Tuesday, April 29, 2014

My New Series on Project Mayhem: Celebrating Young Writers

I'm at Project Mayhem today, interviewing 10-year-old Felicia, who has already written and published her first novel,  The Perpetual Papers of the Pack of Pets. Check it my interview HERE.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday--PROJECT XCALIBUR by Greg Pace

PROJECT XCALIBUR by Greg Pace (Putnam 2013)

What It's About: (from the book jacket)
Ben has been an underdog his whole life. But when he meets Merlin—theMerlin—the wizard delivers devastating news: a vicious band of aliens are approaching, and Ben could be the champion Earth desperately needs.  
Soon Ben joins the Round Table Reboot, where legendary heroes are training a new generation to battle the deadly threat. They have a secret weapon: X-Calibur. But this time X-Calibur is not a sword -- it's a spaceship -- and only the right kid can awaken its powers.  All Ben has ever wanted is to be a hero…but is it in the stars for him? 

Opening Lines: "I had motor oil in my eyes and it stung."

What I liked: The opening line(s), for a start. I mean, you're immediately thinking, "who is this, and why does he have motor oil in his eyes? The next paragraph gives us a great insight into Ben. "Luckily I knew the underside of a pickup truck like the back of my hand, so finishing the oil change filter with my eyes closed was no biggie."

So much is accomplished in just three sentences: questions raised, the character's mechanical skill, and the pitch perfect middle grade language of "no biggie."

2) I am a big fan of Arthurian legend, and Greg Pace does a masterful job of bringing Arthur into the modern age. The new "knights" fly prototypes of an alien space ship, and there is a ton of action.

3) Ben grows as a character who is unsure of himself, and why he's been chosen (he is a tad klutzy, as we find out in an opening rope-climbing in the gym scene). At the end, he feels he has earned his place among the fighters. After all, he's the one who has just gone toe-to-toe with the alien Dredmore.

All in all, this is a high-paced middle grade action adventure, with a lot of humor and heart. I sped through it, and I'm sure the target audience would too.

I got the chance to ask Greg Pace a few of my traditional Middle Grade Mafioso questions:

Hi Greg, it was a pleasure reading Project XCalibur. I'd love to know a bit more about you.

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

I have huge respect for the handful of writers that really changed the game and took middle grade from "books for kids" to books that pretty much anyone can enjoy.  Writers like J.K. Rowling or Rick Riordan. Basically, the heavyweights.My reading tastes are all over the place in terms of authors and genres, though. One week I might read Diary of a Wimpy Kid and the next I'll read anything by Stephen King.  

2) What's on your nightstand now?Innocence, by Dean Koontz.

3) Pick a favorite scene from PROJECT X-CALIBUR, and say why you like it

One of my favorite scenes is when Merlin brings Ben into his hidden office at the Round Table Reboot HQ. I love the fact that Merlin's inner sanctum includes bookcases and tables made of wood, while the rest of HQ is strictly steel. He talks about the idea that wood "remembers,"  that it holds onto the blood, sweat and tears of the people who have used it, while steel is impersonal and impenetrable. I think the scene perfectly sums up Merlin's insecurities about his place in a modern world.

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

Thinking I can do anything I set my mind to. 
5) My favorite breakfast is...

Egg, bacon, and cheese biscuits from any fast food place (although I usually regret it afterward and rush to the gym to make amends).
6) If you could visit any place, where would it be?

Can I time travel? If so, I'd like to go pretty much anywhere in the past, a hundred years ago. It would be awesome to be the only one who really knows what the future holds! 

Time travel?! You got me hooked. Thanks so much for stopping by Middle Grade Mafioso today, Greg.

About the Author, (from the book jacket): Greg Pace has been a lifelong creativity junkie. From drawing and putting together models of classic movie monsters, to playing guitar in an Atlanta-based heavy metal band, to performing stand-up comedy throughout Los Angeles and selling movie scripts to Hollywood, Greg's life has often been his very own action-adventure. But it's his love of horror, sci-fi, and his number one passion--writing--that makes this first book so satisfying and exciting for him. Greg currently lives in Los Angeles.

Monday, April 14, 2014

MMGM: DIEGO'S DRAGON by Kevin Gerard (with Interview)

DIEGO'S DRAGON, BOOK ONE: SPIRITS OF THE SUN by Kevin Gerard (Crying Cougar Press, 2011)

What It's About (from the book jacket): Eleven-year-old Diego Ramirez has no idea how much his life is about to change when he wins a district-wide writing contest for sixth graders. His prize: a statue of a handsome, glistening black dragon. 

Magnifico, his family and friends exclaim. Diego decides that will be his dragon's name. It's a good choice, because Magnifico actually is the dragon's name. Magnifico isn't really a statue. He's the leader of the Sol Dragones, dragons that live within the magical fires of the sun--and Diego is his unknowing guide.

As Magnifico comes to life he becomes quite mischievous, playing tricks on Diego to embarrass him. When Diego discovers his bloodline, however, he assumes greater control over his dragon and his destiny. In the climactic journey, he frees his people and suffers a terrible loss by guiding Magnifico to their goal.

Opening Lines: "Diego knew the dragon was alive the moment he touched it. Even though only a statue, and only eighteen inches tall, Diego felt a pulsing heartbeat when he accepted it from the author."

What I Liked:

1) The cover: I found the colors of the cover very appealing. 
2) The Latino main character. Diego is an appealing young guy, and I liked the interactions between him and his family and friends. 
3) Magnifico. What a character! This dragon is feisty, and not always in a good mood. I liked the fact that often it is only Diego who can see the dragon--that leads to a number of comic misunderstandings. I also liked the fact that the dragon is a Mexican dragon, and the fact that the quest had to do with the sufferings of crossing the border.
4) The pacing. The story pulses along at a good clip. It doesn't take much to get lost in the world Kevin Gerard has created.
5) Realism. The characters are faced with issues often prevalent in the real world, especially violence. A caveat: I am a very open-minded reader, and don't mind things getting a little gritty--but I have to warn more sensitive readers that there is quite a lot of alcohol consumption (Esteban, Diego's older brother, is an alcoholic), as well as some bad language in both English and Spanish that you don't typically see in middle grade.

I e-mailed Kevin Gerard a few questions, and enjoyed his answers. 

1) Who are your favorite (middle grade) writers?
James Matlack Raney
Katherine Longshore
Bruce Hale
Kirby Larson

2) What's on your nightstand now?
Jim Morgan and the King of Thieves by James Matlack Raney

3) Pick a favorite scene from DIEGO'S DRAGON: SPIRITS OF THE SUN, and say why you like it
Well, the first time Magnifico comes to life in the school library is wonderful, and it's incredible when Diego and Magnifico save Diego's brother, Esteban in the middle of the night, but if I had to pick one scene, I love it when Magnifico hides in the ivy on the side of Diego's house and then can't suppress a sneeze. Ka-BOOM! The concussion from the sneeze knocks Diego and his father out cold and sets off car alarms in the entire neighborhood. It's always nice to add a little humor to a character as powerful as Magnifico.

4) Fill in the blank: I'm really awesome at....
Talking to a multi-purpose room full of students about Diego's Dragon. The students think they're having the best time, but the big secret is that I'm really a 10 year old at heart, and I have as much fun as they do!

5) My favorite breakfast is...
A five-egg omelet with onions, green peppers, and mushrooms. Throw some turkey bacon and a few Aussie Bites (get them at CostCo) on the side, and I'm starting my day right.

6) If you could visit any place, where would it be?
The Glade of Champions, where all the giant cat warriors in the Conor and the Crossworlds series live. I'd like to meet all of them. If I had to stick with reality, though, I want to go to Ireland someday. My great, great, great, great, who knows how many grandfathers ago, left the old country and came to America. I'd like to go back home and scrunch some native soil in my fingers.

There are two other books in the series: Dragons of the Dark Rift and The Battle at Tenochtitlan. Kevin Gerard is also the author of the Conor and the Crossworlds series. You can find out more about him at his website, Diego's Dragon.

EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT! Kevin's going to run a contest for these cool dragon claws. 

Sign up for Diego and Conor's newsletter list, and find out about it. All you have to do is go to Diego's home page and the sign-up box is on the right. www.diegosdragon.com

Monday, April 7, 2014

Nosy Mafioso Wants to Know...

Photo by Yunhee Kim
Shame and guilt have filled the Mafioso compound at the continuing silence at this blog, and the Don has decreed that we cannot remain dark a minute longer. (He gives me no credit for all my back-breaking labor at Project Mayhem, or my own writing, or my having read six middle grade novels in the last two weeks, but not yet sending questionnaires to the writers to squeeze out every last drop of information...)

In order to mollify the man, I am nosing about in others' bedrooms. My mission? To uncover what is on your nightstand now. For the record, I have just finished The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern (Chronicle, May 2014) am about to plunge into the long-awaited ARC of my pal Tara Dairman's All Four Stars (Putnam/Penguin, July 2014) Can't Wait!

What is on your nightstand now? Do spill. (Photos a bonus!)