Monday, December 15, 2014

A Million Ways Home by Dianna Dorisi Winget (plus Interview)

A MILLION WAYS HOME by Dianna Dorisi Winget (Scholastic Press, 2014)

What It's About (from Dianna's website): Poppy's life has been turned upside down after her grandma (and guardian) had a stroke and ended up in the hospital. But Poppy is working on a plan to help Grandma Beth so their life together can go back to normal. But when she witnesses an armed robbery, "back to normal" slips even further out of her reach. To keep Poppy safe, the budget-strapped police devise an unusual "witness protection program," wherein Poppy will stay with Detective Brannigan's mother. Soon Poppy is feeling almost at home, even making sort-of friends with a girl named Lizzie and definitely friending Gunner, a beautiful dog with an uncertain fate. But it's still not home. So while she and Lizzie navigate a rocky friendship and plot to save Gunner's life, Poppy also tries to figure out a new plan to save Grandma Beth and their home, all while avoiding a dangerous robber who might be searching for her. But what if Grandma Beth can never come home and the robber is put behind bars? What will happen to Poppy then?

Opening Lines: "I didn't know how to make the little girl stop crying."

Why I Loved it: I love the main character's--Poppy Parker's--voice. It was totally real on so many levels. That enabled me to handle the tough subject matter--Poppy witnesses a murder, lies about recognizing the culprit, and ends up in a very scary chase through the park, with the murderer hot on her heels. I also loved the portrayal of the adults, as well as Gunner, a German Shepherd on death row. There are several sad scenes, which Ms. Winget handles deftly. All in all, a fantastic contemporary middle grade.

I featured Dianna Dorisi Winget's debut, A Smidgen of Sky, in October 2012--a novel which I was very taken with then too. And I got to ask Ms. Winget a few of my patented Mafioso questions:

Who are your favorite (mg) writers? This changes fairly often depending on which book I've most recently fallen in love with, but here are a few current favorites-Ingrid Law, Katherine Applegate, Kirby Larson, Jennifer Nielsen

What's on your nightstand right now?  I don't actually have a nightstand, so I'll tell you what's in my cluttered magazine rack next to my recliner. This is where I do 90 percent of my reading, where I sit, stuffed in between my two dogs, with barely enough room to move.

The Dogs of Winter, by Bobbie Pyron
Dash, by Kirby Larson
The Bridge from Me to You, by Lisa Schroeder
Conviction, by Kelly Loy Gilbert

Choose a favorite scene in your novel, and say why you like it. Ooooh, so tough! One scene I really love is the brief one that takes place shortly after Poppy meets Detective Trey Brannigan. Poppy's tickled to discover several boxes of Twinkies in his kitchen cabinet and threatens to steal all of them. Trey calmly replies that she's not big enough to take his Twinkies. That scene always makes me laugh because it's a fun glimpse into the relationship that develops between them. 

I'm really awesome at... shirking my responsibilities, such as housecleaning, so I have more time to read.

What's your favorite breakfast? I love cereal. My favorite is granola with raspberries/huckleberries on top.


Where in the world would you like to travel? I'm really not much of a traveler, but I'd love to visit Australia and snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. I'd also like to spend some time in the South--maybe Georgia or Alabama, because my debut, A Smidgen of Sky, as well as the newly released sequel, A Sliver of Sun, are both set in the South, even though I'm a northerner :)

About the Author: You can read all about Dianna on her bio page on her website HERE

.

Looking forward to a Sliver of Sun, Dianna. Thanks for visiting today, everyone!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: THE GREAT GREENE HEIST by Varian Johnson

THE GREAT GREENE HEIST (by Varian Johnson, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2014)

What It's About: Saving the school -- one con at a time.

Jackson Greene swears he's given up scheming. Then school bully Keith Sinclair announces he's running for Student Council president, against Jackson's former friend Gaby de la Cruz. Gaby wants Jackson to stay out of it -- but he knows Keith has "connections" to the principal, which could win him the presidency no matter the vote count.

So Jackson assembles a crack team: Hashemi Larijani, tech genius. Victor Cho, bankroll. Megan Feldman, science goddess. Charlie de la Cruz, reporter. Together they devise a plan that will take down Keith, win Gaby's respect, and make sure the election is done right. If they can pull it off, it will be remembered as the school's greatest con ever -- one worthy of the name THE GREAT GREENE HEIST.

Opening Lines: "As Jackson Greene sped past the Maplewood Middle School cafeteria – his trademark red tie skewed slightly to the left, a yellow No. 2 pencil balanced behind his ear, and a small spiral-bound notebook tucked in his right jacket pocket – he found himself dangerously close to sliding back into the warm confines of scheming and pranking.”

What I Liked: There's been a call lately for #MoreDiverseBooks, and this one definitely fits the bill. As you can see from this eye-catcher of a cover, there is a lot of diversity in this school body.

I really enjoyed Jackson Greene's acumen and intelligence, as he and his crew work to pull off this magnificent con. The author has mentioned one of his inspirations as being Ocean's Eleven, and part of the fun is trying to figure out how this is all going to work. The narrative is fast-paced and I would particularly recommend it to writers studying how to make an omniscient narration work. (As such, you may enjoy Varian Johnson's interview at The Nerdy Book Club where he writes: "I read, and re-read, and re-read again The Westing Game. I studied the mechanics of how author Ellen Raskin slipped in and out of each character’s head;  how she used the narrator’s voice to play with the reader. Her use of omniscient perspective became the blueprint for the novel.")

This novel has gotten a lot of buzz, and I think it is richly deserved. I can see this as being a hit with middle grade readers all across the board!

About the Author (From his website): Varian Johnson is the author of four novels, including The Great Greene Heist, a Publishers Weekly Best Summer Book of 2014. His novels for older readers include My Life as a Rhombus, named to the Texas Library Association Tayshas High School Reading List and the New York Public Library “Stuff for the Teen Age” list, and Saving Maddie, a Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book.

Varian was born in Florence, South Carolina, and attended the University of Oklahoma, where he received a BS in Civil Engineering. He later received an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Varian now lives outside of Austin, TX with his family.


Monday, November 17, 2014

SPAGHETTI SMILES by Margo Sorenson

SPAGHETTI SMILES by Margo Sorenson; illustrated by David Harrington (Pelican Publishing Company, 2014)

Hi folks! We're not doing a marvelous middle grade Monday today because, quite frankly, we're feeling swamped at Mafioso HQ what with selecting and packaging books as holiday presents for the Don's friends and acquaintances. But I did take a break--with the Don's blessing, after he caught sight of the title--to enjoy this picture book by Margo Sorenson, who is a great friend of this blog.

This is a fun, fun book. It tells the story of Jake, who likes to visit his Uncle Rocco's restaurant to read his favorite books to the chef. But trouble is brewing, as Uncle Rocco may lose his lease if a good neighbor can't be found to share the building.
Jake sets off on a mission, visiting the bank, the post office, and the gas station, to see if they would be interested in relocating. No such luck because, although everyone loves Uncle Rocco's food, they don't want to find "rows of pizzas baking in the bank vault," or "lasagna airmailed all over the world," or--horrors!--"gas pumps pumping tomato sauce instead of gas."

Downcast, Jake wanders into a bookstore, where he convinces the store owner. After all, "everyone would buy your books and then eat next door... Or they could eat at Rocco's first, and then buy a book from you for dessert." Now, everyone's happy. Even the pizzas are smiling!

I loved Margo Sorenson's wacky sense of humor, and the illustrations by David Harrington are delightfully energetic and eye-catching. I can see myself reading this to the Don's grandkids until the cover falls apart!

Margo Sorenson is a writer with an incredible range and mastery of a variety of subject matter. Here's a link to an interview I did with her for her middle grade novel Tori and the Sleigh of Midnight Blue. And here's more information about her:

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. 




Thanks for reading, everyone, and have a Positively Perfect Picture Book Monday! Ciao!!

Monday, November 3, 2014

OMIGOSH! IT'S SHELBY BACH!!



How we got Shelby Bach on Middle Grade Mafioso:
Guys and Dolls, it's been a grim year here at HQ. Yes, even someone as mighty as the Don has had to do some belt-tightening and I'm afraid the blogging business has fallen down the food chain. (Blast that Luca Brasi Jr., with his crazy ideas for yet another golf course on Long Island.) As a result, we are being severely nickle and dimed at the communications center--I mean I even have to ask permission to buy gum from the vending machine.

The Don's been in major "no" mode. Could we go to conferences? No. How about flying to Edinburgh to interview J.K. Rowling? That resulted in a string of Mamma mias, as well as some Sicilian slang that would make your ears burn.

So, it was with trepidation that I put forward my proposal to be part of Shelby Bach's blog tour. And wadda ya know... it seems the Don's grandkids are all over Shelby's The Ever Afters series. "Little Bella, she wants to be that Rory girl. Hey, you get Ms. Bach on your top-grade blog, and I increase your allowance."

The rest is history. Take that, Luca B.!

The exciting thing is that Shelby Bach has sent us some never-before-seen extras to share with you Ever Afters fans. How about viewing the orientation letters that two of the main characters received? Here are the letters for Lena and Chase! (Plus oodles of links to some incredible fairy tales!)

Lena's Orientation Letter: 

Dear Ms. Jacqueline Lamarelle,
Welcome to Ever After School. We are so pleased that you have joined our fine establishment, and we hope that your time here with us will be both memorable and non-fatal.

Looking through our records, we can report finding the following Tales in the last five generations of your family.

On your father’s side:
The Water Sprite/Nixie (your father and your father’s sister)
The Giant with Three Golden Hairs (your paternal grandmother)
Jack the Giant Killer (father of your paternal grandmother)
The Daughter of Buk Ettemsuch (mother of your paternal grandmother’s
father)
On your mother’s side:
Old Mother Frost (your mother)
The Nunda, Eater of People (father of your maternal grandfather)
The Feather Bird (mother of your maternal grandmother)
The Valiant Taylor (great-uncle of your maternal grandmother – note:
Failed Tale)
The Nix in the Pond (great-aunt of your maternal grandmother – note:
Failed Tale, survived as turtle until enchantment could be broken)
The Fisherman and His Wife (father of your maternal grandmother’s
mother)
The One-Handed Girl (mother of your maternal grandmother’s father)

If you have not already done so, please take a little time this week to read these Tales in Anderson, Grimm, and/or Lang, as there is an increased likelihood that you and your siblings will have similar Tales.

Your paternal grandmother, who is also your namesake, has called to inform me that her family is descended from Madame Benne. Though she never had a Tale of her own, Madame Benne formed a Triumvirate with Maerwynne and Rikard, two renowned Characters who lived at the dawn of the last millennium. Together, they founded the Canon, the organization of Tale representatives that has governed and guided all Characters since that time. As your grandmother has told you, Madame
Benne herself is celebrated as the greatest inventor of magical items in written history. The golden apple that grants me and my fellow Canon members unaging immortality is only one of her unduplicated creations. If you are interested in learning more about your famous ancestress, please feel free to visit our Reference Room, which houses several books on the subject.

Best Wishes, and Best of Luck,
The Director

Chase's Orientation Letter:

Dear Mr. Chase Turnleaf,
This letter, as you well know, is unnecessary. You have memorized all the Tales occurring within the last dozen generations of your family. You memorized them within a week of moving here with your father. Unlike many young Characters who arrive at Ever After School without this knowledge, you do not require this information from me, and writing this is a waste of my time and yours.

However, you insist, and Rumpelstiltskin has informed me that you have begun trying to break into the library in order to doublecheck your father’s memory and locate your ancestors’ Tales. That behavior must cease.

Thus, looking through our records, we can confirm the following Tales in the last five generations of your family:
Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack the Giant Killer (your father)
The Emperor’s New Clothes (your paternal grandfather)
Dapplegrim (youngest brother of your paternal grandfather)
The Glass Coffin (younger brother of your paternal grandmother)
The Boy Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was (father of your
paternal grandfather)
Aladdin (great-uncle of your paternal grandfather)

We have discussed, at great length, the reasons why the Tales on your father’s side may have no bearing on your own destiny as a Character. I will not waste further time by listing them again here.

The Director
P.S. If this does not satisfy your curiosity, let it be known that since your father is out of town,
attending to his duties as Champion of the Canon, the duty of disciplining you falls to me. For
three years, I have resisted sending a child to the dungeons, but you are tempting me to reinstate
that punishment.

The dungeons?! Eeek!! Maybe we'll all feel better if we read the enclosed discussion guide for Of Giants and Ice.

There are a bunch of other worthy blogs sharing some extras for the Ever Afters in the coming week. Stop by and say hi!

Blog Tour –
November 3 – Middle Grade Mafioso
November 4 – From the Mixed-Up Files
November 5 – Log Cabin Literary
November 6 – Amanda K. Thompson Blog
November 7 – Novels, News, and Notes
November 8 – Green Bean Teen Queen

And here's some info on Shelby, and where to find her on the web. Thanks for stopping by and hanging with Shelby, the Ever Afters, and the Mafioso today. Grazie!

Shelby’s Bio
Shelby Bach was born in Houston, Texas and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, but while writing THE EVER AFTERS, she moved almost as many times as her main character. She came up with the idea for the series right before she left New York City, and she finished the first book, OF GIANTS AND ICE, in Montana—the second, OF WITCHES AND WIND, back in Charlotte. Driving up the West Coast to research the settings for the third book, OF SORCERY AND SNOW, Shelby fell in love with Portland, Oregon and settled there.

She would love to set up a Door Trek system in her apartment to visit her family and friends around the country, but she makes do with much slower and less fictional transportation. These days, while
finishing up the fourth and final book, she also works part time for a real-life afterschool program. It is strangely similar to the one where her stories are set—except the students study math instead of fairy tales.

Shelby’s Social Media
Website: http://shelbybach.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheEverAftersSeries
Twitter: https://twitter.com/shelby_bach 
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5376046.Shelby_Bach


Monday, October 27, 2014

Annie McMahon's Blog Tour for ADVENTURE ON NEMESIS MOUNTAIN




Annie McMahon has been a great supporter of this blog and of middle grade writers in general, so I am thrilled to introduce her debut: Adventure on Nemesis Mountain.

What it's About:
Emilio would rather eat a slimy worm than miss the fifth grade field trip. Nemesis Mountain must be full of rare leaf specimens and bugs for his collection. Besides, he needs a break from the playground and Hans’s nonstop teasing. His excitement is squashed when he gets lost in the woods with his worst enemy.Alone in the forest, the two boys battle to survive the harsh wilderness, facing challenges that will change their lives forever.

I was also thrilled to be able to ask Annie the Don's and my patented Mafioso questions. Here are her answers:

1) Who are your favorite (middle grade) writers?
Wow, I have so many, it's hard to choose! I'm always impressed by indie authors publishing awesome books. There are so many self-published authors out there, and once in a while I come across one that should have been traditionally published, to my opinion, because it's just so good: TRUTH TELLER, by Kurt Chambers, VIRGIL CREECH TAKES A SWEEP AT REDEMPTION, by Mark Myers, CHILDREN OF MIDIAN, by Jay Eckert, GREEDY JACK WALLACE, by Adam C. Veile, and THE KING'S RANSOM, by Cheryl Carpinello, to name a few. Those are authors who believed in their work enough to never gave up, even after probably being rejected by agents and traditional publishers numerous times. They put a lot of time and effort in perfecting their books before releasing them to the world, and it shows. I love being one of the first to read a future bestseller.

2) What's on your nightstand now?
A whole pile of MG books from the library! I just finished reading WATERSHIP DOWN, by Richard Adams. Next on my list: SUGAR AND ICE, by Kate Messner. I also have about ten indie books on my kindle, waiting to be reviewed. I'll get to them after my blog tour is over and things settle down.

3) Pick a favorite scene from your novel, and say why you like it
I think my favorite is the snake scene, when Emilio finally gets a chance to get back at Hans for all the teasing. I really enjoyed writing it. Emilio is always picked on by Hans at school, but now in nature, his element, he feels more secure and bold than ever. Refreshing!

4) Fill in the blank: I'm really awesome at....
No blank. I'm really awesome, period. ;)

5) My favorite breakfast is...
French toast with maple syrup and Canadian bacon. I grew up in Canada, so anything with maple syrup tastes like heaven to me.

6) If you could visit any place, where would it be?
I would go on a world tour and visit all my friends from my writer's group who helped me so much with this novel. It's an online group, so we never got to meet each other in person, being spread out all over the world: Australia, England, Egypt, Canada, New Zealand, and many states in the US. How fun would that be!!


About the Author: Annie McMahon is originally from Canada but now lives in New Jersey. She has a degree in computer programming, but her life took an unexpected turn and she ended up writing stories and articles instead ofcomputer programs. Now she uses every spare minute to write children’s novels and to help other writers succeed.

Her three children have been the inspiration behind many of her short stories, over forty in total. Her flash fiction story, Paradoxical Neighbor, has been published by Nelson Education in a book for 10th graders, Nelson Literacy 10.

Annie has a certificate in copyediting, moderates a critique group for children's writers, and is the editor at UK Children's Publishing.

Twitter: @anniemcmahon20
Goodreads: Annie McMahon
Author page on Amazon:  Annie’s author page 

Annie is giving away copies of her novel on RAFFLECOPTOR. Good luck!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Winner of RORY'S PROMISE Announced


How can it be October already?!

Oh well, now that we have begun to be a chillin' in Oregon, it's good to gather books about us for the long winter ahead. As I mentioned in my last post, I really enjoyed RORY'S PROMISE, and the publisher offered to send a copy to the winner of my blog tour.

And that winner is:


Wow! Natalie is one of my very top favorite bloggers, part of the super Literary Rambles team. Natalie, the Don is raising a toast in your honor. We'll be in touch soon!

Ciao!

Monday, September 22, 2014

MMGM: RORY'S PROMISE by Michaela MacColl and Rosemary Nichols

RORY'S PROMISE (by Michaela MacColl and Rosemary Nichols, Calkins Creek, September 1st, 2014)

You know a novel's good when the first words out of the Don's mouth on a Monday morning are, "Get me this Rory girl, pronto. She'll be an asset to the famiglia."

Yup, those are the very words I heard this morning, and no surprise. Anyone who knows the Don (and me) knows that we are huge fans of Michaela MacColl. The Don went to Africa after reading Promise the Night, and he's been heard reciting Emily Dickinson (of course he thinks he's unobserved) after reading Nobody's Secret. Now, with Rory's Promise, he's inquiring about becoming a benefactor to nuns with their projects. As he said to me the other day, "Them Sisters! Che par di palle!" Which is to say, he thinks the good nuns have got chutzpah!

Michaela's latest project is with Calkins Creek, an imprint of Boyds Mill Press. With co-author Rosemary Nichols, she's kicking off a series called Hidden Histories. This particular book is about Irish orphans who are sent west on so-called Orphan Trains. We meet the orphans from "The Foundling Hospital," a foundation run by Catholic nuns, led by the redoubtable Sister Anna. They are well-cared for, compared to the children from the Children's Aid Society who are also traveling west.

What I Loved: Like the DonI was captivated by the character of Rory Fitzpatrick, who is one of the spunkiest characters (male or female) I've read in a long while. Determined not to be separated from her younger sister, Violet, Rory gets arrested, stows aboard first a carriage, and then the orphan train itself, and generally stands up for herself in many ways--unafraid to tackle adults, as well as stand up to the formidable Sister Anna herself.

The Cover: The cover perfectly captures my idea of Rory. Go Red!

The Pacing: This novel moves at a clip. In fact, the Don barely looked up from it to sip from his morning cappuchino.

A look into a part of history of which I was unaware: Yes, the orphan trains actually existed. There are notes in the back of the book which tell all about it, as well as a great educator's guide which came with my copy. By the way, teachers, this would be an awesome novel to study in Grades 4-7 as part of a Language Arts or Social Studies Curriculum.

There's a blog tour going on--and Middle Grade Mafioso is stop numero due! Here's a list of the rest of the tour--be sure to stop by because, just like today, you could win a copy of this fantastic novel. Hey, the Don might even bring it to your door. (Oh, I guess not. He's in meetings with the sisters all week--so you'll have to rely on the good folks at Boyd's Creek to ship you your winning copy. JUST LEAVE A COMMENT. (U.S. addresses only for the win.)


Fri 9/19                 KirbyLarson
Mon 9/22             Middle Grade Mafioso 
Tue 9/23               Mother/Daughter Book Club 
Wed 9/24             Middle Grade Minded 
Thu 9/25              KidLit Frenzy 
Fri 9/26                Unleashing Readers

Here's more on Michaela, plus her book trailer. Thanks for stopping by. CIAO!

Michaela attended Vassar College and Yale University earning degrees in multi-disciplinary history. Unfortunately, it took her 20 years before she realized she was learning how to write historical fiction. Her favorite stories are the ones she finds about the childhood experiences of famous people. She has written about a teenaged Queen Victoria (Prisoners in the Palace, Chronicle 2010) and Beryl Markham’s childhood (Promise the Night, Chronicle 2011). She is writing a literary mystery series for teens featuring so far a young Emily Dickinson in Nobody’s Secret (2013) and the Bronte sisters in Always Emily (2014).  She has recently begun a new series with Boyd’s Mill/Highlights called Hidden Histories about odd events in America’s past. The first entry in the series is Rory’s Promise and will be published in September 2014. She frequently visits high schools and has taught at the Graduate Institute in Bethel, CT. She lives in Westport CT with her husband, two teenaged daughters and three extremely large cats.