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 www.giphy.com

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.

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 Amazon.com. 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. 

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Friday, October 31, 2014

Final Scare: BIRD BOX by Josh Malerman

Title: Bird Box
Author: Josh Malerman
Pub info: Ecco, 2014; 262 pp
Genre / Audience: horror / suspense / written for adults
Caveats for Younger Readers: Very tense with some after-the-fact gore (discovery of dead bodies and the like), but readers 15+ can hack it; no sex

Goodreads summary:
Most people ignored the outrageous reports on the news. But they became too frequent, they became too real. And soon, they began happening down the street. Then the Internet died. The television and radio went silent. The phones stopped ringing. And we couldn't look outside anymore. Malorie raises the children the only way she can; indoors. The house is quiet. The doors are locked, the curtains are closed, mattresses are nailed over the windows. They are out there. She might let them in. The children sleep in the bedroom across the hall. Soon she will have to wake them. Soon she will have to blindfold them. Today they must leave the house. Today they will risk everything.

status: finished 10/29

My impressions:
This book is pure Hitchcockian tension. It's all about what dangers might lurk around the next corner, the fear of the dark, the fear of the unknown. This superfast read keeps you on the edge of your seat the same way the films Paranormal and Blair Witch Project did. Somewhere out there lurk creatures who will drive you insane if you look at them; you will kill yourself and possibly others. They have cut you off from your neighbors, your community, your government. You cover your windows; you don't dare leave the house--until you must.

Did this book give me nightmares? No, but it kept me very tense all the while I was reading it. Perfect for a dark and stormy night.

About Josh:
Josh is the lead singer and songwriter for the rock band The High Strung. He lives in Ferndale, Michigan. Bird Box is his first novel. He has also written a Halloween thriller novella called Ghastle and Yule.

You can find Josh on his band Facebook page and his Twitter feed. 

Need more scares? Every Friday in October I dished up a new one! Search for the tag Scare of the Week to see them all. Stay tuned for the upcoming giveaway to win one of these spooky titles.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

BLOG TOUR STOP: Annie McMahon!

Congratulations to Annie McMahon, author of the middle-grade contemporary novel Adventure on Nemesis  Mountain! I'm honored to be a stop--almost the caboose!--on her blog tour. For a full schedule of stops, including giveaways, interviews, and more, go to the blog schedule here.

Title: Adventure on Nemesis Mountain
Author: Annie McMahon
Pub info: Amazon Digital Services, 2014; 65 pp; available in paperback and ebook formats
Genre / Audience: contemporary MG (ages 8-12)
Caveats for Younger Readers: none; easy reading, would be ideal for a reluctant reader

Goodreads summary:
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.

My impressions:
Adventure on Nemesis Mountain is a fun, engaging read. McMahon quickly establishes the roles of Emilio as victim and Hans as bully early on in the story. When the two boys get lost together on a school field trip, McMahon deftly brings them first closer together, then further apart, letting the reader see a gradual (but not linear) journey to greater understanding. The tension stays ratcheted up just enough to keep the pages turning fast.

I'd have liked to have seen a bit more in this story. At 65 pages, it's pretty brief, and maybe more buildup at the beginning would fill it out. But as a fast-moving, easy-reading chapter book, young middle-grade readers will eat it up. The writing is straightforward, and there are some nice touches of humor and suspense, even if occasionally the dialogue doesn't quite ring true for kidspeak. Emilio's knowledge of nature coupled with Hans's courage and athleticism would make a fun pairing for a future book as well.

About Annie:

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 of computer 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.

You can find Annie on her Twitter page and blog, where she regularly offers helpful tips for writers and readers. Currently, Adventure on Nemesis Mountain is available in paperback ($6.99) and ebook ($2.99) formats from Amazon at this link.

Annie is generously offering several copies of her book in this Rafflecopter giveaway. Enter below and good luck! (Note: All entries will go to Annie's attention, not my own, so please direct any questions to her. Thanks!)

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