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Category: 2017 Book Award Contest (Page 1 of 10)

My Little Red Jalopy – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

5 Stars

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Leanna Craig Lebato

My Little Red Jalopy, written by Leanna Craig Lebato and illustrated by Jose Ramos, is an absolute treasure. This is just the first in the author’s My Little Red Adventure series. The author takes readers, parents, children and teachers alike, on a playfully sweet journey alongside a young child, who appears to be on the cusp of being a tween, and Jammin’, their family dog. This young child and faithful sidekick learn what freedom, confidence and adventure feel like as they explore the area around and near their house in the little red car that the father surprised them with. Leanna Craigh Lebato opens doors for communication with young readers though when her young character faces the potential loss of the exciting, near-child-sized car in My Little Red Jalopy. Yet, the story ends on a note of happiness and gratitude.

Leanna Craig Lebato brings to life in the form of her characters stories from her own childhood. Incorporating the absolutely adorable illustrations from Jose Ramos really makes the story pop. The author’s words and the illustrations help children feel as though they are actually right there in the moment with My Little Red Jalopy’s driver with Jammin’ in the passenger seat. My Little Red Jalopy (My Little Red Adventure Books) (Volume 1) is a fun, colorful story that will delight young hearts and minds in both boys and girls. This artfully and skillfuy crafted story will make children dream of getting their very own little red jalopy and they’ll be asking their parents for more stories from My Little Red Adventure books. Well done!

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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Everything She Needed – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

5 Stars

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Christina Butrum

Christina Butrum’s Everything She Needed (A Cedar Valley Novel) is charming love story that will warm the hearts of romance readers everywhere. The wholesome story of love and everyday life between Rachel, Adam, Ava (Rachel’s daughter) and Tyler (Adam’s son) flows beautifully from the first page to the last. Butrum brings in a bit of controversy and worry when Ava’s biological father suddenly wants to see her after never spending time with her previously, and Adam must deal with his brother, Conner’s, semi-estrangement from the family. Yet, Everything She Ever Needed almost always has a soft-hearted feeling of love about it. It’s a beautiful, sweet story that readers can relate to.

Exceptionally well-written, Everything She Needed (A Cedar Valley Novel), is different from so many of the novels in the romance genre today. Christina Butrum doesn’t succumb to the Fifty Shades of Grey mentality that so many have. Instead, she stays true to writing clean and wholesome romance, with sexy hints of desire and passion mixed in. With only subtle hints to being a Christian romance, this is an endearing story that will appeal to those who wish for love stories that create a spark while not actually setting the pages aflame. Butrum gives readers insight into her characters skillfully without be overly descriptive. With a small town feel, readers will fall in love with Rachel, Adam and their family and friends. At the same time, Butrum skillfully sets readers up to keep an eye out for future books that will involve other characters within Everything She Needed. A warm and cozy romance, Christina Butrum’s Everything She Needed is a story readers will enjoy curling up with in their favorite reading spot to melt away their troubles as they are embraced by Adam and Rachel’s love.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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Rosemary for Remembrance – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

5 Stars

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Nikki Broadwell

A very unique story that reflects back upon a different time, Rosemary for Remembrance, by Nikki Broadwell, keeps readers curious from the very beginning. Rosemary Hughes and her husband, Dylan, experience unusual challenges in their relationship. Set in the 1940s and 1950s, the story takes readers into the lives of a well-to-do young woman, who marries an officer in the Army and is forced to change her attitude as an Army wife. Yet, Rosemary’s time immersed in her husband’s world is cut short when she and other civilians are sent back to the states due to the war. Sadly, Dylan disappears for many years when he become a prisoner of war. But, Rosemary for Remembrance has a deeper story than that of just a war-torn couple. Rosemary experiences odd visions and dreams throughout the story. Perhaps, they are even past life experiences. They’re far from enjoyable, but eventually they may help her recognize a unique bond with Dylan as they struggle with their marriage and their future.

Nikki Broadwell pulls readers into Rosemary and Dylan’s experiences in a couple of ways. Rosemary’s dreams or visions transport readers into a different world alongside her while Dylan’s journal entries take readers into his world. Through the character’s behavior and experiences the reader can easily envision the character’s lives decades ago. Rosemary for Remembrance started off in the 1950s, but quickly jumped backward to the couple’s early relationship and then progressed back to their current day. That felt a bit odd at first and may leave readers in limbo as there was a bit of a cliffhanger just before doing that. On the other hand, that choice by Broadwell may very well be a piece that keeps readers turning pages until they can discover just what will become of Rosemary and Dylan. Rosemary for Remembrance is a different and interesting war-time story with the unique twist of past lives. Nikki Broadwell has brought a different style of story to the romance genre. Nice job!

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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The Rite of Wands – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

5 Stars

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Mackenzie Flohr

In Mackenzie Flohr’s The Rite of Wands, twelve-year-old Mierta McKinnon is looking forward to his Rite of Wands ceremony, which will cement his role as a warlock. However, during the ritual, he experiences a haunting vision of the future – and of his own terrible demise. Meanwhile, sixteen-year-old Orlynd is another warlock, the soothsayer to the king, capable of seeing visions of the future. He’s not always taken seriously, though, to the detriment of those around him. Around them, a terrible plague is looming over the land, one that could devastate them all if it is not stopped.

In the beginning, it is a bit difficult to get the hang of The Rite of Wands, as in most fantasy novels as complex as this one. It takes a few chapters to get used to the dialects, pacing, and shifting perspectives, but the inclusion of language and dialect guides in the beginning of the book will help with that. Once readers get acclimated to the unique style of this book, they’re in for a treat. The Rite of Wands is much like the Harry Potter series in that it prominently features magic and is written for all ages; however, this book is also much different than Harry Potter in that it is more traditional and ethnic, though still unique.

The Rite of Wands is such an enchanting fantasy novel partly because of its complex, relatable, and believable characters. Mackenzie Flohr avoids the clichés of the genre, instead crafting a story that is so detailed, honest, and immersive that it’s hard to put the book down. Also, the descriptive language used is wonderful; although not extravagant, the words used paint a clear and vivid portrait for readers, and a very enjoyable one at that. The Rite of Wands is a great read for beginners or seasoned fans of the fantasy genre alike, and a promising start to what will inevitably be a phenomenal fantasy series.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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Gone North – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

4 Stars

Gone North

John McIlveen

Not yet available on Amazon.

John McIlveen’s Gone North follows two African American sisters from New Orleans, Emma and Thalia Holden, as they recount their youth in the 1960s. Emma, the older of the two, receives a great opportunity to work for a well-to-do family in Boston, with the added bonus of a college education while she’s there. However, once there, a blooming romance with a white man breeds uncertainty and passion. Thalia, epileptic and shy, remains in New Orleans with her parents – until tragedy strikes and rips the family apart. Even miles apart from one another, the sisters have an unshakable bond until the last of their days, when they sit down to finally tell their stories.

For a good portion of Gone North, it’s a bit unclear as to what the plot of the book actually is. Though entertaining, the Holden sisters’ narratives didn’t seem to have much rhyme or reason to them. This could be detrimental, as some readers may grow tired of this book long before the main storyline ever presents itself. However, it does prove to be interesting and captivating, largely because of the colorful, complex characters and their so-very-human stories.

What makes Gone North so fascinating, though, is the unique style in which it is written. John McIlveen wrote the sisters’ narratives as if they were reminiscing to their family members; Gone North is casual enough that it could pass for dialogue as they’re telling their family about their lives, but it is also formal enough to undoubtedly be a straightforward memoir-style book. This ambiguity is especially interesting, and certainly an effective approach. Gone North also tackles issues like race, disability, and culture, but does so in a subtle, tasteful manner that doesn’t overshadow the sister’s energetic tales. Gone North is a heartwarming, relatable story about love, sisterhood, and life’s treasures that readers of all walks of life are sure to enjoy.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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Always Darkest – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

4 Stars

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Jess & Keith Flaherty

In Jess and Keith Flaherty’s Always Darkest, angels and demons alike are consumed with the Emerald Hill prophecy, which foretells the birth of a girl with amazing abilities. The demon Ronoven is hiding on Earth, investigating the prophecy, disguised as a drifter named Ben. There, he meets Chris, who is also hiding secrets of his own. Then, “Ben” finds Malin, the subject of the prophecy and both the daughter of an angel and the last living descendant of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. There’s a lot in store for Mal, but she wants to be in control of her own destiny – which is easier said than done.

There are some aspects of Always Darkest that seem a bit too cliché, such as the prophecy in general, the angels vs. demons conflict, and the improbable, against-all-odds love story. Also, some parts of the story tend to be confusing, as the pacing is often jumpy and uneven. Other portions of this book seem to focus far too much on tedious exposition and foreshadowing and not nearly enough on moving the plot forward (it takes nineteen chapters for the three main characters to even be in the same room together, let alone get anything actually started).

Nevertheless, Always Darkest is quite an entertaining read. There’s a ton of great descriptive language and lighthearted humor in its pages, which serves to hold the reader’s attention even in the slower-paced portions of the book. Jess and Keith Flaherty have inserted a lot of fantastic creativity, religious imagery, suspense, and mystery into their work, making Always Darkest an interesting literary concoction in itself. Always Darkest is a unique combination of epic fantasy and contemporary romance, which is an intriguing recipe guaranteed to delight its unsuspecting readers.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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Recognizing the Real Me – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

4 Stars

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T. Lynn Tate

An African American novel with romance at the core, Recognizing the Real Me, focuses on two main characters throughout. Confidence (or Fi) Fuller and Nina, her sister, go through a number of ups and downs with their romantic relationships. In the midst of the love stories, author T. Lynn Tate, weaves in a touch of mystery as Fi’s boss seems to have a deep, dark secret. The two sisters always have each other’s backs whether dealing with their mother, their romantic relationships or difficult curve balls that life has a habit of throwing at them. In the end, they come out on top and stand strong in making decisions that are best for them. They ultimately do come to recognize their real selves.

T. Lynn Tate offers a refreshing perspective on the edge of being a romance. Recognizing the Real Me’s characters come across as real and relatable, which will likely help readers feel a bond with Fi and Nina. Unfortunately, there are numerous plot holes and large jumps in the timeline. This is a big drawback for the story. If Tate would tighten the story up and share less unimportant details, she would have room to paint a more colorful picture, so that readers become absorbed into the story. Tate has excellent potential with the core storyline, but it could use some work. Better pacing and more depth within the scenes as well as within the characters would add a lot to the story. T. Lynn Tate’s Recognizing the Real Me has a strong realism to it that, if tweaked a bit and fleshed out more, could cause readers to sing its praises to all of their girlfriends while anxiously awaiting the another book of Tate’s to be released.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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Who’s That in the Cat Pajamas – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

5 Stars

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Sojourner McConnell

An adorable chapter book for young children, Who’s That in the Cat Pajamas? (The Dolcey Series) gives young girls a powerful life lesson while allowing them to step into a fantasy. Sojourner McConnell brings to life a young fairy who has powerful magic that she’s only just begun to start using to help others. When Dolcey here’s a child in need, she has been taught by her mother how to implement her powers to offer guidance and assistance. Who’s That in the Cat Pajamas? is her first experience in actually getting to help. She hears a young girl named Emily and rushes off to not only find her but help her get through the challenging time she is facing.

The colorful imagery within Who’s That in the Cat Pajamas?, illustrated by Ellie Barrett, add an additional element of fun and fantasy to Sojoruner McConnell’s story. These occasional images help bridge a gap between young students who are ready to read more difficult books and embrace more complex concepts with readers who aren’t quite ready to give up the picture book feel. Who’s That in the Pajamas? is a very well-written story and has a fun story line all while sharing a message of hope and a lesson on how to cope with big life changes that are out of one’s control. Sojourner McConnell’s Who’s That in the Cat Pajamas?, the first in her The Dolcey Series, would make for a wonderful tool for parents who are looking for something to help their children deal with a big move away from family and friends. It’s simply a must read!

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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Damn Mind – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

5 Stars

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Jacqui Letran

Jacqui Letran’s second book in her Words of Wisdom for Teens series is another shining light for young adults. I would but my DAMN MIND won’t let me!: A teen’s guide to controlling their thoughts and feelings is a book written to help teenagers break patterns and gain a better understanding of how their mind works. Coming from the view point of clinical psychology and science, Damn Mind is an excellent secular resource. Letran not only breaks down technical scientific and psychological concepts into understandable chunks of information, but she wraps up the educational chapters with what she calls 60-Second Readers, which are bullet-poined summaries of the content from each chapter. In the last third of the book, she offers case studies. At the end of each of those chapters, she offers a tip and a self-reflection exercise. She also offers “free stuff” including the audiobook through a link on her website. Therefore, she gives readers the opportunity to explore further once they’ve read Damn Mind.

Written in language that is relatable to teens, Damn Mind is a quick and fairly easy read. Occasionally, some of the chapter sections are a bit heavy or complex in their wording, but Jacqui Letran quickly offers simpler language within the text. Throughout the the educational sections of the book she shares interesting information and unique ways of looking at things. For example, Letran shared and pulled out in a highlighted section that the conscious mind can only take in 1% of the information that it is being fed at any given moment. She also compared the importance of thinking in positive terms to doing a Google search – the mind nor Google pays attention to words such as “don’t”. Jacqui Letran asks deep and powerful questions in I would but my DAMN MIND won’t let me! I highly recommend Letran’s Damn Mind for teens everywhere.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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Stage 3 – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

4 Stars

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Ken Stark

Stage 3 by Ken Stark is a classic zombie apocalypse novel that follows cynical Hank Mason as he tries to survive the aftermaths of a mysterious virus that is spreading through the world. Packed with battles, escape plans and fears of infection, readers are given a chance to follow Mason as he fights for his survival.

Stark has written a book that fits well into the zombie genre. There are action packed sequences and a real sweetness in the relationship between Mason and ten-year-old Mackenzie, a girl he teams up with. Together they successfully fight off zombie hordes as they start to understand what has happened to the world and where their survival lies. The inclusion of the quest for Mackenzie’s aunt Sarah also adds something to this very simple plot. The writing style is simple, allowing Stage 3 to be a perfect quick read.

However, while true to the classics, Stage 3 offers nothing new to the genre. It is predictable, full of rehashed tropes. There are also stylistic problems with the novel ranging from the overly descriptive prose, which becomes tedious to read, repetitive dialogue and whole passages that do nothing but give Mason and Mackenzie another set of zombies to fight. These problems weigh down the novel, and even die-hard fans of zombie fiction may not be won over by the simple story.

Overall, Stage 3 is a very simple story. It fits into the zombie genre but does not offer anything new. This is a real pity as Stark’s simple writing style, when not bogged down by descriptions, makes for easy reading and would be great with a better suited to a plot with more depth.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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