Monday, August 11, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: WRITTEN IN STONE by Rosanne Parry (with interview and giveaway)

WRITTEN IN STONE by Rosanne Parry (Random House, June 2013)

What It's About (from the book jacket):  Pearl has always dreamed of hunting whales, just like her father. Of taking to the sea in their eight-man canoe, standing at the prow with a harpoon, and waiting for a whale to lift its barnacle-speckled head as it offers its life for the life of the tribe.

But now that can never be. Pearl's father was lost on the last hunt, and the whales hide from the great steam-powered ships carrying harpoon cannons, which harvest not one but dozens of whales from the ocean. With the whales gone, Pearl's people, the Makah, struggle to survive as Pearl searches for ways to preserve their stories and skills.

Opening Lines: "I don't need my eyes to tell me what's coming, and I don't need my great-granddaughter's hand on my elbow to keep me from stumbling. I know my way to the beach. For eighty-nine years, these feet have known the land of my tribe. I won't fall now. Not today. Not after waiting so long."

Why I Liked It: I have to admit here that Rosanne Parry is a real-life friend of mine. We are in the same critique group in Portland, Oregon, and she has been a huge mentor to my writing.

That said, I was not a member of the critique group when Written in Stone was first written, so I did not see its genesis. I can truthfully say however that Rosanne worked on the story for years--ever since she started her teaching career in Taholah, Washington, on the Quinault Indian reservation, and the story is very dear to her heart.

The story is framed by the resumption of whaling for the Makah people in 1999--which is referred to in the opening lines quoted above. We learn that Pearl was a girl of thirteen when the Makah voluntarily gave up whaling in the 1920s, and the bulk of the story is concerned with her as a young girl, coming to grips with the deaths of both her parents.

The story starts powerfully, with the return of a whale hunt and the horrible realization by Pearl that her father is dead. I will quote this at length because it shows the lyrical strength of Parry's writing:
"The drums faltered and fell silent. The welcome song waited in my mouth. Seven silhouettes bent over their paddles. There was no shout or raised arms, no trail of seabirds and sharks. Grandma counted, "Pau, saali, chakla, muus..." She wept before she came to seven. I did not count. I knew where the harpooner sat. My body held still as stone, but my mind flew out over the ocean like a seagull looking north and south, crying in a gull's one-note voice.
Gone. Gone. Gone."
Just as she did in her celebrated debut, Heart of a Shepherd, Rosanne Parry's writing sweeps the reader along. She also has an unerring ability to pull on a reader's heartstrings without being mawkish.

Other things I liked: the strong family structure of the Makah, and the number of strong women in Pearl's life, particularly her Grandmother and her Aunt Susi, who show her the way forward. The historical details are well-woven into the narrative, so that they come up seamlessly--particularly the 1918 influenza epidemic which killed Pearl's mother and baby sister, the dealings with the Indian agent--"The Mustache"--who goes on "for many sentences, dishonoring us with the free use of a dead man's name," and the suspicious "art collector," Mr. Glen, who is really focused on surveying the Makah land for oil.

This is a story well-told and heart-felt, one that lingers in the memory long after the final page is turned. (And the cover is gorgeous!)

I asked Rosanne to answer the Traditional Mafioso Questions, and she kindly obliged:

Interview with Rosanne:
1) Who are your favorite (middle grade) writers?
Well, I happen to be having tea with 3 of my favorite middle grade authors today, Susan Blackaby (Brownie Groundhog and the Wintery Surprise--okay this is a picture book but she also writes for older readers), Heather Vogel Frederick, (the Mother-Daughter book club series) and Susan Fletcher (The Falcon in the Glass). I am a lifelong fan of Beverly Cleary and a brand new fan of debut author Robin Herrara (Hope is a Ferris Wheel). And that's just the Portland authors I like! Obviously I could go on and on.

2) What's on your nightstand now?
I met Luis Alberto Urrea at the Summer Fishtrap Workshop this year, so I've just finished his book Into the Beautiful North, which is lovely. Against all the noise of border-crossing children you hear in the news, it was a refreshing look at the issue from the migrating child's point of view.  Besides that I have a bunch of books about wolves for a non-fiction project I'm working on and a really fun reference book called Home Ground which is a series of descriptions of natural features of North America as described by poets and writers of literary fiction. It's surprisingly fascinating. For example, when a tree falls over and heaves its root ball out of the ground, the depression left behind is called a tree tip pit.  Cool!

3) Pick a favorite scene from your novel, and say why you like it
I really like the scene where Pearl discovers the petroglyphs. I love the way art tends to encourage reflection and meaning-making, so this was a great way for my character to have an encounter with a work of art and gain an insight into her own life's purpose. It took a lot of research to make sure that the scene would work, but I'm very happy with how it came out.

4) Fill in the blank: I'm really awesome at....  
Making jam. Using up fruit is a bit of a game at my house. We have apple, plum, peach and pear trees, plus blueberries, raspberries and loganberries. Last week I made lavender peach jam and plum sauce. Next, raspberry jam, and then pear chutney and caramel apple butter. 

5) My favorite breakfast is..
At the moment I'm very fond of blueberry pancakes because the blueberries in my yard are ripe.

6) If you could visit any place, where would it be?
Gosh, any place at all? Hmm. I'd love to take my family to all the great national parks in the US. I'd love to just pack up the canoe and the camping stuff for the whole summer and drive to Glacier, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, the Redwoods, the Everglades, Denali, the Smoky Mountains, Arches, and the Volcano Park in Hawaii (okay that would be a challenge to drive to).  How about you Mike? Do you have a favorite national park?

Me: Well, Rosanne, I hate to admit I have only ever been to Yellowstone.Several years ago, I was traveling back from the midwest with my sister-in-law, who had just completed medical school in Wisconsin, and I thought that riding shotgun with her and her belongings would afford me a wonderful way to see the country. However, I made a serious faux-pas in Yellowstone because of the British pronunciation of the word geysers. In Britain, we call those hot water spouts "geezers." So, when I loudly exclaimed in front of Old Faithful and the surrounding geysers, as well as the motor coaches disgorging bands of senior citizens, that I had "never seen so many geezers," I got a whole bunch of dirty looks. Oops!

About the Author: Rosanne Parry is the author of the award winning novels Heart of a Shepherd, Second Fiddle, and Written in Stone. She has taught writing at schools, conferences, educational non-profits, and online at the Loft Literary Center. She and her husband live in an old farmhouse in Portland, Oregon where they are raising 4 children, 3 chickens and 5 kinds of fruit. She writes in a tree house in her back yard.

Website: Rosanne Parry
Twitter: @RosanneParry


Thank you so much for stopping by today, Rosanne. Readers, Rosanne has generously offered a signed paperback copy of Written in Stone. Leave a comment if you would like to be in the running. International entries welcome.

(And the winner of Kimberley Griffiths Little's In the Time of the Fireflies is... Myrna Foster!)

Monday, August 4, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: THE TIME OF THE FIREFLIES by Kimberley Griffiths Little

THE TIME OF THE FIREFLIES by Kimberley Griffiths Little (Scholastic Press, July 29. 2014)

What It's About (from the book jacket): When Larissa Renaud starts receiving eerie phone calls on a disconnected old phone in her family's antique shop, she knows she's in for a strange summer. A series of clues leads her to the muddy riverbank, where clouds of fireflies dance among the cypress knees and cattails each evening at twilight.

The fireflies are beautiful and mysterious, and they take Larissa on a magical journey through time, where she learns the secrets about her family's tragic past--deadly, curse-ridden secrets that could endanger the future of her family as she knows it. And when her mother suddenly disappears, it becomes clear that it is up to Larissa to prevent history from repeating itself, and a fatal tragedy from striking the people she loves.

Opening Lines: "The second day of summer was a flapjack-and-bacon morning with enough sweet cane syrup to make your teeth ache. A glorious, heavenly day when you got no more homework due for three whole months."

Why I Liked It:
1) The cover: it is instantly appealing, with all that shimmery light.
2) I'm a sucker for time travel, and this one is done exceedingly well. The setting is in the bayou--and there's a gracious old house which, throughout the course of Larissa's travels, falls into disrepair.
3) It is totally spooky! First there's the creepy doll, then the mysterious phone calls from the antique, unconnected phone in the store. Then there's the tragic fire, and a visit to a graveyard. I was a wet rag at the end of this.
4) Larissa's character arc. I was impressed at her growth from the girl who is furiously resentful about her scar, and hates the girl she believes is responsible, to a person who realizes that there's many sides to a story, and who can embrace forgiveness.
5) The gorgeous writing. Kimberley Griffith's Little is a master of sensory details. I felt uplifted by the language on every page.

And... she's an amazing book trailer maker too! Check this out:

Book Trailer:



I was delighted to be able to ask Kimberley my usual Mafioso questions. The Don was listening in, but apart from whooping at every mention of Italy, did manage to hold his tongue. I think he was as spellbound about this novel as I was! Here we go:

Hi Kimberley! Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions. Your novel is a totalo winner, by the way. First, can you tell me:

1) Who are your favorite (middle grade) writers?

I started out reading a whole lot of classics: Lois Lowry, Katherine Paterson, Louise Fitzhugh, Ellen Raskin, E.L. Konigsburg, Elizabeth Goudge – oh, and um, Nancy Drew. Like boxes full. That I saved for my daughters to read. Except I had 3 sons. Granddaughters, right!?

As an adult I’ve loved Caroline Starr Rose, Barbara O’Connor, Nikki Loftin, Kathryn Fitzmaurice, Shannon Messenger, Jewell Parker Rhodes, Lisa Graff, to name just a few. There are so many fantastic writers, and most of that previous list of current favorites have become personal friends. Lucky me!

Me: Yup, that;s a great list. *waving to Caroline Starr Rose, a fellow Project Mayhem writer*

2) What's on your nightstand now? 

Middle Grade: THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY by Tracy Holczer (Me: Oh yay! I just featured this on Project Mayhem the other week!)

Young Adult: KISS OF DECEPTION by Mary Pearson

Adult: HOUSE AT RIVERTON by Kate Morton

Nonfiction: Ancient Middle Eastern war tactics (research for my YA trilogy with Harpercollins).

Call me an eclectic reader. :-)

Me: You certainly do read widely. I'm pretty much middle grade, with the occasional foray into The Game of Thrones--I'm reading Book 5 right now.

3) Pick a favorite scene from your novel, and say why you like it: 

Oh, I’d have to say all the creepy doll scenes, icy blue eyes watching Larissa across the antique store, batting her eyelashes and smiling when the curse from the Island of the Dolls unleashes its fury. The hair raised up on my own arms! I also love the heart-to-heart talk Larissa and Grandma Kat have about the family tragedies when Mamma goes missing—and then the doll goes missing . . .  

Me: As I said above, that doll completely creeped me out! Good job!

4) Fill in the blank: I'm really awesome at.... 

Making cookies! I make a lot of cookies during novel revision time and I now have the ability to go from empty mixing bowl to a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies in 20 minutes. Yeah, I’m awesome like that. Don’t forget the ice cold milk . . . 

Me: I agree--those are special skills.  

5) My favorite breakfast is... 

Strawberry waffles and sausage, but I don’t eat it too often (usually it’s a yogurt, banana, and lots of ice water before I head out the door for my daily 3-mile walk). The older I get the more the weight hangs around making faces at me in the mirror each morning.

Me; Yeah, that pesky weight--what's with that?! (Oh yeah, the Don's wife cooks really good Italian food, and I always eat at my desk. Mamma Mia!)

6) If you could visit any place, where would it be? 

I’ve always been a scaredy-cat when it comes to flying, but I just do a lot of praying and force myself to go because I love visiting new, exotic locales and seeing fascinating historical sites. Ever since I was very young I would try to imagine what it would be like to live somewhere or in a certain time period.

My dream trip to the Middle East, Jordan, and Petra finally came true last year—and exceeded all expectations. Over the last decade I’ve stayed in a haunted castle tower room at Borthwick Castle in Scotland, sailed the Seine in Paris, walked the beaches of Normandy, stood at the place that Joan of Arc died, ridden a camel in Petra, saw the volcanoes at Kauai, shopped the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, and spent the night in an old Communist hotel in Bulgaria.

My next goal is Italy and/or Greece– and a cruise of some kind. I think I’m one of the only people I know who hasn’t been on a cruise at some point in their life!

Me: Kimberley, that's a heck of a lot of traveling! Did you see a Scottish ghost? And yay: Italy. The Don's broken into song. But I have to say: I can join you in the never-been-on-a-cruise club.

Thanks so much for being such a great guest. I loved your novel, and wish it and you every success. People, if you want to read something both lyrical and creepy, hie thee to a bookstore and get your mitts on THE TIME OF THE FIREFLIES!

About the Author:
Kimberley Griffiths Little is the critically acclaimed author of several MG novels with Scholastic and an upcoming YA trilogy, FORBIDDEN, with Harpercollins in 2014. She has won the Southwest Book Award, the Whitney Award for Best Youth Novel of 2010, starred on the Bank Street College Best Books of 2011 & 2014, a Crystal Kit runner-up, and a New Mexico Book Award Finalist. Her books have sold several hundred thousand copies in the Scholastic Book Fairs and have been chosen for several state reading lists. She makes super cool book trailers and her first one for The Healing Spell garnered over 8,000 views despite the fact that she was/is a total unknown. Kimberley lives on a dirt road in a small town by the Rio Grande with her husband, a robotics engineer, and their three sons.

Social Media Links:
Website: http://www.kimberleygriffithslittle.com
Blog http://www.kimberleygriffithslittle.blogspot.com
Twitter @KimberleyGLittl
Facebook: Find me at "Kimberley Griffiths Little"
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/KimberleyLittle1?feature=watch
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/484627.Kimberley_Griffiths_Little



Kimberley has very graciously offered a copy of THE TIME OF THE FIREFLIES for one lucky winner. All you have to do is comment, and the Don will pick a winner out of his hat next week. Till then, happy reading and writing. Ciao!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY (plus Giveaway)

THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY by Tracy Holczer (Putnam, 2014)

This is kind of cheating, but I did a post on Project Mayhem last Friday on this lovely book, and even offered up a signed copy and didn't get much of a response. I figure that this offer deserves a second chance with my Marvelous Middle Grade Monday readers!

Please CLICK HERE to be taken to Project Mayhem, and see why I loved this novel and would very much like for you to have a copy of it.

(P.S. Next week, I will be welcoming Kimberley Griffiths Little to the blog, with her equally luminous THE TIME OF THE FIREFLIES. The Don says "don't miss it--or else!")

Happy writing and reading, everyone. Ciao!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: TORI AND THE SLEIGH OF MIDNIGHT BLUE by Margo Sorenson (with interview)


Displaying Tori and the Sleigh of Midnight Blue 300dpi.jpg
TORI AND THE SLEIGH OF MIDNIGHT BLUE by Mago Sorenson (North Dakota State University, Institute for --2003)

What It's About: Eleven-year-old Tori and her family are struggling with the Great Depression in North Dakota, and the death of her beloved Papa has been the severest blow of all. To aspiring writer Tori, everything is changing for the worse--her friends are acting too grown-up, and her little brother Otto invades her privacy. When a Norwegian bachelor-farmer begins courting Mama, Tori writes in her journal that her life will be ruined. What will Tori discover about forgiveness and acceptance as she tries to keep her life from changing?

Opening Lines:
 Tori Oleson stood frozen in the doorway of the church kitchen.
“Don't you think Selina Oleson should be looking for another husband?” Mrs. Pederson was asking.
“It's been over a year now since Torgus passed away.”
The women had their backs to her, but their words cut Tori like a knife. Mama and someone else? It wasn't going to happen. No one could take Papa's place. No one.

Why I Liked It: I have read several of Margo Sorenson's novels, and I am in awe of the variety of her subject matter. In ISLAND DANGER, she wrote an adventure with a hidden arms cache in Hawai'i and in TIME OF HONOR, she took on time travel and skulduggery in 1272. Here, in TORI AND THE SLEIGH OF MIDNIGHT BLUE, her focus is on North Dakota during the time of the Great Depression. The details of Tori's life in a Norwegian immigrant community in the Dakotas ring pitch perfect. We are introduced to such things as the Basket Social (in which baskets are made and auctioned off to earn money for the school); and the rolling out of lefse for Thanksgiving.

Tori is a very well-drawn character. She is dealing with all the issues of a 12-year-old, such as how to fit in with her suddenly boy-crazy friends, and how to deal with an annoying younger brother. She also has, at the core, an immense sadness about the loss of her father to pneumonia--and she definitely does not want anyone--even the good-natured Bjorn Oppestadt, who appears to be courting her mother--to take her beloved Papa's place.

The one thing she has left of her Papa is the miniature wooden sleigh of midnight blue. Unfortunately, her brother, Otto, takes it from her room without asking, and it gets smashed in the barn. Yet a wonderful thing happens (no spoilers, here!), and Tori comes to a realization--as she recites the poem she wrote for her mother in front of the school--about the true nature of love and redemption.

A beautifully written, very touching book!

I asked Margo my usual Mafioso questions. This is what she had to say--


1) Who are your favorite (middle grade) writers?

Katherine Paterson, Anna Staniszewski, Jerry Spinelli, Carl Hiaasen

2) What's on your nightstand now?

Donna Leon's QUIETLY IN THEIR SLEEP -- definitely not middle grade!

3) Pick a favorite scene from your novel, and say why you like it

My favorite scene is at the end when Tori and her step-father-to-be have a special conversation, and I can't say more without creating a spoiler alert! (I agree--that was a beautifully rendered scene.)

4) Fill in the blank: I'm really awesome at...

thinking of all kinds of story ideas that I'd rather be fiddling with than doing mundane tasks like laundry!

5) My favorite breakfast is...

biscuits and gravy...and gravy on the side, so I can butter the biscuits.

6) If you could visit any place, where would it be?

Actually, my favorite place to visit is la bella Italia! The people, the food, the wine, the history all combine to make it a special and magical place. (The Don is thrilled to hear this, Margo. In fact, his exact words were "Grazie mille a Margo per la sua gentilezza!" At this rate he's going to send his private jet to fly you to his homeland!)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Author of twenty-eight books, Margo Sorenson was born in Washington, DC, and spent the first seven years of her life in Spain and Italy. After teaching high school and middle school and raising a family of two daughters, Margo is now a full-time writer. A National Milken Educator Award recipient, Margo always has a good time meeting with her readers in school and library settings from Minnesota to California and Hawaii.

Margo and her husband now live full-time in California. When she isn't writing, she enjoys visiting her grandchildren, playing golf, reading, watching sports, traveling, and hearing from her readers. You can visit her website here, or follow her on Twitter @ipapaverison. (Her new picture book is coming out in the Fall, and is called SPAGHETTI SMILES. The Don's ordering copies for the whole compound.)

Thanks for reading, everyone, and have a Marvelous Middle Grade Monday! Ciao!!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Winner of MINION blog tour is...





Thanks to all who commented on my part of the MINION blog tour. Random.org chose comment #8 as the winner, which means


will receive my ARCs of both SIDEKICKED AND MINION!

Happy reading (and writing!) to you all. Ciao!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The MINION Blog Tour rolls in Mafiosoville: (Also, an hilarious interview with JOHN DAVID ANDERSON)


Yay! It's finally here! The Minion Blog Tour is making its stop in Mafiosoville. The Don has declared it a holiday, so we can all shout "hurrah!" while enjoying leftover pizza and one banana, sliced into twelfths. (Thanks bunches, John David Anderson--see the interview below.) The Don also thoroughly enjoyed the novel, especially the title which he has declared will be my official nomenclature from now on. So, please refer to me in all further correspondence as "Minion Michael."

Without further ado, let's put up the bunting for this very funny novel from John David Anderson--a companion to last year's Sidekicked.

What It's About: Michael Morn might be a villain, but he's really not a bad guy. When you live in New Liberty, known across the country as the City without a Super, there are only two kinds of people, after all: those who turn to crime and those who suffer. Michael and his adoptive father spend their days building boxes—special devices with mysterious abilities—which they sell to the mob at a price. They provide for each other, they look out for each other, and they'd never betray each other.

But then a Super comes to town, and Michael's world is thrown into disarray. The Comet could destroy everything Michael and his dad have built, the safe and secure life they've made for themselves. And now Michael and his father face a choice: to hold tight to their life or to let it unravel.

Opening Lines: "When I was twelve years old, give or take, my father strapped a bomb to my chest and drove me to the First National Bank and Trust so we could steal $27,500"

(Was his father the Don?! Sounds a wee bit similar, if you ask me.)

Why I Liked It: I'll say it again, as I say it for all successful middle grade novels. VOICE. All of Michael's preoccupations are those of a middle schooler, and they are delivered humorously with that certain sardonic quality most middle schoolers have. I also really liked the "mad scientist" Dad, and the mystery that unfolded: is there something more to Viola than first meets the eye? Who is behind all the new mayhem in New Liberty? And who is the Comet, the Superhero who has apparently arrived out of nowhere to save the town? I can see middle graders of all stripes lapping this one up!

Of course, I couldn't let this great day pass without collaring the author and shooting off my Mafioso questions to him. As you can tell, this guy John David Anderson is seriously funny. Here we go (my interpolations in italics):

1) Who are your favorite (middle grade) writers?
I try not to pick favorites. Mostly because of the whole dodgeball/team captain/don't-pick-Anderson-because-he's-too-short post traumatic stress of my childhood, and there are so many talented people penning middle grade fiction that my pantheon is ever expanding. Recently I have had the pleasure of reading the latest from Kate DiCamillo, Thanhha Lai, and Christopher Healy, and I'm looking forward to rereading M.T. Anderson and Douglas Adams again this summer. Those guys crack me up.

(This guy's got good taste. I'll pick him for the team!)

2) What's on your nightstand now?
A half empty Diet Coke can. The cat's hairball medicine (salmon flavored). A dozen Pokemon cards. One sock. And Kenneth Oppel's The Boundless.

(Man, this could totally describe my room in the Mafioso dormitory...)

3) Pick a favorite scene from your novel, and say why you like it
One of my favorites is when Michael's father first lets him down into the basement, but not before describing the lineage of box makers that he comes from. The book is full of boxes, both real and metaphorical, and I love that moment of hope and possibility before you open a box (or press the button, or unlock the door) and reveal the true nature of what lies inside. When Michael goes downstairs he's probably making the biggest decision of his life, and as Yoda tells us, Once you start down the dark path, and so on and so forth.

(I was a total sucker for the opening scene in the bank, too.)

4) Fill in the blank: I'm really awesome at....
Wasting time. Burning dinner. Forgetting the laundry in the washing machine. Playing the same three chords over and over on the ukulele. Eating chocolate. Clipping my nails. Petting the cat. Playing with my kids. Being sarcastic.

(I am awesome at number 3 too. Speaking of which... [sound of washing machine door opening. That lovely dank smell of forgotten laundry...]

5) My favorite breakfast is...
Leftover pizza. And a banana.

(Yeah, um, thanks. The Don took that one to heart.)

6) If you could visit any place, where would it be?
Narnia. Or Dubuque. No. Definitely Narnia.

Didn't I tell you he was freakin' hilarious? And welcome to all our new fans in Dubuque!

About the Author, in his own words: 
John David Anderson writes novels for young people and then, occasionally, gets them published. Besides Minion, he is the author of Sidekicked, and Standard Hero Behavior. He lives with his patient wife and brilliant twins in Indianapolis, Indiana, right next to a State park and a Walmart. He enjoys hiking, reading, chocolate, spending time with his family, playing the piano, chocolate, making board games, chocolate, not putting away his laundry, watching movies, and chocolate. Those aren't his real teeth.

Link to Book Trailer on Facebook
To find out more about the author: www.johndavidanderson.org


That's it, folks. If you would be so kind as to leave a comment, I will pick a pal to receive my ARCs of both Sidekicked and Minion. In the Don's words, "we need to spread the love about dese books, Minion. Get to it, presto!"


Monday, July 7, 2014

Please come back on Wednesday...


Yes, I am posting on Wednesday this week--with the Don's blessing. The reason: I am part of the MINION blog tour.

I mean, who could be a better minion than me? Really.

I'll have my thoughts on MINION, as well as a really funny interview with the author, John David Anderson. It is not to be missed.

I hope to see you there!