Monday, April 13, 2015

Reading Update and a GIveaway!

Since I eschewed apologies at the start of 2015, I have nothing to say in the way of Sorry I've been gone. But, you know ... sorry I've been gone.

Anyway, I've made terrific headway this year on my TBR list, not to mention doing some writing, which is kind of my job, so, good on me. But now that I've read a few fabulous books, I'm ready to pass them on to you in the form of brand-new, Amazon-minted copies. Here are my recs:

title & author: The Forbidden Stone (Book 1 in the Copernicus Legacy Series) by Tony Abbott
pub info: Katherine Tegen Books / HarperCollins, 2014; 423 pp
audience: middle grade (ages 9+)
genre: spy / thriller /bit o' magic
caveats: well, you know, thriller--people do chase each other and get hurt, but nothing major; there's murder, but offstage
Goodreads summary:
It all began when four friends--Wade, Lily, Darrel, and Becca--received a strange, coded email from Wade's uncle Henry shortly before the old man's sudden death. They set off for Germany to attend the funeral with Wade's father, Roald, and discover that Uncle Henry left them yet another baffling message that they suspect is the key to figuring out how and why he died.

The message leads to a clue, and the more clues they discover, the farther they travel down a treacherous path toward an ancient, guarded secret. Soon they are in a breathless race across the globe, running for their lives as a dangerous shadow organization chases them around every corner. Their only hope of saving themselves--and the world that they know--is to find twelve magical relics from a hidden past that will unlock the Copernicus Legacy.
my thoughts:
Readers who love a fast-moving, international adventure sprinkled with bits of magic and a hint of time travel will love this new series by Tony Abbott. It's a little bit Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code) without all the churchy bits, and there's a definite Rick Riordan flavor as well. The characters are fun, the pages speed by, and I am all set to read The Serpent's Curse, the next in the series (which I bought only moments after closing the cover of Book #1). Of course, the bummer is that there are only two books out so far, though the third (in a series of six) is due out this August. To make things a bit more confusing, there will also be six Copernicus "archives" (paperback originals), which take place in between the six main novels.  I know, it's complicated. The first takes place immediately after the action closes in The Forbidden Stone, and it's called Wade and the Scorpion's Claw. Now, can you still understand what all is going on if you read only the "main" novels? Maybe. I'm not sure on that one, but my Book #2 seems to explain things just fine. (Note: The "archives" sell for only $3.99 each, but they're not short. Scorpion's Claw is 224 pages.)

find Tony:
Tony Abbott, the author of 100+ books and not to be confused with this PM of Australia, has a nifty website here. His books include the popular series The Secrets of Droon as well as loads of others. He also keeps Facebook and Twitter accounts. The Copernicus Legacy series has its own website here.

title & author: Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin
pub info: Feiwel & Friends / Macmillan, 2014; 226 pp
audience: middle grade (ages 9+)
genre: contemporary fiction
caveats: none
Goodreads summary:
Rose Howard has Asperger’s syndrome, and an obsession with homonyms (even her name is a homonym). She gave her dog Rain a name with two homonyms (Reign, Rein), which, according to Rose’s rules of homonyms, is very special. Rain was a lost dog Rose’s father brought home. Rose and Rain are practically inseparable. And they are often home alone, as Rose’s father spends most evenings at a bar, and doesn’t have much patience for his special-needs daughter.

Just as a storm hits town, Rain goes missing. Rose’s father shouldn’t have let Rain out. Now Rose has to find her dog, even if it means leaving her routines and safe places to search. 
my thoughts:
My thoughts are, READ THIS BOOK. The Goodreads summary doesn't begin to do it justice. Yes, Rose has Asperger's (high-functioning autism), but this isn't a book about autism; it's a book about a girl forced to make some tough choices. She struggles in her classroom, with making friends, and with her father, who doesn't always know what to do with her. But through it all, Rose has her dog, Rain. The beauty of their relationship--and how Rose grows in love and maturity with Rain--is absolutely breathtaking. A beautiful book that won several awards this past year. 

find Ann:
Ann M. Martin has written several books, including the acclaimed series The Babysitter's Club. You can learn more about her and her work on her Facebook page, Twitter account, and the Scholastic Books' site

And now for the giveaway ...

So, two fantastic middle-grade reads! Want one? Tell me your favorite and enter to win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And don't forget to check out more Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday posts at Shannon Messenger's blog!

Monday, February 9, 2015

January Reads & Giveaway!

Welcome to February! I have to say that my 2015 got off to a roaring reading start with some wonderful young adult and middle-grade titles. Here's the ones I'd recommend to all of you. Scroll down to the bottom to enter a giveaway for any of the above, and I'll send the winner a brand-new copy of his/her favorite. (Hey, the sun is shining and I'm counting the days till spring. I'm feeling generous today. Take advantage.)


title & author: RUSH by Eve Silver
pub info: Katherine Tegen Books / HarperCollins, 2013; 361 pp
audience: 12+ / YA
genre: science fiction
caveats: no sex, but the story is violent, and there is one teen death in this book, which the author handles very sensitively.
Goodreads summary:
When Miki Jones is pulled from her life, pulled through time and space into some kind of game — her carefully controlled life spirals into chaos.

In the game, she and a team of other teens are sent on missions to eliminate the Drau, terrifying and beautiful alien creatures. There are no practice runs, no training, and no way out. Miki has only the guidance of secretive but maddeningly attractive team leader Jackson Tate, who says the game isn’t really a game, that what Miki and her new teammates do now determines their survival, and the survival of every other person on this planet. She laughs. He doesn’t. And then the game takes a deadly and terrifying turn.
my thoughts:
A smart, well-paced sci-fi story with well-drawn characters. I like Miki especially; both her family life and her game life are complex. The writing is not flowery, but good and solid. It's an interesting story concept, especially as Miki begins to question her role and the nature of reality. There's nothing too heavy here, though, and the novel zips right along. For those who like a nice romance, the elusive Jackson Tate provides a good bit of intrigue. CAUTION: This book doesn't so much end as stop. It's the first of a three-part series (known as the Game), and if you want the rest of the story, you'll need to go on to PUSH (2014) and CRASH (due out in June).

find Eve:
Learn more about award-winning and best-selling author Eve Silver at her website, Twitter account, and Facebook page.

title & author: Graceling by Kristin Cashore
pub info: Harcourt, 2008; 471 pp
audience: 12+ / YA
genre: fantasy
caveats: a pretty bloody book--not all that graphic, but there's a lot of killing; some sex, but more implied than described
Goodreads summary:
Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight--she's a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king's thug.

When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change.

She never expects to become Po's friend.

She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace--or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away.
my thoughts:
If you've read a lot of tough-heroine-plus-romance YA--e.g., The Hunger Games and its many copycats--Graceling will seem a bit old hat. But remember that it was published in 2008, so it came at the beginning of this wave. Katsa is a marvelous character--interesting, sympathetic, a bit of an oddball. I love her. The romance? Eh. It will thrill those who love that stuff, but it's not my bag. Despite its length, I raced through this book because the writing is tight and marvelous, much more seasoned than you'd expect from a debut. Cashore does a wonderful job of creating her complex world, and I was immediately immersed in it. The ending was a bit abrupt, but all in all, a great read. There are two more books in the series, but they're more companion novels than sequels; Graceling is a complete story, and I don't think Katsa appears in the other two books, Fire (Dial, 2009) and Bitterblue (2012).

find Kristin:
Kristin blogs regularly here. Learn more about her through her FAQ page, and find out where she's appearing next right here.


title & author: A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff
pub info: Philomel / Penguin, 2013; 240 pp
audience: 9+ / MG
genre: real-world fantasy
caveats: none
Goodreads summary:
Told in multiple viewpoints, A Tangle of Knots is a magnificent puzzle. In a slightly magical world where everyone has a Talent, eleven-year-old Cady is an orphan with a phenomenal Talent for cake baking. But little does she know that fate has set her on a journey from the moment she was born. And her destiny leads her to a mysterious address that houses a lost luggage emporium, an old recipe, a family of children searching for their own Talents, and a Talent Thief who will alter her life forever. However, these encounters hold the key to Cady's past and how she became an orphan. If she's lucky, fate may reunite her with her long-lost parent.

Lisa Graff adds a pinch of magic to a sharply crafted plot to create a novel that will have readers wondering about fate and the way we're all connected.
my thoughts:
I adored this book. The writing is beautiful without being difficult. The characters' interconnected lives are like one of Cady's elaborate layered cakes. While this is a world where (almost) everyone has a magical Talent, it's very much our own real world as well--children are ornery, parents disappoint, friends are made and betrayed. My only caution to readers is not to let the book sit. There's a lot going on, and if you return to the novel after leaving it alone for a few days, you'll find yourself flipping back through the chapters to maintain the thread of the different viewpoints. Do yourself a favor and just lose yourself in it for a while. You won't regret it. Shortlisted for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature in 2013.

find Lisa:
Lisa's website will tell you all about her books and latest news. Look for her on Twitter and Facebook, too. Her most recent book, Absolutely Almost (2014), earned multiple starred reviews,  landed on several "Best of" lists, and is an ALA Notable Book.

title & author: The Arrival by Shaun Tan
pub info: Lothian Books, 2007; 128 pp
audience: all ages
genre: fantastical picture book/graphic
caveats: none
Goodreads summary:
In a heartbreaking parting, a man gives his wife and daughter a last kiss and boards a steamship to cross the ocean. He's embarking on the most painful yet important journey of his life--he's leaving home to build a better future for his family.

Shaun Tan evokes universal aspects of an immigrant's experience through a singular work of the imagination. He does so using brilliantly clear and mesmerizing images. Because the main character can't communicate in words, the book forgoes them too. But while the reader experiences the main character's isolation, he also shares his ultimate joy.
my thoughts:
I'd been wanting this book for years, and when I finally saw it in the bookshop (while Christmas shopping for other people), I snapped it up. It is simply amazing. I've labeled it "for all ages," though it isn't a picture book for a toddler. It's a complex story of an immigrant man who leaves everything he knows to venture off into a new life. What he finds there is both familiar and fantastical. The story is told entirely through Tan's amazing illustrations--no text--but it is endearing and utterly captivating. I'm a words person, yes, but I wouldn't have added a single one to this beautiful book. It made me cry and laugh and "read" it--absorb it--again and again. Everyone needs this book!  That means you.

find Shaun:
Shaun's superfun website can be found here (don't illustrators have the best sites?). He is the author of many graphic novels and picture books and even an Oscar-winning animated short (The Lost Thing, 2011). His blog is gorgeous, too.  

And now for the giveaway ... 
Let me know which of these wonderful books YOU'D like to win! U.S. entries only, please.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Weird Reading Goals for 2015

So last year, I set a goal to read all the books on my shelf that I had purchased but not read.

Also, a goal to blog each book that I read off that list.

There were 51 books on that list. I managed to read 31 of them. I blogged 27.

All in all, I'm not unhappy with that. I mean, realize that I also read books for the three book clubs I belong to as well as those I impulsively snagged at the library, borrowed from friends, or bought and devoured on the spot. (Grand total: 85 books.) At least I did manage to blog the vast majority of the books on the list, and I made a real dent in my TBR shelf. Alas, more work remains. I now have a TBR 2015 shelf because, yes, I bought more books in 2014. It's a never-ending problem. (But a good one to have.)

So, my total for the 2015 TBR Shelf--that's leftovers from 2014 plus additions for 2015--comes to 59 books. If that sounds like an impossible goal--won't the number just keep getting bigger and bigger every year?--remember that I will at least completely annihilate the 2014 list, which was built up over a number of years.

Then again, how did I manage to add 39 books in a single year? Good lord, did I buy 39 books? Okay, some were gifts--14 of them. I bought 6 at authors' readings. The other 25 I guess I just snapped up at random.

Why all this accounting? I'm just curious, I guess, as to how this pile of physical tomes (don't get me started on the e-books) got so very high. But as the blog is my witness, I will at least surpass last year's number.



If I manage to meet these goals, I will leave a maximum of 14 books unread. That's a net gain of 6 books over this year! See how it's working?

And I'll blog every one.

Ha ha ha! No, I won't. I'm not even setting a goal. I'll let you know which ones are worth your time, though. Promise.

images: Bookshelf--By Stewart Butterfield (flickr), used by permission under this Creative Commons license, via Wikimedia Commons; GIF by

Monday, January 19, 2015

Cover Reveal!

Hey, blogfrogs: Surf on over to The Book Smugglers blog to see the cover reveal for The Wand & the Sea today! Better yet, you can win a signed ARC (advance reader's copy) of the book. So get your mouse moving.

And while you're at it, head over to Shannon Messenger's blog for more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday fun!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Blog Overhaul

Last year I blogged 104 times. That's about every four days, though not on a strictly consistent basis. Still, not bad.

But here's what happens: I work, too. I research books, write books, rewrite books, go over copyedits and galleys, schedule appearances, put together presentations for schools and lit festivals and author events. I also do freelance editing for book publishers if I have some extra time. So the pressure of blogging all those books I read, or keeping up a blog series, or what have you, gets to be a distraction.

I'm not kvetching about the job. I have a good job, and I love it. But it's always hard to see where blogging should fit in, especially considering that very few people (let's be honest) seek this blog out and read it.

In 2015, I'm taking it easy. I'm not promising to blog every book I read. Instead, I'm going to try to do this:
  • report on what's going on with me--news, events
  • post the occasional list of writerly links
  • call your attention to fabulous works of children's lit
  • host the occasional giveaway
  • keep you updated on all the fun to come re. the release of The Wand & the Sea
Hey, I know I'm not Neil Gaiman, who can get away with this kind of blogging and expect people to actually read it. But maybe this method is better suited to the life of a writer. I'd rather spend my time creating wonderful books.

And, I imagine, you'd rather spend your time reading them, instead of this.

image: "Hallwylska museet-3" by Pelle Sten--Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Back to School, 50 Years Late

My first school visit of the 2014-15 school year was worth the wait! I returned to my home elementary school, Pawnee Elementary, on December 3. Pawnee and I were born the same year—1965—and we’ve both aged gracefully, if I say so myself. I was proud to help my school celebrate their 50th anniversary (the celebration is going on throughout this school year).

I attended Pawnee in the 1970s for my second through sixth grades. Back then we had blacktop beneath the monkey bars (the safety warnings consisted of: Don’t fall off), tornado drills in the civil defense shelter, and open doors throughout the school day. Things are a little different now. The brand-new office is a high-security operation with cameras and a buzz-in system outside the locked front doors. The playground has new equipment and something soft to land on, as well as a fence around the whole area. Kids don’t walk home for lunch anymore.

But in so many ways, it’s the same old Pawnee. The teachers care deeply about students. The kids laugh a lot. The library still has all the magic of storytime. The school secretary collects names of students who earn Panther Pride through their achievements; their names are read during the morning announcements. Some kids dream of making movies or studying dinosaurs. Some even dream of writing books and seeing those books in print on someone’s shelf. I can’t wait to see what they achieve. Go Panthers!

To make the visit even more special, librarian Cheryl Roberts and art teacher Lorie Sjostrom had the kids do projects related to The Key & the Flame, and presented me with several gifts:

Lorie Sjostrom's castles:

Some of the student artwork displayed in the front-hall trophy case:


Pawnee pride and Key & the Flame pride!

For more photos and a writeup about the presentation, check out the news story at the district website.

Monday, November 3, 2014

November Giveaway

For the last month almost all of my reading has been creepy! I sought out the best October scares for all ages and reviewed them on this blog. Now I'm giving away whichever one you'd like to win! Click on the titles of the books (and one film) below to read my reviews, then enter to win. To see all the reviews in one go, click here.

by Mary Downing Hahn
horror/ghost story ages 8+
the ghost of a girl long dead lures children to their doom

by Alvin Schwartz
horror/ghost stories ages 9+
anthology of folk tales & urban legends guaranteed to chill

by Josh Malerman
horror/thriller  ages 15+ (written for adults)
an unseen horror is intent on taking down civilization

a film directed by Craig Gillespie; screenplay by Marti Noxon
horror/vampires rated R for language and bloody scares (but not heavy gore/sex)
a handsome vampire moves in next door to a high school kid


1. U.S. entrants only, please.
2. Be sure to note the book/film you want to win AND WHY.
3. Giveaway prizes will be brand-new books/DVD delivered to you via They will be paperback editions unless the book is still available only in hardcover (or choose a Kindle ebook edition of you wish).
4.  This giveaway ends 12:01 AM NOVEMBER 11.
5. There's a new giveaway every month! CLICK HERE to receive a brief email every time a new giveaway is posted on the blog. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway