This is my first post since September 2023 and that means I’ve done exactly what I told myself I wouldn’t ever do when I created this site. I have skipped out on posting for more than four months. Yikes.
Yeah. Four months is a long time to not post any new blogs or reviews here. If you follow me on my Facebook author page (BarbHopkinsWriter), and of course you do, you’ll have seen many posts, often daily, including links to book reviews that I’ve shared via Goodreads. I’ve kept up there, but alas, I’ve not transferred those posts over to here.
So I’m posting today and my goal is to add at least one new blog post or book review here each month. That seems doable and who knows, maybe it’ll lead to something more.
I am happy to share that I have been exceedingly busy (hence the no posts) since last September, and it’s been a good busy. While I’m continuing full speed ahead with my middle grade and YA writing, I also have a new, extremely exciting project in the works as well. I can’t fully announce it here and now, but next month I can share more.
If you’ve hung in there with me during this hiatus, I truly appreciate your patience! 2024 is a new year (and yes, I know we’re already halfway through the second month) and I’m super excited for all it’s going to bring.
For a book that is 40 years old (I can’t believe I just typed 40 YEARS OLD!), Friends for Life by Ellen Emerson White holds up fairly well. Friends for Life was Ellen Emerson White’s debut in 1983. I don’t think I read the book the year it was released, but likely a year or so later, probably picking my copy up from our local Waldenbooks.
This YA mystery focuses on Susan who has moved back to her old Boston neighborhood for her senior year of high school after having been gone since the eighth grade. Her old boyfriend is still there as is Colleen, her best friend since childhood. The day after she moves back, her best friend turns up dead by an overdose. Susan is devastated but doesn’t believe it was an overdose or suicide. Because of something Colleen had said, Susan is convinced it’s murder and sets about trying to find the killer.
Friends for Life is a fast read, shorter than a lot of YA books of today, but it’s got a decent mystery that will keep a reader turning pages. I can’t remember when I last read it, but it was one that I had reread multiple times as a teen and it was fun to come back to it. I still like it. For an 80s mystery, it’s a good one and I’d recommend it.
My husband and I enjoy day trips exploring new-to-us towns, museums, and attractions. We’ve lived in the Kansas City area for less than 10 years and we’re continually finding amazing places. Recently, we hit a total gem!
The National Museum of Toys & Miniatures is located on the campus of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, just a few blocks south of the popular Country Club Plaza shopping and entertainment district. Parking for the museum is off 52nd Street. There is a fee to get in and be sure to check for hours of operation before you go.
I have to tell you that I’ve always been a lover of all things miniature. When I was nine years old, my parents built me a VanBuren Dollhouse from a kit and it was AMAZING. My dad built a bunch of the furniture and mom crocheted rugs and sewed curtains. We all had a blast making tiny food for it from salt-dough. I loved my dollhouse! Visiting this museum with an entire floor of tiny things and dollhouses was a dream for me. My husband also appreciates the artistry and immense skill that goes into these pieces, as do I. Stunning craftspersonship!
By the numbers the museum has:
2 centuries of dollhouses on display
21,000+ fine-scale miniatures
1,000+ tiny chairs
And the collection is continually growing.
One exhibit that made my reader/writer heart swell, was a beautiful dollhouse designed as a rendition of Miss Marple’s cottage. Yes, that Miss Marple—the one and only fictional detective created by Agatha Christie. Below is a picture and it really doesn’t do it justice. It was gorgeous! The attention to detail blew me away and it’s just so much fun.
I was excited to receive HUMANBORN by Joanna Maciejewska as an ARC and the book totally lived up to my expectations—I enjoyed it so much I immediately ordered the paperback copy to add to my bookshelves and I’m now eagerly awaiting book two.
Magic has retired to Ireland, but it came with a price. Kaja Modrzewska is a cursed humanborn living in Dublin after the Magiclysm and war that took the lives of both the humanborn and mythborn. A former wartime scout, Kaja now makes her way as an information broker while trying to keep the chaotic magic that surges through her body at bay. Some day her body will give way, and the magic will take over, making her an Afflicted. When that happens, it’s game over.
Working with the mythborn Court brings its own set of challenges, especially when paired with an elite group of warriors to help solve a rash of bombings targeting both humanborn and mythborn. Kaja must navigate through deceptions, choose allegiances, and face her own mortality while trying to figure out who is behind the bombings.
I loved Kaja from the opening pages to the very end. She’s smart, a bit sarcastic, resourceful, and she’s not afraid to look at the big picture and do what’s right. The evolution of her relationship with mythborn Riagan was fun to read and I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops in the next book. The main story lines were successfully tied, and I loved how author Joanna Maciejewska leaves just enough “wanting” to make us ready to get our hands on book two.
If a fantasy book with minimal romance, engaging political/court intrigue, an immersive magic system, and a smart, strong female protagonist is what you like to read—go grab a copy of HUMANBORN right now. For more information about HUMANBORN or other books by Joanna Maciejewska, including her “By the Pact” series, please head over to her website: authorjm.com
As a fan of Alysa’s “The Verdigris Pawn”, her new middle grade book BETWEEN MONSTERS AND MARVELS was one I had been eagerly awaiting. Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC!
When I read MG books, I always think back to my own days as a kid, often reading under the covers past bedtime with a flashlight. BETWEEN MONSTERS AND MARVELS is most definitely a book kid-Barb would have not been able to put down.
Dare Coates is an awful girl. She’s been told that her whole life and she believes it. But Dare is so much more than what she, and everyone else thinks she is. Dare is wise and inquisitive and utterly fearless. One of my favorite quotes about Dare is:
“She was happy to be a thornbush among the lilies for even the sharpest thorns serve a purpose.”
After tragedy strikes and Dare is sent away from her isolated island home to live with a distant relative in a gritty city on the mainland, Dare discovers the stories she’s been told all her life about monsters may not be precisely true. Beyond Dare’s quest to uncover the truth about the monsters, giving the reader ample pages of action, mystery, magic, and creepy moments, this book also tackles deeper themes including grief, societal inequalities, and corruption. I think it’s important for young readers to delve into stories that show a MG protagonist questioning the actual truth of what has been considered “known” history.
One of my absolute favorite things about Alysa Wishingrad’s writing is her ability to completely command my attention with details that immerse me into the story and make me not want to leave. Her vivid descriptions of the island, Dare’s time on the ship, the city, and especially the theater centered me into Dare’s world. I also love that Dare finds friendship in unexpected places and how she learns that maybe she doesn’t have to always go it alone. That’s an important message for any age of reader.
I highly recommend BETWEEN MONSTERS AND MARVELS for middle grade readers, teens, and adults because there is something there for every age. It’s a beautifully written book and I’d love to read a sequel because I wasn’t ready to leave Dare and her world when I hit the last page.
You can find out more about BETWEEN MONSTERS AND MARVELS at Alysa Wishingrad’s website. Pop over and visit her there and be sure to check out “The Verdigris Pawn” as well, it’s a fantastic middle grade read you don’t want to miss.
Spring has sprung! Actually, we had snow flurries recently, but we’ve also had some gorgeous days filled with sunshine and warmth. While I’ve been very much looking forward to spring days versus wintery gloom, I’ve also been counting down the days to the annual KS/MO SCBWI Writing Retreat. The retreat was last weekend and it was wonderful!
First, quick backstory. I’ve been a member of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) for five years. It’s one of those memberships that I’m so happy I have and I wish I would have joined earlier. As an active member in my regional chapter KS/MO SCBWI, I’m the New & Lapsed Member Coordinator, a participant in critique groups, webinars, our annual regional conference, and for the last two years I’ve attended our writers’ retreat.
But let’s talk writers’ retreat.
The KS/MO SCBWI organizes an annual writing retreat in the spring to the picturesque Conception Abbey. It runs a full weekend (Friday afternoon through Sunday afternoon) and it has become one of my MOST favorite things to do as a writer. If you’ve never attended a writing retreat and are curious about how it is, I’m going to share a bit about the KS/MO SCBWI annual retreat and why I find it to be incredibly beneficial to me as a writer.
I’ve never attended any other writing retreat and my experience may not necessarily reflect those of other attendees. Having the opportunity to not only spend a weekend with other Kid Lit writers, but also to have serious consecutive hours to focus on writing, research, and planning for my current WIP as well as projects that will take me through the rest of 2023.
The retreat isn’t just quiet/solitude time to connect with your inner muse and bang out all the words. This retreat has a fantastic balance of professional presentations, group critique sessions, and social time that is filled with laughter and fun.
I love the opportunity to workshop a project with a critique group that isn’t my regular, monthly CPs who have already seen the pages multiple times. I find fresh eyes to be extremely helpful and it gives me the opportunity to read pages from new-to-me writers, which is a lot of fun.
If you have the opportunity and ability to attend a writing retreat, I encourage you to consider it. I was hesitant last year to go because I’d never been and wasn’t sure if I could justify the expense and the time away. For me, it’s worth it. Not only do I learn a lot from the visiting industry professional and the other writers, but having an entire weekend to bounce ideas off writing friends IN PERSON is amazing!
Have you ever gone to a writing retreat? If so, is it one you’d recommend? I’d love to hear from you.
I wish I could remember who recommended I pick up TWELFTH by Janet Key because I’d really like to thank them. Mysteries are my favorite and expanding my middle grade mystery shelf is one of my favorite things to do.
A 60-year missing diamond ring, a Shakespearian play, and a series of riddle-like clues help set the stage for a mystery-adventure that quickly ensnares Maren, a first-time camper at the Charlotte Goodman Theater Camp. While TWELFTH delivers a solid and satisfying mystery, it also gives the reader complex, realistic, and diverse characters that we need not only in middle grade fiction, but in all stories.
Set in a theater arts camp, the story is told in dual timelines with the “present day” set in 2015 — and there is a reason for this particular year as it ties into the stories. As a former theater kid and as a kid who went to summer camp, I found this book incredibly immersive with fabulous details and insights into what it’s like to rehearse a play and prepare for a performance.
For readers of all ages, TWELFTH will resonate. It deals with the complexities of mental health, bullying, and gender diversity. I highly recommend reading all of the Bonus Material at the end of the book as the interview with Dr. Jennifer Feldmann on gender diversity is wonderful.
Visit author Janet Key at her website for more information about where you can get a copy of TWELFTH and to find out about her other upcoming projects.
CHAOS RISING is everything I wanted from a Thrawn book. Timothy Zahn weaves a believable backstory for one of the iconic characters of the Star Wars universe. I absolutely enjoyed the “memories” chapters with a young Thrawn and his early student/cadet days plus the insight into his original family and connections with the Mitth family.
I loved every scene with his analysis of artwork as insight to battle tactics, something that we expect to see from Thrawn and Zahn didn’t disappoint. The character development of young Thrawn to Captain Thrawn also worked for. I particularly liked his interaction with Thalias and the young sky walker Che’ri.
“There were dangers out there in the darkness, hidden worlds and tyrants who sought conquest and destruction.” (chapter one, page 17)
“Art mirrors the soul, from which tactics arise. One can see in artwork the strengths and weaknesses of those who created it.” (Thrawn)
“. . . negative information was still information.” (Thalias musing about Thrawn)
“All beings possess imagination to varying degrees. It can be encouraged and nurtured, or can sometimes shine out in moments of stress. But curiosity is a choice. Some wish to have it. Others don’t.” (Thrawn)
“The cautious path merely guarantees a slow slide to irrelevance.” (Mitth Patriarch)
GREATER GOOD dives deeper into Thrawn’s days as a Senior Captain in the Expansionary Defense Fleet. Book two of the trilogy continues the search for the mysterious enemy that has set out to destroy the Chiss. The enemy deftly begins to sow discord among the Chiss Nine Ruling Families and the Forty Great Houses, forcing Defense Fleet warriors to choose: Family or Military.
Again, the “memories” chapters were artfully constructed and some of my favorite pages as they allowed intriguing insight into the moves and countermoves of the enemy. As always, Thrawn doesn’t disappoint. His tactics intrigue me and I enjoy the reactions of the enemies as well as his peers as they try to figure out what he’s doing and if it will actually work. If you enjoy reading space battles, GREATER GOOD has plenty and the action keeps the pace moving.
One of my favorite aspects of this book, and of the trilogy as a whole, is the detailed immersion into the Chiss family structures and how it’s intertwined with the politics and military. GREATER GOOD is a solid book two in the trilogy, ending on a “what?!” moment that I loved.
“We don’t do things just because they’re easier. We do things because they work.” (Mid Captain Samakro)
“It can be tactically advantageous for an enemy to believe in limits that don’t actually exist.” (Thrawn)
“The odds are never impossible, merely unfavorable.” (Thrawn)
From the inside book cover: “But the truth of a family’s legacy is only as strong as the legend that supports it. Even if that legend turns out to be a lie.”
LESSER EVIL concludes the Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy. It is moves and countermoves, family versus family, and a series of what seem like inconsequential events that ultimately lead to the potential fall of a civilization. However, Thrawn will look into the deep past of the Chiss to save its future.
The “memories” chapters in LESSER EVIL are my favorite from all three books. I loved the story they told and it provides essential insight into who Thrawn is at the core and that makes it easier to understand the Thrawn we know from his Empire era. Author Timothy Zahn paints a clear picture of Thrawn and his relationship with Thrass, the one Chiss who truly becomes his friend, his brother.
The longest book of the trilogy, LESSER EVIL packs a punch with intense battles, twisty political ploys, back-stabbing family games, and still manages to weave in lighter moments at just the right time with banter on the starship bridge and insightful moments from our main character. Book three expertly wraps up the multitude of storylines, big and small. The final 100 pages were some of my favorites as Zahn gives the reader closure where it’s needed.
I knew going into the trilogy that somehow it would set things up for the next stage of Thrawn’s career, namely his exile and immersion into the Star Wars world as we know it. As a reader and long-time fan, I like the way the book concludes and how it leads us into what we know is coming next, especially if you’ve read THRAWN by Timothy Zahn (published in 2017).
“In my experience, superior wisdom can stand on its own merits. It does not require a warship to force acceptance.” (Thrawn)
“Never throw away a possible weapon when it’s unnecessary to do so.” (Thrawn)
“And if there was one thing Ar’alani had learned about power, it was that for far too many people a small and fleeting taste wasn’t nearly enough.” (Admiral Ar’alani)
“Allies of convenience are still allies.” (Thrawn)
Author Ben Gartner has packed a galaxy of heart-pounding, sci-fi action into an unputdownable middle grade book that will capture the hearts and imagination of all ages. One Giant Leap is a book that 11-year-old me would have devoured in one sitting. I immediately connected with Fin Scott, loved the idea of the StellarKid Project, and was enthralled with every detail Gartner exquisitely incorporated into this thrilling story.
“I’m pretty sure I’m about to die in space. And I just turned twelve and a half.“
One Giant Leap by Ben Gartner
Fin Scott has won a place in the StellarKid Project and it’s an out-of-this-world opportunity! He’s blasting off to the International Space Station en route to the Gateway outpost that orbits the moon, but issues begin even before lift-off. When the team finally is in space, the unthinkable happens—a collision with space junk that immediately turns their epic journey into a race for survival.
While my readers and social media followers may associate me more with mysteries and thrillers, I am also a science fiction fan and I especially love realistically space stories. One Giant Leap is exactly that, a space adventure story that feels completely real on every page. The research conducted for this book amazes me, I highly recommend reading the author’s notes at the end.
I am grateful to Ben Gartner for offering me an ARC of One Giant Leap and I can’t wait to get my hands on a print copy when the book releases on February 21, 2023. Definitely add this middle grade book to your reading lists!
Pop over to https://bengartner.com/ to read more about One Giant Leap and how to pre-order your copy today. Be sure to take a look at Ben Gartner’s The Eye of Ra series too, it’s a historical adventure through time that you don’t want to miss.
Every October I like to read as many spooky books as I can. For me, it’s a fun way to celebrate fall and the Halloween holiday at the end of the month.
One of my staples, or books that I typically read each October is Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie. It’s one of my favorite Christie books and if your’e looking for a classic mystery with a Halloween setting, you can’t go wrong with this book.
I did read a few other adult spooky books this month as well. One was the non-fiction book titled, Chasing Ghosts: A Tour of Our Fascination with Spirits and the Supernatural by Marc Hartzman. It was one I found through a BookBub promo and I’m so glad I grabbed the ebook for my Kindle. It has chapters on famous American ghosts and haunted places and is one of those reads where I found myself saying, “Oooh, I did not know that!”
Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson was more of thriller/mystery than spooky story, but I added it to my October reading list because it was twisty and a solid mystery, so for me, ideal for this time of year. The last adult spooky book I read was Ghost Light by Clare McNally. It’s one I’ve been wanting to reread for a while. I first read it when I was about 13 and it scared me. Happy to report, it still gave me the chills. It’s a creepy story set in a theatre that’s haunted by a ghost child named Bonnie.
I didn’t grab any YA spooky stories this year, but I did read three fantastic Middle Grade ones! If you like chills and thrills in your middle grade fiction be sure to add these books to your reading lists:
The Clackity by Lora Senf
The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier
Fright Watch: Unmasked (Fright Watch Book 3) by Lorien Lawrence
To be honest, I love spooky books any time of the year. October is just an exceptionally fun month to read them. Moving ahead into November and for the remainder of 2022 my plan is to keep making my way through my TBR (to-be-read) pile, both ebook and print books. Keep an eye out here and on my social media (you are following me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, right?) for my current reads. There may be titles you want to add to your TBR as well.