Monday, August 29, 2016

MMGM: Rainy




I picked up this book because I’ve been doing some research on ADHD for my work-in-progress. While I like to read memoirs to get an insider’s view, sometimes it’s also effective to read fiction to see how other authors have tackled the same issues. This summer I read three novels with protagonists with ADHD, but RAINY by far was my favorite.

Here’s the synopsis:

A vivid portrait of a girl with a hyperactive mind

Rainy isn't thrilled about going to camp, away from her family and her beloved dog, Max. Without her family there to help, how will she stay focused when her thoughts start bouncing around her brain like ping-pong balls?

Once Rainy finds friends who can handle her extreme energy, she decides that camp is great. She's even gotten good at keeping track of her things. But when bad news from home floods her head with too many thoughts, she forgets the rules and sets off on a dangerous journey.
With her signature mix of humor and heart, Sis Deans explores the hectic world of a girl learning to live with ADHD.

What I liked about Rainy:

1.  A character with a lot of heart: It was hard not to fall in love with Rainy, who gets lost when she finds something interesting and is always misinterpreting what adults and other kids are saying to her. For true-to-life kidlike thinking and behavior, this book gets a 10+.

2.  An authentic ADHD character: Rainy felt like the friends, students, and others I know who struggle with ADHD. 

3.  A book without the moral, “everything will be okay if you just take your meds.” I think one of the reasons I was dissatisfied with some of the other books is that the conflict or main problem was solved once the main character  with ADHD got the right dosage. While drugs do help some children, I liked that the author did not use this as a plot device. Rainy's parents do not want her on drugs, so she must learn coping techniques on her own--often with humorous results.

4.  A camp setting: Need I say more? I’ve read a few novels set at camp this summer—and there’s something about the nostalgia for my own camp days that made this such an enjoyable read.

5.  Interesting format: I loved how Deans interspersed Rainy’s “unedited” letters home throughout the text. This gave us another peak into Rainy’s mind.

Parental/teacher warning: My only caveat about this is book is that there is some language, which I found a bit out of place for a ten-year-old girl.

As I was reading this and reflecting on some of the other novels I’ve read this summer about kids and teens with disabilities, I’ve noticed a not-very-surprising trend: people who have the disability in question tend to write more authentic books. In her author’s note, Deans talks about how she grew up in the 60s when Ritalin was not used, so the book in many ways reflects her own experience. 

What are your favorite books about kids (or adults) with disabilities?

(This post contains an Amazon affiliate link, only because it's easier for me to post book covers that way. Thank you for your support!)

To check out more Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, check out Shannon Messenger's blog. 









Monday, August 22, 2016

MMGM: The Magic Mirror: Concerning a Lonely Princess, a Foundling Girl, a Scheming King, and a Pickpocket Squirrel



To be honest, I’m a bit of a reluctant fantasy reader or maybe it’s just that I came to fantasy late in my adult years. I never read fantasy as a child (except for the Narnia series), and though I tried very hard to make my way through the Hobbit, I never could through the lush description. However, then I discovered “light” fantasy--that is fantasy with a realistic touch—and the retellings of Gail Carson Levine and Shannon Hale. I love that kind of fantasy, where the setting is like the real world with a few differences.

I’m so happy to find a new book that fits my fantasy ideal, THE MAGIC MIRROR, one of the most immersive reads I’ve had in a while.

Here’s the synopsis (from Amazon):

The twisty-turny journey of a girl searching for her heart’s desire—glimpsed in a magic mirror. Perfect for fans of Rump or Catherine, Called Birdy

A foundling girl with a crooked leg and a crutch doesn’t expect life to be easy. Indeed, Maggie’s dearest wish is to simply not feel so alone. So when she spies a man behind bars in a magic mirror said to show one’s truest desire, she feels sure he is the father she’s always longed for—and she sets off on a quest to find him.

Along the way, Maggie meets both kindly pilgrims and dastardly highwaymen. She discovers she bears a striking resemblance to the princess Petranilla. Their connection is so remarkable that Petra believes Maggie must be her lost sister who fell from the castle wall and was swept downriver as a baby.

What a turn of fate! From reviled foundling to beloved royal! But being the lost princess turns out to be more curse than blessing given the schemes of the current king...  And if Maggie’s a princess, then who is the man she spied in the magic mirror?

This is a grand middle grade adventure story full of mistaken identities, lost loves, found families, and a tantalizing tinge of magic
.

What to love about MAGIC MIRROR:

1. A fantasy set in a lush, realistic setting: While the names and places of the book are purely fictional, the details of the time and place are not. Like Karen Cushman’s work, this book oozes with medieval details. Let’s just say I’m thankful that the days of having fleas and nicks as your daily companions are over.

2. Well-rounded characters: This novel is like a tapestry with many interesting threads. Each character is so real with a well-developed personality and back story. While there is a lead character, Maggie, there aren’t minor or secondary characters in the usual sense. Like a Dicken's novel, each character's journey intersected with others.

3.  Multiple points of view: Now typically I’m not a big fan of multiple points of view, but it really worked well for this novel. First, it allowed for several different stories in different locations to be going at once, and it also allowed depth of characterization for all the characters.

4. Faith was not sidelined: Now this is not a religious book per se, but I’ve often read books set in the Middle Ages where faith is not part of the story at all. This doesn’t ring true for me, since faith was central to this time period. In MAGIC MIRROR one of the main characters, who’s an orphan, is an apprentice to a monk, who was once a soldier.  This felt very realistic for that time—as there were few places for orphans to go but to the church.

5. A story that keeps you guessing: There were a lot of twists and turns in this story and once I thought I had it figured out, something would change. There are a lot of fantasy stories about commoners who don’t know they are princesses, but I loved how Long turned that trope on its head.

By the way, I was very happy to see that the author, Susan Hill Long, is an Oregonian like me. I’m always happy to support my fellow Northwest writers.

I think MAGIC MIRROR would appeal to fans of Karen Cushman, Gail Carson Levine or Shannon Hale. Enjoy!

Have you read any interesting fantasies lately?

(This post contains an Amazon affiliate link, only because it's easier for me to post book covers that way. Thank you for your support!)

To check out more Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, check out Shannon Messenger's blog. 





Monday, August 15, 2016

MMGM: Stars of Summer



I’m a bit late to the game reviewing this one, since it came out last summer, but when I saw that the third book had come out, I knew I needed to read this one first. The thing about sequels is that sometimes they can be a real let down and when I saw this was about Gladys going to camp, I wasn’t sure how this would pan out.

Could it be as fun as ALL FOUR STARS? Which I reviewed here.

It was!

The synopsis (from Amazon):

In this charming sequel to All Four Stars, eleven-year-old foodie Gladys Gatsby now has her first published review under her belt and is looking forward to a quiet summer of cooking and reviewing. But her plans quickly go awry when her friend Charissa Bentley delivers Gladys’s birthday gift: a free summer at Camp Bentley. As Gladys feared, camp life is not easy: she struggles to pass her swim test and can’t keep the other campers happy while planning lunches. The worst part is she can’t seem to sneak away for her latest assignment—finding the best hot dog in New York City.  Could this summer be the end Gladys’s reviewing career?

What to love about STARS OF SUMMER:

1. Character development: I loved how much Gladys changes in this book, learning not just one, but two big lessons about herself. I also liked how a problem from book one is nicely wrapped up in book 2.

2. Gladys and her parents grow closer: Admittedly, one of the fun parts of this series is how Gladys’ parents seem more like the kids and she the adult, but what I loved about this book is how that begins to change. While they didn’t understand her at all in book 1 (and she them), there is more understanding in book 2.

3. The humor and the play with words: As I mentioned in my review of Book 1, Daiman’s writing is a pleasure to read. She’s not only incredibly good at situational humor, but in word puns and plays on words. It’s not often that I find myself laughing through a book as I did with this one. Tons of fun!

4. The way the “romance” was handled: I loved how Gladys stayed true to herself—or at least learned to—by the end of the story.  This has to be the best ending to a middle grade “romantic” subplot I’ve seen in awhile.

5. Friendships: I love how Gladys is surrounded by such interesting and great friends, but I especially loved how her relationship with Charissa (the former antagonist) deepened in this novel.

If you enjoyed ALL FOUR STARS, you will love this. The humor reminds me of Dahl (Matilda, anyone?), but also of the great humor and characters in Andrew Clements work. I can’t wait to get my hands on number 3: STARS SO SWEET!

 Have you read any humorous books this summer?



(This post contains an Amazon affiliate link, only because it's easier for me to post book covers that way. Thank you for your support!)

To check out more Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, check out Shannon Messenger's blog. 





Monday, August 8, 2016

MMGM: Brian's Winter



In the spring, my kids and I always read a survival book together. Last spring it was My Side of the Mountain. This spring we picked up Hatchet. The strange thing for me was that I didn’t enjoy Hatchet as much the second time around. But my boys loved it and want to read everything in the series.

So we just finished Brian’s Winter, despite it being summer here. We all thoroughly enjoyed it.

Here’s the synopsis:

In Hatchet, 13-year-old Brian Robeson learned to survive alone in the Canadian wilderness, armed only with his hatchet. He was rescued at the end of the summer. Brian's Winter begins where Hatchet might have ended: Brian is not rescued, but must build on his survival skills to face his deadliest enemy--a northern winter.

Why I loved about Brian’s Winter (or why I liked it more than Hatchet):

1. Brian is more in touch with nature in this book than Hatchet. In Hatchet, he’s still pining for civilization and thinking of cheeseburgers, in Brian’s Winter, he has the skills to survive and he thinks mostly of how to do just that—and isn’t sure he ever wants to leave.

2. The writing style is less choppy. I think one of the reasons I didn’t like Hatchet as much the second time around was that it was hard to read aloud: lots of repetitions, one word sentences, and staccato-like prose. The writing in Brian’s Winter felt is more fluid, perhaps reflecting how Brian has grown used to the woods and is no longer in crisis.

3. It didn’t have any elements that I’d rather not read aloud to my kids. (I didn’t like the subplot of Brian’s mom’s affair or his suicide attempt in Hatchet.)

4. It had all of Paulsen’s gritty realism. While learning how a wolf eats a moose alive might make some kids queasy, my biology-orientated son ate it up (excuse the pun!).

5. One of the great things about both Hatchet and Brian’s Winter is that we learn along with Brian. In My Side of the Mountain, Sam is already an expert and has prepared for life in the woods. Brian knows nothing about the woods (except what he’s seen on documentaries or learned in science class), which makes him so relatable and makes us feel like we could survive on our own.

6. Like a "choose your own adventure story," it was fun reading about the possibility of a different ending to Hatchet. 

I loved this quote from the author at the beginning:

Whether it’s getting through heavy traffic, facing an illness, living in a rough neighborhood, or having to deal with a northern winter as Brian does makes no matter, the art of survival is the same—it is bad and you use your brain and body to get through it. The tools for survival are in all of us, just waiting to be used…

This is why I love survival fiction!

Have you read any good survival books lately?

(This post contains an Amazon affiliate link, only because it's easier for me to post book covers that way. Thank you for your support!)

To check out more Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, check out Shannon Messenger's blog. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

ISWG: To Write in Summer



Two summers ago, my boys were gone for two weeks—one week at camp and one week at grandma’s. I had just received a revise and resubmit. I put in at least forty hours those weeks, and  when my kids were home, I put in many hours a day writing, a record for me. At the end of the summer, though I hadn’t enjoyed my summer much, I finished the R/R. Then I sent it out to betas and learned it was not as ready as I thought. In fact, I had a ton of work left to do. And to think—I had spent almost every minute of that summer writing!

Last summer I had different goals. I made it a goal to do something with my kids each day. I devoted 1-2 hours a day to my writing. I was working on a different project. (In a final touch of irony, the agent who requested the R/R left the business!) At the end of the summer, I hadn’t finished those revisions, but I enjoyed my summer, creating good memories with my kids.

Fast forward to now. I’m doing the same thing. I'm devoting 1-2 hours a day to my writing most days. I am finding that more than that does not accomplish as much.

See, the thing is I won’t get to be a hands-on mom for too many more years. This summer, my oldest turned 14. When I look back over all the time I’ve been writing seriously, I don’t regret the times not spent writing, but I do regret the times I made writing my sole purpose, the big number one in my life to the exclusion of all things. It didn’t make me happy or my family happy. Someday every week, every month will be like those two weeks they were away. I might be able to author full time, 40 hours a week if I wish. Though I don’t think I will. I love to write—don’t get me wrong—but when I do it full time, the other parts of myself, the part that likes to bake or knit or play in the woods, starts to atrophy. And what would I have to write about if the rest of me—the part the gives me all my ideas—starts to die?

So, yes, now that August is here, I’m a little sad. Only one month left of lazy summer days. Of having more time to write, to think, to be. But at least I don’t have the regret of watching a summer pass and not really sucking the marrow out of it. I am glad of that.

August 3rd question: What was your very first piece of writing as an aspiring writer? Where is it now? Collecting dust or has it been published?

If I don't count "I Am a Queen" and "The Nativity Story" (age 6), my first work is a middle grade novel fantasy set on the San Juan Islands. It's still a story close to my heart, but it would need a lot of work to be ready to submit. I did pitch it several years ago and it got some requests, but I haven't done much with it since. So it's definitely collecting dust.

What is your first piece of writing? Is it easier for you to write in summer or at other times of the year?




Monday, July 25, 2016

MMGM: Sweet Home Alaska


I initially saw this book at a library other than my own. I knew from the title and the comparison to Little House that I would love it and went home and put it on hold at my library. But that was three months ago!  Finally, it came in. Of course, long hold times are almost always a sign of a good book.

It certainly was for this one.

Here’s the synopsis (from Amazon):

This exciting pioneering story, based on actual events, introduces readers to a fascinating chapter in American history, when FDR set up a New Deal colony in Alaska to give loans and land to families struggling during the Great Depression.

Terpsichore can’t wait to follow in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s footsteps . . . now she just has to convince her mom. It’s 1934, and times are tough for their family. To make a fresh start, Terpsichore’s father signs up for President Roosevelt’s Palmer Colony project, uprooting them from Wisconsin to become pioneers in Alaska. Their new home is a bit of a shock—it’s a town still under construction in the middle of the wilderness, where the residents live in tents and share a community outhouse. But Terpsichore’s not about to let first impressions get in the way of this grand adventure. Tackling its many unique challenges with her can-do attitude, she starts making things happen to make Alaska seem more like home. Soon, she and her family are able to start settling in and enjoying their new surroundings—everyone except her mother, that is. So, in order to stay, Terpsichore hatches a plan to convince her that it’s a wonderful—and civilized—place to live . . . a plan that’s going to take all the love, energy, and Farmer Boy expertise Terpsichore can muster
.

What I loved:

1.  A real historical event that I knew little about. I really enjoyed learning about the Palmer settlement in Alaska as part of FDR’s New Deal. I also enjoyed how the author had cameos with real historical figures, even Will Rodgers!

2.   A setting dear to my heart. I was so excited when I read the author’s bio to see that she lives very near where I grew up. Then the book described Seattle (about an hour from my hometown). And then the settlement is near Wasilla, where my best friend lives. It’s always refreshing to get a break from stories set in New York or the East Coast and see the Northwest and Alaska featured in kidlit.

3.  An endearing, bug-loving sidekick. Mendel, one of Trip’s friends, may not mean as much to other readers. But his quoting of bug facts and their scientific names is just like my younger son. I also enjoyed how this amateur entomologist helps Trip with her pumpkin project. It was also refreshing to see a boy and girl this age as friends without any hints of romance.

4. Everyday stakes.  This is one of those novels that remind me that you don’t have to have kids saving the world from an evil villain to have high stakes and an interesting read. I loved how Trip was trying to make life better for her family, especially her mom.

5.  A strong family. So many kidlit authors either kill off the parents or make them horrid, so that the main character can be free to solve his or her problems. I loved how Dagg made Trip independent and feisty, but never truly at odds with her parents—and how her parents are imperfect, but always loving.

My only disappointment with this book was that I  wished Terpsichore had a shorter name, so I hope she will forgive me for referring to her by her hated nickname in this review. But it’s certainly one of the most memorable middle grades I’ve read in awhile. It reminded me a lot of HATTIE BIG SKY, another more “modern” pioneer story, also based on real events.


Have you read  any good historical fiction lately?

(This post contains an Amazon affiliate link. Thank you for your support!)

To check out more Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, check out Shannon Messenger's blog. 



Monday, July 11, 2016

Kidlit in Translation

I will never forget being asked by a German once about which German books I’d read. I was studying in the Crimea at the time, and it was a legitimate question. I’d just said I was a literature major.

“Have you read Goethe?”

I had not. For my “reading degree,” we stuck to the American and British classics, except for forays in the Odyssey and Dante. But German literature?

His comment made me think.

But I think the same phenomenon continues. American books get sold all over the world, but it’s rare to see books from other countries even in translation here.

So, today I’m highlighting a few kidlit books I’ve enjoyed in translation.

Young Adult:

An Innocent Soldier by Joseph Holub  (He's a Czech author, but the book was originally in German.) A German farmhand is conscripted into Napoleon's Grand Armee to brutally march to Russia in 1811. There's few books in English about this time period, and even fewer for kids.



A Time of Miracles by Anne-Laure Bondoux (France) After the Soviet Union collapses, a young boy, along with Georgia, his guardian, leave Georgia for France. I featured this book in this post. A lovely, thoughtful book.


Ruby Red by Kersten Gier (Germany) A time travel fantasy series about a teen girl who takes a spin through time to 18th century England. This book has everything: time travel, teen angst, romance. A fun read.

Middle Grade:


Inkheart by Cornelia Funke While there are many books about characters from books entering the real world or vice versa, this book is one is a classic and one of the best. The world building alone is amazing. 


The Apprentice Pilar Molina Llorente (Spain)--A thirteen year old apprentices to a moody, vengeful painter during the Renaissance. My son enjoyed getting an insider view of the Renaissance.



Jane, the Fox, and Me (French Canadian) I reviewed this more in depth here, but this is a contemporary retelling of Jane Eyre in graphic novel format!

(This post contains Amazon affiliate links. Thank you for your support!)

Have you read any books in translation  that you've enjoyed?

To check out more Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, check out Shannon Messenger's blog.