Thursday, January 30, 2014

Zoe and Zak and the Tiger Temple Blog Tour

Tiger Temple - Blog Tour Button

About the Book

Title: Zoe & Zak and the Tiger Temple (Zoe & Zak Series, Book #3)
Author: Lars Guignard
Publisher: Fantastic Press
Publication Date: January 1, 2014
Number of Pages: 267
Recommended Age: 8+


Last semester, Zoe and Zak returned the first lost Noble Truth to its rightful home. Now, Zoe and Zak are back in India for their second semester at Moonstock Himalayan Academy. School kicks off with the Activity Week Challenge in the tiny mountain kingdom of Bhutan where the students must deliver medical supplies. Things, however, take a turn for the worse, when Zak becomes deathly ill after an encounter with a strange floating bubble. On returning to Moonstock, Zoe and Zak discover that a creature has come through the lava hole far below their dormitory. When Zoe and Zak follow the creature, they soon discover what they must do. They have been tasked with finding the second lost Noble Truth -- the Tiger Eye of Justice. Finding the Tiger Eye sounds like an impossible mission, and it's only made more confusing when Zak discovers that he has been given a supernatural power to help them with their task-- a power which Zak, for the life of him, just can't control. But he's going to have to learn how to use his new ability, because if Zoe and Zak can't find the Tiger Eye quickly, Zak's time will run out.

My Review: We’re back at Moonstock, the unique boarding school in the Himalayas that Zoe and Zak attend. Readers familiar with the duo’s daring adventures will ease right into the story as Zoe and Zak’s new mission unfolds: the search for the second Noble Truth—the Tiger Eye of Justice. However, the story actually starts in Bhutan (a tiny mountain country north of India) where the kids are delivering medical supplies to villagers as part of Activity Week. Zak is distracted by a strange floating bubble and chases it … with dire consequences. He becomes deathly ill and weird tiger stripes begin to appear on his body. They learn that their mission to retrieve the second Noble Truth involves saving the Tiger People. Zak’s illness intensifies because he is now linked to the fate of the Tiger People. Time is running out for them, as well as Zak. To compound their problems, Zoe’s yogi powers are oftentimes erratic, and Zak has actually been given a power, which also creates complications at times. While their close friends at the school, Jill and Tuk, are supportive, a new boy arrives and a whole lot of trouble starts. This includes Zak being accused of stealing other kids’ stuff. Armed with their trusty companions Stryker and Doormat, Zoe and Zak have to get to the Tiger Temple, apparently located in the most dangerous part of the world, with vicious crocodiles, a giant snake, and (they say) man-eating tigers.
Put on your water-shoes, folks, and join this daring duo as they embark on possibly the most dangerous mission of all. The magic and fantasy of old Indian legends truly come to life as new villains emerge, and treachery abounds. The tiger is an iconic creature, both in Indian fables and in reality. The kids’ task is dangerous, and even their companions Stryker and Doormat cannot cope with the perilous situations. Stryker is bested by a giant snake that swallows Doormat whole. Zak is his usual ebullient self (the Zak Attack VLOG still going strong) but gradually his confidence verges on recklessness, especially when he experiments with his new power. A new character, Open Sesame the parrot, joins this motley crew and is so hilarious that he upstages the other players in every scene in which he appears. Once again, just the unique geographic locations (India, Bhutan, and the Andaman Islands), the lush beauty, and exotic elements will have kids scrambling for their world atlases to see where this adventure takes our young heroes. I enjoyed the fact that the school’s Activity Week involves a humanitarian mission, a good example for young readers. Zak and Zoe do a huge amount of growing up in the third adventure and much of it involves trust. They learn to trust themselves, their abilities, and each other. Loads of interesting facts, cultural references, and subtle life lessons pepper this latest adventure and no doubt young (and older) readers will appreciate this roller-coaster trip into a world of magic, fantasy, and legend.

Buzz About the Zoe & Zak Series

Book 1: "Awesome! ~ I am 11 and I liked the book because I love adventures. It was a different kind of adventure from what I usually read and it was funny too. " ~ 5-Star Review from J. Olsen, Amazon Book 1: "This was a fun read. This book was like a kid's version of Indiana Jones. It's also very educational as Zoe tells you real facts about what she sees and the history. I enjoyed it immensely. If you have a 10-12 year old child that loves adventure books, this is definitely a must read. " ~ 5-Star review from Simone Lilly-Egerter, Amazon Book 1: "I'm sure this book was written for children who are around the age of the two children in the book, 11 or so. But, this 35 year old loved this book! It had action, adventure and imagination galore! It was exactly the kind of adventure that a lot of kids that age dream of." ~ 5-Star review from The Novice Christian, Amazon Book 2: "I have a 10 year old son who is an avid reader!! He loves books, (but he's picky too) he loved Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. He was so excited to read the 2nd book in this series! When I presented him the first book he was not sure he would like it but changed his mind quickly, then when I heard about the 2nd book being released he almost jumped out of his chair! (no exaggeration) He is anxiously awaiting the 3rd book! I would say that any child who enjoys fantasy/adventure books should read this series! It is a well written page turner! It's a fun story that adults can even enjoy the storyline without getting bored! According to my son, 'every kid should read this series'. " ~ 5-Star review from SavyGreenSaver, Amazon Book 2: "I loved this book, even as an adult reading it. I was completely sucked into the plot and was constantly finding myself staying up "just a little longer" to read one more chapter. Different twists and turns in the book have you constantly guessing who is behind what and who Zak and Zoe can trust. I could definitely see myself being involved in this series as a middle schooler considering how much I enjoyed it even now. Another thing I liked about it is if you missed the first book, you could still follow along with this one and not be lost." ~ 5-Star review from Staci, Amazon Book 2: "Lars Guignard has done a fabulous job with this series. I loved the `Ghost Leopard' & love this one even more. For late-elementary to middle school age readers, you can't beat this series. It's fun and fast-paced. Even my picky fifth grader enjoyed every page. There are bits of magic thrown in keep the action exciting. Mr. Guignard has a brilliant imagination & readers are blessed that he's chosen to use it for YA fiction. If you've yet to read the first installment in this series, do yourself a favor and read these books back to back. Don't limit it just to kids! Adults will have a blast reading these too!" ~ 5-Star review from Liz Terek, Amazon  


Tiger Temple by Lars Guignard

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About The Author: Lars Guignard

Lars Guignard Prior to writing novels, Lars Guignard wrote for film and television. As a teenager he attended boarding school in the Indian Himalayas and his experiences there provided the inspiration for the Zoe and Zak series which now include: Zoe & Zak and the Ghost Leopard, Zoe & Zak and the Yogi’s Curse, and Zoe & Zak and the Tiger Temple. He lives in the Pacific Northwest where he dodges bears and cougars while hiking & skiing the magnificent Coast Mountain Range. For news about new releases, please join his email list by contacting the author: Zoe&

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Tiger Temple Blog Tour Schedule (2014)

January 15
January 16
January 17
January 19
January 20
January 21
January 22
January 23
January 24
January 25
January 27
January 28
January 29
January 30
January 31
February 1
February 2
February 3
February 4
February 5
February 6
February 7
February 8
February 9
February 10
February 11
February 12
February 13
February 14

* Tiger Temple Blog Tour Giveaway *

Prize: One winner will receive a $100 Amazon gift card (or PayPal cash). Contest runs: January 15 to February 21, 11:59 pm, 2014 Open: Worldwide How to enter: Enter using the Rafflecopter widget below. Terms and Conditions: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW. The winners will be randomly drawn through the Rafflecopter widget and will be contacted by email within 48 hours after the giveaway ends. The winners will then have 72 hours to respond. If a winner does not respond within 72 hours, a new draw will take place for a new winner. Odds of winning will vary depending on the number of eligible entries received. This contest is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with Facebook. This giveaway is sponsored by the author Lars Guignard and Fantastic Press and is hosted and managed by Renee from Mother Daughter Book Reviews. If you have any additional questions - feel free to send and email to Renee(at)MotherDaughterBookReviews(dot)com. a Rafflecopter giveaway MDBR Kid Lit Book Promotion Services - Button FINAL

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Princess Madeline Blog Tour: Interview with Author Kirstin Pulioff

About the Books

The Escape of Princess Madeline by Kirstin PulioffTitle: The Escape of Princess Madeline (Princess Madeline Trilogy, Book #1) Author: Kirstin Pulioff Publication Date: November 4, 2012 Publisher: Caliburn Books Number of pages: 138 Recommended age: 10+ Summary: The Kingdom of Soron is known for many things, its rolling landscape, haunting history, fiery sunsets, and its beautiful princess. Princess Madeline woke on her sixteenth birthday to realize that her future had been planned out, a life full of privilege, royalty, and boredom... a life with a husband and knight champion that she did not choose. Using her charm, strength and stubbornness, she defies the King at every turn, determined to keep her freedom on her terms. Freedom quickly turns to disaster as she finds herself seized by a group of wandering bandits. With the kingdom in turmoil over her capture; her Knight Champion eager to prove himself, a group of dedicated suitors determined to win her hand, and a group of exiled wizards join forces in the hunt to rescue her. Follow Princess Madeline in this adventure full of twists and turns as she tries to find her freedom and answers to her questions about life and love.

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The Battle for Princess Madeline by Kirstin Pulioff Title: The Battle for Princess Madeline (Princess Madeline Trilogy, Book #2) Author: Kirstin Pulioff Publication Date: May 21, 2013 Publisher: Caliburn Books Number of pages: 159 Recommended age: 10+ Summary: The Kingdom of Soron bustled with activity as preparations for the Fall Festival began. Lively merchants, hardworking farmers, and musicians eagerly awaited this event of harvest and joy. This year’s festival was even more important, as they celebrated Princess Madeline’s betrothal to her knight champion, Daniel. Celebration quickly turns to disaster as Prince Paulsen returns with curious demands, either Princess Madeline will be his, or no ones. Rejection turns to obsession and battle is declared. In a tense struggle to decide her future, Princess Madeline must choose where to put her trust… in the king’s tried and true plan, the wizard’s cryptic messages and maps, or her own sense of bravery. Follow Princess Madeline on this adventure as she battles evil in an attempt to create a future of love and magic.

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Princess Madeline and the Dragon by Kirstin Pulioff Title: Princess Madeline and the Dragon (Princess Madeline Trilogy, Book #3) Author: Kirstin Pulioff Publication Date: November 26, 2013 Publisher: Caliburn Books Number of pages: 135 Recommended age: 10+ Summary: After a season of battle and rebuilding, the Kingdom of Soron is exhausted. With the return of the exiled wizards, the Spring Faire, and her upcoming wedding, Princess Madeline is looking forward to a peaceful season of celebration. When the mysterious green dragon reappears, threatening the kingdom and the king, Princess Madeline and Prince Braden won’t rest for long. Faced with this incredible new danger, Princess Madeline and Prince Braden must find a way to lead their kingdom and secure their future. Can they find the answers hidden within their mother’s cryptic messages from the past, or will the dragon destroy everything they hold dear? Follow Princess Madeline as she embarks on a dangerous new adventure to save her kingdom and her family.

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The Buzz

Book 1: "Well-written, fast-paced, and entirely appropriate for its target audience (middle grade fantasy), this short but succinct novel (novella? It was maybe a little between a novella and a novel) tells a delightful tale of a naive princess who learns the real meaning of freedom. Kirsten gives her characters a sufficient amount of depth to make them genuinely likeable, and she leaves room for much, much more to come." ~ 5 Star Review, Ally, Amazon
Book 1: "An inspiring thought provoking, and wonderfully written fairy tale by an author who transports us to a time in our imagination where everything is magical and possibilities are real." ~ 5 Star Review, kathyls, Amazon
Book 2: "Fairy tales are filled with knights and princesses and castles and a special magical feel that takes the reader far, far, away into another world, another place, another time. The Battle for Princess Madeline fits the bill to a tee! Author Kirstin Pulioff has created a special feel to the tale of Princess Madeline with her own special talent for using words to paint pictures in our minds." ~ 5 Star Review, Dii, Amazon
Book 2: "The story is well developed and easy to follow. The vivid scenes will transport young readers into the magical world of fairy tales with thrilling characters that have come to life. Another splendid read for young readers! I can hardly wait for a new book, Princess Madeline and the Dragon. " ~ 5 Star Review, Mrs. D., Amazon
Book 3: "The story is engaging on many levels, as is Pulioff's writing, but on this occasion I was mostly drawn into the action and the mystery as how to prevent the worst from happening. This is great entertainment and should do well across a wider age range." ~ 5 Star Review,ChristophFischerBooks, Amazon
Book 3: "Kirstin Pulioff has saved the best for last. 'Princess Madeline and the Dragon' is the final instalment in the 'Princess Madeline Trilogy'. I thought the first two books were finely wrought stories, but this novel surpasses its predecessors. Prophesies, family tragedies, magic and - of course - dragons, combine to produce a tale that is an instant classic. Written with a great deal of charm, 'Princess Madeline and the Dragon' will not disappoint Ms Pulioff's young fans. I look forward to seeing where next her imagination will take this natural storyteller. " ~ 5 Star Review, Diogenes, Amazon

About the Author: Kirstin Pulioff

Kirstin Pulioff Kirstin Pulioff is a storyteller at heart. Born and raised in Southern California, she moved to the Pacific Northwest to follow her dreams and graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in Forest Management. Happily married and a mother of two, she lives in Oregon, and enjoys being a stay at home mom. When she’s not writing, she is busy with her kids and church.

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I'm happy to welcome this wonderfully creative author today so we can find out how the whole story started.

1. When did the writing bug bite?
That is a great question to start. I was bitten by the muse at an early age. Writing has always been my creative expression. From short stories as a child, to my first fantasy books in middle school and high school, I have always been writing down adventures and dreams. I didn’t think about pursuing it as a career though until the past couple of years.

2. Where did the whole Princess Madeline story come from – influences, Eureka moments, inspiration? (books in childhood, favourite characters, movies, games etc.)
When I began writing this series, it was strictly as something to do during my lunch breaks at work. It gave me a creative escape from my office job. At that point I had no idea what it would turn into, or how that simple activity would reignite my passion for writing. The Princess Madeline story was the first idea that popped into my mind, and the draft was complete in only a matter of a couple of months. I have always gravitated towards fantasy as my preferred genre, and so when it came time for me to write, it was naturally full of those traditional elements. I chose the middle grade reading level because that is where I began my love for reading, and it holds a special part in my heart. Princess Madeline is similar to princesses in other stories, and Disney, but I wanted to make sure there was a layer of realism.

3. Did you conceive of each book as a separate entity, or did you decide to break it into three parts?
The original story for Princess Madeline came about as an individual book, but as I finished the first story, the idea for the second appeared, and then the third.

4. Clearly you love magic/fantasy/dragons – what has been the best part of the whole series for you?
Oh boy… do I have to pick just one? There are so many things I have loved about creating this series, but my favorite was living in Princess Madeline’s head and heart. For the past few years my writing has focused on growing with her, looking at the world from her perspective and finding her next path. The biggest reward is seeing this story completed, and knowing that I have told the story I was meant to write.

5. Madeline starts off as a bit of a spoiled brat, then whammo, she gets all the nonsense knocked out of her when reality bites after her selfish runaway antics – did you mean for this to happen so suddenly? Her life changes rapidly and from doing nothing but wear fancy clothes and look gorgeous, she is suddenly all grown up and getting married.
Ha ha, yes, I wanted a hard dose of reality to fall onto Princess Madeline’s shoulders. I wanted to take the traditional princess angle of running away and avoiding responsibility, and strip the romanticism of it. There were three main points I wanted to get across.

* Running away (both literally and from problems) is not the solution and comes with consequences.

* I wanted to make sure that she was not rescued by her knight, that she was helped, but not rescued in the traditional sense.

* Most importantly, I wanted to make sure that she took responsibility for her actions.

With these books directed towards the middle grade and tween readers, I felt a responsibility to show these three points… and once those lessons were learned, making sure there was a happily ever after.

6. There are many life lessons contained in the books: what are the most significant ones you hope young readers will absorb?
In each book, I wanted to focus on a couple of lessons, with a clear undertone carried throughout the series. The Escape of Princess Madeline focused on parent/child conflicts, taking responsibility for your actions, and first love. The Battle for Princess Madeline focused on believing in yourself, bravery, and doing the right thing. In Princess Madeline and the Dragon, the story revolves around the power of love. Overall though, I wanted to drive home the struggles of growing up and finding your inner strength… I know, that is a lot to pack full in three books. Ha!

7. Her relationships with various people/family/Daniel are well defined – would you like to expand on this?
There are so many different relationships, and I wanted to explore the dynamics between them all, from the complications between parent and child, sibling rivalry, childhood friendships, and first love. Family dynamics were the foundation of the story. So much of Princess Madeline’s adventures were based on miscommunication and misunderstanding with her family.  Even with the best of intentions, King Theodore fumbles raising Madeline. I enjoyed writing from the different perspectives and showing both sides to the story. I think that everyone rises to the occasion and to the expectations that are put on them. In the Princess Madeline series, different opportunities and struggles are presented in her relationships, offering the change for growth, reflection, and understanding.

8. For me, Madeline's charm and innate sense of integrity make her very appealing. She is a good person, without being boring – your thoughts?
I’m glad you thought so. :) I really wanted to make her a relatable and enjoyable character. I tried to balance her qualities so that she reflected both the hard and soft - strength with vulnerability, stubbornness with creativity, and defiance with intelligence. She is a good person, just struggling to find her place in the world and how to take control of her life… and I’m glad she didn’t bore you. Ha ha. Bandits, wizards, and a dragon will definitely keep things interesting.

9. I just loved the back history and the whole build up to the actual story – where did all that come from. I wished there had been more.
One of the things I love about reading a series is that in each book you learn a bit more and can tie more pieces together. It was fun for me adding those layers as each book developed, and creating new links that I hadn’t even thought about. My favorite was writing the prologue in the second book. Queen Eleanor was a character only briefly described, but who had a big impact on all three stories. This was the first point in which I could show the similarities between Madeline and her mother, and really add that layer of complexity and prophesy to the story.

10. What’s next? Any chance of Braden getting his own books?
To be honest, I never even thought about going in that angle, but it could be interesting. For now the Princess Madeline series is complete, but I won’t say that it is done forever. I believe in keeping all the options open, and go where the muse takes me. I currently have a couple projects planned for 2014, a YA Fantasy, and a MG adventure for boys.

 Thanks for joining us today, Kirstin, and I am sure many readers will be eagerly awaiting your next venture. You can find my reviews on my blog (a few posts down) or on Amazon.

* $25 Book Blast Giveaway *

Prize: $25Amazon Gift Card or PayPal cash (winner’s choice) Contest runs: December 18, 2013 to January 16, 2014, 11:59 pm, 2013 Open: Internationally How to enter: Please enter using the Rafflecopter widget below. Terms and Conditions: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW. A winner will be randomly drawn through the Rafflecopter widget and will be contacted by email within 48 hours after the giveaway ends. The winner will then have 72 hours to respond. If the winner does not respond within 72 hours, a new draw will take place for a new winner. Odds of winning will vary depending on the number of eligible entries received. This contest is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with Facebook. This giveaway is sponsored by the author, Kirstin Pulioff and is hosted and managed by Renee from Mother Daughter Book Reviews. If you have any additional questions – feel free to send and email to Renee(at)MotherDaughterBookReviews(dot)com. a Rafflecopter giveaway MDBR Book Promotion Services

Windows vs Ford

For all of us who feel only the deepest love and affection for the way computers have enhanced our lives, read on.
At a recent computer expo (COMDEX), Bill Gates reportedly compared the computer industry with the auto industry and stated, "If Ford had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25 cars that got 1,000 miles to the gallon."

In response to Bill's comments, Ford issued a press release stating:
If Ford had developed technology like Microsoft, we would all be driving cars with the following characteristics (and I just love this part):

1. For no reason whatsoever, your car would crash.........twice a day.

2. Every time they repainted the lines in the road, you would have to buy a new car.

3. Occasionally your car would die on the freeway for no reason. You would have to pull to the side of the road, close all of the windows, shut off the car, restart it, and reopen the windows before you could continue. For some reason you would simply accept this.

4. Occasionally, executing a maneuver such as a left turn would cause your car to shut down and refuse to restart, in which case you would have to reinstall the engine.

5. Macintosh would make a car that was powered by the sun, was reliable, five times as fast and twice as easy to drive - but would run on only five percent of the roads.

6. The oil, water temperature, and alternator warning lights would all be replaced by a single "This Car Has Performed An Illegal Operation" warning light.

7. The airbag system would ask,"Are you sure?" before deploying.

8. Occasionally, for no reason whatsoever, your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key and grabbed hold of the radio antenna.

9. Every time a new car was introduced car buyers would have to learn how to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as the old car.

10. You'd have to press the "Start" button to turn the engine off.

PS - I'd like to add that when all else fails, you could call "customer service" in some foreign country and be instructed in some foreign language how to fix your car yourself!

Please share this with your friends who love - but sometimes hate - their computer!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Book Review: Princess Madeline and the Dragon

All is well in the Kingdom of Soron; at least, that’s what everyone thinks. The village has been rebuilt since Prince Paulsen’s disastrous attack the previous autumn, and preparations are under way for the Spring Faire – a very important occasion. Princess Madeline is also preparing for her upcoming wedding to Daniel, and the prospect of establishing a new home in the North. The wizards, now welcomed back after their timely assistance during the previous troubles, have a new role to play. Madeline has been having strange dreams, and the Elder Wizard, in fact her Uncle Elias, is trying to teach her to harness her magical powers, inherited from her mother. Then things turn horribly upside-down, as we have been warned via the prologue, where Lord Hawthorne (hunting for dragons’ eggs) stumbles upon a rare clutch of these magical eggs. Amazingly, a green dragon appears and begins to ravage the kingdom. The fiery attack ends with King Theodore being badly burned to the point where he insists on Madeline’s marriage to Daniel right away; and he appoints Madeline’s twin brother Braden as King of Soron. The dragon is fast becoming a huge and dangerous problem. Will Madeline and Braden be able to decipher the clues left by their mother that spoke of the Age of Dragons? And why is the dragon suddenly attacking the kingdom?

Kirstin Pulioff has cleverly sown the clues to the final book in the first and second books, where seemingly innocuous items hold the key to solving the mystery of the green dragon. Braden, somewhat neglected in books one and two, comes into his own and pulls the readers’ focus as he takes charge of the kingdom, and finds the path of love not as smooth as he had hoped. Madeline has really grown up here, and her thoughts on resolving the kingdom’s dilemma differ greatly from her brother’s. Her way is based on love, reason, reconciliation, and truth. The wizard Elias also has a lot to teach both the characters and young readers and his words of wisdom are beautifully woven into this rich fantasy tapestry. Again the author’s gift for description stands her in good stead as the dragon, in all its flaming fury, is brought vividly to life in the pages of this magical fairy tale. Princess Madeline and the Dragon is well worth the wait as there is something for everyone: romance, love, enchantment, magicality, wizards, action, adventure, and of course … here be dragons! Five Stars
Available from Amazon

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Book Review: The Unconquered

TheUnconquered by Scott Wallace is his account of an expedition into the deepest recesses of the Amazon, on assignment for National Geographic, to confirm the existence of ‘The Arrow People’ (or ‘les flecheiros’) so that their territory may be preserved and protected. Wallace joins Sydney Possuelo; a larger-than-life figure in the history of Brazil’s endangered indigenous people, and a man who has devoted his life to saving and protecting the last of the uncontacted tribes.

‘Uncontacted’ is a bit of a misnomer because the remaining elusive tribes have fled from contact, diving deeper in the vast Amazon to escape what they know (from bitter experience) will happen: death from disease, despoliation of their territory, and the loss of their culture from ‘contamination’ by modern artifacts and an increasing dependency on them – this fate has befallen many tribes who now straddle the uncomfortable divide between totally indigenous and self-sufficient, and those who no longer can fend for themselves because they have forgotten the old ways of hunting, fishing, and making their own weapons. Brazil’s past and indeed much of the South Americas is steeped in blood, both historically and in today’s times. The devastation of the forests, the outright plundering of wildlife and natural resources of yesteryear has been tamed but not to the extent that uncontacted tribes can rest in peace and go about heir daily lives. Ever watchful, often times violent (and with good cause), they find their existence is precarious. Amazingly, drug dealers have turned to the Amazon to find passages through; entrepreneurs (in the worst sense of the word) prey on Indians  and their territory for precious woods, rare fish and animals, and gold, despite the best efforts of FUNAI (National Indian Foundation), the agency set up to protect the Indians’ rights.

I found this book hard to read for several reasons. I thought I was prepared for the tragedy unfolding between the pages, having subscribed to newsletters such as Survival International, where a dedicated organisation highlights the plight of indigenous people worldwide.  I wasn’t prepared for the litany of bloodshed and tragedy that taints Brazil’s history. The details of the horrors perpetrated by the architects of Brazil’s rubber boom verges on genocide. Colonialism in its worst form still prevails, but this time there is no outside invader: the threat comes from the vilest of Brazil’s population, those who don’t care a damn about the trail of destruction in their wake. Indigenous Indians are considered a nuisance, and expendable at that. They battle death threats, being shot at, being evicted, being hunted by people who want what is theirs by right; the invaders’ reasoning being how can a tiny percent of the country’s inhabitants (less than 1%) need so much land (11%)? We have learned very little from history when colonial invaders destroyed indigenous cultures outright and reduced their people to the horrors of dependency and/or death in the name of civilisation. People like Sydney Possuelo and the teams of dedicated ‘rangers’ deserve better support than they have received. It is an ongoing, thankless task, and one that seems doomed unless the government gets its act together.

I also found the book hard going because the actual journey is hard going. From the idyllic start of a river-borne expedition, to the utterly hellish conditions whereby the team members had to toil up inclines and down slopes, drenched and slipping in mud, plagued by ferocious insects, under threat from dangerous wildlife, having to make camp each night by hacking their way through thick foliage, facing dwindling supplies; not to mention food theft, food hoarding, and the kind of weird mentality that takes over a group ‘trapped’ in an endless round of daily trudging. One is reminded of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in many ways as a grim madness prevails. Ironically, the team was only minutes away from civilization, had a plane been able to land, but months away from it by foot or boat.

At first I thought author Wallace was something of a moaner; he complained endlessly about everything. Then, as I wearily took up the book each night, I began to appreciate exactly what they went through, and the hideous discomforts associated with such a journey. Things such as satellite phones and the like are useless in the dense jungle, so increasingly they had to rely on themselves. Apart from the Indians amongst them who could cope, many did not. No wonder they emerged three months later wild-eyed, exhausted, and much thinner. I ultimately appreciated the mindset and thoughts the author expressed; from saying a special prayer each night, to totally doubting they would ever emerge from the impenetrable jungle. There is so much more in the book than one review can ever tell. The most significant message for me was that we have reached a tipping point where there is very little left that has not been explored, exploited, and ultimately destroyed by civilization’s need, greed, and depredation. Where will it end, one wonders? How much more can be stripped from our natural environment before we are left with the bleak, barren, infertile remnants of a once-beautiful planet? The inhospitable dystopian future so fondly depicted by movie makers and writers does not seem either far-fetched or very far away. A must-read at five stars.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Book Review: The Battle for Princess Madeline

In book two of the Princess Madeline series we’re back in the Kingdom of Soron, in the midst of the Fall Festival. Apart from the fun and activity of this festive event, there is a special significance: Princess Madeline’s betrothal to her Champion Knight Daniel, who saved her during her previous escapade. Princess Madeline is starting to grow up as well, and apart from making her tutor’s life a misery with her questions, is taking a great interest in the kinds of things necessary for running a kingdom and being responsible for people. It seems that nothing will spoil this idyllic time, except the reappearance of the sly Prince Paulsen, making outrageous demands on King Theodore. Paulsen demands Madeline’s hand in marriage and when the king reminds the prince that although he rid the country of brigands, he did not actually save the princess himself, this leads to terrible events. War ensues, and at the same time Madeline must decide how she can help save the kingdom. The banished wizards risk the wrath of the king by appearing, with messages, clues, and advice. While Theodore and Daniel face Paulsen’s ravaging troops, Madeline makes her own decisions.

Kudos to author Kirstin Pulioff for introducing more entrancing back story regarding magical choices that Madeline and her twin brother made without knowing it. Fragments of their mother’s story come through, adding to the wizards’ role in this book, and indeed in the prehistory of Soron. I loved the element of magic and mystery that the wizards bring, with suggestions of building onto forthcoming events, when the Age of Dragons looms over Soron. Madeline develops a sense of maturity about life, and her relationship with Daniel. She also uses her wits and embarks upon a daring plan, so courage is part of her nature. The battle scenes and the grim results of Paulsen’s invasion are brought to life by the author’s gift for description. In fact, description is part of what makes the series so appealing. One can hear the clash of swords, the shouts of the soldiers or (on a more peaceful note) almost rub shoulders with Madeline as she gazes at a beautiful view. There is much to entice young readers in this tale of the Princess: action, adventure, a charming romance, magic, and of course, the promise of dragons to come. Adventure and enchantment make this a strong second book in the series. I am looking forward to book three. Available on Amazon. Five Stars.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Book Review: The Escape of Princess Madeline

Princess Madeline lives in the fairy tale kingdom of Soron, with a loving father and twin brother, Braden, a castle of servants at her beck and call, a charmed and pampered existence … and yet, she is not happy. For one thing, her father King Theodore has decided that at the ball to celebrate her sixteenth birthday, a suitor will be chosen for her. This indignity totally offends Madeline who is quite capable of making her own decisions. She wants freedom, independence, the ability to make her own choices, and—very importantly—to choose her future husband for herself. The only thing to do is run away; desperate measures for sure, but a drastic situation calls for an equally drastic response. Her disappearance throws the
castle and indeed the whole kingdom into total turmoil, with Knight Daniel, her champion and protector, setting off to find her. Various princely suitors (mostly unsuitable!), but eager to court favour with the king, also set off on their own missions to retrieve the princess. Madeline, however brave she feels inside, is completely unprepared for life in the real world. Her inexperience and ignorance land her in the clutches of brigands. Daniel, meanwhile, has done the unforgivable; he has approached the wizards, now banished from the kingdom, for their help. Will he find Madeleine in time? Have the wizards betrayed him? And why is the creepy Prince Paulsen so interested in saving Madeleine?

This is a traditional fairy tale with a realistic twist. The princess does start out as a bit spoiled, but a few nights on her own, braving brigands and an inhospitable environment soon shake her up. Parents reading this will smile at the part where Madeline deeply regrets giving up what she had for what she thought she wanted: isn’t that what life is all about? This is a life lesson in a dynamic package as she comes to terms with her own selfish desires versus what her responsibilities as future princess would be. She also realises how much pain she has caused those who love her. The author’s strength lies in wonderful, rich descriptions that entice all the readers’ senses. From the opulence of the palace, to the terrors of the forest, to the magicality and enchantment of the wizard realm, the readers will experience it first-hand. Although the story seems simple, there is a strong back history that no doubt comes into play with the subsequent books. There is also a strong hint that certain people are not who they appear to be. I would have liked a more detailed back history, instead of a prologue to create Soron’s past and delve deeper into King Theodore’s painful memories. I hope this is developed more in the following books. Charming, and with enough fairy tale elements to satisfy young readers, this book sets a nice beginning for the Princess Madeleine Trilogy by Kirsten Pulioff. 4 Stars. Available on Amazon.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Book Review: Tortoise Soup

Ruby Tinker is an orphan at St. Therese’s Children’s home in England. She has lived there since a terrible car accident that robbed her of her parents and the full use of her legs. But Ruby is not quite alone in the world. She has a beloved companion, tortoise extraordinaire (to say the least) Byron Tinker. No ordinary reptile, Byron can read (albeit slowly), run fast (for a tortoise), he can climb, make up poems, and he loves Ruby with all his heart and soul. Although neither Ruby nor Byron can
A must-read for all ages!
imagine life without the other, dark and dreadful plans are afoot courtesy of the grim-faced, cold-hearted Miss Scratbakk, owner of the children’s home. Her plans for creating untold wealth depend upon Byron Tinker’s demise. However, a malevolent Fate seems to be assisting her ghastly plot when Ruby’s Uncle Peter informs her he is giving up his career as a globe-trotting diplomat and will be settling in Scotland, and creating a home for his niece. One thing is certain: Uncle Peter will not have pets in the house and Byron is not coming with. To Ruby’s horror, Uncle Peter’s driver collects her for the long drive to Scotland, and Byron is left behind. Before Miss Scratbakk can plonk Byron in a pot of soup (as was her plan), Bryon manages to escape. Will Byron survive the numerous adventures and dangers that face him? Will Miss Scratbakk succeed in her evil plans for the children at the home? Will Byron and Ruby be reunited?

Byron’s escapades are numerous, but this intrepid tortoise takes it all in his stride. His enduring love for Ruby keeps him plodding onward. He meets some kind creatures (the snakes in the pet shop and the wild crane), some helpful people (Miss Tigerlily and the bin men), and even comes close to the Rainbow Bridge, where all animals wait for their owners to cross over with them. But it’s not time for Byron to cross over; he still has lots of life and fun ahead of him with Ruby. This book is about love, friendship, hope, faith, sharing and caring, and belief in a better tomorrow. Kids will quickly absorb these important life lessons, couched as they are in this enchanting story of bravery and adventure. Author Nick Holland (no doubt with Bryon’s valuable input) has created a tale where the wicked are hilariously evil; the various characters have a quirky charm; the animals stand tall, and there is such a brightness that overcomes any doom or gloom as all loose ends are neatly tied up. There is poetry, songs, and many delightful details to put smiles on the faces of readers of all ages. You also learn quite a lot about tortoises, how to care for them, and what they like to eat. PS: They don’t like corned beef-and-mustard sandwiches.
Available on Amazon.
Five Stars

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Champ Shares: The Year That Was 2013

Welcome to 2014. I am sure that for many people 2013 had its ups and downs, trials and tribulations. I followed the ups and downs, and many trials and tribulations of Champ, the little dog in California who survived terrible abuse, and lived. With me as his biodographer, Champ penned his story of hope in Champ: My Story of Survival. He started his own blog, made a book video, and also a music video. Here is Champ's reflection on 2013, and his New Year resolutions for 2014. Brave, loyal, loving, and ever optimistic, this is one dog in a million. Please watch and share his music video which says it all.

Champ's motto, now and forever!

Champ says: "Hi everyone, I hope you had a wonderful New Year celebration and you've made lots of good New Year resolutions. I have: I'm going to shower my friends and Foster Family with love; and I'm going to show the world how to love animals everywhere.

I thought back on how far I've come since I was rescued. It's hard to put all my feelings in words, but my fantastic musician friend Joe Zamora and his band One Bad Munky said it all for me. Please watch and share this amazing music video."

Champ's Music Video

Me thinking back...