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!


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. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Winners!

It's no secret that the month of August was a particularly crazy one in Mafiosoville.

1. We went camping (I tell ya, do not roast marshmallows over a campfire with the Don. He's a pyromaniac!).

2. The kids started school *:) happy

3. The new guard dog has a penchant for chewing leather. (My poor boots!) *~X( at wits' end

And pens,

 And paper.

(In fact, I think she's secretly writing the Great American Canine Novel.)

And then there was the US Open Tennis. (The Don's favorite player is Fabio Fognini, but the guy's a basket case.)

Through all of this, blogging has taken a back seat. (Oh yeah, I also finished Book 5 in  the Game of Thrones series, and that was a marathon achievement. Winter is Coming!)

But, I have not forgotten my promise of sending books from two of my favorite writers--folks I know in real life--to my deserving readers.

So, here we go: The winner of the signed copy of the paperback edition of Rosanne Parry's Written in Stone is:

And the winner of the signed hardback of Robin Herrera's Hope is a Ferris Wheel is...

I'll be contacting you good people very soon.

Also, I am going to be part of the blog tour of Michaela MacColl's latest, Rory's Promise, which she co-wrote with Rosemary Nichols. Anyone who's been following this blog for a while will know that Ms. MacColl is yet another one of my favorite authors-- (Promise the Night; Nobody's Secret.) It's bound to be a goodie!!

See you next week, Ciao!!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL by Robin Herrera (with Interview and Giveaway)

HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL by Robin Herrera (Amulet Books, March 2014)

What It's About (from Goodreads):
Ten-year-old Star Mackie lives in a trailer park with her flaky mom and her melancholy older sister, Winter, whom Star idolizes. Moving to a new town has made it difficult for Star to make friends, when her classmates tease her because of where she lives and because of her layered blue hair. But when Star starts a poetry club, she develops a love of Emily Dickinson and, through Dickinson’s poetry, learns some important lessons about herself and comes to terms with her hopes for the future.

Opening Lines: "Everyone at Pepperwood Elementary knows that I live in Treasure Trailers, in the pink-tinted trailer with the flamingo hot-glued to the roof. The problem is, I only told four girls, the ones who were standing by me the first time we lined up for recess."

Why I liked it: Well, the shocking thing is that I haven't blogged since early August (Don, forgive me!), and now that I'm back in business I'm featuring a novel by another Portland writer I know in real life. So, hooray for Portland!

Robin Herrera is a bona fide hoot, and her debut doesn't disappoint--from the fabulous cover, to the comedy woven through every chapter.

Star Mackie is an unforgettable character: honest, intelligent, and determined. Robin Herrera has given her a pitch-perfect middle grade voice, and the friendship she develops with some of the school's other oddballs is delightful. I also liked Star's "Vocabulary Sentences," which are sprinkled throughout and are very funny. (Star writes answers at length, but doesn't turn the work in to her teacher.)

Plus, Emily Dickinson is heavily featured, and there are poems mentioned throughout.

And don't forget donuts. They also make appearances, and in my experience any books with doughnuts is a true gem.

I shot Robin off my typical Mafioso questions, and she very kindly responded:

1) Who are your favorite (middle grade) writers?
Louis Sachar has been a favorite for a long time, along with Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler. They wrote some of the books that shaped my adolescence. More recent favorites include Rita Williams-Garcia, Linda Urban, and Katherine Paterson, among others.

2) What's on your nightstand now?
Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith, which is definitely not a middle grade novel! But I've also got a couple graphic novels I've been meaning to read, like Sing No Evil, Five Weapons, Bad Houses, and Bandette, and I just finished The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson.

3) Pick a favorite scene from your novel, and say why you like it
My favorite scene is in chapter 5, which I call "the Hot Dog scene." This was one of the first scenes I had plotted out in my mind when I wrote Hope Is a Ferris Wheel, and though it's changed quite a bit over all the drafts, the intent has always remained the same. I feel it encapsulates a very important theme in the novel - Star's mom and sister clashing and arguing, and Star being torn between the two of them.

4) Fill in the blank: I'm really awesome at....
Writing silly songs and poems. I'm glad I got to write Star's poems in Hope Is a Ferris Wheel - those are pretty indicative of my poetic abilities. I also love writing sonnets.

5) My favorite breakfast is...
Eggs Benedict! But if I have to make my own breakfast, then it's a flatbread scrambled egg sandwich with sausage, cheese, and pesto.

6) If you could visit any place, where would it be?
I have a couple of favorite restaurants I always wish I were eating at. A sushi place in Berkeley, a tea shop in Eureka, a burger joint that serves bison burgers on highway 101... At different times, I'll crave one of these places and wish I could visit again.

About the Author: Robin's "About Me" page on her website says it all! (You'll get a great sense of her wit if you visit her there.)

I have a signed hardback copy waiting for anyone who cares to comment. U.S. and Canadian entries only, I'm afraid. And thanks for stopping by!

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:
Twitter @KimberleyGLittl
Facebook: Find me at "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!