Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

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Rothana Is Here – Come to the Facebook Party!

December 4, 2018

Book Two of the Star-Fae Trilogy has released!! Book One, Halayda, is one of my favorite books ever…so I am very excited about this. 😀

A new queen falls. A death lord rises. An ancient foe looms in the shadows.

Sylvie Imanthiya is desperate to lead Faerie well and deepen the bond with her husband, former king Taylan Ashkalabek. But all hope of that vanishes when the winter solstice ceremony ends in disaster, stranding her and Taylan in the Deathrealm, and stripping the kingdom from her.

With Faerie in chaos, Zad and Diza are separated once again: Zad to reconcile with an old mentor to stabilize the kingdom, and Diza to confront the nefarious Casimir in the mortal realm. But Casimir claims that a greater evil seeks to destroy both realms, an evil that Diza’s unique death magic can hold at bay—if she could only remember how.

In the Deathrealm, Taylan is succumbing to the lure of specters from his past, and pushing away Sylvie’s love. Overwhelmed by decay and darkness, Sylvie must summon unexpected magic from the soul of Kyure to fight for her convictions and her husband’s heart.

Shadows divide them. Their friends are in peril. If Sylvie fails, her marriage and her world will fall.

I had the privilege of reading this book in early draft stages, and OH MY GOODNESS. As much as I loved Halayda?…this book topped it. All the stakes are raised. Every character is even deeper and more awesome. (I won’t say any spoilers, but one moment with Zad had me jumping around and squealing with excitement. And another one with Sylvie, too!! *squee*)

Yes, I work with Uncommon Universes Press (the book’s publisher), but I’ve been a Star-Fae Trilogy fan since before then, and I write here as a fan – Rothana is amaaaazing. 😀 If you haven’t read Halayda, definitely check out Book One first.

And if you loved Halayda…brace yourself, because Rothana is even more mind-blowing and incredible. ❤️

Facebook Party!

I’m also excited to announce that there is a Facebook party coming up this Saturday…and I’m going to be one of the guest authors featured! There will be giveaways from Sarah Delena White, Morgan Busse, and myself, and games, and other fun – please come join us! Click the image below to check out the event.

Join Uncommon Universes Press and Laura A. Grace of Unicorn Quester to celebrate the launch of Rothana by Sarah Delena White! Includes games, giveaways, exclusive behind-the-scenes, and more. Also features guest authors Bethany A. Jennings and Morgan L. Busse. Save the date to hang out with these fabulous authors!

About the Author

Sarah Delena White was raised by wolves in an alternate dimension. She writes eclectic speculative fiction that reworks mythology with a fine balance of poetry and snark. She’s an experienced world traveler who loves to weave world folklore and ancient concepts into vibrant, original story worlds. She is the administrative manager for Uncommon Universes Press. When she’s not writing, she can be found making elegant designer bead jewelry, traveling to festivals as a professional ballad singer, drinking tea, and seeking to create the perfect latte. She can be bribed with dark chocolate.

Other Stops on the Blog Tour:

Monday, November 26th

Tuesday, November 27th

Wednesday, November 28th

Thursday, November 29th

Friday, November 30th

Saturday, December 1st

Monday, December 3rd

Tuesday, December 4th

Wednesday, December 5th

Thursday, December 6th

Friday, December 7th

Saturday, December 8th

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Book Review and Giveaway: Cora and the Nurse Dragon

February 2, 2016

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Cora’s a young girl with two dreams: to be a dragon jockey when she grows up and to own a pet dragon now. She constantly buys “egg packs” at the dragon emporium in hopes that one will hatch into a rare pet-sized dragon, but only gets short-lived mayflies. However, when an unexpected egg does develop into something new, Cora may be in over her head.

Don’t miss H.L. Burke’s Rafflecopter giveaway at the bottom of this post, which you can enter to win a paperback copy!

Ohhh, this book.

I am an enthusiastic fan of H.L. Burke books.  Each one seems better than the last!  So I was incredibly touched when she contacted me shortly after my daughter’s health crisis and asked if it would be all right if she named her main character in this story after my daughter, in honor of her AVF journey.

So going into this story, it was already special to me, and I expected to enjoy it.

But even so, it blew me away!

I read the entire thing in one sitting on an airplane ride, except for a small bathroom break (during which…let’s be honest…I would have been reading there too, except that airplane bathrooms are so small and hard to use! Ha!).

I was immediately entranced by the spunky protagonist, Cora, her hopes and goals, and the fascinating world, which resembles America’s 20’s or 30’s except that there are dragons – dragons kept as pets and beasts to ride.  I loved her friendship with Abry, and the girls’ dedicated approach to starting up their own business.  I loved the girls’ parents.  I even loved the antagonists!  All the characters were deep and multi-dimensional, and grappled with complex moral questions.  There are themes of racism, animal cruelty, friendship, kindness.  Yet the themes are never trite or moralistic, and naturally pour out from the story.

I cried in three different places.  I never cry reading books!

My only complaint was…why isn’t this book longer?  I want MORE! 😀

This is a wonderful book for ages 9 and up, or even a younger child if you were reading it aloud to them.  Highly recommended.

I can’t wait to read it to my own Cora when she’s old enough. 🙂

HLBurkeAuthor Bio:

Born in a small town in north central Oregon, H. L. Burke spent most of her childhood around trees and farm animals and was always accompanied by a book. Growing up with epic heroes from Middle Earth and Narnia keeping her company, she also became an incurable romantic.

An addictive personality, she jumped from one fandom to another, being at times completely obsessed with various books, movies, or television series (Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Star Trek all took their turns), but she has grown to be what she considers a well-rounded connoisseur of geek culture.

Married to her high school crush who is now a US Marine, she has moved multiple times in her adult life but believes that home is wherever her husband, two daughters, and pets are.

She is the author of a four part fantasy/romance series entitled “The Scholar and the Dragon”, featuring the books Dragon’s Curse, Dragon’s Debt, Dragon’s Rival, and Dragon’s Bride as well as the YA/Fantasy Beggar Magic. Her current projects are a young adult steampunk fantasy and an epic fantasy trilogy.

Sign up for her monthly newsletter at www.hlburkeauthor.com

Find her on:

Amazon – Facebook – Twitter – Goodreads – Blog – Instagram – Website/Newsletter

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Great Books for Teaching Little Ones About God

January 25, 2016

A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest. ― C.S. Lewis

I am rather persnickety in choosing Christian literature to share with my kids – a 4 year old, 3 year old, almost 2 year old, and a baby.  It is of utmost importance to me that the books are theologically sound according to our family’s understanding (we are Reformed Presbyterian) and contain the true gospel, not moralism.  I want Bible stories to be direct, either straight from the Scriptures or retold elegantly without embellishment.  It’s also important to me that such books respect children as intelligent human beings, handle the reality of sin honestly, and aren’t trite or cartoonish.  Needless to say, sometimes these kinds of books are hard to find.

So when I do find one, I’m thrilled and excited about it!  I love to share about resources I use, so here are some of my favorite books I’ve used for teaching my little ones about God.

ESV Illustrated Family Bible

I love this kids’ Bible because the stories are lifted straight from the ESV translation as short excerpts.  The illustrations are beautiful paintings instead of cartoonish ones, which is very important to me and gives kids something lovely to look at while you read actual Scripture to them.  My kids have all but destroyed our copy because they like to leaf through it on their own, even the littler babies and toddlers (who tend to tear pages)!

Possible negatives: it’s out of print and can be hard to find inexpensively.  As you can see from the cover, there are pictures of Jesus in the book, so this will make it unacceptable to families with a stricture view of the 2nd commandment.  Also, sometimes the illustration doesn’t quite tell the whole story – for example, we see Noah’s ark in the water but we aren’t shown the animals disembarking or Noah’s family offering sacrifices.  And of course there is the negative of it being actual Scripture…sometimes it is not very understandable to children even when the story is abridged.

Overall it’s a solid option if you want to read to your kids directly from Scripture, but want them to have nice pictures to look at while you do so.  I’m torn between buying another one to replace our shredded one, or upgrading to the ESV Children’s Bible, which is illustrated but includes the whole Bible.  (Also out of print – gah! Whyyyyyy?)

The Biggest Story by Kevin DeYoung

I can’t decide what is more awesome about this book – the fact that the illustrations are some of the most gorgeous, rich, mesmerizing Bible art I’ve ever seen…or the fact that this story summarizes the whole Bible in a short, 10-chapter book that can even be read in one (long) sitting if you want to!  It doesn’t stand alone as an introduction to the Bible, but as supplementary material to kids who already know the Gospel and many Bible stories, it’s fabulous.

It tells the story of man’s sin and Christ’s salvation, from Genesis to Revelation, with a strong emphasis on God’s relentless grace.  It was originally written as a Christmas Eve sermon, but translates perfectly to a story that can be appreciated for all ages.  See my Amazon review here.

The pictures are heavily symbolic, so if you avoid pictures of Jesus this may be a good fit for you.

The Donkey Who Carried a King by R.C. Sproul

We were given this book as a gift, and I wasn’t sure what to expect because I usually find these kinds of books shallow or contrived – but I was pleasantly surprised!  I very much enjoy reading this one to my children and knowing their minds are being sparked by it.

It’s a fictional story about a little boy who is having friend trouble.  His grandfather comforts him by telling him the story of Davey, a little donkey who was given a big task (carrying Jesus into Jerusalem).

The illustrations are lovely (Jesus is not shown), and although I’m not a huge fan of the on-the-nose application style, I do love the point of the book and the way it gives a new perspective on Christ’s death that children can relate to and ponder.  I definitely want to check out more of Dr. Sproul’s works of kids’ fiction!

My ABC Bible Verses from the Psalms by Susan Hunt and Richie Hunt

This is another one given to us as a gift.  My kids loved it.  They eagerly asked for it every morning at breakfast (when we do our devotions or Bible lesson every day).  The teaching is sound, and it’s rare to find a kids’ book that teaches from the Psalms.  There are 26 lessons, one Psalm verse featured for each letter of the alphabet.

Personally, I’m not a fan of the format – each lesson is a simple story about a group of kids who are learning to apply the verses to their lives, with lots of exposition from authority figures and some scenarios that seemed contrived to me.  But many kids truly benefit from these kinds of real-life applications they can relate to, and because my kids loved it so much it’s one of my favorites too.  I wish there were more story collections by the same authors, so I could get some more!

The Creation Story illustrated by Norman Messenger

I have to include this one, because it’s so drop-dead gorgeous.  These illustrations are rich and full of beauty, teeming with life.  The text is essentially taken straight from the Bible (I’m not sure what translation…it is very closely paraphrased).  It’s just the story of the seven days of creation, but it’s a beauty and definitely worth adding to your library.  Kids love to pore over these illustrations!

Note that the Amazon listing the photo links to is not the big hardcover version (which is what I have, and which seems like a better fit for enjoying the art).

Everything a Child Should Know About God by Kenneth N. Taylor

This is a good theology primer for very young toddlers or preschoolers who are very unfamiliar with Christian doctrine.  Each lesson is only a few sentences long, very simple, with a couple of application or comprehension questions or a prayer suggestion at the end.

The illustrations are rather cartoonish, but adorable and pleasant to look at (those who avoid illustrations of Jesus should not get this one).  I do wish that the book had been more direct about the gospel, sin, and judgement – too many kids’ books shy away from that hard content, and this one unfortunately tends to do that too.  But for what it contains, this is a good way to introduce your child to concepts like, “God is everywhere,” “Jesus loves you,” “What is the Bible?” and other basic introductions to the faith.  I liked it so much that I bought a couple of extra copies to give away to other families with toddlers.

Do you know of any excellent, Reformed resources for teaching children about God?  Please spill in the comment section!

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5 Best TV Shows on Netflix for Toddlers and Preschoolers

August 28, 2015

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My two oldest children are 4 and 3, and have sampled many of the children’s TV shows on Netflix.  Here are my five favorites of the shows currently available (as of August 2015).

1. Octonauts

This is hands-down my favorite kids show on Netflix right now.  It reminds me of an undersea children’s Star Trek – a team of cute animated animals live together in an underwater station/submarine, and travel around helping marine creatures.  There are two stories in each half-hour episode, and each story features a new sea creature or fish.

I love that the show is NOT centered around interpersonal conflict.  The characters care about each other, help each other, and rescue each other.  Each has a distinct role and personality, too, such as Peso – a Mexican penguin medic who is fearful of everything, but always summons up his courage once he realizes that someone needs help.  There are some moments of (very tame) peril, but even scary sea creatures like sharks are animated in a cute, harmless way and their voracious hunger is played for humor rather than fright.

And at the end of every episode is an adorable, fun theme song called the “Creature Report” which recaps everything they learned about the featured sea creature (along with a photo or video clip of the real-life animal).  My son, especially, has retained a lot of what he’s learned from this show.

Potential cons for some parents may be: occasional use of burps for humor’s sake, and some talk of “ghosts” and “monsters” (which of course always turn out to be perfectly normal sea creatures).

2. The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That

This is essentially The Magic School Bus for the toddler set!  In each story, two neighbor kids named Sally and Mick find a new conundrum to solve, and the Cat in the Hat shows up to whisk them away in his “Thing-A-Ma-Wigger,” a contraption that – like the Magic School Bus – can transform itself in all kinds of ways.  (They always get their mothers’ permission before leaving, too, which is a nice change from the Dr. Seuss books where things are done behind the mom’s back.)  They learn about animals, habitats, insects, and sometimes processes like how chocolate is made.  At the end of each episode is a random collection of animal facts and songs.

Potential cons: I can’t even think of any, except for the extreme catchiness of the theme song, which can be a bit annoying at times! 😛

3. Curious George

The Curious George show is very different from the books.  I have a major beef with the books – he always disobeys and makes all kinds of trouble, but never gets any consequences and is portrayed as a hero by the end!  But the TV show is NOT like this.  George still gets into mischief, but we see him try to right his mistakes and get reprimanded for them, and he always realizes that what he did comes with consequences to the other people around him.  By the end of each story things are made right again, and rather than learning he can get away scot-free, George has actually learned the importance of listening and staying out of trouble.  The result is that the show is a just a sweet, cute romp through an adventuresome monkey’s life as he learns new facts about the world around him.  It’s all about learning and exploration.

Potential cons: sometimes George imagines people crying in response to whatever trouble he made.  These “thought bubble” scenes (and other scenes where George or side characters are afraid) are disturbing to my son, who is rather sensitive to characters’ emotions.  I doubt most children would have a problem with it, but it’s a con for me.

4. Stella and Sam

This show wins the prize for “sweetest!”  It’s about a big sister who leads her brother in fun imaginary adventures, using ordinary, everyday things like leaf piles, sweaters, chairs, and rainbows.  It’s a very gentle, happy show that portrays and models kindness and affection toward your siblings, which I greatly appreciate.

Potential cons: unless you are opposed to discussion of imagination and pretend “magic,” I really can’t think of any!

5. Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood

There is a lot to like in this show.  It’s modeled after Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, except it’s about an animated tiger and his family and friends.  It’s like Mr. Rogers meets Blue’s Clues (which is not on Netflix – but it is free for streaming on Amazon Prime, if you’re looking for another great kids’ show and you are a Prime member!).

Every episode follows Daniel through a new experience, situation, or adventure…picking strawberries, going to the doctor, first day of school, trying new foods, first sleepover, etc.  One of my favorite things is that each episode teaches a short, simple song to help kids remember things like saying please, keeping your temper, or what to do when you’re afraid.  These are simple, helpful ditties that might actually help kids cope with new situations or unpleasant emotions.  There are also frequent interludes about using your imagination, in which Daniel imagines inanimate objects coming alive to sing with him.  At the end of every segment is a live-action portion with a child experiencing whatever Daniel did during the story.

Potential cons: again, unless you are opposed to the hefty use of imagination, there’s not much to critique here.  There are some episodes about fear, which might be something to consider if you have a sensitive child like my son.

A few short reviews of other shows you might check out:

Chuggington – This show follows a team of anthropomorphic trains who are “trainees” (get it?) learning to do their jobs.  There are lots of episode themes like responsibility, following directions, including others, and so forth.  Recommended!

 

Magic School Bus – This show is great, but it’s better for the older set, who will get more out of it.  There are also a few episodes I prefer to skip at this point because they focus on haunted houses or I’m concerned about other aspects of the content.  When my kids are a little older I’ll love it for them!  If you have a more advanced or older preschooler, this is still a great show to check out for them.

Mighty Machines – This is a cool show that just uses live footage of construction vehicles and adds voice-over vocals to make them talk about what they do.  A new type of machine is featured in each episode.  I’ve found my son adores this show but my daughters are disinterested.

Thomas the Tank Engine – I suppose most of us are familiar with Thomas.  It’s not a bad show!  Aside from some grumpy or ill-tempered characters, and the occasional supposed “ghost” (which isn’t real) I don’t know of many cons for it, but my kids don’t find it incredibly engaging.  They rarely ask for it.  Worth checking out especially for a younger toddler boy who loves trains.

Kipper – This animated show about a dog and his friends is very, very tame and quiet.  It’s visually minimalist, with quiet British voices.  I would like it more if it were not for the strange obsession with aliens…  For some reason every other episode is about Kipper encountering something that came from space, with spooky music.  Also, I’m pretty sure there are some episodes with a ghost.  I’m not a huge fan.  (Also, Netflix lumps the episodes into hour-long collections, rather than bite-size episodes by themselves.)

Clifford – My daughter asks to watch this occasionally. The characters can be so catty, and all the lessons it teaches are about doing the right thing – which, of course, means that they show the characters doing the wrong thing first, a concept that can be great for older viewers but for toddlers just seems like a great way to teach them bad behavior.  It’s not my favorite show.

Sofia the First – I saw a few episodes of this at a car dealership once.  They’re cute stories, but like Clifford, characters can be very catty and mean to each other (no need for my kids to learn that sort of behavior), and there was also an evil magician who was portrayed in a way I wasn’t comfortable with.

Trotro – The first time I saw an episode of this, the donkey was hiding his food under his napkin so he could go outside to play faster. Thanks for teaching my kids that cool new trick, Trotro!  Bye forever. *clicks back to main menu* 😛 There are so many cute shows for kids – I don’t want to spend time on TV that teaches my children new ways to misbehave.

Bob the Builder – Cute animated show about an architect/builder and his team of anthropomorphic construction vehicles.  Some shows have live-action segments with real builders, explaining how they construct homes, train tracks, or other structures.  Most of these on Netflix are “collections” of episodes, so they are over an hour long each, but definitely worth checking out, especially if your child is into construction vehicles.

LeapFrog educational videos – There are several of these short movies on Netflix, so it’s kind of like a short TV show season and worth including here.  They teach skills like counting, math, letters, and phonics.  The older ones are a bit annoying (terribly corny dialogue and music), but the newer ones with the digital animation style are much better.

Do you know of any other good shows for toddlers and preschoolers that can be streamed online?  Let us know in the comments!

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Emotion-Stirring Sci-Fi and Fantasy Short Stories by Christian Authors

August 12, 2015

I thought I would start a blog post listing great short stories by the Christian authors I know – stories I have both read AND recommend, that stirred my emotions as I was reading, or left me thinking long after the story was done.

All of these are 99 cents or free on Kindle, and I will add to this list as I discover more that I love!

1. Lucent Sylph by RJ Conte

Click to see on Amazon

Click to see on Amazon

Want something that leaves a little ache in your soul and inspires you to love others?

In lyrical language, this poignant literary sci-fi short tells a story packed with powerful concepts.  There are some amazing thoughts about the nature of love here, and some fascinating worldbuilding (you can learn more about the sylphs’ metaphysical world here at Annie Douglass Lima’s blog).  It is deep, and stirring, and will leave you thinking.

Here’s the description:

Lucas Thissel has something he fears: an alien species of palm-sized glass fairies called Lucent Sylphs. They came through a portal from a metaphysical dimension, and they indenture themselves as slaves to human beings. Too much neglect or unkindness, and they will cloud over and disintegrate. Too much love and their hearts are overcome and burst.

And one has attached herself to him.

2. A Stitch of Honor by K.M. Carroll

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Click to see on Amazon

Want something heartwarming with a little danger and suspense added in?

A Stitch of Honor starts out as an “adventure in space” type of story, and ends up being a touching, character-focused tale.  It’s a bit of a tear-jerker!  It’s a comfy sci-fi read for a rainy afternoon.

Here’s the description:

Captain Jefferies, of the research starship Pulsar, is on his way home after a long mission in deep space. He’s looking forward to real coffee and time with his wife–and he’s certainly not interested in that knitting kit that she sent with him.

When his ship is attacked by a hostile enemy ship, Jefferies finds his ship infected with an alien virus that kills randomly–and he’s hauling it back to Earth.

Now quarantined in high orbit, Jefferies begins knitting a scarf for each of his sick men, partly to pass the time while waiting for the virus to claim him, and partly as a gesture of honor. But will any of them survive the quarantine?

3. Beyond Price by Rebecca P. Minor

Click to see on Amazon

Click to see on Amazon

Want something with a dose of danger and adventure?

This book serves as an introduction to the author’s greater fantasy series, but works as a stand-alone short story too.  There’s a truly odious villain here, and an intriguing protagonist readers can root for.  It had me really anxious for the main character, to find out if she would escape!

Description:

Trapped beneath the stifling leadership of an unscrupulous caravan master, a half-elf gypsy seeks the truth of her worth. Veranna’s path to freedom is fraught with painful revelations. Only if she can embrace the meaning behind her visions will she muster the bravery to break the bonds that tether her to a bleak future.

I’ll update this post with more short stories as I find them! 🙂