Thursday, September 24, 2015

BOOK BLITZ: Developing Minds

Developing Minds:
An American Ghost Story
By: Jonathan LaPoma

Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Laughing Fire Press
Publication date: 9.14.2015
Pages: 270

DEVELOPING MINDS: AN AMERICAN GHOST STORY follows a group of recent college graduates who struggle with feelings of alienation and their addictions as they try to survive a year of teaching at two dysfunctional Miami public schools.
            A poetic and insightful coming-of-age novel, DEVELOPING MINDS is centered on 24-year-old Luke Entelechy, an aspiring writer who sees his creative output suffer when he begins teaching at one of Miami's most challenging middle schools.  As the year progresses, however, Luke begins to relate to the neglect and abuse his students suffer, and is faced with a haunting decision: continue to let his dark past destroy him, or rise above the struggle to realize his potential as an artist and a real human being.
            Equal parts disturbing and humorous, DEVELOPING MINDS offers a brutally honest look at the American public school system and the extreme measures many teachers take to cope with working in it.

About the author:
Jonathan LaPoma is an award-winning novelist, screenwriter, songwriter, and poet from Buffalo, NY.  In 2005, he received a BA in history and a secondary education credential from the State University of New York at Geneseo, and he traveled extensively throughout the United States and Mexico after graduating.  These experiences have become the inspiration for much of his writing, which often explores themes of alienation and misery as human constructions that can be overcome through self-understanding and the acceptance of suffering.  His five feature-length screenplays have won over 40 awards/honors at various international screewriting competitions, and his novel DEVELOPING MINDS: AN AMERICAN GHOST STORY is a finalist in the 2015 Stargazer Literary Prizes for best Visionary and Metaphysical Fiction.  He lives in San Diego and teaches at a public secondary school.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Slew of Children's Book Reviews

I have, over the last couple of months, had the opportunity to read several children's books with some kids back home in San Antonio, and one very adorable little kid here who loves books.  These are all books that I received for review from the authors.  Here are my reviews: 

A'dab's Gift
By: Talia Haven
Illustrator: Tatiana Vila

Genre: Children
Publisher: Talia Haven
Publication date: 3.22.2015
Pages: 11

The caravan god is given camels as a gift by A'dab's father.  But the god refuses to let her father make another pair to set loose in the mortal world.

This is another version of the story of the lamp.  It is quite well done, nicely written, beautiful story, enjoyable read, and I really liked the illustrations.  
            The child really got into this story and asked for it on several occasions.  Encouraged by this story was several pieces of artwork, as well as looking at other stories based on the same subject and making up our own.

Clive the Clever Crow
By: Sandra Novello

Genre: Children
Publisher: Xlibris AU
Publication date: 7.11.2014
Pages: 24

"Clive is a ver clever crow that has discovered a place where food is very abundant.  He waits until there are no children or adults around before flying down.
            The children have been wondering who has been eating their food, so Clive decides to write them a letter.  Can you guess his favorite food?"

I like the art work and the beginning of the story, but it ends abruptly and I have no idea what the point of the story actually is.  
            I thought maybe it was just me - you know, I'm an adult, but the kids that I was reading the story with were also confused.  When I read stories with children, I ask them questions and then give them a chance to ask me questions - they weren't really interested in the story, were confused, but they did like the pictures.

Silly Socks
By: Sandra Novello

Genre: Children
Publisher: Xlibris AU
Publication date: 11.19.2014
Pages: 24

Suzie has a dilemma on her hands when she has a look in her sock drawer.  All of her socks have disappeared and she decides to go and find out where they could all be?  Follow Suzie through her story as she discovers her socks are having fun hiding from her.

This was a cute story.  I liked the pictures and her search for the missing socks.  
            This story actually got quite a few giggles from the kids I was reading this to.  The places that the socks were hiding were silly and the actual sock drawings are adorable.

Jungle Juniors Storybook 2:
Monica the Monkey Saves the Day
By: Rachel Michaels & Amy Best
Illustrator: Ben Bairns

Genre: Children
Publisher: The Essential Library
Publication date: 9.28.2014
Pages: 28

Monica the Monkey is tired of being different - especially since all of the other monkeys in the jungle make fun of her.  Poor Monica!  She feels like she'll never be able to win the respect of the other monkeys.
            But what happens when the jungle monkeys find themselves in a terrifying predicament - and Monica is the only one who can save the day?  As Monica learns, being different is actually a wonderful thing!

Give your child a head start in life!  The Jungle Juniors Storybook series is designed to enhance your child's self-esteem, self-reliance and build positive social interactions.
            Our mission is to help give your child a head start to make a successful transition from home to classroom.

I really liked this book.  The artwork is super cute AND it's a great way to teach children that their differences are not bad.  It's also a good book to use when you have a child who is picking on other children.  
            I used this book with a group that had one child who did a lot of picking on of a smaller child.  I made sure that I had the smaller child sit on one side of me, and the other child, who is a bit aggressive, on the other and, when I asked questions at the end, I made sure that they were both included and had to work together to come up with the answers.  The behavior of both have changed - the smaller child knows that there is nothing wrong with him being smaller and that he has a lot of talents of his own, the more aggressive child knows that the way she behaves hurts the smaller child and sees that he has talents she does not have.  They have become quick friends.

Squishy Face & the Moon
By: Jennifer Oneal Gunn

Genre: Children
Publisher: Jennifer Oneal Gunn
Publication date: 12.29.2014
Pages: 24

Squishy face is a little girl in a big world, which often frightens her.  Luckily, she has Big Mama to guide her and show her the way.  In the book, Big Mama teaches little Squishy Face about the moon.

This is a cute story teaching about the moon and, more importantly, science.  I love that it is actually dedicated to her daughter, and that the girl (Squishy Face) is created with her daughter in mind.  I am not a fan of the artwork.  It looks as if a child did it, which works in a book created for children, but at the same time, it's a very roughly put together book.  
            The children liked the story - we read it one night while sitting outside looking at the moon, and they were really excited about the story (some even admitted that the moon scares them, too).  They were also not very excited about the artwork, but they did ask to read the story several times.

The Bird & the Elephant: Philosophy for Young Minds
By: Dominic Smith

Genre: Children, Philosophy
Publisher: Matador
Publication date: 3.22.2015
Pages: 29

"Amazing!" ~Dr. Seuss
            Well, that's what we hope he would have said!  See what you think?  The Bird & the Elephant is a poetic philosophical journey that starts with a chance encounter between a bird and (that's right, you guessed it!) an elephant.  Join their journey as they step through the jungle talking their way through ten philosophical subjects.  Starting with (in order): Who are we?  Where do we come from?  Why are we here?  Friendship.  Why do bad things happen?  Happiness.  Morality.  Destiny.  Love.  Philosophy.
            The bird is impatient and hot headed while the elephant is calming and wise.  Will the bird learn anything from their encounter?  Will you learn anything fro meeting them both?  Philosophy is not here to provide the answers - but to get you to think about the questions.  Be a part of their wonderful journey and see what answers you discover.

I was really impressed with this book.  It makes you think, and the "discussion poetry" is well written and enjoyable.  I like the artwork as well.  
            I'm not sure what the author means by "young," though.  I tried it with a couple of different ages - and it was a little hard for several different age groups to grasp the concept at first.  But they did enjoy the discussions that arose from the story and asked me to read it several times to them.  After a couple of weeks, they started asking some really great questions as well, things they learned from this book.

Ten Busy Brownies
By: Talia Haven
Illustrator: Sytiva Sheehan

Genre: Children
Publisher: Keith Publications, LLC
Publication date: 11.6.2013
Pages: 30

Count the brownies up to 10 as they help out with chores around an old cottage house.

I really enjoyed this counting book.  It's a lot of fun reading it, going through the many jobs that the brownies do.  I must say, though, that the pictures are a little creepy, and I had a couple of children who were a little afraid of them.

I Ate a Cicada Today
By: Jeff Crossan

Genre: Children
Publisher: Big Bound Books, LLC
Publication date: 9.1.2014
Pages: 32

Based on a song of outrageous rhymes, I Ate a Cicada Today is a humorous children's picture book illustrated in ink and watercolor with an accompanying CD.  Each two-page spread features a verse about a different animal or insect including such fanciful scenarios as "I peppered a leopard today" and "I hid a giant squid today."  The CD is a guitar/vocal performance of the song by author/illustrator Jeff Crossan, who interjects each verse with a short spoken aside to provide added comic punch to the zany lyrics.

I thought the artwork was cute ... and some of the verses really cracked me up ... but there were ones that were off in their rhyme and ruined the flow of the story.  It got several giggles ... and even a guffaws ... from the kids I was reading it to, so that worked for me, and they loved the pictures and the animals in the story.

Luna's Red Hat
By: Emmi Smid
Illustrator: Emmi Smid

Genre: Children, Loss
Publisher: Jessica Kingsley Publishers
Publication date: 4.21.2015
Pages: 34

It is a beautiful spring day, and Luna is having a picnic in the park with her family, wearing her Mum's red hat.  Luna's Mum died one year ago and she still finds it difficult to understand why.  She feels that it may have been her fault and worries that her Dad might leave her in the same way.  Her Dad talks to her to explain what happened and together they think about all the  happy memories they have of Mum.
            This beautifully-illustrated storybook is designed as a tool to be read with children aged 6+ who have experienced the loss of a loved one by suicide.  Suicide always causes shock, not just for the family members, but for everyone around them, and children also have to deal with these feelings.  The book approaches the subject sensitively and includes a guide for parents and professionals by bereavement expert, Dr. Riet Fiddlers-Jaspers.  It will be of interest to anyone working with, or caring for, children bereaved by suicide, including bereavement counsellors, social workers and staff members, as well as parents, carers and other family members.

This is, by far, one of the best children's books I've read this year - hell, in my life.  Not only are the pictures inside gorgeous, but the story is absolutely beautiful.  There is a section in the back that helps  with the conversations that sometimes adults don't know how to have in this situation.  This book made me cry - not just because I felt for the little girl, but because I know what it's like to have a parent that dies when you're young.  I think this book is not just beneficial for a loss through suicide, but for a loss period.  When you're young, how the person died is not as important as the fact that they did.  The child feels like they were abandoned, like it was their fault - they feel guilty for misbehaving, or for saying something yucky, or getting angry - and this book helps the child remember the good things that happened and to know that the parent loved them.  The author did a fantastic job on the whole thing.

The Sloth & I
By: Anna Faktorovich

Genre: Children
Publisher: Anaphora Literary Press
Publication date: 3.1.2013
Pages: 32

A girl grows tired of her suburban life and runs way to the Amazon jungle, where she meets a group of talking sloths and enjoys some intense relaxation and lots of fun.  Has she found a new home or will her home call to her?  This is a great book for kids, one full of great descriptions and original artwork.

I received an email one day from the publisher (Anaphora Literary Press) asking me if I would be interested in reading several books - and they included .pdfs of the books in the email.  After doing a little bit of research, I came to find out that Anna Faktorovich was the author of all of the stories and, considering that I enjoy sharing books with the children I know, I went ahead and added a few of the books to my list.  
            I was really unimpressed with this book - and I've read some really bad children's books.  The rhymes make no sense, the script that the author chose to use for the writing is hard to read, and the artwork threw me off completely.  When the kids want to read a story, I show them what I have and we make a decision based on what covers catch their eye - and this one was not one that I could even get them to let me read to me them.
            When I went to write this review (and add the purchase links), I found that it's not for sale on either Amazon or Barnes & Noble.  I did find it on Goodreads, but there are no reviews on it (until now).

The Frog in the Tree
By: Paul Waters

Genre: Children
Publisher: First Edition Design Publishing
Publication date: 2.8.1015
Pages: 34

Reminiscent of The Wind in the Willows, The Frog in the Tree is a journey of discovery for both a frog and a baby crow who help each other overcome their fears and doubts.  It is a tale of friendship and bravery and finally a family's love at the end.
            Beautifully illustrated, the lilting storyline will carry the reader from beginning to end in a joyous melody of sight and sound.

I grew up reading the book The Wind in the Willows and watching the animated movie, so this, of course, was something I looked forward to picking up.  I loved the pictures - absolutely beautiful - and the story was perfect.  Not only does it teach children about friendship, but it also shows them that, with friends, you can overcome anything.  I really enjoyed the way the story ended.  And every child that has enjoyed this story with me has been very happy, even asked me to read it more than once. 

The Principle Gang 1: 
Don't Judge a Lizard by His Scales
By: Dan Dugi & Bli Marston Dugi
Illustrator: Andrea Vitali

Genre: Children
Publisher: Dugi Group, LLC
Publication date: 8.3.2014
Pages: 19

Everyone knows that lizards eat flies, but Bli the Fly and Danny the Wizard Lizard are willing to put their differences aside to become the best of friends.
            Danny the Wizard Lizard goes on a fly-free diet as he sets out to prove that he is not like all the other lizards.  During their quest for friendship, Danny the Wizard Lizard and Bli the Fly encounter the Lousy Lizard Gang, a no-good group of bullies.  Danny the Wizard Lizard gives the first glimpse into why he is a Wizard Lizard by exhibiting special powers to stop the bullying that goes on at the movie theater.  Witnessing his heroic act, Bli the Fly's mother, Mrs. Fly, realizes that she misjudged the lizard, and Bli the Fly gets her first lesson in giving second chances.
            Don't Judge a Lizard by His Scales, Book One is The Principle Gang series by Dr. Dan and Bli Dugi, delivers lessons in anti-bullying, prejudice, and the value of friendships.  The Principle Gang series introduces the foundational principles that guide families, relationships and communities.

This was a great story that shows two things: you can't judge a book by it's cover (or a person by their color, or even a lizard by it's scales), and bullying is not cool.  The kids that I read these stories to really liked this story and so did I.  It was well done and the artwork is cool.  The way that Danny not only handles (and understands) both Bli and her mother's fears about him, but the way he deals with the bullies, was really impressive and the kids called him a hero.  I can't wait to see the rest of the books in this series, and to share them with the little ones.

999 Frogs & a Little Brother
By: Ken Kimura
Illustrator: Yasanuri Murakami

Genre: Children
Publisher: NorthSouth
Publication date: 3.1.2015
Pages: 40

Everybody's favorite frogs are back in Ken Kimura and Yasunari Murakami's ticklish tale about size!  "Are you my big brother?"  The last (and littlest) tadpole to be born is thrilled to hear that anyone thinks he's BIG - even if it's a baby crayfish.  And the two form a fast friendship, until deep in the night Mommy crayfish finds her baby and takes him home.  But when the little tadpole finally becomes a frog, he doesn't forget his little brother and it all pays off when the little frog meets a BIG snake!  Who will save the 999 frog brothers?  Never underestimate the size of true friendship!

Another very impressive children's books that teaches a lesson about friendship.  The kids and I really enjoyed this book and the beautiful artwork.  The end of the story is really good and the we'll definitely be reading more from this trio.

Out of the Blue
By: Vanita Oelschlager
Illustrator: Robin Hegan

Genre: Children
Publisher: Vanita Books
Publication date: 5.1.2012
Pages: 40

Out of the Blue shows children the magic of idioms - words that separately mean one meaning, but together take on something entirely different.  Children are curious about words, especially phrases that make them laugh ("Tickled Pink"), sound silly ("Shrinking Violet") or trigger images that tickle a child's sense of the absurd ("A Red Letter Day").
            Out of the Blue uses outlandish illustrations of wha the words describe literally.  The reader then has to guess the "real" meaning of the phrases (which are upside down in the corner of each spread). At the end of the book, the reader is invited to learn more about these figures of speech.
            Our first book of idioms, Birds of a Feather (2009), dealt with birds, insects or animals.  Our second, Life is a Bowl Full of Cherries (2011) uses food idioms.  Out of the Blue uses color idioms.  All three are fun - and instructive.

I am a huge fan of Vanita's work and read her books to children often.  In fact, her books are one of the first that I read to a new child (whether in a classroom or every day situation).  The artwork is always perfect and the stories are just plain FANTASTIC.  She does a really great job with teaching children about words and the English language and I highly recommend her to ... well ... everyone.
            This book is just as good as the other three in the series (which I loved), and the kids that I've shared it with have enjoyed it as much as I have.
            Make sure you take a look in the back of each of the books - it has a section for adults/teachers to help them in teaching the subjects of the books.

Mr. Squirrel & the Moon
By: Sebastian Meschenmoser

Genre: Children
Publisher: NorthSouth
Publication date: 1.1.2015
Pages: 48

When Mr. Squirrel awakens to find that the moon has landed on his tree, he frantically tries to get rid of it before someone suspects him of stealing it and puts him in jail.  But when he rolls the moon off of his tree, it's get stuck on Mrs. Hedgehog's bristles and when the billy-goat arrives and butts it with his horns... Will the moon ever be the same again?  Sebastian Meschenmoser's hilarious illustrations and rollicking tale will be a bedtime favorite.

This is a really cute story, and it reminded me very much of Chicken Little, with the goofy "mistakes" that happen as the story goes on.  I love the fact that Mr. Squirrel keeps imagining himself in jail, with each problem that comes up.  I loved the way the author depicts the characters in the pictures.  
            My only issue with the whole thing is that, when I'm reading the book to kids, I like to read them the book description before we get started and I feel like the author gave away too much in his (Note: I didn't take off any star rating because of that, since it isn't the book).

All About Marvelous Me
By: Becky J. Radtke

Genre: Children, Journals
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 12.17.2014
Pages: 64

Kids can have fun reflecting on their past, present, and future!  Loaded with fun things to do, such as fill-in-the-blanks, checklists, drawing and journaling, this 64-page book will inspire children to write and illustrate details of their daily lives and inner thoughts.  Activities include taking personality quizzes, designing the ultimate hangout, imagining the perfect job, and many other interesting personal challenges.

This is a great little journal for kids.  Not only does it help them learn a little bit about themselves (and gives them a place to put it all in one spot), but it teaches them things about journaling - and even writing - for the future.  There's places for them to draw and quizzes they can take, there's checklists and things to get their thoughts flowing.  It's very creative and would work well in a classroom situation as well, or a way for siblings (or friends) to get to know each other better.  I purchased a couple for some of the kiddo-s in my life and they really got into it, and loved taking ten minutes a day to do a page or two in their journal.  When they completed it, they wanted notebooks of their own and have used their creativity and imagination to create pages in their new journals with the same idea in mind.

The ABC of Fantastic Princes
By: Willy Puchner

Genre: Children
Publisher: NorthSouth
Publication date: 2.1.2015
Pages: 64

An alphabet of pioneering princes - from A to Z - by the acclaimed Austrian designer Willy Puchner.  Meet the princes from A to Z.  Some are ambitious, some bold, some daring and dashing ... but each of the twenty-six frogs are striking in character and charm and come bearing extraordinary gifts and talents.  Puchner's opulent and incomparable illustrations make this abecedary a marvel for all ages.

The artwork in this book - and the poetic story of each prince - makes this book one of my favorite on my Kindle.  It is so much fun to read the story while looking at the story and seeing how they go together.  Each prince is very different - and they are eloquently described, with lots of bigger words that are fun to learn.  Even the younger children that I have read this book to get excited about the new words and try to use them in their everyday conversations.  Definitely a fun book to read - even if you aren't sharing it with children haha.

By: Vanita Oelschlager
Illustrator: Joe Rossi

Genre: Children, Dyslexia
Publisher: VanitaBooks, LLC
Publication date: 4.6.2015

Knees shows the ups and downs of life with dyslexia.  We have done this book in the style and size of a chapter book so that younger children and older children at low reading levels can read what seems to be an older child's book.
            We cover dyslexia's symptoms and the reasons school can be hard for dyslexics.  We talk about some famous people who had or have dyslexia.
            The book is endorsed by the head master of a school where many of the children have dyslexia.  He has dyslexia himself.

A lot of children struggle with learning disabilities - ADHD, Dyslexia, etc - and doing so makes them feel completely different from everyone else.  This is a great book that addresses the symptoms of dyslexia, along with giving all children an inside look at how it feels living with it.  The artwork is great, the story is well done, and I love how the book is written as a chapter book, but where children of all ages can understand.  This is a good book for all children to read, not just ones who have dyslexia, because it teaches children that everyone has their idiosyncrasies and just because they have something like dyslexia does not mean that there is something "wrong" with them.

I Came from the Water
By: Vanita Oelschlager
Illustrator: Mike Blanc

Genre: Children
Publisher: Vanita Books
Publication date: 9.1.2012

The story is based on the actual experiences of Moses, an eight year-old boy and resident of St. Helene's orphanage outside Port-au-Prince.  As an infant, he was literally plucked from the waters of a nearby river, having been placed in a basket by whom we believe was his grandmother.  The rest of his family perished in floods that wiped out their upland village in 2004.  He was given his name by the nuns at St. Helene's.  The title is Moses' reply to the author when she asked where he is from.
            After the earthquake of 2010 destroyed Port-au-Prince and much of the surrounding area, the orphanage was flooded with a new wave of parentless boys and girls.  Moses helped these children adapt to their new lives and in so doing displays a fearless hope and determination that may lead to Haiti's renewal as a self-supporting nation.
            St. Helene's orphanage is run by Father Rick Frechette known globally for his dedication to improving the lives of poor children across Latin America.
            Net profits from I Came From the Water will go to support St. Helene's and Father Rick's efforts to help rebuild Haiti by offering a safe place to live and a free education for children like Moses.

This was an interesting - and heart-warming - story about a little boy who lives in an orphanage in Haiti.  He was found as a baby floating in a river, taken to the orphanage and, when he was older, helped younger boys and girls when they came their too.  His story is beautiful, the artwork is very pretty, and the children really got into the story about this young brave boy.  I have yet to be disappointed by a book by Vanita and all of us loved the fact that the title of the book was something that the young boy said to her.  Well done.

REVIEW: When All Balls Drop + With New Eyes

My friend Sage suggested I read this book.  Now, usually, when it comes to her suggestions, I look at it as I'm a book blogger and she's a blog tour coordinator, but this time, after reading the description, I really felt like there was more to it, like she was trying to tell me something.  (And maybe she wasn't.  Maybe I was just reading too much into this.  Sage, if that's the truth - don't tell me haha.)  
            I have recently begun a new life for myself, somewhere far away from what I've known my whole life, after dealing with several bad events, and losing a couple of people (in one way or another) that I really cared about.  I felt like a friend was suggesting to me a book that I really needed to experience - and an experience it definitely was.
            I signed up for the blog tour - and took on both books.  Then, as what often happens with life, I got bogged down with job, editing, being a grown up ... and decided to just read the second book.  After reading the first two pages, I knew I had made a mistake.  There was a story in that first one, a story I deeply needed to read, and I was drawn to it so much that I put the second one down and picked it up.
            After a night of reading with no sleep, I have finished them both. 

Heidi had a life she was very happy with - she traveled around the world with her job, and was happily married to a man that she was deeply in love with.  Things were going perfectly, until the day that she found out not everything in her life was as it seemed and, when heading out the door to go for a walk to calm herself and get her mind straight, a branch from a tree fell on top of her.  The results: a severe head injury and a broken neck.  The next thing she remembers is waking up in a hospital, a couple of days later, with her husband and crying mother at her side.

This is Heidi's story, not only discussing her pain and how terrible it was for her to have to depend on others, but how she was able to get through it all and find a new meaning to life.  

I really enjoyed this book and am so glad that I read it.  It made me rethink a lot of things that have happened in my past and how I handled them.  Seeing the way she braved through heartache and physical pain, and the things she learned from that, was really empowering and I gained a lot of perspective from her story.    

"We cannot tear out a single page of our life, but we can throw the whole book in the fire."

This is Heidi's second memoir - and the next step to her emotional growth.  This book begins with a jump out of a plane and a trip to her childhood home.  And that's just the beginning...

Heidi really has a way with words.  She makes what is originally a sad story into something beautiful, and with her own brand of humor, turns it into an inspirational story that can help anyone and everyone who reads her.  To me, it's far more than just a look at what happened to her and what she has done since to create a new and better life, but a chance for others to see themselves in some of her story, even if it's drastically different.  Her words spoke to my heart, and I can only hope that other people learn from her story as much as I learned.

My favorite part of the story is when she goes back to Wisconsin and sees her old home, sees her dad's cabin, and the way she describes it - as if she's looking at a doll house replica because everything seems so small compared to what she remembers.  It made me think about the time that I went back and saw my grandparents' house, after years of not being there - I had felt the same way, having loved that place as a small child, and feeling like everything was just a scaled down size of the memories I had.

"Oh, how I had changed!  I was Heidi 2.0, albeit with some major bugs to work out."

About the author:
Heidi Siefkas is an author and adventurer.  Originally from small-town Wisconsin, she lives in Kauai and also calls the Midwest and South Florida home.  Heidi is currently writing her third book, Cubicle to Cuba, which features a humorous collection of stories about her travels to Cuba, Peru, New Zealand, Italy, and other far-flung places.
            Heidi invites you to share photos on social media that show where you are enjoying With New Eyes (#withneweyes).  You can connect with Heidi on her websiteFacebook and Twitter.

About the book:
Genre: Memoir, Happiness
Publisher: Wheatmark, Inc
Publication date: 8.5.2014
Pages: 270

Heidi Siefkas was a happily married, globetrotting professional who seemingly had it all - until a tree limb in New York's Hudson River Valley struck her down, breaking her neck and leaving her unconscious.  Suddenly, life as she knew it stopped.  She lost her independence.  She lost her career.  She watched her marriage disintegrate as she confronted a trail of devastating lies about her husband's double life.
            She had lost all that mattered, but she was a survivor.  She fought to restore her health, repair her broken heart, and rebuild herself.  Along the way, she gained clarity about her core values, ultimately coming to a deeper understanding of what it means to have it all.
            Through down-to-earth, short vignettes, When All Balls Drop shows us how it's possible to look up in spite of pain, deceit, and loss.  Heidi's memoir - rich with hope and humor - inspires anyone who's had to confront tragedy and reassesses their life in the wake of life-altering events.

Genre: Memoir, Happiness
Publisher: Wheatmark, Inc
Publication date: 8.13.2015
Pages: 170

Heidi Siefkas lost her health, her career, and her marriage after she was struck by a one thousand-pound tree branch.  While she made great strides in her physical and emotional recovery in the months that followed - an arduous process that she chronicled in When All Balls Drop - Heidi wasn't content to merely survive her setbacks.  The time was right to build a new life.  One she could live on her own terms.
            But what would a redesigned life look like?  In her quest for answers, Heidi returned to her childhood home in Wisconsin, dove into the South Florida dating scene, revisited old flames in New England, sold her first home, jumped out of a plane, and traveled alone to South America.  Every leg of her journey provided a healthy dose of perspective.
            With New Eyes is full of mishaps and bold decisions, all seasoned with sassy humor.  Through her signature down-to-earth vignettes, Heidi inspires you to conquer your fears, head for adventure, and be the captain of your own ship.

Monday, September 21, 2015


The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Hi, Husky.  Welcome to The Gal.  Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Husky Harlequin:
I am a lawyer and a chemist, but writing and music are my passions.  I had to stumble through life a bit to discover this about myself.  What can I say?  I'm stubborn and a slow learner.  I'm a little older and a little wiser now, so hopefully I can put all of my experience to good use!

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are five things most people don't know about you?

Husky Harlequin:
a) I come from a diverse family.  I am White, Black, Caribbean Islander, and Native American.  There are probably other ethnicities that I don't know about yet.

b) I love playing guitar and took my first lesson in college.

c) I grew up in the United States, spent a semester studying in England, and lived in American Samoa, in the South Pacific, for three years.

d) My biggest fear is not living up to my abilities and letting my family down in the process.

e) I'm a terrible swimmer even though I've taken lessons multiple times in my life.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is the first book you remember reading?

Husky Harlequin:
The Bible.  I grew up in a very religious household and my father used to read us Bible stories after supper.  The first novel I can remember loving was Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary.  Ramona is full of heart and good intentions, but always seemed to get into trouble anyway, just like me.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are you reading now?

Husky Harlequin:
I'm reading The Breach by Patrick Lee.  My dad recommended it to me.  It is part Sci-Fi and part fast paced Thriller.  It is light on dialogue, and I find myself laughing quite a bit, although it is probably because I have a dark sense of humor.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What made you decide you want to write?  When did you begin writing?

Husky Harlequin:
I've always relished oral storytelling.  I get a natural high entertaining people in this manner.  A few years ago, I was at a low point in my life and I had an epiphany: "I should try and write my way out of this mess."  There was an immediate cathartic effect when I started putting stories together because life hasn't always turned out the way I've planned it, but my stories can.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have a special place you like to write?

Husky Harlequin:
Most of the work gets done at the small desk in my room.  My nine-month-old son requires a lot of my attention, so it is a juggling act right now.  I write ideas and scenes, though, whenever I get inspired.  Sometimes that means in my Moleskin notebook.  Other times, I have to put my iPhone to use and tap frantically before the moment evaporates.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Husky Harlequin:
Outlining.  I can't start writing until I have an end in mind.  That doesn't mean it won't change once I get down to cranking it out, but I need a clear line of sight before I get moving; I'm too scared to take a step otherwise! 

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What books have most inspired you?

Husky Harlequin:
I love Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut.  It is deadly serious, yet hilarious at the same time!  I can't tell you how many times my stomach cramped up while reading that one.  It is hard to pull that off, even more so in Sci-Fi, I think.
            Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers will always be a part of me.  My dad made me read it as a teenage when I was considering a career in the military.  While it's required reading at the US military academies (so I'm told), it has the feel of an antiwar masterpiece.  It really made me think about the glorification of violence in our society.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Husky Harlequin:
Finding the time.  Life is full of distractions and opportunities.  Writing takes commitment and sacrifice in order to produce something worth reading.  I've pretty much given up on TV, except the occasional binge, and sports, except reading baseball box scores.  Giving up these things has been small compared to following my dream.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What do you think makes a good story?

Husky Harlequin:
Conflict is at the heart of every story.  Whether the guy desires the girl in a love story or the villain in an epic tale threatens the hero, the characters need something worth fighting for.  The battle must be risky and the pursuit must be costly.  The characters need to have learned something through the process of conflict resolution.  The protagonist cannot be the same guy he was at the beginning of the story.
            I tease my dad that, as a child, I must have understood this concept because whenever I pushed his buttons on purpose, seeing him get angry was entertaining to me!  He was always conflicted on how best to punish me so I'd finally learn my lesson.  Does that make me a villain?

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Husky Harlequin:
Andrea, the main character in Time's Alibi, is probably the most like me.  While he is strong and athletic and I'm not, we both have spent our whole lives trying to figure out who we are supposed to be.  Andrew is deeply flawed, often getting in his own way, but he is willing to keep trying to find the right path, just like me.  I wish I was more like Vikki because she is self confident and unwavering in her beliefs.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Why did you pick your particular genre?

Husky Harlequin:
I'm a Sci-Fi nerd raised on a steady diet of Star Trek and Star Wars.  My parents used to take me to Star Trek conventions when I was a kid.  I was delighted to find a room filled with masses of people as weird as I am!  It's strange, but the genre has been imprinted on my DNA.  Story telling in this field offers versatility.  Sci-Fi can be the story itself or merely the framework for something larger.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

Husky Harlequin:
Time's Alibi is a time travel story, but it is more than that alone.  It is also a mystery that has a strong political theme.  So, in a sense, it is a genre mash-up.  As a nerd, I hate it when there isn't a technical explanation given for the time travel phenomenon in this type of story, so I've been careful to explain it in Time's Alibi, while hopefully not getting too bogged down in the technical descriptions.  Character development is very important to me, so there is a very literary feel to Andrew's journey in Time's Alibi, something that is often missing from Sci-Fi Thrillers.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is in your "trunk"?  (Everyone has a book or project, which doesn't necessarily have to be book related, that they have put aside for a 'rainy day' or for when they have extra time.  Do you have one?

Husky Harlequin:
I would love to do an album of music.  I have a slew of riffs and nearly completed guitar tracks sitting on my Mac in GarageBand ready to be completed.  I just need to find the courage to sing, or perhaps find someone who is willing to collaborate with me.  I'm told I'm not easy to work with.  My style tends to be more rock and roll than pop, but my finger picking skills are slowly coming around.  Any takers?

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What can we expect from you in the future?

Husky Harlequin:
Time's Alibi is the first book in a planned trilogy.  I'm hard at work on the follow up!  Despite loving Sci-Fi, I have a passion for poetry.  I want to do a series of children's books one day in anapestic tetrameter, just like Dr. Seuss.  But I imagine my stories will have a darker tone while still embracing the silliness he is famous for developing.  Now, if I could only draw.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Thanks for stopping by, Husky.  It was great having you.  Good luck on those future books - they sound like fun!!

About the author:
Husky is a lawyer, poet, musician, chemist, and writer from the Philadelphia area.  His high school literature class blew up  his brain, exposing a love for story telling.  He's circling back now.  He can't argue in court like Mitch McDeer, drop rhymes like Mother Goose, rock like Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, or leverage his skills in the lab like Walter White, but he can write better than Kilgore Trout.  Husky if a lover of ideas, progressive thoughts, and mankind.

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About the book:
Cancer.  Undetected, it relentlessly devours its host until there is nothing left.  Andrew Acheson's grandfather has been searching for a cure since a rare blood born pathogen claimed the life of his beloved wife.
            Family.  If damaged, it can be the breeding ground for social disease.  Greed infected the Acheson clan long ago.  David Acheson, the patriarch, has been missing for over a year and is presumed to be dead.  Murdered?  Kidnapped?  The FBI has no lo leads.  David's heirs can't wait to get their filthy fingers on his pharmaceutical empire.
            Discovery.  If misunderstood, it has the power to destroy.  Andrew desires the success and love that have painfully eluded him.  Without his grandfather's guidance, he may never find it.  Suddenly thrust into the center of a conflict with historic consequences, Andrew might be able to survive if he can overcome his flaws, both inherited and self-inflicted.  But first, he must find his grandfather and deal with David's most dangerous invention yet: time travel.