Sunday, November 15, 2020

More Wonderful Debut MG Novels from #the21ders! for #IMWAYR

 Hi Everyone!

It's been a couple of bizarre weeks here in the US, with the votes finally counted, and the outgoing president refusing to concede to the newly-elected (and rightfully-elected) one! 

I handle the anxiety by reading, as usual. I decided to join #IMWAYR, hosted, as far as I can tell by Book Date! And I just found out there's one for Kidlit at Unleashing Readers! Yes, I know it's Sunday, but hey, most people won't read this post until tomorrow, right?

Here's my second installment of reviews of upcoming debut novels by my fellow MG 21ders. These are books I've been privileged to read already (usually via e-arcs from the publisher and Edelweiss+ or Netgalley).  In case you missed it, my last review post is here.

You're in for more treats, as all of these MG novels are most impressive! And... all of these wonderful books are available for pre-order! I've included links to the publishers (just click on each title), and also links to Bookshop this time (if available). When you order from Bookshop it helps Indie bookstores everywhere. Thank you!

The Gilded Girl by Alyssa Colman (April 6, 2021, Farrar Straus and Giroux/Macmillan)

What a delightful tale! This is a fantasy reimagining of A Little Princess, but even if you're not familiar with that classic, you'll still enjoy this gorgeously-written, fast-paced story set in 1890s New York City, instead of England. The main characters are Emma, a rich girl, and Izzy, a servant at the academy where Emma's wealthy father enrolls her to learn how to kindle her magic. In the impressive world Colman has created, children must learn to kindle their magic at the age of 12, before it snuffs out at age 13. But only the rich can afford to pay for this education.

Compelling and fast-paced, this is a joy to read. The author has created a fully-realized magical world, with clever details, the perfect villain, loyal friends, and social commentaries that are timely today. Plus, BEST. OPENING. LINE. EVER!

Order from Bookshop

Rea and the Blood of the Nectar: The Chronicles of Astranthia # 1,  by Payal Doshi (May 2021, Mango and Marigold Press)

A compelling MG fantasy adventure, with gorgeous, evocative language and highly-imaginative elements. Rea and her twin brother Rohan are about to turn 12 in Darjeeling, India. They live with their mother (Amma) and grandmother (Bajai) and life is sometimes difficult. Amma and Bajai seem to pay more attention to Rohan, and Rea is jealous. On the night of their 12th birthday, their mother and grandmother warn them to stay in the house, but Rohan slips out to meet his friends, and Rea follows him, along with her friend Leela. Then Rohan goes missing and Rea and Leela search for him. With advice from a fortune teller, they enter another world, Astranthia, a place of magic, flowers, and fairy folk. Queen Razya is deliciously evil, the perfect villain, right up there with Maleficent. If you enjoy portal fantasies, you will love this imaginative tale.

Many Points of Me by Caroline Gertler (January 12, 2021, Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins)

A beautifully-written and moving story about a young girl's grief for her father, a famous artist, who died a year ago. He was known mostly for his asterisms, paintings of made-up constellations, one which represented himself and one his wife. He had planned to paint one of Georgia, but then he died. 

When Georgia's mother starts putting together a retrospective exhibit on Georgia's dad for the Metropolitan Museum in NYC, she brings home stacks of papers. Georgia finds a previously-unknown sketch of herself at age 10, and discovers something amazing on the back. Around this same time, she gets into a fight with her best friend, Theo. He urges her to enter an art contest for students, the one he's entering. But Georgia is no longer sure if she wants to be an artist like her dad. She's no longer sure of anything.

This touching story of Georgia's twelfth year, and the compelling MG voice, will draw you in from the first page. The art mystery itself will intrigue you. Art, Science and Astronomy all come together in this brilliant contemporary novel.  

Thanks, a Lot, Universe by Chad Lucas (May 11, 2021, Amulet Books/Abrams)

I love this novel! 

Told in alternating first person points of view, this delightful story of Brian and Ezra, two boys turning thirteen and learning to navigate the often-confusing world of adolescence, will pull you in from the first page. When you reach the inciting incident (quite early on), you'll be hooked until you finish reading! No spoilers here, though.

Many one-sentence paragraphs help make the pace lightning-fast. I read this in two days, which is some kind of miraculous record for me. Especially since I was reading the e-ARC on my laptop. (No, I don't own a Kindle!)

The most diverse cast I've seen in many years of reading MG, and it's all handled in a smart, sophisticated way. Brian's social anxiety (which he calls his Super Awkward Weirdness Syndrome) comes across perfectly, and the way Ezra learns to accept his own nature is endearing. The humor, especially in the dialogue, is wonderful! Chad Lucas is a writer to watch out for. I can't wait to read whatever he writes next!

Up next for me, two more debut 2021 MG novels, An Occasionally Happy Family by Cliff Burke, and The Nightmare Thief by Nicole Lesperance. 

What have you read lately?

Sunday, November 1, 2020

A First Look at Some 2021 MG Debut Novels

Hi, everyone!

In an effort to avoid reading the news, listening to the news, and getting stressed out over the election here in the U.S. as well as the surging Covid cases (all over the world AND here), I've decided to resurrect my sadly-neglected little blog about books!

And the best use for this blog right now is to support and promote the first group of my fellow MG 21ders! (My own debut MG novel, EVERYWHERE BLUE, arrives June 1, 2021 from Holiday House. No cover yet. Sigh. It'll be revealed in January. For now, here's the Goodreads link.)

As a 21der, I have the honor and privilege of reading as many ARCs of the 21ders' books as I can. I won't be able to read all of them in a year or two -- there are 50 of us MG debut authors alone, and twice as many YA debut authors!

Please support these wonderful authors and consider pre-ordering their books from Bookshop, Indiebound, or your local Indie bookstore, or if you insist, from B&N or Amazon. You can even order direct from the publisher! I'm including the publisher links here.

CLUES TO THE UNIVERSE by Christina Li, HarperCollins, January 12, 2021

Told in alternating points of view, this lovely story of two very different 12-year-olds who become friends will resonate with you. Ro, grieving for her dead father, loves science and wants to build a rocket. Benji loves comic books and wants to find his father, who left his family a long time ago.

A quietly beautiful story about connections. The characters feel so real to me!  Ro and Benji will linger in my mind for quite a while. I love their growing friendship and the way they help each other through some tough times.  (I  actually posted about this book in September)

ALONE by Megan E. Freeman,  Aladdin/Simon and Schuster, January 12, 2021

A compelling novel in verse about 12-year-old Maddie, who is left behind when her town is mysteriously evacuated overnight. How she learns to survive makes for a fascinating read. In fact, I read this in one day. The verse format is perfect for this intensely emotional story, with absorbing details about Maddie's life on her own, accompanied only by a neighbor's dog.

TAKE BACK THE BLOCK by Chrystal D. Giles, Random House Children's Books, January 26, 2021

Fast-paced and exciting story about one boy's growing awareness of social justice. I'm so impressed by the voice in this novel! Twelve-year-old Wes feels like a real boy to me, with real worries about his friends and his neighborhood. His growth, from someone in the beginning who cares most about his shoes and clothes and video games, to a socially-aware and strong leader among his neighbors and classmates, is phenomenal! The writing style is highly accessible, and middle-grade readers will learn about gentrification and social injustice without even realizing they're learning. A powerful, timely read.

A PLACE TO HANG THE MOON by Kate Albus, Margaret Ferguson Books/Holiday House, Feb 2, 2021

Orphaned siblings join other evacuees from London during World War II, and seek a home in the country. They deal with bullies in their first billet, and overcrowded conditions in their second. But they manage to handle it all because they find solace in the local library.

I fell in love with this novel from the very first page. What a delightful story! William, Edmund, and Anna will steal your heart, and you'll find yourself racing to finish to learn if they find a forever home (and if it's the one you hope!). But at the same time, you'll want to slow down and savor this book, because it's such a wonderful read and filled with so many gorgeous, and very quotable, lines. (But since I read an e-arc, I'm not supposed to quote from it!)

 *  *   *   *   *  *   *   *   *

Next time: I'll be discussing THE GILDED GIRL by Alyssa Colman, REA AND THE BLOOD OF THE NECTAR by Payal Doshi, MANY POINTS OF ME by Caroline Gertler, and THANKS A LOT, UNIVERSE by Chad Lucas. 

It's lovely to have so much to read when I'm trying to escape from the world right now! How are you handling these unprecedented times? Stay safe, everyone!

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Pandemic Diary -- Mid-September thoughts


Sunday, September 13 (Day 188):

Woke up with an aching jaw, which happens far more often than I admit.

I'm still keeping this diary in a spiral notebook, scribbled each night by hand. I write down the day's events and my thoughts, so it's a combination diary/journal about living through a pandemic.

But the days are growing more similar all the time. So I will quietly let this Pandemic Diary fade into the past.

We have a routine. 

We're still hunkering down, as Dr. Fauci suggested we all do for the next few months. 

We're still having groceries delivered.

We cook in for the most part. Have gotten take-out a few times. But we're not ready to eat in a restaurant and won't be for some time. This article explains it perfectly! An excerpt: "However, people who tested positive, the data showed, were more likely to have reported dining at a restaurant in the two weeks before they started to feel sick."

Every day, we take turns killing spotted lanternflies on our deck. They're not as numerous as they were a month ago, but they're still annoying. Here's an article about their proliferation in Pennsylvania.

What else do we do? We walk.

We watch a lot of Netflix.

My husband gardens.

I read. And write.

I follow the other #the21ders on social media and on our website and talk to some of them on our private Slack group. This is my one bright spot in a world gone crazy. Wildfires are destroying the West, BLM protests continue (and rightly so). Still waiting for Justice for Breonna Taylor

And the pandemic continues, with, ahem, some people having rallies and not wearing masks. There were over 260,000 cases of covid among the attendees after the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in August. And a certain politician continues to eschew masks. I can't stand it.

But a new book called The Reindeer Chronicles might help us all come back from despair! At least, ecologically. Here's the opening line: “That which has been damaged can be healed.”

Acording to The Revelator, it’s a quote from ecological design pioneer John Todd that opens The Reindeer Chronicles,  a new book from author Judith D. Schwartz.the ask

It’s a fitting quote for a time when we’re facing multiple crises and good news is in short supply — and an apt beginning for a book that takes readers across the world to learn about the ways nature’s being harnessed to help restore some of the most damaged parts of our planet.

A few books I've read since my last post:

The Places We Sleep by Caroline Brooks DuBois (August 2020, Holiday House, for ages 9 to 13)

A touching debut novel from my publisher, Holiday House, and edited by my editor! This MG novel in verse explores the aftermath of 9/11 from the POV of a young girl. 

Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly (2019, Greenwillow, for ages 8 to 12)

A gorgeous and highly original fable from the Newbery-winning author of Hello, Universe. I love this quote: "The menyoro's only interested in two things -- being adored and being obeyed. And it seems you don't need knowledge for people to do either of those."

Clues to the Universe by Christina Li (Due January 2021, Quill Tree/HarperCollins, e-arc)

The first book I've read by one of #the21ders! I was honored to receive an e-arc and read it in two and a half days (which is fast for me!). I loved this story of friendship and comic books, stars and model rockets. Unlikely science-fair partners Ro and Benji pair up to help each other. Benji agrees to help Ro, still grieving from the death of her father, with her model rocket, and Ro agrees to help Benji find his long-lost father, who writes the comic books Benji loves. What an adorable story! And I'm in love with the cover!

COVID-19 World Stats as of Saturday Sept 12 (from WHO):

Confirmed cases: 28,154,158

Confirmed deaths: 916,955

US COVID-19 Stats as of Saturday Sept 12 (from the CDC):

Confirmed cases: 6,427,058

Confirmed deaths: 192,388

I won't be around here much, but come check out my new author website! When I get my act together, I'll have an occasional newsletter. In the meantime, you can find me on Twitter. Or Instagram.

What is your routine during this ongoing pandemic? Is it the same as it was in March or April?

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Pandemic Diary -- as August winds down, will life ever go back to normal?

Catching up on the Pandemic Diary

I know it's been nearly three weeks since I posted this diary and I'm sorry. But life gets a little crazy.

Sunday, August 16 (Day 160):

Yuck! Yes, that's a dust pan full of dead spotted lanternflies. I'm so sick of these invasive bugs! We've been killing 50 or 60 a day for weeks. They're getting wilier and more agressive as the August heat soars.

I woke up with a headache today, which happens much too often, and all I did all day was kill these bleeping bugs! That dust pan represents just one session of swatting and stomping. Add to that at least two or three more sessions a day.
You may remember that I couldn't call my mother when she first moved into Assisted Living. The good news is her phone was finally repaired and I can now call her. She's gone from a four-room Independent Living apartment to one small bedroom/sitting room, and she tells me she's feeling hemmed in now. I hope soon she'll get used to it. 

Tuesday, August 18 (Day 162):

This week I'm reading THE MAGIC IN CHANGING YOUR STARS by Leah Henderson. What a delightful story! Plus, it's time travel! Fast-paced, heartwarming, filled with suspense and love and Black excellence. Ailey is a likeable character and I adored his Grampa. All the characters are named for famous Black people, not just dancers like Alvin Ailey, but inventors, historians, authors, politicians, athletes, teachers, entrepreneurs. Perfect for libraries and schools! We need far more books like this, not just books about slavery or the Underground Railroad. Positive books about Black kids today. 

Friday, August 21 (Day 165):

Can you believe we've been sheltering in place for 165 days? It boggles the mind. The world has changed so much since early March.

We decided to cancel our landline, because the only calls we ever get on it are spam. It'll take some getting used to, but I'm already more relaxed without that constant ringing. Yes, I get occasional spam calls on my cell phone but nowhere near as many as we got on the landline. 

Tonight, I participated in a Twitter chat with my fellow 2021 debut authors. We're all members of #the21ders. It's been fun getting to know some of them and I'm learning a lot from the Slack group. Most of these debut MG and YA authors are far younger than I am (ha ha!) and more tech-savvy. But I'm really enjoying being part of this debut author group. 

Monday August 24 (Day 168):

This is the first larger group of deer we've seen this summer.  (For a while, we weren't seeing any, although we know they got into our garden at night -- twice!) Mostly, we've seen one or two at a time, and often three. But this group of six walked boldly through our back yard and kept moving. We figured it was three fawns with their moms.

Finished THE MAGIC IN CHANGING YOUR STARS, which I highly recommend.

Started reading YEAR OF WONDERS by Geraldine Brooks, an adult novel, for a change. It's about the Black Plague in England in 1665 and one small town that decides to isolate itself and keep outsiders away. The idea of quarantining an entire village doesn't seem so odd to me, now that we're all living through the Covid-19 pandemic! Thanks, Caroline Starr Rose, for recommending this beautifully-written book. 

Also today... 

my author website is now live!  Please visit and see what my older son has come up with! Isn't he talented? 

Friday, August 28 (Day 172):

I've deliberately avoided talking politics here, but if you're in the US, you know both the Democrats and the Republicans had their conventions (last week and this week), partly virtual because of the pandemic. I didn't watch either of them. Did you?

Excellent news! The spotted lanternflies are dwindling! Fewer and fewer each day this week. I really don't know why, other than the weather's been cooler, especially at night. 

And more excellent news! The 21ders have a website! And here is the link. Check it out. You'll learn about us and all our books.

I've been going through my mother's (pre-digital) photo albums for the last two weeks. She no longer has room for them herself, and my sisters didn't want them. I hated the thought of tossing them all, so I agreed to take them. I don't know where I'm going to keep them (right now they're stacked up in my older son's room, since he's rarely here)! But looking at them has been an interesting journey through my childhood and beyond. 

COVID-19 World Stats as of August 28 (from WHO):

Confirmed cases: 24,537,560

Confirmed deaths: 833,556

US COVID Stats as of August 27 (from Johns Hopkins):

Confirmed cases:  5.93 million

Confirmed deaths: 182,000 

It keeps going up. Have you been affected by this horrible virus? And please tell me what you're reading this week. Anything good you can recommend? I'll add it to my ever-growing TBR list.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Pandemic Diary -- August 9th: Tropical Storm Isaias and Spotted Lanternflies

Next on my TBR stack, a novel in verse! And isn't that a gorgeous cover?

Beyond Me by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu

Tuesday, August 4 (Day 148):

Hurricane Isaias has been downgraded to a Tropical Storm. But it's still a nasty storm with a lot of rainfall in a few hours. The storm drain in our backyard flooded. 

And of course, our power went out, around 11:30 am. We're grateful we have a small generator, to keep our food cold. We decided to do this after losing all that food in 2011 from Hurricane Irene. It also runs the microwave and a few lights and the TV (my husband would go nuts without that). But no oven or stove, no washer or dryer, no air conditioner. 

And, naturally, there's no internet. Plus, our landline phones don't work, even the old-fashioned one with the cord that we keep plugged in for emergencies.

Thursday, August 6 (Day 150):

Yes. We've been sheltering in place for 150 days. Hard to believe. And this virus is nowhere near over, even though some people seem to think it is. We will always wear masks if we absolutely have to go out in public, but we mostly stay home.

Still no power, of course, and no internet. It's been two full days now. But I can charge my cell phone and use it as a phone. Not to go online. The internet is still out. 

However, I still can't talk to my mother. Her phone in her new room in Assisted Living still isn't hooked up! This is extremely frustrating. My sister makes several calls a day to the service provider, but still nothing is happening. I wrote my mother another brief letter, telling her how much I miss talking to her.

Rain in the morning, but stopped by afternoon. And yes, the spotted lanternflies always appear in the afternoon when the sun comes out. 

This is just a small portion of the 30 or 40 (or 50) we kill every day now!

Burgers on the grill for dinner. Then we watched "E.T". Believe it or not, we had never seen it all these years. Have you?

Saturday, August 8 (Day 152):

Woke up with a raging headache. Still no power. This is the fourth day now! Peco is telling us it'll be restored by 11 tonight. It's getting old...

Power came back on at 11:26 am! Woo hoo! First thing I did was start a load of laundry. Thank goodness.  

Our sons visited in the early evening, when the deck is shaded enough to sit outside. They stayed about an hour and a half. It was lovely seeing them both again, even if I couldn't hug them.

Still waiting for Justice for Breonna...

COVID-19 World Stats as of August 8 (from WHO):

Confirmed cases: 19,462,112
Confirmed deaths: 722,285

US Stats as of August 8 (from the CDC):

Confirmed cases: 4,920,369
Confirmed deaths: 160,220

Tell me about you. Did you lose power from Isaias? Are you inundated with spotted lanternflies?  Are you continuing to shelter in place? 

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Pandemic Diary -- I'm back! And the world is crazier than ever...

Currently reading -- and wow, is it intense and moving!

Sunday, August 2, 2020 (Day 146):

I'm back from my one-month break. You may not have even noticed I was gone. But the world (and the Covid-19 crisis, among other crises) went on. I'm not going to bore you with details from every day of the last month (I've been journaling the old-fashioned way -- in a spiral-bound notebook). Good grief, no! I'm also not going to discuss mask controversies (just wear a mask when you go out -- please!), continuing protests over racial injustice, or politics. Especially politics. You get enough of that in your news feed.

Looking back, two things stand out for me from July. 

1) I received and finished going through my copy edits for EVERYWHERE BLUE. This was a new experience for me. Being a debut author has surprises every stage of the journey. Apparently, I have no idea how to type an ellipsis. Always thought it was dot dot dot. But it's not! 

It's dot SPACE dot SPACE dot!

And I've never known the difference between en dashes and em dashes -- and when to use each. Thankfully, my copy editor knows.

The only thing we disagreed on was the spelling of rainforest. One word or two? Rainforest or rain forest? What do you think?

After emailing back the copyedited manuscript to my editor, I breathed a sigh of relief, because of the second thing that happened in July.

2) Toward the end of the month, my mother moved into Assisted Living. This is a huge step, a narrowing of her world, down from a three-room apartment to a single bed/sitting room, about the size of the average dorm room, but with private bath. And now that she's in Assisted Living, I won't be able to visit her, because of Covid. We weren't able to visit from March to early July, when she was in Independent Living. Then when our section of Pennsylvania finally entered the green phase in early July, we could visit again, with masks and distancing, of course. But last week, they moved her and of course that wing of the lifecare facility is off-limits. 

What hurts the most: her phone still isn't hooked up so I can't even call her. My sister is working on that. It's frustrating, to say the least. I sent Mom a card, but I have no way of knowing if she received it. 

I'm trying to keep busy and work on my next novel in verse while I wait for proofs and cover sketches from my publisher. And the second half of my advance, which should be here this week. I hope.

How have you been keeping busy this past month?

COVID-19 World Stats as of August 1 (From WHO):

Confirmed cases: 17,660,623
Confirmed deaths: 680,894

US Stats as of August 2 (From the CDC):

Confirmed cases: 4,601,526
Confirmed deaths: 154,002

As a comparison, here are the stats from a month ago:

COVID-19 World Stats as of July 2 (from WHO):

Confirmed cases: 10,710,005
Confirmed deaths: 517,877

US Stats as of July 3  (from the CDC):

Confirmed cases: 2,732,531
Confirmed deaths: 128,648

Yes, it just keeps going up. This won't be over anytime soon, I'm afraid. 

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Reposting a post from April 2016

*NOTE: This post originally appeared on April 4, 2016. It occurred to me today that it was strangely prescient, since my fifth novel became EVERYWHERE BLUE, which is due to be published by Holiday House in Summer 2021.*

Musings on writing my fifth novel


You read that right. I'm nearly finished writing the rough draft of my fifth novel. In the past nine years, I've written four MG novels and one YA, in addition to more than a dozen picture books. And no, in case you're wondering, I don't yet have an agent or a book contract. I've had fourteen publication credits to date, but they're all poems or flash fiction or micro fiction for adults.

Still, I keep writing for children and teens. Perseverance is my mantra.

But I have to admit, Novel #5 is, well, a little different. In what way?

Read on.

I started an idea notebook for my fifth novel back in the late spring of 2015, so nearly a year ago. After gathering ideas, and working out character sketches and a setting and a conflict, I wrote three chapters. Almost immediately, I became stuck. Something didn't feel right about it. So I put it aside and revised my fourth novel instead.

And then, in September, after reading Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton (even though it wasn't the first verse novel I read), I had an epiphany.

This new novel? The one I was stuck on? It was meant to be written in verse.

I spent two months reading and studying verse novels and then in November 2015 I started writing Novel #5 all over again.

Am I crazy? Well, this doesn't feel crazy. It feels... right. Since making that decision, the process has changed for me. Writing a verse novel is the hardest thing I've done as a writer, but at the same time, it's like I've grown wings. I look forward to writing every day, which is something I never did with a rough draft before. Rough drafts are usually agony.

I've been accepted into the Highlights Foundation workshop on Novels in Verse which will take place in May. Who knows where this will lead? Maybe nowhere. But maybe, just maybe, something good will happen.

For the rest of April, in honor of Poetry Month, I'll be looking at a few of the verse novels I've studied in my quest to learn this new (for me) form.

Over the past few years, I've read, in approximately this order:

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
42 Miles by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer
May B. by Caroline Starr Rose (this made me first fall in love with verse novels)
Pieces of Georgia by Jen Bryant
The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle
Impulse by Ellen Hopkins
Because I am Furniture by Thalia Chaltas
Where I Live by Eileen Spinelli
Another Day as Emily by Eileen Spinelli
Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton
Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate
Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Libertad by Alma Fullerton
Mountain Dog by Margarita Engle
Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff
Love That Dog by Sharon Creech

(I've also read Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, which is actually an autobiography, and The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, which some consider prose poetry.)

What verse novels do you recommend? All suggestions are welcome.