Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: STORY THIEVES: WORLDS APART by James Riley

Hello, MMGM! Long time no see. But my kids have been hounding me to read along with them more, so I expect I will be peeking back in more often.

Of course I can’t resist reviewing a James Riley book, and that is what would bring me back into the fold. I held off on reading the fourth book (PICK THE PLOT) in the STORY THIEVES series, mainly because I wasn’t super-excited about it being a choose-your-own adventure story. I don’t know why. I loved those books when I was a kid, and I know what a genius James Riley is at turning any preconceived ideas you may have on their head. And it was totally awesome, just like the rest of the series. But I’m still glad I waited until the paperback of PICK THE PLOT came out because it ended on a total cliffhanger, and then I didn’t have to wait to read the series finale, WORLDS APART. Side note: I was in the middle of another book when it arrived, and my ten-year-old beat me to it, so he kept telling me how awesome it was. Then, once I started reading, he needed constant updates about where I was in the story. I love how we can enjoy stories together!

Fair warning before you read this review, it includes SPOILERS for the earlier books. If you haven’t read them yet, you should stop before the description. Or just click over to my review for the original STORY THIEVES and start there.

Still reading? Okay then.

Worlds Apart by James RileyOwen and Bethany try to find their way back to each other after the fictional and nonfictional worlds are torn apart in this fifth and final book in the New York Times bestselling series, Story Thieves—which was called a “fast-paced, action-packed tale” by School Library Journal—from the author of the Half Upon a Time trilogy.

Bethany and Owen have failed. The villain they have come to know as Nobody has ripped asunder the fictional and nonfictional worlds, destroying their connection. Bethany has been split in two, with her fictional and nonfictional selves living in the separate realms.

But weirdly, no one seems to mind. Owen—and every other nonfictional person—have lost their imaginations, so they can’t picture their lives any differently. Then Owen gets trapped in a dark, dystopian reality five years in the future, where nothing is needed more desperately than the power to imagine.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The pacing – I read this book in two days. In fact, I was so into it, I stayed up really late to finish it, and then when I got ready to write this review, I was like, “Wait, did that really happen at the end?” Turns out I was so sleepy I missed a few things. But that just meant I got to read it again :). James Riley accomplished this fantastic pacing using the same technique he implemented in ONCE UPON THE END. For most of the book, Owen and Bethany were separated, and the chapters switched between their points of view, leaving the reader on a cliffhanger at the end of each chapter. It made it very hard to stop reading.

2. All the characters – It was the perfect reunion of my favorite characters. Okay, there was one particular character I really would have loved to see again (mentioned in my STOLEN CHAPTERS review), but I can see how she wouldn’t fit here. I don’t want to give away who all does return, except that of course Kiel is included. I mean, he’s on the cover :).

3. The conflict – I can’t even explain exactly what Nobody has done if you haven’t read the book. They’re not trying to save THE world; they’re trying to save multiple worlds. It’s so meta James Riley pokes fun at it in the acknowledgements (one of the funniest parts of the books, actually).

4. Bethany’s character arc – Well, actually, I guess it’s two character arcs since there are two Bethanys? I sort of hated both Bethanys. My son and I had a rather heated discussion about this because he liked one of them. But I think the whole point of splitting Bethany was that she wasn’t meant to be two halves of herself, and I thought it was interesting that James Riley approached it with each half thinking they were better off alone (a plot point you discover in the first chapters).

5. The ending – Well, like I said, I had to read it twice to make sure it really happened the way I thought it did. This ending was completely crazy and yet satisfying. I’m still reeling a bit from one particular plot point that I can’t believe he left that way, but hey, it’s fiction.

Isn’t it?

If you really are just telling Owen and Bethany’s story, Mr. Riley, my son would love to go hang out with them sometime. I’ll keep their location secret :).

I can’t wait to see what James Riley writes next. We’re all fans in this house!

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: NIGHTFALL by Shannon Messenger

It’s been a while since I’ve written a review on the blog. My life has been a little consumed by Pitch Wars, and I now have my manuscript out in agents’ hands, awaiting their verdicts. But I did pre-order the Barnes & Noble special edition of Shannon Messenger’s NIGHTFALL, the latest installment in her Keeper of the Lost Cities series, so I thought that would be the perfect book to jump back in with a review.

If you haven’t read the first five books in this series, you should stop reading now! Even the description for this book includes spoilers for the previous books, as will my review.

Okay, if you’re still here, on to the description.

Nightfall by Shannon MessengerSophie Foster is struggling. Grieving. Scrambling. But she knows one thing: she will not be defeated.

The Neverseen have had their victories—but the battle is far from over. It’s time to change tactics. Make sacrifices. Reexamine everything. Maybe even time for Sophie to trust her enemies.

All paths lead to Nightfall—an ominous door to an even more ominous place—and Sophie and her friends strike a dangerous bargain to get there. But nothing can prepare them for what they discover. The problems they’re facing stretch deep into their history. And with time running out, and mistakes catching up with them, Sophie and her allies must join forces in ways they never have before.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The crushes – Okay, so I am way too involved in the love lives of these fifteen and sixteen-year-olds. In fact, my nine-year-old and I got into an argument about which team we were on. (Yes, there are teams.) But that being said, I love how well Shannon Messenger portrays the confusing emotions Sophie feels toward the boys and how she sorts through them. It’s so authentic and how I remember feeling at that age. And if you’re wondering, yes, even though the characters have gotten older, the romance part still sits firmly in middle grade.

2. The twists – NIGHTFALL is the sixth book in this series and so you’d think Ms. Messenger wouldn’t be able to keep surprising readers, but she continues to come up with new twists in every installment. I was pleased with the new turns in this latest book, and I can’t wait to see what she does in book seven and (maybe?) eight.

3. The special bonus – I ordered the Barnes & Noble special edition in order to get the bonus section from Keefe’s point of view, and it was so worth it! Granted, Keefe is basically my favorite character aside from Sophie, but I loved how it showed a different side of him.

4. Amy – I loved that Sophie’s human sister was a part of this book and how Sophie’s relationship with her added another layer to her character. It was fun seeing the elvin world through her eyes.

5. Ro – The ogre princess is an awesome addition to the cast of characters. She’s hilarious and also brings a new dimension of understanding to a species the elves have only seen a certain way up to now. Love her!

Every year I’m dying for the next book, and then as soon as I finish it I wish I could somehow force myself to wait longer so I wouldn’t be anxious for the next one as soon as I finish. Because, of course, this book ended with another cliffhanger. Although it wasn’t as bad as the end of NEVERSEEN. I might never forgive Shannon Messenger for that one :). Okay, I do forgive her since she fixed it in LODESTAR, but still. I have a total love-hate relationship with cliffhangers.

What about you? Have you read NIGHTFALL yet? What did you think?

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: WILL IN SCARLET by Matthew Cody

Earlier this year our school librarian was thinning out the shelves to make room for new books, and I quickly scooped up a book by a familiar author. I’d read two books by Matthew Cody before–POWERLESS and THE DEAD GENTLEMAN–and I’d been meaning to read WILL IN SCARLET. I mean, who doesn’t love a Robin Hood story? Anyway, it completely lived up to my expectations, and I’ll be passing it along to my son, too. Here’s the cover and description.

Will in Scarlet by Matthew Cody

Will Scarlet is on the run.

Once the sheltered son of nobility, Will has become an exile. While his father, Lord Shackley, has been on the Crusades with King Richard, a treacherous plot to unseat Richard has swept across England, and Shackley House has fallen.

Will flees the only home he’s ever known into neighboring Sherwood Forest, where he joins the elusive gang of bandits known as the Merry Men. Among them are Gilbert, their cruel leader; a giant named John Little; a drunkard named Rob; and Much, an orphan girl disguised as a bandit boy.

This is the story of how a band of misfit outlaws become heroes of legend – thanks to one brave 13-year-old boy.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The history – I love how the setting comes to life in the story through both Will and Much’s points of view. The reader gets a clear sense of what it was like to live in the twelfth century, and I especially appreciated how Will goes from his privileged life of nobility to seeing the plight of the serfs and wanting to do something about it.

2. Will himself – I really enjoyed Will as a character. He felt very true to me as a thirteen-year-old trying to be a man–particularly in a time when you had to be a man much sooner–and yet still with so many of the sensibilities of a boy. I loved his sense of justice and how that played out in multiple plot lines.

3. Much – Much, the other POV character, was also fantastic. I mean, I’ve mentioned before that I love when girls disguise themselves as boys, right? But this story wasn’t a romance; it was Much finding a way to keep herself alive. I loved her spunk and her fierce determination to prove herself.

4. The action – This story is full of action–hunting wolves, sword fights, sneaking into castles–everything you’d expect from a tale involving Robin Hood. Only Will is the one initiating most of the action rather than the legend. The action isn’t without cost, but it’s exciting!

5. The pacing – As soon as I started reading this book, I couldn’t put it down. The pacing is fantastic, with Will and Much jumping from one adventure to another. A definite page-turner!

I highly recommend WILL IN SCARLET for anyone who loves a good adventure story. If you’ve read it, let’s discuss in the comments!

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: DEAR POPPY by Ronni Arno

With the NESCBWI Conference having happened over the weekend, it seems appropriate for me to review a book by an author I met at last year’s conference. No, I didn’t go again–it’s a bit of a trek for me–but I’m pleased to have found many authors last year whose books I will be picking up as they come out. Ronni Arno is one of those. I thoroughly enjoyed RUBY REINVENTED, and her second book, DEAR POPPY, is equally delightful.

Dear Poppy by Ronni ArnoWhen twelve-year-old Poppy moves to the country, she discovers a secret stash of letters that give her a unique connection to her late mother in this M!X novel about friendship, first crushes, and family drama.

City girl Poppy has always wanted a best friend, but never felt enough of a connection with anyone to gain BFF status. Even without a BFF, Poppy is horrified when her father decides to move her and her older brother out to the family farm. Away from her beloved city and away from memories of her late mom—a fresh start for everyone.

And after a weird first week at her new school, Poppy is convinced she is destined for a boring year—until she finds a stack of letters from 1985 hidden in the barn of the old farmhouse that they move into. Even better? Those letters are addressed to Poppy…from her mom. Poppy doesn’t know what supernatural event brought these letters to her, but she doesn’t care. All she knows is that she finally has the connection she yearns for. Plus, her mom seems to understand everything that Poppy is going through: not quite fitting in, the desire to put down roots, and the heartbreak of losing a loved one. Has Poppy discovered the friend—and acceptance—she’s always wanted?

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The opening – The contrast of the first two sentences immediately drew me in, so I’m going to share them here. I think they not only show you a lot about both Poppy and her brother, but they also demonstrate something about the nature of grief, which is a theme in the book.

My brother is smiling so hard I think his cheeks are pinned to his ears. This would be fine, of course, if we weren’t at my grandad’s funeral.

2. Poppy’s dad – I love how Poppy’s relationship with her dad changes throughout the book, as he transforms from Old Dad to New Dad (also love that she makes that distinction). It’s a tough lesson that sometimes parents take a long time to come out of their grief, but it’s a true one.

3. The letters – The letters from Poppy’s mom were so perfectly timed to what was happening in Poppy’s life and a perfect example of how middle school is the same whether it’s 1985 or 2016. (Wow, this sounds a lot like my last review for ONCE UPON A KISS, except swapping out high school for middle school.)

4. Britt and Brody – I love how there is so much depth to these two characters. You see the surface of the cute popular boy who doesn’t like confrontation and the rebel outcast who’s all about trouble, but when they’re at home the twins have a lot of the same interests–including Poppy and gardening.

5. The resolution – Poppy has a very clear idea of why she’s in the country and how everything should turn out. As a reader, I had a different idea of where the story was headed. I won’t tell you who was right, just that the ending was very satisfying :).

I will definitely be picking up Ronni Arno’s next book. Actually, the next one on her site is an anthology featuring another favorite author of mine, Jen Malone. Looking forward to BEST. NIGHT. EVER!

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: MY SECRET GUIDE TO PARIS by Lisa Schroeder

I love anything to do with Paris, so I was predestined to love this book. I even have a picture that looks very similar to this cover. Wow, I’m really young in this picture. It’s from 2007, before kids, although just barely as I realized I was pregnant while we were there. Anyway, one of the lovely side effects of reading MY SECRET GUIDE TO PARIS by Lisa Schroeder is that it led me to pull out my photo album and relive the trip with my six-year-old, who has now decided that she must go to Paris like the main character in the book. As much as I would love to take her, that’s a trip you should be a little older to appreciate. But I’m sure you’re ready to hear about the actual book, so here’s the cover and description.

My Secret Guide to Paris by Lisa SchroederNora loves everything about Paris, from the Eiffel Tower to chocolat chaud. Of course, she’s never actually been there — she’s only visited through her Grandma Sylvia’s stories. And just when they’ve finally planned a trip together, Grandma Sylvia is suddenly gone, taking Nora’s dreams with her.

Nora is crushed. She misses her grandmother terribly, but she still wants to see the city they both loved. So when Nora finds letters and a Paris treasure map among her Grandma Sylvia’s things, she dares to dream again…


She’s not sure what her grandma wants her to find, but Nora knows there are wonderful surprises waiting for her in Paris. And maybe, amongst the croissants and macarons, she’ll even find a way to heal her broken heart.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. Nora’s grief – I realize it’s odd to say Nora’s grief is something I loved about the story, but the reason I list it here is that I appreciated how well-drawn her grief was in the story. Grief is such a complicated emotion, and it hits everyone differently. You can be crying one minute and the next wanting to enjoy something you used to do with the person you lost. It’s handled well here.

2. The treasure map – I loved the places Nora’s Grandma Sylvia sent her around Paris, and when I do return someday, I’ll have to re-read this book so I can check out the ones I didn’t know about. It’s fun to see Nora experiencing Paris with her grandma even though she can’t be there with her.

3. Phoebe – Isn’t it great when two people meet and they just click? Even better when it’s a friendship. I loved how Phoebe encouraged Nora to be strong and carry through on what she already wanted to do. And I’m excited to see Phoebe has her own story :).

4. The mother-daughter bond – I really enjoyed watching how Nora’s relationship with her mother changed during the story, but also how her perception of her mother’s relationship with her grandmother changed. There was some growing up Nora had to do during the course of the story, but twelve’s old enough for that.

5. The buttons – I loved the jar of buttons Nora’s grandmother had given her. She carried one with her every day, and it always seemed to connect to something that happened. In the end, the buttons had a deeper meaning for Nora, but I won’t give that away.

Basically, I’m dying to return to Paris now, and I’m years away from it, but at least this book gave me a taste. I guess I’ll go read Phoebe’s story and relive the London portion of that same trip :).

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Movies, Reading, Review

MMGM: THE SWAP by Megan Shull

Last fall I watched a Disney TV movie called “The Swap” and thought, Wow, I wish I could read that as a book. Turns out it was based on a book! (Also, have I mentioned before how it’s my dream to have one of my books made into a Disney TV movie? Because, honestly, that’s the type of book I write.) Anyway, when I spotted Megan Shull’s THE SWAP at the Scholastic Warehouse Sale, I immediately threw it in my shopping cart. (Yes, a literal shopping cart.) Interestingly, the movie was aged up from middle school to high school, but I can understand why. The story is completely appropriate for middle grade readers, BUT it is not a book I’d recommend to younger kids reading up due to some of the gender-swapping content. For example, my six and eight-year-old kids watched the movie and thought it was hilarious, but my son would be freaked out reading about the boy in the girl’s body learning about a girl getting her period for the first time.

Yeah. Not ready for that talk. Moving on. Here’s the description for the book.

The Swap by Megan Shull

ELLIE spent the summer before seventh grade getting dropped by her best friend since forever. JACK spent it training in “The Cage” with his tough-as-nails brothers and hard-to-please dad. By the time middle school starts, they’re both ready for a change. And just as Jack’s thinking girls have it so easy, Ellie’s wishing she could be anyone but herself.

Then, BAM! They swap lives – and bodies!

Now Jack’s fending off mean girls at sleepover parties, while Ellie’s reigning as The Prince of Thatcher Middle School.

As their crazy weekend races on – and their feeling for each other grow – Ellie and Jack begin to wonder if maybe the best way to learn how to be yourself is to spend a little time being somebody else.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The premise – I already had a thousand scenarios of how this premise would play out in a book after I watched the movie, and it was different in the book. References to puberty aside–and really, how could that be avoided?–it’s all handled very tastefully and hilariously.

2. The voices – I have to be honest here. Half the time, I had no idea what Jack’s brothers were saying. They have their own language, but I applaud Ms. Shull. I think she actually exaggerated it for the purpose of showing how different the two characters are, but it works.

3. The character arcs – It’s hinted at in the description, so I’m not giving anything away by saying that Ellie and Jack discover themselves by being someone else. I love how they learn more about who they are inside while they’re taking a break from being themselves on the outside. It’s rare to get a glimpse of how others see you, but that’s what the magic of this story allows.

4. Ellie & Jack’s relationship – Not only do they get to know themselves, but they also get to know each other, since they’re living each others’ lives for a weekend. It was fun to watch how close they become, and how they can use that knowledge to help each other.

5. The humor – I tried to find a good example to post, but they’re all too long. Mostly the humor is situational and related to Ellie or Jack being completely confused about what’s going on in the other’s life and having to wing it. I was laughing out loud through much of the book.

I highly recommend this one, but as I said, if you have a younger MG reader, be aware there is talk of bodily functions related to puberty–for both boys and girls–in case you haven’t had those discussions yet.

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

MMGM: THE PECULIAR HAUNTING OF THELMA BEE Interview & Giveaway!

If you don’t know I participated in The Writer’s Voice contest in 2012, then you’re probably new around here :). But the reason I bring it up–again–is because one of the entries from that contest is now a real, live book! I had the privilege of reading Erin Petti’s THE PECULIAR HAUNTING OF THELMA BEE after the contest (although I think the title was slightly different then), and I’ve been so thrilled to watch Erin’s journey to publication. To celebrate, I’m giving away a copy to one lucky winner, but first, let me introduce you to Thelma Bee.

The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma BeeEleven-year-old Thelma Bee is never bored. In fact, she has curiosity and adventure in her blood. She spends her time running science experiments, practicing Spanish, and daydreaming about exotic landscapes. But Thelma gets more than she bargained for when a strange woman sells a jewelry box at her father’s antique shop. That night, a ghost kidnaps her father, and the only clues are the jewelry box and a word the ghost whispered in her ear: “Return.” Now it’s up to Thelma to get her dad back, and it might be harder than she thought—there’s someone wielding dark magic, and they’re coming after her next.

I asked Erin to answer questions about my five favorite things–with a little help from my eight-year-old son, who actually snatched this book and read the finished copy before me :).

1. I love Thelma’s interest in science and the use of the scientific method throughout the book. What made you decide to make this a focus for her character?

It may sound silly, but I think that Thelma kind of told me about herself. Since beginning drafting (about a hundred years ago) her voice was always strong and I knew she wanted to investigate things – this led pretty naturally into a scientific disposition. Once that groundwork was laid, her notes became a really helpful tool in telling the story!

2. The illustrations are fantastic. How did you determine THELMA BEE would be an illustrated book?

I love the illustrations, too, thank you! I had no idea that the book would be illustrated. Even after I signed with Mighty Media and had conversations about the direction of the book – it was a real surprise to me when I saw the care that they took integrating all the internal drawings. Kris Aro McLeod is a gifted artist and I feel so lucky that we got to work on this together!

3. The supporting cast of characters—from Alexander to Izzy to Eugene—is so strong. Did you plan out each of these characters in advance, or did they come to you as you were writing?

In my outline, I planned most of the characters, but Menkin was a surprise to me. She just showed up in one scene as I was drafting and became an important part of the story.

4. I love the setting. It’s so spooky and well drawn! How did you research the area, and/or is it familiar to you?

Thank you! The town of Riverfish, MA, is based on the town of Maynard, MA, where I lived when I began drafting. Thelma’s house on the river was my house on the river! The area around Maynard, Lincoln, and Concord, MA, is rich in woodlands and history. It was a giant inspiration!

5. The ending is satisfying and yet leaves the story open for more. Do you have additional adventures in mind for Thelma? My eight-year-old particularly wants to know the answer to this question!

First, a big-huge thank you to your 8-year-old for reading! This is so new to me still and I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to imagine a kid connecting with my characters. And yes! More Thelma on the way. A draft of book two is with the publisher right now, and we should be hearing more about Thelma’s adventures very soon! The problems get a little bigger, Thelma learns more about who she is, and RVPS might even get some new members!

That’s great news about additional Thelma Bee adventures!

Now on to the giveaway. I will send a copy of THE PECULIAR HAUNTING OF THELMA BEE to one lucky winner. North America only please. To enter, click on the link below or leave a comment. I’ll choose a winner next Monday, Oct. 17.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Whether you win or not, I hope you all check out THELMA BEE!