Monday, January 21, 2019

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: BOW WOW by Spencer Quinn

BOW WOW by Spencer Quinn (Scholastic, 2017)

This is the third book in the Bowser and Birdie series that my youngest son and I have read, the other two being WOOF and ARF.

What It's About (from Goodreads): 
A bull shark in the swamp? No one in the Louisiana town of St. Roch believes it at first, but when a local boy has a face-to-face encounter with the toothy monster, every big fisherman is called out for the hunt. There's a big cash bounty on the shark.

Sharp-eyed Birdie Gaux and her handsome dog Bowser can't help noticing that shark fever is causing some shady doings in town. For instance, where is Snoozy, the clerk who works at the Gaux family fishing store? He's the town's best fisherman, but suddenly he's missing. Is a rival bounty hunter behind Snoozy's suspicious disappearance? Or perhaps the marine biologist who said he'll do anything to keep the shark alive?

Birdie and Bowser are determined to find Snoozy and bring him home safe, but the job is more dangerous than they know. Bowser better practice his paddling: He and Birdie are heading for deep waters . . .

Opening Lines:
A car beeped outside our home at 19 Gentilly Lane. Beep beep. The beep beep of a horn hurts my ears in a way you probably wouldn't understand, since my sense of hearing is a lot better than yours. I didn't say better than yours, so don't be upset. But just between you and me, it is better! I hear sounds humans don't hear all the time!

What I Liked About It:
Bowser is a total character, and his narration is often very funny. As the series has progressed I've really come to enjoy Quinn's portrayals of his characters from the idolized-by-Bowser Birdie to Snoozy LaChance (always sleeping on the job) to Grammy with her harrumphs. The sticky, steamy bayou around St. Roch, Louisiana is almost a character by itself.

The mystery was slighter plot-wise in this one, but there were several perilous moments. I wonder what my 12-year-old thought...?

Twelve-Year-Old's Thoughts:
Honestly, I thought it was kind of boring. (Why?) Because it was one of those books where it took so long. I was expecting a mystery, like in the other ones, but this one didn't really deliver.
(Were there any good things about it?) It was funny on occasion.

Hmmm, interesting. The oldie liked it better than the target audience... I wonder how often that happens. Well, I better get looking for a book that both of us enjoy. Any suggestions?

About the Author:
Spencer Quinn is the pen name for thriller-writer Peter Abrahams. Under the Spencer Quinn name, he writes the Chet and Bernie mysteries for adults, and the Bowser and Birdie series for middle grade readers. A father of four grown-up kids, Abrahams lives on Cape Cod with his wife and two dogs, Audrey and Pearl, whom he calls "the kind of researchers writers dream of, showing up every day and working for treats."

Monday, December 31, 2018

Goodbye 2018... Hello New Year!


What, another year gone by?! It doesn't seem possible, but here we are.

Writing-wise, the high point of 2018 was taking part in NaNoWriMo for the first time. I've always been a bit of a skeptic about writing a 50,000 word novel in a month--especially a month as hectic as November. But, with the help of a couple of amigos, proving once again that writing is all about camaraderie, I made it to the finish line with a dozen words to spare.

What I learned was that I can actually carve out daily writing time. It doesn't hurt that NaNo has an amazing website that offers one all sorts of blandishments: badges for hitting writing milestones, a daily tracker, and the chance of calling oneself a "winner" in the end (and I have the t-shirt to prove it.) The novel I was writing still isn't finished, but I am actually quite happy with it. Writing so speedily unnerved my inner critic--you know, the one who's always searching for the proper word. (The outer critic, The Don, was just happy to see my fingers flying over the keyboard.) Right now, if you asked me if I'd do NaNo again, I'd give a resounding "YES!"

I'm not a big one for 'resolutions,' but I am aware of how meager my blogging has been this year. Not only did Project Mayhem shut its doors, but I found that reading middle grade and writing about it on anything close to a schedule proved difficult. I'm not sure if it's age, or just the general climate. So many blogs have come and gone, and there's much less energy than there used to be. However, I pledge to do a better job on Middle Grade Mafioso--as well as a better job visiting other blogs. If we're all still here, we must be doing something right. Right?

Wishing all of you a very Happy New Year--the last year of the Teens! May 2019 be creative and courageous for us all.

Some Trivia ---

Anniversaries in 2019:

  • 50th anniversary of the Moon Landing (July 20)
  • 50th anniversary of Woodstock (August 15-18)
  • 50th anniversary of Stonewall (June 28th)
  • 75th anniversary of D-Day (June 6)
  • 100th anniversary of Prohibition (January 16)
Milestones in 2019:
  • Brexit (March 29)
  • Abdication of Japan's Emperor (April 30)
  • Record number of women in Congress (commencing January 3)

Monday, December 3, 2018

MARVELOUS MIDDLE GRADE MONDAY: LULU, THE BROADWAY MOUSE by Jenna Gavigan

LULU, THE BROADWAY MOUSE by Jenna Gavigan (Running Press Kids, October 9, 2018)

What It's About:
Ratatouille meets Broadway in this charming new middle grade novel about a little mouse with big dreams. 

Lulu is a little girl with a very big dream: she wants to be on Broadway. She wants it more than anything in the world. As it happens, she lives in Broadway's Shubert Theatre; so achieving her dream shouldn't be too tricky, right? Wrong. Because the thing about Lulu? She's a little girl mouse.


When a human girl named Jayne joins the cast of the show at the Shubert as an understudy, Lulu becomes Jayne's guide through the world of her theatre and its wonderfully kooky cast and crew. Together, Jayne and Lulu learn that sometimes dreams turn out differently than we imagined; sometimes they come with terms and conditions (aka the company mean girl, Amanda). But sometimes, just when we've given up all hope, bigger and better dreams than we'd ever thought could come true, do.

Opening Lines:
"Not to brag (well, this is my story so if I'm going to brag this is the place to do it, right?) but my house is the most beautiful, most magical, most jaw-droppingly fabulous place in the world. (If I'm going to brag, I may as well full-out brag, right?)

What I LOVED About It:
Can you hear it from the opening lines? Little Ms. Lulu has a lot of sass. Voice, people! So important. Also, I am a total drama dad, with two kids you are immersed in theater (oldest is about to finish college with a theater degree, and the middle guy's life revolves around the stage. Youngest is into sports, so you can't win 'em all.)

But, you say, the narrator's a mouse! Look, kids, I used to not be a fan of animal narrators--but the more middle grade I read, the more accepting I get. The cool thing is that the stars of the Broadway stage are so accepting of "Tiny" and her Broadway dreams.

Lulu's family lives in the Shubert Theater (a Broadway theater in real life) and Lulu is stage-struck. I love all the allusions to Broadway shows she weaves into her narration, as well as the insights into putting on a show. The story ends on a high note (no spoilers here!) I would whole-heartedly recommend this to each and every kid who loves to perform--as well as those readers who embrace animal stories. I unequivocally LOVED it.

About the Author:
Jenna Gavigan, a fourth generation New Yorker, grew up dreaming of Broadway. At age sixteen she made her Broadway debut in Gypsy, opposite Bernadette Peters. Since then she's appeared in a half-dozen films, on more than a dozen television shows, and on east and west coast stages, most recently Off-Broadway in the world premiere of Straight. Jenna graduated from Columbia University with a BA in Creative Writing, where she focused on fiction, television, and screenwriting. She lives in a teeny tiny Manhattan apartment with her husband, Kevin. This is her first novel.


Find Jenna online at IamJennaGavigan.com and on Twitter and Instagram @Jenna_Gavigan.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: PROPERTY OF THE REBEL LIBRARIAN by Allison Varnes

PROPERTY OF THE REBEL LIBRARIAN by Allison Varnes (Penguin Random House, September 21, 2018)

What It's About (from Random House page): 
When twelve-year-old June Harper’s parents discover what they deem an inappropriate library book, they take strict parenting to a whole new level. And everything June loves about Dogwood Middle School unravels: librarian Ms. Bradshaw is suspended, an author appearance is canceled, the library is gutted, and all books on the premises must have administrative approval.


But June can’t give up books . . . and she realizes she doesn’t have to when she spies a Little Free Library on her walk to school. As the rules become stricter at school and at home, June keeps turning the pages of the banned books that continue to appear in the little library. It’s a delicious secret . . . and one she can’t keep to herself. June starts a banned book library of her own in an abandoned locker at school. The risks grow alongside her library’s popularity, and a movement begins at Dogwood Middle–a movement that, if exposed, could destroy her. But if it’s powerful enough, maybe it can save Ms. Bradshaw and all that she represents: the freedom to read.

Opening Lines:
The front door swings open after I walk home from school, right on schedule. Except today, Dad holds my copy of The Makings of a Witch.
I grin up at him, but he doesn’t return my smile.


What I Liked:
June is a great character, and I was totally along for the ride in her first person narrative. What she worried about, and how she expressed herself were spot on. I also liked that this was a novel celebrating reading and taking on the topic of banned books.

I'm a huge believer in living parents in middle grade books, but June's parents were a bit too meddly. June and her sister Kate (who  is in college) are really not allowed to make many of their own choices without their parents' strong disapproval. However, this does give one the opportunity to discussing parenting with a middle grade reader, and how June managed (often through subterfuge) to work around the restrictions.

I also liked the subplot of June finding like-minded peers at school, and also the incipient romance. The author expertly captures what romance feels like at that age. The librarian, Ms. Bradshaw, is super cool--and June's speech to the school board with the media in attendance, is a show-stopper.

This novel does a great job addressing censorship. I just hope that it doesn't become a banned book itself!

About The Author:
Like librarian Ms. Bradshaw in Property of the Rebel Librarian, Allison Varnes has fought for her students. She taught English in special education for eight years and once had to convince administrators that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is not an endorsement of witchcraft. She’s from a family of teachers and has a PhD in education from the University of Tennessee. And like heroine June, Allison is a former marching-band geek. When she’s not writing, she howls along to the Hamilton soundtrack with a trio of Chihuahuas named after Peanuts characters. Find her on Twitter at @allisonvarnes or on Facebook at facebook.com/allisonvarnesauthor.


Monday, October 8, 2018

Marvelous COVER REVEAL Monday: Donna Galanti's THE LIGHTNING ROAD series

Donna Galanti is one of the most industrious authors I know. A stalwart of Project Middle Grade Mayhem, she has written middle grade novels and adult paranormal suspense. Her middle grade series, The Lightning Road, has new awesome covers!

Donna talks today about how she loves scary stories and shares an excerpt from Joshua and the Lightning Road.


Plus enter to win a $25 Amazon Gift Card at the end of this post and get the first e-book in Donna’s series, Joshua and the Lightning Road, on sale now through October 15th for just $0.99cents.

Playing on Our Fears
by Donna Galanti
Do you love to be scared? I do, ever since I was a kid, as long as I know it’s safe. Haunted houses. Hayrides. Adventure rides. Cemeteries at night.

And when I write, I return to the magical – and fearful – worlds of my youth, where monsters and faeries roam the land. Through my stories I can become these characters, good and evil, and wield their powers. My favorite stories as a kid were thrillers that made my heart race and my fingers keep turning the page to see if the good guys would win over the bad guys.

I grew up an only child on a mountain with only nature as a playground, so my time was spent roaming the woods with my notebook and pen. I wrote in secret fields and beside hidden ponds. The woods were my home. My favorite room with a view is still one strewn with fields, rock walls, and looming mountains.

So, you can see that I was never scared to be alone and I think we as readers like to see our beloved characters alone to face scary challenges. It makes us wonder – what would I do in that situation if I were all alone without any help? Would I be too terrified to act, or would I face danger head on and conquer it?

And these are the kinds of situations I thrust Joshua into in The Lightning Road series while trying to blend just the right amount of scariness and tension for a children’s book. I love it when an author takes my beloved characters to the edge of no return and gives me that spine-tingling rush of “oh, nooo!” This is what I aim to write in my own books.

I am drawn to stories that play on our fears because I am fascinated by how people act when put in dire circumstances. And I love the challenge of writing a tortured hero. It forces me (and the reader) to step out of our safe world for just a bit and be uncomfortable, while in the safe place of a book.
I love to see how much torment we can pile on a character, how lost they become, how near the brink of desperation they reach, and then redeem them or not. We can relate to their pain because they are flawed, like we are all wonderfully flawed – and this reveals our humanity.

So, in reading scary stories, for a short while we can live among monsters without the fear of facing them in real life. Our heart pumps. Our fingers grip the pages. Then we close the book and go out again in the sunshine.

Do you like reading scary stories? What’s your favorite?

Inky black swallowed me up. I darted my flashlight about, but its small, round light didn’t reveal much. The mustiness of old things hidden away filled my nose. Bo Chez, hurry home. The hair prickled on my forearms as the stairs screeched with each step and the landing loomed in front of me. Could a ghost with an axe be waiting to chop off my head? I took a deep breath, waiting for a blade to fall, but the only thing lying in wait was a dusty bookshelf.
“Finn-man, I know you’re up here.” I flicked the flashlight around the room, its cold metal warming in my sweaty palm. Thunder crashed over my head and my ears popped.
One more step forward.
“Got ya!” Finn jumped up, his shadow against the window. I tripped and landed hard on my butt. My flashlight twirled across the floor.
Then a blue arc of light struck the window. Glass exploded. Finn’s mouth froze in a wide ‘O’. I yelled and reached out to pull him down, but another zap of light blinded me. Finn screamed. Rain splattered my face, stinging with each drop. White dots floated in the air. Something gray billowed past me carrying a familiar, rotten stench that made me gag. A knobby hand grabbed me. I bit it and shoved it away, gagging again, and the hand dropped me back on the floor with the taste of salty dirt on my tongue. An angry howl blasted the air.
Zap. Zap.
Daggers of light shot everywhere as sharp glass cut into me.
“Finn!”
He floated in the shadows. Light erupted all around him, his eyes round with fear. The sky boomed overhead, and a deep laugh bellowed out as if the thunder itself were taunting me.
“Next time it’s you, boy,” a raspy voice said.
Wind shrieked around me in a ferocious wail, pulling me with it. I flattened myself on the floor and clung on tightly to the foot of a chair. The angry wind finally stopped. Rain pelted me through the broken window.
All was quiet. I lifted my head.
Finn was gone.


 WATCH THE JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTNING ROAD BOOK TRAILER!





PRAISE FOR JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTNING ROAD:
 "Vividly imagined characters in a gripping action fantasy that never lets you go until the very last page." —Jenny Nimmo, New York Times bestselling author of the Charlie Bone series.

**$0.99 DEAL!**
Joshua and the Lightning Road is available now through October 15th for just $0.99cents on e-book from these book sellers:
Amazon   Barnes & Noble  Kobo  Apple iBooks

ABOUT JOSHUA AND THE ARROW REALM:
Joshua never thought he’d be called back to the world of Nostos so soon. But when his friend King Apollo needs his help in the Arrow Realm, Joshua braves this dark world once more in order to save him. With Joshua’s loyalties divided between Nostos and Earth, he must rely on his courage and powers to restore magic to this desperate world and to free its people. Abandoned by his friends in his quest, unarmed, and facing great odds, can he survive on instincts alone and not only save those imprisoned—but himself?

PRAISE FOR JOSHUA AND THE ARROW REALM:
“Fast-paced and endlessly inventive, this is a high-stakes romp through a wild world where descendants of the Greek gods walk beside you, beasts abound, and not everything—or everyone—is as it seems.” –Michael Northrop, New York Times bestselling author of the TombQuest series

Joshua and the Arrow Realm is available through these book sellers:
Amazon  Barnes & Noble  Kobo  Apple iBooks

ABOUT DONNA:
Donna Galanti is the author of the bestselling paranormal suspense Element Trilogy and the children’s fantasy adventure Joshua and The Lightning Road series. Donna is a contributing editor for International Thriller Writers the Big Thrill magazine, a writing contest judge at nycmidnight.com, and regularly presents as a guest author at schools and teaches at writing conferences. She’s lived from England as a child, to Hawaii as a U.S. Navy photographer. Donna also loves teaching writers about building author brand and platform through her free training series at
yourawesomeauthorlife.com. Visit her at donnagalanti.com.




CONNECT WITH DONNA:

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Monday, September 24, 2018

MARVELOUS MIDDLE GRADE MONDAY: THE THIRD MUSHROOM by Jennifer L. Holm

THE THIRD MUSHROOM by Jennifer L. Holm (Random House Children's, September 2018)

What It's About (from Penguin Random House Website):
Ellie’s grandpa Melvin is a world-renowned scientist . . . in the body of a fourteen-year-old boy. His feet stink, and he eats everything in the refrigerator–and Ellie is so happy to have him around. Grandpa may not exactly fit in at middle school, but he certainly keeps things interesting. When he and Ellie team up for the county science fair, no one realizes just how groundbreaking their experiment will be. The formula for eternal youth may be within their reach! And when Ellie’s cat, Jonas Salk, gets sick, the stakes become even higher. But is the key to eternal life really the key to happiness? Sometimes even the most careful experiments yield unexpected–and wonderful–results.

Opening Lines:
"Maybe because I'm an only child, but my parents have always been a little obsessed with my eating. They insist that I try everything on my plate. That I eat what they eat. No chicken tenders off the kids' menu for me. If they have calamari or chicken livers, that's what I have to eat, too."

My Thoughts:
Jennifer L. Holm is such a wonderful writer! Her range--from cowriting the Babymouse series with her brother Matthew, to the wonderful Turtle in Paradise--is tremendous. The Third Mushroom is yet another great addition to her bibliography.

I particularly liked the presentation of the main character, Ellie. It's a pitch perfect point of view--worrying about friendships, being confused about feelings of romance, and loving both science and animals. There's also some magical realism--Ellie's grandfather, also a scientist, who has transformed himself into a 14-year-old boy. (FYI, grandfatherly curmudgeonliness does not feel out of place coming out of the mouth of a 14-year-old.)

One of my pet peeves in middle grade, as any longtime reader of the blog will know, is the dead parent motif. Here, Ellie's parents are divorced, but she gets on well with her stepfather. Holm does a great job of creating parents who are important influences in their child's life, but allow the child (and themselves!) to have lives of their own.

Finally, I really liked all the science in the book, and learned a lot about all the scientists who are mentioned. (There is an appendix which goes into more detail. Did you know that the two scientists who discovered that yellow fever was carried by mosquitoes deliberately allowed an infected mosquito to bite them? They contracted the disease and one of them died.)

Verdict: Jennifer L. Holm's latest is yet another success. It would be a great book to read with 8-12 year olds who like books with heart and humor and are interested in science.

About The Author:
Jennifer L. Holm is a New York Times bestselling children’s author and the recipient of three Newbery Honors for her novels Our Only May Amelia, Penny From Heaven, and Turtle in Paradise. Jennifer collaborates with her brother, Matthew Holm, on two graphic novel series—the Eisner Award-winning Babymouse series and the bestselling Squish series. She lives in California with her husband and two children.  Website



Monday, September 10, 2018

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: ARGOS by Ralph Hardy

ARGOS: The Story of Odysseus as Told by His Loyal Dog by Ralph Hardy (Harper 2016, paperback edition 2018)

Man, it's been a long time since I posted--and my absence hasn't gone unnoticed by the powers that be. Let me give you a bird's eye view (very topical, since there are a lot of birds in Argos) of what happened when the Don called me into his office earlier this month.

The Don: "Michale, Michale, where you been? I'm paying you the big bucks, and you haven't done any work since, when, June?"

MGM: "Sorry, boss. Things have just been a little busy on the home front..."

The Don: "What, you had another baby? Come on, time to stop with the progeny. You're not young any more."

MGM: "No, not a baby, but..."

The Don: "A dog? You got another dog? Don't you remember me telling you that one pooch was enough? You should get a bird of prey. I hear being a falconer is an impressive job." (Leans forward to pinch my cheek)

MGM: "No, not a dog either, boss. The truth is, the kids were off school, and we all decided to go to England..."

The Don: "England? What's in England? They don't make wine, they can't sing, and believe me, the pasta is terrible. You should have gone to Sicilia instead."

MGM: "Hey, speaking of dogs, look what came in the mail a while back." (Waves copy of Argos in front of his face). "It's about Odysseus' dog! Nice cover, eh? I'll get to my desk right away and review it."

MGM sprints for the door. The last words he hears are "It's Ulysses, not Odysseus. Next thing, you'll be telling me you prefer Zeus to Jupiter."

So, there you have it. We had a busy summer, but now school is back in session, and I can get back to reading and writing. Yay for September!

What It's About:
For twenty years, the great hero Odysseus struggles to return to Ithaka. After ten years beneath the walls of Troy, he begins the long journey back home. He defeats monsters. He outsmarts the Cyclops. He battles the gods. He struggles to survive and do whatever it takes to reunite with his family.


And what of that family—his devoted wife, Penelope; his young son, Telemachos; his dog, Argos? For those twenty years, they wait, unsure if they will ever see Odysseus again. But Argos has found a way to track his master. Any animal who sets foot or wing on Ithaka brings him news of Odysseus’s voyage—and hope that one day his master will return. Meanwhile, Argos watches over his master’s family and protects them from the dangers that surround a throne without its king.

Opening Lines:
"Sometimes a new dog will ask me my lineage, for I look like no other hound on Ithaka, most of which are small and bred to shepherd livestock, if they are bred for any purpose at all. When I am asked, this is the story I tell, if the question is not put to me rudely, as often happens in this age."

My Thoughts:
As a young lad, I loved Greek and Roman mythology, and The Iliad and The Odyssey were some of my favorite tales. I love that Ralph Hardy made the choice to retell the Odyssey through the eyes of Odysseus' loyal dog, Argos--because I am also a huge dog fan!

As befits an epic, the tale is dense: Argos is noble as well as loyal, and this nobility is captured in his speech. While Odysseus' travails are reported to him mainly by birds, Argos undergoes his own Odyssey, keeping his territory safe from wolves, helping Odysseus' son Telemachos learn how to hunt boars, taking revenge on the hideous suitors, and falling in love himself.

SPOILER: In keeping with the Odyssey itself, Argos lives long enough to recognize his master, but dies before Odysseus can reveal himself and lay waste to the suitors. The tale is finished by one of Argos' children, Leander.

This would be a great read-aloud in a middle school classroom studying ancient civilizations. Having a dog as a narrator is a great way to open up the world of this epic classic for a modern reader.

About  the Author:
Ralph Hardy graduated from the University of North Carolina with a degree in English and received his MFA from Columbia College, Chicago. He now lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with his wife and children and a dog named Harvey, who is nothing like Argos. He is the author of THE CHEETAH DIARIES, LEFTY, and a number of short stories.