Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Spartacus and the Circus of Shadows - ARC Book Review

Publication date:  October 2011
Spartacus Ryan Zander is convinced his mom, Athena the human cannonball, was kidnapped by Bartholomew’s World Renowned Circus of the Incredible. Nobody believes him. Even his dad and brother, Will, think his mom ran off with the circus. In order to save his mom from the evil ringmaster, Bartholomew, Spartacus does the only thing he can think of -- he runs away.

If Will hadn't named him "poop lip" and wasn’t such a bad brother, Spartacus would have invited him on his journey. Instead, he goes alone armed with his mom’s postcard clues and his best friend, Eli’s, internet expertise. Too bad Eli could only help from summer camp and not in person. Otherwise, he may have thought twice about the questionable, but hilarious travelers he sends to help Spartacus along the way.

During his quest to find save Athena, Spartacus learns the truth isn’t as he thinks.

Molly E. Johnson’s debut novel, Spartacus and the Circus of Shadows is a humorous novel with unforgettable characters and an unpredictable ending. I loved the travelers Spartacus ends up with. Spartacus’ quest is hilarious and even a bit heartbreaking. It’s a fun novel that is hard to put down. I loved the twist of a not so happily ever after ending. Anybody who has ever had an older brother will love the sibling dynamics. The author does a great job with the theme of loving and accepting others, especially your own family. My twelve year old and seventeen year old sons like the novel as well.  Highly recommended for the middle school reader or ages 10-14. 

Release Date October 2011

Click here to purchase. 

**Disclaimer: Though I did receive a copy of  Spartacus and the Circle of Shadows by the publisher for review, my opinions of the book were not influenced in any way by the publisher or the author. I did not receive monetary compensation for review nor do I accept monetary compensation for any book reviews.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Preventing Homework Battles

I am always both sad and relieved to see summer end. I like spending time with my children during the summer and make sure we fit as many activities in as possible. By the time summer ends, I'm tired. But, tired in a good way, from playing and vacationing too much. This is where the relief sets in. I'm relieved to get my boys back in school and back on a schedule. However, I always dread the homework battles school brings. I never had to ask my daughter to do homework. She just did it. Imagine my surprise when my middle son had no desire to do homework. Not only that, I had to fight to get him to do it. My youngest son met me somewhere in the middle. What worked for one child, was a disaster for another. I learned a lot along the way through trial and error. Here are some of the things that have worked for my children.

Set aside homework time everyday: Many parents like to set aside the time right after school. For my sons, this is the worst time. They had to sit still all day and when they get home, they need a break. It works better for them to have a few hours after school where they can play and blow off some of the frustrations from sitting in class all day. While I make dinner is a much easier time for me and for them. They work and I do too, but I'm in the same room with them if they need me. If they don't their homework, they don't watch TV with dad later. I don't take their play time away, but have no problem taking computer time, phone time or TV time.

Be available for questions: Nothing is more frustrating to a child than having homework they don't understand. If you are not available for them, they will put it away and never finish it.

Have other resources available: Okay, I admit it. There does come a time when the math homework is beyond my capabilities. I graduated from college fifteen years ago and NOT with a degree in math. I can't remember everything. It might take me an hour of studying the math book before I get it. My kids aren't going to wait that long. However, I did find some great homework help websites for my kids if they need it. There are math sites that show you how to work through a problem.

Host a study group: I don't usually like to send my kids off to study groups because frankly, I don't know how much they really study. However, in high school, study groups can be beneficial. The best way to make sure your kids use study groups to study is to host them in your house. This means clearing off the kitchen table and providing a snack. Not only did my kids study, but I met other great kids this way.

Don't be afraid to take away privileges: I just took away the computer hard drive until homework gets done. I did it when the boys were in school so there would be no argument. Facebook for two hours is not my idea of homework on the computer. Cell phones also make great incentives for doing homework. Take a phone away for a few days and homework suddenly gets caught up.

Don't nag, scream or argue: I am GUILTY. What my guilt has taught me is that not only is this a poor way to get your kids to do homework, it ruins your relationship with them as well. I have learned the hard way. I had a school psychologist remind me my relationship with my child is more important than their grades. Which brings me to my last and hardest.

Don't be afraid to let your kids fail: Okay, so this means they won't get that scholarship you hoped for. I get that. However, when a child has to face the teacher with unfinished homework, has to stay in for recess or has to retake a high school course, they learn the most valuable life lesson ever:  The lesson of personal responsibility. It is hard to watch your child fail. I know, I've been there, done that. I've told my children I would rather have them fail than cheat and I mean that.  It is hard not to be a helicopter parent and not hover around your child. But, in the long run, children and teens learn to be independent when they have to face the consequences of their actions.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Winner of Beyond Lucky

Contest for Beyond Lucky by Sarah Aronson has ended and the lucky winner is JamiLeigh. Thank you for entering and your book will ship soon.

**A special thanks to author, Sarah Aronson, for generously donating a signed copy of her book for the book giveaway.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Author Interview: Sarah Aronson

Interview with Sarah Aronson
   Author of Beyond Lucky 
     What motivates you as a writer?  
  Getting to stay in my pajamas all day? I like being able to work from home.
     But seriously, like many other writers, I am motivated by character. I love exploring characters and figuring out what they would do under different circumstances. 

 You mention you haven’t always been athletic. What made you decide to write about sports?
     I may not be coordinated, but I LOVE watching sports, listening to sports radio, analyzing every game.   During a great game, I love watching the momentum turn—how one play can change the entire course of the game.  It is so much like a story!   I also have to confess that I enjoy competition. The higher the stakes, the more fun it is for me. Of course, I also like to hear about individual players. There are so many stories connected to any one game. It makes a great setting!
      Do you have a favorite sport?
     Pretty much everything but golf! Sorry, Tiger.  It’s so boring!
Soccer and football are great to watch on TV. My family enjoys going to minor league baseball games. My son swims for his high school. So now I like watching swimming, too.
    Did you enjoy reading sports books growing up?
     Not really. I was definitely a reluctant reader. At one point, my mom paid me to read! The first books I enjoyed were actually plays. I LOVE reading dialogue and action. Description? Not as much.
     What was the hardest part of writing Beyond Lucky?
     Mac’s story. I love Mac, but he has some big problems he has to deal with. In real life, I don’t always like dealing with conflict. Ari and Mac and Parker had to be braver than I could ever be. 
      How long did it take you to write Beyond Lucky from the start to the publication?
     It took me a looooooooong time to get this book ready for publication. I put it away a couple of times for many long stretches. But then I went back to it. Why? I loved the characters, but I couldn’t completely embrace the conflicts. It was not until after I finished my MFA and deleted the entire text (yes that is not a typo), that I could write this story the way it wanted to unfold.
    What is your favorite book?
     Are you trying to get me in trouble? 
     I like a lot of books. I think Charlotte’s Web is a perfect book. Some books that I use to teach writing are Nancy Werlin’s Rules of Survival, Barbara Park’s Mick Harte Was Here, and Katherine Patterson’s The Great Gilly Hopkins.  When it comes to nonfiction, there is no better writer than my dear friend, Tanya Lee Stone.  And I love funny books, too. Like Bunnicula and No More Dead Dogs. I just finished Tommy Greenwald’s Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading. It is hilarious.
Do you have a writing hero? Who? And why?
     That’s a great question.
     I admire Walter Dean Myers. Not just because he wrote Monster—one of my all time favorite books—but also because he is a writer who gives back to his community.
     As part of my beyond lucky celebration, I am hosting an auction and fundraiser. You can check it out on  my website. All the money goes to Grassroot Soccer, a local nonprofit.
Often boys are afraid write. What advice would you give to those boys?
     Don’t worry. Write. It doesn’t have to be good. You can always rip it up and rewrite it tomorrow.  The truth is: to be a writer, you have to be willing to fail every single day.
 Are you working on another novel? If so, tell us about it?

     I just started working on a companion novel to Beyond Lucky from Parker’s point of view. A girl who is friends with guys was too tempting to turn away. I’ve been thinking that maybe she should take up hockey! 

Be sure to check out Sarah Aronson's website for her online auction. Click here to go directly to the online auction. All proceeds will benefit GRASSROOT SOCCER. Thank you Sarah for the great interview and for giving back to the community.

Click here for a chance to win a signed copy of Beyond Lucky.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

BLOG CONTEST - Signed Copy of BEYOND LUCKY by Sarah Aronson

Here is your chance to win a signed hardback copy of Beyond Lucky by Sarah Aronson. This is a great middle grade soccer book with a male protagonist. Click here for my book review of Beyond Lucky.

TO ENTER: Leave a comment in the comments section of this post or the book review post of why you want to win. Make sure you leave a contact email in case you are the winner in this format anynameatgmaildotcom. 

Want An Extra Entry?  Follow my blog for an extra entry.

Already a blog follower? If you are already a blog follower you can earn an extra entry by tweeting the following: I want to win Beyond Lucky #giveaway from @boystobooks.

A huge shout out to SARAH ARONSON for generously donating a signed copy of Beyond Lucky for the blog giveaway. You may visit her website here. Make sure you check out here silent auction on her website.

Contest ends Saturday August 27 at 6:00 p.m. MST. Winner will be notified by email and will have a week to respond with mailing address.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Beyond Lucky Book Review

All Ari Fish wanted was a little luck. His best friend, Jerry MacDonald, or Mac as his friends call him, is the luckiest person Ari knows. If only he could have some of Mac’s luck. Mac is the best soccer player on the whole team.  
When Abel Mischelotti breaks his leg, Ari gets a chance to start as goalkeeper. But it’s hard to feel lucky when even a girl can play soccer as well as the guys.
Ari’s luck is about to change.
Wayne Timcoe was the best soccer player to come out of Ari’s hometown, the only one to play in the pros, a real hometown hero. His All-Star World Soccer card has become the most sought after card.  The day Ari opens and finds the elusive Timcoe card, his luck changes.
It seems there isn’t a ball that can get by Ari as goalkeeper. His team keeps on winning. Ari can’t believe his luck. He can’t believe it until his Timcoe card disappears under suspicious circumstances.
Through skillful storytelling by author Sarah Aronson, Ari learns the team is more important than one person, friendship is more important than cards, heroes are only people, people who make mistakes, and confidence is more than luck.
Beyond Lucky by Sarah Aronson, is a great middle grade novel for the boy who loves soccer. The addition of a strong female teammate makes the book appealing to girls as well. The author artfully examines sexism in sports. The author also does a great job examining forgiveness and trust through friendship. The description of the soccer games adds excitement and will captivate the sports minded reader. Ages 9-12 but may appeal to 13-14 as well. Not only would I recommend this book for the avid soccer player, I also recommend it for any boy who may have a girl on his sports team.  

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Why Don't Boys Read More?

I have wondered with my own boys why they don't read more. My seventeen year-old son loves to read, but I struggle with my twelve year-old. My daughter read all of the time. I didn't have to bribe her, but I do have to bribe my twelve year-old.

I just returned from a family vacation. My seventeen year-old brought a friend. His friend told me he had only read four books for fun in his whole life. I was shocked and saddened. I expect my boys to read that many over the summer. I asked my son's friend and my twelve year-old why they don't like to read and got some of these responses.

1. It's boring.
2. We don't have books at my house (From the friend, NOT my son. We have a ton.)
3. I'm too lazy to go the library.
4. I can't find my library card (lame excuse in my opinion)
5. I'm too busy. (Don't get me started on over scheduling children)
6. I would rather hang out with friends.
7. It's not cool.
8. I would rather play outside.
9. There aren't any good books. (Also from the friend. We find good books at our house.)
10. I can't sit still long enough. (That is why I only ask one chapter a day from my 12 year-old)

There are a lot of excuses why some boys don't read. I don't accept  lame excuses at home. I also don't expect too much that I make reading miserable. I want my boys to read because they love it and if they don't love it, I want them to keep reading books until they find one they love. I don't believe reading and writing are only for girls. Both my husband and I have made it clear that reading and writing is for boys and girls and have led by example.

Add a comment on some of the lame excuses you have heard your sons or male students have for not reading. I would love to post some suggestions on how to counteract those excuses in another post.

Friday, August 5, 2011

And The Winner Is.....

The winner of the signed hardback copy of Gabriel's Journey goes to Cam H. The winner is picked by Thank you all for entering and check back in 10 days for my next blog giveaway.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Author Interview: Alison Hart of the Racing to Freedom Trilogy

                           Interview with Author Alison Hart

You wrote your first book at the age of seven. How long was it (or at what age) before you got your first book published?

I published my first book in 1988. I can’t tell you how long it was since writing The Wild Dog (when I was seven) because my age has become a delicate subject.

Out of all the books you have written, which is your favorite?

 Each one is my favorite while I write it—it has to be in order for me to be passionate about the setting, characters and journey the character makes. For example, when I wrote Emma’s River, about a girl and her pony on a steamboat adventure, I had to really visualize myself on the river and in a terrible accident. Interesting!

What type of research do you do for your historical fiction books like Gabriel's Journey? Do you ever visit the historical places in your books to help with your writing?

 Research is all-consuming for me. For the trilogy, which is set during the Civil War, I read at least 200 books, spent much time online and visited Kentucky. I drove down Lexington Pike and went to Camp Nelson, several museums, Churchill Downs race track, and a plantation. I also took a course on the Civil War. For books set in modern time, such as Shadow Horse and its sequel Whirlwind, I visited rescue farms and researched insurance scams to make my setting and mystery compelling.

 So many of your books are about horses. Do you own horses? If so, what do you love about them?

 I have two horses, Relish and Belle. I have been obsessed with horses since I could talk and have owned horses (a fat pony was my first) since I was five-years-old. They have been a huge part of my life, but honestly, I can not say what it is that draws me to them. I also have two cats and three dogs, so I think I am just an animal person.

If you could go back in some of the time periods you write about, which would it be and why?

None. I am very aware of the difficulty women had before emancipation.

How many hours a week do you dedicate to writing?

If I have a deadline, I may write five to six hours a day. If I don’t have a deadline, I tend to slack off. I am also an adjunct at a community college, so teaching writing and reading essays is a big part of my week.

What is your favorite part about writing?

I love research! Every book I write has details and action that can only be written because of my research. For example, the guerrillas that gave Gabriel many tense moments in Gabriel’s Horses, and the horrendous Battle of Saltville where many African American soldiers were gunned down in Gabriel’s Journey are all a part of history.

If you could give one piece of advice to a child who wants to grow up to be a writer, what would it be?

Write! Read! Write some more! And have fun being creative.

I want to express my thanks to Alison for a great interview. I love her humor which comes out in question one. I am impressed with the work and research she puts into writing her books.

Click here to go to Alison Hart's website to find more of her great works.

The Racing to Freedom Trilogy      

Gabriel's Horses (Racing to Freedom) (Racing to Freedom Trilogy)Gabriel's Triumph (Racing to Freedom Trilogy)Gabriel's Journey (Racing to Freedom)

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Historical Fiction Novel

As a young child I had a book called Runaway Slave, story of Harriet Tubman. It was one of the few books I owned and I read it over and over. It touched me in a profound way. I am not sure how much the book was real and how much was fiction but it was definitely my introduction to the book genre of historical fiction.

Historical fiction is a made up story based on real historical events. The book may take place in an actual historical setting or be based loosely on real people and/or real events. The book's main character is usually a fictional person living in the historical time period or event of the book. The point of view of the main character may even involve experiences with real historical people in fictional situations not recorded in history.

What I like about historical fiction is the story can make a dull even more interesting by bringing human thoughts and actions by way of story line. It is a great way to introduce children to important events. As a child, a great historical fiction book made me want to do further research on the event the book talked about.

When my teenage son was required to read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, he became interested in what happened during the holocaust and did a bit of research about it on the internet.