Monday, March 21, 2016

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE by Janet Fox

THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE by Janet Fox (Viking, March 15, 2016)

What It's About (from Goodreads):
Something is not right at Rookskill Castle, a rundown Scottish manor shrouded in mystery. The castle is a temporary boarding school for children escaping the Blitz, but soon it’s clear there is something terribly wrong. There are clues hinting that a spy is in the house, and there are undeniable signs of a sinister magic. When the children in the castle’s temporary boarding school begin disappearing one by one, it’s a race against the clock for twelve-year-old Kat Bateson, her two younger siblings, and their new best friend.

Opening Lines:
"It is 1863.
The winter winds shriek and moan around the castle turrets as the nightmare finds him, poor cat-boy John.
He runs from room to room until he finds a place to hide, and then he hears but two things: the clattering and the ragged hish, hish of his own breath."

Five Things to Love:

  • Can you say "atmospheric?" This takes place is a Scottish castle, whose corridors are maze-like. The weather is suitably Scottish (a.k.a. foul), and sinister things are afoot. What's left of my hair positively curled, as I read along.
  • Kat Bateson is an independent, skeptical child. She's given a chatelaine by her great-aunt, and told by said great-aunt that the chatelaine is magic. Rational Kat, however, doesn't believe in magic. That is, until the horrors of Rookskill Castle unfold.
  • Speaking of sinister, Lady Craig--referred to as "the Lady"--is one of the creepiest creations of children's literature. She is a soul-stealer, with a chatelaine of her own, and Kat and her younger siblings are her targets.
  • I loved the way the novel shifted effortlessly between time periods--from the 1740s to the 1860s to the 1940s. The writer got all the period details just right.
  • Janet Fox isn't British, but she sure fooled me (someone who's a Brit by birth.) Her feel for British language and idiom was superb. If I ever have the honor to meet her, I'll have to ask her how she does it!
Janet Fox kindly agreed to be my next victim  interviewee:

1) Who are your favorite (middle grade) writers?
Oh, boy. Where do I start? (Where do I end?) I started to answer this and the list got so, so long...let's just say I hate to miss any of my favorites. Let's just add that I love middle grade. And there are so many fabulous middle grade authors and books out there right now. But I'll say this much: I dedicated THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE to Kathi Appelt. Not only has she been a friend and mentor, but I turn to her books (especially THE UNDERNEATH) for gorgeous language, great character, and richly layered plot.

2) What's on your nightstand now?
Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I'm attaching a photo of my towering pile, which is just where it starts.

3) Pick a favorite scene from your novel, and say why you like it.
My favorite scene is kind of a spoiler, so I'll leave some things unsaid, but it happens near the climax. My protagonist, Kat, sees the antagonist in a new light. Kat recognizes the potential beauty in the hideousness. This is a scene that came to me during a workshop with Donald Maass, and it turned my entire notion of how to create a twist right on its head (if you can follow that weird metaphor combo.) It also causes Kat to hesitate at a critical moment which...well, no spoilers! (MGM: Agreed! That is a magnificent scene. In fact, the whole climax is magnificent.)

4) Fill in the blank: I'm really awesome at....  
finding things. I call it my superpower. I have an uncanny knack for locating lost items, especially those of other people. And I'm really, really good at finding four-leaf clovers. (MGM: Oh my goodness, that is a great talent. You would be in high demand at my house with my three "where is it?" boys.)

5) My favorite breakfast is...
bacon and eggs. With blueberries and yogurt. And strong, strong coffee. And, if I'm really indulging, a chocolate croissant, warmed up a bit so the chocolate is melty. Yum. 

6) If you could visit any place, where would it be?
I'm going to pick a place I haven't been: New Zealand. It looks so gorgeous in photos. It's on my bucket list. (MGM: New Zealand does seem to be a perennial favorite of my interviewees. Maybe we should all go on a writing retreat there...?)

Janet Fox has also produced a series of eerily cool videos about each of the charms of the chatelaine. As I'm the sixth stop on the tour, this video reveals the 6th charm. (To follow along with the video reveals, see the list of blog tour participants on Janet's website):

About The Author:

Janet Fox writes award-winning fiction and non-fiction for children of all ages. Her published works include the non-fiction GET ORGANISED WITHOUT LOSING IT (Free Spirit, 2006) and the YA historical romances FAITHFUL (Penguin 2010), FORGIVEN (Penguin 2011),  and SIRENS (Penguin, 2012). Her debut middle grade novel, THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE  is a historical fantasy set in 1940 Scotland. Janet is a 2010 graduate of Vermont College's MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. She lives in Bozeman, Montana.

Website (where you can play her truth or dare game!)  Twitter

Well folks, that was a fun book to review on my birthday! Off to celebrate. Ciao!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: THE MORRIGAN'S CURSE BY Dianne K. Salerni

THE MORRIGAN'S CURSE by Dianne K. Salerni (HarperCollins, 2016)

Preamble: I'm writing this on Sunday afternoon, befuddled by Daylight Saving's time and peeved by the fact that my laptop's hard drive died this morning. I wish the Don could just take over the world, and decree an end of DST as well as mechanical malfunctions. I was on the verge of going off to sulk when I realized the old and barely used computer downstairs was still chugging along--and I had received some wonderful answers this week to my questions from Dianne Salerni. This immediately put me in a better mood, and hence you have an MMGM from me today. Huzzah!

What It's About (from Goodreads):
The battle between Kin and Transitioners that's been brewing for centuries has finally come to a head. The sinister Kin have captured Evangeline's younger sister, Addie, a descendant of Merlin whose presence will allow them to reverse the Eighth Day Spell and free themselves. Addie doesn't realize the full consequences of her cooperation. She's been helping the Kin because they value the strength of her magic—something Evangeline never did. The feeling of power coursing through her veins is impossible to resist.

Meanwhile, Riley, Evangeline, and Jax craft a plan to rescue Addie from her captors. But the Kin's unstoppable magic, and a rebellious Addie, force Riley to reconsider whether saving Addie is worth sacrificing everyone who lives in the seven-day week. Jax won't let Evangeline's sister be used as a pawn, so he risks it all in a secret mission of his own. With the Morrigan pushing both sides of the war toward annihilation, Addie must decide where her loyalties lie, while Jax, Riley, and Evangeline confront the possibility of losing Addie to save the world.

Opening Lines:
"Normally, Addie Emrys didn't like heights, but in this case, the view was worth it. Leaning on the wooden railing of a second-floor balcony, she watched waves crash against rocks on the shore below, blasting themselves into wild sprays of foam."

The Love List:

  1. The Cover, right? I love all the covers of this trilogy, by artist Mike Heath. They are eye-catching and arresting.
  2. If you want to see how to deftly introduce a new book in a series, study Dianne Salerni. There's no massive info dumping. Instead, the story starts off at speed, with occasional reminders of what has gone before. Brilliant!
  3. The world Dianne Salerni has created. I loved the settings, the wild weather, all of the Eighth Day magic. (And boy, what I sometimes wouldn't give to have an Eighth Day of my own! Except I'd probably spend it taking a nap instead of fighting for survival.)
  4. All of the old characters, as well as some new ones. Dianne Salerni is great at creating villains, too--which leads me to...
  5. In every book of this trilogy, Dianne has had some breathtaking, climactic fight scene. The Morrigan's Curse is no exception. This time, it's Addie, with her fear of heights, having to do battle on top of a water tank. It gives me goose bumps just thinking of it. Dianne Salerni is a master.
I was lucky enough to have Dianne answer some of my most probing questions:

1) What's the hardest thing about writing a series?

The hardest thing for me was the build-up of characters over the course of the books. I had a lot of characters in Book 1. Most of them appeared in Book 2, along with a new cast of villains and potential allies. By the time I got to Book 3 and needed to introduce another new set of characters for the conflict, I felt as if I had a cast of thousands! I started wishing I'd killed off more characters in the first two books, lol. (Mafioso's note: Well, you handled them all deftly!)

2) Is the Morrigan a real legend, or did she spring from your imagination fully formed?

The Morrigan is a real mythological character -- or as real as any mythological character can be! She is known as a 3-in-one deity linked to fate, war, and destruction. For my book, I took the barebones of her legend and refined them to serve my story, giving unique names to each of her incarnations: the Girl of Crows, the Washer Woman, and the Old Crone.

3) Will there be a book 4?

I hope there will be a Book 4 and a Book 5, but that's up to the publisher. They told me they would make a decision later this year, so keep your fingers crossed for me! (MG Mafioso: I certainly will!)

Bonus Question: What's your favorite thing about book signings?

My favorite thing about book signings is when a young reader comes having already read one or more of my books and has a long list of questions to ask me about the plot. Sometimes I have to think on my feet when they start digging deep into the story! 

Thanks for featuring me at Middle Grade Mafioso!

Thanks for creating such a great story-world, Dianne. I hope we all get to read more about Jax, Riley, Evangeline, and the rest of the cast soon!

You can read my Middle Grade Mafioso reviews of The Eighth Day and The Inquisitor's Mark, as well as visit Dianne at her web page and follow her on Twitter. Ciao!