NOTE: I don't post to this blog super-duper often anymore, because I'm busy writing, well, books. (Read more about that here.) For more up-to-date, day-to-day ramblings, visit my Facebook page.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

National Book Award Finalists!

As much as I'd like to announce myself as one of the 2015 National Book Award finalists in the Young People's Literature category, alas, I cannot. But I'm still excited about the fantastic books up for the prize this year! Here's a quick roundup. Click and add to your TBR list:

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; 352 pp
middle grade contemporary
Goodreads summary:
After her best friend dies in a drowning accident, Suzy is convinced that the true cause of the tragedy was a rare jellyfish sting. Retreating into a silent world of imagination, she crafts a plan to prove her theory--even if it means traveling the globe, alone. Suzy's achingly heartfelt journey explores life, death, the astonishing wonder of the universe...and the potential for love and hope right next door.

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
Baltzer +  Bray; 268 pp
young adult contemporary
Goodreads summary:
Everyone knows Bone Gap is full of gaps—gaps to trip you up, gaps to slide through so you can disappear forever. So when young, beautiful Roza went missing, the people of Bone Gap weren’t surprised. After all, it wasn’t the first time that someone had slipped away and left Finn and Sean O’Sullivan on their own. Just a few years before, their mother had high-tailed it to Oregon for a brand new guy, a brand new life. That’s just how things go, the people said. Who are you going to blame?

Finn knows that’s not what happened with Roza. He knows she was kidnapped, ripped from the cornfields by a dangerous man whose face he cannot remember. But the searches turned up nothing, and no one believes him anymore. Not even Sean, who has more reason to find Roza than anyone, and every reason to blame Finn for letting her go.

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
HarperTeen; 320 pp
young adult contemporary
Goodreads summary:
Caden Bosch is on a ship that's headed for the deepest point on Earth: Challenger Deep, the southern part of the Marianas Trench.

Caden Bosch is a brilliant high school student whose friends are starting to notice his odd behavior.

Caden Bosch is designated the ship's artist in residence, to document the journey with images.

Caden Bosch pretends to join the school track team but spends his days walking for miles, absorbed by the thoughts in his head.

Caden Bosch is split between his allegiance to the captain and the allure of mutiny.

Caden Bosch is torn.

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin
Roaring Brook Press; 384 pp
young adult nonfiction/historical
Goodreads summary:
On June 13, 1971, the front page of the New York Times announced the existence of a 7,000-page collection of documents containing a secret history of the Vietnam War. Known as The Pentagon Papers, these documents had been comissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. Chronicling every action the government had taken in the Vietnam War, they revealed a pattern of deception spanning over twenty years and four presidencies, and forever changed the relationship between American citizens and the politicans claiming to represent their interests. 

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
HarperTeen; 266 pp
young adult fantasy (graphic novel)
Goodreads summary:
Nemeses! Dragons! Science! Symbolism! All these and more await in this brilliantly subversive, sharply irreverent epic from Noelle Stevenson. Featuring an exclusive epilogue not seen in the web comic, along with bonus conceptual sketches and revised pages throughout, this gorgeous full-color graphic novel is perfect for the legions of fans of the web comic and is sure to win Noelle many new ones.

Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren't the heroes everyone thinks they are.

For more information on the award, including the finalists and longlisted titles in other categories, visit the National  Book Awards website here

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Reading Right Now Wednesday: THE GLASS SENTENCE

Trying out this idea of reporting in on what I'm reading this week. Bit of a disclaimer: I usually post about children's books, but with this particular series, there will be some adult reads thrown in too.

This Week: 

The Glass Sentence

author: S.E. Grove
pub info: Viking Books for Young Readers, 2014; 493 pp
audience: young adult (ages 12+)
genre: fantasy
why I'm reading it: The premise sounded so fantastic, and everyone seems to love it
Goodreads link
Quick summary:
It's a topsy-turvy world when in 1799 the Great Disruption occurs--different parts of the world are suddenly thrust into different time periods. This new world needs someone to map it, and Sophia's uncle is the foremost cartologer in the world. But when he goes missing, it's up to Sophia to find him.

So Far:
I am so completely hooked just by the prologue of this book. This is one that I know will suck me in and let the dinner burn (er ... cook itself?). Great writing and a luscious storyline combine for a book that's impossible to put down. Also: I'm promised pirates! I'm so in!

Fun Fact:
S.E. Grove's sequel, The Golden Specific, was published in July. The series has one more book to go. You can learn more about the author at her website here and in this interview by The Washington Post.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Talk Like a Pirate Day!

OK, it's not like I've never celebrated this day before, but I can hardly ignore it this year, considering that THE WAND & THE SEA has been out in the world for only a few months. You already know that your local (participating!) Krispy Kreme Doughnut Shop will give you free doughnuts for dressing and talking like an 18th-century seafaring criminal (and why not?), and I recently posted a brief history on where the pirate's jargon came from. For those of us who are totally into all things piratical, a day devoted to saying arrrrr and shiver me timbers makes perfect sense, but no doubt the rest of the world is thinking ...

Why pirates?

What makes them so attractive to us, when we know they were typically thieving, ruthless brigands? How did murderous sea captains become lovable rebels?

Pirates were admired in their time precisely because they didn't follow rules. Some of them adhered to the Pirate Code, and some were dashing privateers, but the freedom of the true pirate was what made him a romantic hero. In the restrictive Victorian age, when certainly women--but men, too--had so many rules to follow, the idea of sailing away on one's own ship and living exactly as one pleased had a great appeal. Never mind that most pirates lived free for a very short time--typically, less than 10 years. It was the idea of the thing. And so we've remade them into harmless or dashing heroes, which is not really what they were. We've fallen in love with characters, only. But that's what fiction is all about. Right?

You did know that my latest book features a band of somewhat atypical pirates, didn't you? In the second installment of THE KEY & THE FLAME series, Holly and the boys team up with a pirate captain to set sail and rescue the Adepts of Anglielle. Read more about the book here.


clip above taken from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Reading Right Now Wednesday

Trying out this idea of reporting in on what I'm reading this week. Bit of a disclaimer: I usually post about children's books, but with this particular series, there will be some adult reads thrown in too.

This Week: 

The Strangers

author: Jacqueline West
pub info: Dial Books, 2013; 320 pp
audience: middle grade (ages 9+)
genre: fantasy
why I'm reading it: I've read Books #1-#3 in the Books of Elsewhere series, and they're all marvelous; this is Book #4
Goodreads link

Quick summary:
Olive faces new dangers and mysteries as autumn approaches and strangers arrive to the house on Linden Street on Halloween night.

So Far:
Jacqueline West's detailed, delightful writing always keeps me turning pages, and this book is no exception. Although this series encompasses only months, not years, of Olive's life, it's interesting to see how she's changing as she tiptoes toward adolescence. The creeps in this book are pretty scary without causing nightmares. Unless this ends on some kind of weird, wrong note (not the author's style), I'm sure I'll end up loving the finished book as much as I do now, at the beginning.

Fun Fact:
Author Jacqueline West has completed the Books of Elsewhere series (a total of five) and has turned her talents to YA fiction. Her "eerie Shakespearan" novel will be released in April 2016. Entertainment Weekly gives you a peek at the first pages of Dreamers Often Lie here. For an introduction to the Books of Elsewhere, check out the book trailer below.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Review: GOODBYE STRANGER by Rebecca Stead

title & author: Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
pub info: Wendy Lamb Books, August 2015; 304 pp
audience: middle grade (10+)
genre: MG contemporary
caveats: nothing much, but the themes are definitely middle school to early high school
review excerpt: "Sensitively explores togetherness, aloneness, betrayal and love." --The New York Times Book Review
Goodreads summary:
Bridge is an accident survivor who's wondering why she's still alive. Emily has new curves and an almost-boyfriend who wants a certain kind of picture. Tabitha sees through everybody's games--or so she tells the world. The three girls are best friends with one rule: No fighting. Can it get them through seventh grade?
This year everything is different for Sherm Russo as he gets to know Bridge Barsamian. What does it mean to fall for a girl--as a friend?
On Valentine's Day, an unnamed high school girl struggles with a betrayal. How long can she hide in plain sight?
my thoughts:
Rebecca Stead is one of the few authors whose books I buy on preorder--before they've been reviewed, before I know anything about them, before any hype has time to gather. I've read all four of her novels, and I've rejoiced at seeing her grow and deepen as a writer. Goodbye Stranger combines several standby Stead elements: multiple points of view; a bit of a mystery; the complexity of friendships as children approach all the changes that adolescence brings. One of the wonderful things about this book is that it introduces some mature themes (not sexual, just mature) that readers will discover in YA (ages 12+) fiction, but in a somewhat "safer" environment. Bridge's character, her struggles to keep her old friendships and make new ones, will resonate with middle schoolers, while the unnamed high school girl's issues speak of what may lie ahead in years to come. My favorite part of the book is the relationship between Bridge and Sherm--not really boyfriend/girlfriend, but leaning ever so slowly in that direction. And as always, Stead's writing is crisp, never wordy, and very, very real. A great addition to her canon.

find Rebecca:
Rebecca's website, here, showcases her upcoming events and her three other books--First Light; the Newbery Award winner When You Reach Me; and Liar & Spy. Her blog includes infrequent posts on news and events. She also hangs out on Twitter.

Be sure to visit Shannon Messenger's blog to see more fun links to great middle-grade reads and giveaways!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Reading Right Now Wednesday

Good idea? Bad idea? Post about books I'm reading and what I think of them? Well, I'll give it a try for a while. I'm not the fastest reader on the planet, but I try to spend at least an hour a day doing it, so I do get through a fair number of books in a year. And, as you may be aware, I often give away brand-new copies of my particular faves. Bit of a disclaimer: I usually post about children's books, but with this particular series, there will be some adult reads thrown in too.

This Week: 

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

author: Claire North
pub info: Redhook, 2014; 432 pp
audience: adult
genre: time travel / science fiction
why I'm reading it: It's this month's selection for one of my book clubs, though I already had it on my to-read list because it looked so good
Goodreads link

Quick summary:
Harry is cursed (if you like) with a repetitive life--that is, when he dies, he is immediately reborn into exactly the same body at the same time, and his life begins again. Forever. When Harry learns that others like him may be responsible for bringing about the world's end, he decides to act--and that changes everything.

So Far:
So yeah, I'm aware that the premise is very like Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, which is a stunningly great book--probably the best I read last year. The story, though, couldn't be more different. The style is less literary, which I don't mean as a bad thing; the author just takes a very different voice from the Atkinson book. In both novels, the main characters ponder what it means to have foreknowledge of the future, and whether that compels one to "fix" things. This book is a real page turner, with a strong main character and fascinating storyline. I'm loving it.

Fun Fact:
Author Claire North has also written under the name Catherine Webb, which she used when writing YA fiction, as well as Kate Griffin. She wrote her first novel when she was 14, for which I have forgiven her. Pretty much.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Great Upcoming MG Reads

This fall is shaping up to be a fantastic season for MG (middle-grade) novels. In the publishing biz, MG is typically geared to ages 8-12, the upper end leaning toward age 14. It's my favorite audience to write for, and MG books have the greatest heart and variety in all of publishing. These are the ones I'm most looking forward to this week. They're landing on your bookshop's shelves tomorrow! Review quotes come from Kirkus Reviews.

The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands
pub info: Aladdin, 384 pp
genre: MG historical thriller/mystery
In 1665 London, a 14-year-old apothecary's apprentice breaks codes and eludes the mysterious Cult of the Archangel to find his master's killer.
"A spectacular debut."

The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB by Adam Shaughnessy
pub info: Algonquin, 272 pp
genre: MG fantasy / real-world magic
11-year-old Pru joins the Fantasy Investigation Bureau to learn why Norse gods are suddenly appearing in her town.
"[The] puzzles and plot twists will absorb and intrigue younger readers as they consider the book’s central questions about truth, magic, and adventure."

Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton
pub info: Dial, 400 pp
genre: MG historical
Mimi, a biracial girl, struggles to fit in at her new school in 1969 Vermont.
"Readers will be moved by the empathetic lyricism of Mimi’s maturing voice."

A Nearer Moon by Melanie Crowder
pub info: Atheneum, 160 pp
genre: MG fantasy
Alternating chapters tell the stories of two girls, one human and one a water sprite, and their quest to save their sisters.
"Exquisitely written with words and images that demand savoring."

A Pocket Full of Murder by R.J. Anderson
pub info: Atheneum, 352 pp
genre: MG fantasy mystery
Four sisters living in a Victorianesque fantasy world use magic and investigation to acquit their wrongfully accused father.
"Thoroughly entertaining."

Redeemed by Margaret Peterson Haddix
pub info: Simon & Schuster, 416 pp
genre: MG science fiction
In the eighth and final installment of the wildly popular Missing series, the Skidmore kids travel to the future to try to repair time and save the world.
"A satisfying end to a long-running series."

Seven Dead Pirates by Linda Bailey
pub info: Tundra, 320 pp
genre: MG humorous ghost story
A boy named Lewis discovers his bedroom is haunted by seven pirates who need to find their way home.
"Piratical fun well-stocked with colorful cast members living and arrghh."

Head over to Shannon Messenger's blog for more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday fun!

Friday, September 4, 2015

Recent Goings-On & Whatnot

Hey, blog readers, in case you're thinking I've just been sitting here watching those dang minions jump and shout and scream about my book launch, I'm here to say (finally) that it's not quite true.

First of all, I did have a fantastic book launch party way back on June 23. Junior and senior pirates alike enjoyed swag, food, and yeah, a bunch of books.

freebie pirate swag galore

120 attendees--and some weren't even my personal friends

pirate cookies & book cake were both hits

Check out more photos of this superfun event here.

Shortly after the launch, I took a well-deserved (if I say so myself) break to lovely San Diego, which is fast becoming our family's vacation spot of choice.

Sunset Cliffs--highly recommended if you love sunsets, oceans, cliffs ... you get it.

After that, I was off to Watermark Books & Cafe in Wichita for a book signing and general merriment with my supercool poet mother-in-law, Diane Wahto.

So now I'm settling back in to writing, reading, and blogging, and I hope to keep you up to date on the goings-on, such as they are. For more or less monthly updates, you can always sign up to receive my author newsletter here, which includes fun freebies like kids' activities and newsletter-only giveaways as well as news, photos, and updates. Till next time, then.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


Celebrate good times, blogfrogs! THE WAND & THE SEA has finally launched!

Order yourself a brand-new copy here

And a salute to you too, Captain Jack, for being only the latest in a long line of charismatic pirates who helped inspire THE WAND & THE SEA. These rogues of the sea have been a lifelong passion of mine. I may even have my own pirate hat. But I'm not telling.

THE WAND & THE SEA by Claire M. Caterer
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2015
384 pp |  ages 8+
fantasy adventure | #2 in THE KEY & THE FLAME series

From Goodreads:
A year has passed since Holly and Ben Shepard have been to England, where they brought their friend Everett to a fantastical realm called Anglielle. Having vowed to return and help the Exiles, Holly, Ben, and Everett are hoping to find their way back to the land ruled by a tyrant king and sorcerer who have outlawed magic.

But when they arrive in Anglielle, they discover things aren’t what they expect: Their friends are imprisoned and the alliance is scattered. Ruthless King Reynard and the sorcerer Raethius are determined to find the very Adepts they exiled in the first place—but why?

It’s up to Holly and the boys to sail to the Isle of Exile and find the Adepts first, but that means enlisting the help of the Water Elementals and a pirate captain with a private agenda. Everett is obsessed with a mysterious locket with a mind of its own, and somehow, no matter where they go, a sinister black-sailed schooner appears on the horizon. With no one to teach her, can Holly master Elemental magic in time to save the Adepts of Anglielle?

This book was a tough write followed by a long wait, but I'm oh so glad it's finally here. And to show my appreciation, I'm giving away a double gift: both THE KEY & THE FLAME and THE WAND & THE SEA--just in case you missed the first book and don't like starting a series in the middle. I totally get that.

(If you already own a copy of THE KEY & THE FLAME and don't know what you'd do with another, we can negotiate another book of your choosing. But don't get greedy until you've won, eh?)

Enter the giveaway below!

1. U.S. AND international entries accepted.
2. Must be 13 years or older to enter (or sucker a parent into entering for you).
3. Winner will be notified by email on July 23, 2015, and must respond within 72 hours or a new winner will be chosen.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, June 22, 2015

A Piratical Giveaway

One day to go before the release of THE WAND & THE SEA into bookshops and libraries everywhere! Tomorrow I'll be giving away free copies, but until then, here's another giveaway for a superfun pirate book.

This fun-filled book purports to be the "journal" of one Captain William Lubber, who sailed to find the notorious pirate Arabella Drummond. More than just a story, this book has all the cool stuff you expect from the popular 'Ology series (info per

  • a stunning cover bearing a working compass and glittering gems
  • treasure map with a missing piece--for the canny reader to find
  • multiple flaps, maps, charts, and booklets harboring codes and clues
  • intricate drawings of ships’ interiors
  • a packet of gold dust
  • a pocket sundial
  • a cache of pirate letters, pieces of eight, and a jewel as a final reward

Sound like a blast? Enter below and I'll send the winner his/her very own copy of Pirateology!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Talking Like a Pirate

Of course, everyone knows that September 19 is the official Talk Like a Pirate Day. But what do you say if you're looking to get your free dozen doughnuts from Krispy Kreme? What does it mean to talk like a pirate?

The popular version of the pirate "accent" can be traced to actor Robert Newton, who used his West Country accent in his portrayal of Long John Silver in Walt Disney's Treasure Island (1950). Newton reprised his role in the followup film Long John Silver (1954).

As to the terms pirates used, we don't have any recordings of them, and they didn't exactly keep detailed logs of their raids, robberies, and carousings. But George Choundas, author of The Pirate Primer, has culled examples from famous novels, films, and television shows to give us an idea of where our "pirate talk" originated. The Primer is a wealth of fun information. Here are a few of the colorful oaths Choundas offers up:

curse me for a papistical Spaniard = I'm telling the truth, on my honor; if I'm lying, you can call me a Spaniard 

damn my gizzards! = Relates to one's stomach or innards

may I drink a bowl of brimstone and fire with the devil = May I burn in hell if I'm telling a lie

shiver my timbers! = expression of surprise; refers to the trembling of the ship when hit with a cannonball

And threats:

them that'll die be the lucky ones

There's never a man yet looks me between the eyes and lives to see a good day afterwards.

you'll be meat for the sharks

up the yardarm you'll swing by your thumbs = You'll be hung from the yardarm, which is the crosswise pole supporting a square-rigged sail; often used for hanging 

For more tips on being the chattiest pirate around, check out this handy how-to site. Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me!


What's with all this pirate stuff? We're approaching the Launch Day of THE WAND & THE SEA, in which Holly and the boys are forced to team up with a pirate captain to save the Adepts of Anglielle. Look for it June 23! Read more about the book here. And learn more pirate stuff on the website's new Pirate Lore page!

ship image by Torley. Used by permission via this Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Pirate's Code--or Just Guidelines?

Only one week to go in the countdown to the publication of THE WAND & THE SEA! In honor of that momentous event, I'll be putting up some piratical posts to whet your whistle. Today, we're talking about the infamous Pirate Code.

more about THE WAND & THE SEA here

Was there really a Pirate's Code? Or were they really more guidelines?

That depends on what sort of pirate you're talking about. Men like Sir Francis Drake did their share of robbing and plundering on the high seas, but thanks to generous monarchs like Elizabeth I, they were called privateers. In other words, they had legal permission to go a-pirating.

A privateer had to abide by strict rules. Otherwise, it would look like the British Crown approved of murder and torture, and that was bad publicity. Instead, the Queen--and anyone else who issued privateers their letters of marque--insisted their privateers act like gentlemen.

But according to Captain Charles Johnson, who wrote a book called A General History of the  Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates in 1724, many true pirates also wrote up a list of rules, known as their code. For instance, Captain Black Bart Roberts's code looked like this:
  1. Every man shall have an equal vote in affairs of moment. He shall have an equal title to the fresh provisions or strong liquors at any time seized, and shall use them at pleasure unless a scarcity may make it necessary for the common good that a retrenchment may be voted.
  2. Every man shall be called fairly in turn by the list on board of prizes, because over and above their proper share, they are allowed a shift of clothes. But if they defraud the company to the value of even one dollar in plate, jewels or money, they shall be marooned. If any man rob another he shall have his nose and ears slit, and be put ashore where he shall be sure to encounter hardships.
  3. None shall game for money either with dice or cards.
  4. The lights and candles should be put out at eight at night, and if any of the crew desire to drink after that hour they shall sit upon the open deck without lights.
  5. Each man shall keep his piece, cutlass and pistols at all times clean and ready for action.
  6. No boy or woman to be allowed amongst them. If any man shall be found seducing any of the latter sex and carrying her to sea in disguise he shall suffer death.
  7. He that shall desert the ship or his quarters in time of battle shall be punished by death or marooning.
  8. None shall strike another on board the ship, but every man's quarrel shall be ended on shore by sword or pistol in this manner. At the word of command from the quartermaster, each man being previously placed back to back, shall turn and fire immediately. If any man do not, the quartermaster shall knock the piece out of his hand. If both miss their aim they shall take to their cutlasses, and he that draw the first blood shall be declared the victor.
Note that the punishment for disobeying the Code was harsh--slit ears, death, or marooning, which means being put ashore on any given island and left to fend for yourself. The Code seemed to be mostly a way for captains to keep order aboard ship than a code of honor, but it served its purpose. And, as Captain Barbossa so astutely points out above, you had to be a pirate for the Pirate's Code to apply.

Love pirate stuff? Check out the website's new Pirate Lore page!

clip above from The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Monday, May 25, 2015

Launch Party Deets Are In!

You Are Invited!

Ahoy, maties! Come one, come all to a swashbuckling launch party to celebrate the publication of The Wand & the Sea. This is a FREE, PUBLIC event for anyone who loves pirates, fantasy stories, chocolate doubloons, and/or (of course) The Key & the Flame. 'Cause it's a sequel. You know.

Read more about The Wand & the Sea here.

a free, superfun, pirate-themed party, featuring:
  • pirate-themed food & drink for all
  • giveaways
  • arts & crafts
  • party favors
  • brand-new hardcover editions of The Wand & the Sea for purchase & signing
  • brand-new paperback editions of The Key & the Flame

Lackman Library
15345 W. 87th Street Parkway
Lenexa, KS 66219
(913) 826-4600

June 25, 2015 | 6:00-7:30 pm

no reservation or purchase necessary to attend,
Books do run out (at least, they did at the last party), so please reserve your copy!
Contact our authorized bookseller to reserve:
Mysteryscape Books
(913) 649-0000
or email them at

See you there!


Monday, May 11, 2015

May Giveaway & More Great Reads

Apologies, blogfrogs, since I could've given these away last month. But as long as you're getting free stuff, who can complain? Here are my latest middle-grade recs from the wealth of great material on my TBR list:

title & author: Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms: Magic, Mystery, and a Very Strange Adventure by Lissa Evans
pub info: Sterling Children's Books, 2012; 272 pp
audience: middle grade (8+)
genre: real-world magic & mystery
caveats: none
Goodreads summary:

As if being small for his age and also having S. Horten as his name isn't bad enough, now 10-year-old Stuart is forced to move far away from all his friends. But on his very first day in his new home, Stuart's swept up in an extraordinary adventure: the quest to find his great-uncle Tony--a famous magician who literally disappeared off the face of the earth--and Tony's marvelous, long-lost workshop.  Along the way, Stuart reluctantly accepts help from the annoying triplets next door… and encounters trouble from another magician who's also desperate to get hold of Tony's treasures.

my thoughts:
I'm hardly going to dislike a book featuring a smart, spunky narrator who, while exploring his new village in England, discovers that his family bears a remarkable secret. I kind of love stories about magicians, and the possibility that they're holding out on us--they know magic really does exist, and yet they're selling us this bill of goods about illusions. Stuart is a likeable character, as is his eventual helpmate, next-door neighbor April. My only complaint is that the book is deceptively short. It looks long, but the chapters are short and the print is large, and suddenly, just as the adventure seems to be taking off in a new direction, the reader stares woefully at the words THE END. However, more is to come in the next installment, so don't despair. Kids who love adventure will enjoy the marvelous writing and story, and they'll continue to nurture the wild hope that even in the most boring of lives, a bit of magic may lurk.

find Lissa:
Lissa has written several books, both for adults and children. The next one in the Stuart Horten series is Horten's Incredible Illusions: Magic, Mystery, and Another Very Strange Adventure (Sterling, 2012). While I'm anxious to get my hands on that one, I'm equally intrigued with Evans's Crooked Heart, a novel for adults about a boy and a woman who team up in a wartime scheme to profit from the London Blitz (I know--wha???). Connect with Lissa via her Twitter account here.
title & author: Iron Hearted Violet by Kelly Barnhill; illus. by Iacopo Bruno
pub info: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2012; 424 pp
audience: middle grade (9+)
genre:  fantasy
caveats: none
Goodreads summary:

Princess Violet is plain, reckless, and quite possibly too clever for her own good. Particularly when it comes to telling stories. One day she and her best friend, Demetrius, stumble upon a hidden room and find a peculiar book. A forbidden book. It tells a story of an evil being—called the Nybbas—imprisoned in their world. The story cannot be true—not really. But then the whispers start. Violet and Demetrius, along with an ancient, scarred dragon, may hold the key to the Nybbas’s triumph . . . or its demise. It all depends on how they tell the story. After all, stories make their own rules.

Iron Hearted Violet is a story of a princess unlike any other. It is a story of the last dragon in existence, deathly afraid of its own reflection. Above all, it is a story about the power of stories, our belief in them, and how one enchanted tale changed the course of an entire kingdom.

my thoughts:
Kelly Barnhill is the marvelous author of The Mostly True Story of Jack, which was one of my favorite books of 2011. In Violet, she brings her spot-on narrative voice to the story of a girl who's not just plain--come on, she's ugly, and everyone knows it. Haunted by the idea that she is not a real princess, Violet pushes the boundaries at every turn and winds up charged with saving her world through a series of events partly of her own making. The character of Violet is so beautifully rendered that the fantasy aspect pales beside her, though the world is stunning and well constructed. If the story went on a little long, I wasn't sorry, to be honest. Gorgeous.

find Kelly:
Kelly's website is here, and you can also find her on Twitter. Her latest novel for middle-grade readers is The Witch's Boy (Algonquin, 2014).

title & author: Splendors & Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz
pub info: Candlewick Press, 2012; 384 pp
audience: middle grade (10+)
genre:  historical fantasy / supernatural
caveats: better for strong readers (see below)
Goodreads summary:
The master puppeteer Gaspare Grisini is so expert at manipulating his stringed puppets that they appear alive. Clara Wintermute, the only child of a wealthy doctor, is spellbound by Grisini’s act and invites him to entertain at her birthday party. Seeing his chance to make a fortune, Grisini accepts and makes a splendidly gaudy entrance with caravan, puppets, and his two orphaned assistants.

Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are dazzled by the Wintermute home. Clara seems to have everything they lack — adoring parents, warmth, and plenty to eat. In fact, Clara’s life is shadowed by grief, guilt, and secrets. When Clara vanishes that night, suspicion of kidnapping falls upon the puppeteer and, by association, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall. 

As they seek to puzzle out Clara’s whereabouts, Lizzie and Parse uncover Grisini’s criminal past and wake up to his evil intentions. Fleeing London, they find themselves caught in a trap set by Grisini’s ancient rival, a witch with a deadly inheritance to shed before it’s too late.
my thoughts:
This is a marvelous, gothic novel that takes place in 1860s London (and environs). The period detail places the reader right there, from Parsefall's Cockney slang to the costumes and mores of the time. The story is pretty creepy, which I love, and the characters endearing. I wouldn't call it a dense novel, exactly, but it would be a challenge for the reluctant reader trying to juggle a different time period as well as a sophisticated plot. Nothing too horrific for an 8-year-old, but better suited to the older set. Laura Amy Schlitz is a fantastic writer who won the Newbery Medal in 2008 for Good Masters, Sweet Ladies! This book won a well-deserved Newbery Honor.

find Laura:
Laura Amy Schlitz doesn't maintain much of an online presence, but you can visit her Penguin Random House page here. Candlewick Press maintains an author bio page here.


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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.

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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.