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Diane D's Reviews

I read a lot of books about 'how to write' because I've been writing for decades, and I'm always curious about strategies, recommendations, and keys to marketing books.

But Mrs. Rebecca Richmond and Mrs. Claire Pickering's is something different. It's not a 'how to write' book: Market and Sell Books: A My Guide is the next phase of 'how to write a novel': perhaps the most important one, as writers who neglect to market their book (or who fail to understand the process) will only see their title fade into obscurity.

No prior marketing experience is assumed; which is perfect, given that book writers generally know little about the marketing end of the publishing business. Chapters thus offer all the basics; from preparing a press release and sending it to the right audience to developing publicity goals, understanding distribution markets, and creating different kinds of accounts for these efforts.

All this is provided in user-friendly chapters that break down the marketing process into a logical sequence of events and enable writers (who are not intrinsically marketers) to enter the world of publicity.

Why is this important? Because there are many more opportunities for self-publishing than in the past, and because self-published authors need to take charge of something usually outside their comfort zone: the selling process.

While Market and Sell Books: A My Guide is most likely to appeal to writers who already have a book in print, it shouldn't be neglected by those who are at the beginning stage of writing a book, whether it is in the idea development stage or nearly done. Writers will find plenty of specifics on how to determine if their book is marketable in the first place and, if not, how to tailor their book for success: invaluable information for those not yet in the publication phase.

Perhaps this is the best audience for Market and Sell Books: A My Guide: pre-publication, while there's still room for change and tweaking. In reading about the marketing and sales process, writers can quickly determine the best approach for creating a marketable result from their efforts, and will learn how to avoid common pitfalls along the way.
I admit it: I read picture books for leisure - quite regularly. They are quick reads and the best are uplifting and fun: such is the case with
Terry John Barto's Gollywood, Here I Come!

Welcome to Gobbleville, a town literally run by turkeys - and welcome, picture book readers, to the world of Anamazie Marie LaBelle, a marching band majorette who, encouraged by her mother, dreams of becoming famous.

And it looks like she's on her way, because she's a finalist in the 'Gobbleville’s Got Talent' show, and everything is moving on course to fame - until someone else wins.

Anamazie and her mother are more than disappointed until a talent scout solicits her to become part of a film for Gollywood Pictures. So, it's off to the movies and a real studio: and mother and daughter are elated.

There's a lot of underlying humor in this picture book production which will delight adults pursuing read-alouds as well as kids reading on their own: "Then Anamazie waited outside on a bench while Henrietta roosted in a tree….Anamazie twirled with joy. Henrietta fell out of the tree."

Mattia Cerato's large-size, full-page color drawings are fun embellishments to the story line, while its gentle progression avoids the usual ominous atmosphere so many books today seem to feel compelled to inject. It's a pleasure to see success and hard work celebrated for what it is - and Gollywood, Here I Come! is all about achievement and pursuing goals with parental encouragement and support.

Those used to how elements of angst and struggle reach even into early picture book grades will appreciate this positive, upbeat, encouraging story of a mother who encourages her daughter and the success that follows their joint efforts.
Rene Natan's The Woman in Black is just the kind of mystery/thriller I like: nobody's role is 'set', there are twists and turns in love in conflict, and a series of traps keeps readers guessing.

Savina Thompson is on a mission of investigation… that's why she's reluctantly impersonating a call girl: to help a detective solve a mystery that has kept his investigation at arm's length. But her mission is about to become a lot more complicated; not only because a new speech emulation program is enabling her to pull off the switch so far, but because she is also becoming more involved in the detective's already-complicated personal life.

And this is the tip of the iceberg.

On the face of it, The Woman in Black is a mystery. It's also a thriller and a novel of psychological suspense, as each protagonist has lot to win - and a lot to lose - in a complex game that is revealed in bits and pieces, chapter by chapter.

Like a good game of chess, moves and countermoves result in each side holding key pieces - but not the ability to make the winning move that will definitively end the standoff.

And that's what makes The Woman in Black so compelling: in the end, it's all about the standoff. The unpredictability is what counts - and what makes this story such a winner. It's rare for a seasoned mystery/detective reader to say one can't quite see it coming until the end - but it's the case here, and the winning gambit that makes The Woman in Black more than a cut-and-dried case of investigation, romance, or crime.
It's not often that I enjoy coming into a mystery series mid-series: too often the plot and adventure relies on previous books, leaving newcomers in the lurch and forced to look at predecessors to fill in details. Not so with Anthony Eglin's THE ALCATRAZ ROSE, which
joins others in the Lawrence Kingston mystery series (prior books not seen by this reviewer), and opens with an unusual move: a thirteen-year-old begs Lawrence Kingston to investigate her mother's disappearance eight years ago (which seems connected with her botany business) and the clues Lawrence unearths seem to lead to an extinct rose rediscovered growing on Alcatraz Island some 5,000 miles from its last known location.

And so the mystery surrounds not just murder, but history and botany - and that's one of the unexpected flavors that sets The Alcatraz Rose apart from your standard 'whodunnit' genre read.

Another surprise is its atmosphere; for fans of England will find the country's ambiance steeped into every page: thick, delicious, and milky like a good English tea. There are deliciously-described meals and clues unearthed over breakfast. There are clues hidden in books, tendrils of uncertain associations that lead to further mysteries, and an attention to building character and setting which lends to reader connections with protagonists and concern about their outcome.

And, after all, isn't this the ultimate purpose of a good mystery: to not just keep readers at arms-length with entertainment, but to immerse and involve them in the fiber and atmosphere of the adventure?

A rare rose, a child's plea, and a 'cold' case resurrected, all against the backdrop of England's culture and atmosphere - what's not to like?

The casual mystery will simply puzzle and entertain. The superior production will take the time to create a setting and protagonists that are compelling. Such is the nature of The Alcatraz Rose - and the reason why its twists and turns of plot stand apart from the ordinary genre approach.
There has been criticism about V.G. Green's Tale of the Wulks being too action-packed: well, it's true - it's more than evident that Tolkien has been one of the major influences here. And, fifty chapters in three parts shows that The Tale of the Wulks is no casual affair, but a powerfully complex creation as it provides a story of evil let loose on the world and the efforts of humans and magical forces to thwart it. But that's not the remarkable thing about this saga: what is truly notable is that this detailed, winding story was written by a teenager with autism, and its hero, Rilk Wulk, is a fifteen-year-old with autism himself.

He is on the side of good forces as they battle evil; and in Green's scenario, autism is actually one of his assets as he uses his special abilities and perceptions to best advantage.

It's evident from the story's depth, consistency and details that Green has read a lot of Tolkien and other epic writers and has not only absorbed these tales, but put them to good use. But in addition to the usual fantasy trappings of dwarfs and elves are the lesser-known brethren of magical beings, the Wulks, who are indigenous to the U.S., hold no surnames, and live as one clan.

From politics and war to emotional and physical challenges and pulls towards darkness, The Tale of the Wulks is always spiced with insights - and as time moves in and out of 'normal' for Rilk, his steady focus on friendships, peace, and virtue will prove his greatest strength.

The Tale of the Wulks would be an epic adventure even without the added insights from an autistic teen's perspective. By including them, the story shines.
The mystery genre is one of my favorite reads - the romance genre, less so - mostly because too much of it is predictable formula writing. It's not unusual to find a combination of the two; but what is unusual is to have both work so well - and so unpredictably - but Rene Natan's
The Loves and Tribulations of Detective Stephen Carlton does both exceptionally well, and is recommended for followers of either genre (preferably, both.)

It's relatively rare that a single-line title pretty much sums up the story line; but such is the case with The Loves and Tribulations of Detective Stephen Carlton, the saga of a detective who encounters not one but many loves in his life, and who finds himself on a whirlwind path of romance that ultimately leads him in the wrong direction. The story line is as much about his position and the various reasons why one love and then another don't work as it is about his constant pendulum-like swings between love, loss, and devotion to his job as a New Brunswick constable.

After several thwarted relationships that leave him with three boys, he becomes as immersed in work as ever - but life is about to hand him romance connected with his job when he's charged with hunting down Livia, a fugitive charged with murder who has escaped to Venezuela.

Now, laws of romance and laws of the land are two very different things. One has logic and rules; the other often rejects them. One comes from the heart; the other from a series of imposed sanctions and objectives that stem from an interest in control and social order more than the processes of emotion.

So Stephen finds his blossoming relationship with Livia more than he would ever have anticipated, and when Stephen enters a situation where Livia must care for him, true purposes and personalities evolve.

It should be noted that your typical romance reader who anticipates light passion will find The Loves and Tribulations of Detective Stephen Carlton something different: it combines elements of thriller and detective worlds into its overall focus on love, and it creates a complexity between romance and ethics that is a delightful dance between emotion and moral insight.

Yes, there's a crime/mystery to be solved - but deeply embedded within the process of detective work is an attention to personal feeling that is not usually evident in mystery/detective sagas.

Yes, there's romance - but Stephen's attitude towards his job and its importance underlies all his approaches to love, and it takes a major mind shift to accept a potential pairing with a wanted criminal.

Solving this mystery may mean, however, that he loses her for good - for her own good, as well as his motivations for solving crimes.

And this is the heart of the story, which is an unusual, powerful blend of romance and detective work that is recommended for readers who enjoy works in both genres.
I picked up Matthew Heines' first book in his trilogy, My Year in Oman, expecting a travelogue - or perhaps a story of how an overseas educator came to teach foreigners - but it's so much more that I'm recommending it not for a set audience who reads travel stories or educational pieces, but for one looking for a cultural romp through romance, ironies, and Middle Eastern encounters as well.

My Year in Oman: An American Experience in Arabia During the War on Terror should be read by any who have an interest in Middle East culture and affairs in general, and terrorism and education in particular. It's that important, and comes from the perspective of an American teacher, ex-paratrooper and writer who taught in the U.S. before challenging himself by accepting a teaching job in Oman.

One of the delights here is Matthew Heines' exploration of his own pre-conceived notions about what Oman will be like, in contrast with its reality. Not only does the country little resemble his imagination, but his experience there is something he couldn't have prepared for. (In fact, before he left for his new job, he couldn't even definitively identify Oman on the map!)

How many teachers would travel to a land they didn't know in pursuit of money and a challenging new position? How many would rent their own cars at a strange airport in the middle of the night and head off into what looks like a desert when they are stranded at the airport? And how many would fall in love with a beautiful Indian girl while on a two-week vacation, only to run into the secrecy that often permeates Indian society and relationships?

Layers of intricacy and cultural encounters come to life in a story that is far more than a travelogue. In fact, readers who come to My Year in Oman might be disappointed in its lack of 'fluff': there are no insights on where to stay, what to eat, what to do. This is autobiography and cultural inspection at its best and, as such, is a recommendation not so much for the armchair traveler as it is for those passionate about other cultures, other worlds, and thinking outside the box of the familiar travel or work pursuit.

Any who pick up the book expecting an entertaining travelogue will be in for a treat: it's so much more, and packs in the depth and attention to detail that doesn't just entertain: it educates. And, after all, that's where Matthew Heines's passion really lies.
Since I just read/wrote about Matthew Heines' first book in the trilogy, here's the second: Another Year in Oman, which covers 2002-2003.

Another Year in Oman: Between Iraq and a hard Place is the second of a three-book series that describes the author's life in the Middle East and once again offers a powerful perspective, continuing the saga begun by Heines' venture into Oman post-9/11.

At this point the U.S. is about to invade Iraq, and Heines is the only American in the region - so he's viewed with undue suspicion and faces the additional challenges of being involved in a clandestine relationship with an Arab woman and struggling with a very different culture.

Like My Year in Oman, this book is neither 'fish nor fowl' - it's not a travelogue; so don't anticipate that direction. Neither is it strict autobiography: there's a lot of cultural observation and history that would be lacking in a more egocentric production and it's this cultural interaction that forms the backbone of Heines' experience and story.

It's about Muslim faith, cultural values, the interaction of Arab countries with the rest of the world, and how Heines' decision to live in Arabia succeeds in changing not only his life, but those around him.

Expect more details about Omani culture than were provided in the first book, expect more rich viewpoints of male and female lives and how they are changed by Muslim faith and politics, and most of all, anticipate a deepening romance set against the backdrop of protests and heightening tensions in the Middle East.

Most accounts of the region come from relative outsiders. Even reporters who have extensively traveled throughout the Middle East and who have more in-depth background in the region's political turbulence don't have the personal associations that Matthew Heines develops in the course of working and developing a love relationship in Oman.

Another Year is about adventure and romance - but more importantly, it's about one average American's understanding of the underlying forces that drive Muslim culture and heritage, offering a rare opportunity for understanding based not on so much on history or politics as upon personal interactions.

And that's a rare perspective, indeed - especially in a post-9/11 world which too easily equates 'terrorism' with 'Muslim' and negates individual matters of the heart.
The third in Matthew Heines' trilogy, Killing Time in Saudi Arabia, takes place between 2004-2005 and is a fitting addition/conclusion to his teaching adventures in the Middle East.

Killing Time in Saudi Arabia demonstrates perfectly the reason why some books written as a trilogy should be viewed as 'one', read in order, considered as a unit, and stronger as part of a package production. For without the background provided in My Year in Oman and Another Year in Oman (which documents the author's experiences from 2001-2003) this third book would not feel nearly as rich and fulfilling in background, setting and sentiment as it covers eighteen months of life from 2004-2005, when some of the heaviest fighting of the War on Terror occurred - right under the author's nose.

In Killing Time in Saudi Arabia Heines has left Oman and taken a job as an English teacher, training national guard officers for the Saudi Arabian military. Amidst the backdrop of educational progress are the uncertainties and threats of war: gunfire erupting and changing lives, drives through the streets of Riyadh, reflections on life, death, and independence.

Against the backdrop of love, war, tourism and teaching, the gaps between West and Middle East are highlighted. Under Heines' deft hand these cultural interactions and misunderstandings come to life and ultimately serve to provide a better understanding not only of Middle East atmosphere and culture, but of the psychology and perspectives of ordinary people living in a very different world.

A series of misadventures and ironies emerges; even more so than in the two Oman books - which is unexpected, because by Book Three readers would anticipate that Heines has likely penetrated the Middle Eastern veil and is settling in. Nothing could be further from the truth: he's now in a different region and his understanding is still uncertain, his grasp of politics and peoples still tenuous, and his experiences greatly different than in the comparatively isolated medieval town atmosphere of Oman, with its very different world.

Again, humor is embedded in every chapter; so if you don't want quirky observations and tongue-in-cheek wry remarks, look elsewhere … though that would be a shame, because this approach is what lends all three books a personal, interactive, intimate perspective lacking in most other accounts of the Middle East.

Some might fault Heines for including romance in every book. Some might look for more background history, or more cultural insight, or even more teaching encounters (if the reader intends on teaching abroad and is seeking pointers) - but that's not the objective of this trilogy.

Its purpose is to profile the author's cultural encounters and his immersion in foreign lands and perspectives, and it's here that this trilogy shines.

Any who would truly understand the region and its psyche would do well to enjoy the combination of rollicking adventure and cultural insights that permeate all three stories, defying the usual labels of 'travelogue', 'teacher's experience', 'romance' or 'social analysis' to embrace elements of all four approaches.
It's difficult to neatly 'peg' Rena Corey and Bill Noxon's forthcoming Red Star Diary of 1916: it's billed as a 'novel' because it hold embellishments but is actually based on Rena Corey's discovery of Bill Noxon's diary, and includes many entries from the diary throughout, making it stand somewhere between fiction and nonfiction.

Be that as it may, Red Star Diary of 1916 is simply engrossing.

Red Star Diary of 1916 was found by Rena Corey in a flea market in 1993 - but the story didn't stop there. It was a bit of luck that its buyer specialized in antiquarian documents and took a shine to Bill Noxon's story, using the few clues it contained to track down its author. Her discovery of Bill Noxon's life apart from his diary adds to his teenage reflections to create a complete picture and involving account of his life and changing world.

Unlike most histories of World War I, Red Star Diary of 1916 doesn't come from a journalist, a military fighter their family, or anyone associated with media, politics, or society. It's from a comparative outsider who evolves from his concerns of daily living and his move from city to the country to take in the wider, evolving world.

Just as Bill stands at the threshold of change, so does the world; and as he begins to embrace the idea of this wider world, so readers follow the evolution of World War I events and impact with a far greater personal perspective than most accounts of the times can offer.

If you've read a lot of World War I history, you know that it's a fairly singular subject. Most approaches concentrate on historical events and don't capture daily life in a diary format; and most come from adults, not from teen observers. And Red Star Diary of 1916's maker was deceased - so Rena Corey's first task was to recreate his words and life as he would have, creating a factual, textual documentary and avoiding the usual tendency to produce chapters in favor of the more personal approach of the diary's original format. Quotes from Bill's diary are thus interspersed with Corey's words to round out and tell the entire story, and her additions appear in italics to clearly differentiate her voice from his unedited reflections.

Add a wealth of period illustrations (photos, handbills, postcards, maps, advertising, and more) and you have a unique presentation powered by the unusual collaborative efforts of a young boy's words and an antiquarian document enthusiast's attention to recreating vivid history from a single youth's diary.

Vivid, immediate, and personal: very few other stories of World War I hold the intimacy and perspective of Red Star Diary of 1916, making it a standout recommendation not only for readers of the subject, but those interested in the process of re-creating history from original writings and antiquarian works.
I first thought K.S.R. Burns' Rules for a Perpetual Diet would, in fact, be a nonfiction diet plan - but I was pleasantly surprised.

It's not a diet plan per say and it has little to do with nonfiction but Rules for the Perpetual Diet is a novel covering ten days in the life of a diet-obsessed twenty-something woman who perpetually struggles with weight gain and loss. Sound familiar? Well, don't get too comfortable: the familiar is about to be turned upside down as Amy's opening line snags attention: "Kat is dead. I am not. What I am is hungry. And majorly pissed off…"

In a few lines Burns has captured what all too few novels manage to grab: reader attention. And that attention continues as Amy plans a trip to France in an effort to avoid thinking about food (really??) and finds herself in a new world both strange and familiar at the same time.

As readers move through the story, one surprising facet is uncovered: its ability to subtly but insistently insert the elements of a diet plan and insights into self-image, motivation, and food obsession within the course of a winning story of Amy's struggles.

Threads of humor make for wry observations and fun moments that take serious encounters and turn them on end.

The story is about food and obsession - but it's also about Amy's discovery of her self outside of food, love, and life's slings and arrows. It's about her breakthroughs of what she needs in life and what she needs to lose - physically and figuratively. And, ultimately, it's about baggage and change. Woven within the story of her personal revelations is - yes - insights on diets, how they work, and why they don't.

Any female reader struggling to understand rules of engagement and dieting will welcome this unusual blend of a fictional story, a feisty, believable protagonist's journeys, and the underlying purpose and realities of dieting and weight loss that all combine to make for a fun, vigorous read.
Kennedy Obohwemu's TWISTED is such a different kind of read, I hesitate to place it in any one genre. It's a thriller on some levels, and also a time-travel romance - but genre readers who look for formula writing in any of these areas will find it's actually much more, and defies neat categorization.

Twisted is inspired by actual events and integrates themes of terrorist plots with romance and a man unwittingly caught in a net of intrigue and shocking revelations about his past - but don't expect your usual thriller format, however. Protagonist author Mofe Esiri's only starting his impossible journey with these revelations: a trip that includes time travel, family ties, a clever killer with international and mafia ties, and more.

At times it feels that Mofe is trapped in so many ways that he will never untangle the twisted web he's spun for himself through his actions and investigations. Nigerean culture permeates the story line, from the blossoming film industry that is 'Nollywood' to the pageantry of rising wealth and the country's blossoming tourist industry. Against this backdrop, Mofe's impossible world emerges; one that evolves from his status as an acclaimed Nigerian writer who lives outside of his country and which follows his unwitting entry into danger after having lived a peaceful life filled with rare (for a Nigerian) literary acclaim.

Expect a story line replete with the ups and downs of success and failure, with some of these elements coming from personal achievement and others stemming from romance. Expect, also, a story filled with intrigue and action; a surreal thriller couched not just in the specter of international intrigue, but the daily challenges of infidelity, oppression, court cases and police activities, and one man's unwitting involvement in a criminal outfit more than capable of murder.

Within such a scenario the seeds of human bonds and relationships are born. Against the threat of violence emerges love. And as the hopes of a man tempted to live out his erotic fantasies becomes inexorably entwined with the world of assassins, he finds himself not just navigating a strange land, but maneuvering through the changes it will introduce to a life seemingly laced with good luck and unprecedented literary success.

Anyone unfamiliar with Nigerian politics and culture will find Twisted a welcome introduction, while those with a degree of knowledge about Africa will find it replete with truths about the state of affairs affecting not only its citizens in-country but the expats who live outside its borders.

It holds all the trappings of mystery, suspense and romance without the usually-Western settings and sentiments that permeate these genres, and it offers both believable and absorbing protagonists with a locale steeped in Africa's rich social and political milieu.

The result will especially please literary-minded readers who enjoy all three genres, but who seek more depth than the usual thriller affords.
I read and thoroughly enjoyed Matthew D. Heines' travel romps through the Oman region, so picked up his DECEPTIONS OF THE AGES: "MORMONS" FREEMASONS AND EXTRATERRESTRIALS anticipating not another travelogue or cultural encounter (such is evident from the very different title) but another example of his versatile writing - and I wasn't disappointed.

Deceptions of the Ages comes from a teacher who takes five thousand years of history and brings a variety of disparate forces together, using a blend of historical texts, philosophical reflections, holy writings, and more to provide factual historical insights into traditional conflicts between science and religion - and he does so with an added measure of humor to make his approach more palpable.

From the incongruities of a secret society that claims the ambiguous situation of not being a 'secret society' so much as a 'society with secrets' to the great dig under the Temple of Solomon, why it happened, and the contrast of various theories about what they found (or didn't find), Heines takes a step-by-step approach in examining various facets of history and its deceptions.

And perhaps that's the most intriguing approach of all: not just the evidence of deceptions and how they evolved over the eons, but why they happened and how their stories were perpetuated and changed over time.

Few new age or historical discussions take the form of closely analyzing the gaps between science, history and religion. Too few pinpoint exactly where and how these gaps occurred, why they widened, and the various controversies that sprung from them, creating in and of themselves new perspectives and even religions and belief systems.

And few such considerations skirt the line between history, new age analysis, and philosophy, incorporating elements of all in a compendium that is, ultimately, greater than any of its individual parts.

Despite Heines' attempts to inject humor and readability into the text, this is by no means a light read. Typical new age readers (the book's most likely audience) will find it dense, packed with historical, philosophical and spiritual references, and filled with evidence that points to the obvious fact that "we are not alone".

Suffice it to say that Deceptions of the Ages offers much food for thought, will find its most enthusiastic readership among new age circles who appreciate wide-ranging discussions pulling together facts from a range of disciplines, making for a powerful, thought-provoking read.
Anthony Bidulka's The Women of Skawa Island: An Adam Saint Book is a hard-hitting international thriller/mystery that revolves around an investigator stripped of his usual resources.

What can three women, shipwrecked on an island, have to do with world security and the actions of a powerful man entrusting a staggering secret to someone else? Plenty, as former Canadian Disaster Recovery agent Adam Saint is about to find out in the hard-hitting international thriller The Women of Skawa Island.

Saint is used to having high level resources at his beck and call - but, not on this mission.

He's used to the support of an international intelligence agency with all the bells and whistles that come with it … but all that’s gone.

And he's used to professional abilities that streamline his investigations and result in swift resolutions - but, not this time.

As Adam's probe reveals an unimaginable atrocity in the South Pacific world the three women call home, his conflicting vision of himself as healer/saint and high-order investigator collide. The women of Skawa Island are about to start talking - and when they do, their revelations will cause widespread destruction, leaving Saint standing alone against an overwhelming enemy who will do anything to prevent that from happening.

It's one man - and his sidekicks - against the world; and at the heart of it all are three women with a long-held secret to tell.

The Women of Skawa Island does what any good thriller should do: builds intrigue around character motivations, paints a path that eventually becomes crystal clear but throughout seems mired in moral and ethical issues, and, in the end, comes full circle as it addresses family ties, responsibilities, misconceptions, and warped purposes - all packaged in a cloak of unpredictability and fast-paced, well-wrought action.

What thriller reader could ask for more?
I regularly read young adult and children's books because they make for light reading, are satisfyingly different from the weighty adult concerns of complex adult stories, and often feature fun pictures paired with intriguing plots.

I've always enjoyed bedtime stories and am especially interested in multicultural tales, so M. Amu Narasimhan's
The Little Parrot and the Angel's Tears fit the bill on both accounts.

It should be noted that The Little Parrot and the Angel's Tears is a bedtime story passed on between generations in the Asian author's family, and represents not only family connections but the author's first book - a creation she also illustrated herself.

All that said, the story line (a simple account of a small bird's bravery) especially lends to parental read-aloud and interaction both because it holds more words than an easier picture book, and because it holds the opportunity for parent/child dialogue on the underlying concepts of courage and fortitude.

The story is narrated in rhyme which is smooth for the most part, although at a few points it could have been tighter. Iambic pentameter is a fairly precise form; so much so that the inclusion of just one word can throw off the beat.

The drawings are simply beautiful … full color illustrations filled with bright, unexpected embellishments are the driving force of any superior picture book - and The Little Parrot and the Angel's Tears more than delivers quality in this regard, visually carrying any 'bumps' in pentameter that the poetic rhyme occasionally experiences.

Friendship, courage, and strength: by exploring these traits in an accessible animal story, young listeners receive a supportive, enlightening and uplifting lesson in life that many a parent will want to choose, no matter what culture they are from.
The mystery/thriller genre is one I regularly read - and just can't seem to get enough. The problem is: you read a LOT of any given genre and too much begins to sound overly predictable. Not so Robin Mahle's THE LAW OF FIVE, the third in a series of Katie Reed stories - and the first I've delved into.

It's usually difficult to come into a mystery mid-series (The Law of Five is Book Three, so settings, characters and plots have been well established in prior books), but this Katie Reed/Redwood Violet novel opens with the discovery of a body in a cornfield, a situation that quickly involves Katie just when media attention is beginning to wind down from her last case.

Katie's work with the San Diego Police Department has more than taken over and changed her life, and she's trying to achieve some distance between her public and private lives - until a phone call from an old friend draws her into an investigation that involves the police department and an acquaintance suspected of murder.

All this is about to change (a somewhat predictable course of events) - but what is less predictable is the method by which the murderer draws in his victims, which in some sense includes Katie, who finds her investigative skills challenged and her interest in keeping professional distance from her work stymied. Having just faced down a terrible truth about her past trauma and its lasting effects on her future dreams, Katie is in no condition to confront a killer … but, she has to.

The emotional piece of Katie's recovery is one of the pieces that makes The Law of Five a winning read: it's steeped in past, present and possible future events and presumes no prior knowledge of Katie's life on the part of a newcomer. Descriptions are vivid and incorporate these personal aspects, deftly weaving them into the overall mystery and providing solid depth and background.

There are three facets to creating a satisfying mystery: strong characterization, interconnected circumstances, and intrigue. Weave all together and provide an attention to detail for each and you have the elements of a superior mystery story, capable of reeling in readers with emotional empathy and wrapping this psychology in a mystery with no foregone conclusions.

From clues that could lead one to question whether one killer or a series of copycats is involved to Katie's probe of her personal and professional lives, readers are carried along on an emotional and investigative roller-coaster.

That The Law of Five is a gripping psychological investigative mystery drama is largely due to Robin Mahle's attention to creating a protagonist who has survived much, only to find her past haunting her future happiness. The truths that evolve from her pursuit of justice will change everything around her - and readers, too, will be happy to discover this mystery stands well alone and requires no prior reading to prove haunting and involving.
Historical mysteries are one of my favorite genres; especially when they're well-done with both the mystery and history parts - as is Anna Castle's Death by Disputation.

The first requirement that should be noted for a complete enjoyment of Death by Disputation isn't a familiarity with Book One of the Francis Bacon series (though that certainly will evolve for new readers who enjoy this book) and it isn't even an affinity for the historical mystery genre (although that certainly does help).

It's a willingness to become immersed in a period saga that includes not just attention to historical setting, but details that add historical notes and capture the dialogue and language of the era - something that may frustrate those without such an affinity, but which will delight historical mystery enthusiasts looking for genuine research and attention to well-done, realistic settings which goes a cut above your usual historical mystery genre production.

One of the elements that makes Death by Disputation a 'cut above' lies in its tongue-in-cheek humor and its observational style. A good writer will describe Cambridge, for example. A superior writer will simply immerse the reader in the essence that is Cambridge.

The Elizabethan phrases sprinkled throughout demonstrate an attention to detail that is simply exquisite ("…for a mercy…"): it's as though Anna Castle has conducted her research via time machine, personally visiting the era and capturing its sights, smells, and nuances.

But this isn't about historical fiction: it's about a mystery. Here, too, Castle's style shines, delicately eliciting a series of emotional responses from her readers as she weaves a complex web of scenarios and firmly centers them in Elizabethan culture and times. Again: it's as though she lived there - and that's the hallmark of good, solid research rather than off-the-cuff mystery writing.

As events progress and Tom uncovers more and more clues to a mystery, his involvement with his mentor Francis Bacon reflects a host of petty criminal activities with major implications for 16th century Cambridge culture. From social interactions and romance to succinct, staccato portraits of simple perception, Death by Disputation is not so much a pick for those who want a quick, action-packed saga as it is a delight for historical mystery fans who want as much attention to historical detail as to mystery.

It's here that Anna Castle's strength simply shines - more so, even, than in the first book of her series.
Jeffrey B. Burton's THE LYNCHPIN is exactly the kind of mystery/thriller I love: lots of twists and turns, but with a chess-style series of play-by-play changes that keeps the psychology absorbing and the action vivid.

The world of special investigations often assumes the trappings of a chess game, with precise moves often forecast far in advance by either perpetrator or agent. As the men move across the board, underlying strategy unfolds cautiously, slowly, and often unpredictably; and it's the superior game that seems to lead in one inevitable direction, then twists to provide quite a different perspective.

Special Agent Drew Cady has had it with a job that has him confronting violent felons on a regular basis: he's in recovery physically and emotionally, and the last thing he needs is another challenging case. That's why he's helping his fiancée run a resort while working part-time on an FBI fraud investigation case: far easier pursuits than hunting down felons.

All this is (of course - predictably) about to change when the body of a young woman presents a new mystery, when a faithful colleague stands accused of being a spy, and when Drew finds himself unwittingly and reluctantly being drawn back into the world of high-stakes crime and serial killers.

But that's not all of the story, though it is the crux of matters: Drew's back in touch with a sadistic killer and a master manipulator used to playing the board, and it seems that only Drew's efforts can make a difference between success and failure in an investigation packed with surprising facets.

The Lynchpin demonstrates just how exact this process is, creating characters who struggle with games, silence, and what turns out to be the "world's shortest retirement" on Cady's part when a master manipulator pulls the strings and changes his life.

Who is in control? Who is really playing the game? What is behind the murders, and how does a puzzle book come into play?

Head-scratching moments, a dose of political intrigue and departmental conflict, and a world in which the true lynchpin may not be the character sporting the name make The Lynchpin a chess game of high order, and perfect for genre readers who want much more than either standard thrillers or murder mysteries tend to offer.
One of the reasons I enjoy young adult reads is that they tend to eschew violence in favor of insights on interpersonal relationships: even fantasy often incorporates this focus into its adventure orientation, and such is the case with J.R. Roper's first book in his middle school fantasy, The Hunter Awakens.

Book One of The Morus Chronicles, The Hunter Awakens, is centered around the experiences of thirteen-year-old Ethan Morus, who uncovers a family legend while staying at his grandparents' old farm.

But where other similar-sounding fantasies evolve predictable paths, The Hunter Awakens is just ramping up; because events that unfold aren't entirely fueled by Ethan's evolving curiosity and investigations, but evolve from the fact that he's being watched by sorcerers who know, better than he, the extent of his latent abilities and their importance in a bigger picture.

Few young readers can resist a good treasure hunt story; and while many a middle grade read might attempt to include this in their plots, it's rare to see such a hunt actually driving events. But without motivation and the glitter and lure of actual riches, many an adventure falls apart - and that's just one facet that keeps The Hunter Awakens a compelling middle school read: promised riches are always just around the corner.

It takes a solid, talented storyteller to bring to life what sounds like a too-familiar scenario: Roper is such a talent. It takes an attention to detail to build a young protagonist who is not a one-dimensional, singular figure or a hero, but a living, breathing boy faced with social and ethical issues along the way who is always challenged to make the best choice. And it takes a pragmatic approach to build a story line that begins with a seemingly-normal boy's concerns and evolve it so that he begins to recognize and accept his unique skills and make decisions on their applications.

As chapters unwind with the grace and power of an epic, middle school readers will find themselves swept away by a wave of intrigue, fantasy, mystery, and most of all, by Ethan's believable dilemmas as he faces a world he never knew existed.

Especially with teen writing, characterization is the key. As a savvy creative writing teacher once said: if the reader doesn't care what happens to the character, he won't care what happens in the story. Roper creates this sense of intimacy and, as a result, readers follow Ethan's movements and decisions with bated breath.

The plot may sound predictable: all the elements are there for formula writing - a treasure hunt, latent powers awakened, a journey, sorcerers, good and evil - but it's what an author chooses to do with these elements that makes the difference between sub-par, acceptable and superior writing.

Everyone is involved in the outcome, from Ethan's savvy grandparents to Mel, who has a vested interest in manipulating Ethan because she's long ago given her powers to the dark side. And there's a reason why Ethan's treasure hunt becomes more than just a search for riches. The rest lies buried in the pages of The Hunter Awakens, just waiting to be discovered.
Morgan Rice's RISE OF THE DRAGONS blends two genres I love best - young adult fantasy - and gives them new life with a vivid story recommended for young adult and adult fantasy readers alike.

Rise of the Dragons features some fairly common devices in fantasy these days: dragons (of course), a feisty female protagonist (once an exception, now more of a norm), a quest, and a coming of age story set against the backdrop of a desperate mission.

If you take these elements of formula fantasy genre writing and apply them here, outwardly the result sounds much like many other books. But the real test of a work that is different lies in what the author does with the characters, setting, and plot: how characterization is handled, how struggles are depicted, and - most importantly - how much a reader can relate to the various conflicts and influences of the protagonists.

Herein lies the opportunity for riches - and Rise of the Dragons succeeds in incorporating depth and an intriguing twist into a plot which could otherwise all too easily have been considered a too-predictible approach.

Now, many fantasies paint pictures of other worlds. The better ones immerse readers in those worlds - as Rise of the Dragons does from the start. It's difficult to paint an environment rich enough to actually feel the crunch of snow beneath one's feet, the unusual landscape of 'purple pine trees', and the efforts of a girl who 'never fit in' to accept not the domestic duties expected of girls, but the warrior powers she's inherited from her father Morgan Rice. But the saga succeeds - right from the start - in creating this all-important scene, juxtaposing Kyra's strengths and interests with the physical environment and social influences around her.

Immersion: it's what a superior fantasy is all about - and this feel is evident in a story that begins, as it should, with one protagonist's struggles and moves neatly into a wider circle of knights, dragons, magic and monsters, and destiny.

It's easy to create formula writing that's predictable. Moving from one-dimension to three-dimensional thinking, however, takes attention to detail and streamlining characters, settings, and purposes in such a way that readers feel involved in the story and its outcome; not distanced in the role of the dispassionate observer.

It's all too easy to use action-packed adventure to overcome a lack of protagonist development, but Rise of the Dragons avoids this common trap and takes the higher road of involvement - and that's what makes this series opener a recommended winner for any who enjoy epic fantasy writing fueled by powerful, believable young adult protagonists.