Monday, April 14, 2014

Blog Tour de Toby Turtle 2014!

Pack your snorkel and fins. It's time for the Toby blog tour!

Toby is my upcoming picture book about a plucky sea turtle's adventures from egg to nest. I'll be signing books, talking turtles, divulging my innermost rhyming secrets (and just how many pencils I chewed through to finish this story!).

Without further ado, here is the tour call out:

Award-winning author Stacy Nyikos will be hosting a blog tour June 8-14, 2014, to celebrate the launch of her new book Toby.

Stacy is offering blog interviews, guest blogs, and a limited number of books for review and giveaways.  About Stacy Nyikos – In a quiet little office/at a comfy little desk/Stacy Nyikos chews on pencils/and scribbles silliness…when she’s not plucking splinters from her teeth, that is. Stacy holds an MFA is Writing (silliness) for Children from Vermont College. She spends her days chasing—or being chased—by stories. Toby is her latest catch. He sees it the other way around—catching her in the form of two very curious but courageous rescue sea turtle’s she met during a behind the scenes tour of her local aquarium. Either way, a lot of pencils got crunched writing his story.

About Toby - Birds, and crabs, and crocs - oh my! - stand between Toby and his new ocean home. Can he outslip, outslide, out-double flip and dive them? Join this plucky little sea turtle on his adventures from egg to ocean to find out!

Interviews and guest blogs should be completed prior to May 31, 2014.  This is a perfect opportunity for students, librarians and bloggers to access an award-winning author at no cost.  Bring the arts to life; involve students in the interview and blogging process.

If you require a book/book review prior to an interview, please let me know your mailing address.  We have a very limited number, so contact me right away.

The tour will be publicized by Provato Events through a press release prior to the event.  All interviews will be listed on the Provato Events Website and on Stacy Nyikos’ Blog with links to the blog sites. 

To participate in the blog tour, please contact me today. 

Thank you!

Michele Kophs
15114 NW 7th Ct. | Vancouver, WA 98685
360.597.3432 Direct | 646.219.4841 Fax

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Book Review Club - The Martian

The Martian
Andy Weir
Science Fiction - Adult

Pop quiz:
1) Do you ever stare at the night sky wondering if there is life out there?
2) Ever tried to levitate something with your mind?
3) Have you ever secretly (or not so secretly) watch Star Trek?

Houston, we have lift off. You like science fiction!

Science fiction has been fascinating readers from the moment Mary Shelley brought Frankenstein's monster to life. And writers of science fiction have been working to keep their edge ever since that first breath of life into their genre. Today, they're getting a little help from actual, real life physicists. Science fiction has become your basic rocket science.

How can this be? Some brilliant people at Tor had the great idea to pair up science fiction writers with NASA scientists. The result is a new list of science fiction titles, headed up by Andy Weir's, The Martian.

Basic premise: Robinson Crusoe on Mars.

More details: Mark Watney, a member of the Ares 3 Mars crew, accidentally gets left on Mars during the middle of a sandstorm. He has a habitat. He has oxygen and water. He has some food. But he doesn't have enough to last until the next Ares mission arrives. Cue creativity. How will Mark survive? Will NASA be able to help?

Weir's characters are wonderfully diverse and wickedly smart without being so smart they become inaccessible. The plot is scary believable. Accidents can happen, especially on a mission to a place as far away and foreign as Mars. The scientific does not way down the story, but rather, enhance it. Admittedly, there were moments when I did zone a little. Then again, that could have been the elliptical machine getting the better of me. I have books I "save" for work outs only. This was one. But I found myself sneaking more of The Martian whenever I could, like a secret stash of chocolate. And more than once that I had to remind myself this is NOT REAL. It's "just" a story (so stop crying!).

Tor has more books in the line up. One is about an elevator from earth to the international space station. Finally, a true fix for my science fiction addiction. I can't wait to see what they imagine up next. it's not too much to ask, does anyone know how to get in the super secret society of writers who get to work with these amazing scientists?

For more April fling reads, check out Barrie Summy's website!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Book Review Club - MidwinterBlood

Marcus Sedgwick

It's one of my favorite times of the year - kids' book awards! I waited with baited breath for the new Printz and Newbury winners and the resulting pile of spanking new stories to discover.  I started with the Printz winner, MidwinterBLOOD, by Marcus Sedgwick, and oh, what delicious fun!

Multiple, seemingly unrelated tales spanning thousands of years but that nevertheless all take place on the same island with two repeating character names slowly reveal themselves as the stories of the multiple lives of two star-crossed lovers that culminate in their final breaths. And even throws in a vampire and a WW II aviator.


This sort of storytelling mesmerizes me. It takes the short story and incorporates it into novel length. It's a two for one that cleverly takes short stories arcs and layers them into a longer, overall novel arc.  It's pretty cool how Sedgwick pulls that off. How he takes elements in one story and reworks them, nevertheless expanding and revealing backstory in another about those elements, and the two characters they revolve around.

There were a few stories in the set that I understood less quickly and had to reread, but I'd say this is a reread all the way around, it's that rich with story and new author tools to tell story.

For other stories that will put a spring in your step before we tumble forward this weekend (hopefully out of the snow and into the flowers!) check out Barrie Summy's site. Happy reading!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Book Review Club - Boxers and Saints

Boxers and Saints
Gene Luen Yang
Graphic Novel

I got hooked on graphic novels when my second daughter was diagnosed with a convergence defect. This basically means that her eyes do not move from object to object at the same time. One is a little behind the other, which makes focusing an interesting challenge...and reading, a nightmare. While she went through eye therapy, I attacked the reading challenge. I tried a Kindle so she could increase letter size. I tried easy readers. But it was graphic novels that did the trick. The minimum amount of text, yet sophisticated story line with artful, detailed illustration helped her become the reader she is today. And has made a graphic novel junkie out of both of us.

Yang's most recent masterpiece, Boxers and Saints, looks at opposing faces of war, specifically the Boxer Rebellion in China during the late 1800s, depicting both sides in characters we grow to love and empathize with, and then leave us wondering how two such deep, passionate individuals can hate each other so profoundly. The story also gives explanation as to why the Boxer Rebellion occurred, what happens when cultures clash, why both sides had their reasons for going to war. It never ceases to amaze me how a book format with so few words can do so much.

Overall, I find the prose in graphic novels less inspiring than the illustrations. It's rawer, less refined, and I may seriously be missing the boat. It may be necessary for the text to be less artful so as not to overwhelm the text.  Is this the nature of heavy dialogue - which graphic novels tend to be - that and transitional text, i.e. meanwhile, back at the ranch... Still, if you've got a recommendation for a graphic novel where the text is as breathtaking as the illustrations, please pass it on. Maybe one of these days I'll understand words well enough to collaborate with them effectively in any format. Here's hoping!

For more great challenges, scroll over to Barrie Summy's site. Happy reading!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Book Review Club - Lara's Gift

Lara's Gift
Annemarie O'Brien
middle grade

I thought about doing this book set in Russia in February since  the coldest days I've ever spent in the world were in Russia in February, but this story is too good to wait a month.

So here we go!

If you love dogs, if you love conflict, and if you love visions, you'll love Lara's Gift. The basic premise - Lara, daughter of the kennel master for an aristocratic breeder of borzoi in Russia living shortly before the Russian Revolution wants to grow up to become the kennel master, an almost unheard of feat, given she is a girl. She also has prescient visions about the dogs, which, given the role Rasputin and his "visions" played in Russian politics makes for a dangerous situation for Lara.

The story begins with the birth of a litter and Lara's vision about the runt, Zar, her father would put down. Lara convinces him otherwise, but in return she must raise the dog, a challenge she readily accepts. Flash forward 3 years and Zar's and Lara's stories begin to unfold together as her family attempts to prepare her for marriage, but her visions of Zar begin to come true, putting him, her, and other dogs in the kennel in danger.

Spoiler alert  (for all of you who love books about dogs, or have readers who do, but worry about the dead dog factor) - This book does have a dead dog, BUT, it's not Zar, and it's also not a dog we really come to care about, which makes it a lot more bearable.

The setting of this book is such a breath of fresh air in kidlit. Russia! How many children's books are set in Russia?!? Culturally, it's a smorgasbord of other. Also, it's way more accessible for the slightly older audience, who enjoy Russian literature but, say, gave up after 500 pages into War and Peace and called a truce. 

Stylistically, O'Brien interweaves multiple, related plots with ease. Her characters are genuine, believable and interesting. And she is gifted in her ability to make a foreign culture so accessible. At the climax, however, I felt the emotional conflict inside Lara gave way to pragmatism perhaps a little too easily. Without spoiling the ending, let me say (rather vaguely), Lara's sacrifice isn't given enough emotional weight, which diminishes what would otherwise have been a far more bittersweet (Russian?) and satisfying ending for me.

I understand the O'Brien's plot choice. The audience isn't predominantly an adult one. How far can we go as children's writers to do justice to the emotional reality of choices without overwhelming our younger audience?

Full disclosure -  I know Annemarie from my MFA at Vermont College; however, I was not solicited to write a review and purchased this book with my own rubles. 

For more warm winter wonders, sled on over to Barrie Summy's website!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Book Review Club - The Dog Stars

The Dog Stars
Peter Heller
Adult ("Guy" Book)

I don't know about you but picking out holiday presents for the men in my life is like going fishing. I never know if I'm going to land a keeper, or... a guppie. The Dog Stars is THE guy book of the year, and by guy, I mean, actual manly men who do manly things. Not only that, once your giftee finishes, you can mine the book for all kinds of thought-provoking writer tricks.

So, without further ado, basic premise: Man vs. Nature, Man, and Himself. Use this as your lead line when said present is unpacked. It will hook 'em. When asked for further details by other (likely female) interested parties - Hig, a survivor of a pandemic flu that wipes out the known human race, retreats to the community, now deserted, around the air strip where he keeps his plane, with his dog, Jasper (warning, Jasper is old), and fights to survive. He makes an ally, who is a weapons master. They are attacked by unfriendlies. Hig eventually leaves to find more survivors, cue - Eve. 

This book has got everything a guy reader could want - guns, planes, dogs, fishing, hunting, fighting for survival, Adam and Eve (note: this is NOT a kids' book), even poetry. Didn't see that coming, right? Neither did I, but Heller uses it boldly and uses it well.

What can the writer can take away from this piece? Heller is a poet, so the very style of word on page is as unique as a fingerprint. Rules of grammar aren't just bent or broken, they've been reinvented. For instance, Heller uses no italics to set off dialogue. Often, he doesn't even set it off at all. That made reading, at times, a little harder. It also, for me, distanced the story from the here and now. On the other hand, his overall style came across as journaling, so for some, it could make the telling more intimate. At the very least, not using "quotation marks" is a very nifty tool, if you can figure out how to use it. I'm still working on that part.

For more great stocking stuffers, bob over to Barrie Summy's site, and stock up for a very Happy New Year!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Book Review Club - Magic Marks the Spot

The Very Nearly Honorable
League of Pirates
Book 1: Magic Marks the Spot
by Caroline Carlson
Middle Grade

To say I have been waiting for this book's release like a dog waiting for a mouthwatering steak is, well, an understatement. Caroline and I were fellow classmates at Vermont College. Go Extraordinary League of Cheese Sandwiches!

I had the awesome pleasure of getting to hear an excerpt of Magic Marks the Spot during our last residency. To say the deck was stacked in favor of my liking this book is to state the obvious. But don't let my bias sway you (much :-) My girls were there too, and they were literally lining up to buy the not-yet-sold ms before the reading was over.

This is one of those books you dream about coming along. The one you'd dearly love to write and happily disappear in when you found someone else has.

Basic plot: Hilary wants to be a pirate. Her father, the admiral, is for obvious reasons grandly opposed. Her mother, a member of high society, is swooningly opposed. Hilary's magical gargoyle, and sidekick, is swashbuckingly not. The two escape boarding school to try out their piratical-ness on the high seas and find adventure galore.

Got your google browser open to download a copy?

Carlson keeps the reader magically entertained while at the same choosing Pirates of the Caribbean humor over blood and gore, which, for young readers, is such a godsend. There is no persisting nightmares in which dementors chase said child, or take up residence in her closet (which happened many many nights to my youngest after we read one of the Harry Potter books). Instead, there is laughter and merriment and general tomfoolery all around. 

From a writer's perspective, admittedly, the lack of gore and ever present possibility of sudden death  gentles the emotional ride for readers. At the same time, a young reader isn't emotionally put through the ringer either.

If for no other reason than authorly curiosity, read the story and ask yourself, what does this mean to have a plot that doesn't hinge on pain of death, but rather, uses humor to skirt the darkness that could overwhelm? It's definitely had me thinking for a long long while.

While I sit in my ivory tower and mull, check out Barry Summy's website for an autumnal gourd o' reading plenty!