Monday, December 15, 2014

A Million Ways Home by Dianna Dorisi Winget (plus Interview)

A MILLION WAYS HOME by Dianna Dorisi Winget (Scholastic Press, 2014)

What It's About (from Dianna's website): Poppy's life has been turned upside down after her grandma (and guardian) had a stroke and ended up in the hospital. But Poppy is working on a plan to help Grandma Beth so their life together can go back to normal. But when she witnesses an armed robbery, "back to normal" slips even further out of her reach. To keep Poppy safe, the budget-strapped police devise an unusual "witness protection program," wherein Poppy will stay with Detective Brannigan's mother. Soon Poppy is feeling almost at home, even making sort-of friends with a girl named Lizzie and definitely friending Gunner, a beautiful dog with an uncertain fate. But it's still not home. So while she and Lizzie navigate a rocky friendship and plot to save Gunner's life, Poppy also tries to figure out a new plan to save Grandma Beth and their home, all while avoiding a dangerous robber who might be searching for her. But what if Grandma Beth can never come home and the robber is put behind bars? What will happen to Poppy then?

Opening Lines: "I didn't know how to make the little girl stop crying."

Why I Loved it: I love the main character's--Poppy Parker's--voice. It was totally real on so many levels. That enabled me to handle the tough subject matter--Poppy witnesses a murder, lies about recognizing the culprit, and ends up in a very scary chase through the park, with the murderer hot on her heels. I also loved the portrayal of the adults, as well as Gunner, a German Shepherd on death row. There are several sad scenes, which Ms. Winget handles deftly. All in all, a fantastic contemporary middle grade.

I featured Dianna Dorisi Winget's debut, A Smidgen of Sky, in October 2012--a novel which I was very taken with then too. And I got to ask Ms. Winget a few of my patented Mafioso questions:

Who are your favorite (mg) writers? This changes fairly often depending on which book I've most recently fallen in love with, but here are a few current favorites-Ingrid Law, Katherine Applegate, Kirby Larson, Jennifer Nielsen

What's on your nightstand right now?  I don't actually have a nightstand, so I'll tell you what's in my cluttered magazine rack next to my recliner. This is where I do 90 percent of my reading, where I sit, stuffed in between my two dogs, with barely enough room to move.

The Dogs of Winter, by Bobbie Pyron
Dash, by Kirby Larson
The Bridge from Me to You, by Lisa Schroeder
Conviction, by Kelly Loy Gilbert

Choose a favorite scene in your novel, and say why you like it. Ooooh, so tough! One scene I really love is the brief one that takes place shortly after Poppy meets Detective Trey Brannigan. Poppy's tickled to discover several boxes of Twinkies in his kitchen cabinet and threatens to steal all of them. Trey calmly replies that she's not big enough to take his Twinkies. That scene always makes me laugh because it's a fun glimpse into the relationship that develops between them. 

I'm really awesome at... shirking my responsibilities, such as housecleaning, so I have more time to read.

What's your favorite breakfast? I love cereal. My favorite is granola with raspberries/huckleberries on top.

Where in the world would you like to travel? I'm really not much of a traveler, but I'd love to visit Australia and snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. I'd also like to spend some time in the South--maybe Georgia or Alabama, because my debut, A Smidgen of Sky, as well as the newly released sequel, A Sliver of Sun, are both set in the South, even though I'm a northerner :)

About the Author: You can read all about Dianna on her bio page on her website HERE


Looking forward to a Sliver of Sun, Dianna. Thanks for visiting today, everyone!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: THE GREAT GREENE HEIST by Varian Johnson

THE GREAT GREENE HEIST (by Varian Johnson, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2014)

What It's About: Saving the school -- one con at a time.

Jackson Greene swears he's given up scheming. Then school bully Keith Sinclair announces he's running for Student Council president, against Jackson's former friend Gaby de la Cruz. Gaby wants Jackson to stay out of it -- but he knows Keith has "connections" to the principal, which could win him the presidency no matter the vote count.

So Jackson assembles a crack team: Hashemi Larijani, tech genius. Victor Cho, bankroll. Megan Feldman, science goddess. Charlie de la Cruz, reporter. Together they devise a plan that will take down Keith, win Gaby's respect, and make sure the election is done right. If they can pull it off, it will be remembered as the school's greatest con ever -- one worthy of the name THE GREAT GREENE HEIST.

Opening Lines: "As Jackson Greene sped past the Maplewood Middle School cafeteria – his trademark red tie skewed slightly to the left, a yellow No. 2 pencil balanced behind his ear, and a small spiral-bound notebook tucked in his right jacket pocket – he found himself dangerously close to sliding back into the warm confines of scheming and pranking.”

What I Liked: There's been a call lately for #MoreDiverseBooks, and this one definitely fits the bill. As you can see from this eye-catcher of a cover, there is a lot of diversity in this school body.

I really enjoyed Jackson Greene's acumen and intelligence, as he and his crew work to pull off this magnificent con. The author has mentioned one of his inspirations as being Ocean's Eleven, and part of the fun is trying to figure out how this is all going to work. The narrative is fast-paced and I would particularly recommend it to writers studying how to make an omniscient narration work. (As such, you may enjoy Varian Johnson's interview at The Nerdy Book Club where he writes: "I read, and re-read, and re-read again The Westing Game. I studied the mechanics of how author Ellen Raskin slipped in and out of each character’s head;  how she used the narrator’s voice to play with the reader. Her use of omniscient perspective became the blueprint for the novel.")

This novel has gotten a lot of buzz, and I think it is richly deserved. I can see this as being a hit with middle grade readers all across the board!

About the Author (From his website): Varian Johnson is the author of four novels, including The Great Greene Heist, a Publishers Weekly Best Summer Book of 2014. His novels for older readers include My Life as a Rhombus, named to the Texas Library Association Tayshas High School Reading List and the New York Public Library “Stuff for the Teen Age” list, and Saving Maddie, a Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book.

Varian was born in Florence, South Carolina, and attended the University of Oklahoma, where he received a BS in Civil Engineering. He later received an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Varian now lives outside of Austin, TX with his family.

Monday, November 17, 2014

SPAGHETTI SMILES by Margo Sorenson

SPAGHETTI SMILES by Margo Sorenson; illustrated by David Harrington (Pelican Publishing Company, 2014)

Hi folks! We're not doing a marvelous middle grade Monday today because, quite frankly, we're feeling swamped at Mafioso HQ what with selecting and packaging books as holiday presents for the Don's friends and acquaintances. But I did take a break--with the Don's blessing, after he caught sight of the title--to enjoy this picture book by Margo Sorenson, who is a great friend of this blog.

This is a fun, fun book. It tells the story of Jake, who likes to visit his Uncle Rocco's restaurant to read his favorite books to the chef. But trouble is brewing, as Uncle Rocco may lose his lease if a good neighbor can't be found to share the building.
Jake sets off on a mission, visiting the bank, the post office, and the gas station, to see if they would be interested in relocating. No such luck because, although everyone loves Uncle Rocco's food, they don't want to find "rows of pizzas baking in the bank vault," or "lasagna airmailed all over the world," or--horrors!--"gas pumps pumping tomato sauce instead of gas."

Downcast, Jake wanders into a bookstore, where he convinces the store owner. After all, "everyone would buy your books and then eat next door... Or they could eat at Rocco's first, and then buy a book from you for dessert." Now, everyone's happy. Even the pizzas are smiling!

I loved Margo Sorenson's wacky sense of humor, and the illustrations by David Harrington are delightfully energetic and eye-catching. I can see myself reading this to the Don's grandkids until the cover falls apart!

Margo Sorenson is a writer with an incredible range and mastery of a variety of subject matter. Here's a link to an interview I did with her for her middle grade novel Tori and the Sleigh of Midnight Blue. And here's more information about her:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Author of twenty-eight books, Margo Sorenson was born in Washington, DC, and spent the first seven years of her life in Spain and Italy. After teaching high school and middle school and raising a family of two daughters, Margo is now a full-time writer. A National Milken Educator Award recipient, Margo always has a good time meeting with her readers in school and library settings from Minnesota to California and Hawaii.

Margo and her husband now live full-time in California. When she isn't writing, she enjoys visiting her grandchildren, playing golf, reading, watching sports, traveling, and hearing from her readers. You can visit her website here, or follow her on Twitter @ipapaverison. 

Thanks for reading, everyone, and have a Positively Perfect Picture Book Monday! Ciao!!

Monday, November 3, 2014


How we got Shelby Bach on Middle Grade Mafioso:
Guys and Dolls, it's been a grim year here at HQ. Yes, even someone as mighty as the Don has had to do some belt-tightening and I'm afraid the blogging business has fallen down the food chain. (Blast that Luca Brasi Jr., with his crazy ideas for yet another golf course on Long Island.) As a result, we are being severely nickle and dimed at the communications center--I mean I even have to ask permission to buy gum from the vending machine.

The Don's been in major "no" mode. Could we go to conferences? No. How about flying to Edinburgh to interview J.K. Rowling? That resulted in a string of Mamma mias, as well as some Sicilian slang that would make your ears burn.

So, it was with trepidation that I put forward my proposal to be part of Shelby Bach's blog tour. And wadda ya know... it seems the Don's grandkids are all over Shelby's The Ever Afters series. "Little Bella, she wants to be that Rory girl. Hey, you get Ms. Bach on your top-grade blog, and I increase your allowance."

The rest is history. Take that, Luca B.!

The exciting thing is that Shelby Bach has sent us some never-before-seen extras to share with you Ever Afters fans. How about viewing the orientation letters that two of the main characters received? Here are the letters for Lena and Chase! (Plus oodles of links to some incredible fairy tales!)

Lena's Orientation Letter: 

Dear Ms. Jacqueline Lamarelle,
Welcome to Ever After School. We are so pleased that you have joined our fine establishment, and we hope that your time here with us will be both memorable and non-fatal.

Looking through our records, we can report finding the following Tales in the last five generations of your family.

On your father’s side:
The Water Sprite/Nixie (your father and your father’s sister)
The Giant with Three Golden Hairs (your paternal grandmother)
Jack the Giant Killer (father of your paternal grandmother)
The Daughter of Buk Ettemsuch (mother of your paternal grandmother’s
On your mother’s side:
Old Mother Frost (your mother)
The Nunda, Eater of People (father of your maternal grandfather)
The Feather Bird (mother of your maternal grandmother)
The Valiant Taylor (great-uncle of your maternal grandmother – note:
Failed Tale)
The Nix in the Pond (great-aunt of your maternal grandmother – note:
Failed Tale, survived as turtle until enchantment could be broken)
The Fisherman and His Wife (father of your maternal grandmother’s
The One-Handed Girl (mother of your maternal grandmother’s father)

If you have not already done so, please take a little time this week to read these Tales in Anderson, Grimm, and/or Lang, as there is an increased likelihood that you and your siblings will have similar Tales.

Your paternal grandmother, who is also your namesake, has called to inform me that her family is descended from Madame Benne. Though she never had a Tale of her own, Madame Benne formed a Triumvirate with Maerwynne and Rikard, two renowned Characters who lived at the dawn of the last millennium. Together, they founded the Canon, the organization of Tale representatives that has governed and guided all Characters since that time. As your grandmother has told you, Madame
Benne herself is celebrated as the greatest inventor of magical items in written history. The golden apple that grants me and my fellow Canon members unaging immortality is only one of her unduplicated creations. If you are interested in learning more about your famous ancestress, please feel free to visit our Reference Room, which houses several books on the subject.

Best Wishes, and Best of Luck,
The Director

Chase's Orientation Letter:

Dear Mr. Chase Turnleaf,
This letter, as you well know, is unnecessary. You have memorized all the Tales occurring within the last dozen generations of your family. You memorized them within a week of moving here with your father. Unlike many young Characters who arrive at Ever After School without this knowledge, you do not require this information from me, and writing this is a waste of my time and yours.

However, you insist, and Rumpelstiltskin has informed me that you have begun trying to break into the library in order to doublecheck your father’s memory and locate your ancestors’ Tales. That behavior must cease.

Thus, looking through our records, we can confirm the following Tales in the last five generations of your family:
Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack the Giant Killer (your father)
The Emperor’s New Clothes (your paternal grandfather)
Dapplegrim (youngest brother of your paternal grandfather)
The Glass Coffin (younger brother of your paternal grandmother)
The Boy Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was (father of your
paternal grandfather)
Aladdin (great-uncle of your paternal grandfather)

We have discussed, at great length, the reasons why the Tales on your father’s side may have no bearing on your own destiny as a Character. I will not waste further time by listing them again here.

The Director
P.S. If this does not satisfy your curiosity, let it be known that since your father is out of town,
attending to his duties as Champion of the Canon, the duty of disciplining you falls to me. For
three years, I have resisted sending a child to the dungeons, but you are tempting me to reinstate
that punishment.

The dungeons?! Eeek!! Maybe we'll all feel better if we read the enclosed discussion guide for Of Giants and Ice.

There are a bunch of other worthy blogs sharing some extras for the Ever Afters in the coming week. Stop by and say hi!

Blog Tour –
November 3 – Middle Grade Mafioso
November 4 – From the Mixed-Up Files
November 5 – Log Cabin Literary
November 6 – Amanda K. Thompson Blog
November 7 – Novels, News, and Notes
November 8 – Green Bean Teen Queen

And here's some info on Shelby, and where to find her on the web. Thanks for stopping by and hanging with Shelby, the Ever Afters, and the Mafioso today. Grazie!

Shelby’s Bio
Shelby Bach was born in Houston, Texas and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, but while writing THE EVER AFTERS, she moved almost as many times as her main character. She came up with the idea for the series right before she left New York City, and she finished the first book, OF GIANTS AND ICE, in Montana—the second, OF WITCHES AND WIND, back in Charlotte. Driving up the West Coast to research the settings for the third book, OF SORCERY AND SNOW, Shelby fell in love with Portland, Oregon and settled there.

She would love to set up a Door Trek system in her apartment to visit her family and friends around the country, but she makes do with much slower and less fictional transportation. These days, while
finishing up the fourth and final book, she also works part time for a real-life afterschool program. It is strangely similar to the one where her stories are set—except the students study math instead of fairy tales.

Shelby’s Social Media

Monday, October 27, 2014


Annie McMahon has been a great supporter of this blog and of middle grade writers in general, so I am thrilled to introduce her debut: Adventure on Nemesis Mountain.

What it's About:
Emilio would rather eat a slimy worm than miss the fifth grade field trip. Nemesis Mountain must be full of rare leaf specimens and bugs for his collection. Besides, he needs a break from the playground and Hans’s nonstop teasing. His excitement is squashed when he gets lost in the woods with his worst enemy.Alone in the forest, the two boys battle to survive the harsh wilderness, facing challenges that will change their lives forever.

I was also thrilled to be able to ask Annie the Don's and my patented Mafioso questions. Here are her answers:

1) Who are your favorite (middle grade) writers?
Wow, I have so many, it's hard to choose! I'm always impressed by indie authors publishing awesome books. There are so many self-published authors out there, and once in a while I come across one that should have been traditionally published, to my opinion, because it's just so good: TRUTH TELLER, by Kurt Chambers, VIRGIL CREECH TAKES A SWEEP AT REDEMPTION, by Mark Myers, CHILDREN OF MIDIAN, by Jay Eckert, GREEDY JACK WALLACE, by Adam C. Veile, and THE KING'S RANSOM, by Cheryl Carpinello, to name a few. Those are authors who believed in their work enough to never gave up, even after probably being rejected by agents and traditional publishers numerous times. They put a lot of time and effort in perfecting their books before releasing them to the world, and it shows. I love being one of the first to read a future bestseller.

2) What's on your nightstand now?
A whole pile of MG books from the library! I just finished reading WATERSHIP DOWN, by Richard Adams. Next on my list: SUGAR AND ICE, by Kate Messner. I also have about ten indie books on my kindle, waiting to be reviewed. I'll get to them after my blog tour is over and things settle down.

3) Pick a favorite scene from your novel, and say why you like it
I think my favorite is the snake scene, when Emilio finally gets a chance to get back at Hans for all the teasing. I really enjoyed writing it. Emilio is always picked on by Hans at school, but now in nature, his element, he feels more secure and bold than ever. Refreshing!

4) Fill in the blank: I'm really awesome at....
No blank. I'm really awesome, period. ;)

5) My favorite breakfast is...
French toast with maple syrup and Canadian bacon. I grew up in Canada, so anything with maple syrup tastes like heaven to me.

6) If you could visit any place, where would it be?
I would go on a world tour and visit all my friends from my writer's group who helped me so much with this novel. It's an online group, so we never got to meet each other in person, being spread out all over the world: Australia, England, Egypt, Canada, New Zealand, and many states in the US. How fun would that be!!

About the Author: Annie McMahon is originally from Canada but now lives in New Jersey. She has a degree in computer programming, but her life took an unexpected turn and she ended up writing stories and articles instead ofcomputer programs. Now she uses every spare minute to write children’s novels and to help other writers succeed.

Her three children have been the inspiration behind many of her short stories, over forty in total. Her flash fiction story, Paradoxical Neighbor, has been published by Nelson Education in a book for 10th graders, Nelson Literacy 10.

Annie has a certificate in copyediting, moderates a critique group for children's writers, and is the editor at UK Children's Publishing.

Twitter: @anniemcmahon20
Goodreads: Annie McMahon
Author page on Amazon:  Annie’s author page 

Annie is giving away copies of her novel on RAFFLECOPTOR. Good luck!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Winner of RORY'S PROMISE Announced

How can it be October already?!

Oh well, now that we have begun to be a chillin' in Oregon, it's good to gather books about us for the long winter ahead. As I mentioned in my last post, I really enjoyed RORY'S PROMISE, and the publisher offered to send a copy to the winner of my blog tour.

And that winner is:

Wow! Natalie is one of my very top favorite bloggers, part of the super Literary Rambles team. Natalie, the Don is raising a toast in your honor. We'll be in touch soon!


Monday, September 22, 2014

MMGM: RORY'S PROMISE by Michaela MacColl and Rosemary Nichols

RORY'S PROMISE (by Michaela MacColl and Rosemary Nichols, Calkins Creek, September 1st, 2014)

You know a novel's good when the first words out of the Don's mouth on a Monday morning are, "Get me this Rory girl, pronto. She'll be an asset to the famiglia."

Yup, those are the very words I heard this morning, and no surprise. Anyone who knows the Don (and me) knows that we are huge fans of Michaela MacColl. The Don went to Africa after reading Promise the Night, and he's been heard reciting Emily Dickinson (of course he thinks he's unobserved) after reading Nobody's Secret. Now, with Rory's Promise, he's inquiring about becoming a benefactor to nuns with their projects. As he said to me the other day, "Them Sisters! Che par di palle!" Which is to say, he thinks the good nuns have got chutzpah!

Michaela's latest project is with Calkins Creek, an imprint of Boyds Mill Press. With co-author Rosemary Nichols, she's kicking off a series called Hidden Histories. This particular book is about Irish orphans who are sent west on so-called Orphan Trains. We meet the orphans from "The Foundling Hospital," a foundation run by Catholic nuns, led by the redoubtable Sister Anna. They are well-cared for, compared to the children from the Children's Aid Society who are also traveling west.

What I Loved: Like the DonI was captivated by the character of Rory Fitzpatrick, who is one of the spunkiest characters (male or female) I've read in a long while. Determined not to be separated from her younger sister, Violet, Rory gets arrested, stows aboard first a carriage, and then the orphan train itself, and generally stands up for herself in many ways--unafraid to tackle adults, as well as stand up to the formidable Sister Anna herself.

The Cover: The cover perfectly captures my idea of Rory. Go Red!

The Pacing: This novel moves at a clip. In fact, the Don barely looked up from it to sip from his morning cappuchino.

A look into a part of history of which I was unaware: Yes, the orphan trains actually existed. There are notes in the back of the book which tell all about it, as well as a great educator's guide which came with my copy. By the way, teachers, this would be an awesome novel to study in Grades 4-7 as part of a Language Arts or Social Studies Curriculum.

There's a blog tour going on--and Middle Grade Mafioso is stop numero due! Here's a list of the rest of the tour--be sure to stop by because, just like today, you could win a copy of this fantastic novel. Hey, the Don might even bring it to your door. (Oh, I guess not. He's in meetings with the sisters all week--so you'll have to rely on the good folks at Boyd's Creek to ship you your winning copy. JUST LEAVE A COMMENT. (U.S. addresses only for the win.)

Fri 9/19                 KirbyLarson
Mon 9/22             Middle Grade Mafioso 
Tue 9/23               Mother/Daughter Book Club 
Wed 9/24             Middle Grade Minded 
Thu 9/25              KidLit Frenzy 
Fri 9/26                Unleashing Readers

Here's more on Michaela, plus her book trailer. Thanks for stopping by. CIAO!

Michaela attended Vassar College and Yale University earning degrees in multi-disciplinary history. Unfortunately, it took her 20 years before she realized she was learning how to write historical fiction. Her favorite stories are the ones she finds about the childhood experiences of famous people. She has written about a teenaged Queen Victoria (Prisoners in the Palace, Chronicle 2010) and Beryl Markham’s childhood (Promise the Night, Chronicle 2011). She is writing a literary mystery series for teens featuring so far a young Emily Dickinson in Nobody’s Secret (2013) and the Bronte sisters in Always Emily (2014).  She has recently begun a new series with Boyd’s Mill/Highlights called Hidden Histories about odd events in America’s past. The first entry in the series is Rory’s Promise and will be published in September 2014. She frequently visits high schools and has taught at the Graduate Institute in Bethel, CT. She lives in Westport CT with her husband, two teenaged daughters and three extremely large cats. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Winners!

It's no secret that the month of August was a particularly crazy one in Mafiosoville.

1. We went camping (I tell ya, do not roast marshmallows over a campfire with the Don. He's a pyromaniac!).

2. The kids started school *:) happy

3. The new guard dog has a penchant for chewing leather. (My poor boots!) *~X( at wits' end

And pens,

 And paper.

(In fact, I think she's secretly writing the Great American Canine Novel.)

And then there was the US Open Tennis. (The Don's favorite player is Fabio Fognini, but the guy's a basket case.)

Through all of this, blogging has taken a back seat. (Oh yeah, I also finished Book 5 in  the Game of Thrones series, and that was a marathon achievement. Winter is Coming!)

But, I have not forgotten my promise of sending books from two of my favorite writers--folks I know in real life--to my deserving readers.

So, here we go: The winner of the signed copy of the paperback edition of Rosanne Parry's Written in Stone is:

And the winner of the signed hardback of Robin Herrera's Hope is a Ferris Wheel is...

I'll be contacting you good people very soon.

Also, I am going to be part of the blog tour of Michaela MacColl's latest, Rory's Promise, which she co-wrote with Rosemary Nichols. Anyone who's been following this blog for a while will know that Ms. MacColl is yet another one of my favorite authors-- (Promise the Night; Nobody's Secret.) It's bound to be a goodie!!

See you next week, Ciao!!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL by Robin Herrera (with Interview and Giveaway)

HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL by Robin Herrera (Amulet Books, March 2014)

What It's About (from Goodreads):
Ten-year-old Star Mackie lives in a trailer park with her flaky mom and her melancholy older sister, Winter, whom Star idolizes. Moving to a new town has made it difficult for Star to make friends, when her classmates tease her because of where she lives and because of her layered blue hair. But when Star starts a poetry club, she develops a love of Emily Dickinson and, through Dickinson’s poetry, learns some important lessons about herself and comes to terms with her hopes for the future.

Opening Lines: "Everyone at Pepperwood Elementary knows that I live in Treasure Trailers, in the pink-tinted trailer with the flamingo hot-glued to the roof. The problem is, I only told four girls, the ones who were standing by me the first time we lined up for recess."

Why I liked it: Well, the shocking thing is that I haven't blogged since early August (Don, forgive me!), and now that I'm back in business I'm featuring a novel by another Portland writer I know in real life. So, hooray for Portland!

Robin Herrera is a bona fide hoot, and her debut doesn't disappoint--from the fabulous cover, to the comedy woven through every chapter.

Star Mackie is an unforgettable character: honest, intelligent, and determined. Robin Herrera has given her a pitch-perfect middle grade voice, and the friendship she develops with some of the school's other oddballs is delightful. I also liked Star's "Vocabulary Sentences," which are sprinkled throughout and are very funny. (Star writes answers at length, but doesn't turn the work in to her teacher.)

Plus, Emily Dickinson is heavily featured, and there are poems mentioned throughout.

And don't forget donuts. They also make appearances, and in my experience any books with doughnuts is a true gem.

I shot Robin off my typical Mafioso questions, and she very kindly responded:

1) Who are your favorite (middle grade) writers?
Louis Sachar has been a favorite for a long time, along with Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler. They wrote some of the books that shaped my adolescence. More recent favorites include Rita Williams-Garcia, Linda Urban, and Katherine Paterson, among others.

2) What's on your nightstand now?
Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith, which is definitely not a middle grade novel! But I've also got a couple graphic novels I've been meaning to read, like Sing No Evil, Five Weapons, Bad Houses, and Bandette, and I just finished The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson.

3) Pick a favorite scene from your novel, and say why you like it
My favorite scene is in chapter 5, which I call "the Hot Dog scene." This was one of the first scenes I had plotted out in my mind when I wrote Hope Is a Ferris Wheel, and though it's changed quite a bit over all the drafts, the intent has always remained the same. I feel it encapsulates a very important theme in the novel - Star's mom and sister clashing and arguing, and Star being torn between the two of them.

4) Fill in the blank: I'm really awesome at....
Writing silly songs and poems. I'm glad I got to write Star's poems in Hope Is a Ferris Wheel - those are pretty indicative of my poetic abilities. I also love writing sonnets.

5) My favorite breakfast is...
Eggs Benedict! But if I have to make my own breakfast, then it's a flatbread scrambled egg sandwich with sausage, cheese, and pesto.

6) If you could visit any place, where would it be?
I have a couple of favorite restaurants I always wish I were eating at. A sushi place in Berkeley, a tea shop in Eureka, a burger joint that serves bison burgers on highway 101... At different times, I'll crave one of these places and wish I could visit again.

About the Author: Robin's "About Me" page on her website says it all! (You'll get a great sense of her wit if you visit her there.)

I have a signed hardback copy waiting for anyone who cares to comment. U.S. and Canadian entries only, I'm afraid. And thanks for stopping by!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: WRITTEN IN STONE by Rosanne Parry (with interview and giveaway)

WRITTEN IN STONE by Rosanne Parry (Random House, June 2013)

What It's About (from the book jacket):  Pearl has always dreamed of hunting whales, just like her father. Of taking to the sea in their eight-man canoe, standing at the prow with a harpoon, and waiting for a whale to lift its barnacle-speckled head as it offers its life for the life of the tribe.

But now that can never be. Pearl's father was lost on the last hunt, and the whales hide from the great steam-powered ships carrying harpoon cannons, which harvest not one but dozens of whales from the ocean. With the whales gone, Pearl's people, the Makah, struggle to survive as Pearl searches for ways to preserve their stories and skills.

Opening Lines: "I don't need my eyes to tell me what's coming, and I don't need my great-granddaughter's hand on my elbow to keep me from stumbling. I know my way to the beach. For eighty-nine years, these feet have known the land of my tribe. I won't fall now. Not today. Not after waiting so long."

Why I Liked It: I have to admit here that Rosanne Parry is a real-life friend of mine. We are in the same critique group in Portland, Oregon, and she has been a huge mentor to my writing.

That said, I was not a member of the critique group when Written in Stone was first written, so I did not see its genesis. I can truthfully say however that Rosanne worked on the story for years--ever since she started her teaching career in Taholah, Washington, on the Quinault Indian reservation, and the story is very dear to her heart.

The story is framed by the resumption of whaling for the Makah people in 1999--which is referred to in the opening lines quoted above. We learn that Pearl was a girl of thirteen when the Makah voluntarily gave up whaling in the 1920s, and the bulk of the story is concerned with her as a young girl, coming to grips with the deaths of both her parents.

The story starts powerfully, with the return of a whale hunt and the horrible realization by Pearl that her father is dead. I will quote this at length because it shows the lyrical strength of Parry's writing:
"The drums faltered and fell silent. The welcome song waited in my mouth. Seven silhouettes bent over their paddles. There was no shout or raised arms, no trail of seabirds and sharks. Grandma counted, "Pau, saali, chakla, muus..." She wept before she came to seven. I did not count. I knew where the harpooner sat. My body held still as stone, but my mind flew out over the ocean like a seagull looking north and south, crying in a gull's one-note voice.
Gone. Gone. Gone."
Just as she did in her celebrated debut, Heart of a Shepherd, Rosanne Parry's writing sweeps the reader along. She also has an unerring ability to pull on a reader's heartstrings without being mawkish.

Other things I liked: the strong family structure of the Makah, and the number of strong women in Pearl's life, particularly her Grandmother and her Aunt Susi, who show her the way forward. The historical details are well-woven into the narrative, so that they come up seamlessly--particularly the 1918 influenza epidemic which killed Pearl's mother and baby sister, the dealings with the Indian agent--"The Mustache"--who goes on "for many sentences, dishonoring us with the free use of a dead man's name," and the suspicious "art collector," Mr. Glen, who is really focused on surveying the Makah land for oil.

This is a story well-told and heart-felt, one that lingers in the memory long after the final page is turned. (And the cover is gorgeous!)

I asked Rosanne to answer the Traditional Mafioso Questions, and she kindly obliged:

Interview with Rosanne:
1) Who are your favorite (middle grade) writers?
Well, I happen to be having tea with 3 of my favorite middle grade authors today, Susan Blackaby (Brownie Groundhog and the Wintery Surprise--okay this is a picture book but she also writes for older readers), Heather Vogel Frederick, (the Mother-Daughter book club series) and Susan Fletcher (The Falcon in the Glass). I am a lifelong fan of Beverly Cleary and a brand new fan of debut author Robin Herrara (Hope is a Ferris Wheel). And that's just the Portland authors I like! Obviously I could go on and on.

2) What's on your nightstand now?
I met Luis Alberto Urrea at the Summer Fishtrap Workshop this year, so I've just finished his book Into the Beautiful North, which is lovely. Against all the noise of border-crossing children you hear in the news, it was a refreshing look at the issue from the migrating child's point of view.  Besides that I have a bunch of books about wolves for a non-fiction project I'm working on and a really fun reference book called Home Ground which is a series of descriptions of natural features of North America as described by poets and writers of literary fiction. It's surprisingly fascinating. For example, when a tree falls over and heaves its root ball out of the ground, the depression left behind is called a tree tip pit.  Cool!

3) Pick a favorite scene from your novel, and say why you like it
I really like the scene where Pearl discovers the petroglyphs. I love the way art tends to encourage reflection and meaning-making, so this was a great way for my character to have an encounter with a work of art and gain an insight into her own life's purpose. It took a lot of research to make sure that the scene would work, but I'm very happy with how it came out.

4) Fill in the blank: I'm really awesome at....  
Making jam. Using up fruit is a bit of a game at my house. We have apple, plum, peach and pear trees, plus blueberries, raspberries and loganberries. Last week I made lavender peach jam and plum sauce. Next, raspberry jam, and then pear chutney and caramel apple butter. 

5) My favorite breakfast is..
At the moment I'm very fond of blueberry pancakes because the blueberries in my yard are ripe.

6) If you could visit any place, where would it be?
Gosh, any place at all? Hmm. I'd love to take my family to all the great national parks in the US. I'd love to just pack up the canoe and the camping stuff for the whole summer and drive to Glacier, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, the Redwoods, the Everglades, Denali, the Smoky Mountains, Arches, and the Volcano Park in Hawaii (okay that would be a challenge to drive to).  How about you Mike? Do you have a favorite national park?

Me: Well, Rosanne, I hate to admit I have only ever been to Yellowstone.Several years ago, I was traveling back from the midwest with my sister-in-law, who had just completed medical school in Wisconsin, and I thought that riding shotgun with her and her belongings would afford me a wonderful way to see the country. However, I made a serious faux-pas in Yellowstone because of the British pronunciation of the word geysers. In Britain, we call those hot water spouts "geezers." So, when I loudly exclaimed in front of Old Faithful and the surrounding geysers, as well as the motor coaches disgorging bands of senior citizens, that I had "never seen so many geezers," I got a whole bunch of dirty looks. Oops!

About the Author: Rosanne Parry is the author of the award winning novels Heart of a Shepherd, Second Fiddle, and Written in Stone. She has taught writing at schools, conferences, educational non-profits, and online at the Loft Literary Center. She and her husband live in an old farmhouse in Portland, Oregon where they are raising 4 children, 3 chickens and 5 kinds of fruit. She writes in a tree house in her back yard.

Website: Rosanne Parry
Twitter: @RosanneParry

Thank you so much for stopping by today, Rosanne. Readers, Rosanne has generously offered a signed paperback copy of Written in Stone. Leave a comment if you would like to be in the running. International entries welcome.

(And the winner of Kimberley Griffiths Little's In the Time of the Fireflies is... Myrna Foster!)

Monday, August 4, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: THE TIME OF THE FIREFLIES by Kimberley Griffiths Little

THE TIME OF THE FIREFLIES by Kimberley Griffiths Little (Scholastic Press, July 29. 2014)

What It's About (from the book jacket): When Larissa Renaud starts receiving eerie phone calls on a disconnected old phone in her family's antique shop, she knows she's in for a strange summer. A series of clues leads her to the muddy riverbank, where clouds of fireflies dance among the cypress knees and cattails each evening at twilight.

The fireflies are beautiful and mysterious, and they take Larissa on a magical journey through time, where she learns the secrets about her family's tragic past--deadly, curse-ridden secrets that could endanger the future of her family as she knows it. And when her mother suddenly disappears, it becomes clear that it is up to Larissa to prevent history from repeating itself, and a fatal tragedy from striking the people she loves.

Opening Lines: "The second day of summer was a flapjack-and-bacon morning with enough sweet cane syrup to make your teeth ache. A glorious, heavenly day when you got no more homework due for three whole months."

Why I Liked It:
1) The cover: it is instantly appealing, with all that shimmery light.
2) I'm a sucker for time travel, and this one is done exceedingly well. The setting is in the bayou--and there's a gracious old house which, throughout the course of Larissa's travels, falls into disrepair.
3) It is totally spooky! First there's the creepy doll, then the mysterious phone calls from the antique, unconnected phone in the store. Then there's the tragic fire, and a visit to a graveyard. I was a wet rag at the end of this.
4) Larissa's character arc. I was impressed at her growth from the girl who is furiously resentful about her scar, and hates the girl she believes is responsible, to a person who realizes that there's many sides to a story, and who can embrace forgiveness.
5) The gorgeous writing. Kimberley Griffith's Little is a master of sensory details. I felt uplifted by the language on every page.

And... she's an amazing book trailer maker too! Check this out:

Book Trailer:

I was delighted to be able to ask Kimberley my usual Mafioso questions. The Don was listening in, but apart from whooping at every mention of Italy, did manage to hold his tongue. I think he was as spellbound about this novel as I was! Here we go:

Hi Kimberley! Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions. Your novel is a totalo winner, by the way. First, can you tell me:

1) Who are your favorite (middle grade) writers?

I started out reading a whole lot of classics: Lois Lowry, Katherine Paterson, Louise Fitzhugh, Ellen Raskin, E.L. Konigsburg, Elizabeth Goudge – oh, and um, Nancy Drew. Like boxes full. That I saved for my daughters to read. Except I had 3 sons. Granddaughters, right!?

As an adult I’ve loved Caroline Starr Rose, Barbara O’Connor, Nikki Loftin, Kathryn Fitzmaurice, Shannon Messenger, Jewell Parker Rhodes, Lisa Graff, to name just a few. There are so many fantastic writers, and most of that previous list of current favorites have become personal friends. Lucky me!

Me: Yup, that;s a great list. *waving to Caroline Starr Rose, a fellow Project Mayhem writer*

2) What's on your nightstand now? 

Middle Grade: THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY by Tracy Holczer (Me: Oh yay! I just featured this on Project Mayhem the other week!)

Young Adult: KISS OF DECEPTION by Mary Pearson

Adult: HOUSE AT RIVERTON by Kate Morton

Nonfiction: Ancient Middle Eastern war tactics (research for my YA trilogy with Harpercollins).

Call me an eclectic reader. :-)

Me: You certainly do read widely. I'm pretty much middle grade, with the occasional foray into The Game of Thrones--I'm reading Book 5 right now.

3) Pick a favorite scene from your novel, and say why you like it: 

Oh, I’d have to say all the creepy doll scenes, icy blue eyes watching Larissa across the antique store, batting her eyelashes and smiling when the curse from the Island of the Dolls unleashes its fury. The hair raised up on my own arms! I also love the heart-to-heart talk Larissa and Grandma Kat have about the family tragedies when Mamma goes missing—and then the doll goes missing . . .  

Me: As I said above, that doll completely creeped me out! Good job!

4) Fill in the blank: I'm really awesome at.... 

Making cookies! I make a lot of cookies during novel revision time and I now have the ability to go from empty mixing bowl to a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies in 20 minutes. Yeah, I’m awesome like that. Don’t forget the ice cold milk . . . 

Me: I agree--those are special skills.  

5) My favorite breakfast is... 

Strawberry waffles and sausage, but I don’t eat it too often (usually it’s a yogurt, banana, and lots of ice water before I head out the door for my daily 3-mile walk). The older I get the more the weight hangs around making faces at me in the mirror each morning.

Me; Yeah, that pesky weight--what's with that?! (Oh yeah, the Don's wife cooks really good Italian food, and I always eat at my desk. Mamma Mia!)

6) If you could visit any place, where would it be? 

I’ve always been a scaredy-cat when it comes to flying, but I just do a lot of praying and force myself to go because I love visiting new, exotic locales and seeing fascinating historical sites. Ever since I was very young I would try to imagine what it would be like to live somewhere or in a certain time period.

My dream trip to the Middle East, Jordan, and Petra finally came true last year—and exceeded all expectations. Over the last decade I’ve stayed in a haunted castle tower room at Borthwick Castle in Scotland, sailed the Seine in Paris, walked the beaches of Normandy, stood at the place that Joan of Arc died, ridden a camel in Petra, saw the volcanoes at Kauai, shopped the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, and spent the night in an old Communist hotel in Bulgaria.

My next goal is Italy and/or Greece– and a cruise of some kind. I think I’m one of the only people I know who hasn’t been on a cruise at some point in their life!

Me: Kimberley, that's a heck of a lot of traveling! Did you see a Scottish ghost? And yay: Italy. The Don's broken into song. But I have to say: I can join you in the never-been-on-a-cruise club.

Thanks so much for being such a great guest. I loved your novel, and wish it and you every success. People, if you want to read something both lyrical and creepy, hie thee to a bookstore and get your mitts on THE TIME OF THE FIREFLIES!

About the Author:
Kimberley Griffiths Little is the critically acclaimed author of several MG novels with Scholastic and an upcoming YA trilogy, FORBIDDEN, with Harpercollins in 2014. She has won the Southwest Book Award, the Whitney Award for Best Youth Novel of 2010, starred on the Bank Street College Best Books of 2011 & 2014, a Crystal Kit runner-up, and a New Mexico Book Award Finalist. Her books have sold several hundred thousand copies in the Scholastic Book Fairs and have been chosen for several state reading lists. She makes super cool book trailers and her first one for The Healing Spell garnered over 8,000 views despite the fact that she was/is a total unknown. Kimberley lives on a dirt road in a small town by the Rio Grande with her husband, a robotics engineer, and their three sons.

Social Media Links:
Twitter @KimberleyGLittl
Facebook: Find me at "Kimberley Griffiths Little"

Kimberley has very graciously offered a copy of THE TIME OF THE FIREFLIES for one lucky winner. All you have to do is comment, and the Don will pick a winner out of his hat next week. Till then, happy reading and writing. Ciao!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY (plus Giveaway)

THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY by Tracy Holczer (Putnam, 2014)

This is kind of cheating, but I did a post on Project Mayhem last Friday on this lovely book, and even offered up a signed copy and didn't get much of a response. I figure that this offer deserves a second chance with my Marvelous Middle Grade Monday readers!

Please CLICK HERE to be taken to Project Mayhem, and see why I loved this novel and would very much like for you to have a copy of it.

(P.S. Next week, I will be welcoming Kimberley Griffiths Little to the blog, with her equally luminous THE TIME OF THE FIREFLIES. The Don says "don't miss it--or else!")

Happy writing and reading, everyone. Ciao!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: TORI AND THE SLEIGH OF MIDNIGHT BLUE by Margo Sorenson (with interview)

Displaying Tori and the Sleigh of Midnight Blue 300dpi.jpg
TORI AND THE SLEIGH OF MIDNIGHT BLUE by Mago Sorenson (North Dakota State University, Institute for --2003)

What It's About: Eleven-year-old Tori and her family are struggling with the Great Depression in North Dakota, and the death of her beloved Papa has been the severest blow of all. To aspiring writer Tori, everything is changing for the worse--her friends are acting too grown-up, and her little brother Otto invades her privacy. When a Norwegian bachelor-farmer begins courting Mama, Tori writes in her journal that her life will be ruined. What will Tori discover about forgiveness and acceptance as she tries to keep her life from changing?

Opening Lines:
 Tori Oleson stood frozen in the doorway of the church kitchen.
“Don't you think Selina Oleson should be looking for another husband?” Mrs. Pederson was asking.
“It's been over a year now since Torgus passed away.”
The women had their backs to her, but their words cut Tori like a knife. Mama and someone else? It wasn't going to happen. No one could take Papa's place. No one.

Why I Liked It: I have read several of Margo Sorenson's novels, and I am in awe of the variety of her subject matter. In ISLAND DANGER, she wrote an adventure with a hidden arms cache in Hawai'i and in TIME OF HONOR, she took on time travel and skulduggery in 1272. Here, in TORI AND THE SLEIGH OF MIDNIGHT BLUE, her focus is on North Dakota during the time of the Great Depression. The details of Tori's life in a Norwegian immigrant community in the Dakotas ring pitch perfect. We are introduced to such things as the Basket Social (in which baskets are made and auctioned off to earn money for the school); and the rolling out of lefse for Thanksgiving.

Tori is a very well-drawn character. She is dealing with all the issues of a 12-year-old, such as how to fit in with her suddenly boy-crazy friends, and how to deal with an annoying younger brother. She also has, at the core, an immense sadness about the loss of her father to pneumonia--and she definitely does not want anyone--even the good-natured Bjorn Oppestadt, who appears to be courting her mother--to take her beloved Papa's place.

The one thing she has left of her Papa is the miniature wooden sleigh of midnight blue. Unfortunately, her brother, Otto, takes it from her room without asking, and it gets smashed in the barn. Yet a wonderful thing happens (no spoilers, here!), and Tori comes to a realization--as she recites the poem she wrote for her mother in front of the school--about the true nature of love and redemption.

A beautifully written, very touching book!

I asked Margo my usual Mafioso questions. This is what she had to say--

1) Who are your favorite (middle grade) writers?

Katherine Paterson, Anna Staniszewski, Jerry Spinelli, Carl Hiaasen

2) What's on your nightstand now?

Donna Leon's QUIETLY IN THEIR SLEEP -- definitely not middle grade!

3) Pick a favorite scene from your novel, and say why you like it

My favorite scene is at the end when Tori and her step-father-to-be have a special conversation, and I can't say more without creating a spoiler alert! (I agree--that was a beautifully rendered scene.)

4) Fill in the blank: I'm really awesome at...

thinking of all kinds of story ideas that I'd rather be fiddling with than doing mundane tasks like laundry!

5) My favorite breakfast is...

biscuits and gravy...and gravy on the side, so I can butter the biscuits.

6) If you could visit any place, where would it be?

Actually, my favorite place to visit is la bella Italia! The people, the food, the wine, the history all combine to make it a special and magical place. (The Don is thrilled to hear this, Margo. In fact, his exact words were "Grazie mille a Margo per la sua gentilezza!" At this rate he's going to send his private jet to fly you to his homeland!)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Author of twenty-eight books, Margo Sorenson was born in Washington, DC, and spent the first seven years of her life in Spain and Italy. After teaching high school and middle school and raising a family of two daughters, Margo is now a full-time writer. A National Milken Educator Award recipient, Margo always has a good time meeting with her readers in school and library settings from Minnesota to California and Hawaii.

Margo and her husband now live full-time in California. When she isn't writing, she enjoys visiting her grandchildren, playing golf, reading, watching sports, traveling, and hearing from her readers. You can visit her website here, or follow her on Twitter @ipapaverison. (Her new picture book is coming out in the Fall, and is called SPAGHETTI SMILES. The Don's ordering copies for the whole compound.)

Thanks for reading, everyone, and have a Marvelous Middle Grade Monday! Ciao!!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Winner of MINION blog tour is...

Thanks to all who commented on my part of the MINION blog tour. chose comment #8 as the winner, which means

will receive my ARCs of both SIDEKICKED AND MINION!

Happy reading (and writing!) to you all. Ciao!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The MINION Blog Tour rolls in Mafiosoville: (Also, an hilarious interview with JOHN DAVID ANDERSON)

Yay! It's finally here! The Minion Blog Tour is making its stop in Mafiosoville. The Don has declared it a holiday, so we can all shout "hurrah!" while enjoying leftover pizza and one banana, sliced into twelfths. (Thanks bunches, John David Anderson--see the interview below.) The Don also thoroughly enjoyed the novel, especially the title which he has declared will be my official nomenclature from now on. So, please refer to me in all further correspondence as "Minion Michael."

Without further ado, let's put up the bunting for this very funny novel from John David Anderson--a companion to last year's Sidekicked.

What It's About: Michael Morn might be a villain, but he's really not a bad guy. When you live in New Liberty, known across the country as the City without a Super, there are only two kinds of people, after all: those who turn to crime and those who suffer. Michael and his adoptive father spend their days building boxes—special devices with mysterious abilities—which they sell to the mob at a price. They provide for each other, they look out for each other, and they'd never betray each other.

But then a Super comes to town, and Michael's world is thrown into disarray. The Comet could destroy everything Michael and his dad have built, the safe and secure life they've made for themselves. And now Michael and his father face a choice: to hold tight to their life or to let it unravel.

Opening Lines: "When I was twelve years old, give or take, my father strapped a bomb to my chest and drove me to the First National Bank and Trust so we could steal $27,500"

(Was his father the Don?! Sounds a wee bit similar, if you ask me.)

Why I Liked It: I'll say it again, as I say it for all successful middle grade novels. VOICE. All of Michael's preoccupations are those of a middle schooler, and they are delivered humorously with that certain sardonic quality most middle schoolers have. I also really liked the "mad scientist" Dad, and the mystery that unfolded: is there something more to Viola than first meets the eye? Who is behind all the new mayhem in New Liberty? And who is the Comet, the Superhero who has apparently arrived out of nowhere to save the town? I can see middle graders of all stripes lapping this one up!

Of course, I couldn't let this great day pass without collaring the author and shooting off my Mafioso questions to him. As you can tell, this guy John David Anderson is seriously funny. Here we go (my interpolations in italics):

1) Who are your favorite (middle grade) writers?
I try not to pick favorites. Mostly because of the whole dodgeball/team captain/don't-pick-Anderson-because-he's-too-short post traumatic stress of my childhood, and there are so many talented people penning middle grade fiction that my pantheon is ever expanding. Recently I have had the pleasure of reading the latest from Kate DiCamillo, Thanhha Lai, and Christopher Healy, and I'm looking forward to rereading M.T. Anderson and Douglas Adams again this summer. Those guys crack me up.

(This guy's got good taste. I'll pick him for the team!)

2) What's on your nightstand now?
A half empty Diet Coke can. The cat's hairball medicine (salmon flavored). A dozen Pokemon cards. One sock. And Kenneth Oppel's The Boundless.

(Man, this could totally describe my room in the Mafioso dormitory...)

3) Pick a favorite scene from your novel, and say why you like it
One of my favorites is when Michael's father first lets him down into the basement, but not before describing the lineage of box makers that he comes from. The book is full of boxes, both real and metaphorical, and I love that moment of hope and possibility before you open a box (or press the button, or unlock the door) and reveal the true nature of what lies inside. When Michael goes downstairs he's probably making the biggest decision of his life, and as Yoda tells us, Once you start down the dark path, and so on and so forth.

(I was a total sucker for the opening scene in the bank, too.)

4) Fill in the blank: I'm really awesome at....
Wasting time. Burning dinner. Forgetting the laundry in the washing machine. Playing the same three chords over and over on the ukulele. Eating chocolate. Clipping my nails. Petting the cat. Playing with my kids. Being sarcastic.

(I am awesome at number 3 too. Speaking of which... [sound of washing machine door opening. That lovely dank smell of forgotten laundry...]

5) My favorite breakfast is...
Leftover pizza. And a banana.

(Yeah, um, thanks. The Don took that one to heart.)

6) If you could visit any place, where would it be?
Narnia. Or Dubuque. No. Definitely Narnia.

Didn't I tell you he was freakin' hilarious? And welcome to all our new fans in Dubuque!

About the Author, in his own words: 
John David Anderson writes novels for young people and then, occasionally, gets them published. Besides Minion, he is the author of Sidekicked, and Standard Hero Behavior. He lives with his patient wife and brilliant twins in Indianapolis, Indiana, right next to a State park and a Walmart. He enjoys hiking, reading, chocolate, spending time with his family, playing the piano, chocolate, making board games, chocolate, not putting away his laundry, watching movies, and chocolate. Those aren't his real teeth.

Link to Book Trailer on Facebook
To find out more about the author:

That's it, folks. If you would be so kind as to leave a comment, I will pick a pal to receive my ARCs of both Sidekicked and Minion. In the Don's words, "we need to spread the love about dese books, Minion. Get to it, presto!"

Monday, July 7, 2014

Please come back on Wednesday...

Yes, I am posting on Wednesday this week--with the Don's blessing. The reason: I am part of the MINION blog tour.

I mean, who could be a better minion than me? Really.

I'll have my thoughts on MINION, as well as a really funny interview with the author, John David Anderson. It is not to be missed.

I hope to see you there!

Monday, June 23, 2014



The winner of Jess Keating's stellar debut is....

Please e-mail me with your snail mail address, and I'll send it right along.

Thanks, everyone for entering! Have a great week.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes are Untied by Jess Keating--plus Interview and Giveaway

How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes are Untied (by Jess Keating, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky June 2014)

What it's About (from Goodreads): Ana didn't ask to be named after an anaconda. She didn't ask for zoologist parents who look like safari guides. And she definitely didn't ask for a twin brother whose life goal seems to be terrorizing her with his pet reptiles. Now, to make matters worse, her parents have decided to move the whole family INTO the zoo! All of which gives the Sneerers (the clan of carnivorous female predators in her class) more ammunition to make her life miserable-and squash any hope of class tennis stud, Zack, falling in love with her. Ana tries to channel her inner chameleon and fade into the background, but things are changing too quickly for her to keep up.

Opening Lines: "Don't. Freak. Out.
It was the day before my twelfth half-birthday, and I was spending it holding the business end of a crocodile."
What I Liked About It:  Did I say 'liked"? I meant LOVED! This is one of my fave reads of the year, because it's the sort of book I myself would love to write. It's funny, the characters are compelling, and Jess Keating utterly nails the middle grade voice.

And she utterly nails middle grade concerns as well. Ana is not an extrovert like her parents and grandfather. The last thing she wants to do is be in front of a TV camera because, well, what if everyone--particularly the mean girl clique (so beautifully named the "Sneerers"--judges her? What if her best friend, who's gone to live in New Zealand, no longer wants to be best friends? What if her crush looks at her when she's doing something stupid? As Ana would say: Oh. My. God.

I think middle grade readers are going to love this novel. The cover is immensely eye-catching, and there's going to be a series!!! (The next book is called How to Outswim a Shark Without a Snorkel.) And furthermore, Jess Keating is a zoologist and totally knows her animal stuff. I mean, didn't you know that armadillos sleep for an average of eighteen hours a day?! [Each chapter begins with an animal fact such as this.]

Speaking of Jess, she is really good at Twitter (so go follow her), really fast at replying to e-mail, and lives in Canada. So three Mafioso cheers for her!

Jess took some time to answer the usual Mafioso questions. Please enjoy:

Middle Grade Mafioso: Hi Jess

Jess: MG MAFIOSO! Thank you for having me!

1) Who are your favorite (middle grade) writers?

Ack! It's cliché, but the truth is I just have too many favorite authors to choose just one! I think books are like vitamins. Sometimes, you're low on Vitamin Kate DiCamillo, so you pick up one of her books. Then one day you wake up and you find you need some Linda Urban, so you go for that instead.

I learn so much from nearly every book I read, so I truly do see many authors as mentors in a way. I will say that while I don't have a favorite, I often find myself turning to Meg Cabot, Rachel Renée Russell, and Judy Blume when I need something really voicey. I'm also inspired by Katherine Applegate, Jennifer Nielsen, Tom Angleberger, Jenni Holm, Eliot Schrefer, and the two ladies mentioned above!

There are also several picture book writers whose books constantly inspire me, such as Mo Willems, Ame Dyckman, Bob Shea, Molly Idle, and Oliver Jeffers. I know, I know, you said middle grade authors only, but I think that MG writers can learn a lot by studying picture books—it takes a lot of skill to distill that much voice and story into so few words!

Do you like how I turned what should have been a two word answer into several paragraphs?

MGM: Love it! But hey, the floor is yours, so be my guest.

2) What's on your nightstand now?

A TBR pile that's taking over the rest of the room. I just finished THE CABINET OF WONDERS, by Marie Rutkoski, which features the best fictional spider since Charlotte. I'm also rereading THIS JOURNAL BELONGS TO RATCHET, by Nancy Cavanaugh, along with THREATENED by Eliot Schrefer. There's also a tattered copy of WE ARE IN A BOOK!, by Mo Willems, just for good measure.

MGM: I love Charlotte! So now I've gotta find THE CABINET OF WONDERS!

3) Pick a favorite scene from your novel, and say why you like it

My favorite scenes to write were the ones where Ana suffers the most. That's pretty terrible, isn't it? I'm learning now that these are also the scenes where readers laugh and cringe the most! I love the scene where she botches her live television interview. I also loved the night time caveman scene with Daz, mainly because he's an absolute nutjob. (MGM: He certainly is!)

On the flip side, my favorite scene to read is the ending. Without spoiling things, I can say that I thought about this ending a lot, and knew I was opening a can of worms for Ana. I already can't wait to surprise readers in book two! (MGM: Hooray!)

4) Fill in the blank: I'm really awesome at.... finishing sentences! I'm also great at making popcorn in fun flavors like caramel apple, and lime parmesan. (MGM: Well, the Don will like the lime parmesan...)

5) My favorite breakfast is... second breakfast.

6) If you could visit any place, where would it be?

If we're talking real places, I'd love to visit Australia! I was lucky enough to travel through New Zealand, but never got a chance to skip across and visit the Land of Oz. There are so many amazing animals there (most of which can kill you by simply looking at you), that's hard to pass up!
If we're talking fictional places, I would visit Hogwarts, so I could take Hagrid's Care of Magical Creatures class.
What about YOU, Mr. Mafioso? Where would you visit?

MGM: I've lived in Australia, and it is all that it's cracked up to be. Hey, I've even held a koala. I do think now that I'd like to revisit Italy. I haven't been there since I was about 9. And I really want to check and see if the gelato is as good as I remember it. Thanks for asking, by the way.

About the Author: You can catch Jess at her great website, which has a ton of good things. And, as I said, she's an ace at Twitter.

One More Thing: I'm giving away my ARC of How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes are Untied. All you need to do is comment. International entries welcome, seeing that Jess is an international author. If you tweet, let me know--and I'll give you an extra entry.

Until next time, ciao!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: THE SUMMER I SAVED THE WORLD... IN 65 DAYS by Michele Weber Hurwitz

THE SUMMER I SAVED THE WORLD... IN 65 DAYS by Michele Weber Hurwitz (Wendy Lamb Books/Penguin Random House, April 2014)

What It's About (from the author's website): It's the summer before freshman year in high school and 13-year old Nina Ross is feeling kind of lost. Her beloved Grandma died last year; her super-lawyer parents work all the time; her brother's busy with his friends and his job at the pool; and her best friend Jorie is into clothes, makeup, and boys. While Nina doesn't know what her "thing" is yet, it's definitely not shopping and makeup. And it's not boys either. Though, has Eli, the boy next door, always been so cute?

This summer, Nina decides to change things. She hatches a plan. There are 65 days of summer. Every day, she'll anonymously do one small but remarkable good thing for someone in her family or neighborhood, and find out: does doing good actually make a difference? Along the way, she discovers that people are full of surprises and secrets. In this bighearted, sweetly romantic novel, things might not turn out exactly as Nina expects. They might be better.

Opening Lines:
It starts with Mrs. Chung.
And flowers.
My grandmother believed in what she called STs--Simple Truths. This was one of her favorites: Things happen when they're meant to happen, and the sooner people realize that, the more content they'll be. Most people, she said, don't understand, even when those things are right in front of them."

Why I Liked It: I admit it--Michele Weber Hurwitz is fast becoming one of my favorite authors. I loved her debut, CALLI BE GOLD, which I reviewed in November 2011. I said then that I loved the combination of humor and heart, and THE SUMMER I SAVED THE WORLD... IN 65 DAYS pulls off a similar feat.

Michele Weber Hurwitz has an uncanny ability to get into the mind of a 13-year-old, and Nina's worries about her family, about her friends, and about the neighborhood in which she lives ring very true to life. Each family in the cul de sac--including Nina's own--has problems. For Nina, it's that her parents are workaholics, and her brother seems to have gone off the rails a bit and she feels disconnected from him.

Spurred on by her memories of her grandmother, Nina decides she'll do a good deed for each of the 65 days of summer. Some of the good deeds, like picking up her friend Jorie's lip gloss on the bus and slipping it back into Jorie's bag, seem inconsequential (except that we know Nita has an increasingly complicated relationship with Jorie, who is also interested in the boy that Nita likes.) Others, like helping the injured Mrs. Chung with her mail and her garden, are more practical. What they all have in common, however, is that they bring the neighborhood closer together.

One of my favorite librarian bloggers, Karen Yingling, wrote in her review that THE SUMMER I SAVED THE WORLD... IN 65 DAYS is "pitch perfect for girls on the cusp between middle school and high school. It also made me want to go do random acts of kindness." As I laughed and cried through this wonderful ode to the power of community, I couldn't agree more!

Being the Mafioso I am, I just had to get to know Michele Weber Hurwitz a bit better. Here's how she handled the customary Mafioso grilling:

1) Who are your favorite (middle grade) writers?

There are so many authors I love, it's hard to choose. I'm a big fan of Sarah Weeks, Deborah Wiles, Tom Angleberger, and Rainbow Rowell, although she's more YA. My favorite all-time middle grade book is Holes by Louis Sachar.

2) What's on your nightstand now?

Bird by Crystal Chan, and a grown-up book, which I don't read as often -- The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. I loved her YA book Elsewhere.

3) Pick a favorite scene from your novel, and say why you like it.

It's hard to choose! There's one scene early on where an older neighbor, Mrs. Milllman, calls the police after the main character, Nina, starts doing some of her secret good deeds. That scene is so funny to me, because Mrs. Millman is suspicious and thinks "someone" has been trespassing in the neighborhood. She grows more and more hysterical (in both senses of the word) throughout the book. There's also a pivotal moment in the story when Nina does something in memory of her grandma, who died a year earlier, and the poignancy of that scene gets me every time! And, any scene with Thomas, the five-year old boy in the neighborhood, tugs at my heart and makes me smile at the same time. {Mafioso here: Thomas rocks!}

4) Fill in the blank: I'm really awesome at...

Organizing things! Shelves, closets, desks, you name it and I can organize it in twenty minutes flat. It's a weird talent. More like an obsession. I often drive my family crazy :) {You totally have to come and organize the Don's compound, Michele. He's bound to give you The Order of the Eggplant after that!}

5) My favorite breakfast is...

French toast with berries and maple syrup or a really gooey cinnamon roll. {My wife'll join you in that gooey cinnamon roll...}

6) If you could visit any place, where would it be?

Paris. I took French through high school and college but I've forgotten most of it. I'd love to try to speak the language again, as well as spend time in that beautiful city. {Mais oui, Paris!}

Michele Weber Hurwitz, courtesy of Rinker Photo
About the Author: In my dealings with Michele Weber Hurwitz, I can say she is a lovely person. She has a fabulous website, with a great ABOUT ME page. (where you can learn that she is obsessed with post-it notes, and dislikes tomatoes.) You can also find her on Twitter @MicheleWHurwitz.

Thanks so much, Michele, for answering my questions--and for writing two amazing novels!