Writer / Speaker

Pairs at National

Before I ask you to read or purchase this book, I would like to disclose to you that I know the author of the book. She is the leader of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators chapter I attend, but our connection is not the reason I’m giving it five stars. 

Ms. Vollstadt has given me much valuable advice. She knows how to make her characters come to life. Her voice is distinct. Elizabeth is both traditionally and self-published.

The fact that she is a seasoned writer shows in Pairs at Nationals, Book Two of her Pairs series. Set in part in world-renowned Lake Placid, home of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, Pairs at Nationals gives readers a glimpse into the lives of Olympic hopefuls.
Since I grew up an hour from Lake Placid, New York and attended the 1980s Olympics, this book whet my interest from page one.

But you don’t have to be a local to the area to enjoy her books. Pairs on Ice, Book One of the series, garnered second place in last year’s Royal Palm Literary competition sponsored by the Florida Writers Association (FWA). Skaters of all ages identify with thirteen-year-old-pairs skater Jamie Bartlett and her partner fifteen-year-old Matt O’Connor. The booklovers on your Christmas list will root for the partners as they face challenges on and off the ice while preparing for nationals, and they’ll thank you for introducing them to Elizabeth Vollstadt’s middle-grade novels.

Ms. Vollstadt skillfully weaves a plot filled with conflict on every page. Like Pairs on Ice, this fast-paced novel is suitable for readers of all grade levels and ages.

If you’re looking for a Christmas gift for a tween, I recommend you order one of Elizabeth Vollstadt’s books. You can find them on Amazon. Her books would make great Christmas gifts for tweens because you don’t have to worry about offending parents. The subject and language are suitable for middle-school students. More importantly, the characters are likable and the conflicts believable. Simply put, it’s a good book.


Melody Dean Dimick

“Rich. Apparent suicide. Murder.” Bestselling novelist Mary Burton’s latest release combines suspense thriller and romance novel as only she can. Beware!

When the body of a former love interest is found hanging from a tree on her property, Bonneville Vineyard owner and potential victim Greer Templeton is haunted by nightmares which also drag the thrill-seeking reader into her ugly past. Complete with Texas accents, Stetson hats, string ties, black snakeskin boots, red-rope bracelets, and sensory imagery, You’re Not Safe yanks the reader into the setting of another soon-to-be chart-topping novel set in the Austin area of the Lone Star State. A perfect venue for star-crossed lovers and a serial killer? One must read to find out.

Ms. Burton peoples the book with broken characters, women and men tortured by their histories, who have learned “Grief and sorrow could rob you of will and energy so that all you wanted to do was crawl under the covers and let life pass you by.” Just when the Shady Grove patients are overcoming the traumas of their earlier lives and regretting their suicide attempts, it appears someone is systematically murdering them and granting them a last wish. “Because not everyone believes life is preferable to death.”
“One down, four to go,” the killer says, and the reader knows the psychopath plans to kill five people if protagonist Texas Ranger Tec Bragg cannot stop the carnage.

Ms. Burton’s cliffhanging chapter endings, foreshadowing, and red herrings keep the reader turning the pages and wondering if Elizabeth Greer Templeton will end up being the victim-lover Ranger Tec Bragg rescues or the villain he must arrest.

Burton says of Greer: “She clenched and unclenched her fingers and then offered a big bright smile. To the casual eye, her smile was radiant but there were subtle cues indicating the opposite. A stiff back, raised chin, and a slight quiver in the corner of her mouth told him the smile was a lovely front.” The words paint a picture of the woman as the ranger sees her.

When asked why she chose the rocky, hot Bonneville Vi neyard to grow grapes, Greer says, “The vines need to suffer to produce grapes of character. When the roots must burrow into the earth and fight to survive, they develop a wonderful complexity. The struggle is what makes them so flavorful.” The perceptive reader recognizes the metaphorical portrayal of herself.

Action, suspense, and memorable characters are hallmarks of Ms. Burton’s writing, but the beauty of her language makes You’re Not Safe an outstanding read. “Bragg …, and touched the tip of his hat out of respect before leaving the uncomfortable beauty of the camp.” What a powerful yet simply worded paradox.

Ms. Burton effectively uses personification in a second apt description of setting when she writes: “The vineyard could be jealous and required she fill every pocket of spare time.”

Serial killers, vendettas, tortured souls, and romance are the main ingredients in Mary Burton’s You’re Not Safe. Beware! As one of her main characters might say, she has all kinds of tricks up her sleeve


Melody's Review of No Escape by Mary Burton
Featured on BookReporter.com


No Crystal Stair
A Book to Inspire

Vaunda Micheaux Nelson’s documentary novel of the life and work of Lewis Michaux, a Harlem bookseller is both a glimpse of history and an inspiration worthy of inclusion in the high school curriculum. Lewis’ father says, “We need to take pride in our race, embrace our history.” In her documentary novel No Crystal Stair, Nelson does just that.  

Nelson’s reverent tone when depicting her ambitious uncle makes him a likable character. The author is obviously proud her uncle began a bookstore in Harlem with just five books, a hundred bucks and an overwhelming desire to provide a means for the Black man to learn about himself. Lewis says, “If a man don’t know where he’s come from, he don’t know where he’s going. If you don’t know what you’re worth, you don’t know what to charge for your labor.” Because he knew the power of knowledge, Lewis was inspired to open a bookstore that would provide Black folks with books by and for Black folks.

Rather than use a straight-forward narrative, Nelson successfully employs a variety of voices to tell the story of her uncle. The reader is able to see not only Lewis’ point of view, but the point of view of family members and other Blacks with whom he associates. This technique provides perspective; we are able to understand what others thought of Lewis’ ideas. As I read, I acquired a history lesson clarifying the atmosphere of the 1960s.

The title of the book piqued my interest. One of my favorite poets is Langston Hughes. I frequently read his poem “Mother to Son” to my students because I think all can be inspired by the mother who tells her son that life isn’t easy, but she keeps on going, and he must do the same. When I saw the title of the book, I picked it up because I hoped it referred to that poem. I was not disappointed. Young people need to understand that life isn’t easy, but we cannot give up on it. Without preaching, No Crystal Stair teaches that lesson.

Lewis is also a lesson in being at home in one’s own skin. Like Henry David Thoreau he understood the need to follow the beat of his own drum. He could have inherited his father’s business, but that would not have been right for him. Lewis believes he has to make a difference for his people by leading them to the knowledge of their history so they can find themselves.

Nikki Giovanni said she knew she had made it as a poet when her book was on Lewis’ shelf, and she was invited for some of his special coffee. When the bookstore was closed to build a state office building, she said, “I think there’s been a war on independent bookstores…Literacy and education were once the hopes for getting away from slavery, out of the ghetto, and into power.” I concur with Giovanni; books are necessary for an informed nation. Unfortunately, the war on independent bookstores continues.

In my favorite part of No Crystal Stair, Lewis helps a young boy named Calvin select a book. As an English teacher, I can relate to helping a young person to choose the right book. Lewis looks at his face and examines his hands. He determines that the boy should be a doctor and recommends a book about the Negro in medicine. In order to get my students to read, I tried to learn what their interests were. I am of the belief that we can all be readers if we find the right book. I suggest to those wanting to learn about the struggles Blacks faced growing up in the United States in the twentieth century, No Crystal Stair is the right book.

Praise for
Ivy and Bean
By Annie Barrows

This is not a Kirkus Review; this is a review written by a mother and teacher. After decades of teaching English and reading, I have turned to writing. In order to be the best writer I can be, I have been reading children’s books. As I mentioned in a recent blog, my experience has demonstrated that most children don’t like to read about other kids behaving.

Captain Underpants and Walter, the Farting Dog are quite popular. Any book that mentions burping or pooping will fly off the library shelf and keep children giggling. In this stressful life isn’t it wonderful to hear children laughing? Boys seem to be the target audience for those books, but girls like to laugh, too. After stumbling upon and reading the Ivy and Bean series, I concluded it is a series that would entice young girls to read because the two main characters are not boring. In fact, they are mischievous.

The two protagonists in the Ivy and Bean series live across the road from each other. Each assumes she won’t like the other. Their mothers try to push them to meet and become friends, but they resist. Bean thinks Ivy is nice, and she considers that just another word for boring. When Bean gets in trouble for playing a trick on her older sister, she learns that Ivy is not boring.

Ivy and Bean has all the fun things little girls love to read about - worms, magic, dog poop, and mean older sisters and neighbors. The book is about an unlikely friendship and a fun adventure to escape retribution for playing a trick on the older sister. Like the book I am writing, it is also about not jumping to conclusions. The girls learn people and things are not always what they seem.  They realize this without adults moralizing for them. Each of the two girls has a distinct voice. Young readers will identify with one or the other or both Ivy and Bean and will enjoy their adventures. If you are looking for a book for a beginning reader, consider Ivy & Bean.

To Ban or Not to Ban
To Read or Not to Read
Fifty Shades of Grey
Melody Dimick

            In book clubs across the country Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James spread like a wild fire in Florida. Controversy followed. The Brevard County Florida library bought seventy copies. Then a librarian refused to put the books on the shelf. He declared it pornographic. Are we back to the days when a man decides what a woman may read?  The censorship whetted my interest. As a former English teacher turned writer, I am not a fan of censorship. However, I am a feminist; I’m not a fan of submission and dominance in a relationship. To answer the question should Fifty Shades of Grey be read or banned, I bought the trilogy.

On her website author E.L. James calls her trilogy adult romance. That sounds less off-putting than erotic. Whether it is adult romance or erotic, is a moot point. The important word is adult. This book does not belong in a school library. Young girls should not be given the idea that submission is desirable. Having said that, if there are shades of acceptable or not acceptable dominance, the rape and bondage of Salander, the protagonist in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is criminal. That book was not banned. (And I don’t think it should have been. We cannot cover up the sad realities. The Jerry Sandusky trial demonstrates what happens when we try.) Salander is a child when she is raped by a man responsible for her care. In contrast, Ana is a willing college student days from graduation—an adult. Both books are definitely for adult audiences. Neither should be banned from public libraries. Our First Amendment right to freedom of speech should not be at the discretion of a librarian. Parents have the right and responsibility of determining whether their children are mature enough or not ready to read a particular book. As adults, we can make our own decisions.

Two weeks ago there were 386 people on the wait list for Fifty Shades of Grey in our local library. Why the frenzy? Our country suffers from the angst of a depression. Many of us wonder if we or our spouses will have a job tomorrow. In many households women are the chief breadwinners in this age of downsizing. They have grocery shopping, cooking, and child care responsibilities to organize in addition to their occupation. The husband’s libido is often altered by job loss. Weight gain from child bearing and stress eating may make the wife feel unappealing. Whatever the reason, when their husbands do not make advances any more, women seek a little romance in their lives. They hunger to rekindle the fire and escape from the harsh realities of mundane day-to-day living. The zumba craze demonstrates this phenomenon. My zumba class of mostly senior citizens dances to “Jai Ho” by the Pussycats. Lines such as “You are the reason that I breathe” or “Escape away, I’ll take you to a place, this fantasy of you and me” motivate us to exercise as we remember when we felt sexy. Whether we turn to music or fiction, most people seek passion, an escape from reality, and the assurance that “Nothing can ever come between us” and the man or woman we love.

Chapter by chapter Fifty Shades of Grey oozes conflict, yet it is a page-turning love story. Admittedly, sometimes we turn the page because the descriptions of the sex become repetitive. Most of us don’t need to read the same depictions over and over, but we do seek a love story exempt from worrying about money issues. We want Elysian Fields of perfect happiness. From the first moment Ana stumbles into his office, we discern Christian is Ana’s destiny. When his touch sends shivers through her body as she shakes his hand for the first time, we suspect we are experiencing love-at-first-sight.

Christian (isn’t the name beautifully ironic?) certainly is flawed, but he is also a victim of abuse. Again I turn to a phrase from “Jai Ho”. Do we not have a sense of the Pussycats’ “Catch me, catch me, catch me, c’mon, catch me, I want you now, I know you can save me?” Christian and Ana illustrate our need to save someone. As adults, we realize how difficult it is to change someone or erase away one’s issues, yet like Ana, we often try.

Outpacing the Harry Potter saga, Fifty Shades of Grey has become the fastest selling paperback series. Reviews abound on talk shows and the morning programs such as Today and Good Morning America. Is the novel good literature? Like Christian, it has major imperfections. In addition to the repetition, some of the language does not fit. The story is set in the United States, but the word choice is often British. For example, the word collect is used when Americans would say get. One has to suspend disbelief at times. Most executives are unlikely to accept personal phone calls during business meetings. I couldn’t stop myself from laughing at the texts and emails they exchanged either. They were often unrealistic, but they provided conflict and humor. Of course, there is the kinky. Some find it offensive. Others simply cannot believe it. Apparently, some find it acceptable. One of the women on The View showed a pair of fur hand cuffs she liked.

The theme of love is a universal theme. Many women seek prince charming. Did Ana find him? Read the story and decide for yourself if you wish, but be prepared for unorthodox behavior if you do, and be ready to say, “Are you kidding me?”