Monday, January 12, 2015

Guest Post from Dianne Salerni for The Inquisitor's Mark (coming soon!) - and a giveaway!




The Inquisitor's Mark (The Eighth Day, Book 2) by Dianne K Salerni (Harpercollins, January 27, 2015, for ages 8 to 12)

Source: advanced reading copy from publisher

Synopsis: When a mysterious man claiming to be Jax Aubrey's uncle kidnaps his best friend, Billy, Jax fears a trap. Before his father died, he never mentioned having a brother. Enemy Kin leaders and corrupt Transitioners are after Jax's guardian, Riley, the sought-after descendant of King Arthur, and his liege lady, Evangeline, a powerful magician descended from Merlin. To protect them Jax sneaks off to New York City by himself to rescue Billy. And it's a trap all right. Jax learns his real last name is Ambrose, not Aubrey. And his new-found relatives will stop at nothing to get what they want.


Crests designed by Dianne's daughter


Why I recommend it: As exciting as The Eighth Day was, this second book in the series ratchets up the tension even more. You'll be racing through the pages to find out what happens. Jax has to call on all his resources to handle not only his nasty new relatives, but an enormous and deadly creature he's never seen before.





And now here's Dianne herself to tell us what she enjoyed about writing the sequel:


When I sat down to plan and write The Inquisitor’s Mark, I remember feeling overwhelmed and nervous. It was the first time I’d ever had to write a book that was already sold, sight unseen, before it existed. HarperCollins had bought The Eighth Day and expected me to write at least two more books in the series. They believed I could, and I REALLY hoped their faith in me was well-founded!

As it turned out, this book was my favorite one to write in the series so far. (Writing Book 3 made me pull my hair out, but that’s another story …) What was fun about The Inquisitor’s Mark was that the personalities of the central characters were already established – at least up to the point where I left them in Book 1 – but since people change and grow in real life, I knew these characters would do the same.

For example, at the beginning of the first book, Jax loathed his 18-year-old guardian, Riley, but by the end, his opinion had changed. This is touched upon in several places, but with the whole We-Have-To-Save-The-World thing going on in the climax, there wasn’t a lot of time to fully explore it. Therefore, it was very rewarding to have the time in the early chapters of The Inquisitor’s Mark to play with this developing brotherly relationship, including the normal teasing and rough-housing one might expect between boys.

“I haven’t given up, you know,” Riley told Evangeline. “I have a trick or two up my sleeves.”

“I thought all you had up your sleeves were tattoos,” Jax said. Riley made sure Evangeline wasn’t looking, then smacked Jax in the back of the head.

Of course, you can’t keep up the tension if things are going great, so Jax overhears Riley planning to send him away for his own good and Mrs. Crandall urging Riley to break up the vassal-liege bond between Jax and Evangeline before Jax gets hurt … and suddenly Jax doesn’t know his place in the group anymore.

Enter the new characters – who were another favorite part of writing this sequel.

Jax has a family, as it turns out: an uncle, cousins, and grand-parents. Too bad they belong to the Dulac clan, the powerful and corrupt people who assassinated Riley’s family and would like to see Riley dead too!  The dynamics of meeting these people – blood relatives and also enemies – was massively fun to write as an author, while incredibly difficult for poor Jax. I particularly enjoyed the character of Jax’s uncle, Finn Ambrose. He’s the right-hand man of the evil Ursula Dulac and definitely a “bad guy,” but he loved his brother Rayne, and he sincerely wants to provide a home for his long-lost nephew. How does a 13-year-old boy deal with a man who, on one hand, wants him to betray his friends, but on the other hand, looks so much like his father?

Uncle Finn took Jax by the shoulder and steered him out of the apartment. “That was uncalled for.”

“You wanted to know if I had any talent,” Jax said smugly. “I just proved it.”

“It’s discourteous to use your talent to embarrass your clan members.”

“I don’t want those guys touching my tattoo.”

“It doesn’t seem necessary,” his uncle said. “You’re obviously an Ambrose.” Then he made a noise that caused Jax to glance at him in surprise. Jax couldn’t tell if it was a snort or a laugh or even a sob, but Uncle Finn was looking at him with strangely moist eyes. “Rayne would’ve done the same thing.”

Jax grinned. And his uncle grinned back.

I wrote The Inquisitor’s Mark in just eleven weeks, the fastest I’ve ever written any first draft in my life. And while there are many action scenes in the book that were wonderfully fun to write, what made this book my favorite (so far) was the character interactions. It was too long to make the tagline on the cover, but Jax is “Related to the enemy. Loyal to their targets.”


That provides a wealth of material for an author to work with!

*   *   *   *   *

Thanks, Dianne! I'm truly impressed that you wrote the rough draft in eleven weeks.

Readers, The Inquisitor's Mark pubs on January 27, 2015.  And if you haven't read The Eighth Day yet (and why haven't you???) the paperback is now available!

For this giveaway, I will be purchasing a hardcover copy  of The Inquisitor's Mark for Dianne to sign in a few weeks. To enter simply be a follower and leave a comment on this post. If you tweet about the giveaway or mention on facebook, let me know and I'll give you extra entries. US and Canadian mailing addresses only. This giveaway ends at 10 pm on Sunday January 25, 2015. And the winner will be announced on Monday January 26.

Monday, January 5, 2015

What happened in my world in 2014


Apologies for the long silence (and for not visiting all your blogs) but my father's illness took up a lot of my time toward the end of 2014.

My facebook friends already know this, but my father passed away on December 11, 2014, exactly two weeks before Christmas. Those two weeks are mostly a blur at this point, but we did manage to celebrate Christmas, although of course the tears flowed freely.

Looking through my myriad photo albums, I realized I have many wonderful pictures of my father to help me remember him. This one is from my wedding, nearly 30 years ago.



June 22, 1985




One of my favorite memories of Dad is when he read to me or told me stories. He was terrific at all the voices. Years later, he continued the tradition by reading to my sons. So you can see that books have always been an important part of our family.


This is Dad reading to his grandson in 1988


For a book blogger, of course, the end of the year means looking back to see how many books I read. What about you? Did you reach your reading goals? Do you have any favorite books from 2014?

In 2014, I read 108 books, eleven fewer than the year before, but five more than in 2012. And although I do read adult books from time to time (I read Joan Didion's memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, and cried through the entire book), mostly what I read is MG. Here are a few MG titles that gave me comfort these last few weeks (and which I highly recommend). Source for all was my local library and all synopses are from Indiebound.




What the Moon Said by Gayle Rosengren (Putnam, February 2014)

Synopsis: Thanks to her superstitious mother, Esther knows some tricks for avoiding bad luck: toss salt over your left shoulder, never button your shirt crooked, and avoid black cats. But even luck can't keep her family safe from the Great Depression. When Pa loses his job, Esther's family leaves their comfy Chicago life behind for a farm in Wisconsin.

Living on a farm comes with lots of hard work, but Esther makes a fast friend in lively Bethany. But then Ma sees a sign that Esther just knows is wrong. If believing a superstition makes you miserable, how can that be good luck?


My take: You may remember that I adore books about the Great Depression and this is no exception. A lovely story. Simply lovely.





The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer (Putnam, May 2014)

Synopsis: After her mother's sudden death, Grace is forced to live with a grandmother she's never met. She can't imagine her mother would want her to stay with this stranger. Then Grace finds clues in a mysterious treasure hunt, just like the ones her mother used to send her on. Maybe it is her mother, showing her the way to her true home.

My take: Since I read this the week after my father died, I found it extremely comforting. But I also loved Grace. She seemed so flawed and vulnerable and real and she really grew as a character.







Greenglass House by Kate Milford (Clarion Books, August 2014)

Synopsis: A rambling old smuggler's inn, a strange map, an attic packed with treasures, squabbling guests, theft, friendship, and an unusual haunting mark this smart mystery in the tradition of the Mysterious Benedict Society books.  

My take: The synopsis doesn't begin to do justice to this entertaining, many-layered, deftly-woven tale that takes place just before Christmas (I read it just before and after Christmas so it was perfect!). Milo is an orphan, raised by loving adoptive parents who just happen to run a smuggler's inn. I totally guessed the "secret" of this book less than halfway through, but highly doubt an 11-year-old would. I also think it would make a terrific graphic novel.



Next week: A giveaway and guest post from author Dianne K. Salerni, whose book, The Inquisitor's Mark (a sequel to The Eighth Day) comes out on January 27, 2015.   



Monday, November 24, 2014

Excited about holidays?



This is me as a four-year-old in Los Angeles, California*

Thanksgiving is only a few days away here in the U.S. plus, as I'm writing this, my Dad is in the hospital. So I won't be visiting blogs today. My apologies.

And I may take a few weeks off from blogging after that to get ready for Christmas. Yeah, I know, I should have done that in August when the stores began stocking holiday wrapping and lights and candy. Grrr. Doesn't it seem that all of the holidays, whatever you celebrate, get rolled into one giant commercial? They skip right over Thanksgiving because it's not commercial enough. But it's one of my favorite holidays.

And despite my Dad being very ill, I have a lot to be thankful for right now. Here are just three reasons:

1) My older son has been cancer-free for five years. This is a huge relief for all of us.

2) I finally finished the rough draft of my fourth novel. Yay! Only took me a year.

3) Excited to announce that two of my short fiction pieces will appear in the print version of Best of Vine Leaves Literary Journal 2014, available for purchase starting December 1.

Hope your holidays are sweet and I wish you the best for 2015.



*I live in Pennsylvania, but we visited my grandparents for Christmas that year and I was thrilled to receive this Disney Sleeping Beauty doll. It must have been my favorite movie that year.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald







Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald (Dial Books for Young Readers, March 2014, for ages 9 to 13)

Source: Children's Book World, Haverford, PA, my favorite almost-local indie bookstore

Synopsis (from the publisher)When Theodora Tenpenny spills a bottle of rubbing alcohol on her late grandfather’s painting, she discovers what seems to be an old Renaissance masterpiece underneath. That’s great news for Theo, who’s struggling to hang onto her family’s two-hundred-year-old townhouse and support her unstable mother on her grandfather’s legacy of $463. There’s just one problem: Theo’s grandfather was a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and she worries the painting may be stolen.

With the help of some unusual new friends, Theo’s search for answers takes her all around Manhattan, and introduces her to a side of the city—and her grandfather—that she never knew. To solve the mystery, she’ll have to abandon her hard-won self-reliance and build a community, one serendipitous friendship at a time.

Why I recommend it: This is a smart, sophisticated mystery for older middle grade readers. I was utterly entranced by Theodora, by the marvelous New York City setting and characters, and by the mystery itself, which will keep you guessing. Give this to kids who enjoyed From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Chasing Vermeer and even When You Reach Me (although there's no time travel involved here, just a lesson from the past). 

Writers, study this fascinating debut novel to see how intricate a middle grade plot can be, while still entertaining the reader. I'm keeping this book because I know I'll read it over again.

For other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations, see Shannon's blog.

Laura Marx Fitzgerald's website

Follow Laura on Twitter


Monday, November 10, 2014

Manhunt by Kate Messner




Manhunt by Kate Messner (hardcover, Scholastic, July 1, 2014, for ages 8 to 12)

Source: ARC from the publisher

Synopsis (from the publisher): Henry, Anna, and José head from Boston to Paris for their most dangerous mission yet: to solve the mystery of an international art heist! Shortly after they arrive, they learn that a member of the Silver Jaguar Society is working as a double agent, passing information to the criminal gang the Serpentine Princes — but who could it be? When the senior members of the Society go missing, it’s up to Henry, Anna, José, and their smug new comrade, Hem, to mount a rescue while staying hot on the trail of a missing masterpiece. Running around — and below — a foreign city filled with doppelgangers, decoys, and deceit, the three sleuths discover they’re the only hope for the Society’s survival!

Why I recommend it:  This well-researched and intriguing mystery is a fun and fast-paced read. While Messner's Capture the Flag focused on Anna, and Hide and Seek (which I haven't read yet) focused on José, Manhunt is Henry's story. And Henry is worried about his father and his new baby half-sister back home. Messner does an excellent job of filling in just enough detail from the first two books to bring you up to speed.

Reading this made me long to visit the City of Light again and especially to go to Shakespeare and Company, the famous bookstore. If you've never been to Paris, fear not! Reading this book is almost as exciting as being there. 

Have you read any books, set in real cities or towns, that made you want to visit those places?


Visit Kate Messner's website

Follow Kate on Twitter


Monday, November 3, 2014

The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham



The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham (HarperCollins, April 2014, for ages 8 to 12)

Source: purchased from B&N

Synopsis (from the publisher): Strange things are happening in Village Drowning, and a terrifying encounter has eleven-year-old Rye O'Chanter convinced that the monstrous, supposedly extinct Bog Noblins have returned. Now Rye's only hope is an exiled secret society so notorious its name can't be spoken aloud: the Luck Uglies. As Rye dives into Village Drowning's maze of secrets, rules, and lies, she'll discover the truth behind the village's legends of outlaws and beasts . . . and that it may take a villain to save them from the monsters.

Why I recommend it:  If you love fantasy adventures, this book has everything you're looking for: a spunky, engaging heroine, scary monsters, intriguing secrets. There are also plenty of late-night shenanigans with Rye and her two best friends. Add to that a mysterious new resident named Harmless and the odd way Rye's mother has been behaving, and you won't be able to stop reading. A sweeping, highly imaginative tale that will be the first book in a trilogy. Yay!

Paul Durham's website (Love that he writes in an abandoned chicken coop at the edge of a swamp!)

Follow Paul on Twitter


For other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday reviews, see the links on Shannon Messenger's blog.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Three Newbery winners

Recently, I've been trying to catch up on my Newbery reading. Having taken this test for fun, I was surprised to learn I'd only read 57 out of 93 of the medal winners (I've read far more of the honor books).

So I hustled down to my local second-hand book shop and bought what they had. Now my total's up to 60. Not bad, but nowhere near a perfect score. Naturally, I've read more of the recent winners, plus the ones from my childhood, but not as many from the decades before 1960. Still working on that.





Sounder by William H. Armstrong (originally published by HarperCollins in 1969; this paperback released 1972)

Newbery Medal Winner 1970

Synopsis (from HarperCollins)During the difficult years of the late nineteenth century South, an African-American boy and his poor family rarely have enough to eat. Each night, the boy's father takes their dog, Sounder, out to look for food and the man grows more desperate by the day. When food suddenly appears on the table one morning, it seems like a blessing. But the sheriff and his deputies are not far behind. The ever-loyal Sounder remains determined to help the family he loves as hard times bear down on them.

Why I recommend it: The writing has a lyrical and timeless quality, helped I'm sure by the simplicity of calling the characters "the  boy" and "his father" and "his mother". The only character with a name in the entire story is the dog, Sounder. 







Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowska (hardcover published in 1964 by Atheneum; this paperback edition from Aladdin, 2007)


Newbery Medal Winner 1965


Synopsis (from Indiebound)Manolo was only three when his father, the great bullfighter Juan Olivar, died. But Juan is never far from Manolo's consciousness -- how could he be, with the entire town of Arcangel waiting for the day Manolo will fulfill his father's legacy?


But Manolo has a secret he dares to share with no one -- he is a coward, without afición, the love of the sport that enables a bullfighter to rise above his fear and face a raging bull. As the day when he must enter the ring approaches, Manolo finds himself questioning which requires more courage: to follow in his father's legendary footsteps or to pursue his own destiny?

Why I recommend it: Despite the dated subject matter, this is a quiet and inspiring little book about courage and facing one's fear. I totally fell in love with Manolo as a character. 






The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox (hardcover published in 1973 by Bradbury Press; this paperback edition published 2008 by Aladdin)

Newbery Medal Winner 1974

Synopsis (from Indiebound)One day, thirteen-year-old Jessie Bollier is earning pennies playing his fife on the docks of New Orleans; the next, he is kidnapped and thrown aboard a slave ship, where his job is to provide music while shackled slaves "dance" to keep their muscles strong and their bodies profitable. As the endless voyage continues, Jessie grows increasingly sickened by the greed, brutality, and inhumanity of the slave trade, but nothing prepares him for the ultimate horror he will witness before his nightmare ends -- a horror that will change his life forever.

Why I recommend it: I thought I knew a lot about slavery in the U.S., but then I read The Slave Dancer and learned a lot more. This book would be excellent for starting classroom discussions.

How many Newbery medal winners have you read?