The original ending went like this...

Back when I first typed out SERVING UP INNOCENCE, and long before it had a title or was even thought to become part of a series, I finished the ending in a less than ideal way. Shayne didn't get the guy she really wanted. She ended up not growing and made decisions that ended up being better for everyone else.

It wasn't right and it didn't work.

Rereading the original ending on a second and third pass, I knew it didn't fit her character as there was no character growth. I gave my own book a 2 star rating at that point. LOL. There wasn't even a real Happy Ever After, which if you write Romance, is expected (just like finding the killer is important to murder mysteries but more on that later). Reading the original ending, I knew what was going to happen... it was clear as day to me. So, why not then change the ending to reflect that? And in three short clicks, the ending was cut out and re-filed into a folder where I store my cut material (it makes for some interesting reading. HAHA) and the new, much improved ending was perfect. Cute and endearing, just like the heroine.

Interested in reading what was the original ending?
Here you go.

Please note, this is an edited version, and there will likely be several grammatical and punctuation mistakes. This is also copyrighted material.





Epilogue



I grabbed a red pepper and was reaching for an unblemished green pepper right at the back when I spotted his reflection in the mirror.

“Here, let me help you.” The voice was as familiar to me as my own, even if it had been years. “Shayne, is that you?”

His face had changed, the years as hard on him as they had been on me. Still, he was recognizable, as the eyes were the same and held the same sparkle as before, even with a fanning of creases at the edges. Long gone were the dreads and scruffy beard, replaced with a more mature hairstyle and clean jawline befitting a man of his age, and yet, there was an air of youthfulness about him. A GQ cover model stood before me, like the past ten years happened in the blink of an eye.

“Wow, Korey. It’s been a while.” I dropped the red pepper into my basket and reached for the green one he held out for me in his long, lean fingers.

“You look great.” His eyes fell the swell of my tummy. “Positively radiant.”

Instinctively, I touched it, although great wouldn’t have been a word I’d use to describe myself. I was sure I’d packed on fifty pounds since the last time I saw him, and in a fit of pregnancy induced rage where my hair wouldn’t do what I wanted it to, I’d chopped off ten inches. “Thanks. You look great too.” Eloquent words escaped me, replaced only with small talk kind of words. There was so much I wanted to ask and inquire about. It had been so long. Too long. And our last words to each other had been said in haste, in anger mostly, and definitely unresolved.

“How’ve you been?” he asked, shifting his own basket into the crook of his arm.

“Mommy.” My five year-old daughter nearly bowled me over as she ran at full throttle. I set my basket down and picked her up, shifting her onto the most comfortable part of my hip. “This is an old friend of mommy’s. Can you say hi?”

“Hi,” she said, tucking her forehead into my neck.

“What’s your name?”

“Jade.”

Korey looked straight at me, his jaw slacking. “What a lovely name.”

Jade wiggled out of my arms. “Daddy said we get chocolate milk.”

“Did he now?” I smiled, knowing my husband was a huge pushover as far as Jade was concerned. Anything she wanted, she pretty much got.

Jade skipped away, proclaiming her undying affection for chocolate milk to her father, who pushed a cart in my direction.

Korey’s expression darkened like a shadow on an otherwise bright and sunny day. He was unable to take his eyes off my approaching husband.

He stopped beside me and extended his hand. “Hi, I’m Jason.”

“Korey. We’ve met.” He pumped Jason’s hand but his focus on me was mesmerizing. Questions swirled in his eyes and murmurs of years gone by danced on the edges of his lips. “Many years ago.”

Jason nodded. “My apologies. I don’t remember.”

“That’s okay.” Korey finally looked at Jason. “It really was a long time ago.”

“We used to work together, at Westside, before Lily left.” My heart jumped up into my throat. Korey had never been a topic of conversation between Jason and I. Back then, Lily abandoned her three children and Jason, and I unexpectedly was charged with their care. Korey and I had broken up not long after, not because of that but because neither of us had believed enough in our relationship to think we could stick it out. Well... I guess I’d been the one to not believe.

“Here’s the list and what I’ve got so far.” I put my basket of produce into the shopping cart. “Can you and Jade grab what’s left and I’ll catch up with you shortly?”

“Sure thing.” He studied Korey, and plopped a kiss on my cheek before driving off with Jade hugging the end of the cart.

“You married him?”

“Clearly.” I wasn’t sure if I was annoyed or not, but old habits died hard, and sarcasm rolled off my tongue too easily.

Korey watched Jason and my biological daughter walk away. “Never saw that coming.”

Beneath my hand on the swell of my belly, my baby stretched out a leg. Only a few more weeks left. I gave the foot a rub and asked, “What about you? Married, kids?”

“Nope. Never found one since you.” He shifted uneasily on his leather shoe covered feet, the hem of his dress pants hanging at the perfect height. “Regardless of what happened, or failed to happen, you were my other half.” That voice that beckoned me and made me melt all those years ago came rushing back like waves upon the beach. This time, the waves crashed over my pounding heart and I suddenly felt like I was nineteen again.

The side effect of the rushing pulse caused my unborn son to move with a little more effect, this time kicking at one of my ribs and head-butting my swollen bladder.

The longer Korey stared at me, the more pull I felt towards him. In so many different directions. I wanted to take him by the hand, sit down with him and have a discussion with him about what he’d been up to the past ten years, but I didn’t think I had it in me. I was afraid to ask for fear I'd never be able to walk away again. And that was a dangerous feeling. Very dangerous. Maybe I hadn’t let the past go? Maybe I hadn't really dealt with not having Korey in my life. Afterall, he'd changed it so much.

“How long?”

Had I been daydreaming and missed out on part of the conversation? “How long what?”

“How long after me until you hooked up with your best friend’s husband?”

With Lily gone, and Jordan’s mom on early mat leave, it seemed only logical to help with Jason and the girls. The timing of it all was too perfect—for everyone involved. Korey had left me with no place to live, as he set on drifting through another part of his life in another city. Jason needed help. Desperately. And he paid well enough that I didn’t need to work two jobs. It was a perk beyond perfect that he offered me a place to live. It wasn’t much, that tiny in-law suite in the backyard, but it was free and warm, and allowed me to still feel as if I were living alone.

It took some time, but I realised there had been more truth to Lily’s words than I’d truly believed. It surprised me to learn how unorganized Jason was as a parent, and yet, he was the kindest father, always doting on his girls and giving them his undivided attention as soon as he was home from work. I found myself envying that and wanting to be someone’s focus in life, I just didn’t think it would happen between Jason and me. However, the lines between me being the girls’ nanny and being a full-time parent started blurring. Things just sort of happened. And quickly too.

Five short months had passed after Lily’s abandonment, and I moved into the house. Into Jason’s bedroom. Less than a year after that, we became a family. The girls were thrilled, which made the whole thing easier. When we announced three years later we were expecting, they were over the moon to have a baby to swoon over.

“It was the timing…” I fell over my words because it was the truth in so many ways.

“If I hadn’t gone…”

Or if I had followed…

I shrugged and twisted the modest wedding ring on my finger. It was a guessing game, a flip of the coin. To say things would’ve been – could’ve been – different was something neither of us will ever know. There was no magic ball to gaze into and see what the future could've been like. All I knew was how my life was now. Step mom to three wonderful teenage girls, mom to one, and expecting one next month. I was married. I was settled down. My family was all within an easy ten-minute drive. How could I not be happy with the way things turned out?

I cleared away the cobwebs in the corner of my brain. “Did you ever go to university?” I asked, afraid to know the answer. Did he really move on with his life? Did he do all that he’d set out to do, even though I wasn’t there? Or had he given up on more than just me?

“I’m a high school drama teacher.”

Somehow that didn’t surprise me. I could picture him with the students, dazzling them with his acting skills. He’d always managed to keep his customers happy and enjoying themselves, no doubt he passed on that energy to his students.

“You?”

“I’m a midwife. I own Inception Midwifery, along with a couple of partners.” It had been a long uphill climb to get that degree, and a couple of years longer than necessary, but I’d found my calling. It was a job I loved.

“Cool. I’m glad you found your happiness.”

“I’m glad you found yours.” It was the dumbest thing I could’ve said, and my cheeks heated in response.

“I never said I found happiness.” He shook his head in such a way it was clear to see heartbreak and anguish settle over his body. His shoulders rolled inward, and his stance slackened. “Happy doesn’t come easy for me.” His hand covered his heart, and I wondered how long he’d hurt. Even though there’d been two people involved in that decision, he took the brunt of it and I choose the cowards way of dealing with it. “You’ve always been here.” He patted his chest, and the warmth and love in his voice caressed my soul.

Time did nothing to the bonds of attraction, and I could feel it as easy as I could my son’s kicking. The flicker in his eyes that told me this meeting was fate and every bit as real as it had been in my dreams. Was Korey feeling what I was, or were my pregnancy hormones to blame?

“Hey, Shayne?” Jason called me from the potato display. “Red or Yukon gold?” He held up a bag in both hands. “I need your help.”

And as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t turn away from Korey. I couldn’t make my feet move toward the man I married, and I was instantly disgusted by that. I loved Jason, don’t get me wrong. But that fire, that zest, the monkey sex, it was never there. Never had been.

Korey finally broke the silence developing between us. “Well, it was good seeing you.”

“And you.” Cold feet froze me to the spot, cemented in wonder. I watched, in a slo-mo style, as he first extended his hand and deciding that would be weird, reached for a hug, stopping before he got started. Just going for it, I threw my arms around him, the huge belly a battering ram between us. The embrace felt good, it felt right and the worst feeling ever, it felt natural.

“Take care,” he said, stepping back, the distance between us growing.

All I could do was wave. I couldn’t say goodbye. That had been too hard the first time.

He turned and walked away.

I stared after him and looked back toward my husband, holding up the bags of potatoes.

Another glance back at Korey, his body a silhouette in the sun-filled entrance way.


For the first time in my adult life, I knew exactly what I needed to do.


What did you think? What does Shayne end up doing? 
Interested in reading the full novel, and the true ending? You can!


Add to your Goodreads Want to Read list today. 




The difference between a Critique Partner and a Beta Reader.



What’s a Critique Partner?
Simply, a Critique Partner (CP) is someone, usually an author, who will go over your manuscript in fine detail, searching for plot holes, weak character development, possibly grammar and punctuation errors and so on. A CP will go in depth to your manuscript and bring out the very best of your story the way you’ve written it – something that’s very important. A critique partner worth their weight in gold, will strengthen your words, not twist them into what they would’ve done. They will mix the constructive criticism with the good. This is exceptionally important. It’s equally as important to work with a CP who writes in the same genre and therefore understands the mechanics within.
Of course, everyone wants to have a perfect manuscript coming out of the gate, but even the best of the best, have someone else who will review their manuscripts before turning them over to their editors. And swapping chapters with another author gives you a chance to work on your development skills, which can only strengthen your own writing. Win-win for everyone. Plus, it’s usually free – you swap chapter(s) with another author, although there are many paid services out there.

What is a Beta Reader?
A beta reader is a reader first. He or she will read your manuscript at any time during the creative process, maybe after each chapter is written, or when the entire thing is finished, or any point in between. Your mother or best friend usually falls into this category as they are not looking for plot holes or grammatical errors, they are reading for the story itself. Beta readers give you the big picture feedback – yes it was good, I liked the main character, I glossed over this section, etc. A beta does not delve into too many specifics.
Most authors will have a few different betas review their manuscripts. This is a great time to ask friends and family if they’d like to help out or ask on whatever social media platform works best for you. Again, this is usually a free service but there are many paid beta services on the web, and these betas will give you a 2-3 page feedback on your manuscript.   

Just be sure to make clear what your expectations are, and then you’ll know who you need to seek out.

Personally, I have a half-dozen beta readers, who will each get the manuscript at a different point. One gets it right after it’s written, another after the first draft is completed, and so on, and all are romance readers. They know what to expect and believe me, if I don’t deliver, I’ll hear about it.
Also in my pocket of must haves, I have two trusted critique partners I’ve worked with over the past four years – they are fellow romance authors whose opinions mean the world to me and who I trust to help me bring out the very best. Without them, I would have to pay way, way more to my development editor.

I also reward my Critique Partners – they put in countless hours for nothing, often sacrificing their free time, so I make sure to thank them with Starbucks gift cards, signed copies of the book they helped with and always a mention in the back of the book in the acknowledgements. Let me tell you, a little author love goes a long way in terms of karma and them wanting to help you out again and again.

Currently my village of betas and CPs are hard at work on a new project I'm crafting, which with any luck, the two-book set will be out in late 2019. Would you like to be the first to know the titles, blurbs, release dates and you love sneak peeks, be sure to join my group - Shander’s Stargazing Romantics - otherwise you can follow me on my social media pages.

In conclusion… how many beta readers and critique partners would you like? What do you think would be a great gift to receive if you are the beta or the critique partner?




My review of AT ANY COST by Rebecca Lovell

At Any Cost (Chicago Gray Line Book 1) by [Lovell, Rebecca]
Martin Caiber has a problem. As the son of a high-ranking member of Chicago's underworld, he knows his family has enemies, but he never expected to have someone trying to kill him. Unwilling to inherit his father's legacy, he wants to keep his nightclubs on the legal side of things but after nearly being run down in front of his club, Martin decides that it's time to enlist outside help.


Michelle "The Hawk" Andress is a woman with a past. A private investigator who specializes in finding lost children, she has talents she is glad she rarely has to use. It is these talents that put her on Martin's radar, and after an attempt on his life she agrees to become his bodyguard.

The attraction between the two is undeniable, but when Michelle becomes the target of hitmen too, her past comes back to haunt her and puts their future in jeopardy. If they're going to make it out alive, they'll have to use Martin's contacts and Michelle's deadly aim to put an end to the threat for good, and find out if love makes the ends justify the means.

KINDLE/AMAZON 

 KOBO    BARNES&NOBLE   iBOOKS


My review. In a nutshell, page-turning! ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Already a huge fan of Rebecca's, having loved and read her other novels, I was given a copy of Rebecca's newest novel. I told myself I was only allowed to read two or three chapters a night, as I had to get up early in the morning for work. Lies. All lies. 

Once I started, it was really hard to put down after the first couple of chapters, so I ended up losing a bit of sleep (so worth it). When I reached the half-way point, I knew I was in trouble. I was not going to sleep until I finished. I just HAD to know what was going on between Michelle and Martin, and how on earth were they going to be safe. Needless to say, in the wee of the night, I got the answers I was looking for and I turned off my e-reader with a satisfied smile.

This is definitely a romance book and the steamy scenes between them are great. All women would like to be as kickass as Michelle is, and deep down inside, I'm sure there are many who would like a sexy businessman like Martin. The electricity between them is palpable. But not only are there sweet and sexy scenes, there are car chases, mystery killers and thrills galore. You won't need caffeine to keep you awake - the story will do that effortlessly. It's well written and has great character development.

I'd recommend this to anyone who likes a little love with suspense and intrigue. Well done, Rebecca! You continue to make me a lifelong fan. 

Follow Rebecca 

Serving Up Innocence Cover from Not Quite to Nailed It!

For a self-published author, deciding on a cover, or what I want on it is an arduous task. 

In my newest series -- The Ladies of Westside -- I knew exactly what my main characters (MC) looked like, but finding them? Impossible. When I contacted the lovely Cassy Roop of Pink Ink Designs, she sent me a very detailed form to fill out, asking about fonts I liked, colours I thought worked and in-depth character descriptions. Then she provided me the name of the site she uses for photos and sent me shopping. 

I spent HOURS pouring through the photos. For Serving Up Innocence the male MC has dreads and is Caucasian. The female MC has darker hair. Finding a photo with these two was nearly impossible, especially characters that are in their early 20s. Unable to find a couples photo, I did find two individual, and sent the stock numbers off to Cassy. 

She sent back this prototype. 

Concept 1
Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with this, but it's not right. The guy is pretty much a ringer, and the lady... well, it's not too bad. But together? It didn't work. The font was perfect but the colour needed to change - I found it too beach like and the setting was wrong for that. Back to the drawing board. Since we couldn't find the above guy with the right lady, and I wanted them in more of a couple pose, we did manage to find a cute couple. BUT he didn't have dreads. 


Ahh.. the magical art of photoshop. 

concept 2

concept 3

We darkened the green to a more jade colour as the FMC's nickname is Jade. Perfect, that works. She darkened the guy's dreads and it was tolerable. It worked but it wasn't perfect. It didn't have that **WOW** I was looking for, but she had three other covers of mine to work on, so I accepted this (concept 3) and blasted it out with all the pre-order links. I'm not a big pre-seller, but my pre-orders do well enough for me. A month out from the release of Innocence and there was nothing. I asked a few trusted people and they all said it was the cover and the man on the cover looked off, which I agreed with. It just didn't have the zip and the male wasn't a natural dreadlock wearing individual. 

I contacted Cassy and explained, and we went couple hunting again. I tell you - the next series/book I write, I'm picture shopping FIRST, I think that will make things much easier when it comes to cover design. Hahah. So after some more back and forths and a variety of single models, she came up with this (concept 4). Well... we're certainly getting closer. Much closer but it's not quite right. Better than the others though.

Concept 4

I swear, I spent thirty hours over a weekend (three weekends before Innocence was set to release) combing through photos and photos. BTW - I've saved every cute couple I thought I'd possibly need for the next few books too. 
On the final hour, in the middle of the night, I found them. They were perfect. Gorgeous and what I'd been looking for since the start. Only problem - the lady's hair colour was off and she was sporting tattoos. Damn! 
However, I sent the couple photos to Cassy and figured I'd work with it. I could go through my written book and change out Jade's hair colour to match the cover and add in the tattoo. Wouldn't be too hard, and probably much easier than trying to find another couple. 

Cassy emailed me back and when I saw the cover, I screamed. THIS was what I'd wanted since the beginning, it just took many tries and concepts and hours to get it. Through the magic of photoshop, she removed the tattoo and darkened the hair. Cassy Roop knew exactly what I was looking for and made this file perfect. 
I quickly uploaded the new cover to all the sites and blasted out on my social media channels the updated version, and the pre-orders started rolling in. YEAH! A good cover truly does make the difference, and I'm super happy with this. 

Perfection! 
So, if you are looking for a cover designer that works with you, I highly recommend Cassy Roop of Pink Ink Designs. You can also reach her on her Facebook Page - she'll post her deals (I got my covers done as a custom cover when she had a special birthday pricing) and has a list of available premades ready to go. She's uber nice, easy to work with and keeps going until it's perfect! 

This are the other three covers in the series. Didn't she do a beautiful job? 
I've also blogged about the evolution of Duly Noted's cover, and why I won't use Fiverr again. 


            

  KOBO    iBOOKS      B&N     AMAZON





Evolution of Duly Noted's cover

From WTH to Yes! Nailed It. 

I was going through my older pictures when I stumbled across the original mock ups for Duly Noted. It still makes me gasp in horror. 
Based on a recommendation from another author, I contacted her Fiverr book cover designer (who I just checked is no longer listed - at least not under that name.). I told him/her what I was looking for and waited for the mock up to come back. This was the first! 




I can hear you gasping! I know I was mortified. Where were these amazing covers that they posted for other authors and why was I getting something that looked like my kid whipped it together (and FTR my kid can do much better work than this!). I told them no way, and gave more information, what the story was about, the theme, the genre, links to book covers covering similar topics, everything I thought they'd needed. 
This was the second (and final) mock up. And there are errors throughout. Sigh. 





It's a huge improvement but still way beyond the other stunning covers posted on his/her Fiverr page (which I wonder if he/she didn't lift them from somewhere else). After going back and forth and tweaking little things here and there, I just knew I wasn't going to get a proper looking cover. Would you even stop to read the blurb on this? Nope! 

Good thing I had a couple of months until the book released. I had time to find something better.

Not sure what else to do, I chatted with another author about who did her covers and she steered me towards a "pre-made" cover - where the designer will make a few tweaks to name/blurb and basic font and colours but otherwise the cover is done with the models/photos/etc . I could peruse their albums and search through the folders, gazing upon gorgeous cover after cover. It cost me nothing to see the premades.   

Finding a group that I felt my book belonged in (she mainly does romance covers and it shows), I contacted ZH Designs with my request & deposit -selecting one of her premades, requesting that the colour on the hair be changed. Because it couldn't be, she offered to give me a 'custom' cover for the cost of the premade. Woohoo! I gave her all the information she requested and waited with bated breath. Within a very short time, I was presented with two concepts and a difficult choice. Which to choose? 


concept 1


concept 2

Bam! Finally, something that looks like a romance cover, something that could actually be a real book cover. I was super excited about these mock ups. After some back and forth with the designer, we tweaked one of the concepts. Based on the book information I gave her, she researched PTSD and found out their ribbon colour is the blue shown. Wow. Talk about going above and beyond. 




This was the final cover, and I am completely in love with it. It captures Aurora and Nate perfectly as her PTSD stemmed from a car crash (thus them sitting on the road) and she had little bits of shattered glass over top and it fit within the romance genre perfectly. Well done.


Amazing eh? Yes, she was more expensive than the Fiverr designer, but really, really worth it! The Fiverr was in the ballpark of $30+ and ZH Designs was $100+. 

What designer do you use? Did you fall in love with your cover right off the bat, or did it go through some major work? Share with me.

Interested in reading Duly Noted?

Music is so important, in movies and in books.

Music is so important, in books and movies. Ever watch a movie without the music playing? It changes the scene, and even though there can be great dialogue and fantastic acting, it's not the same.
Unfortunately, this is not possible for books to have certain songs playing in the background as you read over the scenes. If it were, I'd have a variety built in.
There are certain songs though, that when I hear them, I think of certain books as it matches the themes.

For Run Away Charlotte, one song always stops me in my tracks when I hear it. I see Charlotte talking to Andrew, laying it all out as the communication shuts down between the two of them and how in that moment, she breaks and makes the worst decision of her life. A Great Big World's "Say Something" wrecks me, as I figured Charlotte was in that heartbreaking moment.


"And I will swallow my pride
You're the one that I love
And I'm saying goodbye"
-- A Great Big World

For the novel Ask Me Again no song seemed to convey Charlotte's desire and longing to escape her demons and run into the safety of true love better than Chantal Kreviazuk's Home. This song would be the song playing as you read into the final chapters. 


"If you knew how lonely my life has been
And how long I've been so alone
If you knew how I wanted someone to come along
And change my life the way you've done
-- Chantal Kreviazuk 


For Duly Noted, the theme song for the book came while I was driving around singing to an older CD I'd popped in. Suddenly, a scratchy version of Garth Brooks' "When You Come Back to Me Again" and those first few notes hit me. Yes! This was Aurora's struggle. She didn't think anyone believed in her and she was a lonely ship at the mercy of the sea. Until she meets Nate. To me, it was the whole novel condensed into a few minutes of good ole Garth Brooks. I can't send you to his official link as he didn't make a video for this, but there are several covers on youTube.


"'Cause there's a lighthouse, in a harbor
Shining faithfully
Pouring its light out, across the water
For this sinking soul to see
That someone out there still believes in me"
-- Garth Brooks


Of course, the music changed a little when Aurora meets Nate's little brother, Lucas, and the two of them hit it off becoming best friends, at least to Aurora, in That Summer. Lucas on the other hand... well, James Arthur's "Say You Won't Let Go" sums it up perfectly and it carries over beautifully into the final book of the trilogy. 


 "I knew I loved you then
But you'd never know
'Cause I played it cool when I was scared of letting go
I know I needed you
But I never showed"
-- James Arthur


For that final installment in the Aurora MacIntyre trilogy, the last book If You Say Yes, there was a whole playlist involved, songs that would be playing in the background if it were a movie starring... well that's a blog post for another day.

When I started the Ladies of Westside series, the music was a little trickier, but only in the sense that I didn't know what each character was going through until it was written. The music didn't come suddenly or seem to match any song. It took a long while to find the right one. 

For Serving Up Innocence, there was Collin Raye's "Not That Different". It hit home as the family-centric, play-by-the-rules Shayne is quite a bit different than the bohemian and carefree Korey who captures her heart. And for a bit, they wonder if they are strong enough to make the best of their differences.

"She said we're much too different
We're from two separate worlds
And he admitted she was partly right
But in his heart's defense he told her
What they had in common
Was strong enough to bond them for life"
-- Collin Raye


Serving Up Devotion, is still a struggle and I'm actually still trying to find a general theme song for this one. I haven't yet heard one that captures all the emotions and soul of the book. Its tough when you're dealing with a head-strong orphaned heroine who's sole purpose is to give her brother a better life. Love just isn't on the do-to list. However I'm all game to hear any suggestions. When I wrote this book, there wasn't anything playing in the background aside from classical show tunes. 


Serving Up Secrecy is a story about withholding information from another, and one song hits that on the head - Shania Twain's "No One Needs to Know". Just the like the main character, Josephine, she has no immediate need to share with her one-night stand the baby she's kept hidden from him, even though she finds herself falling in love with the man who never wants children. 

"I got my heart set, my feet wet

And he don't even know it yet
But no one needs to know right now
I'll tell him someday some way somehow
But I'm gonna keep it a secret for now"
-- Shania Twain



For Serving Up Hope, the song that most captures the essence of Meghan being invited to her former fiance's wedding and finding the perfect date to accompany her, and finding herself falling for the guy who writes the most amazing letters is "You Could've Been Anyone" by Carole King. 



"Funny how I feel more myself with you
Than anybody else that I ever knew
I hear it in your voice, see it in your face
You've become the memory I can't erase"
-- Carole King

Do you have a favourite song? One that you'd say was your theme song?

The 2019 Junior YRCAs and who I think should win.

For those of you who don't know, I work PT in an elementary school (grades preschool - grade six) and over the summer, I read all the junior level YRCAs (Young Readers Choice Award) to better assist my students. This summer I was successful, and have rated the books from my least favourite to my absolute favourite.

There are 8 junior level reads vying for top prize and the voting ended April 15th.


Here are my thoughts on the books.


#8 - The Inn Between by Marina Cohen


25667027
The Shining meets "Hotel California" in this supremely creepy middle grade novel about the bizarre things that happen to two girls stranded at a desert inn.
Eleven-year-old Quinn has had some bad experiences lately. She was caught cheating in school, and then one day, her little sister Emma disappeared while walking home from school. She never returned
When Quinn's best friend Kara has to move away, she goes on one last trip with Kara and her family. They stop over at the first hotel they see, a Victorian inn that instantly gives Quinn the creeps, and she begins to notice strange things happening around them. When Kara's parents and then brother disappear without a trace, the girls are stranded in a hotel full of strange guests, hallways that twist back in on themselves, and a particularly nasty surprise lurking beneath the floorboards. Will the girls be able to solve the mystery of what happened to Kara's family before it's too late? 

Of the eight, this was not my favourite, and in fact I found myself skimming over it just to get to the end. It was a little weird for my liking, and I could see some parts being a little scary for the sensitive reader. I'd classify it into the HORROR genre. The characters were okay, and it was well-written, just not my cup of tea.


#7 - It Ain’t so Awful Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas


33503562Zomorod (Cindy) Yousefzadeh is the new kid on the block . . . for the fourth time. California’s Newport Beach is her family’s latest perch, and she’s determined to shuck her brainy loner persona and start afresh with a new Brady Bunch name—Cindy. It’s the late 1970s, and fitting in becomes more difficult as Iran makes U.S. headlines with protests, revolution, and finally the taking of American hostages. Even mood rings and puka shell necklaces can't distract Cindy from the anti-Iran sentiments that creep way too close to home. A poignant yet lighthearted middle grade debut from the author of the best-selling Funny in Farsi. 

I started off really enjoying this story, especially since it pre-dates cell phones and social media, it gives the young readers of today a view of the world their parents lived in. The characters were great and fleshed out, but when it got quite political, I lost interest. It was a little over the top in that respect, and I think if it were scaled back, it would be higher on my list. Otherwise, Cindy's going ons as the new kid were pretty funny. 



#6 - Dog Man by Dav Pilkey


28691896New from the creator of Captain Underpants, it's Dog Man, the #1 New York Times bestselling, crime-biting canine who is part dog, part man, and ALL HERO!

George and Harold have created a new hero who digs into deception, claws after crooks, and rolls over robbers. When Greg the police dog and his cop companion are injured on the job, a life-saving surgery changes the course of history, and Dog Man is born. With the head of a dog and the body of a human, this heroic hound has a real nose for justice. But can he resist the call of the wild to answer the call of duty? 


I'm not a fan of comic book/graphic novels, but I can see the huge appeal. It was a cute story and easy to read. Having met Mr. Dav Pilkey, I know why he has the bad spelling and grammar, but it bugs me to the end of the earth to have it in a kids book, especially those learning to spell correctly. I wouldn't be surprised if this book was voted #1 by the kids at my school, and won the award. 



#5 - Pax by Sara Pennypacker


22098550Pax was only a kit when his family was killed, and “his boy” Peter rescued him from abandonment and certain death. Now the war front approaches, and when Peter’s father enlists, Peter has to move in with his grandpa. Far worse than being forced to leave home is the fact that Pax can’t go. Peter listens to his stern father—as he usually does—and throws Pax’s favorite toy soldier into the woods. When the fox runs to retrieve it, Peter and his dad get back in the car and leave him there—alone. But before Peter makes it through even one night under his grandfather’s roof, regret and duty spur him to action; he packs for a trek to get his best friend back and sneaks into the night. This is the story of Peter, Pax, and their independent struggles to return to one another against all odds. Told from the alternating viewpoints of Peter and Pax. 

I enjoyed this book right up to the ending. The ending tainted the whole story, although I had to suspend some reality (Peter runs away from home and is gone for so long and yet no one goes looking for him?) The alternating view points were cute, and I did enjoy reading from Pax's POV. Overall, it was cute, but not the heart-warming story I was expecting. 



#4 - The Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd


25152641Everyone in Emma's family is special. Her ancestors include Revolutionary War spies, brilliant scientists, and famous musicians--every single one of which learned of their extraordinary destiny through a dream.

For Emma, her own dream can't come soon enough. Right before her mother died, Emma promised that she'd do whatever it took to fulfill her destiny, and she doesn't want to let her mother down.

But when Emma's dream finally arrives, it points her toward an impossible task--finding a legendary treasure hidden in her town's cemetery. If Emma fails, she'll let down generations of extraordinary ancestors . . . including her own mother. But how can she find something that's been missing for centuries and might be protected by a mysterious singing ghost?

With her signature blend of lyrical writing, quirky humor, and unforgettable characters, Natalie Lloyd's The Key to Extraordinarycements her status as one of the most original voices writing for children today. 

It took me a bit to get into this, but once I did, I couldn't put it down. It was exceptionally engaging and I really enjoyed Emma and her quest. I loved the setting (a house that backs onto a cemetary) and the mysteries of the Deep South. It's not a scary read at all, but very magical. 


#3 - The Wild Robot by Peter Brown


26030734When robot Roz opens her eyes for the first time, she discovers that she is alone on a remote, wild island. Why is she there? Where did she come from? And, most important, how will she survive in her harsh surroundings? Roz's only hope is to learn from the island's hostile animal inhabitants. When she tries to care for an orphaned gosling, the other animals finally decide to help, and the island starts to feel like home. Until one day, the robot's mysterious past comes back to haunt her.... 

I was hesitant to read this one, but I'm so glad I picked it up. The illustrations were adorable and the story as a whole was easy to get into. I loved how the robot Roz grew as a character. The only drawback is I wish it had a definitive ending - instead it leads to the start of book 2. 



#1 - It's a TIE! 

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill 


28110852Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and delivers them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey. 

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule -- but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her -- even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.

The acclaimed author of The Witch’s Boy has created another epic coming-of-age fairy tale destined to become a modern classic. 

OMG - I just loved this book. It was a fantasy book that I became totally immersed in - the writing was so crisp and detailed, I could picture every scene with ease. The characters were amazing (I loved them all, but really liked Fyrain the Perfectly Tiny Dragon). I was rooting for the Xan and the ending was the best. Five stars all the way. 

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson



27064348Everyone knows there are different kinds of teachers. The good ones. The not-so-good ones. The boring ones, the mean ones, the ones who try too hard. The ones you’ll never remember, and the ones you want to forget. But Ms. Bixby is none of these. She’s the sort of teacher who makes you feel like the indignity of school is worthwhile. Who makes the idea of growing up less terrifying. Who you never want to disappoint. What Ms. Bixby is, is one of a kind.

Topher, Brand, and Steve know this better than anyone. And so when Ms. Bixby unexpectedly announces that she is very sick and won’t be able to finish the school year, they come up with a plan. Through the three very different stories they tell, we begin to understand just what Ms. Bixby means to Topher, Brand, and Steve—and what they are willing to go to such great lengths to tell her.

John David Anderson, the acclaimed author of Sidekicked, returns with a story of three kids, a very special teacher, and one day that none of them will ever forget.
 


I loved how three boys go on an adventure of sorts, and we get a very interesting story as they are three unique boys from three different backgrounds. It's written so well, and I couldn't put it down. I became so invested in the story and their quest, that the ending had me bawling. I haven't read a MG book that affected me so much since I was a child reading Charlotte's Web. Everyone (I hope) has had a teacher as amazing as Ms. Bixby, and if so, they will fall in love with all the stories with the story. 


After an engaging 6 months of student reading, I tallied their votes today and gave them percentages.

It Ain't So Awful Falafel - 0%
The Key to Extraordinary - 0%
Pax - 2.5%
Ms. Bixby's Last Day - 5%
The Wild Robot - 12.5%
The Inn Between - 20%
Girl Who Drank the Moon - 22.5%
Dog Man - 37.5% <- WINNER at our school, and likely the winner overall.

We shall see in May when all the votes are calculated and the winner is crowned.