Children’s Book Review: Sea Creatures From the Sky by Ricardo Cortes

Sea Creatures from the Sky

Sea Creatures From the Sky by Ricardo Cortes

April 3, 2018 -Akashic Books

48 pgs. – Children’s fiction, animals, sharks

Purpose: Review, #offmybookshelf

Source: Publisher

5 stars

I was given a copy of this book, free, in exchange for my honest opinion. 

I saw this in the Akashic Books catalog and was intrigued. Mainly because my son loves sharks. This is a beautiful children’s book that is not only full of wonderful illustrations, but has a unique story. This is a shark’s first encounter with man -written from the shark’s perspective.  Seeing how most people are afraid of sharks and often think of them as monsters, it is interesting the voice that Cortes chose to give the shark. Because that is not the impression that we are left with. This was fun and both of my kids enjoyed it.

Always Shine!




Review: Kindness For Weakness by Shawn Goodman

Kindness for Weakness

Kindness For Weakness by Shawn Goodman

May 14, 2013 -Delacorte Books for Young Readers

272 pgs. – Yougn Adult, Fiction, Contemporary

Purpose: Review, Random TBR
Source: Publisher, Netgalley

5 stars *****

(Click Picture to go to Goodreads.)

I was given a copy of this title, free, in exchange for my honest opinion. 

In short, this story is about James. He is fifteen years old and lives with his mother and her abusive boyfriend. His father left when he was 5 and his brother, Louis,  has also left, and while they do interact with each other it is only on Louis’ terms and usually when Louis needs something.

James is a quiet character who walks to erase the hunger pains, and meets with his English teacher to discuss books and drink root beer. He is smart, but has no friends and an unstable family. Louis reaches out to him and asks him to do him a favor. In the midst of this Louis lies to him but James accepts it, quietly, and goes on. The favor puts James in jail.

This story is James’ journey, and I wish that I could say that there was hope to be found within these pages. But, there’s not. It is a hard and bitter journey, and it takes you  places you would rather not go. It makes you feel things that you would rather not feel, or make you  unsure how to feel.  You are witnessing very brutal things through the eyes of a very quiet and weak boy. While he learns to get strong, he discovers things for himself. He slowly decides who he is and what he wants from life, without any real hope of a way to get there. He soon learns that it takes more than just wanting it.

He is able to make parallels between a book his English teacher has given him, and a book that he is given in group with his life and his stay in the juvenile detention center. But it is not enough to keep him safe or to give him a happily ever after.

Don’t get me wrong, this is an amazing book. Goodman does an excellent job of telling the story. But, it is not a happy one. It is one that I would definitely recommend to anyone, but especially those who are working with youth. Specifically, those considered to be “at risk”. Don’t go into this book, expecting a loud display of everything that is wrong with the system. Don’t expect the loudness of gang members who are used to being tossed and rehomed in jail.  James is quiet, and thoughtful. He is not a fighter,  he is not street smart. He knows that he is weak, but he is trying to survive – to do his time and never return.

Read this as a class, with a teen, as a group. Whatever. Discuss. Do not just read it, share your thoughts, your hopes and your rage.

I won’t lie to you. You will hate the ending. It’s not fair. It’s brutal and resounds with the hopelessness that the boys within the pages are burdened with. But, it is so worth the read.


Always Shine!

DNF Review: Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

Little & Lion

Little & Lion by Brand Colbert

August 8, 2017- Little Brown

327 pg. – Fiction, Young Adult, contemporary

Purpose: Random TBR

Source: Library

If you want to read what this story is about, click here.

There will be spoilers!!!

Okay, so this is a book that I have been wanting to read since it came out. In fact, when picked this for me to read this round I was super excited. It wasn’t the first book that I picked up only because I had to wait for the library hold to come through.

This isn’t a bad book, it just wasn’t what I was expecting. And I have no interest in what it is. I thought that this was supposed to be about a brother and sister learning to deal with the brother’s mental illness.  And while there is that, it is mostly about the girl, Little discovering her sexuality. This is YA so there is drama and angst, and I’m just not interested in reading about it.

The writing was fine, and even pulled me in. But there’s a love triangle (possibly square) and I hate love triangles.  Especially ones that I don’t think are done right.  Little (Suzette) comes back from her boarding school (she was sent there so her parents could focus on her brother’s developing mental illness without having to deal with her. <Another issue that I have with the book.) where she was in a relationship with her roommate. I’m not sure if it’s over or on pause since she is spending the summer at home. She doesn’t go back so I’m thinking something happened, but she keeps bringing Iris up so I’m thinking that maybe it’s not completely over.  Her first day back she sees her old friend Emil, who is attractive and she would date except it’s what her parents have wanted to happen for so long.  Then she goes to a welcome home party and finds a girl attractive there. Based on the synopsis,  Little falls for the girl but so does Lion.

I particularly didn’t like this love triangle because it’s messy. She obviously didn’t resolve everything with Iris. She’s interested in Emil, and he’s interested in her. The only reason that they didn’t get together was because it’s something that their parents have wanted (and that’s her reasoning not his). And the girl? Well, being interested in the same person as your brother is awkward at best.

To be honest, I didn’t make it very far into this book. I am assuming that a love triangle develops with Suzette (but hey maybe one develops with the girl between Little & Lion). And hey maybe I’m wrong (If I am, please tell me so I can go back to it). But, I’m also a little concerned that Little believes it’s up to her to save her brother. He is bipolar not dying.  And did I mention that I think that their sibling relationship reads a little weird?

I didn’t want to wade through a messy love triangle just to get to sibling relationship story. So this was a pass for me.


Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas 

February 28, ,2017 – Balzer & Bray

464p – Young Adult, Fiction, Contemporary

Purpose: Review, #offmybookshelf

Source: Edelweiss, Publisher, Bookshelf

5 stars

I was given a copy of this title, free, en exchange for my honest opinion. 

his is another book that talks about a white police officer shooting a black male. But make no mistake, it is also a book that stands out on its own. You have probably already heard of this book, as it came out and took the world by storm. I am not one that ever feels that a book deserves a bunch of hype, but in this case I can understand it. It is good for so many reasons, but it is not a perfect book. (I have yet to find one that is.)

Starr is at  party in her neighborhood when shots are fired. Her old friend, Khalil is there with her and quickly gets her out and safely away. While heading to her house or her father’s store, they are pulled over by a white officer for  a busted headlight. While Starr is mentally reciting the lessons of how to behave when pulled over by the police, it is apparent that Khalil did not receive those lessons.  As the police is making his way to the car, Starr does ask if there is any drugs in the car. What could have simply been a routine stop quickly escalates into a homicide. This is due to both Khalil’s mouthiness and the officer’s fear/prejudice/choice.

**With the rising number of shootings, people -black people in particular- have been having conversations with their kids about what to do when you are pulled over by the police? Is it necessary? If you have taught your kids to be respectful of authority then no it’s not. Because, regardless of your opinion of the police or your socio-economic circumstance the police are in a position of authority. EVEN IF YOU HAVE DONE NOTHING WRONG. I have been pulled over before and was told that I resembled a suspect that the police were looking for. No I didn’t believe them, but I was still respectful. Sometimes, it’s not about being right, it’s about doing the right thing.**

Starr then struggles with how to reconcile what has happened, with the way the world reacts and how the police handle the situation. It’s murder to Starr and every other black person that was not there that night. But the police do not see it as such. This brings up a lot of emotions, one that just didn’t make much sense to me. She felt that by being with Chris, she was somehow betraying Khalil. After a year of dating, you’re just not realizing that your boyfriend is white and now you think you’re betraying your race? In reality, all of these feelings would have come up at the beginning of their relationships and not now, and they would have been resolved  by this point. Especially with Big Mav as a dad. So, I’m calling flag on the field.

**I am with a white man, I have two biracial babies. My dad always had something about white people. I did not go to a school that was dominantly white, but I was constantly the only black person around.  And before anyone thinks that you only date white guys cause that’s all you’re around, bull. It’s a choice to date outside of your race-regardless of what your race is. It doesn’t happen by accident, so you can’t wake up one day and realize dude my boyfriend’s white. Yes, there are some things that make the differences in race more apparent.  But I’m calling foul on Starr’s sudden realization. **

As Starr deals with the loss of Khalil and with what the news is reporting about him, she is learnign that there is more to him than even she knew about. And she has to come to terms to that. At the same time the communities around her are reacting. Either by trying to figure how to deal with the anger and the hurt that they feel or by trying to get justice in a situation that is all too familiar to them.

This is bringing to light so many things for Starr, not just with her community, but with her family and her fellow classmates. She is learning so much,  she is learning to use her voice but most importantly, she is joining the conversation.

This book is powerful, not just because of the content of its pages. It is joining the conversation. It is lifting back the covers and giving the world an inside peek at how things really are -as much as  a work of fiction can. The Hate U Give acts as a window into Starr’s story that is at once all to familiar and completely foreign-depending on a reader’s own experiences.  Thomas does an amazing job in creating characters that are real and emotionally authentic.  She has taken a situation that is in itself already complex and controversial and pulled back to give 360• view of it. There’s surprises. there’s humor and there’s truth. Truth about the pain, the anger and the feeling of being lost in your own world.


Always Shine!

Review: Love Story By Karen Kingsbury

Love Story (The Baxter Family, #1)

Love Story by Karen Kingsbury 

The Baxter Family #1

June 6, 2017 – Howard Books

345 pages – Contemporary, Romance, Fiction, Inspirational

Source: Publicist

Purpose: Review

I was given a copy of this book, free, in exchange for my honest opinion. 

Oh man, why did I wait so long to pick this up? I was contacted a long time ago about reviewing this title. And it being one of Kingsbury’s titles, I immediately said yes. I really love Kingsbury, and do plan on catching up with all of her backlist titles that I have yet to read. But, she is one of those authors that you forget how much you enjoy until you pick up her books. Or at least I do. When I do -finally- pick it up, I am never disappointed.  This goes back and tells the love story of John and  Elizabeth Baxter, the beginning of the Baxter family. So if you  have not read any of the other titles this is a good place to start, though there are references to previous events and characters from other stories, it is a story that can stand on its own.

There are three stories going on in this book. John is going down memory lane, for his grandson’s (Cole) heritage project, and reliving the heartwarming and aching story of is love story with his first wife, Elizabeth. Ashley is forced to confront her own past and rocky love history when her son, Cole, asks to know the story about his dad.  Cole knows that the man that has raised him all of these years is not his biological dad, and Ashley assumes Cole is asking for a story that she is not ready to tell.  Finally, Cody must admit that he has lost the one and only love of his life when he let Andi break off their second engagement and walk out of his life.

Each story requires each person to confront the mistakes that they made, relive the moments where love and God’s grace changed things for them. It is a sweet story, not just about the romance between couples. In each story, each memory that is shared, you can see how God is courting each person with all of their failings and flaws. It is beautiful as well as heartbreaking. The ebb and flow graceful dance between God and the people that He loves in classic Kingsbury style.


What You Should Know: 

-This is the first in a new trilogy set in the Baxter Family saga

-The Baxter Family saga consists of 20+ books broken up into multiple trilogies and quartets.

-I have not read any of the Baxter books, but I have read quite a few of Kingsbury’s other titles.

-This book is worth purchasing, unless you are the type that has to have a series in all of its entirety. In which case I recommend borrowing from the library first to see if its for you, since this is such a long running series.


4 Stars 

Always Shine!


Featured Post: Darby Karchut on Writing

Darby Karchut has stopped by for a guest post, and the reality of writing a book!

Book World Reality
Darby Karchut

Let me be right up front with you—there’s no easy way to write a book. There’s also no correct way to write a book. You can outline or you can make it up as you go. You can write it backwards. You can write it from the middle and work outward. You can write just the action scenes and fill in around them. Use any system that gets you to the magical The End.
Which, of course, is really The Beginning. Almost everyone who writes a book wants to get published, too. A Very Cool Thing. So, I thought I’d share some of the stuff I’ve learned about publishing and the publishing industry:

Finish your book – No matter how terrible you think it is, do not stop writing until you reach the end.

Nothing—and I do mean nothing—will ever teach you more about a writing a book than writing your first book. Worried that it stinks? Remember, you can always fix your writing. You cannot fix a blank page. One of the best ways to complete the first draft is to guard your writing time. Teach yourself to write when you have a 15 minute (or more) block of time. I wrote my first six books while working full time by writing on my lunch break and in the evenings. Here’s an old trick: stop in the middle of an exciting scene where you know exactly what’s going to happen next. That way, when you pick up your manuscript again, you can jump in without that warming up period. By the way: save and back up everything. Early and often. Minimum: hit the save key at the end
of every page. Be that person whose work is on the Cloud, two different flashdrives, and even email a copy to yourself. I take one of my flashdrive with me when I leave the house in case my house burns down. Paranoid, much?

Read to Write

Read as much as you write. Read all the time. In your genre and out of your genre. Know
comparable books to yours. You will be asked to craft a book proposal at some point and will need at least three titles that are similar to yours. One title can be a classic, but the other two should be within the last few years. Ideally, you should mention comparable titles in your query letter.

Work It
Speaking of querying. Submitting your manuscript to agents or editors takes time and effort. Start making a list of those who might be interested. Keep adding to it. One great place to start is Twitter’s #MSWL (that stands for Manuscript Wish List). You can also Google agents and editors. I would recommend narrowing your search for the last 24 months. Writer magazines (The Writer and Writer’s Digest are two examples) often have a list of editors and agents in the back.
Set Up for Success
Keep your manuscript within the sweet spot for word count, especially if you are a new writer:

Middle Grade: 20,000 — 60,000
Young Adult: 55,000 — 90,000
Romance: 70,000 — 100,000

Mystery &amp; Thriller: 80,000 — 110,000
Literary Fiction: 80,000 — 110,000
Sci-Fi & Fantasy: 80,000 — 120,000
Stay Within The Lines (At Least, For Now)

Every agent and editor has a detailed submission page. Read it. Make sure that particular editor or agent is seeking your kind of book. Then, follow the submission directions exactly. This is one way many of them cull out potential authors. Who wants to work with someone who can’t/won’t follow straight forward directions? Believe me, this will put you ahead of 80% of the rest of the writers.

Live like Churchill
Never, never, never surrender. Keep trying. Assume everything is a yes until it is a no. You never know what the day will bring. That next email may be a response to your query letter asking to see more.
It’s A Small World
The book world is, indeed, a small world. And it’s even smaller within genres. Everyone knows everyone, and editors and agents and authors and reviewers talk to each other. Never, never, never be anything but gracious and professional. If you act like a jerk, word spreads quickly. Editors and agents and fellow authors and bloggers are people, too, and they don’t want to work with jerks. Don’t be that person. It will destroy your career.
Join at least one professional writing organization. This shows editors and agents that you treat your art as a profession. If you write MG or YA, I would recommend SCBWI (The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). Each state or region has their own branch. By joining SCBWI, you automatically become part of your regional branch at no extra cost. But, it is expensive – $80.00 a year. One cool thing about that: editors with Big Houses are often interviewed and they allow SCBWI members to submit to them for a short window without an agent.

The Dreaded “P” Word
“P” stands for Promotion. And promotion is a fact of life for authors. No one will care about your book as much as you do. Ever. No matter what they say. You are the most important factor in your book’s success. But promotion will differ depending on you and your genre. Adult books tend to take off like a rocket—you have about a three month window to make an explosion—then it levels off. MG and YA tend to start slower and build an audience over time. A longer shelf life, don’t you know. Have a website at the minimum. Participate on social media however you can. Editors and agents do check to see how active you are on social media. Blogs versus websites? Depends on your genre. Newsletters are becoming popular right now, so that might be a better fit for you than a
blog. To be successful, you must decide early on what promotion looks like to you and your genre. With my Middle Grade and YA books, social media is one part of my promotion strategy. Facebook and Twitter are fun places to hang out with friends and fans and fellow writers, and occasionally, I throw in some stuff about my books. The best part is that I’ve met some amazing folks who’ve become friends. *Grins and waves at Starr.*
I also contribute articles to Owl Hollow Press and Spencer Hill Press (two of my publishers) and Writing from the Peak (the Pikes Peak Writers’ blog), as well as articles for magazines such as VOYA and Sweet Designs Teen Magazine. I’ve also done some radio interviews and podcasts.

However, my main focus is literacy/educational conferences, book signings, and author festivals. School visits are my sweet spot (in person and Skype); places where I can connect face-to- face with my young audience. Speaking of school visits…

Bless the Children
If you write for children and teens, never pass up an opportunity to talk with them. Face to face, eyeball to eyeball. Say yes to every school visit you can. Say yes to every library event you can. The more you fire up kids about the magic of books, the better for all of us. Sure, you’ll sell books, but more importantly, you’ll be inspiring kids to read. And kids who read grow up to be adults who think and feel.

More Than You Can Imagine
I once thought being a published author would be amazing. I had all sorts of delightful little daydreams when I first started writing and querying and learning about the publishing world. The reality is way, way better. Maybe not in the way our society labels success, which is mostly determined by fame and money. My “success” came in November of 2011. I was still teaching 7th grade social studies and the last half hour of each school day concluded with a study hall period. If a student was finished with their homework, they could read silently. I was helping another student when I noticed one of my boys put away his work and pull out a paperback book. Good on him. He was leaning forward over the book, one elbow resting on the desk. He laughed at something on the page, then glanced at me and held up the book so I could see the cover.
It was my debut novel, Griffin Rising.


Thank you Darby, for taking the time to stop by the blog! I am looking forward to reading more of your books and I am so grateful for our friends. *Waves*


Always Shine!