Monday, April 29, 2019

#MMGM book review and ARC giveaway: Choose Your Own Adventure Spies: James Armistead Lafayette

It's Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday! That means you can find a giant list of the latest MG reviews here at Greg Pattridge's blog Always in the Middle

Publication date: May 1, 2019

From the publisher:

Choose Your Own Adventure SPIES: James Armistead Lafayette by Kyandreia Jones takes YOU to the heart of the American Revolutionary War. 9-12 year old readers will enact the life of an actual historic spy, James Armistead Lafayette, whose top secret espionage efforts were instrumental in helping the revolutionary forces defeat the British. And yet his story has been almost entirely left out of history books. Choose Your Own Adventure SPIES: James Armistead Lafayette is an interactive adventure book in which YOU decide what happens next.

The year is 1781 and George Washington is commanding thousands of troops in Yorktown, Virginia, on the brink of the most important battle of the war. You are James Armistead, a brave and literate enslaved person in Virginia. Marquis de Lafayette, one of Washington's key officers, approaches you with the most critical choice of your life: do you join the Revolutionary army as a top secret spy or find freedom on your own terms? As a spy for the revolution, you might change the course of history, but whose liberty will you really be fighting for?

My thoughts: 

I loved choose your own adventure books as a kid, and I'm glad to see these more again now. This book is brilliant in that it has that active element of choosing your own adventure, while teaching you a lot of history along the way. Perfect for reluctant readers, and excellent timing for summer reading.

The back of the book gives you the story of James Armistead Lafayette and his work as a spy, despite his status as a slave. It also talks about his journey to freedom--fascinating and inspiring. I loved how the author really brings history (and James Armistead Lafayette as a person) to life in this book.

The book also gives you a short, by-year summary of the history of slavery and emancipation in the U.S.

I could see this making a great read-aloud for teachers--how fun to choose your own adventure as a class. Highly recommend.

**Publisher provided ARC for review**

GIVEAWAY UPDATE: winner has been chosen, thanks for stopping by!

Friday, April 26, 2019

Congrats to the 2019 Edgar Award winners!

Best Juvenile: Otherwood by Peter Hautman

Best YA: Sadie by Courtney Summers

You can find the full list of nominees and winners here.

Congrats to everyone, nominees and winners alike! The bar for this award is high, y'all...

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Winter, Winter (March/April News)

Happy April, all! Hope your month has been a good one so far, with lots of reading. That’s pretty much all I’ve been doing, and it’s been awesome. I’m not such a fan of winter (too cold, and I don’t ski), so I make the best of the winter months by cocooning. Aside from the occasional school visit, of course.

What I’ve been up to

I had a great school visit at a nearby school—how inspiring are those kids… I was reminded how smart upper-elementary kids can be. Of course, I forgot to take pictures (again), and I promptly caught a cold.

No matter, because Mother Nature decided to drop a pile of snow, keeping me hibernating like a brown bear anyway. I will say, I’ve also been complaining about the snow, unlike a brown bear. This bear would rather be on a sunny beach. Maybe there’s a picture book in there somewhere… Bear on the Beach?

What I’ve Been Writing

I’ve been tinkering with a chapter book series, which has been a lot of fun. I try to imagine what kind of book I would’ve liked during those early elementary school years, and that’s what I wrote. It’s a mystery of course (no surprise there), with a cat in it. Super fun, and a good break between larger novel length projects.

Otherwise I’m brainstorming a YA and a MG, deciding what’s next. It’s a tougher decision than I thought…

For my fellow writer friends: how do you decide what to write next?

What’s on The Nightstand

While I’m pretending to be a hibernating bear, I’m getting lots of reading done. My nightstand is overflowing with books; recently I read Before She Knew Him, a great thriller by Peter Swanson. Lately, I’ve started a few novels by male authors who didn’t quite get the female POV right—but Swanson did a great job in this book. Nice twists and turns; I saw some of it coming, but it was still a great read. Recommended, if you’re looking for a new book to read during the winter.

Because I was working on a chapter book, I read quite a few too… They’re so fun, and remind me why I love writing for kids.

Good News

For some good news: my short story Perfect Alibi was selected for the next Mystery Writers of
America anthology, a collection of solve-it-yourself mysteries for kids. It’s not due out until the fall of 2020, which seems like a long time from now until I realize we’re already well into 2019…
Tempus fugit, y’all.

Where to find me

Aside from a bundle of end-of-year school visits, I’ll be at Pikes Peak Writers Conference May 3-5. If you’re a writer, I hope to see you there!
Also, you may find me in my car, driving to the nearest warm location to escape winter…

How about you? Do you like winter, hate it, or do you ski your way through the snow?

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Thursday Thriller Review: Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson

From the publisher: 

Catching a killer is dangerous—especially if he lives next door

From the hugely talented author of The Kind Worth Killing comes an exquisitely chilling tale of a young suburban wife with a history of psychological instability whose fears about her new neighbor could lead them both to murder . . .

Hen and her husband Lloyd have settled into a quiet life in a new house outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Hen (short for Henrietta) is an illustrator and works out of a studio nearby, and has found the right meds to control her bipolar disorder. Finally, she’s found some stability and peace.

But when they meet the neighbors next door, that calm begins to erode as she spots a familiar object displayed on the husband’s office shelf. The sports trophy looks exactly like one that went missing from the home of a young man who was killed two years ago. Hen knows because she’s long had a fascination with this unsolved murder—an obsession she doesn’t talk about anymore, but can’t fully shake either.

Could her neighbor, Matthew, be a killer? Or is this the beginning of another psychotic episode like the one she suffered back in college, when she became so consumed with proving a fellow student guilty that she ended up hurting a classmate?

The more Hen observes Matthew, the more she suspects he’s planning something truly terrifying. Yet no one will believe her. Then one night, when she comes face to face with Matthew in a dark parking lot, she realizes that he knows she’s been watching him, that she’s really on to him. And that this is the beginning of a horrifying nightmare she may not live to escape. . .   

My thoughts:  

Excellent stand-alone thriller. The perfect example of great use of perspective changes, and using suspense to create this slow burn that made me stay up well past my bedtime to read. 

I kind of saw the twist coming, but still, it was well done. Also, the mental health angle was well-executed--not always the case when it comes to the portrayal of bipolar disorder.  

Great book, I recommend it to anyone who wants a smart stand-alone thriller.

**ARC provided by publisher for review**

Friday, March 1, 2019

Talking Page-Turners, (or: How To Add Suspense To Your Writing)

Popping in from my winter (and writing) hibernation for a moment to tell you about a class I'm teaching over at Savvy Authors on how to add suspense to your writing. Find out more here. This is one of my favorite classes to teach, since it always makes me think of the great page-turners I've read recently.

Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus is great (I'm reading it now, it's a YA). 
Perspective shifts seem to be trendy now; not a favorite device for me, but this one is a real page turner that I can picture making a great movie. 

Check it out if you get a chance.

In middle-grade, I just read The Truth As Told By Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor. 

This one is suspenseful mostly because you're waiting for Mason to figure out what happened to his best friend (whom he found dead). This book won some awards--more a literary middle-grade than a suspense, but a page-turner all the same.

How about you? Read any page-turners lately?

Monday, February 4, 2019

Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday (#MMGM) Book Review: Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly

Publication Date: Feb. 5th, 2019

From the Publisher: 

Twelve-year-old Iris has never let her deafness slow her down. A whiz at fixing electronics, she's always felt at home in the world of wires and vacuum tubes.
School, on the other hand, isn't quite as simple. Between her frustrating teacher Ms. Conn and her overly helpful classmate Nina, Iris can't seem to catch a break.
But during science class, Iris learns about Blue 55—the loneliest whale in the world. Saddened by the animal's inability to speak to other whales, Iris uses her tech skills to come up with a plan communicate with Blue 55.

One small problem: the whale is swimming off the coast of Alaska, nearly 3,000 miles from her Texas home. But, nothing stops Iris, and with her Deaf grandmother by her side, she sets out on a road trip to meet the whale and make sure he's finally heard.

My Thoughts:

Such a great look into what it means to be Deaf--I learned so much. This book was truly food for thought, and stuck with me long after reading.

The science angle gave the book extra depth, and the whale story gave it heart. I really loved Iris, the main character, and her family. There were a few moments (the horrible teacher in the beginning) that were a slight hiccup for me, but overall this is one of the best middle-grade books I've read in a while.

A must read this year I would say--be ready for this story to stick with you long after you finish the book. A great classroom read, too.

Plus, extra points for this awesome cover...

**ARC provided by publisher**

Find more links to #MMGM book reviews here.

Extra note: **Greg is the winner--contest ended**for U.S. readers (postage overseas is just too high...) comment here and I'll draw one name to mail my advanced copy of Song for a Whale..!

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

All about comfort (Jan/Feb News)

It's cold here in Colorado--in fact as I'm writing this, there's a blizzard going on outside. I'm trying to be a good sport about the winter weather (it's so pretty, that snow, people say), but the truth is that I'd rather be kicking back on the beach....

The one upside to winter is that it's all about comfort, which is something I can get behind. Warm sweaters, blankets, soup, tea and a cat on the lap is the perfect excuse to read a lot. And I'm writing a lot too, so winter's not all bad.

Mystery Book News

MWA just announced the Edgar nominees--great news if you needed to add to your TBR pile. 

Congrats to the nominees, good stuff there.

Mystery TV

In the mystery TV department, we've been watching The Good Cop on Netflix. Good comfort TV, kind of Murder She Wrote-ish: humor with an easy-to-solve (cozy) mystery. I recommend it if you just want something nice. 
I just read that Netflix is not renewing this series, a bummer. Do you have any good mystery TV shows to recommend? I'm coming up short lately...


In that same comfort vein, I've been reading Elly Griffith's Ruth Galloway series. It's set in Norfolk, England, which just so happens to be where I lived a few decades ago. 
The mystery revolves around (highly likable) archeologist Ruth Galloway, who helps the local police solve mostly cold case mysteries. 
A good series if you like a British cozy.

Where to find me

Mostly, you'll find me by the fireplace the next few months, or talking to kids at the many school visits I have lined up (my favorite part of the job). This must be the year of the author visit--good news!

If you're a writer, I'll also be speaking at Pikes Peak Writers' Write Your Heart Out here in Colorado Springs. It's a (free) conference warmup with speakers (like me) who will hopefully convince you to attend Pikes Peak Writers Conference in May. I'll be speaking there too, so come say howdy and complain about the snow with me, if you live in Colorado.

Also, I'll be at CCIRA in Denver, if you're at this educator conference in February. I'll be at the SCBWI booth being friendly and talking books.

How 'bout you? Anything to recommend this cold winter?