Saturday, October 29, 2016

Are You Afraid Of Halloween?

When I was small, growing up in England, Halloween was so close to Bonfire Night, I could hardly tell them apart. First came black paper witches riding broomsticks crafted from twigs. We made them in school and took them home to decorate our bedroom windows. Gazing out past mine, I'd wonder if any bonfires might reflect in the clouds, and would witches dance. I'm not even sure we burned the guy in our neighborhood, but if we did I probably thought he was a witch on a broomstick too.

When my kids were small, this strange new American custom had begun to invade. Churches railed against it. Neighbors ran parties in the garage and we would debate if our kids should join in. Then we moved to the States. And Halloween was huge.

Kids parading around the school in their masks and candy for all. Kids parading the neighborhood. Knocks on the door. The churches still railed, but how could we refuse to let our kids join in. Being foreign, not understanding the culture, speaking with strange accents--belonging was already hard enough. And now?

Now I'm officially old and gray-haired with a bag full of candy. Parents stand at the end of the drive and proudly watch brave offspring knock on my door. The street resounds to laughter and joy. And sharing out that candy just might be the spirit of Halloween.

Meanwhile back in England, it's grown to American style. They're having a party in the place where my mum lives; she says people need cheering up, but she's not a fan of the season. So this one's for you Mum.

Are you afraid of Halloween? Don't be: It's a celebration of

H - Hope, because where there's life there's hope, and you have to be alive to celebrate.
A - Attention, because all those parents are attentively watching their children go door to door.
L - Laughter, because Little Tommy just fell over the hem of his ghost gown again and didn't cry.
L - Love,  as big sister reminds Little Tommy to say please and thank you.
O - Ordinary bravery, shown by small children practising talking to strangers because they'll have to learn, for all our warnings.
W - Wisdom as parents remind them they can't take treats from strangers when nobody's watching.
E - Excitement, resounding along the street
E - Entertainment, exercising those young imaginations with dreams of who they'd like to be (and no, Little Tommy, you can't be Darth Vader when you grow up).
N - Newness, because every costume is new, every doorway is a new experience, ever treat is newly delightful, and tomorrow, whether we enjoy it here or away (in a place of Hope, not ghosts), will, for sure, be a new day.

So enjoy it!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Where do Faith, Self-Help, Creativity and Happiness Meet?

We've been studying the Jewish exile in Babylon in our Bible Study group. You can look at my Bible Study blog to see where we're up to, but the reason I mention it is because we've been looking at how the Jews were told by Jeremiah to live their lives and make their homes among "the enemy," how Daniel modeled that so perfectly, remaining Jewish and becoming a seriously successful Babylonian, and how Christians today might do well to take the same advice. Not our job, perhaps, to convert the world or take over the government, but rather to live our lives "in the world, but not of the world."

So what has that got to do with reading and writing book reviews? Well, one of the books I've just read is Madeleine L'Engle's Walking on Water. She seems to express what I feel so very well, reminding readers that bad art is bad religion, even if it lays claim to follow all the rules. Good art, even if not religiously inspired, is truly an act of creation. And if we are like our creator God, good art is inspired, whether we claim so or not, by our creator. I really enjoyed the book for its conversational style, the way it invites questions, and the author's acceptance (even insistence) that doubt is part of "what if," which is part of faith and experiencing that which cannot be fully understood--it's also part of writing creatively. If you're looking for something to read, and for coffee suggestions, enjoy an elegant and complex four-star coffee with this one.

Brandilyn Collins' Why Did I Love Hate That Novel offers plenty of advice for readers and writers too, from an easily understood explanation of what makes the reader say "it started slowly" to the value and judicial use of short and long sentences. Plus some psychology. Plus some fine illustrative examples. Enjoy this one with a well-balanced full-flavored three-star coffee.

Finally, since reading and writing both make me happy, I thought I should finally get around to reading The 7 secrets of Happiness by Linda Johnson and Kat McDivitt. It's an interesting read. Again, the authors have a pleasing conversational style. Examples from sources as varied as Buddhist wisdom and Shakespeare illustrate the points. And there is some excellent advice. Enjoy with a lively, easy-drinking two-star coffee.

And that's where the title of this blogpost comes from. Self-help and happiness in the final book, meeting creativity in the second and faith in the first, all stirred together into some pretty cool read.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

What if an elephant meant a genie and a crow?

I've been reading some children's stories recently. They make such a pleasant break when the days are filled with raking leaves, panicking over delays, worrying over parental health, then failing to get things done... except for those brief snatched moment of reading children's stories as I walk from room to room. Suddenly the world is simpler again and the sun breaks through.

So, why do you read children's stories? You do, don't you? If you don't and would like to try, I can recommend the following... Grab and coffee and see what grabs your attention.

Perfect for October is Elphie Goes Trick Or Treating by Hagit R Oron and Or Oron. Starring the delightful young elephant, Elphie, in a perfectly human environment, Trick or Treating explores a youngster's natural fear of the unknown, adds a parent's kind wisdom and a child's innate good nature, and leads to a perfectly happy ending. It's a lovely simple tale, simply told, gorgeously illustrated, and highly recommended. Enjoy with some well-balanced, smooth, full-flavored three-star coffee.

Next is The Crows and The Jewels by Peter Joseph Swanson, a delightful take on fairytales, with a blend of all the right characters, a story arc that encompasses ghosts, cats and thieving birds, and an enjoyable sense of humor and fun. Plus great pictures of course. Sharp, witty and lively, this is one for young readers to enjoy with a bright-flavored two-star coffee.

Magic Poetry by Piaras O Cionnaoith has the feel of one of those old-fashioned hard-back fairytale books I used to enjoy as a child. The poems are simple to read and tell fairytale stories, or else describe fairytale creatures with equal delight. The images run a range of different styles, and the book would be fun to share with a child, while the adult carefully drinks a mild and crisp one-star coffee.

Eden's Wish and Eden's Escape by M. Tara Crowl are the first two in the authors Eden-of-the-Lamp series about a modern-day twelve-year-old genie, escaping her magic lamp. Think Harry Potter meets Cruella De Ville in America (and travels to Paris in book two)--the stories cool, exciting, vividly evocative, with wonderful characters, child and adult, and a pleasing sense of rebellion, restraint, and the importance of loyalty. Enjoy these well-imagined books with some elegant four-star coffee and watch out for more.

Finally, Orphans of Time Space by Robby Charters is a fascinating novel, written in the form of interlinked short stories, with interlinked timelines, lots of surprises, and a thoroughly enthralling premise. It's well thought out, beautifully told, and totally absorbing. Maybe even my unbelieving son would imagine the possibility of time travel after reading this. Enjoy with some seriously complex, warming and flavorful four-star coffee.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Did you eat your greens, and oranges, and yellows...?

Today I'm welcoming author Vicki Marquez to my blog. Her children's book, The Rootlets, is set in Plantasy Land where...

It’s opening day at Mr. Fungo Fungi’s magnificent amusement park…and The Rootlets couldn’t be more excited! With special surprises and newly sprouted rides, this is sure to be the greatest day ever! But when The Rootlets arrive at the park, they realize that something is terribly wrong. Plantasy Land is in trouble! Someone—or something—is destroying the park. Could it be The Great Zucchini, Mr. Fungi’s new magician? Or could there be an even greater danger lurking beyond the park? Most of all, can The Rootlets trust their new super rootabilities to help them save their favorite place on the planet? 

Sounds cool, so why don't you pour yourself a cup of coffee and join us at the kitchen table.

Sheila.      What inspired you to create this series?
The idea of The Rootlets popped into my head one day as I was thinking about how I could help inspire kids to want to -- and to be excited to -- eat their veggies and make good, healthy choices. That thought lit a fire inside of me and I immediately knew that these characters were something special – that’s what inspired me to take action, create this series, build this brand and bring these characters to life.

Sheila.      How would you describe the dynamic between the RootletsBrocc, Carrotina, Cornelius and Kaley?
The Rootlets are best friends, with a special bond and a lot of trust between them. They count on (and value) each others’ unique set of talents and strengths, and they operate like a little team…always rooting for and looking out for one another, no matter what kind of trouble their next adventure brings!

Sheila.      How did you decide what traits the Rootlets would possess?
It wasn’t actually a conscious decision – they each began taking on certain characteristics with that initial vision I had of them. Right away it was clear who they were and what was important to each one of them. Brocc was smart and into studying, Cornelius was the jokester who loved to have fun. Kaley was a fancy girly-girl and Carrotina was a brave adventure-seeker. It felt like I knew them.

A few months after I wrote the first book (Super Rootabilities), my husband said to me that each Rootlet reminded him of me, like they were me -- at the core -- divided into four. And in retrospect, I can totally see that…everything that The Rootlets love, I love. So, I guess that maybe I subconsciously selected their traits based on those things…and that each one actually represents a little part of me.

Sheila.      What inspired the vegetable hair. It's one of the most distinct aspects of The Rootlets
A: When I first transitioned to a plant-based diet, my best friend kept calling me her “veggie head.” That nickname was running through my brain when I first had the idea of The Rootlets. I envisioned these adorable kids with big, veggie hairdos: a broccoli afro, carrot pigtails, blonde kernels, leafy green was how I saw them, and it was absolutely perfect.

Sheila.      The Rootlets features bright and brilliant illustrations. Did the characters look the way you envisioned while writing the book? 
My illustrator, Jeremy, and I actually developed the characters long before I wrote the first story, so I was lucky to have a very clear visual reference of these kids as I was developing the series. But I will say that when Jeremy sent me those very first sketches of The Rootlets, he 1000% captured on paper what these characters looked like in my head.

Sheila.      That must have been really satisfying. Since you are an expert in health and nutrition with years of experience, what types of research did you do to write The Rootlets?
A: The Rootlets series is all about the evolution of these four young kids who learn that they're superheroes and who now have to navigate the huge responsibilities that come along with that, so all of my research was focused around character and story development, as well as general writing tips and guidelines for kids literature.

The health and nutrition aspects of this series are indirect and expressed creatively, so that requires a lot less research, and a lot more imagination.

Sheila.      Then you combine all that with adventure. In The Rootlets, adventurous kids who love to play and a healthy lifestyle go hand-in-hand. Was that connection intentional? 
Yes, it was intentional, but also very obvious. The Rootlets are relatable role models who love to play, explore and go on little adventures, just like most kids – and those are all really great health-promoting activities to encourage. 

Sheila.      What is the key to inspiring kids to make healthier choices?
There are two keys: fun and familiarity! Fun is the easy one…kids seek it, love it, have to have it…and they're motivated by it! So, when veggies and fruits are presented in a fun, exciting way, kids are much more interested in them.
Familiarity is the other key. Most kids (and adults) prefer to try (and buy) things that they’re familiar with. The Rootlets series introduces and popularizes healthy, plant-based foods, so that when kids see them in the grocery store or at the farmers market, they’re much more curious and excited to try them.

Sheila.      Why is reaching and educating kids about healthy choices in elementary school important to their lifelong health?
Because so many of the habits that we have as adults stem from the habits that we developed when we were little. Good habits, like brushing our teeth, are gems that'll serve us well our whole lives, but bad habits -- especially unhealthy eating habits -- are really hard to break and can lead to serious chronic disease and illness. Teaching kids, from an early age, about the superpowers of veggies and the importance of making good nutritional choices, establishes the foundation for them to build strong, healthy habits that will stay with them as they grow up.

Sheila.  What would you consider to be the biggest challenge to raising healthy kids today?
A: Time...for sure! Parents are SO busy these days that finding the time to meal plan, shop and cook can be a real challenge. That's why I'm really excited that our Rootlets blog now features quick and healthy kid-friendly recipes that parents can easily whip up and feel really good about sharing with their little ones.

Sheila.  You are a certified plant-based chef. What are some of your most popular dishes among kids?
A: Ooh, there are so many good ones, but I’d have to say that the most popular dishes are the ones that kids can customize on their own or help make. For example: power bowls (where you start with a grain and then add your favorite toppings and sauces) tacos, wraps, homemade pizzas, smoothies…all of those are always kid-pleasers! And anything with cacao or chocolate, of course! 
Sheila.  When did your interest in nutrition and healthy food begin? Which authors inspired you as a child?
In my mid-20s, I started paying close attention to what I was eating and how it was affecting me. I cut back on the highly processed junk food that I had been accustomed to eating my entire life, and I began eating real, whole, natural foods. Becoming aware of that food/body connection, and how my diet had been directly impacting my overall health, was a huge a-ha moment for me! Once I saw (and felt) the correlation between eating well and feeling good, my interest in health and nutrition grew naturally.

As a kid, I loved Valerie Tripp, Shel Silverstein, Judy Blume, Roald Dahl, Peggy Parish and of course, Dr. Seuss.

Sheila.   The Rootlets are superheroes with special powers, which contribute to their big adventures. Which superpower would you choose to possess?
Ooh, good question! I'd LOVE some sort of healing touch power. To be able to free people and animals from pain, sickness and illness…that would be the greatest!

Sheila.  That would be perfect. I think that's the one I'd go for too. But, lacking superpowers, are there any other projects that you're currently working on?

Right now I'm devoting the majority of my time to The Rootlets, writing book three, developing our app, attending school events and marketing the brand -- and when I'm not working on that, I'm writing, creating content and testing recipes for “Nourished” and coaching my private and corporate clients. 

Thank you so much for taking the time to visit my blog. Those super rootlets sound super fun!

Find out more about the author and her world at:
Or follow on social media:
  • Hashtag #TheRootlets
  • Facebook: The Rootlets
  • Twitter: @Therootlets

Where to buy the Rootlets:

Thursday, October 13, 2016

What do Pancakes have to do with the Environment?

Today I'm delighted to welcome the author and baker of pancakes, Bruce Galpert, to my blog. If I'm lucky he may have a gluten free offering for me, maybe just below this text! But I know he and his wife Heather have an enjoyable book for kids, with food-based fun, fact-based education, and feel-good characters. Welcome Bruce and thank you for joining me. I'll just pour us some coffee...

SHEILA.    So, I can offer you some coffee and gluten free cookies. No pancakes I'm afraid. But could you tell me what inspired the idea behind My Pancakes Taste Different Today?
BRUCE: As a young father with two sons, I read a lot to my kids…I also spent most Sundays cooking pancakes with and for them--I ate quite a few myself! Trying to teach my kids life lessons, recycling and protecting the environment were also concepts that were important, but difficult to teach to young kids. I always felt that it was hard for children to grasp how their actions could impact the environment positively or negatively. The idea of My Pancakes Taste Different Today! came out of that quest.

SHEILA.    I can relate to that. So is Ethan based on any of your kids?  
BRUCE: Ethan is just like my youngest son Evan was at that age. The character of Ethan is built around Evan: Ethan is eight years old, observant, intelligent, fun loving, sweet and kind to nature, animals and others. He loves his pancakes and his mother!  He is smart and funny, has tons of friends, and is always asking questions.  In real life, I now have a three-year old grandson named Ethan by way of my son Matthew, so all bases are covered!

SHEILA.    Fun! So... what was the biggest challenge you faced in writing My Pancakes Taste Different Today!? Once you'd figured out the main character, I mean.
BRUCE: Getting started, the beginning, the middle, and the end! Writing is not my strong suit! Fortunately for me, my wife Heather came into my life. Not only did she inherit my family, but she inherited this project of 20 years that I was unable to complete, even after attending children’s book writing workshops given by some of the best writers in the business. She is credited for helping me put a structure around the story and move it from an idea to something I can hold and read to my grandkids.

SHEILA.    You sound like you make  great team. What was the most rewarding moment you experienced while writing this book?
BRUCE: Seeing the beautiful artwork that Barbara Cate did, and how it worked in harmony with the writing to really tell the story. Heather and I have had such a wonderful time working on this together – it’s our baby.

SHEILA.    How much research did you do for the book? What type of research did you do? BRUCE: Countless Sundays making all kinds of pancakes: blueberry, chocolate, apple fritters. Flipping pancakes and spending time with my boys, was the extent of my research, the best kind! And sadly, watching the growing environmental stress and crisis we are facing as the years march on.

SHEILA.    The pancake part sounds fun. But the environment is certainly suffering. As a European it's always seemed strange to me how long it took people to notice the problem in the US. Which, I suppose, is why you wrote the book. What does your writing process look like?
BRUCE: A lot of hair pulling and the words just fall into place. Heather is the the writer in the family, I’m a numbers guy. She helped me tease out the story.

SHEILA.    I hope she's reading this. Where do you turn for inspiration?
BRUCE: Heather

SHEILA.    Where did your interest in writing children’s books begin?
BRUCE: I have always had my favorite books…The 4 Chinese Brothers, Ferdinand the Bull, A Fly Went By, A Fish out of Water, Go Dog Go…many of these were based on cause and effect…progressive events.  I am also a cartoon addict, still to this day I spend more time watching cartoons than any other medium.  My son Evan is a brilliant voice over artist and my dream is to see him as a character in an animated film.

SHEILA.  They sound like your book would fit well in their company. Can you suggest some ways to get young people interested in the environment and what foods they eat?  
BRUCE: Farmer’s Markets, natural groceries, growing seeds from a packet at home. I think getting kids to engage with nature is the best way…sadly this is so hard for many kids around the world. I had the fortune to live in both Japan and the Philippines as a child and young adult, and the differences in the way each of those cultures reveres and cares for their environment is vast. It really begins culturally at a very young age.

SHEILA.  So how can they be taught about personal responsibility and their role in sustainability? BRUCE: By their parents, actions speak the loudest.

SHEILA.  What do you hope readers take away from My Pancakes Taste Different Today!?
BRUCE: I hope that parents read the book to their kids and that the book is also used as an early reader. This will be the best way to teach children how their actions impact their world.

SHEILA.  And what about future projects are you working on?  
BRUCE: We have two books in the hopper that we are both very excited about.  One thing at a time I am told by my wife, but creativity has no timeline!  

That's cool. Thank you for visiting my blog, and I wish you many sales, many pancakes, and many young readers who might grow up to take good care of the environment. (Oh, and thank you for catering to us gluten-free pancake-eaters in your book!) Readers can find  My Pancakes Taste Different Today 
and find the author at

Before going fishing one day, Ethan eats his favorite breakfast—pancakes. As his mom explains how his pancakes are made with help from the sun, clouds, rain, animals, and farmers, Ethan sees the world in a new way. 
While playing outside, Ethan decides to create a big splash by throwing a can in the lake and accidentally contaminates the environment. Time passes and one day Ethan notices that his pancakes taste different. Realizing his decision to make a big splash caused a problem which affected his food, Ethan enlists the help of his friends to correct his mistake. 
Do Ethan and his friends fix the taste of the pancakes? What do they learn in the process? 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

What Do Readers Want To Know? Meet Kate Vale

Today I'm delighted to welcome author Kate Vale to my blog. She writes and publishes contemporary women's fiction and romantic fiction, frequently set in the Pacific Northwest. Her latest book, Where This Goes, was published earlier this year - there's even a Goodreads giveaway for it, from now till the end of the month. Find it at And you'll find lots of information about this and her other books, including excerpts and book club resources, on her (beautifully well-organized) website at, and you can find my review of Destiny's Second Chance here. Kate has offered to answer some of those "frequently asked questions" that authors so often hear, so thank you Kate, and welcome to my blog.

What Readers Want to Know…

by Kate Vale

Readers often ask me who my favorite characters are from the books I’ve published. A stock answer is “the book I just finished” or “the one I’m currently working on!” However, the main female character in Where This Goes is especially dear to my heart. She has worked hard to become a successful businesswoman in spite an unsupportive family, including an alcoholic mother. Nicole, too, is a recovering alcoholic, as is her older brother. Their younger sister is raising a family (something Nicole doesn’t think she has a right to have for herself). Then the bottom drops out of Nicole’s world because her business is threatened, and she realizes that what she thought was a bad bout of the flu turns out to be a pregnancy! What is she going to do now?

Women who are buffeted on all sides by demands, each of which would be sufficient to give one pause, are people we can be proud of when they power through problems that would have forced others to give up. In considering how Nicole would deal with each of the issues she has to contend with, I knew that she would eventually come out a winner, but how she gets there becomes the real issue.

Life often requires us to make choices, and Nicole has to, as well.  Will she give up her business? The baby she never expected to have? Or the man who shows up—at first representing “the enemy” —except that she would have liked to have met him at another time, perhaps in another place. Sigh. I felt so much for Nicole.

Readers often ask me where my ideas come from and if my characters are modeled after people I know. My head is full of stories. When the characters’ voices become so loud I can’t ignore them (does this make me crazy? I hope not!), I have to sit down and let them emerge via the pounding of my fingers on my computer keyboard. As for the characters, they don’t mirror the exact experiences of people I know, although I depend on the expertise of consultants to make sure that key details are accurate. For example, when I wrote a story about two little girls in foster care (Her Daughter’s Father), I checked in with people who handle foster placements. When I wrote a story about adoption (Destiny’s Second Chance), I interviewed several people who had experienced different aspects of the adoption process. And for Where This Goes, I met with people for whom alcoholism had touched their families in some way.

Why does this matter to me? Although a novel is fiction, I feel that it should accurately
reflect life as we know it, particularly since my stories are contemporary. While my characters are the product of my imagination, I love it when readers tell me they felt they knew them, wanted to be friends with them, or saw themselves in the characters in some way.


That's so true Kate. We don't always write what we know, but as authors we do have a responsibility to know as much as we can about what we write. That way our characters and the situations they find themselves in will be as real to the reader as they are to us. And that way, together with the reader and those wonderful voices in our head, we learn about our own lives too. I'm so glad you visited my blog, and I'm delighted I've got to know you better here.

Friday, October 7, 2016

What's Grace Got To Do With Fiction?

I've just started reading Madeleine L'Engle's Walking on Water and I'm hooked. As a Christian author, I love her comment that "if it's bad art, it's bad religion." And I'm really enjoying her insistance that Christian art makes no more sense than Christian oranges. If art is creation, and if Christians believe in a creator, then that creator should have a hand in all art ... even in books where the protagonist despises religion ... even in mysteries where a graceless protagonist objectifies every woman he meets ... and even in a fictional world where the clone might ask the computer which one has a soul. I'm definitely hooked, and with two book titles containing the word grace among those for which I'm posting reviews, I'm wondering if I picked up the book by accident or if it picked me.

Anyway, create some well-flavored coffee, sit down, and see if any of the books in this list will attract you to read:

Grace by Howard Owen is fifth in the author's Willie Black series, and it's the smoothest, strongest yet. The flawed protagonist is as flawed as ever, but the touch of grace in the background is key to healing many broken lives, even after the death of a child. Truly haunting. Vividly real. Enjoy with some dark strong five-star coffee.

Graceful Immortality by Robert Downs is another amateur detective mystery, this time with a private eye who's ability to escape certain death proclaims a fictional immortality. Whether or not it's graceful is left to the reader as the womanizing, irreverant protagonist investigates the death of a graceful dancer. You'll probably want some more dark five-star coffee with this dark tale.

Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare by Pat Bertram isn't available yet, but will be a mustread when it comes out. A group of dancers of retirement age plot how one of their number might write a murder mystery. When the victim dies. suspicions and rumors fly, and many different sorts of relationship losses come to the fore. It's a cool literary mystery with a great narrator, fascinating plot, and a wealth of very genuine, well-defined characters and places. One to enjoy with a nicely complex four-star coffee.

Steena Holmes' The Word Game delves into relationship losses as well, through the lenses of guilt and abuse. If you guessed, would you tell? Would you risk friends and family for a child? And what would happen next? It's a cool tale where words hide more than they tell, and love shows many faces and histories. Enjoy this one with a well-balanced three-star coffee.

And finally, a novel that has to be included in a list compiled with grace and soul: Multitude by Peter Joseph Swanson is a science fiction novel, set in the far future, on a farflung asteroid, among people who may be clones, interacting with computers who may have souls, and seeking a heaven which may be something way way darker than they dream. Add union bosses, scary monsters, hippie destroyers and more. And dialog that sings, makes you think, and makes you laugh out loud! Enjoy with some perfectly balanced and curiously flavored three-star coffee.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Is Fantasy Sci-Fi?

When I met the man I would later marry we were both in college. He loaned me his copy of Dune over the Christmas vacation; I suspect he wanted to make sure I'd see him again, if only to return the book. Dune is a great science fiction novel. We both loved the sense of working out how the planet's ecology could evolve, and imagining the mysteries of space travel. But my soon-to-be-husband was much more tied to the science while I loved the characters, the mind-reading, future-sensing aspects of it all. He showed me other books that filled his shelves - all volumes that I would today term "hard sci-fi." Meanwhile my own collection was growing with a Christmas gift of the Lord of the Rings, Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea trilogy, and more esoteric offerings my future spouse termed "fantasy." He said "fantasy" in the same way he said, "Oh dear. My sister writes," when I told him I wanted to be an author. Fantasy was most surely not his thing. He did, however, greatly enjoy Lord of the Rings. And he loves the Game of Thrones books...

Pause for thought - I think he delights in the politics and plots, while I love the characters, magic, and future-sensing aspects of it all...

But fantasy and scifi both serve the same end, to drive our earthbound, today-bound minds into thoughts of elsewhere, elsewhen, elsehow, and to wonder how earth and today relate to it all. Freeing the readers' imagination as well as the writers', they let us bring what we value and know to a place that works differently. Perhaps we learn why we value these things, or perhaps we begin to change our minds. Who know? But on the way we're entertained, and that's fiction, science or otherwise.

Anyway, I was entertained, enthralled, and inspired to view things differently as I read these science fiction novels this last week. So find a coffee and see which ones you'd like to try.

A Mage of None Magic by A. Christopher Drown, builds on a well-timed and well-told creation mythology and its consequences, past and present, in a pleasantly different world from our own. The author does a great job of letting readers see through his characters' eyes, and I enjoyed the multi-threaded tale. I think the switches in storyline might annoy my husband, and he probably wouldn't like the magic - not enough yet for him to figure out the logic. But there's more to come. Enjoy with some elegant complex 4-star coffee.

Transport by Peter Welmerink would be much more my husband's cup of tea (or coffee). Set in a near-future world that suffered near-total collapse, it crosses Mad Max with space marines, builds a very believable post-viral Grand Rapids Michigan, and tells an exciting military story with rapid-fire absorbing narration. Enjoy this dark tale with a fine mug of dark 5-star coffee.

Devouring Wind by Dale Cozort will probably appeal to my husband too. It's the second Exchange novel, and they're probably best read in order. But the author gives just enough backstory to motivate this novel, and it stands alone perfectly. An alien world, part linked to ours. Refugees, from scientists to escaped prisoners, struggling to survive. And a second alien world offering a dangerous intersection. Great characters. Great science. Great plot. Enjoy with a perfectly complex four-star coffee.

The Discovery of Socket Greeney by Tony Bertauski might not be his sort of thing, but perhaps he'd have enjoyed it when younger. Young Socket lives in the near-future, enjoys very cool computer technology, and doesn't enjoy rules. But a shadow appears to him in a computer game, and a sudden glitch threatens to bring down the system. More importantly, it threatens to reveal Socket's secret identity, and he's not sure he wants to be any different from who he's always been. A really cool story, and the start to a really cool series, this one should really appeal to reluctant boy readers, and I love it. Enjoy with some four-star complex coffee.

Feedback by D. L. Richardson is another science fiction tale aimed at teen and pre-teen readers, with another intriguingly new take on its science. This one's set in the present and blends dying-teen-angst with CIA spy thriller. It's an odd combination, and the teen angst felt more real than the action-adventure. But it's a fascinating premise and its stars do shine by the end. Best enjoy this one with two cups of coffee, one dark five-star and one fast-drinking two-star to follow up.

Finally, Everville, the fall of Brackenbone, by Roy Huff falls firmly onto the fantasy bookshelf. It's not the first in the series, but it reads well enough on its own, as a hero takes an unlikely helper from our world to a land of dragons, giants and lilliputians to save all worlds, including our own. Enjoy with some full-flavored well-balanced three-star coffee.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Can picture books help raise thinkers?

I loved Karina Fabian's post last week, where she asked if SciFi could help raise thinkers (Yes, Yes, Yes!). Then I read a collection of books specifically aimed at raising small thinkers--NNAT and OLSAT training for pre-schoolers and kindergarteners. With more children's books on my reading list, it's no wonder I ended up pondering if picture books can help raise thinkers too. Small thinkers. Big thoughts sometimes. But most importantly, kids who can interpret and follow instructions (rather than blinding following perhaps?). Find a coffee and see what you think after reading these book reviews:

First are those NNAT and OLSAT practice books. They combine a story idea--let's be a detective--with nicely illustrated test questions. They teach how to listen to instructions and use checkmarks to fill in your answers. They help kids learn to think about what's the same, what's different, what's the pattern, and how to count. And, in a way that tests themselves can't, they invite the adult to participate, which allows (hopefully) for dialog, explanation, and recognition of different ways of seeing. I can't help wondering, if my high school entrance exam had been multiple choice (as these tests are), would I have failed? I'd surely have failed the math since I'd never heard the word Algebra in my life, and I invented my own purpose-built algorithm for interpreting and answering the questions. My answers were all wrong, but the test wasn't multiple choice so the teacher could see how I found such zany answers. He kindly allowed me to "pass" the exam. From there, I went on to love math and earn my degree at Cambridge University England. So I guess I'm a bit good, but multiple choice would have doomed me to fail. All the same, in a world where multiple choice rules, these test prep books looks great. Enjoy with some bright lively two-star coffee, and talk to your kids!

Ceri Clark's Space Puzzles - Minkie Monster and the Birthday Surprise offers a much shorter and simpler collection of puzzles. My mathematical critic wished the author and illustrator had played more tricks with matching numbers of ships portholes to numbers on the side and so on. But the simple puzzles cover all the old favorites from my childhood and include a snakes and ladders game plus downloadable content. A fun short read, this is one to enjoy with some mild crisp one-star coffee.

The Buggees Bunch series of picture books combines a TV feel with picture book storytelling, and even has online videos accessed straight from the ebook. A true multimedia picture book series, it includes fun stories and informative adventure for its ladybug heroes as they travel to foreign lands. I've read and enjoyed the first and second volumes - good length ebooks with enjoyable extras that make the ebook experience every bit as good as real books used to be. Enjoy Let's Go Buggees and Journey to China with some more lively two-star coffee.

A truly beautiful picture book--purely old-fashioned with gorgeous imagery, well-crafted words, and a timeless message--is The Christmas Horse and the Three Wise Men by Isabelle Brent. The blend of traditional Christmas Bible quotes and the thoughts of a traveling horse is very nicely done, as wise men, gathered from farflung places, ride together to Bethlehem. The images hold more than the story, inviting adults and children to return to the pages again and again. And the informative author notes make it a book for adults to enjoy after the children go to bed. Perfect when fall's rain tells you winter is coming (No, No NO!), enjoy this with a warm-hearted,well-balanced three-star coffee.

And now for a picture book that's aimed at pleasing adults as well as making them think. Fifty Nifty Facts About Cats by J.M. Chapman & S.M Davis is a lovely fact-and-cat per page book with pictures perfectly chosen to match the very simple and clear information. You'll never look at a wet cat (or a toilet seat) the same way again. Enjoy with some lively two-star coffee and a feline companion (who may or may not be lactose intolerant).

Finally, Out There by Darren Beyer is filled with gorgeous photographs of space, planets and spacecraft--a wonderful picture book for the space enthusiast, and a fantastic resource filled with information about where and how life might develop, The solar system and the reader's imagination might both come to life. Enjoy this cool balance of awe-inspiring pictures and down-to-earth facts with a well-balanced three-star coffee.

So, can picture books help raise thinkers? I think they can, but only if they're well written, well illustrated, and well shared.