Sunday, January 14, 2018

Spy on History: Victor Dowd and the World War II Ghost Army -- Review and Giveaway

Thought for the Day:
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in
any direction you choose. You’re on your own, and you know what you know. And you
are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”
~ Dr. Seuss ~
Gifts for My Writer Friends:
Strengthening your verbs is always a good idea. Susan Uhlig has a good post HERE to help you do just that. 

Anne R. Allen can help you evoke emotional responses in your characters by using historical details. Check it out HERE.

We all fear readers won’t want to keep reading our stories. Janice Hardy at Fiction University has four reasons HERE readers stop reading. 

I have a little writing news. I entered a haiku in a writing contest and won first place in the poetry category! WooHoo! I received a phone call from the woman running the contest this week with the good news. They will be sending me a check, but I don't know how much. All I know is I WON FIRST PLACE and the check is for more than nothing. Pretty happy here! AND I just watched my beloved Minnesota Vikings pull out an incredible win. It's a good day.

Last week I offered a gently-read hardback of When the Sky Breaks. This week's winner is Danielle Hammelef. Danielle always shares my link for extra points and I appreciate that, and sometimes it pays off. Congratulations, Danielle. I will get your book out this week. For the rest of you, I've got another good one to give away.

Now and then I receive emails from publishers offering me books in exchange for a review. I usually don't accept them because I just don't know when I will be able to get to them, but when Workman Publishing offered me a copy of Spy on History: Victor Down and the World War II Ghost Army, I could not resist. I'm glad I didn't. This is a fascinating story and one kids and adults will find interesting. And notice the book was written by Enigma Alberti, which is a nom de plume for a group of authors who work on this series. This is the second book in the series. I haven't seen the first, but I will be looking it up.

Sergeant Victor Dowd was part of a top-secret unit during World War II. They had been trained, not to fight in combat like most soldiers, but to fool the enemy into believing there were a whole lot more soldiers facing them than there really were and to keep the enemy off kilter in other ways. They had some pretty interesting tricks. They sent out fake radio messages and false reports using Morse Code. It turned out the Germans had analyzed the cadences of the radio broadcasts and the signature tapping when someone sent Morse Code messages. This special group had to study the groups they were pretending to be, to be able to match the way they did things, and fool the enemy into thinking the troops were there. They also had props such as inflatable tanks and guns to fool the enemy even further. They would set up checkpoints, collect firewood and gather around fires, hang up laundry, anything they could to convince the enemy they were a much bigger and more well-armed group they they actually were. This group was critical to the success of many operations and was responsible for saving many lives. 

This book has excellent writing and shows the great research that was done to
Scott Wegener
bring this story out. There are drawings by Scott Wegener interspersed through the book to help keep those reluctant readers on task. In addition there are some bonus pieces to help kids learn about decoding and even a sheet with insignia patches  of the Ghost Army. This is a chapter in history about which I knew nothing, and I am absolutely fascinated by this book.

I have a gently-read hardback for of this for one of you. To win, all you need do is have a US address, be a subscriber or follower, and tell me that in a comment you leave on this post. If you are reading this in your email, click HERE to go to the blog so you can leave a comment. If you would like extra chances, please spread the word by posting the link on a Tweet, blog post, Facebook, or any other way you like. Let me know what you have done in your comment, and I will put in extra chances for you for each that you do.

Don't forget to check out Greg Pattridge's blog HERE for many more Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday reviews and giveaways.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

When the Sky Breaks -- Review & Giveaway

Thought for the Day:
“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.”
~ Neil Gaiman ~

Gifts for My Writer Friends:
Lee Martin has 10 truths authors need to learn to accept HERE

Mary Kole has a great post HERE on KidLit about how to bring dead characters to life in your stories.

If you are writing for kids of any age, you should be aware of KitLit411. If not, here is a link to one of the best posts I’ve seen there, and I have seen plenty of excellent posts. This one is chock full of links that will help you improve your writing and on the road to success. Click HERE for all kinds of good help.

I hope all of you had a wonderful holiday season. I know I did. I had lots of relaxing time, caught up on some of my reading, and feel like my batteries are recharged. I was even inspired to write an article I will be sending out to some children's magazines this week. (Fingers crossed!) I had wonderful time with family including a very short but really nice visit from Maggie all the way from New York. But now everyone is back where they belong, the grandkids will go back to school, and I am back to blogging.

One of the things I like about Common Core is that it has given us a great many wonderful non-fiction books. When I get a chance to grab some of those for review, I do it. I want to tell you about one I really enjoyed early last year. It is called When the Sky Breaks: Hurricanes, Tornadoes, and the Worst Weather in the World by Simon Winchester. This one comes from Smithsonian, and their non-fiction books for kids are always great. Here is the review I wrote for the Seattle Book Review.

Most middle-grade readers are old enough to remember hearing about the terrible damage Hurricane Sandy caused just a few years ago. Many have probably heard of Hurricane Katrina as well. Every year these youngsters see reports of tornadoes, typhoons, and other great storms. Has it always been this way? What causes these awful events? These are the kinds of questions kids are curious about, and this is a book that will help to quell that curiosity. Author Simon Winchester was a scientist before he became a journalist and writer, and that shows nicely in his approach to the subject. It’s clear he has a good understanding of the subject of violent weather
Simon Winchester
and brings both scientific knowledge and historical perspective to the subject of storms. He then ties all of this together into a story the weather tells about the larger issue of climate change. Winchester’s writing style is that of a storyteller. He uses creative writing techniques, making it fun for readers while they are learning, and learn they will. The text is supported with spectacular photographs of storms and storm damage and of illustrations for stories of times past, as well as charts and maps to support the science.

I have a gently-read hardback for of this for one of you. To win, all you need do is have a US address, be a subscriber or follower, and tell me that in a comment you leave on this post. If you are reading this in your email, click HERE to go to the blog so you can leave a comment. If you would like extra chances, please spread the word by posting the link on a Tweet, blog post, Facebook, or any other way you like. Let me know what you have done in your comment, and I will put in extra chances for you for each that you do.

Don't forget to check out Greg Pattridge's blog HERE for many more Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday reviews and giveaways. 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Last Minute Shopping

Thought for the Day:
“Use the talents you possess, for the woods would be a very silent place
if no birds sang except the best.” 
~ Henry van Dyke, poet ~

Gifts for My Writer Friends:
Fiction writers can learn a lot from screenwriters. HERE is a good post from Go Teen Writers by Caitlin Eha with 5 good tips. 

A good villain makes every book a little bit better. Laurence MacNaughton has a   post HERE on Fiction University that can help you build a great villain. 

Wonderful post on query letters HERE on Kathy Temean’s Writing and Illustrating written by Erika Wassal.   

First of all, I want to wish all of you happiest of holidays. I will be taking the next two or possibly three weeks off from posting to spend extra time with my family. 

Last week I offered a copy of Welcome to Wonderland #2: Beach Party Surf Monkey to one of you. This week's winner is Zoie. You can find out more about her at her blog, Whisked Away by Words HERE. Congratulations, Zoie! I will get your book out to you this week. No giveaway this week. Just good suggestions.

For those of you who may still have some last-minute shopping for the holidays, books always make a great gift. Here are my suggestions for some of the great books I ran across in my reviewing this year. A few of my reviews haven't been published yet, so I have linked to them on Goodreads. If you click on the title, it will take you to my review or the Goodreads page.

Picture Books

Bear's House of Books by Poppy Bishop Illustrated by Alison Edgson

Cricket in the Thicket by Carol Murray Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

William's Winter Nap by Linda Ashman Illustrated by Chuck Groenink

Second Grade Holdout by Audrey Veronica Illustrated by Matthew Cordell

Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas Illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

Middle Grade

Not on Fifth Street by Kathy Weichman Cannon

Ronit & Jamil by Pamela L. Laskin

Wicked Bugs by Amy Stewart


Snow & Rose by Emily Winfield Martin

Young Adult

Bull by David Elliott

Yearbook by Jess Edward Johnson

Solo by Kwame Alexander

Victoria: Portrait of a Queen by Catherine Reef

Adult

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate


Last Shift -- Poems by Philip Levine 

The Seasonal Kitchen by Kerry Dunnington










I hope all of you have a most wonderful holiday season and a Happy New Year. I'll see you here in 2018. In the mean time, don't forget to find more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle HERE.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Welcome to Wonderland #2: Beach Party Surf Monkey -- Review and Giveaway

Thought for the Day:
“Writing is so difficult that I feel that writers, having had their hell on earth, will escape all punishment hereafter.”
~ Jessamyn West ~

Gifts for My Writer Friends:
Writer’s Rumpus has a good post HERE about the hard work of revision. 

Steven Pressfield always has good advice, but the post HERE may have the best advice for writers. 


For those of us who write picture books, the post HERE by Melissa Manlove of Chronicle Books will be invaluable. 

Last week I offered a copy of Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade by Jordan Sonnenblick. Our winner this time is Joyce Moyer Hostetter! If you don't know Joyce, what cave have you been living in? She is a prolific writer from North Carolina, author of award winning books such as Blue and Healing Water and others. I'm so thrilled she reads my blog! Congratulations, Joyce. I will get your book out to you this week. Yes, for the rest of you, I do have another giveaway this week, so keep reading.

I mentioned a few weeks ago when I reviewed another Chris Grabenstein book that I would be reviewing Welcome to Wonderland #2: Beach Party Surf Monkey soon. This is the week and here is the review I wrote for the San Francisco Book Review. 

P. T. and Gloria are back in this sequel to Welcome to Wonderland #1: Home Sweet Motel and are still trying to save the Wonderland. This time they face a formidable opponent, Mr. Conch, and his nefarious daughter. Conch has built a huge resort next door and covets the very land Wonderland sits on. A movie is being filmed in town, and all the hotels and motels compete to be the setting for the film. P. T. and Gloria put on a presentation that wins the contract, and the games begin. 

Author Chris Grabenstein has a wicked sense of humor, and it populates every
Chris Grabenstein
page in this silly middle-grade novel. How can anyone not love a book that has a surfing monkey at its core? All the characters are fully-rounded and fully funny. Even the bad guys aren’t all that bad and will leave readers laughing. And of course there is poop. It’s a Chris Grabenstein book. And middle-graders love a little poop humor. Illustrator Brooke Allen adds to the fun with lots of cute cartoonish illustrations scattered throughout to support the story and keep wondering young minds pulled in. This one is a winner. 

I have a gently-read paperback for of this for one of you. To win, all you need do is have a US address, be a subscriber or follower, and tell me that in a comment you leave on this post. If you are reading this in your email, click HERE to go to the blog so you can leave a comment. If you would like extra chances, please spread the word by posting the link on a Tweet, blog post, Facebook, or any other way you like. Let me know what you have done in your comment, and I will put in extra chances for you for each that you do.

Don't forget to check out Greg Pattridge's blog HERE for many more Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday reviews and giveaways. He has graciously agreed to take over temporarily for Shannon Messenger while she is running around promoting her latest book. Thanks, Greg, and go forth and sell books, Shannon!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade -- Review and Giveaway

Thought for the Day:
“First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you
whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories.
Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.
~ Octavia Butler ~

Gifts for My Writer Friends:
Dana Nuenighoff has a great post HERE on Writer’s Rumpus about Finding Your Voice. The Voice Cheatsheet is terrific. 

How well do you know your antagonist? Angela Ackerman has a guest post at Riders in the Storm HERE that is full of really important ideas about our villains. 

Anne Rice has had some success in the writing business. HERE is a post with 20 great hints to make your writing better. 

When last we met here, I offered a copy of The Theory of Hummingbirds by Michelle Kadarusman to one of you. Our winner this week is Patricia Tilton. If you don't know her, Patricia is an Ohio writer who has wonderful book reviews on her blog, Children's Books Heal. Check it out HERE. Congratulations, Patricia!
I will get your book out to you this week. For the rest of you, I have another giveaway, so stay tuned.
I read a review somewhere (I have to start writing this stuff down) that made me ask the Manhattan Book Review to request a copy of Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade by Jordan Sonnenblick. Here is the review I wrote for them.

Maverick hasn’t had an easy time. His father died when he was pretty young -- well, Maverick is still pretty young, just starting sixth grade -- and his home life isn’t pretty. His mother has had a string of abusive boyfriends and is either about to be fired or has just been fired for not showing up, caused by her excessive drinking. Needless to say, Maverick has to take care of himself. The one thing he has from his father is a sheriff’s badge he keeps as a reminder of his father’s heroics and the hero Maverick can be. Sixth grade is a new start, and, even though he is the smallest, he will stand up for himself and anyone else being bullied. But trying to do the right thing might seem wrong to others, and Assistant Principal Mr. Overbye doesn’t tolerate trouble. It doesn’t take long for Maverick to make The Bee’s acquaintance. 

Author Jordan Sonnenblick tells a page-turner of a story about Maverick and his troubles that will have kids riveted. Great characters, a perfect setting, and strong writing will carry readers through. Even though it’s a little preachy at the end, this is a winner. 
Jason Sonnenblick

I have a gently-read paperback for of this for one of you. To win, all you need do is have a US address, be a subscriber or follower, and tell me that in a comment you leave on this post. If you are reading this in your email, click HERE to go to the blog so you can leave a comment. If you would like extra chances, please spread the word by posting the link on a Tweet, blog post, Facebook, or any other way you like. Let me know what you have done in your comment, and I will put in extra chances for you for each that you do.

Don't forget to check out Greg Pattridge's blog HERE for many more Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday reviews and giveaways. He has graciously agreed to take over temporarily for Shannon Messenger while she is running around promoting her latest book. Thanks, Greg, and go forth and sell books, Shannon!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Theory of Hummingbirds -- Review and Giveaway

Thought for the Day:
“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.”
~ Pele ~

Gifts for My Writer Friends:
We all want to create anticipation in our stories. HERE is a really good post on doing that. It also has a link in it to another post on raising the stakes. Lots of good stuff. 

Revision. The bane of my existence. HERE is a good article with 9 Techniques for Crisp, Powerful Revisions. 

My critique partners have heard me rail for years against the lack of the Oxford comma. I am not alone in this quest for proper usage of this belittled punctuation mark. HERE is a passionate plea for use of the Oxford comma. 

I hope all of you had a lovely Thanksgiving with lots of family time. I did. My exchange student, Amandine, was quite amazed to see her first turkey. She tried everything and has found some new things she really likes, especially turkey and cranberry sauce.

No giveaway last week (because I am selfish and wanted to keep the book all to myself!), so we will get right to this week's book, The Theory of Hummingbirds by Michelle Kadarusman. I was captured by the title when I saw it and was glad I chose it for review. Here is the review I wrote for the Manhattan Book Review.

Alba and Levi have been best friends always, but life brings many changes, especially when one reaches sixth grade. For Levi, a science nerd, changes aren’t so readily apparent. His debilitating asthma attacks are still a part of his life. For Alba, though, a huge change is coming. For her whole life, she has lived with her left foot, which is “directionally challenged” to the point of having a name — Cleo. Cleo has had many surgeries and has always either been in a cast or a brace, causing Alba to walk with crutches and not be able to be part of many activities. She has long been the time-keeper for the cross-country team, but Cleo’s final cast is about to come off, and Alba dreams of running her first race. When she shares her dream with Levi, he cautions her not to hope too much, a message Alba doesn’t want to hear.
Michelle Kadarusman

Author Michelle Kadarusman has written a gentle but powerful story of dealing with differences and problems in friendships within a coming-of-age story. The writing is lyrical, the characters believable and well-rounded, and the metaphor of Alba as a hummingbird is heartbreakingly perfect.

I have a gently-read paperback for of this for one of you. To win, all you need do is have a US address, be a subscriber or follower, and tell me that in a comment you leave on this post. If you are reading this in your email, click HERE to go to the blog so you can leave a comment. If you would like extra chances, please spread the word by posting the link on a Tweet, blog post, Facebook, or any other way you like. Let me know what you have done in your comment, and I will put in extra chances for you for each that you do.

Don't forget to check out Greg Pattridge's blog HERE for many more Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday reviews and giveaways. He has graciously agreed to take over temporarily for Shannon Messenger while she is running around promoting her latest book. Thanks, Greg, and good luck, Shannon!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Not on Fifth Street -- Review

Thought for the Day:
“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”
~ Harriet Tubman ~

Gifts for My Writer Friends:
If your main character doesn’t face impossible choices, you probably have a story problem. Janice Hardy at Fiction University is HERE to save the day. 

M. L. Keller at The Manuscript Shredder has a good post on Scene Planning HERE with a free worksheet. 

Since I’m working on (and have been for years!) a middle-grade adventure, I found Sean Easley’s post HERE on The Heart of of Middle-Grade Adventure particularly interesting. 

Last week, I offered a gently-read hardback copy of Ashes to Asheville by Sarah Dooley to one of you. This week's winner is Michael G-G, a middle-grade writer from Portland, Oregon. He is involved with two blogs you should know about: Middle Grade Mafioso HERE and Project Mayhem HERE. Congratulations, Michael! I will get your book out to you this week. 


Some years ago, I met a lovely woman at a Highlight's workshop, and a couple years ago I reviewed her first book, Like a River.  Kathy Cannon Wiechman is that woman, and you can see that review HERE. I saw her at Highlight's a couple years ago, and she read a few pages of a new book she was working on. I told her at the time I couldn't wait to read it. Kathy's new book, Not on Fifth Street, came out last month, and it was definitely worth the wait. While I liked her first book a lot, this one just knocked me out. 

Not on Fifth Street is the story of two brothers and how their lives change as their town is destroyed by the terrible flood of the Ohio River in 1933, and how their relationship is nearly destroyed by a misunderstanding. Pete and Gus are not only brothers, but best friends and two legs of the Three Muskateers, as they and their friend Richie call themselves. Gus is more cerebral and a bit of a dreamer. Pete is pretty down-to-earth and good with all things mechanical. 

When Gus invites a young lady to a holiday dinner, Pete, in an effort to make small talk, creates quite an imbroglio. Gus is ordered by his very Catholic parents to never see Venus again, mostly because she is a protestant -- a fact uncovered by Pete's questions. Needless to say, this drives a wedge between the boys that may be too great to overcome. 

When a warm January causes the Ohio River to start to rise and days and days of rain exacerbate the situation, the boys' father asks Gus to go with him to fill sandbags to hold the river back. Gus feels honored by this choice and glories in it, while Pete is baffled about why he has been left behind. As the days go on, both boys come to understand this seemingly odd choice, and that knowledge lifts one and sends the other into despair. As the terrible weather continues, tremendous stresses are put on everyone, and the choices they make threaten fracturing the family further.
Kathy Cannon Weichman

The first half of the book is told from Pete's point of view, and the second half is Gus's story. It is really an effective way to tell this wonderful story, and Kathy makes the most of it. This is one of those books you will carry with you everywhere until you can finish it, the kind of book that will make you hope for long red lights so you can knock off a few more pages or make you look for a slow line at the grocery store so you can finish another chapter. It is the kind of book, were I twelve again, I would have under the covers with a flashlight reading until I couldn't read another word. Kathy tells in the author's note that her own father struggled through the flood and the house where they lived still stands. She talks about gathering stories from many people in her family who lived through the terrible flood, and all that research and the personal connection helps to make this book shine. Her writing is gorgeous and her storytelling impeccable. I can't recommend this book enough. You may have noticed I am not giving this one away. Some books I just have to keep, and this is one of them. But next week, I promise I will have another giveaway, so come back. 

In the mean time, check out other wonderful MMGM blogs by going to Greg Pattridge's blog HERE for the links which he is kind enough to post while Shannon Messenger is off selling her latest book.