Friday, December 15, 2017

For Bill Crider

The internet is a cool place, especially for someone like me, who spends a fair amount of time in their home office. The web and my online friends act like a virtual watercooler, for us to catch up, have a laugh, share book recommendations.

I have these kind of virtual watercooler pals all over the world, many of whom I'll never meet. People I admire, whose writing I enjoy, and often people who lift me up.

Bill Crider is one of those guys. He's an author I respect (love his Dan Rhodes mysteries, latest here to the left), someone I look to for book recommendations, and he's a fellow cat person--if you know him on Facebook, you'll be familiar with his photos of the VBKs (Very Bad Kittens).

Bill is in hospice care by now, which you may know if you hang around my virtual watercooler. It's strange to miss a friend you've never met. Yet I do.

Bill mentioned he regrets not having time to review Alive in Shape and Color, an anthology edited by Lawrence Block, so I thought I'd take that torch from him, to come in the next few weeks.

Fellow online friends have reviews, thoughts, etc. you can find on author Patricia Abbott's blog.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Thursday Teen Book Review: This Is Not A Love Letter by Kim Purcell

Release date: Jan. 30, 2018

From the Publisher:

One week. That's all Jessie said. A one-week break to get some perspective before graduation, before she and her boyfriend, Chris, would have to make all the big, scary decisions about their future--decisions they had been fighting about for weeks.  
Then, Chris vanishes. The police think he's run away, but Jessie doesn't believe it. Chris is popular and good-looking, about to head off to college on a full-ride baseball scholarship. And he disappeared while going for a run along the river--the same place where some boys from the rival high school beat him up just three weeks ago. Chris is one of the only black kids in a depressed paper mill town, and Jessie is terrified of what might have happened.  
As the police are spurred to reluctant action, Jessie and others speak up about the harassment Chris experienced and the danger he could be in. But there are people in Jessie's town who are infuriated by the suggestion that a boy like Chris would be a target of violence. They smear Chris's character and Jessie begins receiving frightening threats. 
Every Friday since they started dating, Chris has written Jessie a love letter. Now Jessie is writing Chris a letter of her own to tell him everything that's happening while he's gone. As Jessie searches for answers, she must face her fears, her guilt, and a past more complicated than she would like to admit.  

My thoughts: 
The writing in this book is superb--from the first pages, instead of telling you the story in some over-the-top, grab-your-attention way, the author drops you in the middle of the action. Jessie's boyfriend Chris has gone missing, and we follow her like a fly on the wall in the hours that follow: in the chaos, the finger-pointing, the immediate sense that everyone has something to hide.

The story delves deep into teen drama in a way that is very accurate: the harassment of a black boy in a predominantly white town, the girl backstabbing, the complexity of teen relationships. Jessie feels guilty in a way we can all relate too, as she looks back at her relationship with Chris and what she might've done different. The love letter angle didn't do much for me, but I could see teen readers enjoying it.

In the end, the book delves deep into mental illness in a very teen-centric way--somewhat dramatically, but I think very appropriately so considering how the story ends. I spend a lot of time with teens who deal with mental illness, and I'd highly recommend this book to anyone dealing with this type of tragedy, which is difficult to understand.

**NetGalley provided review copy for honest review**

Friday, December 1, 2017

December Is for Reading

I'll save you from clichéd exclamations about how the year just flew by, but... It really did. 2017 was a good one. I'm resolving to smell the roses a bit more in 2018, with tempus fugit so much and all.

But the year isn't over yet! December is usually about wrapping up projects for the year for me, but this time, I finished edits (on TIMEFIX, my new YA project) just in time for the month to end. I guess you could say instead of NaNoWriMo, I did NaNoEditMo, or something.

In the Reading Department

I've been doing a TON of reading, partly because of work-related stuff, partly for fun. I try to read outside the box every once in a while, but I usually find my way back to mysteries. Mysteries rule, y'all.

In the for-adults department, I recently read I Let You Go by Clare Mckintosh, and was thoroughly swept away. It starts of a bit winding-y (that's code for slow-ish with digressions), but stick around for the big plot twist. I felt it coming, though I didn't predict the whole thing.

If you like mysteries with a big gotcha at the end, this is your book.

In YA, I read Lamar Giles's Overturned. I love his writing, and this book did not disappoint.

If you have a teen reader who thinks (s)he knows it all and loves crime fiction/TV, this is the book. You know, in case you still have some holiday shopping left to do.

I've been reading lots of picture books lately, what with the negative news stories out there and stuff. Picture books remind me there's still some levity in the world, and that we have to stay positive for the next generation *steps off soap box*.

Most recently, I read Sam & Eva by Debbie Ridpath Ohi, which is such an uplifting book about creating art, collaboration, and seeing the world from someone else's perspective. I highly recommend it for all ages.

She's also on Instagram, creating art out of broken crayons. Inspiring, to say the least.

Mystery TV

It was the last season of Longmire on Netflix! I'll miss this out-west series, mostly because there is so little (er... make that almost nothing) reflecting the west as I know it on TV. I will say, this show regularly ruffled my feminist feathers, but I stuck around anyway. Recommend it, if you like a cowboy story every once in a while. I think we need a female Longmire next...

For Writers

For those of you who survived NaNoWriMo: congrats! I'm always impressed by the gutsy folk who dare attempt it. I think I would need some sort of month-long retreat to pull it off...

On that note: author Rachel Delaney Craft wrote a post for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers blog on how to pull off a one day writer's retreat. Pretty brilliant idea; I think I might steal it in the new year.

For a Laugh

Check out the story of Max the Cat who loves the library, but the library banned him. As illustrator Erin McGuire already noted on Twitter, this is so waiting to be a story...

Have a great little bitty rest of 2017, and I'll see you in January!

Monday, October 2, 2017

MMGM Review: The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

For Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (that's what the MMGM stands for, in case you're not familiar), I thought I would revisit The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow by Jessica Haight and Stephanie Robinson, because it's a favorite middle-grade book of mine. In a few weeks, the sequel is out, Fairday Morrow and the Talking Library--so lots to be excited about.

From the cover:

Eleven-year-old Fairday Morrow is less than thrilled that her family is moving thousands of miles from civilization to the quiet country town of Ashpot, Connecticut, where she’s absolutely certain she’ll die of boredom.
    As if leaving New York City and her best friend, Lizzy, the only other member of the elite Detective Mystery Squad (DMS), weren’t bad enough, Fairday is stuck living in the infamous Begonia House, a creepy old Victorian with dark passageways, a gigantic dead willow tree, and a mysterious past.
   Before she can even unpack, strange music coming from behind a padlocked door leads Fairday up a spiral staircase and into a secret room, where an ancient mirror, a brass key, and a strange picture of a red-haired lady are the first in a series of clues that takes the members of the Detective Mystery Squad on an amazing adventure.

My thoughts:

No one likes to move, and Fairday Morrow is no exception when her parents drag the family to Ashpot, Connecticut to renovate an old house. But this old house proves to be the best place for budding detective Fairday and her DMS (which stands for Detective Mystery Squad, of course), as she delves into the mysteries of Begonia House with its padlocked room and mysterious history…

I loved the characters, the setting—this book is the perfect classic spooky house mystery, but with a fresh new take. I felt like a kid again reading this mystery, and I have no doubt that it’ll be a big hit with kids everywhere. The mystery is strong, the family is fun and delightful; The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow is destined to be classic kids mystery.

Recommended, especially with spooky October in mind.

For more MMGM middle-grade book reviews, check out the marvelous Shannon Messenger's blog...!

Friday, September 8, 2017

Friday's Forgotten Books: Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

From the cover:

A Newbery Medal winning modern classic about a racially divided small town and a boy who runs.

Jeffrey Lionel "Maniac" Magee might have lived a normal life if a freak accident hadn't made him an orphan. After living with his unhappy and uptight aunt and uncle for eight years, he decides to run--and not just run away, but run. This is where the myth of Maniac Magee begins, as he changes the lives of a racially divided small town with his amazing and legendary feats.

My thoughts:

This book is almost twenty years old, but it feels as current as ever: the racial divisions, the self-imposed limits of a neighborhood and community... I picked this book up because a teacher had recommended it a few years ago, and I was struck by how unique and deep the story is.

Maniac Magee is a bit of an odyssey story, when we follow a kid who has lost his parents in a tragic accident, and becomes a nomad, moving from house, to park bench, to the zoo's bison habitat. The town of Two Mills is divided as so many towns are, by race and class, and Maniac Magee experiences all of it. In his nomad year the story covers, he bridges divides, and encourages everyone around him to look beyond the limits society and they themselves have put upon them.

Also, it's funny. Although the book covers heavy subjects, it does so in a non-judgmental, entertaining and humorous way. It's middle-grade after all: we serve our deep conflict with a dose of fun. I highly recommend this one to readers of all ages.

For more of Friday's Forgotten Books, click on over to Patti Abbott's blog.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

For Some Levity: Picture Books

As a kid, I loved to draw, color, doodle. I'm not sure when that stopped for me (my teens, maybe?), but I wish I'd never given up on art. I'm now in awe of the illustrators I meet, and the cool art they produce. Maybe I'll get the bug and pick it up again...

This is me, happy as a clam with my crayons. I think someone did a DIY haircut job on the bangs there... :-)

With the news being very bleak, I find myself craving some levity. Plus, I had a few good picture book ideas, so it was really for research (honest, I swear :-) ) that I picked up a stack of picture books. I've been hiding out in the reading nook of my office (if you don't have one, I highly recommend it), curling up with a blanket and a cat, and pretending to be little.

Stack the Cats is super fun, if you're into cats and counting. Dragons Love Tacos is still a favorite of mine. Here Comes The Easter Cat made me smile.

And I re-read my friend Dori Kleber's More-Igami, a book I wish I'd written, it's so beautiful. I'm pretty sure you're never too old to enjoy a good picture book.

I think I'll stay in picture book land, for just a little while longer, at least until the craziness ends.

Do you have a favorite title to share?

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Where to find me this Fall

Fall! I know, aren't you irritated when you see fall-themed decorations in the store when it's eighty-plus degrees outside? Let us have our summer, people... I'm looking at you, Hobby Lobby: Christmas décor is just not on in August.

But I did want to share some places I'll be speaking/signing this fall, plus a podcast. In case you're looking for some writing inspiration, as most of these events are for writers. I'll be cruising around on my trusted ol' Honda Element.

Sept. 8-10, 2017, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference:  I'll be talking about marketing plans for writers, the kidlit market (everything you need to know if you want to write for kids), and I'll show you how to outline your novel using plot points.

There's even a podcast of me talking about all this stuff, in case you're interested...

Sept. 16th: I'll be signing books at the Lone Tree Library (Denver), along with all my Rocky Mountain Chapter Sisters in Crime friends. If you're into mysteries, this seems like the perfect way to get the scoop on your local mystery authors.

Oct. 7-8, 2017, Rocky Mountain SCBWI Conference: This is a conference for kidlit writers, so if this is you, come on and join in on the fun! I'll be talking about how to write a MG/YA mystery, and how to put together a marketing plan (yes, you need one). There are some awesome speakers there, including Matt De la Pena...

Okay, so this is where my self-promotion ends. Although to tell you the truth, these events are pretty awesome for all the other speakers and stuff...

Hope to see you there! Seems like Denver is the place to be this Fall.