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Review & Giveaway: Yazzy’s Amazing Yarn by Cathey Nickell


Illustrated by Emily Calimlim
Genre: Children’s Picture Book, Ages 4-8 
Publisher: Twenty-Eight Creative
Date of Publication: August 1, 2019
Number of Pages: 32
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Yazzy is a creative girl, always sketching out her next adventure. She loves yarn, and she loves to knit! Her neighborhood park is dull and rusty, but Yazzy has a grand plan. 
With a little help from her friends, Yazzy’s knitted wonders transform Penny Park into a fuzzy rainbow of warmth and color. What yarn-tastic idea will Yazzy think of next? 
The book includes a “History of Yarn Bombing” page for readers who are not familiar with this creative and whimsical type of art.

“As a teacher, it’s refreshing to find a book that exposes children to an alternative art form. I’m inspired by Yazzy’s story, and I know my students will be, too.” — Deborah Horwitz, Art Teacher, The Emery/Weiner School, Houston, Texas.


My 6 year old has been begging me to crochet him random video game characters and I told him we had a deal if he helped me review Yazzy’s Amazing Yarn. He liked pointing out little details in the book – Yazzy keeps her yarn in woven baskets on a shelf like me and Yazzy’s mom reminds him of his “little” grandmother. When there were long strands of yarn running across the page, he would trace his finger along it and ask where it was going. He was thrilled to see all the places in the park that Yazzy and her friends yarn bombed. He didn’t understand why someone would be upset with the colorful creations. And when he saw what Yazzy had planned next, he asked if we could do something like that as well.

My son enjoyed this book and I did too! I’m a fan of the colorful illustrations and how they are bright but not psychedelic. I, too, loved the little details on the page. For example, the to-do list in Yazzy’s room that shows she prioritizes her schoolwork over her craft projects, the expressions on Kayla and Isabel’s faces when learning to knit for the first time (one looks overwhelmed while the other looks irritated), and the way the yarn winds its way through the other facets of her life while she immerses herself in her project for weeks.

The story is very nicely crafted and age appropriate for the target audience. I like how the author snuck in some alliterations and onomatopoeia, as well as a great lesson on sharing a skill with others. Instead of just making something for her friends, Yazzy suggests that they work on making something together, which is twice as fun! And it was a cherry on top that she had a gift for the grumpy groundskeeper. I had one note: I am curious how three little girls were able to yarn bomb the turtle in the middle of the fountain. That would be difficult for even an adult to accomplish.

I really like the layout of this book. The text is laid out around the illustrations, enhancing the visual experience. Neither part distracts from the other. The dust jacket matches the hardcover perfectly and gives a sneak peek to the beautiful layout within. There is a perfect balance of text, illustration, and white space.

I highly recommend this book to anyone with school-aged children. This would be a great anticipatory set for lessons such as yarn crafts, community building, and sharing hobbies. There’s a neat history on the origins of yarn bombing on the last page, and I’m proud to live in a community where something so great got its start.


Cathey Nickell is a busy author and elementary school speaker, having presented at more than seventy schools to date. Yazzy’s Amazing Yarn is her second children’s book about creativity and outside-the-box artistic endeavors. She is also the author of Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car, which was awarded first place by the Texas Association of Authors in the category of Children’s Picture Books-All Ages. Cathey lives with her husband, Kevin, in Houston, where they raised their four children.

Emily Calimlim, while not a knitting whiz herself, loves creating art with humorous and lively watercolor pictures for children. She lives in Houston with her fiancé, George, and silly studio bird, Simon. Emily spends her days capturing her ideas and imagination with paint and pencil.
August 27-September 6, 2019


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Review & Giveaway: The Encouragement Letters by Shanna Spence

Sub-genre: Middle Grade / Historical Fiction
Publisher: Book Liftoff
Date of Publication: November 22, 2017
Number of Pages: 180
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WILLIAM CROMWELL, at age eleven, knew what it was like living with new changes. In 1865, Manchester, England a new textile factory moved into town and after a tragedy that befell him and his mum, they struggled to live. With so many things going on in his young life he wanted to be the encouragement that his father was to him.
As everything changes along with terrible hardships, just maybe the hope he gives to the growing town will find its way to Will…
This was such an uplifting wholesome book! It was so nice to read something positive about a time when people were so willing to step in and help someone in need without expecting anything in return! I couldn’t put it down!– 5 Stars, Kindle verified purchase reviewer
Excellent read!! This story speaks to people in all walks of life. It is encouraging, sweet, and funny at the same time. I would recommend this book to anyone needing to see what it means to “treat others as you want to be treated.” — 5 Stars, Kindle verified purchase reviewer

A very inspiring book from a great new author! — 5 Stars, Kindle verified purchase reviewer

A charming tale of a simpler time. Yet, the message is ageless. I congratulate Ms. Spence on this her first effort and look forward to more entertaining reads from her in the future.— 5 Stars, Kindle reviewer
At first glance you can already tell that this book is historical. But the cover is so mature looking that I thought it might be a nonfiction book intended for adults. However, the book’s slight profile and, as I began to read, tone tipped me off to the intended middle grade audience. While an adult fiction book would ease the reader slowly into its world and gradually unfold the protagonist’s innermost desires or struggles, middle grade books tend to be more straight forward and honest with their intentions. I enjoy a flowery passage here or there, but the direct delivery found in books like this can be refreshing when you want to immerse yourself in a different world and just get down to the nitty gritty.
And poor little Will’s world is very gritty. Tragedy hasn’t lost his address as it continues to visit him at every turn. First his beloved father dies, then he worries that his mother is ill with the same affliction, and… well, I don’t want to ruin the story for you. But know that this young man is made of such wonderful moral fiber that he repays other people’s kindness with beautifully crafted, anonymous letters of encouragement until he is able to repay them properly. What really struck my heartstrings was the love and respect that he had for his mother. No matter how dire their situation, he never went against her wishes for him to continue his schooling and not work in a factory.
Spence did a really lovely job of creating characters that I cared about and set them in a time and place in history that I wasn’t very familiar with. I’ve read my fair share of books set across the pond or books that took place in the 1800s, but I’ve never read a combination of the two before. I was fully invested in the people, especially Will, and loved reading about a village that was helping to raise a good man.
I highly recommend this book to young readers and older readers alike. I think that this would be a great book to read in history class preceding lessons on the industrial revolution or child labor. But this is also a great book to read when life is getting you down and you need to pick yourself up.
Shanna Spence is a wife, mother, and registered nurse of over twenty years. She has written poetry since the age of thirteen and always dreamed of writing books. Raised in a small East Texas town, she pursued a career of nursing in Dallas, Texas but eventually went back to East Texas to settle down and raise a family.
Now she finally has found the time to fulfill her dream of writing stories that will hopefully bring out the imagination in others — as well as inspiration. She is currently living in Longview, Texas. 


1st Prize:
Signed Copy + Bookmark + $10 Amazon Gift Card
2 Runners-Up: eBook Copy
October 10-19, 2018




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Review & Giveaway: Aransas Morning by Jeff Hampton

  Genre: Literary Fiction / Family Life
Date of Publication: September 22, 2017
Number of Pages: 304

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When Sam Barnes’ high-flying life in Dallas falls apart, he flees to the coastal town of Port Aransas, Texas and fades into the life of a reclusive beach bum. But things start to change when he meets Dave, a young widower working through his own loss; Shelly, owner of the Dream Bean coffee shop; Bo, a crusty old shrimper; and Allie, Bo’s free-spirited daughter. Together they are tested and forced to confront their own issues. In doing so they discover family and community.

“Engrossing characters that keep doing unexpected things. Strong sense of place along the Texas coast and deep knowledge of the culture. This book is about relationships and how ‘family’ and ‘community’ might be redefined.”

“In this heartwarming book, Jeff Hampton took me to a place I’ve never been and captured me with his delightful characters, seaside landscape, and deft use of words to portray a small group of people who came together to create and run the Dream Bean cafe. Great summer reading.”

“I loved the characters, with their flaws and their graces. It is an honest and heart-warming story of redemption coming through community. I’m really glad I read it.”

“Really nice character development, articulating in a very comfortable and readable style the messy, complex, joyous and hopeful ways we build, break and nurture ‘community.’”
“Very quickly in the story, the characters became like friends. The book is engaging and held my interest.”

◾   Barnes& Noble  ◾   Jeff Hampton Writer   ◾   
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For me, characters carry a book. If I don’t care about the characters or find them impossible to believe, I can’t read more than a few chapters. Hampton’s characters pulled me in; hook, line, and sinker. And there was even a beautiful pace in which each new character came along and the narrative followed them a bit.
Sam Barnes is a beatdown man who just bums around the beach. He works the odd job so he can eat canned soup in his tin can of a trailer home. Locals know who he is, but nobody really knows him. In retrospect, Sam asking a man who is staring out at the water what he sees is a bit out of character. But it’s this interaction that changes everyone’s lives.
When Hampton follows a character, he seems to write in their voice yet maintains that third person perspective. The tone shifts are truly remarkable. When we’re with Sam, sentences are short and details are sparse. Shelly’s first chapter is descriptive and the language flows. Dave’s chapter talks about the present but constantly circles back to Debby, his wife who passed away a year prior. When Sam collides with Dave, which rolls them toward Shelly, everything is set into motion. As the book progresses, it feels like a single voice has taken over the narrative; either Hampton’s alone, or all of the characters as a collective.
I found it sad that Sam was sort of a wake up call for Shelly and Dave. Neither of them wanted to end up like him, destitute and miserable, so they made big decisions to leave their old lives behind to find new ones. But happily, they wanted to share their new lives with this man who was so much more than he seemed. “He dreamed of being a king but he’d always just been a jester.” (p. 4) was a line that grabbed me.
It was amazing to watch such strong characters with fierce opinions and habits to come together and achieve a common goal. Who could foresee that this strength and ferocity would transform into loyalty, trust, friendship, and love? And I think one of the big lessons of the book is that you have to forgive yourself once you’ve already been forgiven by others. Other gems I have taken away are the importance of living your best life, handling business matters with integrity and respect, and marching to the beat of your own drum.
My only critique is that I wish Hampton didn’t spell out situations so explicitly at times. He literally tells us about a jealousy that’s not romance based- it’s pretty obvious. When there is some friction between two of the main characters, he tells us why they’re acting cold to each other when we could already glean that from the previous scene.
I highly recommend this book to people who love a good redemption or personal transformation story. I am glad to hear that there will be an Aransas Evening coming soon. I look forward to reading it.

During a 35-year career in journalism and communications, Jeff Hampton has covered and written about topics ranging from business and finance to history and faith. His bylines have appeared in publications ranging from The Dallas Morning News to The New York Times.
He attended Baylor University where he majored in journalism and was editor of the Baylor Lariat campus newspaper. He began his professional career at the Waco Tribune-Herald and has written for newspapers, magazines, businesses, non-profit organizations and government agencies.
Hampton has based his life and career in Texas where his interest in observing the people around him has led him to write essays, short stories, and novels that explore relationships and communities in their many forms.
Aransas Morning is his fifth book, following Grandpa Jack, When the Light Returned to Main Street, Jonah Prophet and The Snowman Uprising on Hickory Lane.
Watch for Aransas Evening, a sequel to Aransas Morning, in 2018. 
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Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car by Cathey Graham Nickell

by Cathey Graham Nickell
illustrated by Bill Megenhardt
Genre: Children’s Picture Book/Outsider Art
Publisher: Twenty-Eight Creative
Date of Publication: November, 2015
# of pages: 40


Arthur Zarr is a quiet man with few friends. His life is rather plain, and his car is plain, too. But not for long! When Arthur gets a creative idea to add everyday objects to his car’s plain exterior, he’s noticed for the first time. Neighbors and other bystanders add their own artistic flair to the car, too. What happens when he enters his bedazzled vehicle in the town’s art car parade? Mr. Zarr finds happiness and makes friends by building an amazing art car. In this whimsical story, children learn about recycling, community, friendship building, and the power of imagination. The book includes a “History of Art Cars” page for readers who’ve never heard of this creative form of artistic expression. It also has a subtle ABC theme, as Arthur Zarr adds objects to his art car in alphabetical order! This is the first—and so far, the only—children’s book published about an art car. Suitable for all ages but especially ages 4-8. Illustrated by Houston graphic artist, Bill Megenhardt.
 Praise for Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car:

“Nickell’s book is a treat for sight, sound, and sense, for readers and artcarfans (no, you won’t find the word in your dictionary just yet, anyway) of all levels.”
Lone Star Literary Life.


“A wonderful story of art, opening up to the joys of life, and celebrating the artist in everyone.”—Lynette Wallace, Executive Director, Orange Show Center for Visionary Art, Houston, Texas.


“Cathey Nickell’s book will help fuel the desire to make positive changes in our world through artistic endeavor.”—Alicia Duplan, Assistant Director, Art Car Museum, Houston, Texas.


“Cathey’s story. . . is both engaging and warm. By the end, I found myself rooting for Mr. Zarr. I even felt a small twinge of disappointment when he didn’t win the trophy. Artcar Nation highly recommends this book. Give it to all the children you know.”— Paul McRae, Artcar Nation.


ReviewI had the privilege of getting my hands on a signed copy of this wonderful picture book. And since this one is especially for children, I read it for the first time ever with my 3 year old son. Beside the occasional Eric Carle book, this is the longest book I’ve ever read to him. So I wasn’t expecting his attention span to keep up with me, but I definitely wanted to get his reaction.

The kiddo was super psyched about the new book I was going to read to him and loved the cover already. In the first few pages, Arthur Zarr’s solitude is emphasized by the colorless world around him. At first, only Arthur is in color. But the color spreads to his groceries from the Farmers Market to the first objects that he glues to his plain car. My son kept touching the colored illustrations, but he occasionally pointed at things that were still in black and white. I thought it was interesting how the uncolored drawings seemed so simple (like a talented child artist’s rendering) but then the addition of color added so much depth and maturity. Unfortunately, my son’s attention drifted before the color started to take over the story and Arthur made more connections with people in his community. I powered through and read aloud, even though he was jumping on the bed. I knew he was paying some attention though because he would randomly repeat words that I read in sing song.

I was so distracted by the kiddo’s shenanigans that I didn’t even notice that the objects Arthur Zarr put on his car were in alphabetical order. DOH! But I loved loved LOVED the alphabet at the end of the story comprised of the objects that they stand for. I also enjoyed reading about the history of art cars, since I didn’t know their origin story.

I read the book a second time around on my own so that I could write a proper review. I liked the ratio of text to illustration, since some books seem to have too little or too much of one or the other. I liked the repetitive aspect of the “plain car” and “quiet man”, and how the descriptions changed, as he changed. I loved how his world grew larger and brighter with each new interaction. And the ending was wonderful, too, because it didn’t end in a way that most children’s books do. I’m not going to ruin it for you. But trust me, it gets you right in the feels.

The publishing information in the back of the book says the audience is ages 3-9, but I have to agree with the recommended ages 4-8 provided on this tour. I know my son is still immature when it comes to story time, but the amount of text in this book is more appropriate for a school-aged story time.


BEER CAN HOUSE, 222 Malone St., Houston, Texas (weekends only). 
BERINGS Baby and Kids Dept., 3900 Bissonnet St. and 6102 Westheimer Rd., Houston, Texas.
BETWEEN THE COVERS BOOKSTORE, 224 W. Colorado Ave., Telluride, Colorado.
BLUE WILLOW BOOKSHOP, 14532 Memorial Dr., Houston, Texas.
BRAZOS BOOKSTORE, 2421 Bissonnet St., Houston, Texas.
CONTEMPORARY ARTS MUSEUM, 5216 Montrose Blvd., Houston, Texas.
THE JUNG CENTER BOOKSTORE, 5200 Montrose Blvd., Houston, Texas.
TOY FAIR at Pierremont Mall, 4801 Line Ave., Shreveport, Louisiana.

Cathey Graham Nickell is an author, mother, and wife living in Houston, Texas. She is best known as the seeing-eye-person for her little blind dog named Cricket. Cathey launched her first children’s picture book, Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car, in November 2015. She doesn’t drive an art car herself, but she has a habit of covering the back of her SUV with bumper stickers! Cathey also snaps pictures of art cars—which are plentiful in Houston—when she sees them. Her all-time favorite car was the bright-yellow Volkswagen Beetle that her grandmother drove in the 1970s. 

Cathey draws from her experience as a former newspaper reporter and public relations professional. After taking a few years off to raise four children, Cathey started freelance writing again in 2012 when a non-profit organization called the Institute for Spirituality and Health hired her to research and write its six-decade history. Uniting Faith, Medicine and Healthcare: A 60-Year History of the Institute for Spirituality and Health at the Texas Medical Center was published in 2015. The book is used as a marketing and communications tool, and all financial proceeds benefit the Institute (not Cathey). Cathey graduated from Baylor University with a BA in Journalism in 1985. She earned a Master of Arts from Louisiana State University-Shreveport in 2013. Find her online where she blogs about her writing and publishing adventures.

GIVEAWAY!!  Three winners will each win 
$20 CASH & an Author and Illustrator 
Signed Copy of the Book!



Check out these other great blog stops on the tour!

3/7     Hall Ways Blog  – Review
3/8     Because This is My Life Y’all – Author Interview
3/10   Books and Broomsticks — Review
3/11   The Librarian Talks – Excerpt
3/12   The Page Unbound – Review
3/13   Texas Book Lover – Guest Post
3/14   The Crazy Booksellers – Promo
3/15   Missus Gonzo  — Review
3/16   A Novel Reality  — Author Interview
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