Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Book Review: Guardians of the Hidden Scepter by Frank L. Cole

BookGuardians of the Hidden Scepter by Frank L. Cole, Cedar Fort, Inc., 2011, 288 pages.
Source:  EGalley from the publisher via NetGalley.

Summary (from Goodreads):
Amber never dreamed her archaeology class would turn into a top secret mission that would take her across the globe, but when her teacher goes missing, Amber realizes it's up to her to protect the Hidden Scepter or risk unleashing an ancient power too terrifying to imagine. This guaranteed page-turner from the bestselling author of the Hashbrown Winters series is perfect for the adventurer in your family.

My Thoughts:
This is a book that is full of adventure and page turning mystery right from the beginning.  Dorothy is a dynamic and interesting archaeology teacher at an exclusive boarding school.  However, when she goes missing, she leaves clues for her students to try and finish something that she has started.  Fourteen year old Amber is intent on figuring out the puzzle and finding her favourite teacher and she encourages her classmates  Joseph, Lisa and Trendon to help.   This leads the kids to mystries to solve, bad guys to avoid, and various other dangers.  There is also teamwork, friendship, betrayal and interesting plot twists.

I enjoyed the characters in this book, especially how smart and innovative they are.  They are a bit stereotypical, especially at the beginning, for example, Amber is smart, quiet, reserved, and good at school, while Trendon is a junk food eating computer and gaming expert.  However, they also show growth as they leave their comfort zones and learn to be confident in their abilities and work to figure out the puzzle.

I also liked how Frank Cole played with history and archaeology to create the mystery in the book.  I do not want to give anything away, so I won't say very much, but I found his use of historical speculation to be fun and Indiana Jones like.

One thing to note, I was a little surprised by the level of violence in the book, especially for this age group - there were guns, killing, and some scary situations - but it did fit into the book and didn't not feel gratuitous.

This is an interesting, exciting book, full of intense action and suspense that keeps you turning the pages to find out what will happen next, but is also clever and thoughtful.  I would have a hard time saying that this book would appeal to either boys or girls more because, even though it is told from Amber's point of view, both the female and male characters are very strong.   I would highly recommend this book to middle school kids who are looking for intelligent mystery, suspence, and adventure.

If you are intersted in this book, check back in a couple of days when I will post an interview with Frank Cole and he will offer a copy of Guardians of the Hidden Scepter in a giveaway.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Teaser Tuesday (5)

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

 My book this week is the middle grade novel The Atomic Weight of Secrets  or The Arrival of the Mysterious Men in Black by Eden Unger Bowditch.

"Jasper was always prepared to run at a moment's notice.  he was good at running and found many opportunities to practice.  When he tried to explain the physics of a morble in motion, all the while making an excellent shot, he had been pelted with marbles by the boys in his class.  The boys hadn't a clue what he was talking about and hated him for it."  p. 21.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Book Review: Fablehaven by Brandon Mull

BookFablehaven (Fablehaven #1) by Brandon Mull, Shadow Mountain, 2006, 351 pages.
Source:  Purchased.

Summary (from Goodreads):
For centuries mystical creatures of all description were gathered into a hidden refuge called Fablehaven to prevent their extinction. The sanctuary survives today as one of the last strongholds of true magic. Enchanting? Absolutely. Exciting? You bet. Safe? Well, actually, quite the opposite.

Kendra and her brother, Seth, have no idea that their grandfather is the current caretaker of Fablehaven. Inside the gated woods, ancient laws keep relative order among greedy trolls, mischievous satyrs, plotting witches, spiteful imps, and jealous fairies. However, when the rules get broken — Seth is a bit too curious and reckless for his own good — powerful forces of evil are unleashed, and Kendra and her brother face the greatest challenge of their lives. To save their family, Fablehaven, and perhaps even the world, Kendra and Seth must find the courage to do what they fear most.

My Thoughts:
I loved Fablehaven - the story had me captivated and I raced through the book.  I love the imagination and the dark side of the mystical creatures involved - this is not a fantasy book with nice mystical creatures.  At best, they are indifferent and at worst, they are quite dangerous.

I also love that Fablehaven existed but only a few people knew it was there.  It is fun to think that there is a whole mystical world close by but not in our awareness.  It is an intriguing concept and one that Brandon Mull pulled off really well.

Like Brandon Mull's other books, I found his use of vocabulary to be fabulous.  He is not afraid to use challenging words, even with middle school kids, and this keeps his writing interesting, diverse, and rich.

The description in Fablehaven is also outstanding.  The world that Brandon Mull creates is vividly clear - it feels like Fablehaven could really exist.  And the mystical creatures are interesting, fun, and scary. 

The characters of Kendra and Seth were authentic feeling, a typical sister and brother pair who bicker and squabble.  They are each a bit of a stereotype, with Kendra as the older, academically inclined, follows the rules sister and Seth as the younger, spontaneous, active, adventures, doesn't do as he is told brother.  Seth did get annoying at times because he never did seem to learn his lesson.  However, both characters are very likable and show growth in the book.

I recently read this to my eight year old son and he loved it.  There were parts that were a bit slow for him, but overall, he was entranced.  And by the end, he would not let me stop reading - we had a two hour marathon at the end because he couldn't stand not knowing how it ended.  He says he found it hard that the creatures were a mystery at the beginning, but he absolutely loved the excitement at the end.

I would highly recommend this book to middle school kids and older, especially those who are okay with darker fantasy.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Weekend Poem Blog Hop: Popsicles and Presence

Weekend Poem in Your Blog Hop
Hosted by What She Read.
If you're just joining us for the first time, you can post a poem about anything at all (yours or someone else's) then link back to What She Read and visit other poem-rich bloggers.

Popsicles and Presence

A feverish child,
Every muscle aches,
Whimpering in hot-cold pain,
A heart wrenching flu.
The medicine has been offered,
But it is a half an hour lifetime before it kicks in.

That motherly, helpless feeling takes over,
Agonizingly wishing to take away the pain,
Or even take it on myself.
I can't make it better,
All I can offer is
Popsicles and my presence.
So we sit on the couch,
Slurping icy popsicles,
Comforted by being together.
It seems inadequate, but
That is all there is
And all that is necessary.

You can tell what I was doing this week - my three kids took turns getting the flu and I spent all but one day nursing them.  However, I was pretty happy with myself that I could find a poem in the experience, proving to myself that poetry can be written about anything!

(c) Coreena McBurnie, 2011.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Friday 56 (3) & Book Beginnings (3)

 I haven't participated in these memes for a few weeks due to some general craziness at my house.  Today, for both Friday 56 and Book Beginnings, I will use Theodore Boon:  The Abduction by John Grisham.  This is a middle school book written by Grisham and I was curious to see what it was like, given that I've enjoyed some of his adult novels.  This one is actually the second in the series, but I am hoping that won't matter.  I am only a couple of pages in so far, but will do a review when I am done.

Hi everyone, Here are the Friday meme's I am participating in this week.
The first is Friday 56, sponsored by Freeda's Voice.

Here are the rules:

*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56.
*Find any sentence that grabs you.
*Post it.
*Add your (url) post in Linky at Freeda's Voice .

It's that simple.

From p. 56 of Theodore Boone:  The Abduction:
Slater was a veteran detective, the highest ranking, and the best in Strattenburg.  He was wiry with a slick, shaved head, and he wore nothing but black suits and black ties.  The city saw very little in the way of violent crime, but when they did Detective Slater was there to solve it and bring the felon to justice.

The next one is Book Beginnings sponsored by A Few More Pages.

How to participate: Share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments. Include the title and the author so we know what you're reading. Then, if you would like, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line, and let us know if you liked or did not like the sentence. The link-up will be at A Few More Pages every Friday and will be open for the entire week.

The first lines of Theodore Boone:  The Abduction:
The abduction of April Frinnemore took place in the dead of night, sometime between 9:15p.m., when she last spoke with Theo Boone, and 3:30 a.m., when her mother entered her bedroom and realized she was gone.  The abduction appeared to have been rushed; whoever took April did not allow her to gather her things.
Like I said, I've only read a few pages so far, but I think this will really appeal to middle school and even young adult readers, especially boys.  It has a macho feel to it, with all of the typical, grizzly detective themes and stereotypes.  It will be fun to see what Grisham does with this.

Thursday, 23 June 2011


I recently found this YouTube video by the incredibly witty Stephen Fry.  If you haven't watched it yet, it is well worth the few minutes.

This video is clever and entertaining, and it got me thinking about words and language and writing.  I do not think that I am a language snob, but it does bother me when I encounter bad grammar in a published book.  For one thing, it slows me down and interrupts the flow of my reading.  If the writing draws attention to itself in a negative way (not for some sort of dramatic effect), then that can't be good.  It pulls the reader out of the world the author has worked so hard to create.

There are the delicious times, however, I stop to savour a passage of well written writing, something I do - I will mark the page and re-read it, enjoying its flow and insight.  Writers who are masters of language are amazing to read and I can't get enough of it, they are magical to me.  I will even forgive a not so good story for the sake of beautiful sentences.

Perhaps it is like when Stephen Fry says you dress up for a job interview, including your language.  I expect that in published books.  I spent a couple of years marking papers at university for a first year history course that also counted as an English component and it was difficult to impress the need for good grammar and spelling on many students, that in formal work you need formal grammar.  I also remember my favourite university professor drilling into our brains that we had to learn the rules first before we were alowed to break them.  And we were alowed to break them, so long as we knew we knew what we were doing and not just being careless.  These lessons are hard for me to give up,

Some things I am learning to forgive, however, such as sentence fragments.  They are so pervasive in today's writing that I hardly even notice them anymore.  Sometimes this is is shame because it makes everything seem so urgent and rushed.  However, it could be inevitable in our Twitter and texting world.

Other things I have a harder time with.  One of my absolute pet peeves is words like "gonna," "shoulda," and "wanna" in printed text (interesting to note that my spell check did not pick up on gonna and wanna, so apparently they are spelled correctly!!).  I know these types of words are (usually) used in dialogue to create a feel for the character, but they absolutely drive me crazy.  I am finding them in a huge number of books lately, so maybe it is just something I will have to get used to.

I wholeheartedly agree that language can and should change.   We need this evolution and it can be fun and creative.  I love making up words and encourage my kids to do so  - it is great to play with language.  Maybe there are just a lot of changes going on right now and it is hard to keep up as things take time to for our ears to get used to.  It seems to me that kids are hard wired to accept these changes in their stride, and maybe it is just older people with their ideas and rules more ingrained that care so much.  Ultimately, I agree with Stephen Fry, old habits die hard, but I can try to be more open.  However, I think that it is a shame when bad grammer gets in the way of interesting ideas and clarity, so there will always be a place for good editing.

This is just my personal rambling on language.  I would love to hear what other people have to say.  Does anyone have and favourite, beautiful writing they can recommend?  Off the top of my head, I can think of Canadian author Richard Wagamesse, I am reading his One Native Life and the language is wonderful.  A couple of years ago I read Sebastian Barry's The Secret Scripture, and his use of language is stunning and has stayed with me.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Author Interview and Giveaway!

Today I am doing my first author interview and giveaway with Bonnie Lamer.  Recently I reviewed Bonnie's book, True of Blood (read interview here), and she has graciously agreed to do an interview and giveaway on my blog.  Two lucky winners will receive ebooks of True of Blood as well as another of Bonnie's titles of their choice.  That's right, 2 winners will each win 2 ebooks!!  This giveaway is international.  To enter, please leave a comment with your email address.  The deadline for entries is Wed, June 29 at midnight, PST.  Winners will be chosen by  This giveaway is sponsored by the author.

Interview with Bonnie Lamer:
How did you get started writing? 

My love for reading started at a very young age.  Being the youngest of five with a large gap in age between myself and my youngest sibling, I had four dedicated teachers who taught me to read fairly fluently at age four.  This was mostly due to the fact that I threw a temper tantrum if there were words on the television screen or on signs that they didn’t read to me.  Teaching me to read was the only way to save their sanity.

This love for reading grew into a love for writing.  Throughout my childhood, I wanted to be a journalist.  I loved writing high school and college papers, even though I usually procrastinated until the night before they were due to write them, and I was good at it.  Growing up, I wanted to be a journalist.  This dream got pushed to the wayside for years after I discovered a love for the medical field.  As life events unfolded, though, I was given the opportunity in the last couple of years to once again pursue the dream of being a writer.  Only now, I prefer novels to journalism.

Who or what encouraged (or still encourages) you in your writing?

I am fortunate enough to have close friends who believe in me and my writing.  They are brutally honest, which I love.  They would tell me if they thought what I was writing was a complete disaster, and I think that’s what a good friend should do.  But, when they don’t like something, they don’t just tell me to give up.  They give helpful suggestions and insights that I think make my writing better.  I know they want me to succeed as much as I do and I value their input and their unwavering support.

What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?

I worked in the area of women’s health for years providing counseling and education to women of all ages.  I eventually left this field to focus on hospital work and surgery in particular.  I moved up the management ladder and eventually took a job as a consultant for large hospitals such as Stanford University Medical Center and the National Naval Center in Bethesda.

A divorce and a custody battle ended my consulting career.  Travel was part of my job and the courts didn’t look kindly on a woman with this type of job fighting for custody.  So, I was forced to choose between a career I loved, and had worked hard to make successful, and my children.  My children won hands down and I have never looked back.  The positive part of this story, other than having my children with me, is that I was suddenly able to focus attention on the field that I had once sworn adamantly that I would pursue.  I became a writer. 

I started writing two years ago and it has been a hard road requiring many lifestyle changes.  I believe, though, that I am teaching my children to not only follow their dreams, but to not be discouraged if life throws you a major curve ball.  We all dream of many things and just because one thing doesn’t work out doesn’t mean that you forget about all of your dreams.

Why did you self publish?  Did you try to go the traditional route?

The easiest answer to this question is the difficulty any author has in finding that first break.  The more honest answer is that it was cathartic for me to see my work out there and having people around the world enjoy what I wrote.  After all the struggling I did to get to this point in my life, I needed some self-affirmation that I had made the right choice and publishing through PubIt and Amazon helped provide that much sooner than a traditional route would have.

How has this experience been for you? 

It has definitely been a learning experience!  Overall, the experience has been positive.  It is always slow going getting your name out there, but Amazon in particular goes the extra mile in helping authors find their market.  I am starting to get some recognition and my sales are most definitely improving.  I’m glad I chose this route.

What advice to you have for others who would like to self publish?

Write what you love is the most important thing.  The next step is to find people who will be honest with you and give you feedback that can help improve your story.  People who tell you they love your book when they really don’t are hurting you more than they are helping you.  Editing is also crucial and most of us can’t afford to pay an editor as we start out.  The advantage to self-publishing is that as reviewers give feedback, you have the opportunity to go back and fix the errors they found. 

The last bit of advice – don’t let reviewers get you down.  Most reviewers’ hearts are in the right place even if they don’t give you a great review.  Ultimately, most want you to succeed and they are just giving constructive criticism.  The occasional reviewer you run into that would rather be unkind isn’t worth worrying about.  Take what they say in consideration and move on.

What do you do when you are not writing?

With five children underfoot and a menagerie of pets, I am never at a loss for things to do during the day!  When the day is done, and the kids are in bed, I get my Mommy time.  With this time, I occasionally go out with friends – I love playing pool, but mostly I revel in the silence and read or write or enjoy the company of friends at home.  I have a few television shows that I enjoy, but the TV isn’t on much.

How do you incorporate writing into your everyday life?  How do you fuel your writing?

Since I am able to be a full time writer, I am lucky enough not to have to set aside a particular time to write.  But with such a busy household, distractions are constant!  Fortunately, as a mother of so many, one learns to multitask.  I have trained myself fairly well not to lose my train of thought amidst all the interruptions I have throughout the day.  I am also good at tuning out the television, video games, music and loud children at play.  I have a hard time sitting at my desk as I write.  I am much more comfortable curling up on the couch or in the recliner with my feet up and my laptop on my lap amidst the controlled chaos of the household as opposed to writing in seclusion away from the noise.  The phone is probably my biggest distraction.  I like to turn off the ringer when I write. 

Having been an eclectic reader over the years, I knew the areas that inspired me the most were paranormal fiction and romance.  For paranormal fiction, it was the challenge of finding new ways to write about mythology, witchcraft and fairies that hadn’t been done to death.  With romance, my years in women’s health and my own personal experiences were my inspiration.  For the latter, I like to joke with my friends that those who can’t do, write.

Do you have any special routines or rituals for writing?

Other than finding a comfortable spot and fitting it in around the kids’ schedules, not really.  I do have lots of little scraps of paper in my purse because I have scribbled notes for books while I’m out and about doing things like attending Little League games or helping out at school. 

I found I loved the imagination displayed in your book, for example the ghost parents and the witch fairy.  Can you tell us about this?

It’s important to come up with new ideas in any genre because there are so many books available based on the same ideas.  I knew I had to come up with something fresh and exciting.  I’ve always loved mythology and have done a lot of reading on the mythology of different cultures; so some of my ideas come form lore around the world that has fascinated me over the years.  I used my knowledge to create building blocks that inspired my imagination, and my brain took if from there.

Ideas for things like the ghosts as parents come from a simpler place.  Home.  I was joking with a friend one day about children’s behavior.  Often, when children suddenly become very quiet, chances are good they’re doing something they don’t want you to know about - and wouldn’t it be great to be able to see through walls to know what they were up to?  From that sprang the idea that being able to walk through walls would be even better.    And another note was jotted down on a napkin for later consideration.  The challenge of writing parents who were ghosts fascinated me and I enjoyed creating an atmosphere where this seemed almost normal.

Is there anything else you want to tell us about your book?

In my Eliana Brennan series, I created a male character that was charming, supportive, and considerate and everything else a girl would want in a boyfriend.  I had fun creating a male character in this book who is not necessarily the direct opposite, but he certainly tries to be at times.  Evolving him into a character that grew on you as you read further, despite his character flaws, was fun.

What new projects are you working on or are excited about right now?

I am very excited about my current project.  On my blog,, I have asked readers to critique my next novel in my romance series as I write it.  Readers may give their opinions, ideas, criticisms, and whatever else they want to offer every step of the way as the book is written.  When it’s done, I’ll publish the name of every contributor in a section of the book titled, “My Opinion Mattered.” (Contributors may remain anonymous if they prefer.)  I have had a lot of fun with this!  I love that readers are taking an active interest in my next book.

Thank you so much to Bonnie for answering all of my questions.
Here is your chance to win 2 great titles from Bonnie Lamer.  Just leave a comment below with your email address so we can contact the winners!

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Book Review: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

BookThe Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente, Feiwel and Friends, 2011, 247 pages.
Source:  purchased.

This is a book I bought simply for the title - I thought it had to be good!  It involves a girl going to Fairlyland, sounds good, and she makes her own ship, even better, she is active and can fend for herself.  And then there is the cover, absolutely gorgeous and promises an enchanting book.  I certainly was not disappointed.

The story starts with twelve year old September at home, bored with washing dishes and her ordinary life in Omaha - her father has left to go to war (WWI) and her mother works in the factory.  The Green Wind sweeps in and offers to carry her off to Fairyland:
"You seem an ill-tempered and irascible enough child," said the Green Wind.  "How would you like to come away with me and ride upon the Leopard of Little Breezes and be delivered to the great sea, which borders Fairyland?  I am afraid I cannot go in, as Harsh Airs are not allowed, but I should be happy to deposit you upon the Perverse and Perilous Sea."
"Oh yes!" breathed September... (p.2)
And so September begins her adventures in Fairyland. 

In Fairyland, September makes friends, especially with a Wyverary (half Wyvern and half library) named A-Through-L and a blue Marid boy named Saturday, amongst others.  September is forced to go on a quest for the Marquess, a girl around her own age who governs Fairyland with strange rules and is feared by all.

This is a well told story, with an omnipotent narrator who frequently talks directly to the reader and lets them in on things that the characters do not know.  There is a fun, Victorian, Alice in Wonderland air to the book which creates an old fashioned feel.  The vocabulary and description used by the author is rich and wonderful, adding to the magic and whimsical nature of the book while successfully transporting the reader to Fairyland.  I also loved the quirky humour.

The characters are interesting and different and they even have great names.  I loved and was totally engaged with September, how she was a bit heartless, but at the same time loyal, eager for adventure, and brave.

I found this was a book that I did not want to rush through; I read it slowly so as to savour it.  The book was a bit meandery, and I wanted to meander through it.  That is not to say it was slow - there was lots of action and held my interest well - but the sentences were so rich and the chapters so full that I wanted to soak them up.  I found I almost didn't want to read the last two chapters because I did not want the story to end.

Here are some of my favourite quotes that do not include spoilers.  These are examples of sentences I stopped and re-read simply to enjoy them again.
"Well... what do witches do, then?"  September refused to feel foolish.  It was hard enough for a human to get into Fairyland.  True stories must be nearly impossible to get out.    (p. 30)
"I can't stop," the shark rasped.  "If I stop, I shall sink and die.  That's the way I'm made.  I have to keep going always, and even when I get where I'm going, I'll have to keep on.  That's living." (p. 193)
And then there is the art!  Each chapter is accompanied by a lovely drawing by Ana Juan.  These were perfect for the story, and can be seen in the book trailer below, which I also thoroughly enjoyed.

I would highly recommend this book to middle school children who love adventure and don't mind some challenging vocabulary, but also to adults who love fairy tales.  This is definitely one I will read to my kids and they will probably want to stay up half the night trying to get me to read just one more chapter to find out what happens next.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Guest Post: A Few Tips for Balancing Writing and Parenting

To find out more about the contest go to Megan's Blog.

Today I have a guest blog post from novelist Melissa Foster as part of her blog tour with WOW-Women on Writing.  Last week I reviewed Melissa's critically acclaimed book, Megan's Way (you can read my review here).  This week, Melissa is going to share with us her tips for writing and parenting.

A Few Tips for Balancing Writing and Parenting
by Melissa Foster

How many times have you sat down to complete a project, only to hear, “Mom”? Although four of my six children have now graduated high school and moved on from that stage, for many years, we had six children who constantly needed something.

I found that completing any task, much less writing, was near impossible. I said, “near impossible”, which means, it is completely doable.

Here are a few strategies that I employed to carve out my writing time. I hope you find at least one or two of them helpful.

1. Make writing a priority.

Writing, for me, is an act of solitude—most days, anyway. I need to be alone in a room with music playing in the background. Life, though, seems to often get in the way. I found that making writing as much of a priority as eating meals and exercising, worked for me. I schedule my time to write, just as I schedule my time to cook dinners for my family. Play dates and Mommy’s helpers come in very handy when you’d like an hour or two of writing time. Schedule them.

2. Reprioritize housework

Does your laundry talk? Mine sure doesn’t. How about your vacuum? Nope, mine doesn’t either. The wonderful thing about housework is that it doesn’t talk back. It cannot tell you that you’ve waited too long to fold the clothes or dust the cabinets. During my writing time, I throw in laundry and change it over from washer to dryer, but then I throw it on a bed and fold it later, when the kids are milling around and playing in the house—in other words, I do my everyday chores when the kids are doing they’re everyday play. The kids don’t miss out on my time, and I don’t miss out on my writing time.

3. Carve out time for yourself

Just as your spouse might need weekends off from his/her job, you will need time off from writing. As a creative person, it’s very important to rejuvenate your mind, let new ideas form, and flesh out your plots. Carving out a little me-time is a great way to accomplish that time off. Me-time can actually be time spent playing with your children, going to dinner with your spouse, or laying in the sun. However you choose to spend your me-time, remember, it’s just as important as the act of writing.

4. Sometimes, electronic babysitters are not all bad.

Everyone knows that letting your children play video games and watch television for several hours each day is not the healthiest thing for them. There are times, though, when you’re wrapping up a scene, or absolutely must outline a chapter, when thirty minutes of watching a parent-approved DVD isn’t a bad thing. Choose your electronic babysitters carefully, but don’t knock them all to the curb. You need your sanity, too.

5. Make writing time a family activity

While most of my writing time is spent in solitude, there are many times that I make writing a family activity with my children. I’ll give them a setting or character and ask them to come up with a story line. While they’re crafting theirs, I craft mine.

6. Beg, plead, and bribe.

I prefer to spend the time when the children are at school writing, but when this cannot happen and I have a deadline, sometimes this shameful ploy comes into play. Not often, and only in times of utter desperation, I will promise something in exchange for 20 minutes of writing time.  Shameful, I know, but sometimes a promise of a trip to the park goes a long way.

I hope you can carve out your writing time painlessly, without your family losing out on their time with you, but when those instances occur that simply cannot be avoided, whip out this list and perhaps you’ll find one of these tips helpful.

If you’d like to chat about writing, send me an email: thinkhappygirl (at) yahoo (dot) com

About Melissa Foster:

Melissa Foster is the author of two novels, Megan’s Way and Chasing Amanda. She is the founder of the Women’s Nest, a social and support community for women, and is currently collaborating with Director Wendy Crouse, Dream Real Pictures, in the film production of Megan’s Way. Melissa hosts an annual Aspiring Authors contest for children, she's written a column featured in Women Business Owners Magazine, and has painted and donated several murals to The Hospital for Sick Children in Washington, DC. Melissa is currently working on her next novel, and lives in Maryland with her family. Melissa's interests include her family, reading, writing, painting, friends, helping women see the positive side of life, and visiting Cape Cod.

Megan's Way
2011 Beach Book Award Winner (Spirituality)
2010 Next Generation Indie Book Award Finalist (Spirituality)
Nominated Dan Poynter's Global eBook Award 2011 (Winners TBD summer 2011)
Chasing Amanda
Nominated Dan Poynter's Global eBook Award 2011 (Winners TBD summer 2011)

Follow her, Facebook, Twitter, FB Fanpage

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Weekend Poem Blog Hop: Recess

Weekend Poem in Your Blog Hop
Hosted by What She Read.
If you're just joining us for the first time, you can post a poem about anything at all (yours or someone else's) then link back to What She Read and visit other poem-rich bloggers.


The silent school,
The shadow of the institutional structure
Dominates the still playground
And concrete parking lot.
The bell rings,
Frankenstein's jolt of electricity,
Brings it to life.
Moments later
The doors fly open,
Exhaling breath.
Joyful children cascade outside,
Hopping, running, skipping,
Bursting from the school
That can no longer contain them,
Bursting with joy.
The unfettered feel of freedom and play,
The important part of school,
The only part remembered when asked at night
“How was your day?”
Laughing, chatting, excited yelling
Shatter the silence.
Games are organized,
Swings are swung on,
Balls are kicked.
There is movement, energy, and joy
In being alive, being together, being free.

My daughter after school.

I just wrote this poem yesterday.  I usually like to let them settle for a bit and come back to them, but thought I'd put this one out there anyway.  It will probably evolve a bit still, but here it is.  This poem is not anti school (hope it doesn't come off that way).  My kids love school and I know there is lots of activity inside.  But from my point of view as a parent waiting outside, I am always amazed at how kids burst out of school.  

Poem and photo (c) Coreena McBurnie, 2011.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Book Review: The Book of Time by Guillaume Prevost

Book:  The Book of Time (#1) by Guillaume Prevost, trans by William Rodarmor, Scholastic, 2007 - I listened to the audio book read by Holter Gaham.
Source:  library.

Fourteen year old Sam has had his share of troubles:  his mother was killed in a car accident several years ago, they moved from their familiar neighbourhood to a strange and lonely part of town for Sam's dad to open a rare used book store, his father has fallen into a depression and goes on sudden "business trips" so Sam has to live with his grandparents, and the class bully wants to beat him up.  However, Sam's father has disappeared for 10 days with no word, even missing Sam's birthday, so Sam goes looking for him at the book store.  In the basement, he finds a stone statue that looks like an ancient peanut dispenser, a strange book and a coin with a hole in the middle.  He places the coin in statue and is pulled back in time to Scotland in 800 AD.  In order to leave he must find another coin to place in the statue, but first he also must survive the Viking attack on the island.  This is the first of Sam's time travel adventures in search of his father, which take him to France in WWI, ancient Thebes and 14th century Bulgaria.

I really enjoyed this book and the human story of Sam looking for his father, missing him and feeling confused, trying to fit in at school, missing his mom and their old life, and trying to keep up with his school work.  I felt for Sam - he had been through so much and now even his dad was gone!

There is also the adventure part of the book, which weaves in very well with the human story.  When Sam time travels he finds himself in situations where he must think fast in order to survive, trying to figure out whole new cultures so that he doesn't draw attention to himself.  The author sets up these worlds quite convincingly, and the challenges that Sam faces keep you on the edge of your seat.

While listening to this book, I kept thinking how wonderfully rich the language and description was.  I know this is a translation, so the French is probably even better, but I was completely drawn into the vivid worlds created by Guillame Prevost. 

The audio book was narrated by Holter Graham, who did an amazing job.  He is a dynamic reader who altered his voice for the different characters and even changed his accents to suit the different locations in time.  He was fun to listen to.

I loved The Book of Time and can't wait to read the second in the series, Gate of Days.  The book ends on a cliffhanger, which left me wanting more.  I think this book will appeal to middle grade readers, especially boys, who like adventure stories and are interested in history (though I am sure girls would enjoy this too).  I would imagine if you like Percy Jackson type books, you might like this one, with its adventures and glimpses into other cultures.

The middle grade fantasy out there right now is great, does anyone have any favorites?

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Book Review: Megan's Way by Melissa Foster

To find out more about the contest go to Megan's Blog.
I am very excited to be part of my very first blog tour with Wow-Women on Writing for Melissa Foster's book Megan's Way. Today I will review Megan's Way, then next week, Melissa will do a guest post on my blog.

Book: Megan's Way by Melissa Foster, Outskirts Press, 2009, 304 pages.
Source: I received a copy of the book from the author in return for a fair review.

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):

What would you give up for the people you love?

When Megan Taylor, a single mother and artist, receives the shocking news that her cancer has returned, she'll be faced with the most difficult decision she's ever had to make. She'll endure an emotional journey, questioning her own moral and ethical values, and the decisions she'd made long ago. The love she has for her daughter, Olivia, and her closest friends, will be stretched and frayed.

Meanwhile, fourteen-year-old Olivia's world is falling apart right before her eyes, and there's nothing she can do about it. She finds herself acting in ways she cannot even begin to understand. When her internal struggles turn to dangerous behavior, her life will hang in the balance.

Megan's closest friends are caught in a tangled web of deceit. Each must figure out how, and if, they can expose their secrets, or forever be haunted by their pasts.

My Thoughts

Megan's Way is an interesting and different book about choices and secrets.  It is an emotional, thoughtful story focusing people, examining them and watching them interact rather than thrusting them into an action filled plot (this is not to say that there is no action, but it seems to me that exploring the characters is the point).  Each of the characters in the novel are forced to look within themselves and examine past decisions, their morals and values, and come to terms with themselves, something that is not always comfortable for them.

I found that the beginning of the book pulled me in and the rich description and evocative, sensitive writing kept me reading. The friendships described were beautiful and the paranormal connection between Megan and Olivia was wonderful.  There is also an interesting dichotomy in the book, a group of friends who are so close that they feel that they know nearly everything about each other, yet they each have secrets that could tear the other's worlds apart.

I did find there were some point of view issues as a large part of the book is from Megan's view, but then it switches around.  This was necessary as so much of the book examines the character's thoughts, but sometimes it was confusing.  There were also times that I found all of the secrets frustrating and just wanted the characters to get them out into the open; however, in the end, each person's decision about what to do with their secret makes sense.

Megan's Way is a lovely, touching and sad book that is sure to stay with the reader for a long time.  It would be a great one to discuss with others who have read it. 

To get a quick taste of the book, you can watch the book trailer from YouTube:
Megan's Way gained a lot of attention:  it has just won the 2011 Beach Book Award for Spirituality and has been nominated for Dan Poynter's Global eBook Awards.  Is also currently casting for the film adaptation.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Editing My Novel

I've just had the most interesting experience reading and doing a quick first edit on the novel I wrote in the 2010 National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo - write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November).  I haven't looked at the novel since November 30th when I painfully finished the last of the 50,000 words required to win.  I remember that I was out of story at 48,000 words, so I added an epilogue.  I squeezed that for 1000 words, but couldn't find any more, so added a prologue.  It felt like ugly and terrible writing, but it was done!!!   I then put the novel away for a bit to let it settle, then went to work editing the novel I had written the year before.

Well, time flies and I had a winter of sick kids and other projects, so didn't get back to my novel until recently, and that is only because the June 30th deadline of getting a free copy of the book printed is coming fast (I am learning that deadlines really motivate me).  It took me a few days, but I have just finished reading and doing a rough edit on the novel, and boy, it was a surreal experience.  I do not remember writing most of it!  That's right, there are whole characters and plot twists that I had completely forgotten!!  And while I read the climax, I sat on tender hooks, forgetting how I had resolved it.  I knew how it ended, but honestly couldn't remember how I got there.  

I attribute this experience to the fact that I did not have a plot going into NaNoWriMo, just a vague notion of a character, a setting and the thought of using the hero myth as a bit of a structure.  However, I wrote faithfully (nearly) every day in November and pushed through and wrote, whether or not I knew what to write.  That was fun for me, writing crazy things because I didn't have time to second guess myself.

And, do you know what?  After reading this rough draft, I was fairly impressed with myself and need to give myself some credit.  Sure, there are major plot holes and issues with the point of view and conflict, amongst other things, but there is also foreshadowing and the plot does tie up in the end (even if it is thin in some places, but that is not the point).

Does anyone else have any interesting writing experiences?  Has anyone else ever written anything and then forgotten like I did?  I would love to hear some other stories.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Guest Post: Five Ways to Become a Better Writer

Writing is quite possibly the easiest thing in the world; writing with some level of skill is much harder for the average person. Since there are simple rules that come into play for writing, most people can do the basics, but the English language gets more complicated than that. At this point, millions of people run into trouble as they try to write well but ultimately fail. Luckily for those that have trouble as a writer, there are five ways that can help anyone and everyone become a better writer.

5. Learn Grammar and Spelling

First of all, many writers believe that they know their grammar and spelling. More often than not, however, writers are still basing their grammar on lessons they learned years ago. It's important to keep up with grammar rules by checking upon them through various sources. As for spelling, it usually doesn't change, but millions of writers continually misspell words and rarely are corrected by others. A writer can't make up their own words - writing doesn't work like that, except in fantasy and science-fiction! Check out Lynne Truss' 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves' book for a funny and interesting take on proper grammar.

4. Change Things up a Little

It's easy for writers to fall into the trap of using the same sentance structure over and over again, particularly if they don't feel confident enough to try out new phrases. Don't be afraid to use different types of sentences and openers for them - sometimes changing things around can give new meaning or depth. Messing with the sentence structure throughout a piece of writing can make it more interesting and enjoyable to read.

3. Avoid Textspeak and Leetspeak

These days, you only need to look at Facebook to see examples of Internet shorthand - textspeak or leetspeak - that are irritating at best and incomprehensible at worst. Although it might be acceptable to send messages in shorthand, never be tempted to use it in your writing! A writer should always write clearly and concisely.

2. Let the Words Flow

In music, lyrics and sound have to flow in order to have a great song. The same applies for writing - words are nothing without some sort of flow to them. This might seem hard to achieve, but it's worth it. Good writing flows from one part of the story to the next, keeping the reader's attention and keeping the narrative moving.

1. Practice, practice, practice!

The biggest and best way to write better is simply to practice. Sadly, most writers don't practice - they simply write poorly over and over. It's important to practice nearly every day in order for one's writing to improve and flourish. Without practice, a person's writing can never become as good as it should be. Some literary agents recommend that aspiring authors write at least one book as practice before moving on to their real work!

Writing professionally is a very hard but rewarding job, and these tips should get any writer started on the road to bestsellerdom.

Steven Farrell is the administrator of

Friday, 10 June 2011

Book Review: The Canterbury Trail by Angie Abdou

BookThe Canterbury Trail by Angie Abdou, Brindle & Glass Publishing, 2011, 277 pages.
Source: library

The Canterbury Trail takes place on the ski mountain at Coalton, BC, where there is one last snowfall at the end of the ski season.  Many of the locals decide to go up the mountain and stay at Camelot, a shack of a ski cabin, for the weekend.  Redneck snowmobilers, stoned ski bums, hippies, an urbanite,  a real estate developer, and several dogs are among the occupants packed into the cabin.

I had the pleasure of hearing Angie Abdou speak recently at the recent Shuswap Writers' Festival (you can read my thoughts on the festival here).  She spoke about this book and how she wanted to cram the cabin full of stereotypical characters (and their dogs) and have them burst out, in a way similar to The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer.  This is exactly what happens - a large number of characters are brought together who would not normally mix in order to see what happens. The mountain itself plays a huge role in the story and is like another character.

At first when I started to read this book, I thought that the number of characters was overwhelming and that I would have trouble keeping track of them.  Remarkably enough, this was not a problem, perhaps because they were largely stereotypes and each had very strong voices.  I really enjoyed how the characters developed and we got to see beyond some of the stereotypes.  Many of them showed growth in their own way.  It was also fun to watch them mix as the characters stereotype each other as well.

The story is very well told, with very rich and tight prose and description.  I felt like I could vividly picture the ski mountain, the cabin, and the characters.

Just as a note, this book contains a huge amount of swearing, drug use and drinking.  I am sure this was done to further the stereotypes, but it is on nearly every page.

I really enjoyed reading this book, anxious to see what stirring the pot (no pun intended) would come up with next.  It is the kind of book where I do not want to say too much so as not to give away any of the plot, but it is also the kind of book I would love to discuss with someone else who has read it.

I am always interested in reading books by Canadian authors, does anyone have a favourite?

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Book Review: The Iliad by Homer

I have to start by saying that I absolutely LOVE The Iliad.  I have a passion for Greek mythology and studied Classics in university and Homer is definitely one of my favorites.  

In May I took on the challenge by A Literary Odyssey to read Homer's Iliad.  I realized that it must be nearly 20 years since I read it in university, so decided it would be fun to read it again, this time without the pressure of essays and exams.  I don't feel that a traditional book review is something I could write about this epic novel, so I will write about some of my favourite things and impressions.

First off, I had to pick a translation - there are so many to choose from!  After looking through about 15 boxes of books that I have in storage to find my old Lattimore translation, I decided to go to our local used bookstore and buy the Robert Fagles translation.  I was skeptical at first because I had loved the Lattimore translation, but I quickly found that the Fagles translation was amazing too - it is a poetry translation, but is also very readable and has a great feel to it.  I would highly recommend this one to anyone wanting to read The Iliad, especially if they are looking for a modern poetry translation.  It won the Academy of American Poets 1991 Landon Translation Award and I can see why.

And then there is the story itself, it takes place over a few days near the end of the Trojan War, and is about Achilles' rage at Agamemnon for his slight to his honour.  The first lines tell it all:
Rage - Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus' son Achilles,
murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls,
great fighters' souls, but made their bodies carrion,
feasts for the dogs and birds,
and the will of Zeus was moving toward its end.
Begin, Muse, when the two first broke and clashed,
Agamemnon lord of men and brilliant Achilles.
I found The Iliad interesting and exiting to read, though it did take a lot of concentration.  This is a story that was originally intended to be recited aloud, so reading it uses a different part of the brain (I think - or, at least for me).  There are certainly different devises used than in modern writing, such as repetitive epithets.  For the most part, I found if I took my time and was not distracted (too much), I could read through it fairly easily.  But, the exception to this is Book 2, the catalog of ships.  Here Homer lists all of the ships and heroes who have come to Troy from around Greece.  This is very long and tedious to read, but if you can make it through that, the rest of the books should seem easy!

The other thing that was a bit hard with The Iliad is the lists of people fighting and how they died.  This is a story that takes place in a war and there are lots of battle scenes with grizzly deaths.

One of the really fun aspects of the book is the gods meddling in human affairs.  Some of this was quite funny and a welcome relief to the battle scenes.  

Then there is the human element of The Iliad, the stories that make the book what it is, such as Andromache worried about her husband coming home from battle, the friendship of Achilles and Patroclus, Menalaus fighting to get his wife, Helen, back from Paris, Achilles' rage at Agamemnon for being slighted, and Priam doing whatever it takes to get his dead son's body back for burial.  It is always amazing to me that Priam, after watching his son's body get defiled for days by Achilles, the man who killed him in battle, can go to him as a suppliant, and even feast with him.  It is absolutely heart wrenching.  This is only one of the incredibly touching and human scenes in The Iliad.

I would love to hear about myths or classical stories that other people love.  Do you have a favourite?  I have so many that it is hard to pick, but The Iliad is certainly up there for me.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Book Review: True of Blood by Bonnie Lamer

BookTrue of Blood (Witch Fairy Series) by Bonnie Lamer, ebook, 249 pages.  You can read the first chapter on the book's website.
Source:  I received a copy from the author for a fair review.

True of Blood is about Xandra,  who lives with her aunt, brother, and her parents who are ghosts.  Strange enough, right? But on her 17th birthday she finds out that she is actually the daughter of the Fairy King and her mother is the Witch princess.  This makes her half Witch and half Fairy, a being so powerful that she was never supposed to exist.  The Witches want her dead because she is too powerful and the Fairies now want her back so they can use her to open the gateway between the Fae and human realms and wreck havoc on earth.  In order to protect their daughter, Xandra's parents have reluctantly had to entrust her safety and training to a fairy by the name of Kallen. 

I found this book to be quite interesting and loved all of the paranormal and fantastical elements.  I enjoyed the Fae and Witch elements and even that Xandra's parents were ghosts.  There was also a great tension created between the Fae and Witch worlds that I found to be quite creative and fun.

Bonnie Lamer sets up some great conflict between Xandra and Kallen as well as the overall conflict of the fairies who want to catpture Xandra and those who wish to keep her safe.  These larger elements are interspersed with some fun humour, which is great at breaking the tension of all of the arguing and life and death situations.

The book revolves heavily around Xandra and Kallen, without many other characters actually appearing.  Even so, both characters developed and grew and the author was able to keep things interesting.

True of Blood is told in first person present narrative by Xandra, who is quite sarcastic at times.  She uses phrases such as "like that is going to happen", "not going there", and "have I mentioned" quite frequently.  Personally, I find this a bit repetitive and off putting, but it also reminds me of books I have reviewed recently such as Wither and Possession, though True of Blood is certainly not dystopian.  It is that teenaged, chatty, often cynical point of view, though that people seem to either love or hate.

There are also some grammatical issues in the book, which are unfortunate because they interfere with the flow of reading.

I imagine that young adults or adult who like fantasy and paranormal novels with a romantic element would enjoy this book.  It is entertaining and light and would make a great summer read.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Weekend Poem Blog Hop: Benjamin

Weekend Poem in Your Blog Hop
Hosted by What She Read.
If you're just joining us for the first time, you can post a poem about anything at all (yours or someone else's) then link back to What She Read and visit other poem-rich bloggers.


This is a poem to my son, Benjamin,
Sometimes called Ben, or even Jamin,
We had no name for you when you were born,
So we called you Rowdy, because you were.
You are so lovely, beautiful and easygoing,
My darling boy with the rosebud lips
And the ready smile.
”Yes” is what you say,
You are always in,
Never missing a beat,
Especially if it involves balls or wheels.
You really are a sweet and likeable boy
I hope you stay connected
Learn to stick up for yourself,
Be comfortable in who you are always
Because you are perfect, amazing, wonderful,
Even if I don't tell you enough,
This is something you must take into your heart,
You are worthy and strong,
I am proud of you,
I love you and
Life loves you,
My darling boy,
You, my middle child, Benjamin, aged seven.

by Coreena McBurnie
I wrote this as part of a writing exercise and the idea was to copy the structure of another poem.  I know this week's theme was things you can't write a poem about, but I do like this topic!

 (c) Coreena McBurnie, 2010.