Readers' Favorite

July 12, 2014

Ty the Bull - How it started

by Brenda Perlin

Ty the Bull
Ty The Bull is a story that has been fictionalized but is based on the true life events of an average ten year old boy from Orange County California. This boy has had to endure bullies around every corner and to make matters worse he is dealing with his parents divorce. Things fall apart for him and he feels like he is alone and misunderstood. It's not until he meets this unsuspecting character that he finds new hope for a better future.

Ty the Bull is a story of inspiration. A child dealing with judgment of others needs to know that it doesn’t matter what others say. You are not alone and just they are saying mean things it doesn’t mean it is true.

I started writing this story when I was witnessing what this boy, Rex was enduring on a daily basis. Kids at school were devaluing him for no other reason than his name was funny, or he wore his hair the way he liked. These kids would have looked for anything to go after his self-worth.

Looking at him I couldn’t understand how the other kids would choose to pick on him. He is a good looking boy who is smart and has personality. Somehow that wasn’t enough.

Things got worse for Rex when his parents pulled the plug on their marriage and his safe, predictable family life changed in an instant.

Now he had to become strong without having the tools to pick up the pieces. Through the writing of this book I believe Rex has become empowered. He has seen that if you work hard for something it pays off in more ways than one. He now knows that fighting is wrong and doesn’t solve the problem. Learning to outsmart the bullies has been a real eye opener. Keep them guessing is what he has learned to do. There is no reason their story can’t be heard. This is why we started Rex’s blog, we hope others will visit and share their stories. No child should ever have to feel alone.

This story was a labor of love. Written by Kim Mutch Emerson, Rex Baughman and myself. Rex’s does the illustrations.

Ty the Bull is now available. Today (July 12) is the launch party where you can win prizes and Rex’s rubber-band no bullies bracelets. Join us TODAY on Facebook at 11 am PDT.

Buy Ty the Bull at Amazon

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July 11, 2014

Excerpt: Ava's Wishes by Karen Pokras (@KarenToz)

Ava's Wishes
They walked closely side by side, without holding hands, despite Ava’s hope that they would.

The night was chilly, but not freezing cold, a rarity for December, a month generally filled with frigid temperatures. Ava could comfortably keep her hands out of her pockets … just in case he reached for her. The sounds of cars driving by, and college students chatting as they passed, were barely noticeable—she was thinking only about the kiss to come.

Would it come? After all, they had kissed before, even though it had been unexpected, at least for her. True, Max said it shouldn’t have happened and had promised to keep their relationship on a strictly professional level. But things were different now, weren’t they? Was this a date, or was Ava reading too much into it?

And what about Thomas? Did she owe him some sort of loyalty? They’d only had one date, but had never discussed the status of their relationship, even if they had a relationship. Besides, if Thomas was so important to her, why couldn’t she stop thinking about Max? She was certain she already knew the answer to that question.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

She realized they’d come to a stop – right outside of her apartment. Had she ignored Max all the way home?

“Hmm? I’m fine, why?”

“You seem so quiet. I think I lost you about half a block into the walk back.”

Ava stared at the sky. Moonlight shone down on the two of them like a spotlight, cancelling out everything else around them as stars danced above.

“No, it’s just such a nice night, that’s all. Thanks for dinner and for the tutoring again. I really appreciate it. Of course, I still owe you for that, you know. Oh, and good luck with your studies tomorrow. I guess I’ll see you in the afternoon? And thanks also for walking me home. I suppose I’ll be going inside now.” Ava hated this part. She always felt so self-conscious and rambled way too much. She wished Max would kiss her already. She pretended to be searching for her keys in her purse, even though she knew they were in her coat pocket.

“So,” he began, “I know we kind of got off to a weird start with you seeing me naked, and me shoving you up against a wall to kiss you, and all.”

“Yeah, that was a bit out of the ordinary and admittedly awkward,” she agreed.

“Do you think we could start over?”

She smiled and nodded. “I’d like that.” She was already feeling more relaxed.

“Hi, I’m Max Wallis. I’m a senior at Wolfenson College where I tutor statistics. It’s nice to meet you.” He stuck out his hand.

Ava giggled, replying, “It’s very nice to meet you, Max Wallis, I’m Ava Haines. I’m also a senior at Wolfenson, and I happen to need a statistics tutor. I heard you’re very good.” She took his hand and shook it.

Buy Ava's Wishes at Amazon

Karen Pokras writes adult contemporary and middle grade fiction under the names Karen Pokras and Karen Pokras Toz. Her books have won several awards including two Readers’ Favorite Book Awards, the Grand Prize in the Purple Dragonfly Book Awards, as well as placing first for two Global E-Book Awards for Pre-Teen Literature. Karen is a member of the Society of the Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). For children, her books include the Nate Rocks series, Millicent Marie is Not My Name, and Pie and Other Brilliant Ideas. For adult readers, Karen’s books include Chasing Invisible, and her newly released, Whispered Wishes series. A native of Connecticut, Karen now lives outside of Philadelphia with her family.

Girl Who Reads is an Amazon advertising affiliate; a small fee is paid by Amazon when purchases are made through the above link.

July 10, 2014

Formatting Your Review Posts

by Donna Huber

One of the stressful parts of book blogging is writing reviews. Stress can come from feeling like no one is reading your reviews or the actual writing of the review. Many book bloggers were not English majors, some don't have more than a high school education. I for one was a biology major and writing has always been a weakness for me. Yet, I love to read and I love helping people find new books to read. If you are book blogging, then I assume it's true for you as well. So how do we reduce the stress related to writing reviews?

Think About How Reviews are Formatted
I've been re-writing the website for my work and one of the things I'm changing is the straight texts. When reading about what makes a website effective, I noticed a recurring recommendation. One of the top ways to make websites and posts more readable is focus on format.

People are busy and they don't read content on websites fully. Instead they skim, looking for the highlights or the answers to their questions. Using headings, bullet points, and white space can help draw the readers eye to the content you want them to read.

Headings to Use
In your review posts do you give an overview of the plot? Discuss the characters? You can use these as headers: "what it's about", "meet the players" or more traditionally "summary" and "characters". Other headers could be "why I chose the book", "my thoughts", "the good", "the bad", "the ugly". Word the headers to match your site and voice.

A writing weakness I have is transition sentences. Using a heading often softens the abrupt change in thought. Not struggling with how to segue to my next thought reduces my review writing stress.

Bullet Points in a Review?
I think most book bloggers use an essay format for writing reviews. Our experience with formal reviews or writing are traditional publications. But new media allows for creativity in our writing including how we format our posts.

We were taught that a paragraph should have 3 - 5 sentences. Like with transitions sometimes I have trouble connecting thoughts together in a paragraph form, but a list can convey my thoughts easily and quickly.  Can't decide if you liked a book or not? Make a pro and con list.

If the plot is complicated or has multiple story arcs, then using bullet points can help a reader keep them separate. Same goes for characters and your descriptions of them.

Sometimes books leave me with mixed feelings, and I find sorting them out to be difficulty never mind trying to put them into a coherent paragraph. Instead, I can use bullet points to highlight things done well or to point on things that grated on my nerves without getting too negative.

White Space is Your Friend
Everything tends to run together on the computer screen. Adding in white space can help draw the eye to particular points of note. Going back to the thought that paragraphs need 3 - 5 sentences... It can be more powerful to have a single sentence that stands alone. Often this statement is the "sound byte" that you can use to hook readers into also reading the book.

Think About SEO
Now if stress comes from thinking people aren't reading your post, then you might need to consider the keywords you are using. Again, using headers and bullet points can help you in using proper keywords.

Keywords are the words that one would use when searching for the information your post contains.

For reviews, the major keywords are book title, author's name, genre. It is important to have the big keywords in the opening paragraph and then repeat them a few times throughout the post. One of your headers might be "similar romance". I often see search terms that are along the lines of "what to read after x". Also having other titles in your post that are similar to the book you are reviewing can lead people to your review.

Rethink Your Review Format
If writing reviews is causing you anxiety, then consider changing up your format. It could prove to be fun for your readers.

Have you thought about interviewing yourself about the book you recently read? A Q&A can help organize your thoughts, while providing headers of a sort to direct your reader's attention.

Using headers and bullet points can improve readability of posts and ensure you are using keywords effectively. You may also find that it quickens the writing process and saving time can always reduce blogging stress.

Have you tried formatting your reviews differently? What did you do and how did it go over with your readers?

Donna is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour. She reads most genres, but her favorite books are psychological thrillers and stories that highlight the survival of the human spirit against unbelievable circumstances.

July 9, 2014

Summer in the Medieval Palace

by Alison DeLuca

Cruel Beauty
I’m always on the hunt for great fiction, and when I find strong female characters in wonderful books it’s a double bonus. Three books I read recently featured strong women in unusual ways. The first was Cruel Beauty, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, by Rosamund Hodge. Nyx, the main character, is promised to Ignifex, The Gentle Lord, her entire life. She has also trained to kill him and free her kingdom.

Both Nyx and Ignifex enthralled me right away, as well as the setting. Most of the action takes place within the Gentle Lord’s palace, a magically shifting panorama of rooms and landscapes. Nyx is free to explore except for some locked rooms, and of course she immediately goes for those forbidden places. I adored her inquisitive nature, and the blossoming, forbidden romance between her and her husband is breathtaking. As well, the –punk nature of the book (I suppose you could call it Thaumaturgy or Elemental Punk) grabbed me and kept me enthralled. Without access to the sun, Nyx’s kingdom relies on old magicks for energy, and the way Hodge built their world as well as Ignifex’s palace was incredible.

Buy Cruel Beauty at Amazon

Cruel Beauty started a hunt for more strong females in fiction, and I found several Indies doing just that. There are a few things I must have if the book is published by the author or a small publisher: the editing must be meticulous, the story planned and developed, and the characters vibrant. Kindar’s Cure and Huw the Bard fulfilled my requirements and served up wonderful stories as well.

Kindar's CureI took a look at the sample of Kindar’s Cure, a lovely book by Michelle Hauck, and several things lured me right in: the princess (Kindar) suffers from a congenital disease called the Choke Lung. That made her stand out right away from the plethora of princesses in fantasy and medieval fiction.

Second, in Kindar’s Cure the ruling class is a matriarchy. Furthermore, the women rulers own a harem of males called ‘amores’ – Kindar has her own special amore who becomes central to the story. A heroine who wasn’t put up in an ivory tower to marinate in her own purity intrigued me. Plus, the concept of the amores wasn’t there for mere salacious purposes or smut for smut’s sake; there was a reason for that portion of the storyline.

Kindar’s Cure was extremely interesting, turning back on itself in quite a few hairpin curves. I was taken in by one character and appalled by another – in other words, I had a personal reaction to the plot arcs. That shows the story telling was successful.

I do feel there could have been a bit more editing for Cure. Sentence structure was, at times, too repetitive and choppy. I pinpointed several paragraphs that could have benefited from a skillful red pen to really make the voice sing. As well, there was a section of head hopping in the final chapters so abrupt it made my mind whirl. However, neither of these caveats is really serious; in fact I’m being a nit-picking editor to mention them at all. In the end, I would give Kindar’s Cure a solid four stars with an added half star for the strong, feminine characters.

Buy Kindar's Cure at Amazon

Huw the BardHuw the Bard is also medieval fantasy with a well-drawn background. Both Jasperson, the author of Huw, and Hauck are confident world-builders who considered history, politics, and current conflicts as they wrote their novels.

Another similarity between the two books was the strong women characters. In Huw, many of the females insist on having control of their own destinies. Only one character is overshadowed by a tyrant husband, but she rebels against him with Huw’s help. The other women all take lovers as they wish and refuse to be tied to marriage at a father’s or brother’s convenience.

As for Huw, I have to admit I have a bit of a crush on him. He is a harpist with hair down to his waist who is forced out of his lazy, sensual existence into a series of harrowing adventures on the road. Against a background of tyranny after a ruler burns an entire Guild Hall filled with bards to the ground, Huw must find his way in order to save his family, friends – as well as his entire craft.

Jasperson’s book is bawdy but not overly so, and the relations between the characters are always tender if not lasting. I would rate Kindar’s Cure at a T for Teen (although it would be better for readers 16+) and Huw the Bard at M for violence and erotic scenes.

Buy Huw the Bard at Amazon

Alison DeLuca is the author of several steampunk and urban fantasy books.  She was born in Arizona and has also lived in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Mexico, Ireland, and Spain. Currently she wrestles words and laundry in New Jersey. Connect with Alison on FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest, and her blog.

Girl Who Reads is an Amazon advertising affiliate; a small fee is earned when purchases are made at Amazon through the above links.

July 8, 2014

Review: Gabby, Angel of God by @GregSandora

by Claire Rees

Gabby Angel of God
Come meet Gabby, a beautiful angel sent to earth by God to help good people out of bad situations, and Bo, a grieving widow with two kids left to take care of, after the death of his wife.

Gabby is sent by God to help Bo to start living his life again and start looking towards the future and planning ahead instead of living day by day, not really going anywhere or doing anything. She shows Bo that he is special and can really help people if he tried.

They quickly become good friends with Bo becoming enamoured with Gabby and the two get into all sorts of sticky situations that are both funny and sometimes scary.

Buy Gabby, Angel of God at Amazon

There are many touching moments where Gabby tries to help Bo to move on after losing his wife and it is very easy to like the characters and empathise with them.

In Gabby, Angel of God,  we get to see humanity at its best, with Gabby and Bo helping those in trouble and danger. But we also get to see humanity at its lowest, a scary insight into how a kidnapper thinks or a demon trying to trick people into giving up their souls.

I really enjoyed this book, reading about the different angelic beings and the demons they have to face. It was really interesting to read Greg Sandora's views on how heaven works and how hell's demons actually work with humans.

I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys a heart warming story with a bit of paranormal romance and action, including angels and demons.

Book Info
ebook & paperback
Published: February 2014
ISBN13: 978-1496045867
Source: Author
Read: June 2014

Claire Rees lives in a small village in the South Wales Valleys, UK with her husband, two kids and five snakes. She will hopefully be starting an English literature course this September. She has always loved reading books. Her favorite genres are horror, mystery and fantasy, although if the story line is good she'll read anything. Connect with Claire on Facebook.

Girl Who Reads is an Amazon advertising affiliate; a small fee is earned when purchases are made at Amazon through the above link.

July 7, 2014

A Conversation with Deborah Harkness

Just over a week until the release of the highly anticipated conclusion of All Souls trilogy! You still have a week to enter to win a prize pack that include The Book of Life, holographic buttons, and Diana's commonplace book. For those that haven't started the series or maybe your a fun who just needs a little something to tide you over until next Tuesday, here's a great Q&A with Deborah Harkness.

Q: In your day job, you are a professor of history and science at the University of Southern California and have focused on alchemy in your research.  What aspects of this intersection between science and magic do you hope readers will pick up on while reading THE BOOK OF LIFE? There’s quite a bit more lab work in this book!

A. There is. Welcome back to the present! What I hope readers come to appreciate is that science—past or present—is nothing more than a method for asking and answering questions about the world and our place in it. Once, some of those questions were answered alchemically. Today, they might be answered biochemically and genetically. In the future? Who knows. But Matthew is right in suggesting that there are really remarkably few scientific questions and we have been posing them for a very long time. Two of them are: who am I? why am I here? 

Q: Much of the conflict in the book seems to mirror issues of race and sexuality in our society, and there seems to be a definite moral conclusion to THE BOOK OF LIFE. Could you discuss this? Do you find that a strength of fantasy novels is their ability to not only to allow readers to escape, but to also challenge them to face important moral issues?

A. Human beings like to sort and categorize. We have done this since the beginnings of recorded history, and probably well back beyond that point. One of the most common ways to do that is to group things that are “alike” and things that are “different.” Often, we fear what is not like us. Many of the world’s ills have stemmed from someone (or a group of someones) deciding what is different is also dangerous. Witches, women, people of color, people of different faiths, people of different sexual orientations—all have been targets of this process of singling others out and labeling them different and therefore undesirable. Like my interest in exploring what a family is, the issue of difference and respect for difference (rather than fear) informed every page of the All Souls Trilogy. And yes, I do think that dealing with fantastic creatures like daemons, vampires, and witches rather than confronting issues of race or sexuality directly can enable readers to think through these issues in a useful way and perhaps come to different conclusions about members of their own families and communities. As I often say when people ask me why supernatural creatures are so popular these days: witches and vampires are monsters to think with.

The Book of Life
Q: From the moment Matthew and a pregnant Diana arrive back at Sept-Tours and reinstate themselves back into a sprawling family of witches and vampires, it becomes clear that the meaning of family will be an important idea for THE BOOK OF LIFE. How does this unify the whole series? Did you draw on your own life?

A. Since time immemorial the family has been an important way for people to organize themselves in the world. In the past, the “traditional” family was a sprawling and blended unit that embraced immediate relatives, in-laws and their immediate families, servants, orphaned children, the children your partner might bring into a family from a previous relationship, and other dependents. Marriage was an equally flexible and elastic concept in many places and times. Given how old my vampires are, and the fact that witches are the keepers of tradition, I wanted to explore from the very first page of the series the truly traditional basis of family:  unqualified love and mutual responsibility. That is certainly the meaning of family that my parents taught me.

Q: While there are entire genres devoted to stories of witches, vampires, and ghosts, the idea of a weaver – a witch who weaves original spells – feels very unique to THE BOOK OF LIFE. What resources helped you gain inspiration for Diana’s uniqueness?

A. Believe it or not, my inspiration for weaving came from a branch of mathematics called topology. I became intrigued by mathematical theories of mutability to go along with my alchemical theories of mutability and change. Topology is a mathematical study of shapes and spaces that theorizes how far something can be stretched or twisted without breaking. You could say it’s a mathematical theory of connectivity and continuity (two familiar themes to any reader of the All Souls Trilogy). I wondered if I could come up with a theory of magic that could be comfortably contained within mathematics, one in which magic could be seen to shape and twist reality without breaking it. I used fabric as a metaphor for this worldview with threads and colors shaping human perceptions. Weavers became the witches who were talented at seeing and manipulating the underlying fabric. In topology, mathematicians study knots—unbreakable knots with their ends fused together that can be twisted and shaped. Soon the mathematics and mechanics of Diana’s magic came into focus. 

Q: A Discovery of Witches debuted at # 2 on the New York Times bestseller list and Shadow of Night debuted at #1. What has been your reaction to the outpouring of love for the All Souls Trilogy? Was it surprising how taken fans were with Diana and Matthew’s story?

A. It has been amazing—and a bit overwhelming. I was surprised by how quickly readers embraced two central characters who have a considerable number of quirks and challenge our typical notion of what a heroine or hero should be. And I continue to be amazed whenever a new reader pops up, whether one in the US or somewhere like Finland or Japan—to tell me how much they enjoyed being caught up in the world of the Bishops and de Clemonts. Sometimes when I meet readers they ask me how their friends are doing—meaning Diana, or Matthew, or Miriam. That’s an extraordinary experience for a writer.

Q: Diana and Matthew, once again, move around to quite a number of locations in THE BOOK OF LIFE, including New Haven, New Orleans, and a few of our favorite old haunts like Oxford, Madison, and Sept-Tours. What inspired you to place your characters in these locations? Have you visited them yourself?  

A. As a writer, I really need to experience the places I write about in my books. I want to know what it smells like, how the air feels when it changes direction, the way the sunlight strikes the windowsill in the morning, the sound of birds and insects. Not every writer may require this, but I do. So I spent time not only in New Haven but undertaking research at the Beinecke Library so that I could understand the rhythms of Diana’s day there. I visited New Orleans several times to imagine my vampires into them. All of the locations I pick are steeped in history and stories about past inhabitants—perfect fuel for any writer’s creative fire.

Q: Did you know back when you wrote A Discovery of Witches how the story would conclude in THE BOOK OF LIFE? Did the direction change once you began the writing process?

A. I knew how the trilogy would end, but I didn’t know exactly how we would get there. The story was well thought out through the beginning of what became The Book of Life, but the chunk between that beginning and the ending (which is as I envisioned it) did change. In part that was because what I had sketched out was too ambitious and complicated—the perils of being not only a first-time trilogy writer but also a first time author. It was very important to me that I resolve and tie up all the threads already in the story so readers had a satisfying conclusion. Early in the writing of The Book of Life it became clear that this wasn’t going to give me much time to introduce new characters or plot twists. I now understand why so many trilogies have four, five, six—or more—books in them. Finishing the trilogy as a trilogy required a lot of determination and a very thick pair of blinders as I left behind characters and story lines that would take me too far from the central story of Diana, Matthew, and the Book of Life.

Q: A Discovery of Witches begins with Diana Bishop stumbling across a lost, enchanted manuscript called Ashmole 782 in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, and the secrets contained in the manuscript are at long last revealed in THE BOOK OF LIFE. You had a similar experience while you were completing your dissertation.  What was the story behind your discovery?  And how did it inspire the creation of these novels?

A. I did discover a manuscript—not an enchanted one, alas—in the Bodleian Library. It was a manuscript owned by Queen Elizabeth’s astrologer, the mathematician and alchemist John Dee. In the 1570s and 1580s he became interested in using a crystal ball to talk to angels. The angels gave him all kinds of instructions on how to manage his life at home, his work—they even told him to pack up his family and belongings and go to far-away Poland and Prague. In the conversations, Dee asked the angels about a mysterious book in his library called “the Book of Soyga” or “Aldaraia.” No one had ever been able to find it, even though many of Dee’s other books survive in libraries throughout the world. In the summer of 1994 I was spending time in Oxford between finishing my doctorate and starting my first job. It was a wonderfully creative time, since I had no deadlines to worry about and my dissertation on Dee’s angel conversations was complete. As with most discoveries, this discovery of a “lost” manuscript was entirely accidental. I was looking for something else in the Bodleian’s catalogue and in the upper corner of the page was a reference to a book called “Aldaraia.” I knew it couldn’t be Dee’s book, but I called it up anyway. And it turned out it WAS the book (or at least a copy of it). With the help of the Bodleian’s Keeper of Rare Books, I located another copy in the British Library.

Q: Are there other lost books like this in the world? 

A. Absolutely! Entire books have been written about famous lost volumes—including works by Plato, Aristotle, and Shakespeare to name just a few. Libraries are full of such treasures, some of them unrecognized and others simply misfiled or mislabeled. And we find lost books outside of libraries, too. In January 2006, a completely unknown manuscript belonging to one of the 17th century’s most prominent scientists, Robert Hooke, was discovered when someone was having the contents of their house valued for auction. The manuscript included minutes of early Royal Society meetings that we presumed were lost forever. 

Q: Shadow of Night and A Discovery of Witches have often been compared to young adult fantasy like Twilight, with the caveat that this series is for adults interested in history, science, and academics. Unlike Bella and Edward, Matthew and Diana are card-carrying members of academia who meet in the library of one of the most prestigious universities in the world. Are these characters based on something you found missing in the fantasy genre?

A. There are a lot of adults reading young adult books, and for good reason. Authors who specialize in the young adult market are writing original, compelling stories that can make even the most cynical grownups believe in magic. In writing A Discovery of Witches, I wanted to give adult readers a world no less magical, no less surprising and delightful, but one that included grown-up concerns and activities. These are not your children’s vampires and witches. 

Buy The Book of Life at Amazon

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