people are still out there hawking their wares. Buy from them online! 

Along those lines . . . you can assure you get a first-round copy of The Tigran Chronicles by going to my online store through Square and getting your paperback! That much is already up at Amazon, but the release is not official yet as the ebook versions and hardcover are still in process and many sites have slow tech integration and issues that not everyone who is best at fixing are around to handle. 

I will be speaking at the White County Creative Writers Conference over the Labor Day Weekend, and that will actually be an in-person event because the group is relatively small. Join us!! I may have some copies of The Tigran Chronicles available if they arrive in time. Yay!!

For now we are just moving forward with getting this year's book done and published and into the hands of readers. Hopefully there will be calmer days ahead for the whole world. 

Thursday, July 9, 2020

The Tigran Chronicles is Coming Soon

I'm super chuffed to share my upcoming novel with you!

Being part tiger and part human should be an advantage—not lead to your extermination. Taliya, a seventeen-year-old tigran, has been forced to flee her country home and go into hiding to escape the Enforcers and the Gathering that began in 2172, orchestrated by President Kerkaw and his corrupt martial law of the United States. But it isn’t long before Taliya is captured and forced into a covert military breeding program. Paired with a magnificent male white tigran named Kano, Taliya is determined to survive, whatever the cost, but she is only at the beginning of her journey. What awaits her is more challenging and life-changing than she ever could have imagined.

Unlike most of my other books, this title is definitely PG-13, so not one for young readers. The official release date is October 1, but this won't be the last you hear of it before then, I'm sure.

The preorder link for paperbacks is already available at my online store, so you can reserve your copy now. Fall events in Arkansas are still up in the air, so it's hard to know what access you will have to getting a copy right from my hands in October. However, you can always order directly from me and have me sign copies however you'd like. Until the schedule is more certain, we just keep moving forward with publication. I can't wait to share it with you!

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Redeemed Book Cover Reveal

Just popping in for a second to share a new book with you.

Redeemed, the second book in the Supervillain Rehabilitation Project, 
releases August of 2020!

To celebrate the release of Book 2, Book 1 is 99 cents on Amazon this week only!

Redeemed: Supervillain Rehabilitation Project #2
An idealistic heroine. A reformed villain. A troubled teen.
Can the Supervillain Rehabilitation Project form a family out of this mess?

Still working out her team's dynamic as well as her own fledgling romance with former villain Fade, Prism is blindsided when her superiors order her to take on another rehabilitation subject or risk having her team broken apart. Then her best friend and fellow superhero, Tanvi, foils a robbery but injures a super-powered teen in the process. Guilt stricken, she begs Prism to let the young girl, Alma, AKA Soulbird, be their next project.
Alma fills a gap in the team and works her way into the group's hearts. However, her past stalks her, as the villain who forced her into a life of crime in the first place doesn't want to let her escape into hero life without a fight.
Can Prism and her team redeem Alma from her past, or will the villain life drag the girl out of the SVR and out of their reach forever?


Born in a small town in north central Oregon, H. L. Burke spent most of her childhood around trees and farm animals and was always accompanied by a book. Growing up with epic heroes from Middle Earth and Narnia keeping her company, she also became an incurable romantic.

An addictive personality, she jumped from one fandom to another, being at times completely obsessed with various books, movies, or television series (Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Star Trek all took their turns), but she has grown to be what she considers a well-rounded connoisseur of geek culture.

Married to her high school crush who is now a US Marine, she has moved multiple times in her adult life but believes that home is wherever her husband, two daughters, and pets are.

She is the author of a four part fantasy/romance series entitled "The Dragon and the Scholar," the Award Winning (2016 Realm Award for Young Adult Fiction) Nyssa Glass Steampunk series, and MG/Fantasy "Cora and the Nurse Dragon," among others .

Sign up for her monthly newsletter at www.hlburkeauthor.com

Also, enjoy a free short story prequel to the Supervillain Rehabilitation Project Series: Relapsed.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Sale Ending Soon

Sale Ends June 30th!!

Don't miss out on your last chance to pick up Meg's books at ridiculously low prices. Paperbacks and hardcovers are both available at basically at-cost pricing with FREE SHIPPING. June 30th is the last day, so grab them while you can.

Only through Meg's site from her personal on-hand inventory. Meg will be happy to personalize them "To" anyone you like. 

The ebook sale at Amazon will also be ending on the 30th. Pick up Meg's kidlit for 99 cents each on Kindle.

Enjoy your summer, and keep reading!!

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Upcoming Fundraising Anthology: Glimpses of Time and Magic

Today I'm helping to spread the word about a fun 

upcoming anthology for a wonderful cause. 

Glimpses of Time and Magic

$3.99 and all proceeds go to Feed My Starving Children


History is quite a fascinating thing. We know the stories that have been told to us since we were children, but there are secrets…Magical secrets that are desperate to be revealed.

Pompeii was a tragedy the world will never forget, but what really caused the volcanic eruption that ended it all?

Why was the great sword Excalibur really destroyed?

The rolling hills of Victorian England seem peaceful enough, but what secrets really lurk there?

And would it surprise you that there are darker secrets in Ancient Rome than people ever dreamed? If the Great Fog of London isn’t what it seems?

You think you know Harry Houdini, but do you know the man behind all the tricks?

And what if Roanaoke runs deeper than you could ever imagine?

Could Ireland’s potato famine really be caused by a mage gone mad?

What if a ghost ship off the coast of England was more than a phantom?

Want to find out the secrets behind each of these stories? Read nine exciting tales where history and magic collide from authors Michaela Baker, James Quinlan Meservy, Ariel Paiement, Joshua Reid, Alicia Scarborough, Maria Vermisoglou, Joanna White, Kandi Wyatt, and Sara Zagorski.


Release Date:

July 28, 2020

Tell me a bit about this anthology.
Glimpses of Time and Magic was put together by Ariel Paiement and Joanna White. They wanted to have a historical fantasy collection to sell to raise money for a charity. The book covers eight different historical time periods, putting a twist on the history you know. Travel to ancient Rome or Ireland right before the potato famine. Discover what happened to Pompeii and Houdini. The stories you think you know just might have a bit of magic thrown in.

Tell me a bit about the fundraiser and why it matters to you.
The idea behind the anthology was to raise money for a charity. As a group we decided on Feed My Starving Children. The organization provides food for children in impoverished areas by providing them with a “manna pack”. These packs are put together by individuals and then sent out to the children.

I voted for this organization, because they believe in more than feeding the body. They also focus on the spiritual aspect of the children and families. This made me feel comfortable giving to them.

If you could travel in time, would you go to the past or the future? Where would you go and why?
Hm, good question. I’d love to visit the medieval times, but then again, I know it wasn’t the best. Seeing Jesus would be amazing! Maybe travel to a Bible story and witness it first hand. That would be really fun, but I bet my expectations would be blown out of the water—maybe even in a bad way. Often my idea of what something was like isn’t anything near what it was like.

Tell me a bit about your story in the anthology and your inspiration.
I wrote The Apprentice of Amadan Dubh. When asked to join the anthology, I wondered what timeframe to use. As I debated, I was sucked back into the black hole of my family tree. My great-aunt wrote out a book about my dad’s family, and I’ve gained her fascination with discovering our ancestors and their possible stories. There’s one in particular that I can’t find information on. My aunt says that Patrick Maher settled in Westerlo, NY, after journeying here from Ireland. We don’t know when he came over, only that he died in 1863 and had his first son in 1825 while in Westerlo.

So, I thought, why not write my own history of Patrick. I threw in magic and some family health issues and wrote the tale of a young boy who loves the flow of magic under his toes. When the mage takes him as an apprentice, he’s on cloud nine, but when the mage presents a dark magic, Paddy will have to determine if it’s worth losing everything dear to him.

I chose 1820, Knockarley as the setting because I found a census that has a Patrick Maher living there along with a younger Patrick Maher. The townspeople are from that census document. It was fun to explore and dream of what it would have been like to be Paddy. When we created the cover image for my story, I used my son, who loves his Irish heritage, as Paddy.

Monday, May 4, 2020

If She Had Stayed: Book Review

If She Had StayedIf She Had Stayed by Diane Byington
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thoroughly enjoyed this story about regret, what we'd do differently if we got a second chance, and learning lessons the hard way sometimes. If you are a fan of Tesla, you will be thrilled at how he is woven throughout the story. I could have done without the detailed sex scenes, however. They felt out of place with the style of the rest of the story, and I kept thinking what a great book it would be for even middle school classrooms (all the fun what-if assignments!) without becoming so graphic. Sometimes fade to breakfast is best. I still enjoyed the read and stayed up to get through the last chapters. Very suspenseful!

View all my reviews

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Happy 13th Birthday to Hiro and Kimba

Today is Hiro and Kimba's 13 birthday!! Happy Birthday, girls!! We will celebrate with some extra playtime and treats, but you can always join the fun by grabbing a copy of their books for only $6 or $7 dollars and free shipping right now. They love it when folks read about them.

Here's to another year ahead for these very spoiled and much-loved felines. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Read Aloud for "Max's Wild Night"

Stuck at home and bored? Let me read to you from my best seller Max's Wild Night! Just tap here to go to the YouTube playlist for this specific book. Enjoy!

And don't forget that you can get a copy of this book for only $5 right now at my paperback sale. Only at my online store (not Amazon). All paperbacks of my children's books are $5-$7 now with free shipping. It's a quarantine special! Take advantage and stay at home reading.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Sanditon Book Review

Sanditon: Jane Austen's Last Novel CompletedSanditon: Jane Austen's Last Novel Completed by Jane Austen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm glad I read this after seeing the butcher job on PBS. Shame on Andrew Davies for making it sound like Jane Austen actually wrote all the sex and nonsense he put on the screen. About the only thing he got right was the name of the characters and the location. Charlotte is as rational as Miss Lizzy and never speaks horribly out of turn. Sidney is charming and delightful and never scowls. Miss Lambe has nothing to do with Sidney at all, is shy and retiring, described as half-mulatto and "pale" at one point, and nothing about slavery is involved at all. Sanditon is not in financial crisis, though Lady Denham is very much the same rich and selfish character.

This version was finished in 1975 by "Another Woman," who did an excellent job of capturing Austen's style and how the rest of the story would have logically played out. I would love to see THIS version on PBS.

View all my reviews

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Spring Book Sale Begins

My original plan for this post was to let you know that my online store has fully transferred from PayPal to Square, but life has gotten more interesting than that in the last week. Even in Arkansas, where we are pretty spread out in the first place, events are cancelling and theaters are closing. School locally is still in session because we have not had a COVID-19 case in the area, but that could change any moment. In light of all the families who are suddenly finding themselves at home with many normal events and activities closed, I've started my Spring Book Sale now and reduced prices as much as I can.

At my YouTube channel, I already have old videos of me reading all of the first edition of Why Kimba Saved The World, so maybe that can give parents and teachers a break along the way too. It's a little clunky to navigate because each chapter is a separate video, but it should all be there. If you have a newer edition of the book (with vocabulary in the back) you may notice some text is different here and there. See if you can find the changes!

As I mentioned earlier, shopping for autographed paperbacks and hardcovers should be easier now that I've updated to a Square store. All paperbacks are on sale right now at my lowest event prices through my store, though you will have to pay shipping. Amazon will not allow me to set prices that low (though I notice they have some paperbacks and hardcovers discounted on their own), so make sure you are going through the store link to find paperbacks for $7 or $8 for my kidlit and $11 for At the Corner of Magnetic and Main. 

If you'd like to pick up discounted copies of my ebooks, here's some links for you:

Why Kimba Saved The World  FREE  (sites other than Amazon)

All at 99 cents until May 16th at least:

Why Kimba Saved The World (Amazon has the hardcover for $14.08)

Vacation Hiro

Miss Fatty Cat's Revenge (Amazon has the hardcover for $7.68 right now!!)

Slinky Steps Out

Kimba's Christmas

Max's Wild Night

Dottie's Daring Day

Bianca: The Brave Frail and Delicate Princess

And visit your library, if it's still open, and stock up on all the books you can. Anything by Sharon Creech or Natalie Lloyd is top on my list. Stay safe, and happy reading until the world gets back to a bit of normalcy.

Kimba thinks staying at home is the purrfectest way to live.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Book Review: Crossover

The CrossoverThe Crossover by Kwame Alexander
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After the first few pages I determined I was just too old and to WASPy to properly enjoy this book. Then I read a few more pages, to get to the end of the section. But that ended in a place I couldn't stop, so I read the next section. Then I finished it in one sitting and cried at the end. Not too WASPy after all.

View all my reviews

Friday, February 21, 2020

7 Books To Read This Year: Guest Post from Desiree Villena

Today we have a guest post from Desiree Villena.

I must admit, I have not read any of her seven choices, so I'll have to add them to my own lenghty TBR list. Here's Desiree's recommendations for your 2020 reading.

7 Books to Read This Year

Spring might be right around the corner, but the year’s still young—and now’s the perfect time to check in on your reading goals for 2020. Whether you’re breezing through your TBR like a champ or getting a slow start since life got in the way, you can still make this your best reading year yet!

From buzzy Big 5 memoirs to dazzling indie adventures, here are seven books to help you ring in a new decade of reading. Keep the momentum going or turn over a new leaf (of a book)—you can make 2020 a literary year to remember.

1. The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray                                                                     

This gorgeous contemporary novel might be Anissa Gray’s first published book, but she’s no stranger to bylines and writerly recognition: she’s spent the past two decades covering global finance for the likes of Reuter and CNN. Given her history of breaking big news, you might expect her first book to be action-packed and lightning paced—say, a globetrotting thriller where huge sums change hands. Instead, The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls is a thoughtful family story of trauma, recovery, and relationships that hurt even as they heal.

The story kicks off when upstanding couple Althea and Proctor are arrested, to the shock of the entire community. Althea’s sisters, Lillian and Viola, step up to care for their teenaged nieces while Althia and Proctor prepare for a grueling legal battle. Will their family ever be the same again?

2. Destiny’s War: Saladin’s Secret by Pyram King     

Self-published author Pyram King’s debut is many things: a pulse-raising adventure, a lush Lawrence of Arabia homage, and a painstaking—though never painful—work of historical imagination. It’s also among the best that self-publishing has to offer.

There’s a lot going on in Destiny’s War, but it’s all pulled together by a charismatic leading man of the old school: the dashing war correspondent, amateur archaeologist, and spy Francis Marion Jäger. Incredibly enough, he was also a real person. King based his story on Jäger’s diaries—with some artful embellishments, of course. Sent to Egypt to cover the Middle Eastern theater of the Great War, Marion gets ensnared in a medieval legend that may just have bearings on the conflict raging around him. 

3. Highfire by Eoin Colfer     

If you were a YA buff during the early aughts, you probably remember the long-running Artemis Fowl series—a playful hybrid of high tech and old magic that pitted a prepubescent criminal mastermind against a scrappy, subterranean fairy cop. The series’ last installment came out in 2012, but Eoin Colfer fans can rejoice: the Irish author just came out with his first work of adult fantasy, and it’s just as witty and original as his YA.

Highfire’s hero, fifteen-year-old Squib Moreau, isn’t as precocious as Artemis. But he has his own issues with law enforcement as the corrupt local constable, who also runs the town’s drug trade, won’t stop harassing his mom. Luckily, Squib makes a friend that even a gun-toting kingpin would be afraid to cross: the world’s last surviving dragon—who also happens to be a vodka-swilling Flashdance fan.

4. The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin     

This thoughtful family saga serves up science fiction in an elegant lit fic package, although author Tara Conklin may not think of it that way. Still, The Last Romantics’ ambitious genre-bending is encapsulated by its opening scene: in the year 2079, a poet contemplates the climate apocalypse.

Conklin shifts effortlessly between this fire- and flood-ravaged future, when Fiona Skinner is 102, and her formative years from the 1980s onward. The youngest of four children, she grows up in a family fractured by the unexpected death of her father and the slow emotional withdrawal of their mother. In the absence of real parental support, Fiona and the other Skinner kids band together, and the novel centers on their complex, moving relationships. Its title, incidentally, comes from the name of Fiona’s sex blog, The Last Romantic—the only outlet for her writerly ambitions before she finds poetic success.

5. Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey   

There’s been a lot of conversation about this polarizing debut novel, which is both disarmingly complex and what it says on the tin: a series of conversations. Needless to say, this is a talky, thinky sort of book, light on action sequences and heavy on introspection. Its 200-plus pages are full of relationships being played out through poignant (and often meandering) talk. And because all the talkers are women, Topics of Conversation place female desire, ambition, and pain front and center.

Come for the pitch-perfect dialogue, stay for the floridly gorgeous writing. Miranda Popkey is an ambitious stylistic who cheerfully ignores the dictates of literary minimalism. In a market glutted with wannabe Hemingways, her plush style can be a surprising breath of fresh air. 

6. Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener  

A book-length expansion of a viral n+1 essay, this tell-all tech memoir is one of the year’s most talked-about titles. Of course, 2020’s still young. But a book this readable and smart is sure to hang onto its crown of acclaim, making countless “best of the year” lists come December.

When Uncanny Valley begins, Anna Wiener feels like she’s going nowhere. As an assistant at a literary agency, she lives on a meager income in New York City, and she’s just broken up with the guy who used to pass her freelance editing gigs. Needless to say, the situation is… suboptimal. So when she gets the chance to move on and join the legions of bright young things converging on Silicon Valley, what can she do but go for it? The ensuing adventure is, of course, more than she bargained for, equity stake or not, but it makes for a fascinating story. Wiener evokes the heady atmosphere of the last decade’s startup culture with a precision you might call uncanny.

7. When We Were Vikings by Andrew David MacDonald   

Narrated by a neurodivergent protagonist, this quirky contemporary novel is moving, sharp, and sweet. Twenty-one-year-old Zelda is a college student who lives with fetal alcohol syndrome. She can’t always count on the kindness of strangers, but she’s got a crew that always has her back: her boyfriend, Marxy; her stoic older brother; Gert; and his sometimes-girlfriend, AK47. She’s also sustained by her love for Vikings: those fierce, sword-wielding, Thor-worshipping warriors of old.

Zelda’s cozy world is shaken when she learns her brother might be in trouble—to support them both, he’s gotten mixed up with some dangerous people. Can she channel her inner Valkyrie and come to his rescue? When We Were Vikings introduces us to a beautifully characterized heroine with a truly unforgettable voice.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Cybils Judging Results: 5 Book Reviews

The winners have been announced, so I can finally release my reviews on the books under consideration, shown in order of my preference for them, not any ranking through Cybils. My category was General YA Fiction. The judging was done by committee for each category, and a majority vote decided the winner.

The Downstairs GirlThe Downstairs Girl by Stacey  Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jo Kuan is sassy and witty and delightful, and having been raised by a wise Chinese man (Old Gin), she is also full of old proverbs and sayings she has picked up along the way. Sometimes being an eloquent minority is a blessing, but it gets her into trouble more times than not. Being Chinese, Jo must always know her place. The Downstairs Girl presents race relations in the late 1800s in the South from an interesting outside view. Jo is neither white nor “colored,” and she often doesn’t know where to stand—or sit, more specifically, when the streetcars are segregated. Not fitting into either group, the Chinese often found themselves in worse conditions than blacks: unable to even rent property. And the story also tackles women’s suffrage and not only the desire to vote but the uprising of women who insisted on having a voice in their homes and communities.

That theme of finding your place in the world enrobes the whole story, and that is more than a teenage problem. Jo is ready to fight for her future more than the law will allow, and she is fully aware of the challenges ahead to have what would be considered even a reasonably comfortable life. There’s a bit of romance, and a bit of reality.

I love, love, love this book! I had to stop with about 30 pages left, and all day long I kept fussing about getting back to it for the conclusion. I must say, however, that I do not think this novel should be categorized as YA. Maybe NA, that elusive group, but it really reads more like any women’s historical fiction novel. I fear Lee is missing a huge chunk of readers who would thoroughly enjoy it but won’t pick it up because they don’t read YA. Yes, it is written in first person present tense, which didn’t annoy me as much as it usually does, but that doesn’t make it automatically YA. There’s no high school angst or lingo or even teenage situations to navigate. Jo lives in the world of the adults of the 1890s and faces grown-up problems. Maybe all the fuss about how good the novel is will bring in more readers so Lee’s work can be fully appreciated.

*I reviewed this book as a second round judge of the Cybils Book Awards, but I checked my copy out of the local library (did not receive a free copy from the publisher) and am under no obligation to post a positive review.

Patron Saints of NothingPatron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! This story was fantastic. While it was unique in having a main character who is Filipino, something I’ve personally never seen before (and actually written by a Filipino, which is extra special), it dealt with age-old issues of family and culture and knowing who we are and where we come from. Jay’s journey to find out more about his cousin ends up being a journey to also find himself in a larger world. I simply loved this book and highly recommend it. While fiction, sadly the situations presented are very real and based on facts. Getting that information out into the world of young readers through a gripping and interesting story is an accomplishment worth applauding.

*I reviewed this book as a second round judge of the Cybils Book Awards, but I checked my copy out of the local library (did not receive a free copy from the publisher) and am under no obligation to post a positive review.

I'm Not Dying with You TonightI'm Not Dying with You Tonight by Kimberly   Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The premise of this book is interesting: two teens thrown together during an explosive night of rioting, one white and one black, with the chapters switching between the two points of view and written by two separate authors—one white and one black.

I admit that I was confused a few times and would forget whose POV I was in and have to reread a bit to get myself back on track, though most of the time the difference was clear, especially through dialogue because the black character drops words and slings slang like it’s her career. The whole story is done in first person present tense, which I’m not a fan of but is the standard in YA books today so you just have to go with it. In this case, it does add to the immediacy of the situation in which the girls find themselves.

Overall, the story was well done and exciting and kept me wanting to turn the page. The novel is certainly dealing with timely topics and the assumptions one race can make about another (going both ways). It would be an excellent read for a teen book club and lead to some lively discussions about the choices the characters make in the story.

*I reviewed this book as a second round judge of the Cybils Book Awards, but I checked my copy out of the local library (did not receive a free copy from the publisher) and am under no obligation to post a positive review.

On the Come UpOn the Come Up by Angie Thomas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, I’d love to say I enjoyed this book, but I just didn’t. I know I’m not any part of the target audience, but I did enjoy The Hate You Give so I’m not sure that’s the problem. The main character, Bri, was just annoying and constantly confrontational to a level that felt excessive over and over, and I know that’s what Thomas wanted for her but it left me wanting to just shut the book and quit reading. If you can’t get behind the main character, it’s hard to get behind the story. I also felt like I could see every “twist” coming and that the ending was preachy. Reviewing is all about how a book hits us, personally. This one just left me flat.

*I reviewed this book as a second round judge of the Cybils Book Awards, but I checked my copy out of the local library (did not receive a free copy from the publisher) and am under no obligation to post a positive review.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This was a sweet book, but it left me a bit flat. Nothing big really happens, problems are easily solved, and all the big UMPH things I expected to happen just didn’t. I’m not saying it’s a book to avoid or anything, but knowing I was picking it up because it was a finalist in an award competition, I expected more. More drama. More peril. Just more. And I was distracted by the meals Emoni creates at home with spices and fresh produce when they are apparently broke and living on the edge of not paying bills every month. Maybe teens don’t understand what groceries cost, but I do.

The writing was good overall, but the two page chapters were annoying, even breaking right in the middle of a scene for some reason. Does Acevedo think teens can’t handle chapters? I don’t know.
If you have a love of cooking, this is certainly a book for you. If you are a teen mom, I’d suggest that this story presents a smooth wash over the problems you are going to face.

*I reviewed this book as a second round judge of the Cybils Book Awards, but I checked my copy out of the local library (did not receive a free copy from the publisher) and am under no obligation to post a positive review.

Don't Date Rosa SantosDon't Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a sweet coming of age romancy story, but a lot of it felt forced or didn’t quite make sense. Rosa is supposedly doing dual credits between high school and college, yet she has full day after full day to deal with community issues and never seems to be attending class—online or otherwise—or doing homework. It also had a very “one of each” vibe at the beginning when the community is introduced. In a mostly Cuban old-school community, there’s a mayor named Yang with a service dog, yet we never hear from him again or find out what the dog is for. He’s just kind of dropped in there with characters of various races and sexual orientation. It just felt carefully designed instead of natural to what that small city would look like. Rosa Santos herself is a nice character, but I also found it hard to swallow the huge leaps she makes from things she has refused to do her whole life. Overall, it’s a cute book, but not the top of my list.

*I reviewed this book as a second round judge of the Cybils Book Awards, but I checked my copy out of the local library (did not receive a free copy from the publisher) and am under no obligation to post a positive review.

HeroineHeroine by Mindy McGinnis
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was fully prepared for this to top my list, but I got really tired of reading about the drug use. 300 pages of how great Oxy and Heroin are, but very little about the horrible road of recovery. It was sort of like, went to the clinic and got all better. The recovery is horrendous!! And it never really ends. I personally have two little cousins who were addicts and struggle daily. That on-going part was lost for me. And I really didn’t like Mickey. It was hard to care about her situation. I would not recommend this book to a teen because it seemed to glorify the blessings of drug use (look at all she accomplished before it went bad!) more than really necessary. Well written, but it missed the bar for me on the good it could do.

*I reviewed this book as a second round judge of the Cybils Book Awards, but I checked my copy out of the local library (did not receive a free copy from the publisher) and am under no obligation to post a positive review.

If you've read all the way through, you might notice that my order of preference does not reflect the end result of the voting. That happens sometimes. Heroine continued to slip in my rankings as the days went by, but the other judges loved it and felt it was important and should win. Maybe you should read them all and come to your own conclusion. Unless you have issues with addiction. Then don't read Heroine. It comes with a trigger warning that I would urge you to take seriously.

You can find my previous reviews for New Kid and Coyote Sunrise at these links.

Now on to judging the OWFI writing contest where I get the solo vote for Best Juvenile Book of 2020. 😎

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Before I Fall: Book Review

Before I FallBefore I Fall by Lauren Oliver
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I grabbed this book at the library after I saw the movie version. I mostly just wondered if it ended the same way (which it does), but then I was drawn into the writing and ended up reading the whole thing. Of course, the book is better than the movie, but the film version (with the luminous Zoey Deutch, daughter of Lea Thompson, in the lead) does a serviceable job of getting to the heart of the story in 90 minutes.

Rather like "Groundhog Day" for a Mean Girl, I loved the message it held about how much power our words and actions hold and how we should use them wisely instead of cruelly. Samantha begins as, frankly, a pretty big bitch. The kind of girl you hated in school unless she was your friend and you were a Mean Girl too. But as the story unfolds, Sam learns that there is not only more to her and what she wants for her life but more to her friends and those she has been mean to for years. And yes, we all have the power to change. Is she in purgatory? Or is her experience what we all have a chance to go through for a bit of redemption before we leave this world? Some of it might feel trite to adult readers, but the teens it is aimed at will be given much food for thought. Especially if you are a Mean Girl.

View all my reviews

Monday, January 6, 2020

Cybils Book Awards Judging Underway

Just dropping a quick note here because I'm reading like mad, but I can't post any of the reviews until February. That's because the reading I'm currently doing is as a second round judge for the YA fiction category of the Cybils Book Awards.

Until the winners are announced, I won't be sharing my reviews of the fabulous finalists, but I can tell you who they are.

From the ones I have read so far, the first round of judging must have been challenging. They are all so good! Glad the final decision is by committee (five of us) and I don't have the weight of it only on my shoulders.

So, watch for reviews of each of these in early February. I'm writing them as I go, but won't share until then.

In the meantime, I am also up to my eyeballs in the very untidy rough draft of the guesthouse memoir Not Quite Serenity, pitching a handful of picture books, revising The Humanity of Tigers for an older audience before resuming querying, and beginning work on the sequel to Bianca. Life is never dull for a writer.

Why not join me in reading the finalists for this category? I have gotten all of them through my local library, so I bet you can too. Or you can discover the finalists in another area that might strike your fancy at this link.

Happy Reading!