Monday, July 24, 2017

Book Review & Giveaway for Open If You Dare by Dana MIddleton

Open If You DareOpen If You Dare by Dana Middleton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Open If You Dare begins with a mysterious box found by three best friends who live in Georgia.

From the start, we are thrust into a complicated emotional dilemma between eleven-year-old Birdie Adams and one of her best friends. It’s a one-sided dilemma because Birdie wrestles with a decision that could hurt her best friend, which is the last thing she wants to do.

It’s easy to enter into Bird’s world, a supportive family, and best friend’s who are thick as thieves: the pragmatic Rose, and Ally, the shining star of the pitching mound. Best friends since the first grade, but after summer they’ll each go separate ways, with Rose moving back to England and middle school separating Bird from Ally. Bird won’t know anyone at middle school and she’s not looking forward to it.

It’s their last summer together, and the girls plan on making every day count. Making plans on their special island under the willow tree, they discover a wire and the wire leads to a box underground, with the warning: OPEN IF YOU DARE.

The girls dare to open the box, and inside, they find the written words of a twelve-year-old girl from 1973, a mystery and clues. Bird becomes obsessed even when her best friends grow tired of trying to figure out what happened to a Rosie Delgado, the author of the note or the dead girl she mentions.

One clue leads to another, but life holds up Bird’s sleuthing. Her family counts on her to watch her little sister, Zora. Bird’s a very good big sister – until the one day she isn’t. That one moment in the chain-of-events, Bird wishes she could change because she didn’t do the right thing for her best friend when she should have.

Our choices have consequences, as does our lack of making the right decision. Bird learns this the hard way. One of the worst feelings is when you want to turn back the clock to help a loved one, or two, in this case.

Bird’s heartfelt conversation with her mom near the end choked me up. This book shares the pains of growing up, growing apart, and eventually learning to trust yourself and make connections on your own, and the excitement that comes with that journey. It’s a huge part of growing up. There’s a fantastic twist near the end.

A fun and compelling mysterious adventure for middle-grade readers ages 9-12. Expected publication: October 17th, 2017 by Feiwel & Friends

All you have to do to win this ARC is leave your email in the comments section.

Dana Middleton grew up in Georgia before moving to Los Angeles to work in film, television and theatre. She was a producer of an Academy Award-nominated short film, and is also a recipient of a Los Angeles Theatre Ovation Award. Her debut children’s book, The Infinity Year of Avalon James, was published last year, and her new novel, Open If You Dare, is out this October. She lives in Hollywood with her British husband, author and screenwriter, Peter Atkins. 

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Secrets of Kidlit: Sabotage!

Most of the time, you probably start the day with the intention of making some progress on your WIP. Maybe your daily goal is to knock out 1,000 new words. Or maybe it's to edit five or ten pages. Maybe your goal is to spend a serious amount of time developing characters and plot. But how often do your goals go unmet? Of course, life is busy and we all have commitments that steal our precious writing time, but if this happens to you frequently, there may be something more sinister going on: self-sabotage.

I think that self-sabotage is the result of pesky little error messages in the brain. Those messages may sound like, "I'm not good enough." Or, "It's time to check Facebook!" Or maybe, it sounds like, "This manuscript just isn't ready for submission yet."

Here are three ways we sabotage ourselves and how to combat them:

1.  You Are Too Distracted To Connect To Your Story:

Procrastination is the mortal enemy of many, if not most, writers. We distract ourselves with social media, snack breaks, reading online articles, answering the phone, using writing time to clean the kitchen, and so on. It's normal to procrastinate somewhat, but if you're frequently procrastinating away your writing time, it's a form of self-sabotage. This happens because writing can be scary. There's the fear of failure, the fear of rejection, and maybe the fear of success to contend with. As we all know, fear is an uncomfortable feeling. This discomfort can make you take multiple breaks, keeping you from getting into the writing zone.

How to beat it:

Make writing a daily routine, even if you can only make it to your desk for ten minutes. Install an app to keep you off of social media during your writing time. Set a timer and keep your butt in the chair until the timer goes off. Every time you find your thoughts drifting away from your project, gently bring yourself back. Remind yourself that it's okay if writing feels scary - many writers feel the exact same way. The important thing is to keep writing.

"Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers."
- Ray Bradbury

2. You Need More Resources To Complete The Path To Publication

Sometimes getting the writing done isn't the problem at all. It's showing your work and submitting it. As Marianne Williamson said, "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure."

The fear of failure or the fear of success can derail our writing dreams. Many people fear the bumps on the road to success, or fear the pain of rejection. It can feel easier not to submit your work rather than suffer the disappointment of a manuscript that keeps coming back, "damned with faint praise." Past trauma may also cause a person to fear success. People who have grown up in an environment where they were belittled and/or their success was shunned, associate pain with success. It may take many years for success to taste sweet instead of bland or bitter.

Another common fear that falls into this category is the fear of being a fraud. Many writers secretly fear that whatever success they have is by pure luck and not the result of their talent and hard work. They worry about not being able to write another book, and fear the rejection they will face when people find out they are not a 'real' writer.

How to beat it:

If trauma is in your past and you feel it's keeping you from success, consider talking to a behavioral health professional. Working through these issues can help you build back a healthy level of self-esteem.

If you are afraid of promoting yourself, study how other authors promote themselves. Join Twitter and an online writing group. A good writing group, family, and friends can help support you as you submit your manuscripts out to agents or editors.

Finally, remember that you are writing or have written a story. That makes you a writer, no matter what.

Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free.
- Jim Morrison

3. You Can't Access Your Creativity

This is when your self doubt speaks louder than your confidence, drowning it out. It often says horrible things like, "As if you could write anything worth reading." Or, "If you were any good at this, you'd be done by now." If left unchecked, these types of error messages hobble you as a writer by convincing you that you don't have what it takes. It denies you access to your work, your writing goal, and your dreams.

You may compensate by spending much more time reading about how to write than actually writing. Your subconscious may be prompting you to do this in an effort to gain the credentials to be a "real" writer.

How to beat it:

Learn to silence the inner critic. Read some of the things you've written in the past that you like. Remind yourself that no writer, not even award-winning writers write perfectly. Give yourself permission to write badly. Read Anne Lamott's book, BIRD BY BIRD, and Elizabeth Gilbert's, BIG MAGIC: CREATIVE LIVING BEYOND FEARWrite every day. If you can't work on you current project, write something different - a journal entry, a blog post, poetry, or letters from your character. Drown out that inner critic with the joy of creativity.

"So this, I believe, is the central question upon which all creative living hinges: Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?
- Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic. 

Happy writing!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Review: Chasing Eveline by Leslie Hauser

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sixteen-year-old Ivy Higgins is the only student at Carmel Heights High School who listens to cassettes. And her binder is the only one decorated with album artwork by 80s band Chasing Eveline. Despite being broken-up since 1989, this rock band out of Ireland means everything to Ivy. They’re a reminder of her mom, who abandoned Ivy and her dad two years ago. Now the music of her mom’s favorite band is the only connection she has left.

Even though Ivy wavers between anger and a yearning to reconnect, she’s one-hundred percent certain she’s not ready to lose her mom forever. But the only surefire way to locate her would be at a Chasing Eveline concert. So with help from her lone friend Matt—an equally abandoned soul and indie music enthusiast—Ivy hatches a plan to reunite the band.

The road to Ireland won’t be easy, though. And not just because there is no road. Along the way they’ll have to win over their Lady Gaga-loving peers, tangle with some frisky meerkats, and oh yeah, somehow find and persuade the four members to play a reunion gig. It’s a near-impossible task, but Ivy has to try. If she can’t let go of the past, she’ll never be able to find joy in the present.

I’ve been lucky enough to see this book evolve from first draft to final draft. I got to watch Ivy grow and evolve into something wonderful and magical. This book is so awesome and witty and full of everything I love most about YA.

This book has so many cool and fun things, from cassette tapes to John Hughes references. It has so much heart and character. It’s a book for everyone. And if you’re a music lover, a believer in life, love, and friendship, it’s especially for you.

Ivy is a beautifully written character. She’s realistic, true and refreshing. The relationships between characters are authentic and perfectly blaanced. It’s so nice to read a book that is heartfelt and real. When I finished, I missed Ivy and wanted more, more, more.

Chasing Eveline is a must read. It has something for everyone and is a story that you won’t forget.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Guest Post with Patrick Samphire, author of THE EMPEROR OF MARS

Hello! Today we are pleased to welcome middle grade author Patrick Samphire to the blog. Patrick is the author the middle grade science fiction adventures SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB and THE EMPEROR OF MARS (to be published on July 18th, 2017), which Kirkus described as "joyfully modernizing space pulp for a new audience." Take it away, Patrick!



This is a post about ignorance. Not ignorance by the author, although I sometimes feel like I'm a specialist in that too, but about keeping your readers and characters in the dark.

To write a good story in any genre, you'll want to keep your characters ignorant about certain things. Not knowing the motivations or back story of other characters, for instance, allows the author to create tension and deepen character interactions. Whether the author lets the reader know those motivations or not will create very different types of stories.

Whenever I sit down to write a new book, one of the first questions I ask is "What is really going on?" You only have to look back a couple of hundred years to see some really odd ideas about science, history, geography, or medicine. We knew relatively little about the way the world worked. And you only have to talk to a scientist, historian, or archaeologist to see that we still don't know that much. The archaeological record is incomplete. Written sources are few and not always reliable. Most of the universe has yet to bow to scientific inquiry.

Now imagine you're working with a completely imagined world, or a world in which history is fundamentally different to the history we know. The opportunities for ignorance are immense.

When I started to write my SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB series, I outlined a "known history" - the history that the characters believe they know - and a "true history" - in other words, what actually happened. As the books are set on Mars with dinosaurs, ancient dragon emperors, weird inventions, and semi-sentient, highly aggressive plants, not to mention all sorts of peculiar creatures, that gave me a giant canvass to paint on. The characters may believe they know the history of the world, but in many respects they are very, very wrong.

But why go to all this effort? For some people - most of us, I suspect - creating one detailed history stretching back over thousands and millions of years is work enough. Why create two?

Well, apart from the fact that it is all too convenient and frankly unbelievable for the characters to be more informed about the history of their world than we are of ours, it allows us to do more with the story and give it more depth.

The same could be said for any book with magic in it. Why would a wizard be expected to know exactly how magic worked any more than current day physicists understand how to link quantum theory with general relativity? (And if you don't know what that means, that's probably the way most characters would feel about magic in a fantasy story.)

Here's what I do. I sit down and write out the "What is going on?" section. In some books, like SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB, it is a full history of the world and the technology and creatures in it. In another of my not-yet-published books, it is how magic works and what devious plots the bad guys are up to. Then I figure out a credible history and set of beliefs that the characters might have that don't immediately contradict what is actually happening. This is the world that the characters think they live in. Then, as the books progress, I drop in, as subtly as I can, points that contradict what the characters believe. Glimpses of the truth. Not necessarily enough for readers to figure out the whole truth, but hints that things might not be as they are portrayed.

This allows me to subvert expectations and make readers a little unsure about whether what they are being told is really true. It introduces tension. Not too much. You don't want readers to think, yet, that everything they are being told is nonsense. It still has to be credible.

This is, essentially, how any unreliable narrator works, and in this model, the whole structure of the world is an unreliable narrator.

Then, at some point, I can flip everything that the reader and characters know, to move to an entirely different paradigm. I can make the reader look back at everything that has happened with different eyes. Or, at least, that's the theory. It offers me the chance to turn my book from something that is enjoyable and fun to something that will make readers go "Whoa!" and, hopefully, remember forever.

Ignorance is bliss. Give it a go.

Thank you so much for guest posting on Kidliterati, Patrick! Here's more on The Emperor of Mars:

A missing Martian. A sinister plot. A French spy.

If Edward thought life was going to be easy in Tharsis City, he was very, very wrong. The moment he intercepts a thief escaping from Lady Harleston’s townhouse, he is caught up in a terrible scheme that threatens the whole of Mars.

Soon he’s fighting off vicious sea serpents, battling a small army of heavily-armored thugs, and trying to unpick an impossible mystery. Meanwhile, Putty has declared war on her new governess, a war that, for the first time in her life, Putty may be in danger of losing.

Edward doesn’t know whom he can trust. Will he make the right choice? Or will his family – and his entire planet – fall victim to the treacherous Emperor of Mars?

Join Edward and his family for a whole new, exciting adventure on Mars.

Patrick Samphire is the author the middle grade science fiction adventures SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB and THE EMPEROR OF MARS (to be published on July 18th, 2017), which Kirkus described as "joyfully modernizing space pulp for a new audience". He lives in Wales, U.K. with his wife, the author Stephanie Burgis, their two sons, and their cat. You can find out more about him at

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Interview with Beth McMullen, author of MRS. SMITH'S SPY SCHOOL FOR GIRLS

Today we're celebrating the release of Beth McMullen's MRS. SMITH'S SPY SCHOOL FOR GIRLS! Spies, a boarding school that isn't exactly what it seems, and a missing mother. This is the perfect middle grade novel for kids who love a little adventure in their books.

MRS. SMITH made its way onto shelves this past Tuesday, and the book's author, Beth McMullen, was kind enough to answer a few questions for us. But first, a little about the book . . .

A girl discovers her boarding school is actually an elite spy-training program, and she must learn the skills of the trade in order to find her mother in this action-packed middle grade debut.

After a botched escape plan from her boarding school, Abigail is stunned to discover the school is actually a cover for an elite spy ring called The Center, along with being training grounds for future spies. Even more shocking? Abigail’s mother is a top agent for The Center and she has gone MIA, with valuable information that many people would like to have—at any cost. Along with a former nemesis and charming boy from her grade, Abigail goes through a crash course in Spy Training 101, often with hilarious—and sometimes painful—results. But Abigail realizes she might be a better spy-in-training than she thought—and the answers to her mother’s whereabouts are a lot closer than she thinks…A girl discovers her boarding school is actually an elite spy-training program, and she must learn the skills of the trade in order to find her mother in this action-packed middle grade debut. After a botched escape plan from her boarding school, Abigail is stunned to discover the school is actually a cover for an elite spy ring called The Center, along with being training grounds for future spies. Even more shocking? Abigail’s mother is a top agent for The Center and she has gone MIA, with valuable information that many people would like to have—at any cost. Along with a former nemesis and charming boy from her grade, Abigail goes through a crash course in Spy Training 101, often with hilarious—and sometimes painful—results. But Abigail realizes she might be a better spy-in-training than she thought—and the answers to her mother’s whereabouts are a lot closer than she thinks…

Makes you want to dress all in black and borrow some of Inspector Gadget's best gadgets, no? But if you prefer to stay put on your comfy couch, read on to learn more about the book and about Beth:

1. Can you describe Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls in three words?

Life gone sideways.

2. I love books about spies! Nifty gadgets (okay, I'm a little obsessed with the gadgets!), disguises, danger -- what's not to love, right? What was your inspiration?

I’m fairly obsessed with themes of things not being as they seem. This idea takes over my books, even if I don’t want it to. Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls began as a story about a girl in boarding school, based on my own experiences in a similar place as a kid. But before I knew it, there were spies and lies and adventure and the boarding school was definitely not normal. So I just gave in and went with it.

3. Abigail sounds like someone I'd love to be friends with. (I mean, check out that cover! You'd definitely want Abby in your corner.) I've found that characters are either really easy to write or their personalities take longer to develop, almost as if they're hiding from me in the first draft. Was Abby's character one that came to you quickly, or did she develop more slowly through your drafts?

Abby was easy. She seemed to arrive fully formed in my head – smart, funny and not afraid. But I struggled with the story. My first draft sat for a year while I worked on other projects and it was only after I came back to it that I was able to work out the mechanics of the plot.

4. Without giving too much away, can you tell us about your favorite scene in the book?

There’s a scene toward the end where it is up to Abby to save her friends and, you know, the world and she gives it her absolute all. She throws every ounce of smarts and strength she has at the problem. I love that willingness to charge forward, even if the outcome is not guaranteed. To me, that’s brave.

5. Since we're in the middle of summer, what other great MG books out there would you recommend for kids this summer?

There are so many amazing MG books out right now! And I’m really into the action/adventure stories featuring mighty girls! I’d recommend Holly Farb and The Princess of the Galaxy, by Gareth Wronski; My Diary From The Edge Of The World, by Jodi Lynn Anderson; Prisoner of Ice and Snow, by Ruth Lauren; and, A Dash of Dragon, by Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski (this one releases July 11th)

6. And now for the really deep, introspective questions:
Target or Walmart? Target
Fall or spring? Spring
Cats or dogs? cats
Coffee or tea? coffee
Toilet paper roll over or under? OVER and I refuse to argue with my children about this ever again :)

Thanks, Beth! MRS. SMITH'S SPY SCHOOL FOR GIRLS snuck its way onto bookshelves this past Tuesday. So put on your best fake mustache and break out that lipstick that turns into a nightlight, and get ready for a spy-rific read!

Beth McMullen is the author of the Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls series and several adult mysteries. Her books have heroes and bad guys, action and messy situations. An avid reader, she once missed her subway stop and rode the train all the way to Brooklyn because the book she was reading was that good. She lives in Northern California with her family, two cats and a parakeet named Zeus, who is sick of the cats eyeballing him like he’s dinner. Find her at:

Twitter: @bvam

Instagram: bethmcmullenbooks

FB: @BethMcMullenBooks


Monday, July 3, 2017

Congrats to Abby Cooper and BUBBLES!

We are so excited that Abby Cooper's Bubbles is out today.

Twelve-year-old Sophie Mulvaney's world has been turned upside down. Mom lost her job at the TV station and broke up with Pratik, whom Sophie adored. Her teacher is making them do a special project about risk-taking, so Sophie gets roped into doing a triathlon. And to top it all off, she's started seeing bubbles above people's heads that tell her what these people are thinking.

Seeing other people's thoughts seems like it should be cool, but it's actually just stressful. What does it mean that Pratik wishes she and Mom were with him to eat dinner? Is her best friend Kaya really going out with their other best friend, Rafael, whom Sophie also has a crush on? And can Sophie's mom ever go back to her old self? In this funny, heartwarming novel, Sophie comes to learn that people are more than what they seem—or what they think.

Get your copy:

Much love to Abby from your Kidliterati friends!

Review: One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

One of Us Is LyingOne of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Five high school students--near strangers from very different social circles--end up in detention.

Cooper, the baseball star
Bronwyn, the scholar
                                   Addy, the homecoming queen
                                   Nate, the trouble maker
                                   Simon, the outcast

If you are a fan of 80s films or a reader of a certain age *cough*like me*cough*, you may think you know this story. But you do not.

One of Us Is Lying takes the set-up from that classic comedy and twists it into a nail-biting thriller. Within minutes of the start of detention on Monday afternoon, Simon is dead. By Tuesday, investigators suspect the remaining four because each are named in an unreleased gossip post written by Simon. And each has something to hide.

McManus has crafted an modern locked-door murder mystery that moves at breakneck pace. The story is told from four points of view but moves effortlessly from each character's first person account. The short chapters keep the reader in the center of the action.

Someone in that room is lying. Others are hiding the truth. I love the character growth as each person confronts their own past and works to figure out the facts of Simon's death.

View all my reviews


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