Transcendent Giveaway

*drumroll* *trumpet fanfare* *shouts from a cheering crowd*

Robot Playground Inc is happy to announce the Great and Marvelous Transcendent Giveaway

  • Post your name and email address
    format: name[at]wherever[dot]com
  • To be eligible, sing Jingle Bells backwards. Okay, we won't require that, but it sure would be fun to try. Don't you think? Just one little try? I dare you to make a you-tube video of it. Tell me about it, and I'll post the best rendition here on Rita's World
  • Deadline: midnight EST January 15, 2012
  • Drawing will be held the following week. Winners will be announced by January 22, 2012.
  • Each winner will receive one of the many prizes listed below.
  • For other chances to win prizes, visit the blog Goddess of the Corn or the Unlocking Books Discussion Group

No Purchase Necessary. But purchases of Transcendent: Tales of the Paranormal (eBook on Kindle & Nook is only 99c) and HONEST reviews and postings on Facebook & Twitter will be appreciated. Karma, luck, and blessings will follow you wherever you go...along with little blue birds who sing your praises. And furry woodland creatures will love you.

Purchase Information:
Paperback on Amazon: Purchase Now for $10.99!
Paperback on Barnes and Noble: Coming Soon for $10.99!
eBook on Kindle: Purchase today for 99c!
eBook on Nook: Purchase today for 99c!

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Book Club Discussion

Grand Prize Paranormal Survival Package:
  • the movie Beastly in DVD or Blu-Ray (winner's choice)
  • candy & popcorn (can't watch a movie without snacks)
  • paperback copy of Transcendent
  • eBook copy of Tears

OKAY, so that is the grand prize; now on to the rest of the prizes. And more prizes will be added before the giveaway is over.

Second Prize:  paperback Transcendent: Tales of the Paranormal

Third Prize:  paperback Tears by Rita J Webb

Fourth Prize:  paperback anthology Unlocked: Ten "Key" Tales edited by Wendy Swore and Rita J Webb

Fifth Prize: eBook Intrinsical by Lani Woodland

Sixth Prize: eBook When Kyle Comes Back by Melanie Marks

Seventh Prize: eBook Possession by Elana Johnson

Eighth Prize: eBook Sapphire Flute and eBook The Armor of Light by Karen E Hoover


Ninth Prize: eBook The Misadventures of a Teenage Wizard: Two Souls are Better Than One by Karen E Hoover

Tenth Prize: eBook Blank Slate by Heather Justesen

Eleventh Prize: eBook Bound by C. K. Bryant

Twelfth Prize: eBook Season of Sacrifice by Tristi Pinkston

Thirteenth Prize: paperback Watched by Cindy M Hogan

Fourteenth Prize: eBook Watched by Cindy M Hogan

Fifteenth Prize: eBook Wings of Light by Laura Bingham

Sixteenth Prize: paperback The Peasant Queen by Cheri Chesley

Seventeenth Prize: eBook The Wild Queen by Cheri Chesley

Eighteenth Prize: eBook Exiled by Rachelle Workman

Nineteenth Prize: eBook Become by Ali Cross

Twentieth Prize: ANOTHER eBook copy of Become by Ali Cross

Twenty-first Prize: eBook copy of Totally Cliché by Kasey Tross, Debra Erfert, Cathy Witbeck, & More

Twenty-second Prize: eBook copy of Four Houses by Tori Scott

Twenty-third Prize: eBook copy of Darkspell by Elizabeth Mueller

Twenty-fourth Prize: eBook copy of Vampire Rules by K.C. Blake

Purchase Information:
Paperback on Amazon: Purchase Now for $10.99!
Kindle: Purchase today for $2.99!
Nook: Purchase today for $2.99!

Transcendent: Tales of the Paranormal

Discover the secrets of a siren, fly with a hawk girl over the mountains of Montana, and flee supernatural party-crashers as the décor comes to life in this magical journey through paranormal stories.

Along the way, watch for ghosts in a haunted house, or ride through the moonlight with a stranger. Save a comatose boy who has lost his soul, and don’t forget to bring your garlic and wolfsbane—you never know when the shadows will snag you.

Transcendent includes eight stories of magic, love, death, and choice by some of the newest names in young adult fiction.

Purchase Information:
Paperback on Amazon: Coming Soon for $10.99!
Paperback on Barnes and Noble: Coming Soon!
eBook on Kindle: Purchase today for $0.99!
eBook on Nook: Coming Soon!

Contact Information:
Book Club Discussion

Meet the writers:


Reading Magic on the Storm by Devon Monk this weekend, I came across this passage about an elevator ride:

He opened his mouth, thought better of it, and instead stood there and whistled.

Whistled. Using up all the air in the tiny, tiny room, filling it up with sound so that there wasn't even room for me to hear my own thoughts. There wasn't enough room for me to breathe. I closed my eyes and tried to picture open fields, blue skies, oceans, deserts. Big horizons, big space, big air.

Character flaws and phobias add color to a story. That elevator ride would have been boring otherwise. Drab walls, whirring noises, an annoying friend whistling.

I have a flaw too. I'm terrified of heights, and I have no idea why I feel this way. In high school, I couldn't get any higher than the second bleacher. Rock climbing with my fiance (now husband) at a rock wall studio, I could only climb two-thirds up the wall before I froze. Clinging desperately to the wall, I couldn't repel down until I had slowly crept down to the halfway point.

Working in a downtown 100 story building in Cincinnati, I had to take the elevator to the 70th floor. But I couldn't go past the 65th in the elevator. Even without seeing out the windows, I felt too high. I'd get off on the 65th and walk the rest of the way. Crazy, huh?

Hiking with my husband in Red River Gorge in Kentucky, I loved the mountaintops.

But I couldn't get within 6 feet of the edge. Even being that close, I had to sit down. If no one was watching, I'd have been lying on my belly.

Look over the edge? No way.

Worst was some indoor hocky stadium. No problems climbing up the steep stairs. No problems sitting at the top of the concrete tiers. But when I had to walk down, the world tilted at odd angles. I almost scooted down on my butt.

Except then I would have been trampled by the exiting throngs.

What about you? What are your fears? What are your characters' fears?

Transcendent: Tales of the Paranormal

Transcendent: Tales of the ParanormalTranscendent: Tales of the Paranormal by Lani Woodland

This is a great collection of short stories by many great YA writers, including Lani Woodland, Melanie Marks, Wendy Swore, and...well, me! I am so excited about the pending release of this project. Stay tuned, and I'll give a release date in the next week or two.

One of my stories is co-authored with Wendy Swore. It was a lot of fun writing with her. She has a great style that meshes well with my own. So be sure to read about the boy struck by lightning in the story Strike.

The other story I have in this collection is called Feather. Here's one of my favorite passages from my story:

A rustle of wings and a hawk feather drifts down to me. Snatching it from the air, I look up into the trees, but nothing’s there. So I tuck the feather into my hair.

“What are you doing?”

My stomach leaps into my throat, and I jump up, stumbling backward, and fall on my butt in the middle of the path. In the tree above me, a teenage boy perches on a branch. He’s dressed in traditional deerskin breeches, a talon necklace around his neck, but rather than moccasins, his feet are bare. He is shirtless, and lean muscles cord his body.
His intense eyes capture my attention. They’re like golden fathomless pools. I could get lost in them.

“Don’t your feet get hurt, walking barefoot on the forest floor?” I ask.

“I rarely walk.” He drops down in front of me. His face is so close that I take a step back and thump into a tree. He leans toward me and sniffs. “You smell different. What are you?”

“I’m a girl.” I can’t take my gaze from his.

“No, humans stink. You smell…” He sniffs my hair and grins. “You smell good.”

“Is there a reason that you’re invading my space? I have somewhere to be.” My voice cracks.

He tugs one of my braids and winks at me. My pulse quickens, and my breath catches in my throat. His eyes study me with intensity, and he leans closer. Is he going to kiss me?

“I don’t know what’s up with you, but I don’t like it.”

“You have a feather in your hair. A hawk’s feather.”

My hand flies to the feather tucked into my hair. “So?”

“Nothing.” He shrugs, but a secretive smile spreads across his face.

View all my reviews

Stephanie Dray chats about "Song of the Nile"

What a joy to read Song of the Nile. I was glued to the couch all weekend, lost to the world, exploring the rich textures of Ancient Rome and barbarous Africa, learning how to survive as a princess of Egypt and a war prisoner of Rome. This will be one of those special books that I share with my husband. I can't wait to discuss the finer points of Cleopatra Selene with him.

Stephanie Dray offered me an interview, and I jumped at the chance to learn more about this author and her writing. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I have.

To honor our guest, I'm hosting a giveaway of her book Song of the Nile. Giveaway details:

  • Leave a comment with your name and email address
  • Deadline:  November 11, 2011
  • U.S. Residents Only
  • To get your name in the drawing multiple times, post this giveaway on Facebook or Twitter. Leave a comment giving me the link to where you posted it.


Rita: What made you decide to become a writer?
Stephanie: It was some foolish notion that I had that it would be easier than being a lawyer. Boy was I wrong!

Rita: Where did you learn your love for history?
Stephanie: History is a rich story land filled with things that actually happened. Things that affect us still today. I love to unravel how we got where we are based on what went before us. I wish we’d read more historical fiction when we were in school, though, because textbooks really didn’t do it justice.

Rita: Why did you choose this particular figure and time period? Why not choose the more well known character Cleopatra rather than her daughter?
Stephanie: Cleopatra has had so many books written about her--and by far better writers. To me, it was Cleopatra Selene and her little known story that called out to be told. Selene was without a voice for most of her life and it was an honor for me to try to give her one.

Rita: How do you plan/plot your stories? Is it hard keeping track of the historical facts as you write?
Stephanie: I use a program called Scrivener and I keep a very detailed timeline. It is very important to keep track of it all and sometimes little things go awry. I recently discovered that I gave an incorrect name to a character in the book--it just slipped through the cracks. What should have been Cleopatra Antoniana was rendered Cleopatra Antonianus. I had to add it to the blooper file on my site.

Rita: How did you find your publisher? Was the road to becoming a published author easy or hard for you?
Stephanie: Berkley has been very good to me and I’m so happy that Cindy Hwang is always as excited about the dark and twisted things I do in my books as I am. The road was very hard for me. I spent ten years honing my craft, researching, writing, and learning to commit to being published. If I’d been smarter about it early on, I’d be farther along in my career than I am.

Rita: What advice would you give to would-be writers?
Stephanie: Don’t decide you want to become a writer unless you can bear spending most of your time doing stuff that has nothing to do with writing. Like social networking. Like marketing. Like talking up your work. It’s hard to get noticed, but I admit, it’s very uncomfortable talking about your own work all the time. It feels like, me me me me.

Rita: Is your story of Cleopatra Selene complete? Where will your writing go from here?
Stephanie: I have one last book to write. It will tell the story of how Selene built her kingdom and how Cleopatra’s grandchildren fared. I think it’s going to be very special, this book, and kind of makes me weepy to say goodbye to her after so long.


About Stephanie…
Stephanie graduated with a degree in Government from Smith, a small women’s college in Massachusetts where–to the consternation of her devoted professors–she was unable to master Latin. However, her focus on Middle Eastern Studies gave her a deeper understanding of the consequences of Egypt’s ancient clash with Rome, both in terms of the still-extant tensions between East and West as well as the worldwide decline of female-oriented religion.

Before she wrote novels, Stephanie was a lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher. Now she uses the transformative power of magic realism to illuminate the stories of women in history and inspire the young women of today. She remains fascinated by all things Roman or Egyptian and has–to the consternation of her devoted husband–collected a house full of cats and ancient artifacts.

*Sorceress. Seductress. Schemer. Cleopatra’s daughter has become the emperor’s most unlikely apprentice and the one woman who can destroy his empire…*

Having survived her perilous childhood as a royal captive of Rome, Selene pledged her loyalty to Augustus and swore she would become his very own Cleopatra. Now the young queen faces an uncertain destiny in a foreign land.

Forced to marry a man of the emperor’s choosing, Selene will not allow her new husband to rule in her name. She quickly establishes herself as a capable leader in her own right and as a religious icon. Beginning the hard work of building a new nation, she wins the love of her new subjects and makes herself vital to Rome by bringing forth bountiful harvests.

But it’s the magic of Isis flowing through her veins that makes her indispensable to the emperor. Against a backdrop of imperial politics and religious persecution, Cleopatra’s daughter beguiles her way to the very precipice of power. She has never forgotten her birthright, but will the price of her mother’s throne be more than she’s willing to pay?

*Berkley Trade *October 2011* *(Trade Paperback)
# ISBN-10: 0425243044
# ISBN-13: 9780425243046

Song of the Nile by Stephanie Dray

Song of the Nile by Stephanie Dray
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dark and beautiful. From the moment this story began, I was gripped by Selene's pain and ambition, terrified the cost of earning the title of Queen of Egypt would be her soul.

Cleopatra has grown up at the age of 15. Married to Juba, an African king, she must prove her worth to the emperor--securing grain, building a new port and city, civilizing a "barbarous" people, promoting the emperor's agendas... But what the emperor wants most is a Cleopatra like Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony had before him.

The stakes are higher as she vies to win the emperor's approval in order to earn the title of Queen of Egypt. Nothing will stand in her way.

What I loved most...
I loved Selene. She's flawed in her obsession with her ambition to fulfill her roll as queen to her people, and yet she's passionate and caring and daring and lovable. I rooted for her and was scared for her and silently begged her not to follow her foolish plans to sell her body to the devil--er, I mean, emperor.

What I admired in Stephanie Dray's writing...
The disaster of a marriage between Juba and Selene was powerfully written. His pain as he watched his bride run away from him and into impending disaster was the thing that gripped me the most. On their wedding night, he asks if they could be friends. She says yes, she could forgive him his role in the demise of her parents and of Egypt. He says can we be more than friends. And when she rejects him, his pain drips from every word, and my heart bled for him.

My recommendation...
Read this powerful book. Personally, I can't wait to read more by Stephanie Dray.

*Purchase Info*

Constellation Books

Come back Friday for an interview and giveaway!

Winner of the Writer's Companion

The winner is ...


The Anonymous OfficeInmate!

I will contact you with the email address you posted and request your mailing address.

Thank you to all who participated.

Writer's Companion excerpt

The Writer's Companion, helpful for both beginning and experienced writers, covers the writing process from plotting and planning through writing and editing to querying and finding a publisher. I've studied many great books on writing but nothing as comprehensive as this guide.

You will reference these 600 pages of material again and again, manuscript after manuscript, long after you've made millions and topped the best seller lists. I highly recommend this book for every writer and writing hobbyist.

Renée Miller, one of the authors, shares a modified excerpt. Together, Renée and Carlos share some interesting thoughts about the future of publishing.


Thanks for having me, Rita. I always love visiting your blog.

I considered posting an excerpt from the Writer’s Companion that discussed how to do this or that but decided that’s rather uninteresting and not very interactive. Then I recalled the Oracle. As an afterword and closing brooch for the Companion, we wanted to be reckless and play the game of prophesy.

Prophets engage in a risky business, in particular if they survive their prophecies. Most prophets we know of would have had to eat their words if they were still around, though it strikes us as crafty that most weighty prophecies entailed such a long time lapse that the prophet was safe from having to face the hordes of his peeved followers. Others—doomsday prophets in particular—weren’t so lucky and had to swallow a bitter pill (and often run for dear life) when the event didn’t pan out.

In writing the Companion, we researched the publishing industry’s history as well as recent changes. To say the foundations of what used to be are shaky would be an understatement. The question is, how will this pan out for writers? What will the new publishing model be when the dust settles? What’s the future of the publishing industry?

In our opinion, there’s a difference between a forecast that contravenes physics and scientific observation and a prediction founded on logic. Most of the conjectures in Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s 1984 stem from logic. Naturally, with so many variables and unknowns, a logical prophecy doesn’t have more weight than an educated guess.

Our oracle, firmly grounded on state-of-the art resources (crystal ball, tealeaves, Ouija, I-ching and a deck of funny-looking cards), predicts that within the next ten years:

1. E-publishing will overtake traditional publishing.

2. E-publishing with reputable publishers will be as hard to access for new writers as

traditional publishing is at present times.

3. E-publishers will only accept submissions through literary agents.

4. E-books will be rated by an agency, as to their literary and editorial merits.

5. POD will shrink down to a tenth of its present size.

6. Two-thirds of traditional book retailers will have disappeared.

7. The number of readers will remain unchanged.

8. A large percentage of successful writers will issue from the East.

9. Most of the Internet free services to writers will be subscription only.

10. Traditional writers will be on the road to extinction.

We suppose that our readers might agree with some of these predictions and disagree with the rest, perhaps all. In our defense, we attempt to justify the logic behind each forecast in the Writer’s Companion. What do you think? Are we way off base? Share your predictions for the industry over the next decade. We should come back here in 2021 (as long as the doomsday prophets are wrong yet again) and see how close we all came.

I’ll be sharing the basis behind each prediction over on The Edge starting on Sunday. Come on over and share your thoughts. Yes, even if they’re negative ones.

And thank you, Rita, for allowing me to post my insanity.


Thank you, Renee!

Later next week, I will post a giveaway for a copy of the Writer's Companion.  So be sure to come back for more goodies.

Sex in YA Books

When you hit thirteen, you become an adult-in-training. Puberty is the waking of sexuality. We cripple our teenagers if we try to sweep adult issues under the rug. We do them no favors by controlling their thoughts or banning books that contains sexuality.

I can’t even remember how many books I read on the sly when I was a teenager, including Lord of the Rings, Lord of the Flies, and The Eye of the Dragon. None of them were racy or evil, but they were banned from the house all the same. So I kept them in my school locker and read them during study hall.

Rather than banning books, the smarter thing to do is to read the book as well and to keep an open dialog with your kids about issues that the book raises. When it comes to sexuality, there are many topics to discuss: making responsible decisions, knowing what true love is, dealing with making the wrong decision, facing consequences, surviving rape, feeling pressured... What better way is there to learn than to face the problems through the eyes of characters in a book and learn from their mistakes?

YA writers have a responsibility to address these issues. Using flawed characters and difficult situations, writers can help YA readers learn from the characters whose worlds they travel through.

In Going Bovine by Libba Bray, Cameron has sex with a girl from his high school, and when it is over, he feels hollow inside because he never loved her. A great opportunity to learn that sex without love is not satisfying.

In Beauty Queens, also by Libba Bray, one of the girls loses her virginity but discovers afterward that she was used. From the experience, she learns that she has value. How many girls out there make this same mistake? Reading this book and talking about it with an adult would be one of the best ways to avoid making this mistake or to learn how to recover from such an experience.

In White Cat (Curse Workers) and in Red Glove (Curse Workers, Book 2) by Holly Black, Cassel must turn down the girl he has loved since they were best friends as kids. Why? Because her emotions were magically altered to make her love him, and he loves her too much to use her. To protect her from himself, he goes so far as to tell her he doesn’t love her, even when it breaks her heart—and his. Heart wrenching and beautiful.

In Speak by Laura Halse Anderson, a freshman in high school crawls into a shell, refusing to speak, finding every opportunity to hide in the janitor’s closet, failing when she used to be a straight A student, skipping classes, wearing baggy clothes, fighting nightmares. Why? Because she made the mistake of drinking at a party that summer and got raped. Nobody knows. Not the parents or teachers who think that she has a discipline problem. Not the classmates or ex-friends who shun her. Not the art teacher who encourages her. The story carries you through her road to healing. A must read for mothers to share with teenage daughters.

It was hard to make the decisions I did about the content in my book Tears. One beta-reader told me that the detail was too graphic for a YA book. There actually is no on-scene sex in my book. Not even a foreplay scene that fades to black. There are a few kissing scenes that don’t lead anywhere. But the only way readers know that Jaak and Chester have sex is because Chester gets pregnant.

What my beta-reader referred to was Aren’s admiration of Lelea and his vivid imagination about what he would like to do with her:

He would choose a warrior woman to be his mate—like Lelea. Now there was a woman, strong and shapely. She could stalk her prey, wield a knife, shoot even better than he could—she had kicked his ass—and he liked how her nipples perked up under her skintight suit.
Tears by Rita J Webb, page 181

Aren stood behind the two girls in the doorway to the cargo bay. From his angle, he could see nothing but a gray wall and a corner of the metal door on the ceiling—and two perfect butts in tight jumpsuits. He liked Lelea’s better. Maybe because she was shorter; the right height for him to grab it.
Tears by Rita J Webb, page 199

A gun belted to her waist, Lelea strapped a rifle over her shoulder and a knife to her leg. Aren liked how she carried herself. The soft, weak girl he had first met was gone. Was this the real Lelea? A soldier like Jadon?

But then he had fought her in the cave back on Lantis. It had to have been her.

She wore a bodysuit, and her nipples stood out under the cloth. He should look away, he knew, but the perfect curve of her breast…

If only the shirt hung loose, then he could see the pink nipple hidden underneath as she bent over. He imagined it hard between his teeth.

Catching his gaze, she winked. Aren glanced away, his face burning.

Her hand on his shoulder. “Never be ashamed of the wildness that makes you a man.”

His gaze darted back to hers. Her smile ignited a fire within him.
Tears by Rita J Webb, pages 215-216

The last thing I want is to offend, so I almost cut it all out. However, I stopped to think about what it was I wanted to relate to my readers:

1) There’s no shame in healthy sexuality.

2) Fifteen-year-old men think about sex.

3) Men of all ages think about sex.

Ten years of marriage taught me that. A woman who tries to keep her husband’s balls in a jar by the bed will likely have a husband who can’t do much more than watch football and scream for the wench to bring his beer.

I really believe that if you cut away someone’s sexuality, you cut away part of their soul. You leave them crippled inside—man or woman. And so I left the offending passages as they were.

Suck it up and get over yourself!

With the release of my first book, I have met a major goal in my life. I have more books to write, including a sequel to Tears, and there are many other writing accomplishments I must face. However, I put my life on hold to get published, and now is the time to meld writing and living. I’m in this for the long haul, and I still have children to raise, a husband to tend to, and my own self to take care of.

Time to start exercising again. Time to dust off my hobbies. Time to get the homeschooling in order. Time to rejuvenate my soul.

So I jumped into something wild and crazy: I’m taking tap and ballet classes.

Last year, my kids took ballet, and I was so proud of them when it came time for recital. They worked hard all year, and they performed beautifully. But a part of me wanted to be dancing on stage too.

I swore to myself that next year, I would be.

When there is something I want to learn or achieve, I absorb myself in it. Pouring over the schedule, I settled on three classes: Adult Ballet, Intermediate/Advanced Tap for ages 8+ (Makani and I take this one together), and Lyrical Ballet for ages 8+ (Rowena and I take this one together). Then I added some Zumba from the YMCA to my schedule to help get me in shape. I need to build my strength and endurance if I want to be good at this.

Yeah, I don’t do anything half-heartedly.

Did I mention that I have no tap or ballet experience? Three years ago, I did some belly dancing, and twelve years ago, I learned some swing dancing. Other than that, I am clueless.

Walking into my first tap dance and lyrical ballet classes was awkward. I’m twice the height of any of the other students. I thought ages 8+ meant there’d be a wide variety of students, maybe some teenagers, but no, they are all 8-year-olds.

10 eight year olds and ME. I felt like an awkward giant among Lilliputians.

But once we got to learning, my focus changed. I have a challenge to face, and so the awkwardness faded. I caught on pretty easily to both Tap and Lyrical Ballet. Tap dancing is rhythmical, and since I am mathematically and musically inclined and analytical, my brain caught on with two lessons. I’m loving doing this with Makani. She is also inclined to patterns, and I’m impressed with how easily she’s following the instructions.

Rowena does Lyrical Ballet with me. She’s such a little sweetheart, and I like the way she smiles at me as we stand side by side at the barre. She’s one of the most tender-hearted children I’ve ever known, and one word of correction sends her into fits of depression. This is my chance to build her up and encourage her.

My Lyrical Ballet teacher is a beautiful black man. (Strangely, he is embarrassed that his knees are so dark. I don't quite understand that.) I love the mop of braids he has for hair and his goatee. Excitable, a little effeminate, and pleased as apple pie to have me and Rowena in the class. Did I mention excitable? He’d make a vivid character in a book.

I am so thankful that he takes the class so slowly. He stops everything to correct a student who has a toe in the wrong direction. I am good at copying and I’m learning quickly, but Rowena struggled with form at first. My mommy’s heart thrilled to watch him take the time to gently help her out. She’s improving, and I’m so proud of her. I can hear him now as he helps her adjust her feet, “Yes. Yes. Yes!” Did I mention excitable?

Now here’s where my challenge really begins: Adult Ballet Class.

Our teacher is a white man with curly hair and a quirky sense of humor, but there’s nothing effeminate about this one. Not very excitable either. Where the black teacher takes things slow, this one moves us quickly from one set of exercises to the next. And believe me, the difficulty of this class is tenfold compared to the Lyrical Ballet.

I am the only student who has no prior ballet experience. In fact, one of my fellow students is a teacher at the dance studio. When he calls out those French words, I struggle to figure out what they mean. He says fifth position with arms in first. Huh? I look around at my classmates and try to follow along.

He gave us this exercise that goes something like this: First position, tendu left foot in out in, step out plié down and up. Then you repeat it backwards to return to your original position. Then repeat to the right, then to the left. Then to the back and the front. Then you do it all again in the exact opposite rotation. Pivot toward the bar so that you are facing the opposite direction and do it all on the right foot. Pivot again, this time away from the bar. Start from the beginning—only this time in fifth position.

And don’t forget the appropriate arm movements! Not that I had any clue what those arm positions should be. Oh, and when you tendu to the side, switch between returning your foot to the front and to the back.

That’s only one out of 10 patterns he had for us. The other exercises are just as complicated.

Week one, he took it slow, and he stood at the front of the class, going through the steps with us. I can copy anything, and I stuck pretty well to the moves, following along as he did them. Week two, he demonstrated, but when it came time for us to do it, he only called the moves. I was utterly lost.

Lost and embarrassed, especially when even the new people kept up with him without a problem.

Maybe I bit off more than I could chew. Maybe I should focus on the beginner classes. Maybe I could try again next year after a year with the Lilliputians.

But when have I ever given up before? It’s not that I think I can’t handle the challenge. For Pete's sake, I have written 4 novels, one of which is published, and have several short stories in anthologies. I'm sure that a few more weeks, and I’ll be fine. Well, maybe not fine, but passable. By the end of the year, I’ll be fine. My real problem was everyone watching me flounder as I work to get my bearings.

Suck it up and get over yourself, I scolded.

Week three. I was almost passable, and Lyrical Ballet is now too easy. Furthermore, I can do the buffalo and the Irish step in Tap Dance.

Maybe next week, I’ll actually hold the fifth position relevé for 32 counts without wobbling.

A visit to a donkey farm in Peru

I landed at the airport in Lima, Peru, and wandered through the busy streets to the bus station. The people rushed about like New Yorkers. They wore jeans and T-shirts or business suits; they carried backpacks or suit cases. It almost felt like any city in the United States until I turned a corner and found a dancing group parading down the street.

I loved the ocean--the smell of the salt water, the breeze ruffling my hair, the sounds of the waves. No wonder CJ visited here. It is a beautiful place.

A happy contentedness settled over me, and by the time I made my way to the bus station, I had meandered all over town, soaking it all up. I stopped for tasty treats at various restaurants, wandered in and out of shops, and even bought myself a poncho and hat. I snapped lots of pictures. Hey, you never know when a picture will give you a clue. And I was trying to blend in like any tourist.

The bus took me out of the city and up into the mountains. From there, I walked to the donkey farm. I had a map with the route marked carefully, but I still got lost three times and finally had to ask for directions. I'm female so I had no problems asking for help, even with my hesitant Spanish.

I finally found the place where the infamous CJ had rented a donkey. The farmer wasn't anything like I expected. She wore jeans and a T-shirt, but she covered her shirt with a poncho. And her dark hair was clipped short and dyed red. Other than the poncho, she didn't look like a traditional Peruvian.

She gave me a tour of the barn. The donkeys stared at me with big eyes; their tails flicked angrily as if to say, "Don't interrupt our dinner."
"So um, what do your donkeys eat for breakfast?" I asked. Not a very useful question for finding CJ, but maybe it will break the ice.

"My donkeys eat mostly grass. In the morning, they like to eat some pink polenta." She scratched the neck of the closest donkey who thumped his foot happily.

Pink polenta? For donkeys? "I used to eat polenta with taco meat and cheese, but it was never pink. What kind of donuts do you eat?"

"We are too poor for donuts. We just chew sugar cane." She handed me a piece as she popped one into her own mouth. I looked at it and then gingerly placed it in my mouth and chewed. It tasted sweet, but not like I was used to. The hardest thing about it was that it felt like stringy wood in my mouth--crunchy and leathery. It would take a long time to get used to this.

"I wanted to ask you about your guest CJ. Did he leave anything behind?"

She shrugged. "I don't know. I think he dropped his hat. Does this look like his hat?"

Inside, I find a piece of paper with his symbol and the word Rosita. Hmm, a woman. "Yes, I think it is his. Did CJ have his harem with him? How many hearts has he broken here?"

"No, there were no girls, though you should probably visit La Casa de la Noche. The chiquitas there could tell you more."

"Did he say anything to give a clue to where he was going next?"

"No, he just yelled 'Wheeeeeeee' as he ran away. I thought he was just some gringo gone loco in the mountains. They do that, the mountains. They make people loco. Especially gringos."

I leaned against the barn post in between stalls. It shifted under my weight, and a secret door opened in the floor. "Wow, where does this go to?"

"No one knows. People who go in never come out." Her eyes grow big, and she chews on her lip. I'm certain she's frightened. But what could be down there to frighten her?

"So he rented one of your donkeys and went up into the mountains. What did he search for up in the mountains?"

"Well, there is a local legend that one of the temples has a golden statue inside of which there is a key. But that is loco. All the gold was stolen many years ago."

If I know anything about CJ, it wasn't gold he wanted. I bet that temple held some secret device he could use to take over the world.
"Do you put your socks on the right foot first, or left foot first?" Hey, it might sound like a silly question, but it's important to establish if the person I am talking to is a pathological liar.

"I don't wear socks. I don't wear shoes. See? The donkeys ate all the shoes." She raised one dirty, naked foot.

"What is your favorite song to sing to your donkeys?"

"El Patito Chiquito. It's a song about a little duck."

"Well, gracias. I need to go now. A lot of clues to follow, you know."

"Bueno. I have to go feed the donkey's now."

I heard her muttering Gringos locos! as she shuffled away.
"Oh, I forgot. Have you seen the infamous Rico Suave hanging around here?" I called back.

"The who? I don't think so. Though a man in a red velvet suit met him at the local airstrip."

I mentally ticked off the clues in my head: a secret passage, a temple in the mountains, a woman named Rosita, a man in a red velvet suit. Which one do I check out first? I only have three days before I'm due back in the U.S.

This is a fictional story, brought to you by Webb Press. The part of the Donkey Farm was played by S. M. Carrière, writer, blogger, and friend. Thanks, Sonia, for your sense of humor and for being willing to play along.

If you are interested in taking on a role, I'm looking for someone to play the role of Rosita or the role of the mountain guide. Contact me by email:  rita [at] ritajwebb [dot] com

Red Glove by Holly Black

Red Glove (Curse Workers, #2)Red Glove by Holly Black

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Two government agents visit Cassel's boarding school and drag him away. After interrogating him about the crime family that his family served for generations, they pull out photos of Phillip, his brother, shot dead in his apartment. The agents tell him that his brother had made a deal to squeal about some assassinations for immunity, and that had gotten him killed.

If Cassel doesn't help in the investigation, the agents will go after his family or try to pin the murder on Lila, but if Cassel helps out the agents, he'll be targeted by the crime family. What makes things worse is that Zacharov, head of the crime family, wants Cassel to join the family ranks. Who wouldn't want the most powerful curse worker under his control?

With incredible detail, Holly Black paints her world: the strange magic of the curse workers, the dark world of crime, mobs, and scams, betrayals and heartache. Imagine a touch of a finger could curse you. Bare hands are obscene and dangerous.

Bare hands can kill you, bring you bad luck, control your dreams, change your memories, break the bones in your body, manipulate your emotions: all depending on who wields those hands. Most powerful and most rare are transformation workers.

If you're a curse worker, keep your secret because you don't know what the world will do to you.

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Going BovineGoing Bovine by Libba Bray

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Where do I begin? Following Cameron on his crazy adventure to save the world from a wormhole created by dark energies was one of the most amazing, most beautiful journeys I have ever taken.

Cameron's life was empty: sneaking out of class to smoke pot in the high school bathrooms, hiding from his father's disapproval, annoying his sister, smoking pot at home on a Friday night because his parents worked late and had no time for the family, pretending to study Don Quixote for school.

And then the unbelievable happens. Cameron finds a large feather, white tinged with pink, in his bedroom. Printed in bold letters on one side was the word "Hello."

Shortly after, Cameron loses his job, gets kicked out of school, and is seeing therapists for drug problems. All because of strange muscle spasms in his body.

But Cameron's problems aren't due to drugs. When his problems get worse, he finds himself in the hospital for mad cow disease, and an angel (a pink haired girl wearing torn fishnet stockings and combat boots) informs him that he must find Dr. X to save the world and to cure his disease. But if he wants to succeed, he must take the dwarf in the hospital bed beside him on the journey.

Following the signs, Gonzo and Cameron sneak out of the hospital and set out to find Dr. X. The road takes them to New Orleans during the Mardi Gras where Cameron meets a drag queen, a jazz musician who teaches him about music, and a wizard who wants to kill him. From there, the clues lead them to Florida, and they catch a bus and head out--with the police on their tail searching for two runaways.

This is where Libba Bray's story telling ability begins to shine. With almost painstaking detail, she takes Cameron through trials and struggles, introduces him to interesting characters, and teaches him about love and life and friendship.

The apathetic drug addict learns to care about others and discovers that now is the most precious moment he has. By the end of the book, I was cheering and crying and laughing and feeling as in love with life as Cameron did.

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Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary by Brandon Mull

Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary (Fablehaven, #4)Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary by Brandon Mull
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For three books now, my family and I have grown to love these characters and this world. Each book has been more intense and faster paced than the one before. The stakes are higher, the problems tougher.

Now here is the fourth book, and it blew me away. From opening scene to the twists revealed in the climax, the book gripped me.

I loved the growth in Seth. He's learned to question his motives before charging into trouble, and he's learned wisdom to caution his courage. He and his sister Kendra truly make a remarkable team.

I hated and yet admired the twist at the end. Brandon Mull truly pulled the wool over my eyes, and at first, I hated him for it. Then I sat in awe. I'd love to be that kind of writer...

A great family read. A great book for all ages.

One book left in the series. How on earth is he going to wrap this all up? Problem is that I don't really want the story to be wrapped up. I want it keep going.

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