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 d├ęcor 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.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Where do you get your book recommendations?

Summers are all about reading for me. I don’t know if it’s the longer days, the heat, or the feeling of being on vacation (even when I’m not) that make me want to read, but I do. So far, I’ve read about a book a week, which is pretty impressive for me.

I’m asked sometimes where I get my book recommendations from, so I thought I’d share…
Goodreads is like my library online: I can keep track of what I’ve read, post reviews if I want, and see what new releases are out there. If I add an upcoming book to my shelf they’ll even send me an email to let me know it’s available. Pretty nifty. I also like their giveaways; I find out about upcoming titles, and even get a chance to win a book.

The perfect place to find upcoming mysteries and author features. They have contests as well.

I get their newsletter, mostly to keep up with industry news, but they’ll review books too.

This Houston bookstore always has the best recommendations! And they sell signed copies, too…

You can find a list of blogger book reviews of older, forgotten titles on Patricia Abbott’s blog. I love to go there if I want to read something I might’ve missed.

I get my true crime recommendations from her newsletter—a must read for mystery fans.
I get so many of my middle-grade and YA recommendations from Jennifer's blog, it's awesome... Especially the more girl-friendly titles, for my daughters.
Likewise for Ms. Yingling's blog, for middle-grade and early readers.
I also hear about books from friends, sometimes bestseller lists, or just by walking around the bookstore.

How about you? Where do you find your book recommendations??

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Mystery Book Review: Dark Saturday by Nicci French

Dark Saturday by Nicci French
William Morrow, Publication: July 11th, 2017
From the publisher:
Thirteen years ago eighteen year old Hannah Docherty was arrested for the brutal murder of her family. It was an open and shut case and Hannah's been incarcerated in a secure hospital ever since.

When psychotherapist Frieda Klein is asked to meet Hannah and give her assessment of her she reluctantly agrees. What she finds horrifies her. Hannah has become a tragic figure, old before her time. And Frieda is haunted by the thought that Hannah might be as much of a victim as her family; that something wasn't right all those years ago.

And as Hannah's case takes hold of her, Frieda soon begins to realize that she's up against someone who'll go to any lengths to protect themselves . . .

My thoughts:
I've followed Nicci French since the very beginning; this husband and wife writer team's is always on my to-read list, no matter the title. I will admit that Frieda Klein, the lead character in this day-of-the-week series, is a bit difficult to like at times, but overall the series is strong, atmospheric in its London setting, and generally a good mystery series to read.

Dark Saturday may be the better of the Frieda Klein books, in my opinion. The mystery driving the story is really one of character: is Hannah Docherty the killer everyone things she is? How much is her captivity in a (rather brutal) mental hospital shaping the monster she is depicted to be? Frieda Klein quickly becomes the woman's champion, which drives the story, and her investigation of the murder of Hannah's family.

Though the solution is a bit far-fetched, I loved this book all the same, because of Frieda's character. Recommended--read this series from the beginning.

**Review of an ARC from Goodreads Giveaway**

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Getting my gardening on in June

I’ve been so busy editing the first draft of my crime novel-in-progress (working title: 39), tempus fugit so much that the trees are green and the flowers are blooming here in Colorado. Which means it’s time to pull weeds and get back to gardening, always fun. Pictures coming soon...
I'll probably be editing some more this summer, plus, I've been dusting off an old YA manuscript I'd given up on--and I still have plans to write a middle-grade. I'll keep you posted on if I'll actually be able to pull it all off :-)

Books, books, books

I’ve been reading up a storm the past few months, with a trip to Europe and cold weather as a good incentive. I’ve been plucking titles off newsletters and other recommendations, sometimes reading just a little more out of the box—and being pleasantly surprised. I recommend Kate White's The Secrets You Keep, in case you need some summer reading.

Mystery TV

David Tennant is my favorite Doctor (Who), and I loved Broadchurch, so I was happy to discover The Escape Artist. So far, it’s kind of terrifying and dark; looking forward to binge-watching the rest of this mini-series.

For Writers

As the weather gets better, I’m already looking to the fall: I’ll be part of the faculty at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ conference in September, and Rocky Mountain SCBWI’s Letters and Lines conference in October. Both are in the Denver area—hope to see you there!

Until then, I’m going to spend the summer editing, writing a few short stories, and planting some trees.

How about you?? Any good summer plans?