Friday, February 28, 2014

Contest over at Project Mayhem: Win One of my Favorite Cybils' nominees

This year marked my third venture as a Cybils (Children's and Young Adult Blogger's Literary Awards) panelist. In 2011 I was a first round panelist for middle grade fiction (everything except speculative fiction), which meant I got to speed-read 140 novels between October and December. In 2012 and 2013, I chose a more sedate position--that of a second round judge. A second-rounder has to read a mere five or six titles--those on the shortlist--and crown a winner.

This year, the finalists were: 

If you head over to my post on Project Mayhem this morning, you can find out how to win one of these titles!! Here's the link:

Monday, February 24, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein

ESCAPE FROM MR. LEMONCELLO'S LIBRARY by Chris Grabenstein (Random House, June 2013)

What It's About (from the author's web page): Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library plunks a dozen sixth-graders into the middle of a futuristic library for a night of nonstop fun and adventure.
Kyle Keeley is a game fan—board games, word games, and especially video games! Kyle's hero, the famous gamemaker Luigi Lemoncello, is the genius behind the design of the town's new public library, which contains not only books, but an IMAX theater, an electronic learning center, instructional holograms, interactive dioramas and electromagnetic hover ladders that float patrons up to the books they want.
Lucky Kyle wins a spot as one of the first twelve kids invited to a gala, overnight library lock-in filled with of fun and games. But the next morning, when the lock-in is supposed to be over, the doors remain locked. Kyle and the others must follow book-related clues and unravel all sorts of secret puzzles to find the hidden escape route if they want to win Mr. Lemoncello's most fabulous prize ever.
Opening Lines: "This is how Kyle Keeley got grounded for a week.
First he took a shortcut through his mother’s favorite rosebush. Yes, the thorns hurt, but having crashed through the brambles and trampled a few petunias, he had a five-second jump on his oldest brother, Mike.
 Both Kyle and his big brother knew exactly where to find what they needed to win the game: inside the house!
Why I Liked It: As you can see from these first lines, with boys racing and crashing about, this is one exuberant romp. Middle grade readers will love the puzzles and the humor. Chris Grabenstein has a well-tuned ear for how kids this age speak and his dialogue crackles.
You have got to love a book set in a library where the head librarian is described as "world famous." This one was a finalist for the recent Cybils award, and with good reason. (I also really like the cover--I know, I'm shallow. But I do judge a book by its cover.)
About the Author: Chris Grabenstein has quite the pedigree, with a number of novels (including several written with James Patterson) to his name. His Web page is one of the best author ones I've seen out there: very easy on the eye, and Mr. Grabenstein seems to know how to connect with his readers. Plus, he likes dogs. The Don approves!
Chris Grabenstein with his dog, Fred

Monday, February 17, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: THE EIGHTH DAY by Dianne K. Salerni (with Interview)

THE EIGHTH DAY by Dianne K. Salerni (HarperCollins, April 22, 2014)

What It's About (from Goodreads): In this riveting fantasy adventure, thirteen-year-old Jax Aubrey discovers a secret eighth day with roots tracing back to Arthurian legend. Fans of Percy Jackson will devour this first book in a new series that combines exciting magic and pulse-pounding suspense.

When Jax wakes up to a world without any people in it, he assumes it's the zombie apocalypse. But when he runs into his eighteen-year-old guardian, Riley Pendare, he learns that he's really in the eighth day—an extra day sandwiched between Wednesday and Thursday. Some people—like Jax and Riley—are Transitioners, able to live in all eight days, while others, including Evangeline, the elusive teenage girl who's been hiding in the house next door, exist only on this special day.

And there's a reason Evangeline's hiding. She is a descendant of the powerful wizard Merlin, and there is a group of people who wish to use her in order to destroy the normal seven-day world and all who live in it. Torn between protecting his new friend and saving the entire human race from complete destruction, Jax is faced with an impossible choice. Even with an eighth day, time is running out.
Opening Lines: "Jax pedaled home from the store and muttered in cadence with the rhythm of his bike wheels: This sucks. This sucks. This sucks."

Great Stuff: This is truly a fast-paced book which I couldn't put down. It starts with a mystery: after Jax's father's death, why is Jax no longer living with his his aunt Naomi? Why is Riley Pendare, a teenager whom Jax despises, his new guardian? And what did Riley say to Aunt Naomi and the lawyer to make them change their minds?

I loved the character arc, in which Jax little by little begins to understand his situation. I loved the interweaving of Arthurian legend, and the fantastic world Dianne Salerni creates, with Transitioners and Kin, and the mysterious Eighth Day. And the final battle atop a Mexican pyramid is a heart-stopper.

About Dianne: Dianne K. Salerni is a felllow member of Project Mayhem, my middle grade group blog. She teaches 5th grade in Pennsylvania, as well as writing novels such as The Caged Graves. I thought it would be fun to interview her--and I was right! Take it away, Dianne!

  1. Have you always been interested in Arthurian legend? Do you have a favorite novel set in this time period?
I’ve long had an interest in Arthurian legend. I can’t say that I have a favorite, but what I really enjoy is seeing the legends retold in new and surprising ways. (For example, I read an early draft of Camelot Burning, an Arthurian steampunk novel by Kathryn Rose. Highly recommended!)  

To be honest, when I started planning The Eighth Day, Arthurian legends weren’t part of the story at all. Then, while researching something else, I randomly stumbled upon the story of Merlin’s apprentice Niviane tricking him into a place of suspended time. Some versions of the tale call it an eternal forest; others describe it as a cave. There were similarities in the way this place was described and the vision I had for the eighth day. Once I’d noticed the possible connection, the idea stuck – and blossomed.

  1. Is this your first published middle grade book? Can you tell us about the process of working with your editor?
This is my debut as a middle grade author. It’s strange that I waited so long to write a book for this age group, since I’m a fifth grade teacher.

Working with my editor, Alexandra Cooper, and her assistant, Alyssa Miele, has been wonderful. Originally, my book was acquired by Barbara Lalicki, and when Barbara retired, it was a few months before I was assigned a new editor – and I had a lot of time to worry if the new editor would love my book as much as Barbara did.

But Alexandra was great to work with. We went through several rounds of revision, and boy, did she make me work hard! But she got a better book out of me, and when I submitted my second manuscript to her, I couldn’t wait to receive her editorial notes. I trusted that her instincts would pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses of my story and help me take it to a higher level.

  1. If you were a Transitioner, who would you choose as your liege?
Without question, I would swear my allegiance to Riley. I know he doesn’t make a good impression at first, but Jax has reason to resent Riley in the beginning. We get a biased view of him. He’s not perfect, certainly, and he’s only 18 and inexperienced at leadership. However, by the end of the book, I think he’s someone worth following.

  1. I loved the battle scene set on top of an Aztec pyramid. Did you travel to Mexico for research? Did you have any help in creating such a melee, or are you a military strategist in your own right?
I am in no way a military strategist! Originally, I planned the scene based solely on books, photographs, and YouTube videos of people who filmed themselves climbing the Pyramid of the Sun. For military expertise, I called on my brother-in-law, who’s a retired federal agent with combat experience. He laid out basic strategies for me, and I wrote the scene. Afterward, I sent him the chapters to read, and he let me know where I needed to tweak them.

Dianne: "Those steps were hard!"
But I worried a lot about writing all this based on the photographs and videos of strangers, so my husband said, “Let’s go to Mexico.” And we did! I can’t tell you how amazing it was to visit Teotihuacan after writing the book – and best of all, to discover that my scenes worked in that setting!

Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan, Mexico

  1. How do you balance working as a teacher and being a writer, as well as being an involved parent?
There are many days when it’s really hard to juggle those things. I’ll have schoolwork to do when I want to be writing. I’ll have emails from my editor I want to answer when I have a class to teach. Sometimes, I wonder why my family tolerates me when I’m holed up in the basement, writing and ignoring them.

In February and January, we lost a lot of school days to snow, ice, and power outages. We no longer have a spring break, and we might be going to school in July, but I used the days to make significant progress on the draft for Book 3 in the series. So for me, it was a blessing.

  1. Are there any sequels in the works? Or any movie deals on the horizon?
Three books are planned, with the option for more if the series is successful. My editor and I completed revisions on Book 2, The Inquisitor’s Mark, in January. I’m hoping to get Book 3 written before The Inquisitor’s Mark boomerangs back from copy-editing.

Book 2 is tentatively scheduled for release in the Winter of 2015, and I think Book 3 will come out late that same year. No movie deals yet, but my agent is in contact with a Hollywood film agent with plans to shop it around.

Michael, thanks so much for having me here at your blog. I am thrilled that you enjoyed The Eighth Day!

My pleasure, Dianne!! I wish you every success with the publication of The Eighth Day.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: KELSEY GREEN, READING QUEEN by Claudia Mills

KELSEY GREEN, READING QUEEN by Claudia Mills (Margaret Ferguson Books, FSG 2013)

What It's About (via Goodreads blurb): 
Kelsey Green is the best reader in the third grade--well, maybe tied for best with know-it-all Simon Ellis. When the principal Mr. Boone announces  a school-wide reading contest, complete with a pizza party for the winning class and a special certificate for the top readers in each grade, she knows she's just the person to lead Mrs. Molina's third graders to victory. But how can they win when her classmate Cody Harmon doesn't want to read anything, and even Kelsey's best friends Annika and Izzy don't live up to her expectations? And could Simon possibly be reading all of those books that he claims he is, or is he lying to steal Kelsey's rightful spot at the top?

Opening Lines: "Kelsey Green no longer heard any of the voices in her third-grade classroom. All her attention was focused on the book spread open beneath her desk."

Why I Liked It: This is probably more chapter book than middle grade, but it did have an appealing character in Kelsey, and a strong arc. Kelsey is far from perfect--she's bossy and competitive for a start--but she is also redeemable. The strongest evidence about this is in her change of heart about Cody, who struggles with reading about as much as Kelsey does with math. Kelsey has to rein in her impatience and gets some self-knowledge as she helps Cody haltingly read his way through Henry and Mudge.

There are some nice friendships, an appealing Principal, and a long-suffering teacher in the mix. The writing is very assured.

I'm looking forward to the next in the series of Franklin School Friends: Annika Riz, Math Whiz and Izzy Barr, Running Star.

About the Author (from the back jacket): Claudia Mills is the acclaimed author of many books for children, including Fractions = Trouble and Being Teddy Roosevelt. She lives in Boulder, Colorado. 

Web site: Claudia Mills, Author
Blog: An Hour A Day

Claudia Mills is represented by Stephen Fraser (my agent) at the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: CREEPOVER #1 -- TRUTH OR DARE

YOU'RE INVITED TO A CREEPOVER, TRUTH OR DARE (#1) by P.J. Night (Simon Spotlight 2011)

What It's About (Goodreads blurb): During a round of Truth or Dare, Abby Miller confesses her crush on Jake Chilson. The only people who know her secret are her friends at the sleepover and whoever sent her a text message in the middle of the night warning her to stay away from Jake--or else! 
But Abby isn't going to stay away from Jake, especially not after he asks her to the school dance. 
As the night of the dance comes closer, some very creepy things start happening to Abby. Someone definitely wants to keep her away from Jake. Is it a jealous classmate or, as Abby begins to suspect, could it be a ghost?

Opening Lines (Prologue): "Up and down the aisles she wandered, and though so much was familiar, there were small and unexpected differences. The lights seemed brighter, the colors looked bolder, even the sounds were louder."

What I Liked: There are a ton of series out there, and most of them are definitely plot-centered. The Creepover series is definitely in this category. The characters could be anybody--which, for this age group allows for self-identification. It is a swift read and, judging from the ecstatic comments on Goodreads the target audience, (9 and 10 year-old girls), are captivated. I thought it was good and creepy--you definitely wondered if Abby was being targeted from beyond the grave. The cover is very appealing too. I can see the target readership quickly becoming addicted to such scares!

About the Series: There are now 18 books in this series, published by Simon Spotlight. You can get more information about titles, and watch a video HERE. The author, P.J. Night, is actually the pseudonym for several writers involved in the series' production. At the back of each book, there is a Creep-O-Meter. Truth or Dare ranks as a 3 ("Hide Under the Covers"), but most other books in the series are 4 ("Sleep With the Lights On") or 5 ("Never Sleep Again").

Any other creep series you know of? Leave the names in the comments. And don't forget to bolt the doors and bar the windows tonight...!