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Monday, November 9, 2015

I Met Shannon Messenger!!!!

There's been radio silence on the blog for a bit, as I am still barricaded behind my stack of Cybils' nominees. But the Don and I had to make an exception and come out of hibernation when we heard that Shannon Messenger was coming to town to celebrate the release of Book 4 in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series: NEVERSEEN.

Shannon... who started Marvelous Middle Grade Monday...
Shannon... who is currently writing both a middle grade (Keeper of the Lost Cities) and a young adult (Sky Fall) series ...
Shannon... who loves cupcakes.

We were in that limousine before you could say 'hot cappuccino'...

Shannon was going to be at the Beaverton outpost of Powell's Bookstore. We got there and found nearly every seat taken so, much to the Don's chagrin, we took up residence at the back. No matter--we still had a mafioso's eye view of Shannon at the podium.

Boy, was she impressive! She was smart, funny, and completely available to her awesome fans. She didn't read portions of her book, she just took question after question (and there were a ton of questions!) Her fans LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the Keeper series. You can tell by the way they are so completely wrapped up in the characters--Shannon several times had to remind them and herself what her mother tells her: "Remember, these guys aren't real people." But maybe Mom is wrong--because to the young people in the audience, Sophie, Finn, Keefe, Dex, and Biana are very, very real.

Shannon gave every question plenty of time--she even dealt charmingly with the oddest question I've ever heard at an author appearance which went something like "What would you do if you saw a stack of your books in the trash?" [The Don was in complete agreement with Shannon's answer which, to paraphrase, went something like "I'd clean them off and hope someone would buy them."]

The event started at 7. A Powell's employee gently cut off the questions at 8. By 9, there was still a line waiting for Shannon to sign, because Shannon gave every single one of us plenty of her time. She signed copies of the new book, as well as the earlier ones--and trust me, people came with piles of books. She chatted, and smiled, and posed for photographs, and made sure that people got the insides of the books stamped. She gave out swag, and smiled again, and thanked everyone for coming.

She is one class act.

You can bet that every single one of those young fans went to bed happy that night. And, the next morning at school, I bet they told all their friends about the great author whose books they love, and who was soooo great!

The Don says he wants to be Shannon Messenger when he grows up. So do I!

Here are the rest of her tour dates. If you live in Tempe, Idaho Falls, or Oceanside, I highly recommend you go see Shannon in action:

Tuesday November 10
Changing Hands
6428 S McClintock Dr.
Tempe, AZ 85283

Friday November 13
Barnes & Noble Grand Teton Mall
2300 E 17th Street
Idaho Falls, ID 83404

Friday November 20
Barnes & Noble Oceanside
2615 Vista Way
Oceanside, CA 92054

Monday, October 12, 2015

I'm a Cybil Again

The news has been out for a while, but I have once again been selected to be part of a middle grade fiction Cybils (Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards) panel. In 2011 I had my first taste of judging, as a first round panelist, reading over a hundred novels. In 2012 and 2013, I was on the second round panel, which chooses a winner from a shortlist of around seven titles. In 2014, I took a break and enjoyed everything from the sidelines.

This year, I once again girded my loins and have plunged into the heady first-round waters. So far, we have over 50 books to read and judge. Of course, we'd love more!

What are the Cybils about, you may ask. Here's what we're looking for (from the website description):
"The Cybils Awards aims to recognize the children’s and young adult authors and illustrators whose books combine the highest literary merit and popular appeal. If some la-di-dah awards can be compared to brussels sprouts, and other, more populist ones to gummy bears, we’re thinking more like organic chicken nuggets. We’re yummy and nutritious."
You can nominate your favorite middle grade novel HERE. (Fantasy and Speculative fiction have their own panel.) It's one nomination per person. There are still a bunch of good books that should be nominated, so look through the list and add a favorite if it has yet to be chosen.

Right, off I go to polish my glasses and get out my notebook! Have a great reading and writing week, everyone!

Monday, September 21, 2015

YA for a Day: EVIL LIBRARIAN by Michelle Knudsen

(Occasionally, Middle Grade Mafioso goes YA for a day. This is one of those days.)

EVIL LIBRARIAN by Michelle Knudsen (Candlewick Press, September 2014)

What It's About (from Goodreads blurb): #EvilLibrarian He’s young. He’s hot. He’s also evil. He’s . . . the librarian.

When Cynthia Rothschild’s best friend, Annie, falls head over heels for the new high-school librarian, Cyn can totally see why. He’s really young and super cute and thinks Annie would make an excellent library monitor. But after meeting Mr. Gabriel, Cyn realizes something isn’t quite right. Maybe it’s the creepy look in the librarian’s eyes, or the weird feeling Cyn gets whenever she’s around him. Before long Cyn realizes that Mr. Gabriel is, in fact . . . a demon. Now, in addition to saving the school musical from technical disaster and trying not to make a fool of herself with her own hopeless crush, Cyn has to save her best friend from the clutches of the evil librarian, who also seems to be slowly sucking the life force out of the entire student body! From best-selling author Michelle Knudsen, here is the perfect novel for teens who like their horror served up with a bit of romance, plenty of humor, and some pretty hot guys (of both the good and evil variety).

Opening Paragraph: "Italian class. The shining highlight of my Tuesdays, Wednesdays , and Fridays. Not because I'm any good at Italian (I'm not), or because I like the teacher (I don't). It's because Ryan Halsey sits one row over and two rows up from where I sit, which is absolutely perfect for forty-five minutes of semi-shameless staring."

Why I Liked It: The cover is great! Cyn's voice is pitch perfect, and there is a lot of inner lusting going on (hence the YA rating.) As the father of thespians, I also liked the fact that both Cyn and Ryan are heavily involved in the school musical, Sweeney Todd which, wouldn't you know, is also a demon favorite. And these demons aren't pussy-footing around either, folks. There are several adult deaths during the course of the novel, and a sort of demon gunfight at the OK corral which was pretty exciting action stuff. I wasn't surprised to hear that Evil Librarian won the 2015 Sid Fleischman Award for Humor from the SCBWI. In summary: it's a funny, fast-paced frolic, complete with sharp-looking teeth and hooked talons.

About the Author (from her website bio): Michelle Knudsen is a New York Times best-selling author of more than 40 books for young readers, including the picture book Library Lion (illustrated by Kevin Hawkes), the middle-grade fantasy novels The Dragon of Trelian and The Princess of Trelian, and the young adult novel Evil Librarian, which was awarded the 2015 Sid Fleischman Award for Humor. Her most recent book is the picture book Marilyn's Monster (Candlewick, March 2015), illustrated by the wonderful Matt Phelan. Michelle also works as a freelance editor and writing teacher, and is a member of the Writing for Young People MFA faculty at Lesley University. She lives in Brooklyn, NY. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: MOONPENNY ISLAND by Tricia Springstubb

MOONPENNY ISLAND by Tricia Springstubb (Balzer and Bray, February 2015)

What It's About (from Goodreads blurb):
Moonpenny is a tiny island in a great lake. When the summer people leave and the ferries stop running, just the tried-and-true islanders are left behind. Flor and her best, her perfect friend, Sylvie, are the only eleven-year-olds for miles and miles—and Flor couldn’t be happier.

But come the end of summer, unthinkable things begin to happen. Sylvie is suddenly, mysteriously whisked away to school on the mainland. Flor’s mother leaves to take care of Flor’s sick grandmother and doesn’t come back. Her big sister has a secret, and Flor fears it’s a dangerous one.

Meanwhile, a geologist and his peculiar daughter arrive to excavate prehistoric trilobites, one of the first creatures to develop sight. Soon Flor is helping them. As her own ability to see her life on this little lump of limestone evolves, she faces truths about those she loves—and about herself—she never imagined.

Tricia Springstubb tells a warm and deeply affecting story about what it means to see, and why the biggest feat of all may be seeing through someone else’s eyes.

Opening lines: “Transparent. That’s how Flor and Sylvie are to each other. See-through. Flor knows everything about Sylvie, and Sylvie? She knows things about Flor before Flor knows them herself.”

Why I Loved It: 
Moonpenny Island  is a lovely, elegiac novel about friendship, and siblings, and the power of community. From the first lines, I was swept into Flor's story. Flor is a young girl who lives life with passionate energy, a girl who feels things deeply. As the author says, with a nice touch of humor, “When she was little, Flor was famous for her bad temper… But now she knows how to handle her anger. Mostly.”

There is a lot of pain beneath the surface of island life. Flor's parents argue; Sylvie's family is dealing with alcoholism, as is the family of "bad boy" Joe Hawkins. But fortunately, Dr. Fife and his daughter, Jasper, come into Flor's life, and temper Flor's loneliness. The end of the novel moves toward hope and reconnection, and I found myself thinking about how the characters' lives would go on beyond the pages. Captivating stuff!

I'll let Dr. Fife have the last word: “Moonpenny Island! A microcosm of Earth’s complex and infinite variety! An old scientist could spend his life studying this place and only scratch the surface.”

I was lucky to have Tricia Springstubb agree to answer my Mafioso questions. Notice how she points out my bent towards "favoritism." the Don would approve!

Who are your favorite (middle grade) writers? I'm terrible at picking favorites (bites thumb, hunches shoulders) but here are a few MG writers I especially love: Linda Urban and Kevin Henkes, who both beautifully limn the quieter corners of childhood; Anne Ursu, who fearlessly faces loss and loneliness; Rebecca Stead, a master of deft economy; Kate DiCamillo, for the wordplay and wit of her most recent books.

What's on your nightstand now? My nightstand--I know it's under there someplace. On top are half a dozen New Yorker magazines, Marilynne Robinson's "Lila", "World War I for Dummies" (research for my next book), Judy Blume's "In the Unlikely Event", and "Binny in Secret" by Hilary McKay (who should have gotten mentioned in Question 1)

Pick a favorite scene from your novel and say why you love it: Favorite again? Uh oh. Okay. I'll pick the scene near the end of "Moonpenny" when Flor, Cele and Thomas play their old game Town. It's a make-believe game they invented long ago and have never shared with anyone else. Flor and her big sister are too old for it now, and they play it in a wistful, bittersweet, nostalgic way that chokes me up. During that scene, Flor realizes that her own heart has become a mystery to her, and may lead her places she never expected. The past, present and the future layer on top one another, and it's a moment I think all middle graders will recognize.

Fill in  the blank: I'm really awesome at... petting cats.

My favorite breakfast is... What's with this favorite business? Forced to choose, I'll go with homemade bread slathered with marmalade and lots of good coffee.

If you could visit any place, where would it be? Narnia.

About the Author: 
Tricia Springstubb was born in New York City, and lives in Cleveland Ohio. She's written a number of great books, including WHAT HAPPENED ON FOX STREET; MO WREN, LOST AND FOUND; and CODY AND THE FOUNTAIN OF HAPPINESS. If you want to learn more about her, you can visit her blog's page Frequently Asked Questions

Next year she has two new books out. One is the second book in her Cody series, CODY AND THE MYSTERIES OF THE UNIVERSE, and the other is a middle grade novel EVERY SINGLE SECOND.
Here's the flap copy for EVERY SINGLE SECOND, which publishes in June 2016. (Tricia says it's a shade darker than her usual novels.):

 Twelve-year-old Nella Sabatini’s life is changing too soon, too fast. Her best friend Clem doesn’t seem concerned; she’s busy figuring out the best way to spend the “leap second”—an extra second soon to be added to the world’s official clock. The only person who might understand how Nella feels is Angela, but the two of them have gone from being “secret sisters” to not talking at all.

Then Angela’s idolized big brother makes a terrible, fatal mistake, one that tears apart their tight-knit community and plunges his family into a whirlwind of harsh publicity and judgment. In the midst of this controversy, Nella is faced with a series of startling revelations about her parents, friends, and neighborhood. As Angela’s situation becomes dangerous, Nella must choose whether to stand by or stand up. Her heart tries to tell her what to do, but can you always trust your heart? The clock ticks down, and in that extra second, past and present merge -- the future will be up to her.

Tricia Springstubb’s extraordinary novel is about the shifting bonds of friendship and the unconditional love of family; the impact of class and racial divides on a neighborhood and a city; and about a girl awakening to awareness of a world bigger and more complex than she’d ever imagined.

You bet I'll be reading this one! Thanks for stopping by, everyone--and have a great week.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Lovely to See You Again, My Dear

Summer vacations can drag on and on, it seems--and it was with perturbation I looked at the date of my last post and saw it was in July! Shocking!

It has been a very busy summer, what with almost two weeks in Orlando in August (gulp!) and the succeeding weeks being busy getting #1 Son ready for college. We drive up there next Friday, so that will be an interesting day...

I have been taking a break from middle grade fiction, and instead read THE BOYS IN THE BOAT by Daniel James Brown. Fascinating stuff, especially since I was a rower in my younger days--although I never feel quite so spiritual while slaving over my oars as did these young men in the 1930s. There were great insights, too, about life during the Depression years, and of pre-war Germany under Hitler.

I am almost done, too, with Michelle Knudsen's EVIL LIBRARIAN, which is a fun YA and which I may post about one of these days in my occasional "YA for a Day" series.

In two weeks, I will definitely be back full-time on Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, featuring Tricia Springstubb's MOONPENNY ISLAND

What about you? How has your summer been, and what have you read? Do spill.

Monday, July 20, 2015


And the winner of the copy of SERAFINA AND THE BLACK CLOAK (via is....

I'll be in touch soon, Akoss!

Have a great week, everyone!!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: SERAFINA AND THE BLACK CLOAK by Robert Beatty

SERAFINA AND THE BLACK CLOAK by Robert Beatty (Disney Hyperion, 7/14/15)

What It's About (from the Netgalley description):
"Never go into the deep parts of the forest, for there are many dangers there, and they will ensnare your soul."

Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of the Biltmore estate.There's plenty to explore in her grand home, although she must take care to never be seen. None of the rich folk upstairs know that Serafina exists; she and her pa, the estate's maintenance man, have secretly lived in the basement for as long as Serafina can remember.

But when children at the estate start disappearing, only Serafina knows who the culprit is:a terrifying man in a black cloak who stalks Biltmore's corridors at night. Following her own harrowing escape, Serafina risks everything by joining forces with Braeden Vanderbilt, the young nephew of the Biltmore's owners. Braeden and Serafina must uncover the Man in the Black Cloak's true identity before all of the children vanish one by one.

Serafina's hunt leads her into the very forest that she has been taught to fear. There she discovers a forgotten legacy of magic, one that is bound to her own identity. In order to save the children of Biltmore, Serafina must seek the answers that will unlock the puzzle of her past.

Opening Lines:
"Serafina opened her eyes and scanned the darkened workshop, looking for any rats stupid enough to come into her territory while she slept. She knew they were out there, just beyond her nightly range, crawling in the cracks and shadows of the great house's sprawling basement, keen to steal whatever they could from the kitchens and storerooms. She had spent most of the day napping in her favorite out-of-the-way places, but it was here, curled up in the old mattress behind the rusty boiler in the protection of the workshop, that she felt most at home."

Doesn't this sound like a total creep fest? I can't want to get my teeth into it when it publishes next week. And the cover is fantastic! I think this book is going to be BIG!

Interview with Robert Beatty:

I put Robert through the usual Mafioso questions, and he handled himself with aplomb. Here we go:

1) Who are your favorite (middle grade) writers?
JRR Tolkien (The Hobbit)
T.H. White (The Once and Future King)
Roald Dahl (Matilida, etc.)
Elizabeth George Speare (The Witch of Blackbird Pond)

2) What's on your nightstand now?
The Man Who Planted Trees (which I’m re-reading for the millionth time. Love this French folk story)

The Night Gardener (MGM: Yay for yet more creepy stories like Serafina and The Black Cloak!)

3) Pick a favorite scene from your novel, and say why you like it:
One of my favorite scenes in Serafina and the Black Cloak is when Serafina must ride in a carriage for the first time. She’s with a boy named Braeden Vanderbilt, known as the “young master” at Biltmore Estate. Serafina has much to tell Braeden and wants to trust him, but doesn’t know if she should. Calamity strikes and they must spend the night in the carriage together, fending for themselves against the darkness of the forest where the carriage has stopped. I love the spookiness of it, and the sense of togetherness—two new friends against the world.

4) Fill in the blank: I'm really awesome at….
Focusing on the mission. Staying focused has always been one of my strengths. Conversely, procrastinating on and ignoring things I’m not interested in (like the mundane tasks of life like paying the bills) has always been one of my weaknesses.

5) My favorite breakfast is…
Homemade pancakes made by my daughters using eggs from our chickens and blueberries and strawberries from our garden. (MGM: I'll be right over!)

6) If you could visit any place, where would it be?
I have traveled all over the world and really enjoy it. Lately, I’ve been keen to see Vienna and the mountains of Austria. Also, I’ve been to England multiple times, but I long to spend more time there.
(Well, dear readers, as you know England is my country of origin--so Robert has very good taste.)

About the Author (from Robert's website):
Robert Beatty lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Asheville, North Carolina with his wife and three daughters, who help create and refine his stories. He loves to explore the grand Biltmore Estate and the darkened forest trails where his novels take place. Robert’s Disney Hyperion novel Serafina and the Black Cloak will go on sale July 14, 2015. He writes full-time now, but in his past lives, Robert was one of the early pioneers of cloud computing, the founder/CEO of Plex Systems, the co-founder of Beatty Robotics, and the chairman/CTO of Narrative Magazine. In 2007, he was named an Entrepreneur of the Year. Answering a question about the inspiration for his book, Robert said, “Serafina’s journey grew out of my desire to write a story about an unusual and heroic young girl for my three daughters.”

Robert Beatty has one of the most arresting websites I've come across--it's just beautiful. You can visit it HERE, as well as Like Serafina and the Black Cloak on Facebook and follow Robert Beatty on Facebook. He Tweets @BeattyAuthor.

Comment to enter to win a copy of SERAFINA AND THE BLACK CLOAK from the publisher (US addresses only, please.)

Breaking News: SERAFINA AND THE BLACK CLOAK's book trailer has just gone LIVE: watch it here. (Warning: it is gorgeous...)

Hope everyone had a good 4th of July. It was fireworks on the beach for me and the rest of the Mafiosi. Ciao!