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!