Monday, November 28, 2022

My books and Libraries

This is an older post that I've updated to include relevant info for "Lilibet Lynn."

Yesterday I discovered that my local library system has three copies of "The Mermaid and the Unicorn" on order! I didn't do anything to make this happen, so at least one person must have placed a request. Here's the part where I also need to thank my reviewers, because the great reviews that I've been getting would have been excellent data for librarians assessing the purchase. So thank you!


When I announced this news on Facebook, one of my friends mentioned that she didn't realize you could request your library to purchase books.

You absolutely can! In fact, independent authors rely heavily on patron (that's YOU!) requests to get their books in libraries, since we're not represented at the big librarian trade shows unless we manage to get there ourselves (not in the cards for me with my health right now). To make a request, all you have to do is fill out a short form with the book's basic info. You can find all of that on the Amazon page, or refer back to this post

You can talk to a librarian in person, or you can search out the appropriate page on your library website. (In my library system, this link is rather hidden, as one has to go to "contact us" then "feedback and suggestions" and then finally "suggest a purchase".

The info you may need:

Title: "The Mermaid and the Unicorn"
Author: Elizabeth Amy Hajek
Publisher: Geek Haus Press
ISSN/ISBN: ISBN-10: 1535110376 ISBN-13: 978-1535110372
Price: $13.99
Library of Congress Catalog Number (LCCN): 2016911383

Title: "Lilibet Lynn and the Children of Sherwood"
Author: Elizabeth Amy Hajek
Publisher: Geek Haus Press
ISSN/ISBN: ISBN-13: 979-8360232650
Price: $11.00
Library of Congress Catalog Number (LCCN): 2022920434




While we're on the subject of libraries, I also wanted to share a little bit about "Kindle Unlimited" which is Amazon's subscription based ebook lending library. "The Mermaid and the Unicorn" is available as a title in this service, and one of the tools I have is the ability to see how many pages are read per day! It's pretty fun to watch the graph bounce around! 

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Welcome to Print, Lilibet Lynn! Or, How a Broken Foot turned into a Novel

She's here! It's been six years, but I've finally got a new book--and a new heroine--in print! 

"Lilibet Lynn and the Children of Sherwood" is available on Amazon now, and I'm here to share how that all happened because of a broken foot.




My first book, "The Mermaid and the Unicorn," was published over six years ago. Two difficult pregnancies just 14 months apart plus some theological tangles in the series put me on a major hiatus. I wrote a lot over those six years, it just didn't get me to the point where I had something I could easily publish. 

Then, on Easter 2022, I had a massive fall and ended up fracturing my foot so badly, I couldn't even tolerate a protective boot. I was completely non-ambulatory for six weeks. This was on top of having my hearing aids die the previous month with no success in securing an adequate replacement. With my kids still very small, we had to get complete childcare and housekeeping assistance during the hours my husband was working. 

This left me with a choice. I could sit around feeling sorry for myself...or I could see this as a blessing and use the mandatory childcare coverage and forced physical inaction to pound out some serious writing. 

Well, that was a no-brainer! But what project would I work on? I felt a deep desire to fulfill the promise to my readers and get more "Song of the Fay" out, but there was still a check on my spirit about that (more on that in a bit). I had a couple of other pieces in good places, but I didn't think I could actually get them done soon enough to publish in 2022. And it seemed very clear to me that I needed to publish in 2022. What could I manage from beginning to end in just 8 months? 


Suddenly, out of the blue, two ideas that had been percolating in my brain for a few years smashed together. A young girl named Lilibet Lynn, and the concept of a seamstress who travels through time using a magical thimble. Originally, these had been conceived as two separate projects, one for children, one for adults. Yet when they merged together, it became clear that they would work best together in a middle school novel. 

You could probably blame this in part on the re-emergence of my youthful obsession with the American Girl books. I fell in love with history through my literary friendships with Felicity, Kirsten, Josefina and the others. I expanded that devotion through voracious consumption of the "Dear America" and "Royal Diaries" books, as well as whatever historical fiction I could get my hands on. Sadly, as I got older, there was less and less available in the historical genre, at least until I reached adulthood. Particularly as my greatest love solidified around European, and particularly British, history. 

Furthermore, while I had of course been a twelve-year-old myself, I had the additional benefit of having nannied for four young ladies while they were in the 10-12 age range. I'd gotten to see the world through their eyes while an adult myself. I love all the imagination and possibility at that age and became so excited to dive into telling a story for this audience.

So, there it was. Lilibet would be a spunky twelve-year-old time traveling seamstress, and her first destination would be back to one of my favorite times and places in history...Twelfth Century Sherwood Forest, the era of Robin Hood and the fiery Plantagenet royal family. 



Of course, Robin Hood isn't a verified historical character. Of course not...

...well, you'll just have to read the book to see how I handle that one!

Spring and summer passed. My foot healed at last, but I kept on writing. Finally, just as autumn appeared around the corner, I finished up the manuscript and handed it over to my husband for editing. At the same time, I had to tackle the next piece of publishing business, which was nailing down cover art. 

Here's where technology gets cool--right at this period in time, the capabilities of AI art have exploded. Happily for me, my brother-in-law was right on the forefront of mining the depths of possibility and he was thrilled to help me develop a piece that would become the cover for "Lilibet." 

Working with AI software was absolutely fascinating, and I hope to write another blog post or perhaps even create a short video discussing that process. Although the basic idea is that you write a prompt and the AI engine generates the art, it actually requires a lot of human shepherding and refining to get a very specific image. We learned a lot and it was a blast! I am so psyched about the beautiful piece of art we coaxed into existence! 



The last little piece of Lilibet's creation story is her name. It goes right back to that early fascination of mine with English history. "Lilibet" was the special nickname used by the family of Queen Elizabeth II of England. While that family is as imperfect as any humans on this earth, QEII and her example of fortitude and hard work has been important to me for a long time. Naming a character after her was a very deliberate homage on my part, (and also given a specific purpose in the story). This was all planned out long before the Queen's passing. 

So, there's the development story of Lilibet. 

I'm so excited to finally introduce my time traveling seamstress to you all! It has been hugely encouraging to me as a writer to finally get another published work out in the world. While only the Lord knows the future, many things have settled into place and we have a working plan for how to keep the stories coming! 

And "The Song of the Fay"? 

Well, let's just say that I'm not going to write much about it here, because I'm doing actual writing on it somewhere else... stay tuned! 

You can buy "Lilibet Lynn and the Children of Sherwood" on Amazon, Paperback $11.00, Kindle $2.99, (or read it for free on Kindle Unlimited!) Also, you can read Chapters 1-3 here.

For regular updates on my writing, as well as behind the scenes looks and historical tidbits, make sure to follow my NEW author account on Instagram! 


Thimble Sketch by Carolyn VanBenschoten
Book Layout by Jansina of Rivershore Books


Thursday, November 17, 2022

Coming Soon: Lilibet Lynn and the Children of Sherwood

A long-vanished world of archery and injustice shimmers at her fingertips...

If fitting in as a tween in the twenty-first century wasn’t hard enough, one unexpected gift on Lilibet Lynn’s twelfth birthday and she’s lost in the Middle Ages! At least she manages to befriend a young archer—only for him to be accused of a terrible crime. The penalty: death.

Navigating a kingdom filled with strange customs, hot-headed royalty, and political intrigue, can Lilibet keep herself alive, let alone save her new friend? Will a young lionhearted prince and his fiery sister prove her last hope of bringing truth and justice to the ancient and dangerous forest of Sherwood?

Coming soon from Geek Haus Press, a new novel by Elizabeth Amy Hajek
 

Saturday, October 29, 2022

New Instagram and New Book News

 After a long hiatus, I'm coming back with fresh book news and a social media revamp! Follow my new author account on Instagram for the first peek next week!

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Our Favorite Baby and Toddler Books

 Two years ago, I asked my Facebook network what children's books they considered the very best. I was at the time pregnant with my first child and turning my attention to building her library. The thread garnered over 100 comments, full of great suggestions. At the time, however, I did not purchase many of the books. 

Last month I was browsing through my memories and came across the thread again. Nostalgic, I began to read, and I was happy to see how many of the suggestions have become family favorites of ours. It was interesting to reflect on how two years has turned me from a newbie to a connoisseur of children's literature. My husband and I regularly visit local consignment sales and dig through dozens of bins, quickly throwing out books for having too many words for the age group, an art style we don't like, or a message we don't agree with. We pounce on titles from tried and true authors and series, both for growing our own library and for giving as gifts. 

Our 20-month-old is now the happy owner of probably close to two hundred books. She carries them all over the house, babbles familiar lines, and points out her favorite animals. We have to keep to a strict limit of only three books at bedtime/naptime! 

As I now approach week 33 of my second pregnancy, I thought it was time to publicly share our list of favorite children's books, as approved by mama, daddy, and #1!

(Listed roughly in the order our daughter came to appreciate them. Also, I've for sure forgotten some, so don't be offended if your favorite isn't here. It might just have gotten overlooked in our deluge of awesome books!)




Look Look! 

Babies love black and white images, and Look Look! is the perfect first book. Our daughter loved looking at it when she was just starting tummy time...and she still asks us to read it to her now at 19 months.


Baby Faces (And All About Baby)

After black and white, the next item of interest for children are...other children! Baby faces displays a variety of babies of all skin tones with different emotions, in different circumstances. Our emotionally attuned daughter especially loves the different emotions. We also enjoy the companion book, All About Baby.


The Hungry Caterpillar, Brown Bear, Brown Bear and other Eric Carle

The Hungry Caterpillar was one of the first first books that our baby was obsessed with. She would look at the butterfly page forever! Now as a toddler she isn't into it anymore, but she still enjoys other Eric Carle, especially Brown Bear, Brown Bear and others in that vein.


DK Touch and Feel

Basically any DK Touch and Feel book is a likely winner. There are a billion animal options (it seems!), as well as themes like bedtime, shapes and colors, tractors, etc. 


See, Touch, Feel

A different kind of touch and feel book, this one is a pretty comprehensive tactile experience, incorporating color, shapes, raised patterns, pictures of babies, a stuffed animal, and a mirror. When our daughter got into this one, we had to read it over and over and over again!


Baby Lit: Sherlock Holmes

Baby Lit is a fun line of classic adaptations, focusing on themes like numbers, colors, sounds, and other basic concepts. While we have enjoyed many of them, our daughter's first favorite was Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles (A Sounds Primer). She loves it when Mommy makes all the creaky, rustly, howly sounds in the book!


Laura's Garden

This sweetly illustrated board book was a hit with our daughter, raised as she was among my garden! It was one of the first 'story' book she really got into, and remains a favorite.


Snuggle Puppy, Barnyard Dance, Happy Hippo Angry Duck and other Sandra Boynton

Prior to becoming a parent, I knew nothing about Sandra Boynton. It was a name that popped up a LOT on the Facebook thread of recommendations, but I wasn't impressed by the art style. Then we were gifted a box of hand me down books that contained many Boynton's and my husband and I became OBSESSED! Boynton books are so fun to read! We love Happy Hippo, Angry Duck and the way it talks about emotions, and our daughter ADORES Barnyard Dance, especially when she gets to do all the moves dancing around the nursery with Daddy while Mommy reads!

Baby Signs

Baby sign language was a very helpful tool in our daughter's communication development. I was lucky enough to find a version that used real babies, and our daughter adored it. Now, nearly all baby sign books use illustrations rather than real babies, and I don't find those quite as effective. Ours is so old, it is difficult even to find a photo of it online! 


Never Touch a Dinosaur

Part of a themed series, this is a fun book with lots of silicone textures, making it a nice chance from the fluff and fuzz of most other touch and feel books. She also got "How to Charma a Llama" from the series for Christmas, and the sequins in that book were an immediate hit.

That's Not My Pirate!

Another themed touch and feel series, this one is pretty cute. We enjoy the pirate theme!


Red Wagon

This gem popped up in our box of hand me downs, and we quickly fell in love with the story of a little girl turning chore time into an imaginative adventure! We started reading it to our daughter pretty early, abridging the words so that it would engage her at 10 months. Now she still loves it, and gets the full text. She had so much fun with her own wagon this summer! 


Ladybug Girl Dresses Up

While our daughter isn't quite into dress up yet, she loves Ladybug Girl! The board books are suitaable for a slightly younger age group than the paperback titles.

The Mitten

A favorite from my own childhood, this is a beautifully illustrated Eastern European Folktale. We also started this one off young with slightly abbreviated text, and expanded as our daughter grew older. The forest animals were a big hit, as is the BIG SNEEZE page! 


Baby Lit: Emma

This Baby Lit was such a big hit, that it gets its own entry separate from the previous recommendation. As I've mentioned before, our daughter is very emotionally attuned, and she LOVES this Emotions Primer! She copies all the facial expressions, and has a lot of fun declaring that Mr. Woodhouse is "BORED!"


Good Dog Carl

One of our very, very favorites, the beautiful pictures of Good Dog Carl speak for themselves, allowing Mommy and Daddy to choose their own narration to fit the child's age and interest. Since our dog is a central part of our family and our daughter's best friend, she gets a huge kick out of this one and requests it over and over.


Pat the Bunny

Vintage it may be, but Pat the Bunny has endured for a reason: it works! Our daughter adores all the little activities. My only qualm with this one is the strong soapy scent on the smell the flowers page. If you are sensitive to scents, you may want to tape over those flowers!


Goodnight Moon (and Goodnight Loon and Goodnight Unicorn)

What childhood is complete without Goodnight Moon? My husband's, apparently! I'm not a huge fan of the art style, but it's very soothing to read and my daughter seems to enjoy it. We've also got a kick out of two parody versions, Goodnight Loon (Minnesota) and Goodnight Unicorn. 


Little Critter Books

These might still be bigger hits with Mom and Dad than with kiddo, but they are growing on her! Nathan and I both grew up with Little Critter and we get such a hoot out of reading them again as adults!


Angelina Ballerina

This was the first 'long' book my daughter really connected with. She loves dancing, and I enjoy the art style, so it is a fun read for both of us.


I'm a Big Sister (Joanna Cole)

When we learned baby #2 was on the way, we knew we needed some good literature to introduce the concept to our young toddler. I'm a Big Sister was a consignment sale find and we are in love with the pictures and the text. The book covers all aspects of becoming a big sister, addressing areas of concern and excitement. We especially love that the family in the book looks just like us--the best friend even looks like our daughter's most regular playmate! (There's a big brother edition as well). This is another often-requested favorite.


Press Here

Press this dot...and turn the page...and suddenly there are two dots! Dots multiple, move, change color and size, all in reaction to different prompts given the reader. The concepts are a little more advanced, but once the child 'gets' it, the book is great fun and incorporates many learning activities that we are only too ready to delegate to computer games these days.


Madeline

Currently, Madeline is the FAVORITE book. Most requested, most quoted! While the sequels remain a bit too advanced and wordy for our daughter, she returns to the original again and again. And although I have it memorized, I haven't gotten sick of it yet. The text and illustrations are truly charming.


Baby Bible (Sarah Toulmin)

There are probably hundreds of baby Bibles out there. I stumbled upon this one right when I was looking for a new option at my daughter's reading level and I've been very pleased with it. Our daughter will quite happily listen to three stories in a row. 


My First Little House Books

We adore the illustrations in these books! Taken directly from the original Little House books, the chapter is expanded and richly illustrated to appeal to the very youngest of readers. They remain the most text heavy books that our daughter engages with.


Julia's House for Lost Creatures

Here's one for the geeks! I was so thrilled when my daughter finally was old enough to appreciate this story of a quirky house full of even quirkier guests. With gorgeous art by Ben Hatke, it sparks the creative imagination of child and parents alike.

We're Going on a Bear Hunt

This was one of my own childhood books. To my surprise, my daughter took longer to connect with this one than I expected. However, as soon as she did, it became an immediate favorite! 


Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Pemberly: Mr. Darcy's Dragon


"Jane Austen but with dragons" is a premise that has potential to be terribly awful or terribly good. I'm very excited to tell you that "Pemberly: Mr. Darcy's Dragon" by Maria Grace is very good. So good, in fact, that I barely restrained myself from blogging about it before I finished the trilogy!

Elizabeth Bennet is the eldest heir of her father's ability to hear dragons. She is not, however, heir to his estate and its resident dragon. This dragon, Longbourn, is controlling and tempermental, and has directed Elizabeth that she must marry the heir to the estate so that she can stay on as the new dragon keeper after her father's death. Elizabeth has resigned herself to this fate, as the price of being able to hear dragons. However, when stolen firedrake egg is tracked to Hertfordshire, Elizabeth is tasked with helping the owner track the egg down. That owner is, of course, none other than Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy...

Unlike similar set-ups having to do with Zombies and such, "Pemberly" does more than 'fill in the blanks' of the original "Pride and Prejudice." Although using the same initial set-up and cast of characters, Maria Grace does an excellent job of transposing them into a world of dragons and imagining how events might transpire differently. Well written, well plotted, and well executed, the book is brimming with engaging new characters and accurate expansions of the originals. Although plenty of original book dialogue is left in, this is far, far more than just "Pride and Prejudice" with dragons and there are plenty of twists that take the story far beyond Austen's plot. This is done with great respect for both the original premise, Austen's characters and words, and the etiquette and expectations of Regency England.

Beyond that, the dragon lore is quite fun and well written. It is an integral and interesting part of the book, but the worldbuilding never hijacks the story. It is really fun to imagine the estates of Longbourn and Rosings as personified by a dragon! And the smaller, companion dragons that accompany Elizabeth, Darcy, Mary, Fitzwilliam and the Gardiners are amusing and delightful additions to both plot and character development.

I especially enjoyed the expanded roles given Mary, Mr. Collins, and the Gardiners. Although I do regret the almost complete absence of Jane and Kitty from the novel, and wish more explanations had been given for why Mr. Bennet married Mrs. Bennet, I do like Mr. Bennet's expanded role as well.

Elizabeth Bennet, one of the most perfect heroines to enter English literature, is a very difficult character for another author to take up. For the most part, Grace does well with this. There are a few times when I felt that Elizabeth was 'too' perfect, too extraordinary. However whenever I felt the accolades were coming too thick, Grace usually balanced it out with Elizabeth grappling with her faults.

Well...it's not a perfect balance...but, on the whole, I'd rather have Elizabeth be a little too perfect than a little too flawed!

There are many more aspects of the trilogy that I enjoyed, but I can't share them without giving away some major spoilers! I'll just have to say that it's well worth seeing the three books through to their conclusion.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Off to be the Wizard

A nerdy computer whiz discovers a computer file that allows him to manipulate the world around him...and promptly finds himself on the run from the government...in medieval England...where he uses his newfound 'magical' powers to pretend to be a wizard...what else is going to go wrong?

"Off to be the Wizard" by Scott Meyer is exactly as lighthearted and whimsical as it ought to be. Although light on the perilous stakes at times and a bit slow moving at others, the constant humor keeps the reader engaged.

Actually, my husband said he'd never heard me laugh so much while reading a book. I'm not sure if this is true because I don't think this was the funniest book I ever read, but it did provoke a lot of laughs and I breezed through the six book series in about a week.

It's also a reasonably clean series. Although a little sex is hinted at and there are some off color jokes, most of the 'adult' humor is reasonably subtle. It is definitely a series written for adults, but would be acceptable for most older teens. Book 6 stars a pair of teenage twins as the hero and heroine.

 I did have a few issues with the characterization of the women in books #1 and #2, (not dirty, just not well developed), but Meyer seemed to grow as a writer of females and by book #3 most of the issues were solved.

Plenty of nerd humor, a cast of characters spanning from modern day U.S. treasury officials, to the 'real' Merlin, to a female populated Atlantis, and a fun spew of different world-building gags revolving around the rules the 'wizards' set for themselves, this is the perfect antidote to the lockdown blues most of the world is currently undergoing (April 2020). Furthermore, the first 5 books are available on Kindle Unlimited, which is currently free for two months to anyone who is not already a subscriber (even those of us who have subscribed in the past).