Author Assistant Services

Are you an author in need of help and looking for an assistant on a full-time, part-time, or as-needed basis? Well, then I'm your gal! Learn more about the services I provide HERE.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Amanda Lester and the Pink Sugar Conspiracy Blog Tour {excerpt, guest post, giveaway}

Amanda Lester and the Pink Sugar Conspiracy free Banner

I'm thrilled to have the Amanda Lester and the Pink Sugar Conspiracy, by Paula Berinstein, Blog Tour stopping by today! This blog tour is organized by Lola's Blog Tours. The blog tour runs from 18 till 31 July, you can view the complete tour schedule here.

Facebook group event
On 28 July, Paula Berinstein will do an event in the Blind Date With a Book Facebook Group. There will be giveaways, discussions and more!

Start this series for free!
You can get Amanda Lester and the Pink Sugar Conspiracy for free at Amazon, B&N, Kobo or Smashwords!

Amanda Lester and the Pink Sugar ConspiracyAmanda Lester and the Pink Sugar Conspiracy (Amanda Lester, Detective #1)
by Paula Berinstein
Genre: Mystery/ Detective/ Fantasy
Age category: Middle Grade
Amanda Lester wouldn’t be caught dead going into the family business. Her ancestor, Sherlock Holmes’s colleague Inspector G. Lestrade, is a twit. Nevertheless her parents refuse to see his flaws, and she’s going to a secret English school for the descendants of famous detectives whether she likes it or not.

When Amanda arrives at the dreaded school, she considers running away—until she and her new friends discover blood and weird pink substances in odd places. At first they’re not sure whether these oddities mean anything, but when Amanda’s father disappears and the cook is found dead with her head in a bag of sugar, they’re certain that crimes are taking place.

Now Amanda must embrace her destiny and uncover the truth. The only snag is that arch-villain Blixus Moriarty, a descendant of Holmes’s nemesis Professor James Moriarty, might be involved, and he doesn’t like nosy little girls interfering in his business.
You can find Amanda Lester and the Pink Sugar Conspiracy on Goodreads

Amanda Lester and the Pink Sugar Conspiracy is free now on all vendor sites! Grab your free copy here:
- Amazon
- Amazon Paperback
- Barnes & Noble
- Kobo
- Smashwords

Get the box set with the first four books in this series!
Amanda-Lester-box-setAmanda Lester box set (Amanda Lester, Detective #1-4)
by Paula Berinstein
Genre: Mystery/ Detective/ Fantasy
Age category: Middle Grade/ Young Adult
Release Date: July 4, 2016
"Sherlock Holmes meets Nancy Drew meets Harry Potter."

This set includes all four Amanda Lester, Detective books from the first year at the Legatum Continuatum Enduring School for Detectives.

Book 1, Amanda Lester and the Pink Sugar Conspiracy
Book 2, Amanda Lester and the Orange Crystal Crisis
Book 3, Amanda Lester and the Purple Rainbow Puzzle
Book 4, Amanda Lester and the Blue Peacocks' Secret

Amanda Lester wouldn’t be caught dead going into the family business. Her ancestor, Sherlock Holmes’s colleague Inspector G. Lestrade, is a twit. Nevertheless her parents refuse to see his flaws, and she’s going to a secret English school for the descendants of famous detectives whether she likes it or not.

When Amanda arrives at the dreaded school, she considers running away—until she and her new friends discover blood and weird pink substances in odd places. At first they’re not sure whether these oddities mean anything, but when Amanda’s father disappears and the cook is found dead with her head in a bag of sugar, they’re certain that crimes are taking place.

Now Amanda must embrace her destiny and uncover the truth. The only snag is that arch-villain Blixus Moriarty, a descendant of Holmes’s nemesis Professor James Moriarty, might be involved, and he doesn’t like nosy little girls interfering in his business.

Follow the exciting adventures of the girl who learned that sometimes you need to be part of something larger than yourself.

You can find Amanda Lester box set on Goodreads

You can buy the Amanda Lester box set here:
- Amazon
- Amazon UK


Amanda Lester and the Pink Sugar Conspiracy American English vs British English excerpt

When they’d gone, Amanda said, “Let’s go to the kitchen and see if we can sneak something delicious. I’m having sugar withdrawal.”
“Me too,” said Amphora. “You’re on.”
You weren’t supposed to go into the kitchen without a good reason. It was a school rule and the cook was very strict about it. But both girls were craving sugar so badly that they didn’t care, so they snuck off to see if there were any easy pickings.
They didn’t have much time. They’d have to be in class in a few minutes. As they approached they saw the cook in the hall talking to her assistant, a petite, dark-haired woman who obviously wasn’t happy about something. Good. The cook wasn’t paying attention to the other people around her. This would be easy. They opened the door quietly and tiptoed in.
The woman certainly was fastidious. The huge kitchen gleamed like the Taj Mahal on a sunny day. Gigantic iron pots were sitting on the stove, steaming, boiling, and sizzling away, and fresh, colorful vegetables that bore faint resemblance to the peas at lunch were laid out on the massive wooden cutting board in the center of the room. At the far end was a refrigerator the size of a semi-trailer.
“There,” said Amphora, pointing. “Let’s try the fridge.”
“You got it,” said Amanda, tippy-toeing toward the behemoth. “Hey, wait a minute. There’s the pantry. Maybe there are some cookies in there.”
“Cookies?” said Amphora. “Oh, biscuits. Right.”
“Biscuits?” I don’t want a biscuit. I want something sweet,” said Amanda.
“Biscuits are sweet,” hissed Amphora.
“No they’re not,” said Amanda. “I want cookies.”
Continuing to argue, the two girls entered the gigantic pantry, which was lined with shelves and cubbies of assorted shapes and sizes. It felt very homey, and Amanda thought that if she were stuck there for a week she wouldn’t mind at all.
“There!” they both said at once, running toward a shelf full of cookies of every variety—chocolate, vanilla, coconut, raisin, jam-in-the-center, marshmallow, sprinkle-topped—smashing into each other in the process.
“I thought you said you wanted biscuits,” said Amanda.
“These are biscuits,” said Amphora, grabbing a box.
“No, they’re cookies,” said Amanda, attempting to wrest it away from her.
“Uh uh,” said Amphora, grabbing back. “Biscuits.”
“Wait a minute,” said Amanda, letting her have the box. “You think these are biscuits?”
“They are biscuits.”
“Oooooh, I get it. That’s what you guys call cookies. To us, biscuits are dinner rolls. Or breakfast rolls.”
“Really? How peculiar.” Amanda wasn’t sure if Amphora meant interesting peculiar or get-it-away-from-me peculiar.
“Okay, what do you call that?” said Amanda pointing at some boxes of spaghetti. She was sure English people had some exotic name for the pasta but she couldn’t imagine what.
“Spaghetti. What do you call it?”
“Spaghetti. How about that?” She pointed to another box that said “Tea” on it.
“Tea. And that?” A brightly colored can.
“Mushy peas.”
“Mushy peas? Eeeeeeew.” Amanda looked at the picture on the can. It was a huge green splat that looked like the creature from the black lagoon.
“Why, what do you call them?”
“I don’t,” said Amanda, sticking her finger down her throat. How could anyone eat something with the word “mushy” in the name?
“They’re really quite good,” said Amphora, admiring the can. “You should try them sometime.”
“Ugh,” said Amanda. “They look like you-know-what.”
The girls burst into laughter.
“Say, look at that,” said Amanda, bending down to examine some pink powder on the floor.
“Hm, that’s weird,” said Amphora, peering down at the stuff.
“It’s pink. It’s nice.”
“Don’t touch it!” yelled Amphora, grabbing at Amanda’s arm. “It’s probably rat poison!”
“Rat poison in a pantry? I don’t think so.” Amanda shook off Amphora’s hand and reached closer.
“No, really. Don’t touch it. Come on, let’s go. We’re going to get into trouble.”
“Oh, all right,” said Amanda. “But I’m coming back later. I want to see what that is. It’s really pretty.” It was. It looked like cotton candy that had dried and shattered into tiny bits of confetti.
“Okay,” said Amphora. “You go back later. Got the biscuits?”
“They’re in my bag,” said Amanda, gripping the place where she’d stuck the cookies. “Let’s roll. Er, biscuit. No, roll.”

Fun!  Color! Gadgets! The Cupcake Way to Write Exciting Mysteries for Kids

Writing mysteries for kids is the sweetest job on earth. You can be silly, inventive, and devious and your readers will love every moment. Here’s my recipe.

Start with your basic mystery ingredients, then make sure they’re kiddish.

Basic mystery ingredients

A crime or mysterious happening: the flour.

Most mysteries for adults involve a murder or five. But is that appropriate for kids? Well, maybe. Murders raise the stakes and make solving the crime more urgent. But murders involve violence and weapons, and that’s a tricky area in kids’ books. It’s scary and can be needlessly upsetting.
My solution is to use cartoonish violence and weapons. In the first two Amanda Lester, Detective books, the weapons are pink sugar and orange energy crystals. In the third, there’s cell phone zapping. None of these weapons really exists, and let’s face it: if they did they wouldn’t seem all that threatening.
The other thing I do is create oddball crimes and happenings that feel cartoonish. They might be a bit scary, but I try to make them kid scary, i.e., non-threatening in real life, not serial killer scary. A man is kidnapped when he slips on a banana peel. A mysterious book disappears from the library. Purple rainbows fill the sky.  

A detective: the sugar.

How does a pint-sized detective solve a case? They can’t get around on their own power to visit crime scenes and interview witnesses, they don’t have access to police tools, they have no credentials that give them authority.
My solution is to give the kids a detective school that offers the resources they need. I locate many of the crimes and mysteries on campus or within easy reach of the school and provide older characters who can drive my detectives around. The fact that the UK, where my stories are set, has excellent trains doesn’t hurt either. And of course there are skateboards.

Villains: the baking powder.

Villains are the best part of a detective story and I believe in having lots of them. Of course there must be an overreaching villain who looms over the entire series, one who is larger than life. Mine is a descendant of one of the most notorious villains in literature, Professor James Moriarty from the Sherlock Holmes stories. But one villain alone can’t plague the hero nearly enough, so I invent major and minor villains who fight each other as well as the detectives, introducing or focusing on a new one with each book in the series.

Victims: the salt.

I have to admit that I kill off a lot of characters. In my defense, most of them are either bad guys or faceless people we never meet. While bad things do happen to my good characters, including death by accident and natural causes, I have yet to murder any of them. I’m not sure if this is because I‘m looking out for my readers’ interests or my own. I’m happy to torment my good characters, but not like that. Perhaps it’s the kid in me that won’t let me go too far. Or is it the adult?

Clues/an investigation: the eggs.

Of course there can be no investigation without clues, so a mystery writer must leave signs for the detective to follow. Often these take the form of physical evidence like fingerprints, blood, discarded weapons, and the like. But not all my investigations have to do with crimes. My books involve mysterious happenings too. So my clues include things like strange peacock behavior, odd-looking crystals in the mud, overheard snippets of conversation. It’s these clues that alert Amanda and her friends to the fact that something weird is happening and lead them on some of the most interesting investigations they’ll ever make.

A Solution: the heat.

I am as interested in process as I am in results, so my readers can watch a solution taking shape. Amanda is always making lists, reasoning out what could be happening, and formulating and testing hypotheses. Sometimes she makes mistakes and goes down the wrong path. I do this partly to show kids how to approach a problem, but also because I can’t stand detectives who are infallible. I want kids to know that it’s okay—no, essential—to make mistakes because that’s how we learn.
Those are the main elements. But I also add special ingredients to give my stories just the right flavor.

Customize your mystery cupcake with these special ingredients

A maguffin: pink frosting
A maguffin is the object the characters are searching for or trying to understand, but it’s really an excuse to send them on a quest and tell a story. The speckled band in a Sherlock Holmes story, a mysterious book in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, a ring in The Lord of the Rings—these are maguffins. If Amanda hadn’t found pink sugar scattered around the school she wouldn’t have started looking at the cook suspiciously. If Amphora Kapoor hadn’t found an orange crystal in the mud, there might not have been a battle at the Windermere quarry.

Gadgets: silver sprinkles

Detective stories set in the present tend to be technology intensive, but I like to have fun and take mine way beyond the usual DNA sequencing and fiber analysis. So I’ve got a microscope made out of a cell phone, an acoustic levitator that lifts things without touching them, a machine that sees into the past, and more. Who knows? Maybe someday my inventions will become real.

Sensory imagery: sparkling sugar

Kids love fun sights, sounds, and textures, so I’ve tried to make my stories as colorful, sound-, smell-, and touch-rich as possible. That’s one reason I’ve used color in every title. I also use words like clack and clunk and make Simon Binkle’s breath smell like peppermint.

Humor: rainbow sprinkles

It’s a known fact that kids love stories with humor in them, so I poke fun at my characters, especially Amanda, who is known for her rather sensitive stomach, but also messy eater Simon Binkle, voodoo-practicing Editta Sweetgum, and the headmaster, Gaston Thrillkill, who carries around a hair dryer so he can melt icicles.

Twists: fudge icing

What kid doesn’t love a surprise? I always include a surprise ending in my stories. I also like to thwart expectations, so I plant red herrings and mislead readers.

Cool settings: fancy wrappers

The UK has it all: atmosphere, history, big cities, villages, nature, even magic. The secret school for detectives is an old manor house that’s been added onto so much that each part of it is different. But more than that, whimsy is built into the school in the form of changing d├ęcor that allows the kids to practice their observational skills. One day the Holmes House common room looks like a coffee shop. The next it’s a jungle.  

Multiple mysteries: marble batter

Because a series gives you the opportunity to create short and long character and plot arcs, I have multiple mysteries going in each book, usually a short-term one that's specific to the book and a long-term one that keeps going.

A world kids relate to: chocolate center

Middle grade readers’ lives revolve around their classes, teachers, and friends, with some family thrown in, so I offer them twists on these familiar elements of life—ones I hope they’ll gossip about as much as they do their own lives.
So, how do you like my chocolate-centered, pink and fudge iced, marbled, sparkling rainbow and silver topped, fancy-wrapped cupcake?

Paula BerinsteinAbout the Author:
Paula Berinstein is nothing like Amanda. For one thing, she’s crazy about Sherlock Holmes. For another, she’s never wanted to be a filmmaker. In addition, compared to Amanda she’s a big chicken! And she wouldn’t mind going to a secret school at all. In fact, she’s hoping that some day she’ll get to build one.

You can find and contact Paula here:
- Website
- Facebook
- Twitter
- Goodreads
- Paula's blog on Goodreads
- The Writing Show podcasts
- Newsletter

There is a tour wide giveaway for the blog tour of Amanda Lester and the Pink Sugar Conspiracy. Open International. These are the prizes you can win:
- One $40 Amazon gift card
- Two copies Amanda Lester and the Pink Sugar Conspiracy (hardback edition)
- One copy Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: The Illustrated Edition (hardback)
- One Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Book 1 Audible – Unabridged, narrator Jim Dale
- One Nancy Drew videogame from Her Interactive (winner's choice).
- One surprise book, you pick the genre. Paperback only.

For a chance to win, enter the rafflecopter below:

Friday, July 22, 2016

Review: The Gilded Cage by Lucinda Gray

The Gilded Cage
by Lucinda Gray
August 2, 2016
Henry Holt & Co
Source: from publisher for review
After growing up on a farm in Virginia, Walthingham Hall in England seems like another world to sixteen-year-old Katherine Randolph. Her new life, filled with the splendor of upper-class England in the 1820s, is shattered when her brother mysteriously drowns. Katherine is expected to observe the mourning customs and get on with her life, but she can't accept that her brother's death was an accident.

A bitter poacher prowls the estate, and strange visitors threaten the occupants of the house. There's a rumor, too, that a wild animal stalks the woods of Walthingham. Can Katherine retain her sanity long enough to find out the truth? Or will her brother's killer claim her life, too?


It’s 1820 and sixteen year old Katherine Randolph and her older brother, George, are whisked off to England after their only living relative dies and leaves them a large inheritance. Now the heirs of the Walthingham Hall estate, Katherine and George are being groomed by their kindly cousins and brought in front of the wealthy English society. Katherine is just getting used to her new home and privilege, when George is mysteriously drowned. Katherine’s insistence that his death was no accident sets of a series of dangerous and deadly events. Is someone out to get Katherine? Does the dreaded Beast of Walthingham actually exists?!

Lucinda Gray’s The Gilded Cage has an enticing premise, potentially fascinating historical setting, and the promise of dark and intriguing elements...but the story falls completely flat. The story desperately needs expanding (more world-building, better character development, more subtle storytelling) and the whole time reading it, I just felt as if something was missing.

When a story takes places in a previous time period, I want to feel truly transported to that time and expect some level of historical world-building, but I never felt that with The Gilded Cage. The lush descriptions of clothing is certainly fun and, at times, the dialogue felt historically accurate, but just aren’t enough to create a wholly believable and developed historical setting. The psychological and dark mystery laid out in The Gilded Cage held my interest for a while, but become quite predictable and clumsy.  I was especially intrigued by the Beast of Walthingham storyline and its supernatural undertones, but this entire storyline just fizzled out in the end.

I didn’t hate or love our heroine, Katherine, or really hate or love any of the characters, they were just kinda there, ya know what I mean? Several of the characters, Katherine included, certainly have the potential to be engaging and interesting, but lack complexity, depth, and development. The Gilded Cage does feature romance for Katherine and I will admit that I was enthralled enough by the romantic elements to have chosen a favorite love interest.

My final thoughts: The Gilded Cage was not what I was expecting and just disappointed me in the end.

2/5 Cupcakes

Lucinda Gray is the pseudonym of an American novelist who lives in New York.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Thing About Leftovers Blog Tour {review, interview, giveaway}

I'm thrilled to have The Thing About Leftovers Blog Tour stopping by today...

The Thing About Leftovers
by C.C. Payne
July 19, 2016
Nancy Paulsen Books
C. C. Payne intertwines heartache with humor and hope in a novel about navigating divorce and blended families, following your passion, and celebrating who you are.
Fizzy is a good Southern girl who just wants to be perfect. And win the Southern Living cook-off. The being perfect part is hard though, since her parents’ divorced and everything in her life has changed. Wary of her too-perfect stepmom and her mom’s neat-freak, dismissive boyfriend, she’s often angry or upset and feels like a guest in both homes. She tells herself to face facts: She’s a “leftover” kid from a marriage that her parents want to forget. But she has to keep all of that to herself, because a good Southern girl never yells, or throws fits, or says anything that might hurt other people’s feelings—instead she throws her shoulders back, says yes ma’am, and tries to do better. So Fizzy tries her best, but it’s hard to stay quiet when her family keeps getting more complicated. Fortunately, the Southern Living cook-off gives her a welcome distraction, as do her new friends Miyoko and Zach, who have parent issues of their own.
With the poignancy and humor of Joan Bauer and Lynda Mullaly Hunt, this poignant story reminds readers that they have a right to a voice, that it is okay to say how you feel, and that some leftovers are absolutely delicious!


“Fizzy’s first-person narration is by turns hilarious and poignant as she struggles to find her voice. . . . The subjects of divorce and middle school drama are well handled. Tween readers will appreciate this gentle read as they empathize with Fizzy’s feelings of inadequacy and root for her success.”School Library Journal
“Payne provides plenty of realistic detail here about Fizzy’s slowly evolving relationships with her parents, stepparents, and new friends. . . . Her growth feels authentic and her progress well-earned. Readers experiencing family challenges of their own will laugh and cry with Fizzy, rejoicing as she cooks up quite the satisfying new life for herself.”Kirkus Reviews

Tween and aspiring chef, Fizzy, is starting to feel like a leftover in her complicated family. Both of her divorced parents are in new relationships, her dad having married an intimidatingly perfect woman and her mother’s neat-freak-standoffish boyfriend, soon to be husband. Fizzy has so many bubbly emotions inside her -anger, confusion, fear- but like any good Southern girl, she keeps them to herself. But a few new friends and  a once-in-a lifetime cooking contest help Fizzy find her voice and sift through all her “leftover” thoughts.

C.C. Payne’s The Thing About Leftovers is a poignant, sweet, and equally heartwarming and heartbreaking middle-grade contemporary. Payne explores the world and mind of a “leftover” kid with age appropriate honesty and humor. Fizzy’s story is bursting with so many palpable emotions and Payne weaves a complex story that has depth, heart, and charm.

Fizzy has such a great, irresistible voice! She’s so relatable, likable, and impossible to not root for...I just wanted to wrap her up in a big hug and let her know that everything is going to be ok. Payne does a wonderful job of creating equally complex and flawed adult characters, as well. And Miyoko and Zach are superb characters...I would love to see spin-offs that tell their own unique stories!

My final thoughts: The Thing About Leftovers will charm readers with its characters, keep them engaged, and leave them hopeful (and a bit hungry!). A great read for young readers, especially those that have ever felt like a “leftover”.

4/5 Cupcakes

What three words best describe your book, The Thing About Leftovers?

Heartbreaking, humorous, hopeful.

Can you give us your best one sentence pitch to convince readers, especially reluctant readers, to give The Thing About Leftovers a try?

Who can’t relate to characters in search of love and belonging, while stuck in the war zone of middle school, doing battle with awkwardness, hormonal mood swings, pimples, mean girls, wildfire-gossip, and adults who just don’t seem to understand?

Grab a copy of The Thing About Leftovers and answer the following:
Favorite chapter? I love the first chapter, because it captures the horrors of both the lunchroom and P.E.
Favorite page?    I’ll say 88, because it explains leftover meals and “leftover kids.”
Favorite setting? Aunt Liz’s buttery kitchen.
Flip to a random page and give us a 1-2 sentences teaser: Miyoko stepped in front of the bathroom mirror and leaned over the sink to inspect a pimple on her nose. “It’s grown since I left the house,” she reported. “And it has an eyeball! A big white eyeball! Ugh!” She touched the blemish. “And it’s throbbing! I think it has a heartbeat!” She turned from the mirror. “Fizzy, I think I’m growing another person on my nose!”

What inspired The Thing About Leftovers? How did the story come to be?
Fizzy’s voice has been in my head for nine years now. When she first popped up and started talking, I wasn’t ready—as a stepkid or as a writer. But as I began discussing blended families with other grown stepkids, stepparents, and parents, it struck me that we all want exactly the same things: love, belonging, family. So I sat down and let Fizzy tell her story.

Can you tell us a bit about your character, Fizzy? What makes her unique and what do you love about her?

She’s unique in that at the age of twelve, she’s already discovered one of her great passions—cooking—and she knows where she wants to go with that. At the same time, she hardly has her life together—far from it! I love her honesty about the way she sees herself and others, and I love her lists!

Fizzy is quite the chef and prepares an assortment of you have a favorite recipe or dish from The Thing About Leftovers?

I love my Mimi’s cheese grits, but as my Aunt Nancy says, “Don’t have your cholesterol checked after eating them!”

What do you hope readers will learn from or walk away with after reading The Thing About Leftovers?

I hope they know they’re not alone, not unworthy, not unlovable.

What’s the absolute BEST thing about an author?

I think writing different characters and looking at situations from all those different perspectives nurtures empathy and compassion for people. I’m more capable of slipping into someone else’s shoes and perspective mentally.

Fill in the blanks:

I’m really awesome at Zumba!
I’m really embarrassed to admit that I’d secretly LOVE to have a Snuggy . . . but fear my husband’s reaction!
The last great book I read was All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr—talk about empathy and compassion!

If you were to create and bake a cupcake inspired by The Thing About Leftovers, what would it look and taste like, and what would you call it?

I’d call it “Complimentary,” because it wouldn’t be something you ordered; it would come free with something else that you actually wanted and ordered. It would be light brown and look like a normal milk-chocolatey cupcake—nothing special. But once you’re into it, its salted caramel flavor would be a salty, sweet, satisfying and lovable surprise!

C. C. Payne ( was born and raised in Kentucky by a family chock-full of superb storytellers. At the age of seven, she became a voracious reader. She says, “The house could’ve fallen down around my ears, and I would’ve just thought, Does this mean I have to put my book down?” She also wrote Something to Sing About, which was nominated for a Children’s Crown Award and a Kentucky Bluegrass Award, and Lula Bell on Geekdom, Freakdom & the Challenges of Bad Hair.

Win a copy of
The Thing About Leftovers!
The folks at Penguin have generously offered one copy for one winner.
-US only
-ends 7/25
-winner will be emailed and must claim prize within 48 hours
-Word Spelunking is not responsible for lost, damaged, or stolen prizes
Fill out Rafflecopter to enter
a Rafflecopter giveaway