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Monday, July 25, 2016

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: COVER REVEAL for H.M. Bouman's A CRACK IN THE SEA

Friends, the Don and I do love a good cover. And we also love being the first to know things. So a cover reveal is right up our alley!

We are thrilled to be able to reveal the cover art (and some inner illustrations) for H.M. Bouwman's A CRACK IN THE SEA. The back cover contains the inscription Three families, two worlds, and one magical portal. Sweet!

Here's the cover:

Isn't it gorgeous? And here's what the novel is about:

No one comes to the Second World on purpose. The doorway between worlds opens only when least expected. The Raft King is desperate to change that by finding the doorway that will finally take him and the people of Raftworld back home. To do it, he needs Pip, a young boy with an incredible gift—he can speak to fish; and the Raft King is not above kidnapping to get what he wants. Pip’s sister Kinchen, though, is determined to rescue her brother and foil the Raft King’s plans.

This is but the first of three extraordinary stories that collide on the high seas of the Second World. The second story takes us back to the beginning: Venus and Swimmer are twins captured aboard a slave ship bound for Jamaica in 1781. They save themselves and others from a life of enslavement with a risky, magical plan—one that leads them from the shark-infested waters of the first world to the second. Pip and Kinchen will hear all about them before their own story is said and done. So will Thanh and his sister Sang, who we meet in 1976 on a small boat as they try to escape post-war Vietnam. But after a storm and a pirate attack, they’re not sure they’ll ever see shore again. What brings these three sets of siblings together on an adventure of a lifetime is a little magic, helpful sea monsters and that very special portal, A Crack in the Sea.

The novel includes some stunning interior art by illustrator, Yuko Shimizu. Here are two of the pieces:

What do you guys think? I received an ARC from the publisher, G.P. Putnam's Sons, and can't wait to read it on my hols in British Columbia (the closest to a trip to Britain I seem to be able to make.) A review will be forthcoming. Publication date for A CRACK IN THE SEA is January 3rd, 2017.

About the Author:

H. M. Bouwman is the author of The Remarkable & Very True Story of Lucy & Snowcap. An associate professor of English at the University of St. Thomas, she lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with her two sons. A Crack in the Sea is her second novel.

About the Illustrator:

Yuko Shimizu is a Japanese illustrator based in New York City and an instructor at the School of Visual Arts. In 2009, Newsweek Japan chose Yuko as one of the “100 Japanese People the World Respects.” Yuko is the illustrator of the picture book Barbed Wire Baseball, and her work can also be seen on Gap T-shirts, Pepsi cans, Visa billboards, and Microsoft and Target ads, as well as on numerous book covers and in the pages of The New York Times, Time, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker and many others.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: THE PECULIAR HAUNTING OF THELMA BEE by Erin Petti

THE PECULIAR HAUNTING OF THELMA BEE by Erin Petti (Mighty Media Press, September 6, 2016)

What It's About:
Eleven-year-old budding scientist Thelma Bee has adventure in her blood. But she gets more than she bargained for when a ghost kidnaps her father. Now her only clues are a strange jewelry box and the word “Return,” whispered to her by the ghost. It’s up to Thelma to get her dad back, and it might be more dangerous than she thought—there’s someone wielding dark magic, and they’re coming after her next.

Opening Lines:
"Thelma Bee dragged still sleepy fingers through her bangs as she marched into the backyard. October was serving up another perfect day--chilly air, crispy leaves, and early sun."

Why I Liked It:
Wow! This is right up there with the spookiest books I've read. There were some truly terrifying scenes--and if my hair was being raised, goodness knows what was happening to the 11-year-old readers'. First off, Thelma's dad disappears into an old jewelry box. Thelma herself gets sucked into the box, and meets an imprisoned ancestor who reveals to her just what is going on. Then, while searching for her dad, the car she and her friends are riding in is attacked by a bull. One of the friends falls into a raging torrent, and the villain has spectacular magic powers, like being able to suspend people in mid-air. His hideous sidekick is a shapeshifter. There are thrills and chills aplenty so... Hang onto your hats!

Thelma is a great creation: a scientist whom we first see trying to grow a Mexican orchid (her experiments are described with a lot of humor: "Steadfast for days, Thelma had eaten only Mexican food, spoken only Spanish, and even played mariachi music around the plant.") Thelma's best friend, Alexander, is a polyglot and there are other delightful supporting characters who make up the Riverfish Valley Paranormal Society (RVPS). They're the source of much of the humor, which leavens the truly terrifying moments. If you like spooky stuff--interspersed with some great laughs-- this is a book for you!

About the Author:
Erin Petti lives by the ocean in Massachusetts with her husband and toddler. She loves to read about magic, dinosaurs, folklore, and ghosts. Erin has a masters in education and a background in improvisational comedy at ImprovBoston.

P.S. This is a great interactive idea. Readers can choose the cover for the book. Vote at and enter to win a Thelma Bee gift box with a signed book,
stickers, buttons, a Thelma Bee journal, and more! The deadline is August the 1st!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: STARS SO SWEET by Tara Dairman

STARS SO SWEET by Tara Dairman (Putnam, July 2016)

I'm so happy to introduce the third book in Tara Dairman's All Four Stars series. Tara was snapped up by agent Ammi-Joan Paquette after the Baker's Dozen auction in 2011, and I loved both previous books in this series, which I reviewed HERE and HERE.
I'm delighted to have been able to enjoy another Gladys Gatsby adventure and to take part in this blog tour.

What It's About (via Goodreads): 
As the summer winds down and Gladys Gatsby prepares to start middle school, she is nervous about juggling schoolwork and looming deadlines from her secret job as the New York Standard’s youngest restaurant critic. When her editor pushes for a face-to-face meeting to discuss more opportunities with the paper, Gladys knows she must finally come clean to her parents. But her perfectly planned reveal is put on hold when her parents arrive home with a surprise:  her Aunt Lydia, one of the only adults who knows her secret, fresh off the plane from Paris. Gladys and Aunt Lydia try one last ruse to fool her editor at the Standard, but even with her aunt’s help, Gladys just can’t manage the drama of middle school and a secret life. It’s time for Gladys to be true to herself and honest with her friends and family, regardless of what those around her think.

Opening Lines:
"Gladys Gatsby felt like a live fish was flopping around in her stomach."

Why I Loved It:

  1. The characters: Gladys is an endearing character. True to the middle grade experience, she worries about whether she fits in, about friendships, and about the journey to middle school. Yet she is loyal, level-headed, and creative. Tara Dairman does a good job with all her characters. Charissa, for example, could easily have been written as a stereotypical "mean girl," but instead we are shown a more rounded side to her. I also liked the fact that characters from the earlier novels were developed--Gladys' Aunt Lydia being a case in point.
  2. The humor. Tara Dairman, for my money, is one of the funniest middle grade writers around. Her humor isn't the obvious, gross sort. Often times, it is situational. I'll never forget the "Gladys-under-the restaurant table" scene in All Four Stars, or the disastrous swim test in The Stars of Summer. In Stars So Sweet, there are deliciously comic moments when Gladys tries to wiggle out of meeting her editor in person. Chuckles abound!
  3. The covers. All three books have had wonderful, memorable colors--by artist Kelly Murphy. Very eye-catching.
In conclusion, Stars So Sweet is a delightful addition to the Gladys canon. Hooray for Tara!

About The Author:

Tara Dairman is the author of the middle-grade ALL FOUR STARS series, the newest addition being Stars So Sweet. She is also a playwright and world-traveler. 

Tara holds a B.A. in Creative Writing from Dartmouth College and is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. You can find her online in the following places:

Monday, June 20, 2016

DIYMFA: A Great Writing Resource

I am, I must admit, a bit of a fiend when it comes to collecting books on writing, a.k.a Craft Books. There's hardly a one I haven't perused, and many of them make it onto my shelves. (What can I say? Buying books is a bit of an addiction.)

Several years ago, I came across the DIYMFA website, the brainchild of Gabriela Pereira. Gabriela had earned an MFA herself, but saw the need to help others who might not have the time or the financial wherewithal to pursue a traditional MFA.

From the get-go, I was attracted by the design of the website, and by the way Gabriela Pereira organized things. (It came as no surprise to learn, while reading DIYMFA, that she has a masters in design as well as her MFA.) Gabriela was big on creating community also, and I enjoyed the conversational style in her regular emails to her blog subscribers.

I jumped, therefore, at the opportunity to join her "street team," and the chance to read her book DIYMFA (Writers Digest books, July 2016). I wasn't disappointed.

DIYMFA is the book I wished I'd had in my innocent little hands when I started my writing journey all those years ago. Organized in three parts--Write with Focus; Read with Purpose; and Build Your Community--it's cram packed with tips, insights and examples from some of my favorite writers. (Is it a coincidence that Gabriela and I share a love for Jane Austen, Harry Potter, and the Hunger Games? I think not.)

This is the meat of the book, where Gabriela tackles motivation, three act structure, creating characters, Point of View, dialogue, and revising in layers. Even if you've immersed yourself in craft books like yours truly, you will still experience new insights--from how to create a mind map, to using the acronym WORST to figure out what your character wants**, to revising in layers--courtesy of the revision pyramid.

**WORST stands for
W = What does your character want? What is her deepest desire?
O = What obstacles are in her way?
R = What will your character risk on the quest for this desire?
S = What’s at stake in your story? What will happen if the character fails?
T = How does your character transform or change on this journey?

When you study for an MFA, you immerse yourself in reading great books. Gabriela gives tips on how to build your own library, gives you permission to DNF a book (c'mon, life is too short if you are finding yourself slogging through a book), and shows you how to read as a writer. I particularly loved her thorough examination of Kate Chopin's short story, The Story of an Hour.

This section of the book is packed with advice about how to maintain a circle of trust, using the acronym CASA:
C = Critique
A = Accountability
S = Support
A = Advice or Apprenticeship

There are tools for how to start a critique group, and how best to critique another's work and accept the critique of your own. Gabriela is also very thorough when talking about crafting your author identity, and how best to  network at writing conferences. (I particularly liked her "Four-Step Networking Formula for Introverts," as "networking" always gives me the willies.)

DIYMFA concludes with a commencement address, including these stirring lines:
Writing is survival. You must stay on the battlefield after everyone
else has given into defeat. “Overnight success” is a myth. The secret is
to persist until everyone has given up and you’re the only one left standing.
Some people say that writers are born, not made, and I agree—but with
a twist. I believe that every single human on this planet is born a writer, it’s
just that most people give up somewhere along the way.
Don’t give up.

In conclusion, I have to say that with the tools imparted by Gabriela Pereira in DIYMFA, it becomes a lot easier to stay the course on the writing jungle gym! I'm eagerly awaiting the arrival of my copy after it publishes on July the 8th!

(Click this link to order it from Writers Digest for 24% savings.)

Monday, June 6, 2016

Middle Grade Mafioso makes the news!

Middle Grade Mafioso hit the big leagues yesterday, with a mention in Oregon's newspaper, THE OREGONIAN. The Don thinks we should rename June the 5th as Mafioso Day.

What is all of this about? Well, I have a friend (our sons are on the same baseball team) who is a journalist for The Oregonian. Knowing I was a blogger of repute, she emailed to ask for summer reading recommendations. I gave her a list a mile long, and she ended up featuring two titles (she had other experts on the case as well.)

The featured titles were Dianne K. Salerni's THE EIGHTH DAY and Kimberley Griffiths Little's THE TIME OF THE FIREFLIES. Both great books.

To see the full list in The Oregonian, go HERE.

Later in the week, I will be reviewing a tremendous writing resource, Gabriela Pereira's DIYMFA. Till then, ciao!

Saturday, June 4, 2016

YA FOR THE DAY: Beth Kephart's THIS IS THE STORY OF YOU, interview and giveaway

The Don and I are huge Beth Kephart fans, and when Chronicle Books invited us to be part of the blog tour for Beth's latest YA novel, we jumped at the chance. (We're taking down all the middle grade wallpaper and being YA for a day! The Don's even allowing himself to smoke a cigar in the press room.)

I've raved about Beth before--on my dearly departed blog THE YEAR OF WRITING DANGEROUSLY--and in reviewing her previous novels, Small Damages and You are my Only, I wrote: "Kephart's stories are full of secrets and hurts, of small and sometimes painful declarations of love, and of what it means to expose one's heart to the joys and sorrows of the world." In this new novel, I stand by these assertions.

This is the Story of You takes place on Haven, a six-mile-long, one-half-mile-wide barrier island. It's linked to the mainland by a bridge, a bridge over which Mira Banul's younger brother, Jasper Lee, must regularly cross to get the infusions that will allow him to live with Hunter Syndrome.

Mira describes herself as "medium everything." She's not going anywhere because, on Haven, she has "responsibilities." These include not only her family, but also her friends--particularly Deni and Eva. Into this 'haven' then, rides a colossal storm. The bridge is out, property destroyed, lives lost. Amid the devastation, though, people hang on. There are rescues, and the rise of a patchwork community. Secrets are revealed.

If there is a more wonderful fashioner of sentences than Beth Kephart, then lead me to her, because in my book Beth is the best. Her sentences sing on the page. They are sinews, and sparkles, and strong undertows. Beth Kephart's writing is proof positive that writing can rescue us, can lead us into dark places and back to the light again. At several points in the novel I cried, and the Don claimed that the cigar smoke was bothering his eyes.

I am thrilled that Beth took time to answer our questions. Here we go:

Middle Grade Mafioso, thank you so much for making room for This Is the Story of You—and for your questions.

1. Do your stories germinate from a "what if?" question, or from a glimpse of a character, or some other inciting factor? Was Hurricane Sandy's devastation the catalyst for This is the Story of You?
Oh, the mysteries of the writing process. I wish I could name all the inspirations, all the influences, but perhaps it is best that some of this remains a mystery even to me. When I am writing I am in a mood. I am hearing voices. I am seeing something far away that is coming closer and closer, so close that now I trap it with words.

I love the Jersey shore. I am devastated by rising seas. I imagine the future.  I study these storms. And I love young people, these kids who survive in the wake of calamity. I love Jasper Lee, my young character with Hunter’s syndrome because I had, as part of my job, twice interviewed a person with this condition and grown to be so fond of him.

But in the beginning, I heard a handful of words. I knew I’d be writing about the sea and storms. My husband and I went to Beach Haven off season so that I could feel that world deeply. I got up before dawn each morning and watched the dolphins and the dogs. And the story began there.

2. You have written many wonderful things. What is the greatest challenge for getting words on the page? What is the greatest delight?
Well, first, thank you. I appreciate your words. And — the greatest challenge for me is finding the time. This past year, I have spent most of my time with my father, sorting out and packing up and cleaning and staging and hoping to sell his home, while helping him move into his new home. There was no room for words in all that until, finally, the silence in my writing head burst and I discovered stories waiting for me. Too many stories, perhaps.

When I began to write again—only for a half day here, two hours over there—it seemed as if I had never written before. And I think that maybe it always feels this way. That the new story is the first story. And, all things being new, I have to teach myself how to write again. It’s all hard. It’s all worth it.

3. What words of wisdom would your current self impart to your younger writer self?
Don’t be afraid of all the time you will (because of family responsibilities, because of your paying job, because of how life gets in the way) spend not writing. Something is churning. Your stories will find you.

4. In This is the Story of You, one of your characters has a rare syndrome. How did you learn about this syndrome, and what steps did you take to research it for your character?
As part of my day job, I have interviewed patients for many, many years. Patients with all different conditions, hopes, therapies. I interviewed a young man with Hunter syndrome and met others with the condition. I wrote about the infusion medicine that helps him for many years. I was deeply inspired. I wrote Jasper Lee to honor those who are living with Hunter.

5. Morning person or night owl? Cheesesteak or hoagie?
Morning person, starting at 4 AM. But since my husband is a night owl, I don’t often go to bed until 11 or later.

Can I have a chicken cheesesteak, please? And if you are visiting my hometown of Philadelphia, I think we ought to talk about hoagies. (MGM: If I ever get the chance to visit Philadelphia, I would love to talk about hoagies, as well as writing and life, with Beth Kephart. Beth, I'm holding you to the hoagie conversation!)

Thanks for taking time on a Saturday, no less, for this very special post. A comment here, or on my Facebook link, will give you the opportunity to win a copy of THIS IS THE STORY OF YOU from Chronicle Books. (US and Canada only, please.) Have a great weekend, cari amici.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: CICI RENO #MIDDLESCHOOLMATCHMAKER by Kristina Springer

CICI RENO #MIDDLESCHOOLMATCHMAKER by Kristina Springer (Sterling 2016)

Somebody raved about this on Twitter (see, Twitter has some uses) and I immediately needed to read it for the tag-line alone: "She's Cyrano de Bergerac in yoga pants..."

I wasn't disappointed.

What It's About (via Goodreads blurb):
Middle school is a test, but Cici Reno has all the answers. She's the go-to girl for advice. She's cool, she's funny, and she's enlightened (thanks to yoga classes at her mom's studio). So when her pretty BFF, Aggie, is too shy to speak to the boy she's crushing on, Cici goes online and does the talking for her. The only problem is, Cici starts to fall for the guy herself! For the first time in her life. she doesn't have a clue.

Opening Lines: 
"Ugh. My nail polish is smudged. I glance around for something to wipe up the blue-green nail polish on the side of my toe. Spotting nothing else available on the pool deck, I decide to use my beach towel. There. Much better."

Things to Admire:
First off, the cover is brilliant--a real snatch-off-the shelfer. This book perfectly catches all the middle school drama, and Cici is an endearing character: quick-witted, intelligent, and a friend to all. Being a yoga fan myself--I have to be, working for The Don and enduring all the stress he puts me under!--I enjoyed the way each chapter began with a yoga-inspired tweet from Cici. (Although I have to say that Twitter, judging from my 7th-grade son's choices, is not the go-to media platform for middle schoolers. That would be Instagram.)

The middle-school voice was pure brilliance--and laugh-out-loud funny at times, from the way Cici bickers with her brother, to the comments she shares with her bestie, Aggie, about their teachers:
"...Mr. Adwell, the gym teacher. Did you know he's dating the school librarian? Guess he's been checking out more than books."
"Ewwww," Aggie says. "They're both, like, a hundred years old."
"Senior citizens need love too, Aggie. Don't judge." 
For writers: If you want to see how to write a fast-paced and humorous book set in middle-school, look no further than CICI RENO!

I was able to get in touch with Kristina Springer and ask her my Notorious Mafioso Questions. Here are her responses:

1) Who are your favorite (middle grade) writers?
Lauren Myracle, Meg Cabot, R.J. Palacio, Sarah Mlynowski

2) What's on your nightstand now?
An advanced copy of Howard Wallace, P.I. by Casey Lyall

3) Pick a favorite scene from your novel, and say why you like it.
I LOVE the scene at the hockey rink in chapter 27. I don't want to say too much but it's a goose-bumpy kind of scene.

4) Fill in the blank: I'm really awesome at.... being a mom. :-)

5) My favorite breakfast is... eggs w/ avocado slices

6) If you could visit any place, where would it be? Italy (MGM: Kristina, The Don says grazie!)

About the Author (from her website):
Kristina Springer is the bestselling middle grade and young adult author of The Espressologist, My Fake Boyfriend is Better Than Yours, the Just Your Average line of books (Just Your Average Princess, Just Your Average Geek, and Just Your Average Celebrity), and the forthcoming Cici Reno #MiddleSchoolMatchmaker (Sterling Children's/April 2016). She has a Masters in Writing from DePaul University and resides in a suburb of Chicago with her husband and children.