Monday, October 29, 2012


Time of Honor by Margo Sorenson (MuseItUp Publishing 2012)

I first "met" Margo Sorenson earlier this year, when I featured  ISLAND DANGERher fast-paced middle grade adventure set in Hawai'i:. Since then, I've come to know her as a generous writer who is always eager to celebrate the written word, as well as pass on writing tips and information via Twitter.

Margo is the author of 28 books for young readers. Having read ISLAND DANGER and TIME OF HONOR in such proximity, I have come to realize how versatile she is. While the Hawaiian adventure was modern, TIME OF HONOR travels through time from our day to 1272. Those of you who, like me, LOVE time travel and history will really enjoy this novel!

The Story (modified from the back cover): Fourteen-year-old Connor’s smart mouth gets her into and—luckily—out of trouble on her prep school’s debate team and in the classroom. Catapulted into the year 1272 while on a field trip to the U.K., she finds her noble new friends’ lives threatened by a conspiracy fueled by greed. When William and Maud learn that their father has been murdered on the Crusade, they beg Connor to help them find who is plotting against them. William must confront his enemy in battle, but Connor also discovers truths about herself and her ability to use words when she tries to save her new friends—and herself.

What I Liked: First off, what a great cover! It totally captures Connor's personality. When we first see her, she is a smart mouth, who is chafing against her domineering mother. She has, by her own admission, never been accused "of being slow to move on anything.  Rushing right into trouble was more my style." But she has used her way with words to do well on her school's debate team, and it is this skill that will serve her well at the climax of the novel.

TIME OF HONOR is also a humorous book. Margo Sorenson shifts effortlessly between Connor's modern vernacular and the formal language of the 13th century, with some juicy misunderstandings along the way. Thoroughly modern Connor also has a lot to say about the sights and smells (particularly the smells!) of medieval England--as well as its unfair treatment of women. 

The friendship between the three principals--15-year-old William who is training to be a knight; his younger sister, Maud; and Connor herself--is handled deftly. Connor is definitely interested in William, who's a bit of a heartthrob--but this is middle grade, and the feelings are never acted upon.

All in all, this is the sort of novel that, when it comes to the end, you are left wanting more!!

About Margo Sorenson: Visit Margo's website to learn more about her and her work. Follow her on Twitter @ipapaverison.

A very interesting interview about Margo and the writing of TIME OF HONOR can be found at writer C.K. Volnek's blog. Several other middle grade writers and bloggers are posting about TIME OF HONOR in the next couple of weeks, and I will link to them here once the posts are up.

Because I want you to experience Margo's writing, I have a special offer for you. Leave a comment, and I will draw a winner and send him or her a copy, purchased from MuseItUp Publishing, of TIME OF HONOR. (Tweet about it, and you'll get a bonus entry.)

To all my loyal readers facing Hurricane Sandy: Stay Safe. I'm thinking of you!!


Monday, October 22, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Stout Hearts and Whizzing Biscuits

Stout Hearts and Whizzing Biscuits: A Patria Story by Daniel McInerny (Trojan Tub Entertainment)

On my sister blog, The Year of Writing Dangerously, I wrote last week about the many recent successes that self-published authors have had with being snapped up by agents and then being republished by traditional publishing houses. It seems that an increasing number of writers are taking the self-publishing route and putting out good work which is finding a market.

Apropos to this, I recently read Stout Hearts and Whizzing Biscuits, the first volume of Daniel McInerny's Patria stories. Mr. McInerny hasn't been snapped up by a traditional press (and he may not want to be, for all I know), but he is certainly proving adept at writing both a good story and combining this with an entertaining and visually pleasing website. Folks, this sort of thing may be the shape of things to come.

The Story: The Stoop family has recently moved onto a piece of land in rural Indiana called the Cow Park. One day, while driving his father's Lawn Beast, eleven-year-old Oliver Stoop finds himself ambushed by a gang of kids, some dressed as native Americans, some as medieval knights, who claim to be Patrians, descendants of the ancient Trojans. The Cow Park is disputed territory. Initially, Oliver is pressed by his father into being a spy, but he soon comes to enjoy and appreciate the Patrian children, especially Prince Farnsworth and Princess Rose--she of the hard and whizzing biscuits. The children band together to solve one of Patria's most enduring mysteries: what happened to the treaty of alliance between the US and Patria? And can they find the missing treaty before war breaks out?

What I liked: Daniel McInerny has an appealing sense of humor and is not afraid to go full-bore at creating an eccentric cast of characters. The story zips merrily along, and young Oliver, with his bookwormy ways, is a likable MC. Also, there's quite the array of machinery--from the Lawn Beast to Farnsworth's old Studebaker--which middle graders will love. (Plus a helicopter and gunfire!) It's written in a rather formal style, reminiscent of the novel I'm currently reading with my 9-year-old: A Hero's Guide to Saving the Kingdom, which gels perfectly with the subject matter. Some of the jokes and wordplay might go over a 9-year-old's head, but I bet they'd like the energy behind it. (The young blogger at This Kid Reviews Books certainly found it so.)

More about Patria and Daniel McInerny: The Patria website is definitely worth a look. I also found an interesting interview with Daniel by Heather Kelly, at her blog Edited to Within an Inch of My Life. I must say that I find Daniel McInerny's drive and creativity inspiring!

The next volume in the Patria stories is Stoop of Mastodon Meadow. I'll be looking that one up too!


Monday, October 15, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: A Smidgen of Sky

A Smidgen of Sky by Dianna Dorisi Winget (Harcourt Children's, November 6, 2012)

The Plot (via Amazon) Whether she likes it or not, ten-year-old Piper Lee DeLuna is about to get a new family. Four years after the plane Piper's daddy was piloting disappeared, her mama is remarrying. The way Piper sees it, Mama's being plain disloyal. Besides, who'd want to get stuck with a prison guard for a stepdad and that weenie, Ginger, for a stepsister? But when Piper Lee hatches a foolproof plan to get the wedding called off, it quickly spirals out of control. And by the time Piper realizes what she’s done—and just how much she really cares about her new family—it might be too late. Told in Piper Lee's irresistible Southern voice, A Smidgen of Sky is about new families and new beginnings.

Why I Liked It:

The cover, for starters. Who doesn't like sunflowers?!

I totally believed in Piper Lee, and her voice. (In fact, I'm kind of befuddled that Dianna Dorisi Winget isn't a Southerner!) I believed in Piper's inability to accept her father's death--after all, his body was never found. I believed in her not wanting her mother to remarry. And I believed in her attempts to get her potential step-sister, Ginger, in contact with her mother again which, in 10-year-old logic, would put the skids on Piper's own mother's marriage to Ginger's dad. (In fact, Piper does something so awful in connection with this subplot that it looks like the repercussions may end up breaking up the planned remarriage.)

I was gripped by the climax of the plot, in which there's an incident at the prison where Piper's potential stepfather, Ben, works. Ginger's worry about her father's safety, Mama's attempts to keep it together, and Piper Lee's realization about the harm she's caused did actually make my own eyes moisten. Powerful writing!

After I finished A Smidgen of Sky, I was so impressed that I contacted the author for a mini-interview. Here's what I found out about Dianna Dorisi Winget:

1) Tell me about the writing of SMIDGEN OF SKY. How did the idea come to you? 

I wish I could remember how the idea first came to me! I’ve always been intrigued with the South and knew I wanted to set a story there. The character of Piper Lee came to me before the story. I think things just slowly evolved into the book it became. Plus, I married into a step-family, and know some of the great challenges it can present, so the idea of Piper Lee resisting her mom’s remarriage was a natural.

2) Tell me about your publishing journey. 

My publishing journey was a long and often frustrating one, interspersed with just enough success to keep me going. I sold a number of short stories and articles to children’s magazines, which helped to get my foot in the door, and boosted my self-esteem. But my dream had always been to write MG novels. I decided early on that I would never go the self-publishing route, I was only interested in traditional publishing. So to mak a long story short, I spent years trying to perfect my craft, querying agents and editors, getting rejected, and trying again. Little by little, the form rejections turned into encouraging notes scrawled on the side of my manuscripts, and I realized I was getting closer. 

My agent, Mary Kole, who I signed on with in 2010 has been terrific and made the long search for an agent worth it.  Even after finding Mary, it still took 16 months to sell Smidgen. Many times I really doubted it would ever happen, but Mary was always there to bolster my sagging spirits. When the book finally sold to Harcourt, I’m not sure which of us was more excited! She put together a great article “Story of a Sale,” that tells the nitty-gritty of selling my book. Here’s the link if you’re interested.

3) What are your favorite middle grade books? What are you reading right now?

I love so many books I’m not sure I can pick a favorite. My all-time favorite would have to be Where the Red Fern Grows. Recent books I’ve read and really enjoyed include “The One and Only Ivan,” “The Lions of Little Rock,”  and the YA novel “52 Reasons to Hate My Father.”

4) If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Probably to Sicily, since I’m Italian and that’s where my dad’s family is originally from.

(At which point--you've guessed it!--the Don got really energized and put Dianna's name in the hopper for this year's Order of the Eggplant.)

If you want to know even more about Dianna, here's her WEBSITE.

Thanks, Dianna, for answering my questions, and for writing such a powerful middle grade novel. Folks, look out for this one!

Have a Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, Everyone! Ciao!!

Friday, October 12, 2012

I'm Part of "Brave On The Page."

A little over a year ago, a writer named Laura Stanfill interviewed me for her "Seven Questions Series" on her blog "Laura Stanfill. Writing. Reading. Community". It was a fun interview, and I enjoyed answering her questions on blogging and the difference between middle grade and YA fiction.

Fast forward 12 months. Laura is a visionary and had the idea to collect all her interviews, as well as invite other writers to pen what she calls "flash essays," and gather them together in book form. She decided that the focus would be on Oregon writers--of which there are many: this state is fertile ground for scribes. She also decided to set up her own publishing company, Forest Avenue Press, and print her books using some spiffy new technology, the Espresso Book Machine, located in the Purple Room at Powell's Books.

So it was that on Tuesday a whole bunch of us gathered giddily at Powell's to watch "our" book appear, literally hot off the presses. The cover, designed by Gigi Little, is beautiful--and there's some crazy good flash essaying going on between the covers. Laura has plans for readings and other promotions. A journalist in a former life, she is just amazing with her press releases, and has been a tremendous editor as well as an advocate for her writing "tribe." As she says in her Foreword:

"Oregon is full of writers who support one another. The forty two authors in this collection all live in the state or have roots here. They are novelists and journalists. They are essayists and travel writers and poets. They are funny, smart, sad, and wise. Some have been traditionally published. Some have been published by small presses or literary journals. Others are unpublished. And yet we all commit the same brave act--confronting the blank page every day. No matter what the cost, no matter what the outcome, we set our other obligations aside to write. And that's something to celebrate." 

Thank you, Laura, for welcoming me into your "tribe." I got a great thrill seeing my name "on the page."

Monday, October 8, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: How to Steal A Dog

How To Steal A Dog by Barbara O' Connor (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007)

Here comes Book Two in my dastardly plot to read all of this year's Oregon Battle of the Books Grades 3-5 titles with my 4th grade "reader reluctibus." (There are 16 titles in all, so we have our work cut out for us.)
I was fortunate enough to win a copy from Barbara Watson, a wonderful writer as well as a Marvelous Middle Grade Monday participant extraordinaire.
Description (from Georgina Hayes is desperate. Ever since her father left and they were evicted from their apartment, her family has been living in their car. With her mama juggling two jobs and trying to make enough money to find a place to live, Georgina is stuck looking after her younger brother, Toby. And she has her heart set on improving their situation. When Georgina spots a missing-dog poster with a reward of five hundred dollars, the solution to all her problems suddenly seems within reach. All she has to do is “borrow” the right dog and its owners are sure to offer a reward. What happens next is the last thing she expected.

Opening Line: "The day I decided to steal a dog was the same day my best friend, Luanne Godfrey, found out I lived in a car."

Son's Verdict: Georgina and Toby were great characters. They were kind of the bad guys because they were stealing the dog, but they had this likeableness also. It was definitely a happy ending, but most books are. I think the mother liked Toby more than Georgina, because she was always shouting at Georgina.

Dad's Verdict: Yes, the characters were great. Georgina's story arc was well-done, and we really understood her choices and their consequences. (I think it's fascinating that my son was so keyed in to how parents react to their kids--plus the fact he says I'm always shouting at him. Perhaps he's hinting at something!) Georgina's voice and worldview were completely believable for a preteen. The depiction of homelessness was also something I appreciated, and it's not something you often see in a middle grade novel. With a pitch-perfect ear, O'Connor captured the shame and the tectonic shift in friendships and school I imagine would ensue from such a life-changing predicament. I particularly liked the ending, when Georgina makes her final choice regarding the dog. Finally, Willy the dog is as cute as all get out!
About the Author (again from Indiebound)
Barbara O’Connor is the author of numerous acclaimed books for children, including Fame and Glory in Freedom, GeorgiaMe and Rupert Goody; and Greetings from Nowhere. She has been awarded the Parents’ Choice Gold and Silver Awards, the Massachusetts Book Award, and the Dolly Gray Award, among many honors. As a child, she loved dogs, salamanders, tap dancing, school, and even homework. Her favorite days were when the bookmobile came to town. She was born and raised in Greenville, South Carolina, and now lives in Duxbury, Massachusetts, a historic seaside village not far from Plymouth Rock.

Barbara O' Connor's Website:


Monday, October 1, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Journey to the River Sea

Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson (Macmillan 2001)

The Plot (via Goodreads): Sent in 1910 to live with distant relatives who own a rubber plantation along the Amazon River, English orphan Maia is excited. She believes she is in for brightly colored macaws, enormous butterflies, and "curtains of sweetly scented orchids trailing from the trees." Her British classmates warn her of man-eating alligators and wild, murderous Indians. Unfortunately, no one cautions Maia about her nasty, xenophobic cousins, who douse the house in bug spray and forbid her from venturing beyond their coiffed compound. Maia, however, is resourceful enough to find herself smack in the middle of more excitement than she ever imagined, from a mysterious "Indian" with an inheritance, to an itinerant actor dreading his impending adolescence, to a remarkable journey down the Amazon in search of the legendary giant sloth.

This school year, I'm planning to read all of the 2012-13 Oregon Battle of the Books with my 4th grader, and this one was at the top of the pile. We read it aloud, and this is what my son had to say about it:

"It's very exquisite. A great adventure, but still realistic (no magic or anything.) I like all of the characters, even the dreaded twins. I loved the plot, especially the times when Clovis (the itinerant actor mentioned above) is at Westwood. The setting is very unique. I learned that the Amazon river is the largest river and that they grow rubber there."
For a reluctant reader (and writer) this is high praise. I wondered at the outset how he would do with a historical novel, and with a girl main character, but he was rapt and begged me to read it every spare moment. I think the acting theme had a lot to do with it--he wants to be an actor when he grows up.

Personally, I think this is destined to be a quiet classic.

For readers: Third grade on up. As revealed by my son's comments, this is one for all manner of readers--reluctant and avid--and appeals to both boys and girls.

For writers: Ibbotson's handling of an omniscient narrative is deft and worthy of study.

Author's Bio: Ibbotson died in 2010 at the age of 85. She wrote both adult and children's fiction, and also several books in German. (She was born in Austria.) You can find more information about her life and work in this Wikipedia entry.

Happy Middle Grade Monday, everyone!