Friday, October 31, 2014

Time of the Witches by Anna Myers

Drucilla Overbey thinks she’s found a home with the Putnam family. However, her loving expectations sour when Dru notices Ann Putnam's obsessive and paranoid behavior. Meanwhile, a new minister moves into town with the Barbados slave, Tituba. Soon many of the local girls, like Dru, secretly visit Tituba to have their fortunes told. But when the minister’s daughter becomes oddly lethargic, the other girls mimic her behavior to cover their interactions with Tituba. Their strange stupor ignites Ann Putnam’s paranoia, causing her to accuse community members of witchcraft. Again, to cover their tracks, Dru and the girls go along with her false accusations. But when Dru’s friend is accused of witchcraft, it's up to Dru to stop the maddness the Salem witch trials.

Myers creates a hauntingly rich and real perspective of the 1692 Salem witch trials through the eyes of Drucilla Overbey. From her research, Myers believes that the witch trials occurred because of groupthink: an unthinking acceptance of majority behavior. Because of this unthinking acceptance, the girls blew everything out of proportion, which included falsely accusing others of witchcraft. Along with the enlightening read, Drucilla’s narrative is painfully heart wrenching but boldly courageous. Time of the Witches can be a great resource in studying the Salem witch trials. Good for ages 12 and up.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Seven Wonders Journals: The Select and The Orphan by Peter Lerangis

The Select:
Burton Friedrich Wenders is dying because, like many before him, he is a Select. Through his father’s research, they have learned of an island that could unfold the mystery of Burton’s condition. But disastrous problems plague their voyage, especially when they set foot on the island.

The Orphan:
Daria will do anything to keep her friends, Frada and Nico, safe. But with Frada dying and Nico arrested, Daria must tap into her courage, intelligence, and Select abilities to keep her friends alive.

Going along with the Seven Wonders series, Lerangis will publish supplemental journals written centuries before the Jack, Aly, Cass, and Marco enter the picture. The Select shows the discovery of the mystical island before the Karai Institute was founded. The Orphan gives Daria’s backstory before Jack, Aly, Cass, and Marco come into her life. These journals are fast-paced, suspenseful reads that add more clarity and richness to the Seven Wonders world. The next journal, The Key, will be released February 2015. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Seven Wonders Book 3: The Tomb of Shadows by Peter Lerangis

Jack, Aly, Cass, and Torquin arrive at the Karai Institute to witness a Massa invasion. Working together they rescue an injured Prof. Bhegad, reclaim the two Loculi, and escape the island. With no one left to trust, Jack convinces his friends to seek his father's help. After a bumpy and nail-biting trip, Jack is reunited with his father to help hospitalize Bhegad. But Bhegad’s survival lies only with the Loculus of Healing located in the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. Thus the quest must continue for the four tweens, not only to save their own lives but to also save the life of Prof. Bhegad.

Seven Wonders Books 3: The Tomb of Shadows will reeve readers up for a wild ride blazing across the globe and careening into the underworld. Readers will unlock clues to the world’s past as they follow Jack, Aly, and Cass through many unimaginable dangers. In this book, Jack faces some of his deepest fears: the possible betrayal of his mother, the demise of his new home, the unpredictable reunion with his father, the loss of Prof. Bhegad’s steadying influence, and the probable end of finding a cure. But in each case, Jack can only trust his amazing intuition to carry him through each of these trials. The fourth book, The Curse of the King, will be released March 2015.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Seven Wonders Book 2: Lost in Babylon by Peter Lerangis

Marco’s tracker takes Jack, Cass, and Aly to the ancient remains of Babylon. Once they locate Marco, he takes them through a time-travel portal to a thriving Babylon and its famous Hanging Gardens. As they remove the Loculus at the gardens, Babylon is hit with massive earthquakes. The friends leave Babylon and return with Shelley—an electronic orb invented at the Karai Institute that will harness the power of a Loculus. But Massarene monks follow the tween's back to Babylon, thanks to a traitor within the four friends.

The roller-coaster ride of adventure continues in the second book of Lerangis’ Seven Wonders series. In the midst of the non-stop action and nail-biting suspense, Lerangis takes the time to explore the newly formed bond between the four friends. After getting to know one another from their first quest, Jack, Marco, Aly, and Cass have accepted each other as family. And as a family the four tweens are able to accomplish amazing feats together. Yet, what would happen if one of them strayed from the others? The shock of losing a friend to the Massa makes the other tweens question the true purpose behind the Karai Institute. The third book in the Seven Wonders series is The Tomb of Shadows.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Seven Wonders Book 1: The Colossus Rises by Peter Lerangis

While on his way to middle school, Jack McKinley blacks out. After a spell at the hospital, Jack wakes up at the Karai Institute and meets three other tweens—Aly, Cass, and Marco. The Karai Institute’s purpose is to study the tween’s genetic abnormality caused by their Atlantis ancestry. This abnormality gives them superpowers, but it will cost the tweens their lives. To save themselves, the four tweens must restore seven powerful orbs—called Loculi—back to the remains of Atlantis. The Loculi were hidden at each of the seven wonders of the ancient world, but only one of the seven wonders still exist today. Only by tapping into their newfound powers will the tweens have any chance of finding the Loculi and saving their lives.

Lerangis creates an unpredictable thrill ride with the Seven Wonders series. Readers will see the world through Jack’s humorously insightful narrative as he discovers his new life as a Select. Jack’s “super ability” is to see the big picture when facing outlandish odds—like a hundred-foot bronze man and a ferocious griffin. Then he finds creative solutions to conquer those odds by successfully utilizing the skills of his friends. Yet, Jack cannot see easy solutions to his own problems—like the separation from his father or his impending death. This is an ideal series for fans of Percy Jackson, Fablehaven, or Harry Potter. The next book in the series is Lost in Babylon.

Introducing Peter Lerangis

I met Peter Lerangis at this year’s Allen County Young Author’s program. I was very impressed by his humorous author presentations, his friendly and spunky personalty, and his ingenious writing skills. So glad I met ya, Peter!

Here are some selections taken from his biography:

“Peter Lerangis is the author of more than 160 books, which have sold more than 5½ million copies and been translated into 33 different languages. Seven of his books have made the New York Times–Children’s Bestseller Lists: The Colossus RisesLost in Babylon, and The Tomb of Shadows, Books 1 through 3 of The Seven Wonders seriesThe Sword ThiefThe Viper’s Nest, and Vespers Rising (the latter co-authored with Rick Riordan, Gordon Korman, and Jude Watson) in The 39 Clues series; and The Dead of Night, Book 3 in The 39 Clues: Cahills Vs. Vespers series.  His novel Somebody, Please Tell Me Who I Am, a collaboration with Harry Mazer, won the 2013 Schneider Award

“Peter was one of three authors, along with R. L. Stine and Marc Brown, invited by the White House to represent the U. S. in the first Russian Book Festival in 2003…

“He is a Harvard graduate with a degree in biochemistry. After college he became a Broadway musical theater actor. He has run a marathon and gone rock-climbing during an earthquake, but not on the same day. He lives in New York City with his wife, musician Tina deVaron, and their two sons, Nick and Joe.”


Through my correspondence with him, I asked Peter some questions about his writing and his reading history:

1. What inspired you to become a writer?
I don’t remember ever not wanting to be one!  As the oldest kid in a big extended Greek-American family who all lived pretty close together, I was the go-to caregiver for a huge gaggle of siblings and cousins.  They looked up to me, and I enjoyed entertaining them with imitations, stories, and jokes.  So in a way, I grew up as a storyteller.  And when I was old enough to write, my favorite thing to do was to hole up in my room with the door firmly shut and a pad of paper on the desk.  I would lose myself for hours letting my ideas spill out onto the page.  It was almost an out-of-body experience!  I was an unathletic, bookish kid, and writing made me feel expansive and powerful. 

2. What was the first book that inspired you to become an avid reader?
My parents read to me every night when I was little.  I distinctly remember my favorites: FerdinandMillions of CatsOne Fish Two FishTo Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.  When I was old enough to read, I started with Dr. Seuss but quickly became a fan of science fiction, mystery, and books about precocious animals.  I raced through the Tom Swift adventures and the Freddy the Pig series.  I was a huge fan of superhero comics, which are essentially extended serial fiction.  My dad loved to see my growing avidity, and he was the one who took the time to drive me to the library every week so I could check out books.  He took great pride in the armfuls I’d bring home, and he always gave the OK for my unreasonably large purchases from the Scholastic Book Clubs.  To this day, I love seeing dads involved in their kids’ reading lives—particularly sons—because I so looked up to my own dad as a role model.

3. Which authors have inspired your writing?
I didn’t realize it as I was growing up, but in my own way, I was carefully studying the revolutionary imagination of Ted Geisel, the over-the-top suspense and sensual language of Edgar Allan Poe, the boundless imagination of Ray Bradbury, and the earthiness of Jack London.  At age eleven or so, while reading London’s story To Build a Fire on a sweltering summer night, I started shivering with cold.  This floored me – that the prose itself had the power to create a physical change like that, with words alone.  I thought then that if I could ever do that for others, it would be the coolest way to make a living.  From that point on I began expanding my reading into all kinds of fiction, literary and popular, all the while trying to suss out exactly how the author achieved that power – what kind of words they used to tease out character and ideas, what kinds of things they held back. 

4. What made you base a series on the seven wonders of the ancient world?
Basically the idea was borne of three failed ideas that coalesced over years into something pretty exciting.

First, the Wonders.  One of the great highlights of my honeymoon in Greece was a romantic dinner on the harbor in Rhodes.  Of course, everyone there points out the location of the ancient Colossus astride the entrance, but I realized it would have been physically impossible to have built a monument of that size.  I began becoming interested in the Seven Wonders—how were they built, why were they so wonderful, why seven? etc. but never thought of myself as a nonfiction writer.

Second, Atlantis.  While in Crete, we heard stories of the sunken island, which the Cretans believe existed off their northern coast.  Well, there are many areas in the world that claim Atlantis, and all my life I was fascinated by the story.  But thousands of people had tackled that topic!  What could I possibly add to it?

Third, years ago I tried hard to pitch a series based on the idea of The Prisoner, a sixties-era TV series about a man trapped against his will on a mysterious island as part of a scientific/political experiment.  I wanted to involve a group of kids – but for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why on earth they would be there.  So I put that aside too.

One day, somehow I put these three things together—and everything clicked.  Seven Wonders is about a team of four kids with a powerful genetic condition inherited from a prince who escaped the sinking of Atlantis—a condition that promises to magnify each kid’s greatest talent into a superpower, but also kill them by the age of 14.  They find themselves on the secret island home of an institute that has found a cure: if these kids can return to the island seven magic relics stolen centuries ago from Atlantis and hidden in the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, they will be cured.  And, unbeknownst to them, they will also save the world from destruction.

5. For people who are trying to become writers, what advice would you give them?
1. You have to want it more than anything else in the world. You have to be the kind of person who doesn’t settle for no.
2. Reading voraciously — all the time — is the single best training to become a writer.
3. It helps to be intensely curious about how your favorite authors make their work so good. What kind of words do they use? What kind of words do they leave out? 
4. You need to practice. Like a musical instrument or a sport, writing gets better with constant work. Write some things for yourself, pieces that no one else sees. Also write stories that you show to people you respect — teachers, librarians, parents, siblings, other authors, etc. Listen to their feedback. Learn to recognize useful and useless feedback. Useful feedback is your best friend, even though it may feel painful.
5. You must collect ideas. Write them down. A pad or a writer’s notebook is great, but anything will do, even a receipt or a scrap of paper. Collect your ideas from conversations, things you observe in everyday life, dreams, other books and movies, etc. When you have a bunch of them, read them over and decide which is the best. Which one makes you the most excited? Start working on that one. If you like it, chances are your readers will too.
6. You need to recognize that the stakes in your story must be super-high. Even in stories about everyday life, there must be some dilemma that seems impossible to solve, something the readers will hang on to until the very end.  Every story is a mystery.  What do you don’t reveal, how you don’t reveal it, and how honestly you lead the reader to the revelation, is the writer’s job. That’s what will pull your readers in.
7. Live life to the fullest. It’s easier to write compelling stories if you’ve experienced compelling events in your life.
8. Don’t worry about getting published right away.  I like to think that everything I write is the worst thing I will have written from now till the day I die—which is another way of saying I assume that I will improve with each story.  Writers must understand that often it is the fourth of fifth or twelfth work, not the first, that is ready for prime-time.
9. Did I say practice?
10.  Practice.

Discover more about Peter Lerangis at

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Princess of Cortova (The Silver Bowl #3) by Diane Stanley

Molly’s visions showcase a disastrous visit for King Alaric during his stay in Cortova. Alaric hopes to negotiate a marriage alliance with King Gonzalo’s daughter, Princess Elizabetta. But Alaric’s uncle, King Reynard, is also in Cortova seeking for a similar marriage alliance for his son. Tensions peak among the three monarchs when Molly is wrongfully arrested.

The final book in The Silver Bowl trilogy is a satisfying conclusion to the series. Stanley maintains the theme of using beautifully crafted objects as a foundation for each storyline. In this book, the Princess Elizabetta's chess pieces are used to describe the roles of major characters while the strategy of the chess game is used to foreshadow important plot developments. Overall this series has a Cinderella-style plot. But Stanley takes that typical Grimm tale and recreates by adding grittier magic, giving “Cinderella” a royal heritage, and introducing another love interest with Tobias. In these ways, Stanley makes this trilogy feel new and fresh.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Cup and the Crown (The Silver Bowl #2) by Diane Stanley

Prince Alaric asks Molly to search for the loving cups created by her silversmith grandfather. Molly, Tobias, and their traveling party follow the trail of Molly’s grandfather, which leads them to Harrowsgode, a magic-based closed city. Once inside Molly is able to meet her regal relatives, including a cousin who is a gifted silversmith. But once inside the magical city, Molly and Tobias will never be allowed to leave.

Stanley’s characters from The Silver Bowl return again, this time exploring more of Molly’s magical family history. Molly always thought she was a fluke in her family tree. Once she arrives in Harrowsgode, she sees that her elite relatives are also magically gifted. But Molly still feels like an outsider because of her lacking education and backward manners. Even though the people of Harrowsgode kidnap her and force her into an education, Molly finally realizes her education is the key that will help her escape from the closed city. A great read with a wonderful heroine who leads readers through all the unexpected twists and turns.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Silver Bowl (The Silver Bowl #1) by Diane Stanley

At a very tender age, Molly is sent away to become a scullery maid at the king's castle. Before leaving home, her mother reveals that Molly has inherited magical abilities that she must try to uncover. Once at the castle, a new friend, Tobias, helps Molly handle her new working lifestyle. After several years of hard labor within the castle, Molly is promoted to assist the royal silversmith. While polishing a large hand basin, Molly's magical abilities help her foresee that the basin is cursed and its curse is killing off members of the royal family. She tells Tobias her of visions and they rush to protect the last prince, Alaric, from a horrific event. Molly and Tobias keep the prince in hiding and while they plan a way to stop the curse.

Stanley’s take on magic is refreshing and original. But aside from the fantastical adventure, Molly’s character is beautifully realistic. Molly is an example of someone who sees their agency as power over  how they will react to their circumstances, whether positive or negative. This lesson is clearly taught to Molly by Tobias. She benefits from his wisdom by working hard and doing her best with what she is given. The Silver Bowl is a creative fantasy read with many unexpected twists and turns that will have readers up all night. This is the beginning book of The Silver Bowl trilogy. The second book in the trilogy is The Cup and The Crown.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Reading Challenge #2: Reluctant Readers

I will admit that I was a reluctant reader. I use to hate going to the library, which was mostly due to my elementary school librarian. She never read aloud to us and she made us take tests to memorize the Dewey Decimal System. If we failed the test, we were stuck checking out the baby picture books. I didn’t fail my test, but it left a really bad taste in my mouth for books.

While I was attending elementary school, my mother was getting her Master’s degree in Library Science. She learned several important points about helping reluctant readers, especially in Jim Trelease’s book, The Read-Aloud Handbook. Trelease said you must have these three B’s to help reluctant readers:

1) Bookshelf
2) Book light
3) Books

But along with these three B’s, my mother also added three must-dos:

1) Visit and explore bookstores
2) Meet authors and illustrators
3) Give books as gifts, treats, or prizes

As a child, I didn’t realize she was testing these theories on me. Many Christmas and birthday gifts were books. And she did take me to Kansas City (a long two-hour trip from our small town) to see several authors or illustrators give book presentations. Plus we never left Kansas City without going to a bookstore.

And now I will add a final must-do:


It took me a LONG time before books began to appeal to me. The book that introduced me into the reading world was Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. My brother, who works for Diary of a Wimpy Kid author, Jeff Kinney, was also a reluctant reader. The books that helped him enter the reading world was Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain series. Young Adult author, Jessica Day George—another reluctant reader—found her entrance into the reading world through Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown.

If you have a reluctant reader in your life, give them time. See books as keys that may unlock the door leading into the reading world. Not all keys will work, but don’t stop trying. One of those books will be the right key. Sometimes they may find the right book on their own (like I did), through insightful teachers, or through their family or friends. But it will happen if you follow these three Bs and the four must-dos. Good luck!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus by R. L. LaFevers

While at the museum, Theodosia and her brother, Henry, find a special tablet hidden inside an ancient Egyptian stele. Theodosia learns that the tablet is a map to artifacts that were once possessed by Egyptian gods—like the Staff of Osiris and the Orb of Ra. Anyone in possession of these artifacts would gain supernatural powers and yield unimaginable destruction. Once word gets out about the tablet, the Serpents of Chaos and the Arcane Order of the Black Sun all want it for their own and they won’t let Theodosia stand in their way.

Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus mirrors the first two books in action, pacing, wit, and adventure. This time, however, her family is openly threatened by the Serpents of Chaos. Even though Theodosia and Henry don’t always get along, she still knows and loves her brother and will protect him and her parents, even from dangers that they don’t know exist. LaFevers' writing is crisp, suspenseful, smart, and humorous. This series will not disappoint readers who long for a great adventure with a courageous heroine. The next book in the series is Theodosia and the Last Pharaoh

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris by R. L. LaFevers

While cataloging artifacts in the basement of her parents' museum, Theodosia finds a staff and orb that have traces of ancient magic still clinging to them. When she puts the two together, mummies from all over London gather at her museum. This is because the staff and orb together have the ability to raise the dead. The Serpents of Chaos find out about the staff and steal it from her. Working together with the Brotherhood of the Chosen Keepers and the Arcane Order of the Black Sun, Theodosia must steal back the staff before chaos takes over London.

LaFevers does a wonderful job at maintaining Theodosia's colorful and refreshing character, while Tanaka's illustrations support the break-neck pace of the story. Readers will definitely be staying up through the night as they follow Theodosia through the dark, dank London alleyways with mummies trailing behind her. But aside from the addictive adventure, spunky heroine, and spooky premise, this book is a great way to show children the importance of doing research in finding answers to any problem. Fans of Harry Potter, Red Pyramid, or Fablehaven will thoroughly enjoy the Theodosia Throckmorten series.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R. L. LaFevers

Theodosia Throckmorten spends most of her time alone among the artifacts at the Museum of Legends and Antiquities. But she stays at the museum because she has been blessed, or cursed, with the ability to sense Egyptian curses still clinging to the ancient artifacts. Using this sixth sense, Theodosia researches ways to counteract the curses so that the artifacts are safe for her father, the head curator, and the museum employees. While working on some cursed artifacts, she uncovers a secret society called the Serpents of Chaos. Their purpose is to use the power of cursed Egyptian artifacts to create a world war. It’s up to Theodosia and her keen magical senses to thwart the Serpents of Chaos’ efforts.

LaFevers creates an incredibly smart, sophisticated protagonist in Theodosia Throckmorten. Theodosia’s intelligence and gut-feelings drive her to be a quiet heroine at her father’s museum. But along with her long days counteracting black magic at the museum—while only surviving on jelly sandwiches—Theodosia also takes to the streets of London to find her needed cures.  It’s here that LaFevers takes readers to a dark, sinister side of London where Egyptian magic threatens Theodosia and her family. This page-turning adventure can be a great introduction to Egyptian culture for young readers.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Clover Twig and the Magical Cottage by Kaye Umansky

To help out her large family, young Clover Twig decides to look for work. Clover finds an advertisement to be a housekeeper for Mrs. Eckles: a well-known witch who owns an odd, old cottage in the country. Clover applies for the position and Mrs. Eckles hires her. As Clover begins her job, she is told about the cottage’s powers, like its ability to fly. One day while Mrs. Eckles is away, Mesmeranza—Mrs. Eckles evil sister—gets through the cottage’s protective magic and flies away with the cottage, but Clover, Clover's friend, Wilf, and Neville, the cat, are trapped inside.

Umansky's story is a spunky fairytale that will have readers cheering Clover on through her many adventures with the flying cottage. However, Wright’s illustrations can seem primitive or naïve because they do not match Umansky's intelligent narrative. There is a sequel, Clover Twig and the Perilous Path, but it is not as well written as this book. Clover Twig and the Magical Cottage can be a stand-alone story. With the way Umansky wrote the book, it would be a great read-aloud for any age group.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Bite-Sized Magic: A Bliss Novel by Kathyrn Littlewood

Soon after winning the Gala des Gâteaux Grands baking competition, Rose is kidnapped by the Mostess Corporation owner, Mr. Butter. He forces her into remaking his snack cakes using the evil recipes found in Albatross’s Apocrypha. Mr. Butter hopes to ensnare consumers into becoming addicted, violent zombies to further the diabolical plans of the International Society of the Rolling-Pin.

The third book in the Bliss series keeps up the humor, magic, and fast-paced action found in the other novels. In this book, we see Rose wishing she didn’t have the life she led. But as Gus warns, Rose’s wishes come true in the wrong ways. From her trials, Rose realizes how baking defines her, positively affects her, and connects her to her present and past family. Rose would not have discovered those realizations until she was pushed to her limits within the make-shift prison of the Mostess' test-kitchen.