Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Voting Has Begun! Vote for my story, THE DOLL VIOLINIST, and win prizes!

My story, The Doll Violinist, is a finalist at the 3rd Annual ABC's Children's Picture Book Competition!

What makes this competition different is that while the finalists are chosen by judges, the winner is chosen by online public vote. In other words, YOU the reader, get to choose the winner—that lucky author & illustrator team who will walk away with a publishing contract!

The Doll Violinist is a heart-warming Christmas tale set in Victorian Europe about a little orphan girl who dreams of becoming a violinist, and features illustrations by talented artist Amy Moreno (

To view the finalists in the competition and vote for my story, please visit the competition website at
The two week voting period starts September 16, 2007 and will continue through midnight September 30, 2007. You may vote ONCE a day for the duration of the contest, if you wish. The winning author / illustrator team will be announced October 8, 2007.

People who vote for The Doll Violinist will be automatically entered in a drawing and prizes will be as follows:

1st Prize: An enchanting Belgian antique doll in Brussels lace
2nd Prize: $50 Amazon gift certificate
3rd Prize: Beautiful zirconium & sterling silver ring (size 8)
4th Prize: A print copy of Mayra’s latest paranormal thriller, DARK LULLABY
5th Prize: A print copy of ANGEL IN A BUBBLE (children’s picture book)

All you need to do is vote for The Doll Violinist (anytime between Sept. 16th-30th), then send me a message to and write ‘You got my vote’ on the subject line. You must send me a message in order to enter the drawing, so please don’t forget!

The winners will be announced on this blog on October 1st, 2007.
But there's more...! Amy Moreno will be giving away one custom-made pen and ink rendering of YOUR house to a lucky winner. Check her blog, Cachibachis, for her own rules on how to be eligible for this rendering.

Please help Amy and I win that publishing contract!
September 18th NEWS! Listen to my radio interview with Lillian Cauldwell at Internet Voices Radio:


About my story, The Doll Violinist, and how it came about….

The Doll Violinist takes place in Christmas in the late 1800’s and it is about a little orphan girl named Emma who escapes every day from the orphanage to look at a doll that resembles her mother, who is now in heaven. The doll is holding a violin, just like Emma’s mother used to. Emma dreams of becoming a violinist one day, just like her mother.

The tale starts five days before Christmas with five dolls on display, and, to her dismay, as Emma comes to the shop each day, one doll is sold. On Christmas Eve, the doll violinist is the only one left. The story also has another character, the stern and seemingly cold shopkeeper, who doesn’t want Emma standing by the shop. Of course, there’s a reason, and it’s not that Emma is dressed in rags, but that Emma reminds her of her own dead daughter. The story has a quiet mood while offering suspense, and of course, it has a heart-warming, happy ending.

This story has a long history! It is inspired by a real-life tale my Spanish grandmother used to tell me when I was a kid. It is actually based on something that happened to her. When my grandmother was a little girl, her father, a very hard and stingy man, owned a shop. One Christmas, her father brought a beautiful doll to the shop and put it for display on a shelf. When my grandmother saw this doll, she became instantly mesmerized. In her innocent, little girl’s heart, she had hopes her father would give her the doll as a Christmas present. Each day she would come to the store to see if he doll was still there. Of course, her father never gave her the doll; he sold it. She was crushed and could never forget that.

That story must have made a deep impression on me. I never forgot it as well. Two years ago, after years of mental simmering, I put the story to paper. Initially there was no violin in the story; I added that element later to make it more unique.

During the last two years, the story has gone through various titles, a critique group, two editors, and dozens of agents and publishers. Despite all the rejection letters, I had--and still have--deep faith in it and really believed this is a story all children, especially young girls who play the violin, would love to read.

Then last year the story got an Honorable Mention Award at the 75th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition. There were 19,000 entries, so it was quite a validation for me. When I learned about the ABC's Children's Picture Book Competition, I felt compelled to give it a shot.

Please mark your calendars on the 16th of September, when the finalist stories will be displayed online for everybody to read and vote! Voting ends on Sept. 30th, so you have two whole weeks to vote!

My story will be accompaigned with a beautfiful illustration by talented artist Amy Moreno. Amy has perfectly captured the essence and mood of the story.

May the best story win! :-)
Violin, My Muse...

Violin… The word brings such vivid images to my mind. A slender and graceful soloist performing on stage, her eyes closed with delirious ecstasy. The mysterious, dark, gaunt figure of Paganini, his long thin fingers racing up and down the fingerboard with demonic, preternatural speed. Tartini reclining in bed while handing the violin to the devil himself. Sherlock Holmes playing a tune in his small flat on 221b Baker Street.

The sound which comes forth from the violin stirs different emotions deep within my soul—sublimity, sweetness, passion, sadness, fear. Sibelius’ concerto is dark and mysterious; Beethoven’s is spiritual and noble; Brahms’ is earthly and passionate; Tchaikovsky’s is grand and dramatic.

It’s curious how, unlike other instruments, the violin seems to possess a dark, sinister quality. Surely no other instrument in history has been the ‘victim’ of such lore and legend. The violin is light and darkness. It has two faces, two personas. This is what makes the violin so intriguing. At the same time, it is associated with the feminine. I’m not referring to the shape and sound of the violin, but to the feelings it evokes on their owners. I’ve read that men violinists see the violin as a female companion, while women see it as an extension of themselves.

Another thing I’ve come to realize is that most people have intense emotions about the violin—they either love it or hate it. Interesting enough, for someone who hasn’t an affinity for music, the violin can be the most horrific, tortuous instrument to listen to.

I was a late starter. I began taking violin lessons in my mid thirties. Just as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde woke up one day and decided to become a lawyer, I woke up one day and decided I wanted to play the violin. For somebody like me, who had never had any kind of musical education, it was a great challenge. Four years since then, I can only say I don’t know how I could have lived without my violin for so long. A wonderful new dimension has opened in my life. Enveloped in music, surrounded by etudes and books, I wallow in the daily practice of this magnificent instrument, this marvel of ingenuity. But, most strange of all, this new dimension has extended to my writing as well. The violin has stirred my imagination and unleashed my creativity in ways that I never experienced before. A little orphan girl who wishes to become a violinist begs me to write her Christmas story; amateur teenaged violinists whisper in my ear that they wish to be the protagonists of my new mystery; a fragile, mentally unbalanced young violinist shares with me her horror tale, assuring me that her story would make a bestseller…

Always near my computer, my violin beckons me to hold it when I’m stuck in a scene or passage, as if only one embrace, one stroke, are enough to lift the dark cloud from my mind. And always in the background is the violin music, my muse and inspiration. I hope this gift will continue to be bestowed upon me for many years to come.
***This article originally appeared on

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Book Review: The Missing Locket, by Mary Cunningham

The Missing Locket
Book I, Cynthia’s Attic series
By Mary Cunningham
Quake (Echelon Press imprint)
ISBN: 1-59080-441-4
Copyright 2005
Trade Paperback, 152 pages, $9.99
Mystery/Paranormal, Middle Reader

Reviewed by Mayra Calvani

The Missing Locket is a paranormal mystery featuring two lovable young sleuths that girls 9 and up will absolutely love. It is the perfect, darkly atmospheric story for young fans of intrigue and adventure to cuddle up with on those gray, rainy afternoons or read in bed.

It is the summer of 1964 and Gus and Cynthia, two best friends who are very different from each other yet very close, are bored out of their minds. Then they have an idea—why not explore Cynthia’s old and mysterious attic? After all, Cynthia lives in one of those huge mansions with three floors and lots of rooms, the perfect kind of house that stimulates young imaginations. In the attic, among all the antiques, spiders and cobwebs, they discover a huge, dust-covered old trunk.

When they open it, they find an old, dirty, pink ballet costume and slippers, which Cynthia, unable to resist, quickly tries on. Then something very strange happens… Cynthia begins to dance and twirl with the effortless beauty of a ballerina! Stunned, she soon takes it off. As they head towards the door, the unimaginable happens—they’re ‘pulled’ back to the trunk as if by magic, and the attic changes, becoming cold and still when only a moment ago it had been hot and muggy. What’s even more strange, the ballet costume and the trunk now look brand new!

Under the costume, they discover a sailor dress, and this time Gus tries it on, with drastic consequences… she’s whisked in time back to 1914, to the time when their grandmothers were only twelve years old. Of course, later on, Cynthia joins Gus, and together they must help their Aunt Belle and solve the mystery of the missing, bell-shaped locket, an adventure that takes them over on a steamship across the Atlantic and where they make friends with a young boy’s ghost.

Talented author Mary Cunningham has drawn a delightful, intriguing fantasy world that will delight middle readers. Her love for storytelling and for the genre really comes through the pages. The pace is quick and there’s enough twists and turns to keep juvenile fans of mystery guessing. The characters of Gus and Cynthia are sympathetic and interesting and young girls will be able to identify with them. This is the first book in the series and I certainly look forward to read the second book, The Magic Medallion, soon.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

There's a Spider in my Sink! by Bill Kirk

There’s a Spider in my Sink!
By Bill Kirk
Illustrated by Suzy Brown
Copyright 2005
Ages 2-6

"There’s a spider in my sink!
Did he drop in from the brink?
Does he want a little drink?
There’s a spider in my sink!"

Thus begins this very cute picture ebook young children will love listening to and early readers will enjoy reading on their own.

The little boy in the story has a problem… a spider has suddenly taken possession of his sink! What is he to do? How to get rid of it without hurting it? After all, the only thing the spider wants is a safe home. But he has to do something! How will he be able to brush his teeth and comb his hair, when the sink is covered with cobwebs?

The story is written in iambic beat and has a smooth, fun rhythm that both children and adults will enjoy.

The colorful illustrations are appealing and possess the right touch of wackiness that well suit the story. I also found the ebook itself a pleasure to use. The book appears on the screen and all you have to do is click on the page for it to turn, giving the feeling of a real book. Even toddlers will be able to turn the pages on their own. In sum, this is a delightful little book that teaches children the good side of spiders, while at the same time developing children’s language and computer skills.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Book Review: Under the Jolly Roger, by L.A. Meyer

Under the Jolly Roger
(a Jacky Faber adventure, Book III)
By L.A. Meyer
Harcourt Books
Copyright 2007
Paperback, 526 pages
12 & up

Reviewed by Mayra Calvani

In this the latest installment in the Jacky Faber adventures, young and impetuous Jacky sails back to England after leaving the Lawson Peabody School for Young Girls in Boston.

Jacky is now in search of her beloved Jaimy, but when she shows up at his house, his insufferable mother turns her away. Later on, she finds an ingenious way to meet him at the races by dressing up as a boy. To her dismay, she finds him holding hands with another girl. Impulsive and passionate as always, she assumes the worst and storms out of the place without asking an explanation, only to fall into the hands of kidnappers. When she opens her eyes, she finds herself aboard a ship far from coast. But the worse happens when they realize the inevitable—she’s a girl! Now Jacky has to prove herself as an accomplished sailor, keep the filthy captain away from her, and earn the respect of her fellow mates. Of course, her dilemma doesn’t end here, for soon enough she’s mistaken for a pirate and the authorities put a price on her head!

This is a book that will be utterly enjoyed by young fans of pirate adventure stories. Non-stop action and thrills fill the plot, but what really stands out is the well-drawn, utterly adorable character of the sensitive yet head-strong teenaged protagonist, Jacky Faber. Her interaction with other characters and sharp wit are a delight to follow. L.A. Meyer has an unusual, original style that is fresh and engaging. The author uses the present tense to tell the story; since it is a historical novel, I would have preferred the past tense, but this is purely a personal choice. Also, at times the technical descriptions of Jacky as she handles the ship can be a bit tedious, though I suppose this can be appealing to hard fans of pirate stories. The book can stand on its own in spite of being the third one in the series. The ending leaves at a crucial point, leaving the story unfinished and readers begging for more.

*This review originally appeared on

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Review of Beauty Shop for Rent, by Laura Bowers

Beauty Shop for Rent
By Laura Bowers
Harcourt Books
Copyright 2007
Hardcover, 330 pages
YA/General Fiction
12 & up

Reviewed by Mayra Calvani

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel by first-time author Laura Bowers.

Fourteen-year old Abbey Garner lives with her great-grandmother and works part-time at her struggling beauty shop. The place has been displaying a ‘For Rent’ sign over a year, to no avail. Then one day a beautiful and sophisticated young woman comes to rent it, bringing with her modern ideas to remodel the shop. Soon Abbey grows to love and admire her. How can she not? She’s everything Abbey’s mother is not—successful, independent, reliable. Now that the shop has been turned into a modern spa, Abbey is able to work more toward her big dream: to become rich by the time she turns thirty five. But then, her mother, who had Abbey when she was sixteen and practically abandoned her, comes back into the picture, turning Abbey’s orderly life upside down.

Don’t be fooled by the fun, whimsical aspect of the beauty spa idea; although the setting adds a touch of hilarity to the story, this is a strong, beautifully written and heart-warming tale about a young teenager’s search for maternal love. It is a coming-of-age novel about overcoming disappointment and about forgiveness. Abbey is a sensitive, thoroughly sympathetic protagonist. Beauty Shop for Rent is fine piece of work that will appeal to both young adults and adults alike.

*This review originally appeared in Armchair Interviews

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Book Review: Freckleface Strawberry, by Julianne Moore

Freckleface Strawberry
By Julianne Moore
Illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Copyright 2007
ISBN: 978-1-59990-107-7
Ages 0-5, 40 pages, $16.95
Available October 2007

Freckledface Strawberry is about a seven-year old girl just like everybody else, except for one thing: she has red hair. Not only that. She has FRECKLES!

Where did they come from? Nobody in her family has freckles. How she got them is a mystery! No matter where she goes, people always have something to say about her freckles—that she’s dotted, that she’s dirty, that she looks like a giraffe, but even worse… that she’s a FRECKLEFACE STRAWBERRY!

Freckleface Strawberry must do something to get rid of her freckles. And fast. She tries various funny ways to get rid of them, before realizing that maybe, just maybe, freckles are not that bad after all. What’s even more… maybe freckles are what make her HER.

This is a picture book that will be thoroughly enjoyed by all, especially by children who have freckles. The story maintains the right pace to keep the momentum going and the colorful illustrations have a wacky quality that suits well the tone and add to the humor. Julianne Moore has created a cute, fun story based on her own childhood experience . I look forward to reading more books from her.

Review by Mayra Calvani

*This review was previously published in Armchair Interviews