Interviews, Middle Grade, MMGM, Review

MMGM Interview & Giveaway: THE MULTIPLYING MYSTERIES OF MOUNT TEN by Krista Van Dolzer

Hi, friends! I’m on a giveaway spree! In case you’re curious about which two books I gave away from my 7th blogiversary giveaway last week, I ended up choosing two books with a connection to me. The first was THE GREAT SHELBY HOLMES by Elizabeth Eulberg, who is published by Bloomsbury, my publisher! And the second was MASCOT by Antony John, a fellow St. Louis author. But let me tell you, it was very hard to choose, especially since so many people who entered the giveaway just said any author would be great :).

Now on to this week. I’m thrilled to once again welcome my friend and critique partner Krista Van Dolzer to the blog with her latest release, THE MULTIPLYING MYSTERIES OF MOUNT TEN. And hey, it’s also published by Bloomsbury :). Here’s the amazing cover–which Krista’s going to talk about in answer to one of my questions–and description.

The Multiplying Mysteries of Mount Ten by Krista Van DolzerTwelve-year-old painter Esther can’t wait to attend Camp Vermeer, the most prestigious art camp around. But when her stepdad accidentally drives up the wrong mountain, she lands at Camp Archimedes–a math camp!

Determined to prove herself to the other campers, she tackles a brain-teaser that’s supposed to be impossible–and solves it in a single day. But not everyone is happy about it…someone wants her out of camp at any cost, and starts leaving cryptic, threatening notes all over the camp’s grounds. Esther doesn’t know who to trust–will she solve this riddle before it’s too late?

Featuring tricky logic puzzles readers can solve along with the characters and starring a unique, smart, and crafty young heroine, this story has just the right mix of mystery, humor, and wit.

Here are Krista’s answers to five questions about the things I loved most.

1. Readers who pick up this book may not realize Esther was a character in one of your previous books, DON’T VOTE FOR ME. What made you decide she needed her own story?

Esther was one of my very favorite characters in DON’T VOTE FOR ME, so the thought of writing her a book was certainly appealing. I think what really sealed the deal was that I’d been trying to come up with a math mystery for a while, and when I realized I could do it as a (very) loose retelling of the biblical story of Esther (just as DON’T VOTE FOR ME is a (very) loose retelling of the biblical story of David and Goliath), I jumped in with both feet.

2. It’s evident within the book how much you love math—and how much disdain Esther initially has for the subject, despite her affinity for it. What was your inspiration for setting this story at a math camp?

Because I knew I wanted to write a fun math mystery, the math camp just made sense, but your question made me realize that some of Esther’s feelings are autobiographical. I was always good at math, but I didn’t really fall in love until I studied it in college. That might have been because, for the first time in my life, math wasn’t easy-peasy. It was challenging and stretching, and I actually had to apply myself. Doing something hard is great for your self-confidence.

3. The cover for this book is amazing! I love all of the detail, and I think it would be great if you could tell us a little about the significance of some of those details.

The cover is amazing. I absolutely love Danielle Ceccolini’s design, and Iacopo Bruno couldn’t have done a better job executing her vision. One of the first details I noticed was the sneaky yellow balls scattered around the illustration. In addition to the weight in the bottom right corner, the yellow balls make an appearance in the first puzzle in the book. I also love the tube of paint and the palette in the background that ties everything together, both of which, of course, are nods to Esther’s artistic side. And the ruler! And the compass! And the abacus in the title treatment! So many little details make my mathematical heart sing. 😊

4. The mystery in the story—interlocked with a logic puzzle—is super fun. What tips do you have for writing a mystery, particularly for a middle grade audience?

First tip: don’t write a mystery that involves a logic puzzle. 😊 Every time I fiddled with one clue, I had to fiddle with the others. Thank goodness for great copy editors who spotted so many mistakes!

Second tip: don’t be afraid to let your imagination loose. Adults dismiss so many clues to so many would-be mysteries because they don’t want to take the time to try to figure them out, but kids always take the time. They want to find something extraordinary hidden in the ordinary, so let’s give them just that!

5. I love the group of math nerds. How did you go about developing the personalities of the kids who would be at the camp? Did you create them to complement Esther or develop them independently of her?

Getting to know the math nerds was one of the best parts of writing this story. Angeline and Brooklyn distinguished themselves right off the bat, and Munch, Graham, and Marshane came along easily, too. I loved how self-assured Munch was from the very start, and the friendly rivalry that developed between Graham and Marshane inspired me to make their back stories overlap. So I would say I let their personalities take shape as the plot grew and evolved. By far, the trickiest part was making sure they were distinct (and in fact, we downplayed some roles so this most important group would have a better chance to shine).

Thank you, Krista!

I love this book so much I want to pass along a copy to one of you, and Krista has also offered a signed bookmark as well. To enter, comment below or click on the Rafflecopter link for additional entries.

Blogging, Giveaways, Middle Grade

Happy 7th Blogiversary to Me! With a mystery signed book giveaway!

Today marks the seventh anniversary of my blog. I’ve made a lot of changes to the blog in the past seven years, starting out with a focus on middle grade, finding my writing voice in young adult, querying for many, many years and sharing that process. I foresee this blog changing again as I approach the publication of my debut novel in winter 2021. I don’t know what that will look like; I’m still thinking through it all. But for today, I’m going to stick with my tradition of pulling statistics from the last year and sharing them here on the blog–mostly because I just enjoy analyzing the blog for myself. Hopefully some of you will find it interesting, too :). But definitely read through to the end, because I will have a celebratory giveaway as usual. It seems appropriate that it has a middle grade theme in keeping with the blog’s beginnings :).

Top 10 Posts/Pages in the Past Year

10. FINDING AUDREY and a Couple of Other YA Books You Should Read – This 2015 post was in my top ten last year as well. It includes mini-reviews of FINDING AUDREY by Sophie Kinsella, THE APOTHECARY by Maile Meloy, and THERE WILL BE LIES by Nick Lake.

9. Your Life Has Been Delayed (YA Time Travel) – Hey, thanks for reading about my book! It will be out in winter 2021, and I will be sharing all sorts of news as it’s available. That’s one thing I know for sure about where the blog is headed :).

8. Happy Sixth Blogiversary to Me! With a $25 Amazon Gift Card Giveaway for You … – Maybe you guys do like my statistics. Or an Amazon gift card? 🙂

7. YA Series Recommendation: The Selection by Kiera Cass – Great books!

6. Remembering a Friend Lost Too Soon: Ashley Gammon – Three years ago this past January, my friend and former colleague Ashley passed away unexpectedly. I wrote this post as my own tribute to her, and I am glad people continue to read about her here and honor her memory.

5. What I’ve Learned in Seven Years of Querying – Ah, my other annual post–which I will no longer be writing. However, if you are still querying, I encourage you to check out this series because querying can be a long journey, and this particular post is all about perseverance. In my case, I ended up signing with my agent a few months after the seven-year mark.

4. YA Review: NOT IF I SAVE YOU FIRST by Ally Carter + Bonus Writing Tips – I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Ally Carter twice, and she’s just lovely. This book is a fantastic page-turner, so definitely check it out, but she also gives some great tips for writers as well.

3. Subjectivity and Why You Should Get Multiple Opinions – I wrote this post in 2013, and people keep coming back to it. It’s a good reminder for all of us. We don’t write in a vacuum. It’s important to get feedback from others on your manuscripts.

2. I Have An Agent! – Well, hey, I was hoping–and sort of figured–this post would be high on the list. I searched for an agent for seven years before connecting with Elizabeth Bewley at Sterling Lord Literistic, but it was so worth the wait. She’s so fantastic to work with and my debut book is now forthcoming from Bloomsbury in winter 2021. Go team!

1. MG/YA Agents & Their Books – Even though I’m no longer researching agents myself, I continue to maintain this list for those who are. I think it’s super helpful to know what sort of books agents represent to get a feel for their tastes.

Top 10 Posts/Pages of All Time

Interestingly, most of these are different this year. However, there are several MG books, which is a reflection of their longevity on my blog. When I first started out, I wrote an MG review every week.

10. Subjectivity and Why You Should Get Multiple Opinions – There’s the subjectivity post again!

9. MMGM: ONCE UPON THE END by James Riley – Only one of my favorite MG writers ever.

8. MMGM: THE UNWANTEDS: ISLAND OF SILENCE – The second book in a popular middle grade series.

7. Series Recommendation: DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth – A popular series. I’m still baffled by those movies 🙂.

6. About – Hey, thanks for reading about me :).

5. MMGM: SAMMY KEYES AND THE HOTEL THIEF – In previous years, this book has been in the top 10 for the year as well. It’s the first in an eighteen-book middle grade mystery series. I haven’t made it through all of them yet as I’ve been spreading them out, but they are fantastic!

4. Before the Draft: Outlining in Scrivener – This post is listed on a Scrivener site somewhere and so continues to receive many visits.

3. A Glimpse at My Agent Spreadsheet: Middle Grade Books I’ve Read – The post that started my page listing middle grade and young adult books agents represent.

2. MG/YA Agents & Their Books

1. Remembering a Friend Lost Too Soon: Ashley Gammon

Top 5 Searches of the Past Year

Unfortunately there are more than 235 search terms WordPress is unable to identify for me, but here are the top five searches WordPress can tell me.

5. Agents who represent middle grade/young adult books & Searches about me – I was quite surprised to find there were an equal number of searches for agents as me leading to my blog this year. I must be moving up :).

4. Random questions – My favorite was: “advantages of making your own money 8th grade.” I probably had some review about an MG book with an eighth grader making their own money that led them here. I hope they found an answer!

3. Searches about Ashley – As I stated above, I hope friends of Ashley continue to find comfort in my post about her.

2. Writing-related searches – Several visitors ended up at my blog due to some variation on the question, “Should I get multiple opinions?” This definitely explains the popularity of the subjectivity post. But there was also someone who stopped by questioning whether they should quit after querying for two years. I hope they left with the answer of “Don’t give up!” Because as I’ve already stated, I queried for seven years, and I now have an agent and a book deal.

1. Books I’ve reviewed – By far the most searches that led people to my blog were for books I’d reviewed. It’s quite interesting to see the questions people ask, often about particular plot points or simply for a review. Either way, I’m happy to be a resource.

So what am I giving away this year? Well, if you happen to follow me on Twitter as well, you may have noticed I’m excited about a particular event happening this Saturday, the Oh Middle Grade BookFest. I mean, how often do twenty-four middle grade authors come to town? Since I will be there, I’d love to pick up two signed books for one of you. The giveaway will be open for the next week, but if you comment by end of day Friday, May 3, you can give input on which two authors I should choose :). Sound fun? Here is the list of authors: https://omgbookfest.org/omg-missouri

Oh, and if you are here in St. Louis, come check out the event and bring any other middle grade readers you know along.

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment below or click on the Rafflecopter link for additional entries.

 

UPDATE on May 6: Below is a picture of all the books we had signed at OMG BookFest. Many of these belong to my kids, but two are for the lucky winner of this giveaway. Which two? You’ll find out if you win :).

Character, Giveaways, Interviews, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Research, Review

MMGM Interview & Giveaway: THE TRUE HISTORY OF LYNDIE B. HAWKINS by Gail Shepherd

Last week I promised I would feature additional middle grade books by writer friends, and I’m so pleased to host Gail Shepherd here on my blog for MMGM. Gail and I met nine years ago through a critique partner match-up on a blog and swapped chapters on middle grade novels we were working on at the time. I can’t believe it was so long ago! As soon as I read THE TRUE HISTORY OF LYNDIE B. HAWKINS, I reached out to Gail to ask her for an interview, and she graciously answered my questions and has also offered up a signed ARC and some swag for one lucky winner. Details are at the bottom.

The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins by Gail ShepherdLyndie B. Hawkins loves history, research, and getting to the truth no matter what. But when it comes to her family, her knowledge is full of holes. Like, what happened to her father in the Vietnam War? Where does he disappear to for days? And why exactly did they have to move in with her grandparents?

Determined to mold recalcitrant Lyndie into a nice Southern girl even if it kills her, Grandma Lady starts with lesson number one: Family=Loyalty=keeping quiet about family secrets. Especially when it comes to Lyndie’s daddy.

Then DB, a boy from the local juvenile detention center, comes to stay with Lyndie’s best friend, Dawn. He’s as friendly and open as a puppy. There to shape up his act, his optimism is infectious. But it goes against everything Grandma Lady insists upon.

And here are Gail’s answers to five questions about the book.

1. I loved how seamlessly you wove history into the story–through a school project, research about D.B., a visit to the history museum, etc. How did you decide which historical accounts to include and the best ways to do so?

There were two main thematic threads I wanted to tease out in Lyndie B’s story: The first was the idea of how countries and communities become divided by politics or ideology—I mean, obviously this is still a contemporary question. So there’s a natural fit with the Vietnam War and the American Civil War, where a country is at war with itself. And then the second thematic question was about how families get fractured, or heal themselves from fractures. So the research on D.B.’s family history fit well with that theme.

Those two themes intertwine and are related—in both the Vietnamese war and the American Civil War, particularly in Tennessee, families often split—some sided with the Confederacy and others with the Union. The idea of families split apart runs through the book, of course. D.B. was abandoned by his mom. He’s taken away from the foster family he loves. He’s lost touch with his uncle. And Lyndie’s family is coming apart at the seams in quite a different way—her father and mother are at odds, Lyndie is not getting along with her grandma. But also, other people in the community had fathers or brothers who were lost in the Vietnam War, like Lyndie’s nemesis, Pee Wee, and the homeless woman, Bernadette. Really, the entire community (a kind of family writ large) has been fractured by the war. So the research fell naturally along those thematic lines.

It’s a particularly interesting question to me, how we heal or bridge our differences in a family or community so that we can thrive.

2. The friendship storyline is so believable, particularly for Lyndie’s age, how she allows her grandmother’s attitude to influence her insecurities about her best friend. What made you decide to tap into that aspect of MG friendship?

Little kids bond without a lot of baggage. When you’re six or seven or eight, you just tend to like people unless they rub you the wrong way or they’re mean to you. But at eleven or twelve, like Lyndie, you’re just beginning to lose your innocence around friendship. You start to be influenced by social pressures. Lots of “best” friendships split up at this age (mine certainly did)—often because we’re aware of how others are seeing us.

Lyndie is coming of age, and part of her job in growing up is to figure out how much truth there is in what she’s being told—she’s struggling with it. She’s struggling with her own insecurities, too. She doesn’t see herself as a “good person” in the way her best friend Dawn is. She doesn’t always know what’s right. So she’s subject to a lot of self-doubt that can interfere with the purity of her friendships.

3. The family dynamics are also very believable and heart-wrenching, from private, organized Lady and gentle Grandpa to tormented Dad and broken-hearted Mom. How did you determine what characteristics to give each of these family members to make this family what it is?

Lyndie’s grandma, Lady, was always very real to me. She’s the one character who really didn’t change much in revision. Maybe because I come from a Southern family. Some of my relatives are very iron-willed, judgmental, upright, dignified, exacting, in this way, so she came to me naturally. As for Lady’s husband, Grandpa, I wanted him to be the one person that Lady could feel safe with, taken care of. He’s a hint that even Lady has vulnerabilities.

I made Lyndie’s father and mother political opposites (Daddy a war veteran with PTSD, Ma a former hippie peace protester) so we could see that it is possible to love across a political divide, even though it’s not always easy.

4. The story’s setting a decade after the Vietnam War brings to light the issues faced by soldiers who fought in the war and families who lost soldiers to the war—both immediately and due to trauma afterward. What made you decide to set a story at this time, and how did you research it?

I grew up with the Vietnam War in the background, running on the TV, in every newspaper. Families I knew had brothers and fathers going away. That war has shaped my world view in a very deep way. I became an adult in the 1980s, and my memory of the time is very sharp. So those two things together influenced the setting and time period. I did a ton of research—every book I could get my hands on—The Things They Carried, Dispatches, A Bright Shining Lie, and many others, plus books on PTSD and trauma—The Evil Hours was the one that really shook me. Not much of the research made its way directly into the book. But the background was necessary so I could understand Lyndie’s daddy.

5. I loved the feeling of hope at the end, for Lyndie’s family and friendships. What do you hope your readers leave the book feeling?

Oh, my. Well, that the truth is worth pursuing, even if it feels hard. I do entirely believe that. That families and friendships can be resilient, they can recover from great stresses. That our country and our communities, like the flag on the gate at Lyndie’s grandma’s house, are worth caring for, worth fighting for.

But there are lots of ways to care and lots of ways to fight—you don’t have to physically go to war, necessarily. History has taught us what a dead end that can be. Caring for your country can mean being honest about its history. Caring for your family can mean being honest with each other. I want readers to feel that we can get better. And that it’s worth trying.

Thank you so much, Gail!

As I mentioned, Gail has offered a signed ARC, plus swag (book plates, bookmarks, pins), for one lucky winner. To enter, leave a comment here or click on the Rafflecopter for extra entries.

Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: RUBY & OLIVIA by Rachel Hawkins

Get ready, friends, because I think I might be on a bit of a middle grade spree coming up. Two writer friends just had middle grade books come out, so I definitely plan to feature their books in the near future, but I also happened to pick up RUBY & OLIVIA by Rachel Hawkins, and I absolutely adored it. I’ve featured several of Ms. Hawkins’ young adult books here on the blog, but this is the first middle grade book of hers I’ve read. It’s equally delightful. Here’s the cover and description.

Ruby & Olivia by Rachel HawkinsRuby is bold and opinionated, while Olivia has always been respectful and well behaved. But Olivia’s good-girl image is tarnished when she takes the fall for her twin sister’s misdeed. And now Olivia is stuck with Ruby all summer—at a community service day camp for troublemakers.

To kick off the spirit of service, the campers are tasked with cataloging the contents of Live Oaks, a historic mansion in their town. Sorting through objects in an old house sounds boring, and working together is the last thing the girls want to do, but the stuff is actually kind of cool. There’s everything from mink stoles to golf clubs to antique dolls . . . and . . . wait . . . is that doll watching them?

It isn’t long until little tricks—like mysterious music playing, doors slamming, and shadows rising—start to spook the girls. They’d like to think the other campers are pranking them, but they soon realize that this empty mansion might not be uninhabited after all. To solve the mystery at Live Oaks, Ruby and Olivia will have to put their old grudges aside and figure out how to be a team.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The friendship – These two girls are so different, and their path to friendship is further complicated by the fact that they have history–Ruby used to be close friends with Olivia’s twin sister, Emma. This friendship is messy and prickly and the girls both get hurt along the way, but it’s honest and real. It’s very well done.

2. The families – The dynamics in both family relationships are excellent and unique. Ruby is dealing with the loss of her grandmother and is very close to her mom, while Olivia has a sticky relationship with her twin after taking the fall for something she perhaps shouldn’t have, leaving her alone with her parents for the summer for the first time ever.

3. The humor – Humor is a staple of Rachel Hawkins’ books, and this one is no exception. Ruby is the main source in this case, as humor is her default, although Olivia steps up sometimes too, once she feels comfortable with Ruby.

4. The mystery – A spooky house with creepy dolls, taxidermied animals, and doors that randomly close? Yes, please! I loved how the girls decided to investigate.

5. The resolution – I really enjoyed the final resolution to the mystery. It wasn’t one of those stories where you could figure it out entirely on your own. There were hints where it was headed, but you had to wait until the end with the characters to find out what was truly going on, and it was a great payoff.

I will definitely be looking for other middle grade books from Rachel Hawkins. I know she has one other. If you’ve read RUBY & OLIVIA, what did you think?

Middle Grade, Reading, Review, Young Adult

ENCHANTÉE and A Few Other Books You Should Read

Hello, friends! I have returned from vacation, where I spent many hours reading, and once again I find I’ve built up a few mini-reviews on Instagram and even one on Twitter, so I’m going to compile them here. Before vacation, I was in a total daze from a combination of my first round of edits and serving as the cookie mom for my daughter’s Girl Scout troop. I’m actually planning a post about what happens after the book deal for later this week, but on to the mini-reviews!

Despite being far from eighteenth century France on the beach in Cozumel—or the Belize countryside, or my cabin in the middle of the Caribbean Sea—I felt completely entrenched in the setting of ENCHANTÉE thanks to the beautiful writing of Gita Trelease (at one point my kids were begging me to play Spades, and I was like, “No, there’s a duel happening!”). I thoroughly enjoyed how magic was mixed into the history of the French Revolution, plus there’s a lovely romance thrown in, along with the main character making increasingly terrible choices. The ending was quite satisfying as well. Highly recommend!


So, I picked up Brigid Kemmerer’s A CURSE SO DARK AND LONELY because she’s a fellow Bloomsbury author and I had been hearing great things about this book. WOW, WOW, WOW! I was in the middle of my edits, and when I’m not on deadline, I usually stop working about an hour before the kids get home to read every day. I SOOO wanted to do that with this book, but I resisted because I knew I had to finish my edits before vacation. Instead, I ended up reading the last half of this book on a Friday night into Saturday. Oh my goodness, the twists, the romance, the stakes! If I hadn’t been so entrenched in edits and Girl Scout cookies, I would have written a full review here on the blog. (But, Michelle, you did have full reviews on the blog during those weeks, you might say. Guess what? All written and scheduled before Feb. 11.)


 

Somehow I read all of THE DATE TO SAVE by Stephanie Kate Strohm without realizing its connection to IT’S NOT ME, IT’S YOU, despite the fact the latter was one of my favorite reads in 2016. Let’s blame it on the 189 books I read in between—although it made soo much sense when I read the acknowledgments why certain aspects of the book seemed familiar. Like the interview format and variety of voices and the humor. Plus this one included a fun mystery. I recommend you read the two together, which is what I’ll do when I come back to them again in the future. And isn’t that the best sort of recommendation—that you want to read a book again?


I started reading LEGENDARY over Christmas break and actually finished it on Christmas evening, as the kids were all running around the house. As I expected, I am now on tenterhooks awaiting FINALE. LEGENDARY included all of the gorgeous writing and page-turning twists of CARAVAL (one of my favorite reads of 2017) but had a different sort of tone coming from the viewpoint of Tella instead of Scarlett. As a result, the romance was a bit more steamy, but it fit Tella’s character completely, and I’m quite curious to discover how the romances of both girls will conclude in the final installment. Not to mention all the other threads left hanging … Is it May yet??


I thoroughly enjoyed SEALED WITH A SECRET by Lisa Schroeder. A companion to MY SECRET GUIDE TO PARIS, which I reviewed in 2017, this book follows Phoebe through London as she tries to fulfill the steps of a magic spell she finds in an antique makeup compact. It’s full of friendship, sisterly struggles, other family dynamics, and London sights. I’ll be holding on to this one for my daughter to read in a year or two!


Okay, that’s it for now, but I may have a full review next Monday. We’ll see how the rest of the book I’m reading shapes up :). Happy reading, everyone!

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: FAMILY GAME NIGHT AND OTHER CATASTROPHES by Mary E. Lambert

I first read something about FAMILY GAME NIGHT AND OTHER CATASTROPHES by Mary E. Lambert a couple of years ago, but it took me a while to get to it. The title initially caught my attention because I thought it would be about a family playing games together. While I do totally understand the title after reading the book, I’ll just clue you in that family game night’s a very small part of the book, so don’t expect rousing rounds of Monopoly and Catan (or whatever games your family plays). As for the catastrophes … those are what kept me turning pages. Here’s the description.

Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes by Mary E. LambertAnnabelle has a secret . . . a secret so big she won’t allow friends within five miles of her home. Her mom collects things. Their house is overflowing with stuff. It gives Annabelle’s sister nightmares, her brother spends as much time as he can at friends’ houses, and her dad buries himself in his work.

So when a stack of newspapers falls on Annabelle’s sister, it sparks a catastrophic fight between their parents–one that might tear them all apart–and Annabelle starts to think that things at home finally need to change.

Is it possible for her to clean up the family’s mess? Or are they really, truly broken?

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The premise – I can’t say I’ve read any other books about hoarding. Seeing how the various members of Annabelle’s family dealt with her mom’s hoarding–from avoidance to excessive cheer to obsessive cleanliness–felt very real and at times heartbreaking. Throughout the story, I was very invested in the characters and how they interacted with Annabelle’s mom and each other as they tried to figure out how to make changes.

2. The friendships – At the beginning of the story, Annabelle is so afraid of how her friends will react to her house that she shuts them out. As the book progresses, she gradually lets her friends into her world, and her friendships change with her openness. It was a great picture of how friendship is built on the ability to trust and accept each other.

3. Annabelle’s family – Annabelle has issues with pretty much every member of her family, but she doesn’t know how to talk to them or express her feelings. Part of her character development in the story is learning not only how to let her friends in but to reach out to her parents and siblings as well. Yes, the house needs to be cleaned up, but so does the family. I really liked how there was a bigger picture there.

4. Annabelle’s acceptance of herself – Annabelle’s very focused on the fact that she is fine just the way she is and it’s everyone else who is broken. It’s not unusual for people to feel this way, and yet I appreciates that there was a theme in the book of accepting your faults and learning to deal with them.

5. The crush – Alongside the heavier topics was a really sweet first crush. I liked how it was a nice side story and didn’t add to the drama going on in Annabelle’s life.

I really enjoyed FAMILY GAME NIGHT AND OTHER CATASTROPHES. Have you read it? What did you think?

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, NetGalley, Reading, Review

MMGM: THE REVENGE OF MAGIC by James Riley

I’ve loved every book James Riley has written. Both the Half Upon a Time and Story Thieves series are wonderfully unique and hilarious, and so I was very excited to see the announcement of his new series, The Revenge of Magic, for–count ’em–SEVEN books. Thank you so much to Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing and NetGalley for letting me get an advance read on this book. It comes out March 5, and while the tone is a bit different than that of James Riley’s previous books, it is a fantastic story full of twists and turns that will keep readers engaged and hungering for the next book.

The Revenge of Magic by James RileyThirteen years ago, books of magic were discovered in various sites around the world alongside the bones of dragons. Only those born after “Discovery Day” have the power to use the magic.

Now, on a vacation to Washington, DC, Fort Fitzgerald’s father is lost when a giant creature bursts through the earth, attacking the city. Fort is devastated, until an opportunity for justice arrives six months later, when a man named Dr. Opps invites Fort to a government run school, the Oppenheimer School, to learn magic from those same books.

But life’s no easier at the school, where secrets abound. What does Jia, Fort’s tutor, know about the attacks? Why does Rachel, master of destructive magic, think Fort is out to destroy the school? And why is Fort seeing memories of an expelled girl every time he goes to sleep? If Fort doesn’t find out what’s hiding within the Oppenheimer School, more attacks will come, and this time, nothing will stop them!

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. Fort’s father – Since I read an advanced reader copy, I can’t give you any quotes for this book, but please believe me that Fort’s father is entirely quote-worthy. The book begins with Fort and his father touring the Lincoln Memorial, while Fort’s father tells anyone within hearing distance about the wonderful feats Fort will accomplish someday. It’s both embarrassing for Fort and completely endearing. As the story progresses, Fort continues to hear his father’s voice in his head, as a sort of bolstering presence.

2. Cyrus – Cyrus, the student who practices clairvoyance, is the perfect foil for Fort. Every insult and strange look just slides right off him. Plus, he’s just awesome, and the rest of the kids don’t even recognize it. I expect he will continue to become more awesome as the series continues.

3. How the magic isn’t as expected – What I love most about James Riley’s books is that you’ll be reading and you think you know how things are going to work, and then he throws in a twist that turns everything around so you have a completely different perspective. THE REVENGE OF MAGIC is no exception to this rule, but I don’t want to spoil anything. Suffice it to say, Fort has to rethink both his own goals and the overall strategy against the beings who attack (sorry, purposely vague).

4. The secrets – Everyone is keeping secrets from everyone else in this book. Some of them are because they’ve been told to keep secrets, others out of fear or to repress bad memories, but the end result is chaos. Fun times! Actually, since this is the first of seven books, I think the secrets are necessary. I expect there will be many more reveals.

5. The ending – I was not surprised to find James Riley leaving this book on a cliffhanger. It was like–bam!–here’s something for you readers to hold on to until the next book arrives. Very well done, Mr. Riley.

I did mention at the beginning of my post that this book’s tone was different from his others, and so I do think I should address that. One of my favorite things about his other books is the humor, and that’s not a big part of this one. It’s not completely devoid of humor, but it’s not a main focus like in the other books, I think because Fort is dealing with grief and anger during this book. Humor would seem out of place. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if it does come into play as the series progresses. Regardless, I still very much enjoyed the book and look forward to reading the rest of the series.