Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Queen of the Tearling, by Erika Johansen

Queen of the TearlingKelsea grew up in a cottage in the woods with her foster parents, but she always knew that when she turned nineteen, the queen’s guard would come to take her to the Keep to become the new queen of the Tearling. What she didn’t know was how devastated and corrupt the country had become, and Barty and Carlin had certainly never given her a clue.

Now her nineteenth birthday has passed, and Kelsea’s uncle is perfectly happy reigning as regent. Furthermore, the Mort witch queen in the next kingdom is ready to use all her evil powers to keep the true queen from reaching the capital city. Even the guards sent to protect her on the trip are not too sure of their loyalties. It will be a miracle if she makes it alive. Fortunately, Kelsea has friends she’s never known.

At first, I was surprised that this novel was even published because of the striking similarities to Rae Carson’s “Girl of Fire and Thorns” trilogy, although Queen of the Tearling is an adult novel. They both portray a plain, hefty heroine, a strong young woman who becomes queen at an early age, a gruff, older guard to protect her, and even a jewel that glows. Not that I’m complaining, of course. I really loved them both, and the “Fire and Thorns” trilogy is, sadly, finished. However, as the novel continues, Kelsea’s story grows beyond “Fire and Thorns” in terms of politics and government. Johansen does have a political agenda that gets a bit heavy at times, but the reader can overlook it for all of the intrigue, adventure, and even a hint of a romance. There are clues in this medieval-sounding setting that there once was a country called the United States. Fortunately, this debut is the first of a series, so eventually we will all get to find out who her father is. Oh, I hope it’s not who I think it may be.

This one is not for the kiddos. Some of the descriptions of twisted evil are disturbing. The movie rights have already been sold—even before publication!—and Emma Watson is slated to play Kelsea, because she’s so plain and chubby, I suppose. Highly recommended for those of you who, like me, are epic fantasy fans. Available July 8th.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Victory for the Children

Families at legislative buildingNothing eloquent to write tonight. Just a full heart and the wonderful feeling of gratitude that so many individuals’ hard work came to a victorious conclusion today. Governor McCrory has agreed to sign House Bill 1220, which passed this afternoon. It gives me hope that sensible people can see the truth– if they have the right people to guide them along.

If you are one of those who wrote to her senator or representative, or who talked to his friends about it, or who called a legislator on the phone, I wanted you to see this picture of just a few of the families that you helped. Even if you just patiently listened to me blather on these past few months, thank you for being kind. And if you prayed, let’s all thank the Lord tonight– and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

God bless you.

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The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert

ImageHenry Whittaker, son of a gardener on a wealthy English estate, claws his way to riches using his wits, knowledge, and sheer bravado. By the time his daughter, Alma, is born in Pennsylvania, Henry—though barely literate—is one of the richest men in the world. Alma’s mother, Beatrix, is a well-educated, forceful Dutch woman who makes sure that Alma receives a top-notch classical education. At age nine, Alma understands calculus, Latin, and, more than anything else, botany.

Alma’s life takes a turn when her parents adopt the abandoned daughter of one of their tenants. Prudence is the same age as Alma and is radiantly beautiful, and for the first time in her life, Alma realizes that she is plain and unattractive. Despite the satisfaction she derives from the brilliant intellectual life that her father cultivates on their estate, Alma yearns for love, but hides the affection she feels for a family friend. Late in her life, she meets a man who is different from the scientists she has known, a man who revels in the spiritual world, and who seems to understand her desire to discover that unknown quality that underlies all of life and ties all living things together.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, has shown great writing prowess in following her memoir with this epic historical fiction novel spanning several generations and continents. Even though Alma is not the most relatable heroine in fiction, the reader’s heart is bound up in her search for significance and her scientific mind’s desire to understand human relationships. She is brilliant, ingenuous, and resilient. I must admit that the ending was not what I had hoped, but it was fitting for this woman who devoted her life to endless research. Gilbert’s writing was polished and appealing all the way through, and even the artwork—botanical prints from Alma’s age—lent the novel authenticity and beauty.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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It Passed the House!!!

File:NC Legislature.JPGNorth Carolina House Bill 1220, Hope 4 Haley and Friends, passed the full House on Thursday with the final vote 111 to 2! We are so thrilled. The two representatives who voted against are both Democrats, Rep. Dana Bumgardner from Gaston County, and Rep. Carl Ford from Cabarrus and Rowan counties. Interesting. You can see the official legislative record here.

I spoke with Acy Watson from Senator Brent Jackson’s office today, and he feels that the key in the Senate will be to get the bill through the Republican caucus, where it will land on Monday morning, June 23rd. That means that you only have tomorrow, Friday, to call your senator! Find out how here. Help him not to be afraid to vote in favor of legalizing cannabidiol to help children suffering from intractable epilepsy.

Our neighbor, Steve Carlin, will be on WRAL tonight at 11:00, and he hopes to get area neurologists, who work with these children every day, to educate the senators and the public on the safety and efficacy of this treatment. He shared a verse that his pastor brought to his attention concerning this struggle:

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” – Isaiah 6:8 (ESV)

What about you? Will you go?

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They Didn’t Want to Do It


Rep. Pat McElraft

Rep. Mark Hollo, the chairman of the NC House Committee on Health and Human Services, canceled the meeting last night in which the Hope 4 Haley bill would have been considered.  Rep. Hollo had repeatedly refused to meet with families of children with intractable epilepsy, even when they showed up in his office. Needless to say, the parents of these suffering children were extremely discouraged last night, and could not be comforted by assurances that the bill would be taken up in the long session next year. Every day is precious for a child with constant seizures.

Unexpectedly, the bill (House Bill 1220) was added to tonight’s committee meeting, and our neighbor, Steve Carlin, was in time to speak to the legislators. By the time he was finished, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room, and the bill passed unanimously! What a turnaround in twenty-four hours!

Rep. Pat McElraft, the sponsor of the bill, expects that it will pass a committee meeting tomorrow morning, since many of the bill’s co-sponsors are on the committee, and then will make it to the full House by tomorrow afternoon. If all goes smoothly, it should reach the NC Senate by next week. Many thanks to Representative McElraft for her tireless work for these families.

Here’s the rub: The Senate does not want to hear the bill. They are still not educated about cannabidiol and believe that the bill is too controversial. It is an election year, and I suppose winning elections is more important to some of them than saving children’s lives. It is up to us to show them that the people of North Carolina have better values than that. Please find out how to contact your state senator here and let him or her hear from you by Monday. Think how many lives could be saved by just a phone call or an email!

Pray, pray, and then pray some more.

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Trends in Christian Children’s Publishing: BEA #4

ImageMy very first conference at Book Expo America this year was called “Trends in Christian Children’s Publishing.” I was glad to find this on the itinerary, since inspirational children’s titles have been a growing hole in our collection. Many of the older titles are phasing out, and the reviewers don’t provide a lot of information on new offerings. Perhaps they just don’t know much about this niche market, and I have to admit that I am not always a big fan of what’s coming out of most of the Christian publishing houses these days. Of course, most Christian publishing companies are now part of huge secular corporations. Zondervan, for example, is a subsidiary of HarperCollins. This workshop gave me a lot of great information that will help me to make some solid new selections for the library system.

As a Christian, it really bothers me that an inspirational sticker on the spine almost guarantees that there will not be a literary award sticker on the front. We are not talking about the Bible or C.S. Lewis here– and there are notable exceptions– but most books written expressly for the Christian market are formulaic and mediocre. This is true for both fiction and nonfiction. In adult books, fiction is full of prairie romances and treacly chick-lit. The nonfiction marketing game is to get a megahit self-help book that instructs the reader to repeat this prayer, turn around three times, and click his heels together so that God will give him everything his heart desires. Once the publishers find the hit title, they repackage it for each little demographic: a pink one called Heel-Clicking for a Mom’s Heart, a boldly-colored one called Cool Heel-Clicking for Teens, and a primary-colored 365 Family Devotions for Heel Clickers. Ah, capitalism.

100 CupboardsNot that there are no great Christians writers out there. There are, but many of them are not writing under Christian publishing contracts, and I imagine that it’s for the same reason that many Christian musicians would rather release their music with a secular music label: they just don’t want to fit their creativity into someone else’s box. Marilynne Robinson and Annie Dillard are winning Pulitzer Prizes with MacMillan and HarperCollins, and Nathan Wilson (Douglas Wilson’s gifted son) and Mitali Perkins are writing excellent children’s books with Random House. Christian authors do sometimes write for specifically Christian publishers, of course, but I hesitate to name names, since it is inevitable that I will miss someone wonderful. Eric Metaxas wrote his masterpiece, Bonhoeffer, with Thomas Nelson, and Andrew Klavan writes teen thrillers with them, as well. Ted Dekker writes truly terrifying tales for Worthy Publishing, another Christian outfit, and many others are noted below. I am eager to discover new writers who will raise the level of the craft for all of us.

In any case, on a Thursday morning, I walked a few blocks up 35th Street to the Javits Center for the very first official day of Book Expo America. The Javits is this enormous glass building that takes up six city blocks and is surrounded by construction zones. Just before 11:00, I walked what seemed like several miles down the stairs and into the conference section of the building for a workshop called “Trends in Christian Children’s Publishing.” The four panelists were representatives of Zondervan, Thomas Nelson’s children’s division (called Tommy Nelson), and Big Ideas. You remember Big Ideas: they produce the adorable VeggieTales stories.

Zondervan logoThe Zondervan representative spoke first, and she was very instructive on Zondervan’s many imprints for children. Their new teen line, Blink, is intended to be a “clean reads” selection of titles. Clean Reads are not supposed to be as evangelistic as traditional inspirational titles, but a Christian parent can feel good about handing one to his or her child. There may be religious characters in the story, but converting the reader is not the goal of the book. In the past, the emotional conversion scene was de rigueur, and often felt somewhat forced. Sometimes teen inspirational titles had such gritty characters and plot lines that the delicately reared Christian child could learn about shocking issues that they had never known existed, even though the library had placed an inspirational sticker on the spine. The point of the book was to lead teens from all sorts of situations to Christ, but the sticker would keep the goth/drug-addicted/gang member reader from ever picking up the book. Once the Christian parent figured out the content of the series, their children would never read them, either. Talk about narrowing your audience! Season of WonderWith Clean Reads, though, the parents know that there will be no sex or profanity in the book, so it is safe for their kids. If your kids are already believers, that may be all you need. I have purchased several Blink titles already, just because of the good reviews. They have themes and plots that will be enjoyed by today’s teens. Check out Lisa Tawn Bergren’s “Remnants” series, for example. As a matter of fact, check out everything by Bergren; she’s a terrific author. I love her “River of Time” series, published by David C. Cook. We have her titles in ebook, as well.

On a younger level, Zondervan has the Faithgirlz imprint. This line is more obviously Christian than Blink, with cute, girly covers intended for upper elementary and tweens, whatever that is. (I have a niece who thought she was a tween when she turned nine.) For boys, they have the new series “Game Face,” with the first title, Snap Decision. The cover shows a guy-friendly football huddle. Teen and younger girls will also enjoy the series “Soul Surfer,” based on the life of Bethany Hamilton, the surfer who lost her arm to a shark several years ago. We just received Hamilton’s nonfiction title, Body & Soul: A Girl’s Guide to a Fit, Fun, and Fabulous Life. Very nice. There are many more series and authors by Zondervan, including Sally Lloyd-Jones’ exceptional Jesus Storybook Bible, so I am a dedicated customer.

Thomas Nelson logo

DreamtreadersThomas Nelson publishes the very popular books by Wayne Thomas Batson. If you’re not familiar with them, these are fantasy or swashbuckling tales, probably targeted for boys twelve and up, but since girls are broader readers, they may like them, as well. The covers are fantastic. Frank Peretti, Jerel Law, and Jason Lethcoe are other popular Thomas Nelson authors for the same age range.

Tommy Nelson has the corner on the Heaven Is for Real children’s adaptations, and they are the publishers for Max Lucado’s beautiful picture books. I Love You All the SameJust last week, the library received the big board book, I Love You All the Same, by Donna Keith. This lovely title features a family of bears—all different kinds of bears. It is the sweetest story of interracial adoption that I’ve seen for the very littlest children. I know so many Christian families who have adopted children from many ethnicities, and this book is perfect for them and for all of their friends. Kudos to Thomas Nelson.

Big Ideas, or VeggieTales, is producing video content more than anything else, but there are books that are based on the video stories. True, you don’t get the fun songs and silly voices, but if your kids already love the characters, why not get them reading with Larry the Cucumber and Bob the Tomato? Great Big Veggie StorybookI was delighted to find that VeggieTales is making a comeback! Mike Nawrocki, the man who is the voice of Larry the Cucumber, was on the panel and gave us an unexpected and convincing demonstration of Larry’s voice. They plan to bring out beginning readers for the “I Can Read” imprint, as well as books of prayers and My Great Big Veggie Storybook. I hope to be able to purchase these soon for a new generation of Veggie lovers.

After the workshop, I wandered around the exhibitor space— thousands of square feet on the third floor—and found Shadow Mountain Publishing. It turns out that I have been buying their books by Brandon Mull and Obert Skye for years without realizing that Shadow Mountain is a Mormon-based publishing house that prints “clean reads” and what they call “value-based” books for all ages.13th Reality I can say that their staff at BEA were the nicest and most helpful of all of the publisher reps. that I encountered, followed closely by DK—but only after the DK reps. found out how much money I have to spend. Shadow Mountain also publishes the popular new “Janitors” series and the phenomenal James Dashner’s “13th Reality” series. They have a few cookbooks, most notably The Romney Family Table. Not a Christian publishing presence, but a safe choice for children’s fiction.

To cover all faith-based publishing, I would have to include the wonderful Jewish voices out there, as well as emerging Muslim children’s writers, but that is for another day. This workshop and the resulting research have helped to guide me to great new titles for the library, and I hope this article will help parents to some new reading experiences for their families. It is encouraging to know that there are still Gideons out there, beating out the wheat in the winepress.* Let’s find them.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this article, while brilliant, are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer, my church, or anyone else.

*Judges 6:11

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We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart

ImageThe Sinclairs are part of the beautiful people. They are wealthy, privileged, untouchable. They are all tall and blond, athletic, with toothy smiles. Harris and Tipper Sinclair had three beautiful daughters, Carrie, Bess, and Penny, and these three girls grew up to have children of their own who were taught never to fail, or at least, never to reveal it in public.

Harris Sinclair owned a private island off the coast of Massachusetts where his entire clan spent their summers. Every summer, Cadence, the oldest grandchild, and her cousins soaked in the freedom and sweetness of months together, each family in its own mansion, coming together for meals and family gatherings.

Somehow, though, the fathers all fell away. When they were eight years old, the cousins—Cady, Johnny, and Mirren—were joined by Gat, the son of Carrie’s new boyfriend and Johnny’s best friend. Harris and Tipper did not approve. Gat was not tall and blond; he was dark, and his last name was Patil. The four children were the best of friends, though, and they called themselves the Four Liars.

By the time she was fifteen, Cady was sure that she was in love with Gat. She spent her entire school year looking forward to summer, when she could see him again. This summer was different, though. Gat was confusing in his attentions to her. Could he have a girlfriend at home? Furthermore, the mothers were being set against one another by Harris, now that Granny Tipper was gone. He wondered aloud about his estate and how he would dispose of it, and the mothers started drinking a lot and fighting.

And then something happened that changed everything. Cady can’t remember what it was. Her mother found her on the beach in her underclothes, lying halfway underwater in shock. She spent time in the hospital and began having migraines. The next summer, Cady is packed off for a European tour with her estranged father, even though she wants to go to the island. The more she tries to figure out what happened, the worse her headaches become.

Lockhart has written a novel that explores the intricacies of family relationships, both the bright and beautiful elements and the unspoken, malignant manipulations. Even after listening to E. Lockhart discuss unreliable narrators at a BEA panel, there was a certain point in this novel at which I was quite sure of the answer to the mystery. I was wrong. You will be, too. Lockhart signed my copy of this novel as she does all the others: “Please lie about this book.” I didn’t lie, but I certainly haven’t told you the whole truth. You’ll have to read it to find out.


Disclaimer: I read a signed copy of this book, given by the author. (Yay!) Opinions are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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