Monday, October 29, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Secret Prophecy by Herbie Brennan and ARC Giveaway

Today marks a first for me. The first time I get to post my thoughts about a book that has yet to be released! Don't tell my kids, but sometimes when you whine about something you actually get rewarded. And really I wasn't whining, but I mentioned in this post that I was jealous of other people who got to read and review ARCs. My new blogging buddy Joanne Fritz took pity and offered to send me an ARC she scored when working in the childrens' department of a book store and voila, now I am in the super-secret society of those who read ARCs. Well, probably not super-secret to anyone reading this blog, but I do feel a little special.
Title: The Secret Prophecy
Release Date: October 30, 2012
Book Description: (from Barnes and Noble)
Imagine your father has been found dead. Strange men armed with guns show up at his funeral. And those same men have begun to follow you. Now you're on the run.
When Edward Michael "Em" Goverton uncovers the key to a five-hundred-year-old deadly prediction by the prophet Nostradamus, personal tragedy morphs into international crisis. Soon Em finds himself enmeshed in a sinister web of shocking events where nothing is quite as it seems. Aided by Victor, a mysterious stranger, and Charlotte, a family friend, Em follows a trail of cryptic clues that leads the trio into a conspiracy of world-shattering proportions.
But the ominous forces behind the plot are not about to sit back and let their plans be ruined. Soon their net begins to close in on Em, and it's a race against the clock for the trio to finish what Em's father started—and prevent a catastrophe that threatens the lives of an entire generation. Bestselling author Herbie Brennan has crafted an edge-of-your-seat thriller that grabs readers by the throat and won't let them go until they've reached the very last page.

Why it is Marvelous: Herbie Brennan has written a fast-paced thriller and I was absolutely entertained. The main character is a young teenager so there were a couple places where as an adult, I questioned his trusting nature, but overlooked them because 1) he is a young teenager in a tough situation, and 2) I was enjoying the ride and chose to move on. I also enjoyed the overseas setting and dialect, the travel between London and France, and reading "mum" in place of mom. The conflict the author created was unique enough to keep me wanting to find out more without being too implausible. Add a teenager trying to put the pieces of his life back together, while on the run and maybe having a little crush on the young teenage girl who is helping him, and this would definitely appeal to the target age group of 10 and up.

ARC giveaway: Although my son is 10 and in the target age group, I am holding off on passing this one onto him. So lucky for all of you who would like a chance to win my copy. Of course the book will be released by the time one of you gets it, but I'm sure that will not take away from the enjoyment of this action-packed adventure!

Just add a comment and a way to reach you (if you don't have an e-mail attached to your blog account) and I will announce the winner next Monday. Open to US and Canada residents only please.


Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (MMGM) was created by Shannon Messenger. To find other bloggers participating in MMGM go to her blog for a list of links.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Fablehaven by Brandon Mull

I normally don't read fantasy... well OK, except for Harry Potter and Twilight! But I do like to attend "Meet the Author" events and Brandon Mull came to our area this past week. As I have mentioned here before we have an awesome library system and a great organization that supports the library by handing out free books by the authors they have invited to speak. So I picked up my copy of Fablehaven and dove right in without knowing much about the series or the author.

Book Description: (from Amazon) Kendra and her brother, Seth, have no idea that their grandfather is the current caretaker of Fablehaven. Inside the gated woods, ancient laws keep relative order among the greedy trolls, mischievous satyrs, plotting witches, spiteful imps, and jealous fairies. But when the rules get broken, powerful forces are unleashed, and Kendra and her brother face the greatest challenge of their lives. To save their family, Fablehaven, and maybe even the world, Kendra and Seth must find the courage to do what they fear most...
Why it is marvelous: When I met Brandon this past week I told him I don't normally read fantasy but that I really enjoyed this book. I think that is because it is set in the real world, with two normal everyday kids as the main characters. And we are introduced to the fantasy element nice and slow. The reader discovers the magical world of Fablehaven right along with the two main protagonists, and this is a very interesting world to discover. The Fablehaven series deals with magical creatures we are used to, like fairies, demons, witches and trolls. But Brandon puts his own twist on them which pulls the reader in wanting to find out how this world works, and then when things go very wrong for Kendra and Seth, how mere humans could possibly prevail over the greatest evil at Fablehaven.
If I had the time I would definitely read on in this series as I am curious to go on another adventure with Kendra, Seth and their grandparents. Brandon's other popular series, Beyonders, leans even more toward the fantastical with a portal to another world via the mouth of a hippo and made-up races such as The Seed People who, when killed, can be reborn by planting a seed that pops out of the back of their head. My son seemed interested so we are now the proud owners of a signed copy of the first book in this series A World Without Heroes. But reader beware! From the reviews I see that this book is a bit gory and might be suited for a slightly higher age range.
It was interesting to hear Brandon speak about his professional writing and daydreaming... imagine getting paid to daydream! An interesting point he made was about the first book he wrote - at age 6! What was meaningful to him about that project was that he actually completed the book. He said lots of kids (adults too!) can start a story, that's easy. But only those who are dedicated will finish it! And his biggest pieces of advice to the kids in the audience was to keep writing.
My son getting his books signed!


Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (MMGM) was created by Shannon Messenger. To find other bloggers participating in MMGM go to her blog for a list of links.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Flying the Dragon and Interview with Natalie Dias Lorenzi

Today I have the pleasure of highlighting Flying the Dragon by Natalie Dias Lorenzi. I found this book when Natalie commented on one of my MMGM posts and I went over to visit her site. And WOW! she had recently published a book. A real live author had made a comment on my blog! Well I had a big pile of books I was planning to read but I moved Natalie's up to the top of my pile and absolutely loved it.
Book Description: Skye and Hiroshi have never met. How could they, when Skye’s father hasn’t spoken to his Japanese family since before she was born? But now their grandfather is sick, and the family is coming to the US for his treatment. Skye and Hiroshi are stuck with each other.

Now Skye doesn’t know who she is anymore; at school, she’s suddenly too Japanese, but at home she isn’t Japanese enough. And as Hiroshi struggles to improve his English, he has to contend with Skye butting in on his rokkaku kite-flying time with Grandfather–time that seems to be running out.

Why it is Marvelous: I love the characters in this story and how they grow and learn from each other. I especially love that the main characters are all family. Although strangers at first, Skye and Hiroshi are forced to help each other. While neither likes the situation they both find ways to cope and start to see the world through the other's eyes. Through alternating points of view, I really felt the characters were real and vulnerable and flawed. I sympathized with them but also saw where each needed to grow and be more sympathetic to those around them. Great character ARC draws it all together in the end. It is hard to believe early drafts of this book had only Hiroshi as the main character and Skye as a girl in his class named Susan. I can't see this written any other way.


I excited to have an interview with Natalie for you today! When I started to research her I found she had already done a ton of fantastic interviews and answered most of the normal questions about her writing and book and getting an agent. All very interesting so if you would like that information please see the following blog posts.

Literary Rambles (7-23-2012)
From the Mixed Up Files... (7-23-2012)
One Word At A Time (9-4-2012)
Word Spelunking (6-25-2012)
That Happa Chick (7-27-2012)

I tried to come up with a few questions she hadn't answered yet so here you go!

1. What do you feel has been the most interesting thing about living in countries outside of the USA?

Living and traveling abroad has given me close-up access to a variety of cultures from Japan, China and Indonesia to European and South American cultures. But after miles and months of traveling, the culture that has been the most surprising to me is my own. It’s difficult to see your own culture while you’re living in the midst of it. It wasn’t until I stepped away that I could see what is and isn’t valued in our culture, and what really defines us as Americans. I realized that we value independence, which is a good thing. But I also saw how other cultures lean more on family and friends than we tend to do. A friend of mine who lives abroad told me recently that his ex-pat experiences have made him both more patriotic and more critical of his own culture. I agree with him 100%.
2. When did you decide you wanted to be a librarian, and what is left (schooling, exams, etc...) before you achieve that goal?

When the offer came in from Charlesbridge, I was elated. It was a moment that I’d dreamed about for so long. Knowing that I would be a published author prompted me to take stock in my professional life and made me question what it was that I really wanted to do.

I loved teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) students, but I felt bogged down by all the paperwork, data, and non-teaching responsibilities of my job. I drew a line down the middle of a piece of paper and listed what I loved about my job on one side (working with kids and everything related to that) and what I didn’t love on the other (paperwork, paperwork, paperwork). Then I asked myself what it was that I really wanted to do for the next 20 years before I retire. The answer was so obvious that I think I laughed out loud—why hadn’t I thought of this before?? I would become a school librarian.

I’d still be working with kids and literacy, I’d be surrounded by books all day long, and a big part of my job would be to get kids to love books and reading. What could be better? So two months later, I started the first of eight graduate courses that I would need for my LMS (Library Media Specialist) endorsement. The next school year, my principal offered me a half-time ESOL, half-time librarian position working alongside a full-time librarian. How lucky I am! My last librarian course will be this spring, and I’ll then be looking for a full-time librarian position for the 2013-2014 school year. I really do have the best job ever.

3. You recently had a book launch at Barnes and Noble (put off since July due to those crazy east-coast storms and power outages!) Can you tell us what you did to prepare for that?  And how did it go? 

The derecho storm was a bit crazy, but even crazier was the thought that I could schedule a book launch the day before we left for Italy for the summer. My husband, who grew up in Italy, is also a teacher, so we have the summers free to spend with his family. Things are always crazy leading up to our summer departure, and this summer was no different. I think that if I’d had my book launch as scheduled on July 1, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much as I did on September 15.  

I did do some advance planning—I had postcards and bookmarks printed for kids from my Title I school who might not be able to purchase books, and I had chopsticks for everyone along with “fun chops,” which hold chopsticks together at the top for those who might not be practiced in the art of eating with a pair of chopsticks!
The people at my local Barnes and Noble did a beautiful job in setting up the space with my book displayed all over the walls. My daughters helped set up the table with the origami kite craft, as shown here:

I saw people I hadn’t seen in ages, like my friend and fellow agency-mate Michelle Ray (here below).

I did a short talk followed by an even shorter reading. When I thanked everyone for coming, I told them that the day felt kind of like my wedding day, in that there were people from different chapters of my life all in the same room—colleagues from 20 years past, colleagues from the present, family, relatives, friends from high school, and on and on. That kind of thing doesn’t happen often, and it felt magical.

4. When do you find time to write? Do you have a schedule, or squeeze in time between your mom/kid activities and obligations? 

Finding time to write is definitely a challenge. As a teacher, summer is when I have the most time to write, but I also fit it in during other times. My critique group and I do our own version of NaNoWriMo where we set a daily word count, and then we check in with each other via email at the end of each day with only our daily word count in the subject line. But on a day-to-day basis, I tend to fit in writing when I can, instead of having a daily writing routine. Some days I’ll write nothing, and other days I’ll write 1,000 words—it just depends.
5. What are your top three tips for writers wishing to get published?

1. Connect with other writers and find a critique group. I’ve been with my group for over seven years now, and I so value their feedback. If the first group you try doesn’t seem like a good fit, don’t give up! Find other writers who give respectful—and honest—feedback and whose opinions you trust. That doesn’t mean you always need to agree with their suggestions, but it’s helpful to see how others react to your story.
2. Attend conferences or join online forums. I joined SCBWI when I first started out, and my very first writers’ conference was a small SCBWI gathering in Munich, Germany where Markus Zusak was the keynote speaker. I walked away inspired and ready to dive back in to my work-in-progress. I also joined the discussion boards at Verla Kay’s (, which is like taking several courses at once—on writing, marketing, the pursuit of an agent, and the list goes on.

3. Keep writing. It may sound trite, but it’s true! I know writers who write and rewrite and polish the same manuscript over and over and never write anything new. I feel like I grow as a writer with each manuscript. Starting a new project always feed my enthusiasm for story. I like having more than one manuscript in the hopper so that if I’m stuck on one project, I can play with the other to help jumpstart my brain.

6. What is one question you have not been asked, but always wanted to answer... and please provide the answer! :-)

Good question! Here it is:

What kind of reader did you have in mind when you wrote FLYING THE DRAGON?

I often wonder if people think I wrote FLYING THE DRAGON with multicultural readers in mind. As an ESL teacher, I can tell you that kids from all cultures want to see themselves reflected in the books they read. So yes, I hope that children from Japan and kids who feel caught between two cultures will see themselves in Skye and Hiroshi in FLYING THE DRAGON. But I really wrote this story for all kids who have ever felt that they didn’t fit in. As the child of a military dad, it felt like I was always starting over from one school to the next. I also quickly learned that cultures can differ widely from one state or town to the next, so you don’t have to be from another country to feel that befuddlement that comes with moving to a new place. I hope that readers from all backgrounds with connect with Hiroshi and Skye’s experiences, even readers who have never tried eating with a pair of chopsticks. ;-)

Thanks so much for hosting me on your blog, Julie!
Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (MMGM) was created by Shannon Messenger. To find other bloggers participating in MMGM go to her blog for a list of links.

Monday, October 1, 2012

MMGM: What we are Reading

Another week I have let the time slip away and forgotten to notify Shannon of my participation in Marvelous Middle Grade Monday. Not that I have not been productive today. I asked for a little time to myself so I could write and finished a little over 1,000 words on my own marvelous manuscript.

What we are reading now.

Son #1: (Age 10)
  • Has started The Inheritance Cycle Series by Christopher Palolini and is really enjoying it. After a week and a half he is more than halfway through the second book. It helps that his screen time has been revoked but still, he is plowing through them quickly! What is amazing about this series is that the first book was written (and revised) when the author was between 15 and 17 years old. WOW! So understandably the reviews are all over the place. This is definitely not my kind of genre so I can only say that my son gives them a thumbs up.
  • Geronimo Stilton and the Kingdom of Fantasy #4: The Dragon Prophecy by Geronimo Stilton. He just loves these books. They are a super-quick read for him but I often find him reading them again or just looking at all the amazing artwork throughout the books. I think these are a great choice for reluctant readers too because of all the different fonts used and the interesting illustrations.
Daughter: (age 8)
  • Has started the Judy Blume pack she got from the Scholastic Book Club order through her classroom. She brought them home from school last Wednesday and has already finished Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Superfudge.
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. She attempted to read this one earlier in the year and didn't finish. I could tell it was a struggle for her. Now she is breezing through it and, from conversations with her about the book, also understanding what she is reading. She is two thirds of the way done and excited to finish and collect those 44 hard-earned AR points at school! 
Mom: (not revealing my age!)
  • Fablehaven by Brandon Mull. I heard about this book via an e-mail promoting his upcoming author visit at our local library. We have an awesome library system as well as an organization that supports the library and donates books (to give out to patrons for free) when the author visits. So I stopped by to pick up my free copy last week and have been pleasantly surprised by my interest in the story. Usually I don't like fantasy, but the main characters are (mostly) human which gives it a more normal feel for me. I am looking forward to meeting the author next week!

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (MMGM) was created by Shannon Messenger. To find other bloggers participating in MMGM go to her blog for a list of links.