Monday, December 19, 2011

Holiday well-wishes from the Mafiosi

Hello All,

No Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post from me today. (Eeek! Is it Armageddon?! Have the mafiosi been raptured?!) No, no such luck.

There are several factors explaining my absence, though. My middle son just finished his 5-week-long professional production of Frankenstein, the Little Monster. (Guess who he played?!) So we were out celebrating. And then, my oldest son has to have one of his semi-regular sleep deprived EEGs to keep tabs on his epilepsy. Night-owl Mom will stay up with him till midnight--this mafioso needs his sleep!!--and I will crawl from bed at 4 a.m. to make sure he's awake and then drag his to the lab for his 7:30 appointment.

Finally, I have a few Cybils-related activities to deal with. So, with all that on my plate, Don Vito has ordered me to rest from my blogging labors and fill up on panettone.

I will be making merry till the end of the month. I hope the rest of you have a wonderful holiday season--and I'll see you in 2012.

Buone Feste!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Most Wanted

Most Wanted by Kate Thompson (Greenwillow Books, 2010) Nominated for the Cybils by Anamaria Anderson. (All opinions are my own, and are not meant to reflect those of the entire panel.)

Interested in ancient history? The civilizations of Greece or Rome or Egypt? Then you'll enjoy this tautly written tale.

From the flap copy: While making his daily deliveries, a baker's son suddenly finds himself holding a stallion's golden lead. Soon the boy discovers that this isn't just any horse. It's the most powerful creature in all of Rome.  What will the mad Emperor do if he finds the boy with his prized horse? Cut off his head? Or worse?

As you can see, this is a plot-driven story. Cleanly written, it moves fast and also has some energetic artwork that really works well with the narrative. It would be perfect for a 2-4th grader who enjoys action, horses, and history.

The author, Kate Thompson, lives in Ireland and is a prolific writer. I enjoyed my visit to her website.

Have a marvelous middle grade Monday, everyone!!

Friday, December 9, 2011

How It All Went Down (The Bakers' Dozen Auction, I Mean)

To recap: My MG novel, Shakespeare on the Lam, was one of the entries in Authoress's Bakers' Dozen Agent Auction. Which meant my logline and first 250 words got a whole bunch of amazing and helpful critiques. And then on Tuesday, starting at 11 EST, the agents started bidding.

Was I glued to the action on screen? Well, I would have been--except that Tuesday was the day for my annual adventure with my father-in-law to snag the cheapest Christmas tree in the tri-county area. Last year I blogged about my trophy, the $10 tree that fell off a helicoptor on its way to Mexico. This year, we took a much more leisurely tack and bought $20 Groupons for Christmas trees and a half pound of organic coffee out at Boring Bark. (The Boring bit is the name of the town, not too far from Portland.) My father-in-law's 9 foot Noble is a nice-lookin' tree--and without the Groupon it would have cost $60. So we were chuffed little happy campers.

I got home around noon PST, to an excited voice mail from my wife. She'd been snooping over at the auction and called to let me know that several agents had been bidding, and that the full manuscript of Shakespeare had gone to Victoria Marini, an agent at the Gelfman Schneider agency (the agency that represents one of our favorite writers, Chris Bohjalian.)

I followed Authoress's instructions and e-mailed the full to Ms. Marini. She has a week's exclusive. After that, other bidding agents can make requests.

It was great fun, and I have to thank Authoress for the auction and for the sense of community she fosters on her blog. If you haven't found Miss Snark's First Victim, do yourself a favor and check it out. As one commenter once wrote, it's like for agents and authors.

Of course, I had to share the news with the Don. His reaction: "Marini? Italian name. I'll send her a panettone, a couple of bottles of my best cellared chianti." Very nice. I've given up trying to convince him that agents can't be bribed. Let him have his fun.

So there you have it. I'd worry and fixate, but I still have a ton of Cybils books to read and a Christmas tree to decorate. I'll see you all on Monday for some Marvelous Middle Grade. Have a great weekend.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Addie on the Inside

One thing all this reading for the Cybils has taught me: I no longer dislike novels in verse. The latest of these, which has totally cured me of my phobia, is James Howe’s Addie on the Inside. (Nominated for the Cybils by Tasha Saecker. All opinions are my own, and are not meant to reflect those of the entire panel.)

Addison “Addie” Carle is living “the purgatory of the middle school years” in a small town in upstate New York. She is an only child, opinionated, and her best friends are a group of misfit boys. One of the misfit boys, Joe, is gay. Addie starts a gay-straight alliance at her school and is taunted accordingly.

Howe, the author of Bunnicula, catches the rollercoaster emotions of middle school with perfect pitch. I have to believe this book was written by Addie, pure and simple, not a sixty-something author. And Addie is a complex character. She stands up for her beliefs, yet part of her also struggles with not being popular and with having the other girls taunt her. Weaving in and out of the narrative is her relationship with her boyfriend, DuShawn; the tender moments, the fights, the break-ups, the getting back together, the final break-up. But through it all Addie is resilient.

Here is part of her final poem:

I am a girl who is growing up
in my own sweet time,
I am a girl who knows enough
to know this life is mine.

I am this and I am that and
I am everything in-between.
I’m a dreamer, I’m a dancer,
I’m a part-time drama queen.

I’m a worrier, I’m a warrior,
I’m a loner and a friend,
I’m an outspoken defender
of justice to the end.

I’m the girl in the mirror
who likes the girl she sees,
I’m the girl in the gypsy shawl
with music in her knees.

As far as I’m concerned, this should be compulsory reading in every middle school classroom. And if you have a strong, spirited daughter who stands up for her beliefs, yet also feels the pressure to conform: THIS BOOK IS ABOUT HER. GET IT FOR HER!

(James Howe doesn't seem to have a website, but he does have a Wikipedia entry. You can read about him HERE.)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Mafioso On the Auction Block

Ever wondered what sort of stuff I write when I'm not entertaining the world with my blogging and tweeting skills?

Well, you have the chance to view--and even critique--the opening of my middle grade novel, SHAKESPEARE ON THE LAM. It was one of 35 YA/MG entries (out of 350) to be chosen to take part in Authoress's Bakers' Dozen Auction over at Miss Snark's First Victim. Come Monday, 15 agents will be doing the agent equivalent of the Black Friday dash into the Mall of America, nudging each other aside as they bid on the number of pages they want to read from the entrants they most covet. (I' Lucky Number 52, HERE.)

Till then, the rest of us get to comment and critique. I would love to see you there--and I promise that if you have any constructive criticisms I will be delighted. I want this piece to be the strongest it can be.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I"m Giving Away My Signed Copy of Guys Read: Thriller

Yup, I'm giving away my copy, signed by Jon Scieszka himself. The fun is happening over at PROJECT MAYHEM. So, as the Don would say, Andiamo. (I would add, Vamoose!)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: WOLF STORM

Isn't this one HECK of a COVER?!!

Dee Garretson is one of my pals over at Project Mayhem, yet I had never read her novels. But WOLF STORM was nominated for the Cybils by Dean Oester, and I plowed in.

I'm very happy I did. The story was gripping from the get-go. A snowy movie set in the Carpathian mountains. Child actors who have to act alongside (tame) wolves. And the possibility of wild and hungry wolves prowling about--I tell you, several times, the hair at the back of my neck stood up, things were so tense.

Opening Lines: "Snow lay thick in the ruins of the castle walls, drifting over the best hiding places."

The Characters: It's Stefan Andris's first movie role, but the pressure to perform is taxing. It doesn't help that his co-star, Raine Randolph is such a diva. The third child-actor, the much-younger Jeremy Cline, is already "showing too many signs of latching on to (Stefan)," and has asthma and a lot of fears. When the children are marooned in the ski lodge in which they're staying, with only the elderly and ailing actor who plays their grandfather, they have to deal with avalanches, injuries, and wild wolves who are so starving that they shed their innate fear of humans and begin to stalk them. The kids have to come up with a plan to escape, or else their very lives will be in peril.

Verdict: This is one thrilling book. I can see it being popular with boys as well as girls. I couldn't stop turning the pages to see if the kids would in fact make it safely off the mountain without loss of life. My hat is off to Dee for creating such a fast-paced and engrossing story.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Callie Be Gold

I still have a mound of Cybils homework to read. But I don't mind it. When else would I have steeled myself to read so many novels in such a short space of time?!!

This week's find was a debut novel by Michele Weber Hurwitz: Calli Be Gold. It was nominated for the Cybils by Jennifer Wharton. (All opinions are my own and are not meant to reflect the opinions of the entire judging panel.)

Opening lines: "The way I look at it, you can divide all the people in the world into two categories: the loud ones who shout about who they are and what they do, and the quiet ones who just are and do."

The Story: Calli Gold is in 5th grade, the youngest of three siblings. Her brother is a basketball star. Her sister is in a highly competitive synchronized skating team. And her parents live vicariously through their successful children, because the are GOLDS!!

Callie can't find her place in this family. During the past two years, she's tried "gymnastics, ballet, soccer, baton twirling, violin, and even origami... (and been) a big disappointment in everything." Her dad says she'll make her mark (after all, she's a Gold), but Callie isn't sure.

It turns out that Callie's special talent is for friendship. She teams up with Noah Zullo, the second-grade pariah, in her school's Peer Helper Program, and together they have the most successful booth in the show. Callie has made her mark, after all.

Why I Loved This Book: Callie's voice. First person present is hard to pull off, and Hurwitz does a masterful job. And the humor. This book is funny, but also has loads of heart. If you have a tender-hearted 5th grader of your own, this would be a super-duper novel for them to enjoy.

Michele Weber Hurwitz has a great website, where you can learn about her favorite color, her family, and her road to publication. Check it out HERE.

(I do plan a Thanksgiving post, but just in case the Don makes me cook dinner for the entire clan, I'll say an early HAPPY THANKSGIVING to you all now. Thanks for making Middle Grade Mafioso part of your reading life.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

YAY!! C. Alexander London's Got A Book Birthday Today!!

A while back, the Don and I were captivated by C. Alexander London's We Are Not Eaten By Yaks. (See my interview with the author HERE.)

Now, to paraphrase the Goodreads blurb, siblings Oliver and Celia Navel are on another adventure, We Dine With Cannibals, traveling from the ruins of ancient temples to the shadowy forests of the Amazon. They'll need all their reality TV survival skills when they ride a llama, race the rapids, and even fly an airplane! If that's not enough excitement for you (it is decidedly too much excitement for Oliver and Celia), they'll be forced to learn the proper etiquette for a cannibal feast and confront the strangest and most brutal rite of passage ever devised by human imagination: dodgeball.

To celebrate his book birthday, C. Alexander London is teaming up with SMITH Magazine’s Six-Word Memoir Project and wants to know about your most accidental adventure. (Further details HERE) He'll be selecting a random mini-memoirist to win a Kindle!! Don Vito's 6-worder: Purveyor of fine Italian concrete galoshes. Oy Vey!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: NERD CAMP

Nerd Camp by Elissa Brent Weissman (Atheneum, 2011) Nominated for the Cybils by Jennifer Donovan of 5 Minutes for Books. (All opinions are my own and are not meant to reflect the opinions of the entire judging panel.)
Isn't this a great cover? Letters made from books, protractors, electrical circuits, and a campfire broken into chemical constituents. 10-year-old Gabe loves learning and logic, and he is super excited about going to the Summer Centre for Gifted Enrichment. Until, that is, he meets his hip, cool, and soon-to-be stepbrother, Zack.

Zack thinks kids who want to study over the summer are geeks and nerds. In his desire to impress Zack, Gabe does all he can to cover the fact that he too is spending six precious weeks at "nerd camp." The novel traces Gabe's growth from a kid who is worried about what people think of him, to a kid who embraces his intellect and is proud of his geek-hood.

I loved this sweet story, and empathized completely with Gabe. Too many high-achieving kids endure putdowns like "nerd" and "geek"--but, come on folks, we know who really runs the world after high school. Bill Gates would have thrived at a camp like this.

Elissa Brent Weissman is a writer to watch. You can find more about her at her cool website, HERE.

(Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, the brainchild of Shannon Messenger, makes Mondays truly marvelous. You can find other MMGMers at my sidebar. And Happy Reading!!)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Gary Paulsen: Not Just A Hatchet Man

Introducing Two Books by Gary Paulsen:

Liar, Liar: The Theory, Practice, and Destructive Properties of Deception
(Wendy Lamb Books, 2011) Nominated for The Cybils by Mary McKenna Siddals. (All opinions are my own and are not meant to reflect the opinions of the entire judging panel.)

Story: Kevin doesn't mean to make trouble when he lies. He's just really good at it, and it makes life so much easier. But as his lies pile up, he finds himself in big—and funny—trouble with his friends, family, and teachers. He's got to find a way to end his lying streak—forever.


Flat Broke: The Theory, Practice, and Destructive Properties of Greed
(Wendy Lamb Books, 2011) Nominated for the Cybils by Kristy.

Story: Kevin struggled to overcome his knack for lying in Liar, Liar, and now he's back for another round of mayhem and misunderstandings in this financial comedy of errors. In Kevin, Gary Paulsen has created an appealing teen boy character who is just as human and fallible as his readers.

The Mafioso's Take: Gary Paulsen could write a shopping list on the back of a brown paper bag, and I'd still pay good money to read it. He has incredible range--from Hatchet to Harris and Me--and these two slim volumes didn't disappoint.

The covers, however, might suggest they are for younger readers. They are not. Kevin, the MC, is an 8th-grader, besotted by The World's Most Beautiful Girl, Tina Zabinski. In order to show Tina he's date-worthy, Kevin concocts all kinds of schemes. In Liar, Liar it's all a web of lies. In Flat Broke, he starts a house-cleaning business, a baking business, and runs several poker games. Kevin's voice is exuberant, and he bases all his strategies on his reading of military campaigns and business books. Of course we readers know he's going to come a cropper, which is part of the fun.

Kevin has a family which is intact, yet flawed, and a best friend, JonPaul, who is a germaphobe jock (funny, even though it stretches credulity.) Kevin also babysits a four-year-old called Markie who calls Kevin "Dutchdeefuddy" which means "best most favorite buddy in the world forever." It's touches like this that make this an ultimately heart-warming series.

Highly recommended for 5th grade on up. (These would be great titles for reluctant boy readers in the middle grades, too.)

For other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday reviews, please see the excellent bloggers on my sidebar. Happy Reading!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Come To The Party...

...over at PROJECT MAYHEM today.

I'm joined by five of my fave bloggers: Natalie Aguirre, Robyn Campbell, Barbara Watson, Joanne Fritz, and Brooke Favero, discussing their top historical middle grade reads.

And the post starts off with a bang, in honour of poor old Guy Fawkes. Come on over, the popcorn's popped!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Trauma Queen

Trauma Queen by Barbara Dee (Aladdin, 2011)
Nominated for the Cybils by Danielle Smith of There's A Book (All opinions are my own and are not meant to reflect the opinions of the entire judging panel.)

The Story (from Amazon copy): Every tween girl thinks her mom is embarrassing at some point or another. But Marigold, whose mother is a performance artist, is different: She knows her mom is embarrassing. In fact, her mother’s last stunt caused such a ruckus that her family had to move. But if her mother made waves as a performance artist in their last town, the boat really starts rocking when she lands a job as the drama teacher at Marigold’s new school. Now instead of hearing rumors about her wacky artist mother, all the kids will know instantly exactly how weird her mom really is. Which leaves Marigold wondering: Is there a friendship that can survive her mother?

The Mafioso's Take: Okay, folks. I'll be blunt. If I weren't a Cybils panelist, the chances of me picking up this book and cracking open the cover would have been, well, absolutely nil. I mean, I hang out in a hive of testosterone here. The only trauma the Don cares to notice is the failure of one of his men to bust an opponent's kneecap. Roses on stages and pretty pink sweater vests? So not gangster.

Which all goes to prove that you should NEVER, EVER judge a book by its cover. People, I LOVED THIS BOOK (even though I had to read it wedged behind a copy of The Hunger Games, the Don's book of the moment.) Barbara Dee's Marigold is pitch perfect tween--from the opening scene where she's hiding out in the school bathroom in her yellow flannel monkey p.j.s because scatty Mom misread the calendar and thought it was Spirit Week/Pajama Day, to the glorious end when... Well, I don't want to spoil the ending for you. Read this book yourself to find out why it's so glorious.

I laughed. And yes, folks, I cried. So it's official: the Middle Grade Mafioso is now the Middle Grade Marshmallow.

If I didn't have a hundred other Cybils books to read, I'd scoop up any other of Barbara Dee's titles (THIS IS ME FROM NOW ON, SOLVING ZOE, and JUST ANOTHER DAY IN MY INSANELY REAL LIFE) in a heartbeat. If you want to learn more about Barbara Dee, you can visit her website here.

And now, off to read 'em and weep (some more.)

LOADS of other good MMGM love from the bloggerific bloggers on my sidebar. Also, the marvelous Natalie Aguirre is interviewing author Anna Staniszewski and giving away an ARC of MY VERY UNFAIRY TALE LIFE (which I've heard is hilarious). Click HERE for all the fun.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday--Calvin Coconut: Hero of Hawaii

Calvin Coconut: Hero of Hawaii by Graham Salisbury (Wendy Lamb Books, 2011)
This book is a Cybils nominee, nominated by Deb Nance at Readerbuzz (All opinions are my own and are not meant to reflect the opinions of the entire judging panel.)

Middle grade fiction, as my current Cybils reading marathon is showing me, runs the gamut. "Lower" MG could be read by a 2nd or 3rd grader, while the "Upper" range ("Tween") appeals to upper elementary and middle school. I tend to prefer the tween (must be my mafioso blood), but there are some wonderful tales for the younger part of the age range too.

Amazon gives Calvin Coconut: Hero of Hawaii a reading level of age 9-12, but I think it would appeal to a younger age group too.

The Story:Calvin's younger sister, Darci, is just about to turn seven, and the Coconuts (the name comes from Calvin's lounge singer father, Little Johnny Coconut, who lives on the mainland with his new wife) are planning a party. But a hurricane intervenes.

Why I liked it: Graham Salisbury does an excellent job of portraying Calvin's emotions about the storm. While the adults are fretting, Calvin is thinking "Yee-haw!" Pounding rain, lightning, and a rising river are all "awesome!" Calvin and his friends sneak into the storm, but disaster strikes and Willy is swept out to sea. There is a truly awesome, heart-pounding scene with Calvin trying to rescue his friend. (If you writers want to learn how to write a fast, action-packed scene, study this one!)

It won't give anything away (after all, the title is "Hero of Hawai'i) to reveal that Calvin is indeed heroic. And the book ends in a heartwearming way, with Darci's postponed party taking place and Calvin giving his little sister the best birthday present ever.

More about the Author: There are several other Calvin Coconut books, which I intend to read when I've done my Cybils reading. For now, you might want to get to know the author, Graham Salisbury, who lives in OREGON!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Shannon Messenger's Sparkly New Contest

Shannon's Author Photo

I have been shouting for over a week, scaring the kids and the Don's cats, at the news of Shannon Messenger's book deal. I mean, she's the reverend mother of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, which is the only reason I can think of for her ability to keep such a saintly silence about her good fortune for OVER FIVE MONTHS!!

Anyway, in honor of her news, Shannon is having a contest. Huge prizes are involved. You can read all about it, and enter it here--and see Shannon transformed into a genie to boot.

Just tell her The Don sent you.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: A Long Walk to Water

A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park (Clarion, 2011)
This book is a Cybils nominee, nominated by Amy at Hope is the Word. (All opinions are my own and are not meant to reflect the opinions of the entire judging panel.)

As it says on the front cover, this short novel is based on a true story. It is the amazing, inspiring tale of one of the "Lost Boys" of the Sudan, Salva Dut, who escaped warfare, trekked through deserts, and survived the chaos of refugee camps to eventually come to America and become the founder of the non-profit, Water for Sudan.

The novel intersperses chapters from the perspective of a young girl called Nya, who lives in South Sudan in 2008, and Salva who flees an attack on his school in 1985.

Nya's story: In order to find clean water, Nya has to walk miles twice a day. In her village, there is no school and children often sicken and die from muddy, disease-bearing water. Eventually, a man from a different tribe comes to her village and brings men and equipment to dig a well. Now, the villagers can also build a school.

That man is Salva Dut. The chapters about his struggles to survive as an 11-year-old in wartorn Southern Sudan are both horrendous and breathtakingly beautiful. Horrendous because of all the losses of life Salva encounters, but uplifting because of his indomitable spirit of survival.

Linda Sue Park writes the story in a spare, almost matter-of-fact way (although she is great at cliffhangers at the end of chapters.) I can see this as a book that could be read in classrooms to open American children's eyes to what is going on in the wider world. Of course, it would also be wonderful to read as a family as a springboard to discuss how to help others.

At several moments during the reading of A Long Walk to Water, I had tears in my eyes.

Thanks for stopping by. You can read other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday reviews on the blogs on my sidebar. (And HUGE congratulations to Shannon Messenger who started all this Middle Grade Monday Mirth and Mayhem for her BOOK DEAL!!!!!!)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Thank you, Shannon O'Donnell

The Don is chuffed. I'm speechless (for once).


Because of all the nice things the wonderful Shannon O'Donnell said about us on her Pay-It-Forward blog entry today.

I am actually participating in the Blogfest, but over at the mothership, The Year of Writing Dangerously.

The Don has just learned about that. He's a little less chuffed now. (He's always going on about betrayal and such. Apparently he's now wondering whether Shannon O'Donnell should be the real Middle Grade Mafioso...)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Romeo and Juliet Code

First off, I have an important announcement. My inaugural post for Project Mayhem is today. Please, if you have a moment during your Marvelous Monday Meanderings, I would love it if you would pop over there to say "hi!"

And, with that out of the way, let's turn to the book of the moment, Phoebe Stone's The Romeo and Juliet Code (Scholastic/Levine 2011)
Unless you have just spent the last week and a half homesteading under a rock, you probably have heard me trumpeting about being a first round judge of the Cybils. So far, 104 realistic middle grade novels have been nominated (there's a separate category for fantasy/sci-fi) and so I and my fellow panelists have been wearing out our eyeballs reading.

One of my faves in the vast tide is The Romeo and Juliet Code. Here are the opening lines: "I was always told that my dad, Danny, loved danger. I was told that he was a bit reckless and daring. And that's just the way he pulled the car up into the sandy driveway at my grandmother's house in Maine. We could see the ocean below us crashing and pounding against the jagged rocks. Danny seemed to put the brakes on just at the edge of the cliff."

It's a great opening for a book that is about "being at the edge of a cliff." Set in 1941, the United States is just months from being sucked into the world war. The narrator, 11-year-old Felicity Bathburn Budwig, is being brought from England (her mother, Winnie, is English) to escape war-torn London. Her relatives, the eccentric Bathburn clan, have all sorts of secrets and mysteries and that is what drives the book's engine. Why is Uncle Gideon so angry at his brother Danny? Who is the mysterious Captain Derek, and why is his room off-limits in the Bathburn house. There's a strong steak of The Secret Garden in all this, and Flissy (as her grandmother nicknames her) becomes something of an expert in Frances Hodgson Burnett.

I couldn't put this book down. (As an English expat, I'm a sucker for books dealing with an English person's experience in the U.S.) Flissy is given to much generalization about the British ("British children on the whole never hide or snitch or lie...) And there is also a code that has to do with Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (and I love my Shakespeare.)

My only question really is whether this book, beloved by me, would be popular with today's American teen, for whom 1941 might as well be 1541. I think the publisher must have had similar qualms, because the cover is misleading in its modernity (pink and black Converse in the 1940s? And, heavens forfend, Flissy is not the kind of girl to wear sneakers.) Nevertheless, if you have a reader who loves a good mystery, I would definitely give it a try.

I'm looking forward to reading other MMGMer's reviews. You can find their blogs on my sidebar!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Pickles--The New Vampire-Zombies?

Clouds scud over the moon. Floorboards creek as the bedroom door clicks open. Something slithers towards the bed. Bella moans in her sleep. Vinegar. Yes, the smell of vinegar assaults her nose, startling her awake. An enormous green monster rears up, fangs bared. A vampire-zombie pickle. It lunges for her throat...

Well, I don't think Vampire-Zombie Pickles are really going to catch on, but if they do I'll be right there, ready to jump on the bandwagon. As it is, at least for this week's MMGM, Pickles Abound:

We have Eric Wight's Frankie Pickle and the Mathematical Menace, Julie Sternberg's Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie, and Eli Stutz's Pickle Impossible. A veritable pickle cornucopia for you all!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Sleepin' With The Fishes? The Don's Reaction To My News

(MGMafioso enters the room. The Don is eating cannoli. MGM is upset to see another person in the room: internet-fiend, Luca Brasi Jr. This can only mean trouble.)

MGM: You wanted to see me, Godfather?

The Don: (licking his fingers) Ahh, Michele. Good of you to make time to see your old Godfather. How is the blogging going?

MGM: Great, Godfather. We have 56 Mafiosi following us, and a bunch of comments, and...

The Don: (Holding up a hand) Luca here intercepted an e-mail meant for you.

MGM: (thinking "uhoh") Hey Luca. You enjoying Twitter?

Luca crosses to Don Corleone and slides a paper in front of him, then gives MGM a smug smile. The Don picks up the paper and makes a show of reading it.

The Don: Michele, what does 'mayhem' mean?

Luca: I can answer that, Godfather. "Crazy fun."

The Don, pressing his fingertips together: "So, you two-timing us, Michele? After all we've done for you, this is how you repay us?

Luca: Can I have his job now, Boss?

The Don: Luca, Luca. Haven't I always told you, patience? Let's hear what Michele has to say first."

MGM: You know, Godfather. If Luca here intercepted an e-mail, I didn't see it. Capice? I don't know what any of this means.

The Don: You've always been a clever one, Michele. That why those Project Crazy Fun people want you?

MGM: Project Mayhem, boss. Other top-grade writers. We're all in this together.

They're all in this together, ya know

Luca: Don't ya be getting all High School Musical in front of the Boss.

MGM, ignoring Luca: It's just another family, Godfather. Think; together we can rule the blogosphere.

Luca: The Godfather don't like no other familes, capice. The Godfather..."

The Don, holding up a hand: Quiet, Luca. Michele, you think these guys can do business with the famiglia?

MGM: Do business? They are the business. And another thing, Godfather... (MGM hands the Godfather another piece of paper. The Don studies it for a moment.)

The Don: Who's this Cybil dame? She got any money?

MGM: I dunno, Godfather. But I'm a round one judge of the top-grade novels this year. We'll be famous.

Luca: NO!!!!!!

The Don, giving Luca "the eye": You mean, these writers will be coming to us...

MGM: ...Cap in hand.

The Don: Any of these guys rich?

MGM: Rich in words.

The Don calls out to someone outside the room: "Clemenza. Come in here. You need to take Luca fishin' this morning."

Luca (screams): No, Boss. Please. I was only trying to protect your interests. Give me the Twitter account. I'll make it up to you.

The Don watches as several burly men enter the room and drag Luca away: Ah, that Luca Jr. Nothin' like his old dad. I miss the good old days, Michele."

MGM: But these are the good new days, Godfather. (He lugs a bag containing a pile of middle grade novels out from behind him.) Look, new books.

The Don: Any more from the Yak guy?

MGM:  Signore London? We have to wait for November 15th for him.

The Don nods, making a note in his planner: Okay, what you waitin' for? Let's get readin'.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Monday, September 26, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Rat Brain Fiasco

The Rat Brain Fiasco (Splurch Academy for Disruptive Boys #1) by Julie Gardner Berry and Sally Faye Gardner (Grosset and Dunlap 2010)
The Story (thanks to Goodreads copywriters):
When Cody Mack is called to the principal's office yet again, he finds something far worse than detention awaiting him: Splurch Academy, a frightfully sinister boarding school for disobedient children run by a group of monstrous teachers.

Wonderful Things About This Book: This would be a great read for a "reluctant reader." (Or an unreluctant one, come to that!) It sprang to mind when my wife told me about a conversation she recently had with a woman at church.  The woman's grandson, who is ten, is struggling with reading. What would a Middle Grade Mafioso's wife suggest? (The Mafioso himself must have been at the doughnut table and giving off unapproachable vibes.)

The great thing about this book and its ilk is the way it marries text with cartoon-style illustrations. And the plot is super fun: there are the disruptive boys and their various shenanigans, and a staff of monsters who are trying to tame the boys through a hideous experiment. Cody Mack is spunky, yet the antagonists have plenty of tricks up their vampire sleeves too. Plus, there's a spectacular car-bursting-through-a-garage-door scene!!

The series is written and illustrated by a couple of sisters. Three other books have already been pubbed: #2 Curse of the Bizarro Beetle; #3 The Collosal Fossil Freakout; and #4 The Trouble with Squids. More about the books and their authors can be found at their Splurch Academy website

Recommended for readers 8 and above.

(The winners of last week's We Are Not Eaten By Yaks are revealed in the post below this one.)

And the WINNERS Are....

Through the magic of, the winner of the signed copy is...

Mrs. Duff

and the winner of my copy is...

Lisa Ricard Claro

I'll be in touch for your addresses.

Thanks so much to everyone who entered. The Don and I love you all.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Don's Goin' All-Out

The Boss has never been accused of subtlety. And he's become pretty obsessed with our blog stats, muttering things like "gotta rub out the competition." I tell him that we're all middle "top" grade friends, but old gangster habits die hard, I guess.

The latest: Don Vito's opened the petty cash box and sent me off to the local indie, Annie Bloom's, where I snagged the last copy of We Are Not Eaten by Yaks.
Youse gotta read this!

I've been instructed that if we hit 26 comments or over (lucky number 13 times 2), there will be a

second lucky winner.

So tell your friends. (Or not. 'Cos if we fail, I get to keep the copy.)

Here's what you must do: Comment at the original post. Multiple comments are welcome; just don't froth at the mouth. Contest will close on Sunday September 25 at midnight, PST. Ciao!!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: We Are Not Eaten By Yaks--and a GIVEAWAY

Greetings! The Don is still basking in all the attention we received for featuring Chris Rylander and The Fourth Stall a while back. He’s even promised me my own gondola when we visit Venice, although there was some subsequent muttering about my predecessor (a “doity rat”) whose gondola developed a mysterious and rapid leak and who is now sleeping with the Venetian fishes. Oh well, that guy never had a blog with which to entertain the Boss!

Onwards. It is with great pleasure that I want to introduce you now to the insanely adventurous and hugely talented C. Alexander London. I read his debut, We are Not Eaten By Yaks, to the Don’s grandson, as a cautionary tale about watching too much TV. I caught Grandpa Vito listening in and laughing uproariously.
What is this fantastic book about? Here's the Goodreads blurb: Eleven-year-old twins Oliver and Celia Navel live on the 4-1/2th floor of the Explorers Club with their father, Dr. Navel. Their mother, Dr. Navel, has been missing for years. So when an explorer shows up with a clue as to where his wife could be, Dr. Navel drags Oliver and Celia to Tibet to find her. Once there, the twins fall out of airplanes, encounter Yetis, travel through waterfalls, and end up in the Demon Fortress of the Warrior King where they - just possibly - might find their mother and save their father from the Poison Witches. Thing is, they would much rather be watching television. And if their trip doesn't work out as planned, the twins could end up as slaves to Sir Edmund Thitheltorpe III, an evil explorer with breath that smells like boiled carrots, who has it in for the whole Navel family.

Mr. London has kindly agreed to answer a few questions (and there could be a GIVEAWAY!) So, here we go:

Friday, September 16, 2011

What Makes A Bestseller?

What makes a bestseller? The Don and I want to know.

The Don on a fact-finding mission
(We do a lot of whispering in his ear)

I started pondering this question after my 5-year-old steered me into the book section of Fred Meyer (a store in the Kroger stable for those of you not in the Pacific Northwest.)

"Freddy's" prides itself on being a "one-stop shopping" kind of place. Most of the square footage is taken up by groceries, but there's also an Electronics section, toys, and clothing. As for books, it features the kind of books that make the New York Times bestseller list (as well as books about Superman, Toy Story, and Thomas the Tank Engine--which were on the shelves my youngest was casing.)

While youngest tried to convince me to buy him a Toy Story Goldenbook, I did a quick perusal of the MG/YA shelves. The Freddy's book buyer must love The Ranger's Apprentice, because there were a number of those in stock. Also something by James Patterson (I believe he's cloned himself and now writes several books a day.) Then, to my delight, I saw my recently reviewed Turtle in Paradise, by Jennifer L. Holm. As well as Moon Over Manifest (which I haven't read yet, but I bet is at Freddy's because it won some little prize, like the Newbery.)

Then there was this novel which has lately been getting a lot of press:

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

So Excited!!!!!!!

Have you ever had a boss from whose good side you dared not stray? A boss whose motto was "don't get mad, get even?"

That's my boss.


The boss likes two things: middle-grade Italian authors and humor. Well, middle-grade Italian authors are in short supply (though I'm trying hard to convince him that America's greatest living middle-grade author's name is actually Ricardo Peckorini). But humor isn't.

Those of you who follow this blog know that last month I raved over Rylander. And now, I'm laughing loudly over London.

C. Alexander London, to be exact. Yes, the very same author of the hilarious new series, An Accidental Adventure.

I'll be interviewing Signore London next Monday for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday. And he has very kindly offered a signed copy  (plus a "super secret surprise item") to one lucky blog commenter.

We go live on Monday the 19th. Hope to see you there.

Ciao from Michale Gettelini-Gilmartini

Monday, September 12, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Born Too Short

Born Too Short: The Confessions of an Eighth Grade Basket Case by Dan Elish (Atheneum, 2002)

What caught my eye first: The title. And man, who wasn't a basket case in 8th grade?!

The story (thanks to Amazon's copywriters):
What do you do if your best friend is Keith Livingston? Keith -- who practically needs a chart to keep track of his babes. Keith -- the stud/athlete/Adonis of Hannaford School in New York City.
Well, for starters, if you're like Matt Greene, a 5'1" nerd who has never made out, you suffer.
When Keith's eighth-grade musical, Star Crossed, is a smash, Matt can't take it anymore. Blowing off steam on the corner of Eighty-first Street and Columbus, he wishes his buddy's life would fall completely apart.
Sound serious? As Matt's story shows, the insane, gut-wrenching jealousy of a non-stud/non-athlete/non-Adonis basket case can be wildly funny.

Wonderful thing about this book: Elish does a great job with teen-speak. Also, I totally believed the feelings of jealousy Matt had for his best friend, Keith. After all, Matt wants to have all the girls adoring him. But with Keith around, it's not going to happen.

Caveat: I prefer my middle grade on the "upper/tween" side, and this one certainly fits the bill. Personally, I'm not a prude, and I know that teens are getting up to some devious stuff, but it might concern some readers that Matt drinks a couple of beers at a party (without too much of a consequence, I might add--the kid doesn't even seem to have much of a hangover), and that there are a couple of references to things like "whacking off" and other sexual stuff. I'd say this would be a good one for 7th-8th graders, and it wouldn't be a bad thing to read it with your child and use it to discuss views on teen drinking and sex.
If you want to learn more about Dan Elish, here's his website. He sounds like a multi-talented sort of fellow.

(I'll be making a mid-week announcement about a very exciting MMGM for next Monday--so keep your Google Reader in top working order!)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Escaping the Giant Wave

Escaping the Giant Wave by Peg Kehret (Simon and Schuster, 2003)

What caught my eye first: The eyes, above the giant wave on the cover. Also, the title, given this year's horrendous tsunami in Japan, and the ever-present danger of tsunami on the Oregon coast. (After Turtle in Paradise, my last week's MMGM, with its hurricane, perhaps I'm in a bit of a natural disaster rut!)

The story (thanks to Goodreads copywriters): The Worst Vacation Ever! Thirteen year old Kyle thought spending a vacation on the Oregon coast with his family would be great. Kyle's perfect vacation becomes a nightmare while he's babysitting his sister, BeeBee. An earthquake hits the coast and starts a fire in their hotel. Can Kyle and BeeBee out wit and outrun nature's fury to save themselves from tsunami terror?

Wonderful things about this book: a) The disaster factor. Peg Kehret throws her characters into the most terrifying situations (an earthquake, a hotel fire, and then not one but TWO tsunami). If you want to see how to write this sort of action scene, in which the characters are faced with life-or-death situations, study how Kehret does it. She's a master.

b) Characterization. Kyle, the narrator, is dealing with bullying and, through his successful saving of himself and his sister, is able to face down the bully. His younger sister, BeeBee, is a financial wunderkind--and her characterization is done with a deft comic touch.

Verdict: This is another swift read. Both girls and boys (grades 4-6) would enjoy it--the kid reviewers on Goodreads were very complimentary. The only caveat is that it is very realistic, and might potentially frighten the more tender-hearted reader to the point of ocean aversion.

Hooray for Peg Kehret! I'll definitely seek out more of her books. You can find out more about her on her website and her blog.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Turtle in Paradise

Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm (Random House, 2010)

What caught my eye first (because I'm so shallow): The title! I mean, who the heck is this Turtle, and what is he/she doing in Paradise? Also, the writer is Jennifer L. Holm, revered in this household as one of the authors (with her brother, Matt) of the Babymouse series. (No, I did not choose the book because this week has been Hurricane Irene week, and there's also a hurricane in this novel...)

Wonderful things about this book: a) The character of Turtle. As the front flap says: "Life isn't like the movies, and eleven-year-old Turtle is no Shirley Temple. She's smart and tough and has seen enough of the world not to expect a Hollywood ending."
b) The time period. It's 1935 and times are tough. (But, in a strange way, the book has a timeless feel to it.)

c) Setting. Key West, Florida. The residents are called "Conches," and everyone knows everyone else's business.

d) The opening lines: "Everyone thinks children are sweet as Necco Wafers, but I've lived long enough to know the truth: kids are rotten. The only difference between grown-ups and kids is that grown-ups go to jail for murder. Kids get away with it." Voice, voice, voice.

The story (thanks to Goodreads copywriters):

Inspired by family stories, two-time Newbery Honor winner and New York Times bestselling author Jennifer L. Holm beautifully blends family lore with America's past in this charming gem of a novel, rich in historical detail, humor, and the unique flavors of Key West.

Life isn't like the movies, and eleven-year-old Turtle is no Shirley Temple. She's smart and tough and has seen enough of the world not to expect a Hollywood ending. After all, it's 1935, and jobs and money and sometimes even dreams are scarce. So when Turtle's mama gets a job housekeeping for a lady who doesn't like kids, Turtle says goodbye without a tear and heads off to Key West, Florida, to stay with relatives she's never met.

Florida's like nothing Turtle has ever seen. It's hot and strange, full of wild green peeping out between houses, ragtag boy cousins, and secret treasure. Before she knows what's happened, Turtle finds herself coming out of the shell she has spent her life building, and as she does, her world opens up in the most unexpected ways.

Verdict: This is another swift read. Both girls and boys would enjoy it--the spunky Turtle has a band of boy cousins who get into continual scrapes, including being stranded on a Key while searching for buried treasure during the afore-mentioned hurricane. Hooray for Jennifer L. Holm!

Other MMGMers:
Please check out my sidebar for reviews by the usual suspects. New to the fold are:

 - Ishta Mercurio makes her MMGM debut with a feature on JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW--with a GIVEAWAY! Go HERE for all the details.
- The awesome Elana Johnson also joins the MMGM fun, featuring JANITORS. Click HERE to see why you need to read it too.
Happy MMGM, folks!!

Friday, August 26, 2011


First of all, a HUGE thank you to everyone who commented during the giveway for Chris Rylander's The Fourth Stall. You blew the Middle Grade Mafioso comment record (which was lucky number 13) out of the water. (If you were a first time visitor, I hope you'll stop by again. It was fun meeting you.)

And now, without further ado: the winner of The Fourth Stall, as chosen by is:

A copy will soon be winging Mary's way.

As for the rest of us, the Don enjoyed himself so much he's sending me to Vegas and demanding I hold another giveaway soon. So keep your eyes and ears open.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Fourth Stall--and a GIVEAWAY!!!!!

Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls: I am so very excited today. This Marvelous Middle Grade Monday sees my first ever interview with an author, the ferociously funny and supremely talented Chris Rylander. Chris very graciously gave his time to deal with my gushing e-mails and breathless interview questions about his debut novel, The Fourth Stall, so a huge thank you to him.

Before we proceed, you all must know: I LOVE THIS BOOK!!!
Don't ya just love the hand with the toilet paper?

More importantly, so does my 14-year-old son. Right now, if you can get him to read anything other than Uncle John's Bathroom Reader, or Game Informer and Rolling Stone magazines, I have a medal I'd like to present to you. So the fact that he read The Fourth Stall and even did a book report on it has me falling to my knees and praising the heavens for Chris Rylander.

The heavens-be-praised author himself

What is this book about? Here's the blurb from Goodreads:

Chris Rylander delivers a funny Ferris Bueler-style middle grade novel with The Fourth Stall.

Do you need something? Mac can get it for you. It's what he does—he and his best friend and business manager, Vince. Their methods might sometimes run afoul of the law, or at least the school code of conduct, but if you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can pay him, Mac is on your side. His office is located in the East Wing boys' bathroom, fourth stall from the high window. And business is booming.

Or at least it was, until one particular Monday. It starts with a third grader in need of protection. And before this ordeal is over, it's going to involve a legendary high school crime boss named Staples, an intramural gambling ring, a graffiti ninja, the nine most dangerous bullies in school, and the first Chicago Cubs World Series game in almost seventy years. And that's just the beginning. Mac and Vince soon realize that the trouble with solving everyone else's problems is that there's no one left to solve yours.
Here's my interview with Chris. At the end, there's going to be a GIVEAWAY (another first here at MGM!!)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Archer's Quest

Archer's Quest by Linda Sue Park
(Clarion, 2006)

What caught my eye first (because I'm so shallow): The cover! I mean, how could I pass up a book cover with a guy (I thought it was a girl at first, but never mind) riding a tiger and pointing an arrow at a shocked-looking boy!!!

Wonderful things about this book: a) Time travel. My first novel is a time-travel. I love it!

b) The main character, Kevin, is Korean-American. I am a huge multi-cultural fan.

c) Quick bit of info for writers here. It's written in close third person. If you want to see how it's done masterfully, study this book.

The story (thanks to Goodreads copywriters): Twelve-year-old Kevin is quietly doing homework when an arrow rudely interrupts his studies. The surprises escalate when this ordinary kid realizes that the offending archer is Chu-mong, an ancient Korean king who has catapulted through time, and that history will be changed unless the errant monarch can be returned the past. A believable time-travel story by a Newbery Medal winner.

Yup, folks: this has action (arrows, leaping into a tiger's den at the zoo), humor (King Chu-mong thinks cars are powered by dragons), and heart. Meeting Chu-mong brings Kevin closer to his Korean ancestry. He gains a greater appreciation of his own dad in the process. It's a swift read, and would be suitable for 4th graders and above, particularly those interested in other cultures and history.

Well, it's a wrap. It's good to be back among you. If you want to know what I've been up to vacationwise, the story is on my other blog, The Year of Writing Dangerously.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Mon Dieu! Here I was thinking I was Superman and could manage it all.

How wrong I was!

My family from England has come to stay for two weeks, and then our family is going away for a week into the wilderness. I thought I could blog my truncated summer schedule, but I can't even do that. I'm behind on my Marvelous Middle Grade Monday reading. Finally, to compound matters, I can barely read anyone else's blog, let alone comment.

So, after much wailing and gnashing of teeth, I've decided to dim the lights for three weeks. After all, what little time I have has to be devoted to my work-in-progress, right?

I'll be back at the beginning of August, refreshed and reinvigorated, just about the same time as Don Vito returns from Sicily.

See you all then.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The MGM Wishes You a Happy Independence Day


My third 4th of July as a U.S. citizen (although I've lived here for 21 years.) Here, in celebration, are some quotes about the land I am proud to call home:

This country will not be a good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a good place for all of us to live in. ~Theodore Roosevelt

When an American says that he loves his country, he means not only that he loves the New England hills, the prairies glistening in the sun, the wide and rising plains, the great mountains, and the sea. He means that he loves an inner air, an inner light in which freedom lives and in which a man can draw the breath of self-respect. ~Adlai Stevenson

I just don't know why they're shooting at us. All we want to do is bring them democracy and white bread. Transplant the American dream. Freedom. Achievement. Hyperacidity. Affluence. Flatulence. Technology. Tension. The inalienable right to an early coronary sitting at your desk while plotting to stab your boss in the back. ~Hawkeye, M*A*S*H, "O.R."


Let America realize that self-scrutiny is not treason. Self-examination is not disloyalty. ~Richard Cardinal Cushing

Intellectually I know that America is no better than any other country; emotionally I know she is better than every other country. ~Sinclair Lewis

(No Marvelous Middle Grade Monday today. Be back next week.)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Horton Halfpott

Horton Halfpott or The Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor or The Loosening of M'Lady Luggertuck's Corset (by Tom Angleberger, Amulet 2011)

From Goodreads: Tom Angleberger's latest, loopiest middle-grade novel begins when M'Lady Luggertuck loosens her corset (it's never been loosened before!), thereby setting off a chain of events in which all the strict rules of Smugwick Manor are abandoned. When, as a result of "the Loosening," the precious family heirloom, the Luggertuck Lump (quite literally a lump), goes missing, the Luggertucks look for someone to blame. Is it Horton Halfpott, the good-natured but lowly kitchen boy who can't tell a lie? Or one of the many colorful cast members in this silly romp of a mystery.

Opening Lines: "There are so many exciting things in this book--a Stolen Diamond, snooping stable boys, a famous detective, the disappearance of a Valuable Wig, love, pickle eclairs, unbridled Evil, and the Black Deeds of the Shipless Pirates--that it really does seem a shame to begin with ladies' underwear."

My Review: Tom Angleberger is a funny man. My eldest (then 13) fought over who would read The Strange Case of Origami Yoda first. (He won). Horton Halfpott is very different in style and subject matter from Yoda, but has the same spirit of inventiveness and clever use of language.

Whereas Origami Yoda was set in a modern middle school, Horton Halpott takes place in what I would guess is 19th century England. (Angleberger claims Charles Dickens as an inspiration. And I seem to be on a Dickensian England kick--as my book choice of a couple of weeks ago, The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, was also set in this era.)

In another similarity with the afore-mentioned Incorrigibles, this novel has a wry and omniscient narrator, a vast cast of characters, short and speedy chapters, and fun illustrations by the author himself. In short: it's a ROMP!

If your middle grade reader likes a not too demanding funny bone tickle, Horton Halfpott would be a most excellent choice.

H.R.H. Shannon has been in New Orleans all week. (I'm looking forward to her dispatches from ALA. Shenanigans, surely!) I'm not sure if she's doing all the linking at her blog this week. If not, you can find other MMGMers on my sidebar.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: No Passengers Beyond This Point

Title: No Passengers Beyond This Point
Author: Gennifer Choldenko (Dial Books, 2011)
From Goodreads:

Three siblings - India, Finn, and Mouse - have less than forty-eight hours to pack up all their belongings and fly, without Mom, to their uncle Red's in Colorado, after they lose their house to foreclosure. But when they land, a mysterious driver meets them at the airport, and he's never heard of Uncle Red. Like Dorothy in Oz, they find themselves in a place they've never heard of, with no idea of how to get home, and time is running out.

Opening Line: You have to wait for good things to happen--wait and wait and work so hard--but bad things occur out of the blue, like fire alarms triggered in the dead of night, blaring randomly, a shock of sound, a chatter of current from which there is no turning back."

My Review: Confession time. I haven't read Gennifer Choldenko's Al Capone books (although I have been to Alcatraz. Does that redeem me?) I know, I know: just what kind of Middle Grade Mafioso am I, really? But this cover looked alluringly shiny, so I snapped it up.

The first thing you have to know: Choldenko is a great writer. The opening line, quoted above, is lyrical--then we dive into a narrative which features not one, not two, but three first person narrators. There's 14-year-old India, who's got the sort of snotty attitude one might expect from a kid that age (I know of which I speak!) Her brother, 12-year-old Finn, is a thinker--and a little bit invisible to those around him. Little sister Mouse, all of six, is a bit of a savant, big on the solar system, and with an imaginary friend called Bing... but is he really imaginary? (Cue eerie music here).

Choldenko nails each of these voices and, in alternating chapters, reveals layer upon layer of mystery as the children deal with a strange alternate universe which moves from utopia to dystopia at a cracking pace. The clock really is ticking...

I found I couldn't put this book down. 5th graders on would love this, and there would be plenty to talk about, especially how the adventure changes the children in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. And the ending turns everything on its head.

If you're a reader, I bet you'll be carried away by the narrative's sheer drive. If you're a writer, I urge you to study this as a classic example of how multiple 1st POV works.


Other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday News:

Natalie Aguirre interviews Nathan Bransford HERE
Barbara Watson reviews Eileen Beha's Tango HERE
Joanne Fritz highlights The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness--with a giveaway! HERE 
Brooke Favero features the Goddess Girls series, with an interview with the authors. Click HERE
Shannon O' Donnell features The Guardians of the Hidden Scepter, HERE

Thursday, June 16, 2011

When The Don's Away, the Boys Will Play

The Don's beloved Sicily
(Mt. Etna in the background)
Don Vito left yesterday for his annual hols to Sicily. Not that it's been quiet here at the MGM, mind you. Because no sooner had the Don's plane swept off into the skies, then the schoolhouse doors opened and my boys came spilling out, yelling and hollering.

In an effort to protect my sanity and my novel-writing time, and with the Don no longer breathing down my neck, I'm changing my blog schedule over at the main blog. I'll be there on Tuesdays and Fridays, and will continue to post here for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday. This schedule takes effect this minute!

And in case you missed it, I'm giving away a Lands' End Polo shirt over at my other blog. You can enter HERE.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Mysterious Howling

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood.

I'm coming out and saying this upfront: I LOVE THIS NOVEL!

It's the voice, folks. A wry, omniscient narrator leads us through the story, which is set around the time of Dickens in Merrie Olde England. I was delighted by passages such as this:

In England (and in some other countries as well), the day after Christmas is called Boxing Day.

Nowadays Boxing Day is the day in which stores put all their merchandize on sale, thus giving exhausted and bankrupt shoppers the chance to stand in line for hours in hopes of saving ten percent on a new microwave oven, which, presumably, would come in a box. In Miss Penelope Lumley's day it was the occasion for small boxes of holiday presents to be distributed to the servants, and that is where the name "Boxing Day" originated.
(The bold bits are my pointing out how this kind of humor works--juxtaposing exhausted and bankrupt with the supposed excitement of standing around for a small savings on something mundane. It's in the details ("ten percent on a microwave oven").

The story is sort of Jane Eyreish. Young Penelope Lumley--she's fifteen--is plucked from "The Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females" to be the governess to a trio of "incorrigible" children who appear to have been raised by wolves and are now in the keep of Lord Fredrick Ashton, and his new bride Lady Constance.

Lord Fredrick's a bit of a dolt and keeps mainly to his club. Lady Constance is a prattler, and terrified of the children. Penelope, with the fortitude and good taste with which the Swanburne Academy has imbued her, starts to "civilize" the children (who have been given the names Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia Incorrigible by Lord Fredrick.) Lady Constance is hell-bent on giving a Christmas Party, and the children are going to be on display. Suffice it to say that mirth and squirrel-related mayhem ensue. And then we're left with the question of whether anyone's bricked up in the attic...

This is book 1 in a series. I immediately went out to get Book 2. It would be a great read-aloud (isn't anything in which one has to employ an English accent?) and would appeal to those readers who devoured Lemony Snicket and other such witty works.

To learn more about the author, Maryrose Wood, who also writes books for older teens, visit her website HERE

Here are some other MMGM bloggers with their reviews for this week. Check 'em out!

Barbara Watson continues her special MMGMM summer series by spotlighting THE MOSTLY TRUE STORY OF JACK. Click HERE to see what she thinks.

-Joanne Fritz is highlighting SECOND FIDDLE. Click HERE to read her thoughts.

-Shannon O'Donnell always has fabulous MG love going on at her blog on Mondays. Click HERE to see what she has going on today. 

- Pam Torres makes her MMGM debut with a feature on PLAIN KATE. Click HERE to see what she thinks (and welcome her to the group!) 
And then, there's always the Ringleader of MMGM, Shannon Messenger. She's reviewing book one of the Pendragon series on her blog today. Plus she has a GIVEAWAY HERE.