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.

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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. 

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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.