Friday, January 19, 2018

Congrats to the Edgar Nominees!

The Edgar nominees were just announced--congrats to everyone who made the list! Here are the top contenders in Juvenile and YA:


Audacity Jones Steals the Show by Kirby Larson (Scholastic – Scholastic Press)
Vanished! By James Ponti (Simon & Schuster – Aladdin)
The Assassin’s Curse by Kevin Sands (Simon & Schuster – Aladdin)
First Class Murder by Robin Stevens (Simon & Schuster – Simon & Schuster BFYR)
NewsPrints by Ru Xu (Scholastic – Graphix)
The Cruelty by Scott Bergstrom (Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group – Feiwel & Friends)
Grit by Gillian French (HarperCollins Publishers – HarperTeen)
The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak (Simon & Schuster)
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (Simon & Schuster – Atheneum Books for Young Readers)
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (HarperCollins Publishers – Balzer + Bray)

Monday, January 15, 2018

MMGM Review: Spy on History: Victor Dowd and the WWII Ghost Army by Enigma Alberti & Tony Cliff

Publication date: Jan 23rd 2018

From the Publisher: 

Your mission: Find Victor Dowd’s missing sketchbook. And discover one of the most unusual stories of World War II.

Meet the 603rd Camouflage Engineers, better known as the Ghost Army. This group of artists and sound engineers were trained to deceive the Germans in World War II with everything from fake tanks to loudspeakers broadcasting the sound of marching troops. And meet Victor Dowd, a real-life sergeant who with his fellow Ghost Army troops fought his way from Normandy, through France, and eventually across the Rhine.

Second in the Spy on History series, it’s a compelling story of a little-known chapter from the war—and a mystery to solve. Using spycraft materials included in a sealed envelope, readers will discover and unravel the clues embedded in the book’s text and illustrations, and uncover the mystery of Victor Dowd’s missing sketchbook.

My Thoughts: 

I can't say enough good things about the Spy on History series (first book was on Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring)--I wish it had been around sooner. I often do library/teacher convention talks on how to reach reluctant readers, and this is a perfect example of a non-fiction title that would bridge the gap between fiction and non-fiction for kids who may not like to read. 

The story is one of those footnote-in-history ones, about engineers tasked with deceiving the Germans in WWII. We follow soldier Victor Dowd and the Ghost Army as their missions are challenging, and seemingly too difficult to accomplish. 

I love how there are graphic novel-style illustration throughout, plus excerpts in bold, so the story visually moves along. The author does a brilliant job at building the arc of the Ghost Army's achievement, finding the thriller-like story in history, while not trivializing the sacrifice made by the people the Ghost Army was fighting for.  

There's a historical note in the back, plus a code for kids to crack, which is fun. This book, and the series, is an exciting addition for MG readers. I'll look forward to the next book. 

**NetGalley provided e-copy for review**

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Happy 2018!

Happy 2018, everyone! I hope it’s a great year for you…
I’m making plans for 2018 (I like plans better than resolutions, which always seem a little vague), with equal parts writing and reading in the comfort of my office, as well as getting out into the world. I try not to be a hermit.
Here are my goals; share yours if you’re willing in the comments…

I’m working on a MG mystery, very fun and super structured in a mystery way, if that makes sense. A true whodunit for kids. It’s fun so far; I plan to spend January and probably part of February on the first draft. Kind of like a NaNoWriMo, only in January, which makes more sense anyway. January is cold and dull otherwise. 
I made myself set a reading goal, fifty-two books, which is one a week. Totally doable, I say. I read from picture books to mysteries for adults; I’ll post more reviews here too, as I read.
Out in the Wild World
I'm traveling this year, mostly around Colorado, but here’s the breakdown for now:

Feb. 7-10, 2018: Colorado Council International Reading Association Conference, Author visits 101 presentation

Feb. 10, 2018: ALA Midwinter 2018, Meet the Author at SinC booth 649, 9-11 a.m. 

Mar. 3, 2018: Colorado Book Festival, Denver Public Library 

Mar. 17, 2018: Denver Children's Festival of Stories, hosted by Second Star to the Right Bookstore, Denver, CO

Mystery TV

Okay, so it’s time for me to do more writing and reading, and less binge-watching. But I did get caught up on season two of The Travelers—love this science fiction series! It’s on Netflix… And of course, there’s Broadchurch. Still awesome as ever. 
That’s it for me. Oh, and I want to take more photographs and learn to play the banjo. I’m aiming high this year. 
How about you?

Friday, December 22, 2017

Friday Cozy Mystery Review: Stowed Away by Barbara Ross

From the publisher:

It’s June in Busman’s Harbor, Maine, and Julia Snowden and her family are working hard to get their authentic Maine clambake business ready for summer. Preparations must be put on hold, however, when a mysterious yacht drops anchor in the harbor—and delivers an unexpected dose of murder . . .

When Julia’s old prep school rival Wyatt Jayne invites her to dinner on board her billionaire fiancĂ©’s decked-out yacht, Julia arrives to find a sumptuous table set for two—and the yachtsman dead in his chair. Suspicion quickly falls on Wyatt, and Julia’s quest to dredge up the truth leads her into the murky private world of a mega-rich recluse who may not have been all that he seemed . . .

My thoughts:

I'm such a fan of the Maine Clambake Mystery series, and this book (the sixth in the series) did not disappoint. The story starts with Julia and her family--characters that are such a joy to visit with every book--deciding if they'll renovate or restore the family home on Morrow Island, all while preparing for the clambake season.

Old school 'friend' Wyatt is there to help with the renovation assessment, along with her wealthy, reclusive boyfriend who is nearby on his yacht. It takes a while before there is a crime, but it's clear later that there were a lot of characters to introduce and clues to plant. There something of a twist at the end which I saw coming, but Ross still pulls it off. This felt very much like an Agatha Christie mystery to me, which is a big compliment.

Great mystery, and this sixth book shows how a cozy mystery doesn't have to be repetitive. Barbara Ross has to be one of my favorite cozy mystery authors: she keeps the story and characters intelligent, but manages to create that cozy context readers come back for.

If you're not familiar with the series, I highly recommend starting with the first book, Clammed Up.

**NetGalley provided advanced copy for review**

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Picture book review: Vincent Can't Sleep by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary Grandpre

From the Publisher:

Vincent can't sleep . . .
out, out, out he runs!
flying through the garden--marigold, geranium, blackberry, raspberry--
past the church with its tall steeple, down rolling hills and sandy paths meant for sheep,
He dives at last into the velvety, violet heath, snuggles under a blanket of sapphire sky,
and looks up, up, up . . . to visit with the stars.
Vincent van Gogh often found himself unable to sleep and wandered under starlit skies. Those nighttime experiences provided the inspiration for many of his paintings, including his most famous, The Starry Night. Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime--but he continued to pursue his unique vision, and ultimately became one of the most beloved artists of all time. 

My thoughts:

I'm from the Netherlands, so I'm intimately familiar with Vincent van Gogh, his art, his story and struggles as an artist, and his life. I was a bit skeptical that it would all translate into a children's book, never mind a picture book...

But the author did a brilliant job, connecting his insomnia (recognizable when you're a kid), his story as a child and then a grown man, a struggling artist, and his brilliant talent. There are some darker elements in the book (if you're familiar with Van Gogh's history), but they're brought in a way that works for the audience, I think. The illustrations are great as well.

At the back of the book, there's a short history, that would make this a great teaching tool. Highly recommend.

**Review of a Goodreads Giveaway copy**

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**