Monday, November 26, 2012

MMGM - The Familiars

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Shannon Whitney Messenger decided it was time to give middle grade stories the attention they deserve, and "Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays" was born. 

The Familiars
by Adam Jay Epstein & Andrew Jacobson

Is the kingdom's fate in the hands of an orphan cat?

Running fast to save his life, Aldwyn ducks into an unusual pet store. Moments later Jack, a young wizard in training, comes in to choose a magical animal to be his familiar. Aldwyn's always been clever. But magical? Jack thinks so—and Aldwyn is happy to play along.

He just has to convince the other familiars—the know-it-all blue jay Skylar and the friendly tree frog Gilbert—that he's the powerful cat he claims to be.

Then the unthinkable happens. Jack and two other young wizards are captured by the evil queen of Vastia.

On a thrilling quest to save their loyals, the familiars face dangerous foes, unearth a shocking centuries-old secret, and discover a destiny that will change Vastia forever. Their magical adventure—an irresistible blend of real heart, edge-of-your-seat action, and laugh-out-loud humor—is an unforgettable celebration of fantasy and friendship.

My daughter LOVES this book--in fact, she's getting book 2 for Christmas. She's read this one three times now! It's a wonderful story full of adventure, likable characters, and a good dose of humor. I recommend adding these to your holiday shopping list.

Monday, November 19, 2012

MMGM - The Oddkins

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Shannon Whitney Messenger decided it was time to give middle grade stories the attention they deserve, and "Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays" was born. 
The Oddkins
by Dean Koontz

Netgalley Blurb:
Blockbuster author Dean Koontz’s first novel for young readers, a beautifully illustrated and visually stunning story about a magical band of living toys who learn to overcome the fears we all face in the dark
Toymaker Isaac Bodkins created the Oddkins, a group of living toys, for very special children who face difficulties in life and need true friends. There’s Amos, the brave stuffed bear; Skippy, the rabbit who dreams of being a superstar; Butterscotch, the gentle, floppy-eared pup; Burl the elephant; the wise and scholarly Gibbons; and Patch the cat. The Oddkins are given to children to inspire, support, and love them, especially during times of adversity. Only now, the toys themselves are the ones who need help.
Before he dies, Mr. Bodkins delivers a dire warning to Amos the bear: Watch out for an evil toymaker and his dangerous creations! Locked up in the dark sub-basement, another group of toys is climbing out of boxes and crates and coming to life as well. These bad toys—like Rex and Lizzie, the puppets with no strings; Gear, the vicious robot; and Stinger, the horrid buzzing bumblebee with his knife-sharp stinger—were made to hurt children, not help them. Leering, laughing, and deadly, they are let loose into the world by a terrifying force.
Frightening as it may be, the Oddkins must go on a journey to find Colleen Shannon, Mr. Bodkins’s chosen successor as a life-giving toymaker and the only person who can save them. The stormy night is perilous and the Oddkins face a danger that threatens not only their magic . . . but the magic in us all.

This was a better read than I expected. I thoroughly enjoyed the characters, their journey, the lessons learned along the way, and the stark contrast between good and evil. And the illustrations are wonderful! This is one to be enjoyed by readers of all ages.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Guest Post - Jody Lamb

 Please welcome Jody Lamb
author of the new middle grade novel,

This is a guest post by Jody Lamb, author of the middle-grade novel Easter Ann Peters’ Operation Cool – which has been praised by the National Director of Children’s Programs at Betty Ford Center. Jody writes stories for the young in age and at heart. Luckily, she’s pretty much the same person today that she was at twelve years old. She’s a lifelong fan of middle-grade fiction. She is also a passionate advocate for kids with alcoholic loved ones, and she hopes her books generate greater discussion and awareness about coping with the effects of loved ones’ alcoholism. Check out her blog.


If you asked the eight-year-old version of me what I did every day after school, it’s unlikely I would have confessed.

Those were days of Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog video games and my story writing didn’t seem so cool. Every day, I hurried through my homework for more time to write screenplays for my tiny toy animal families to act out in the elaborate village I created for them in my parents’ basement.

I loved the way I could solve problems for the families the way I wished I could for my own family. It shooed away the worry clouds that followed me throughout the day. Writing those stories gave me joy no video game win could ever provide me.

Alcoholism is a major problem for several of my loved ones in my large family. Growing up, I felt the detrimental effects of it very early on, and I thought this problem was unique to my family.

In high school, I stopped reading stories and swapped creative writing for journalism (because people told me I couldn’t make a living writing creatively). After earning a B.A. in journalism from Michigan State University, I read books and research on alcoholism, addiction and its impact on families. I discovered that alcoholism is extremely common. An estimated 10 to 25 percent of kids in the U.S. have at least one alcohol-addicted parent. I found few contemporary, relatable books on the subject for tweens. That bothered me. A lot.

In the summer of 2009, I was 26 years old and in the midst of a quarter-life crisis. I had quickly moved up the corporate ladder in marketing and PR. My peers appeared to be settling into grownup life and letting dreams slip away – and were okay with it. I felt lost, longed for a sense of purpose and feared I was alone in my struggles with lack of satisfaction.

One day, someone told me I’d have to settle for life as it was because that’s what you do at that age. Get married already. Keep climbing the corporate ladder. Gear up for the next 30 years of your life. That’s what everyone does….

That weekend, I read my childhood diaries and cried over the grand plans I'd had for life in grownup land. I realized little kid me would be so disappointed! I was missing something. I missed me, the real me. I studied many grownups around me. I found that many of them are full of regrets and give up on dreams. They ignore their inner compass and their purpose. I discovered that they are stupid.

I didn’t want to be that kind of grownup, but I’d never felt so lost about changing my life. I was depressed with a pasted-on smile.

The only thing I could think to do to feel better was to write. Like I did as a girl. The next day I enrolled in a creative writing course at my local community college.

It was as fun as I remembered.

Quickly came a short story about a twelve-year-old girl’s step-by-step plan to make seventh grade awesome that’s derailed as she copes with and helps her depressed, alcoholic mother in a tiny lakeside town. My wonderful instructor and classmates encouraged me to keep going with it. I wanted to know what would happen to the characters, too!  

After every class, I sat in my car and carefully took in the hundreds of penciled corrections and kudos my instructor had written in margins.

Before long, I had a whole novel manuscript.

I quadrupled the number of books I read monthly, joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, attended conferences and participated in workshops, joined critique groups with other middle-grade writers, networked, made friends with the most wonderfully sweet-souled authors and was a sponge to everything that would help me create a better story.

People told me that writing a novel is a waste of time because the odds of getting a book deal are so slim and it’s a game of luck.

I mustered up my courage and sent it out.

At a SCBWI conference, an editor said the manuscript may have been easily sold before the age of vampires and wizards, but the world today is different. Realistic fiction is hard to sell. They told me to change it. Completely. I politely thanked her for the advice and promptly went to my hotel room and cried.

I couldn’t change the novel. It’d lose its whole purpose.

It was the story I would have been moved by as a child. Writing that story was cathartic. I felt like me again for the first time in more than a decade. My relationship with my alcoholic loved ones dramatically improved. I began taking better care of myself. I smiled. A lot.

Over the next two and a half years, I wrote three more whole drafts, completed dozens of revisions in mini draft overhauls and participated in workshops.

It was rejected 30 times by agents and editors. It was so disappointing because I felt a sense of urgency in sharing the story.

Then I learned of a brand-new publisher – shockingly not far from my home in Michigan. The founder wrote that she wanted to do things differently than the big publishers. She said her love of good stories would always guide her decisions, not trends in the market.

She wasn’t interested in middle-grade fiction, though, so there’d be no point in sending her a query letter. I wanted to meet her anyway so I decided to write her a note, breaking every single query letter rule there is to break. I wrote the way I’d speak if I met her in person – friendly, casual and real. I wanted her to know me and know the story behind the story.

I explained how writing again helped me find my inner compass and my drive to help young people coping with the effects of loved ones’ alcoholism. I hope to inspire at least one kid the way I wish someone had for me.

Two weeks later, Jennifer Baum of Scribe Publishing Company, replied and requested the full manuscript. I figured she was just being polite. Three weeks later, she sent me a message in the wee hours of the morning. Though she hadn’t intended to publish children’s books, she loved the story – she laughed, she cried, she believed in the characters, she believed others would love the story, too, and she believed in me.

Easter Ann Peters’ Operation Cool is now available and I’m absolutely thrilled to share it with young people. It’s the story of 12-year-old girl Easter Ann Peters who has a plan—Operation Cool—to make her seventh grade year awesome and erase years of being known only as a quiet, straight-A student who can’t think of a comeback to her bully. When the confident new girl, Wreni, becomes her long-needed best friend, Easter lets her personality shine. The coolest guy in school takes a sudden interest. But as tough times at school fade away, so does a happy life at home. Easter’s mother is drinking a lot, and Easter works double overtime to keep their secret in the tiny lakeside town. Operation Cool derails, fast, and Easter must discover a solution. Told by the lovable Easter character, it’s a witty, tender and heartwarming story of friendship, fitting in, first crushes, family drama and hope.

I hope that young people will enjoy getting to know the Easter character and perhaps identify with her struggles at school and at home. I hope they’re moved by her determination and hope. For readers with alcoholics in their lives, I hope that they’re reminded that they are not alone and that they’re inspired by Easter’s discovery of the solution to improve her life situation. For readers who do not have alcoholics in their lives, I hope they’ll gain a more solid understanding of what alcoholism is, how it affects others and sensitivity to what their classmates, teammates and neighbors may be coping with at home.

Right now, my first young adult novel is in progress. Yes, Easter is in this story, because I wondered how she’s doing (and I missed her…you writers know what I’m talking about). I’m also currently writing proposals for several non-fiction books for kids related to coping when loved ones are addicted to alcohol or other drugs.

If a kid ever says to me, “Hey, thanks for this,” well, those four words alone will be infinitely more meaningful to me than forty years of success in the business world.

And you, my fellow writers, write the story that you want to read. The world of publishing is rapidly evolving. The only thing you can control is your story. Pay more attention to your heart than what the publishing industry editors and agents say about what they’re looking for to be the next big hit. The best story is going to be the one you love. And of course, don’t ever give up. Make proud the little kid version of yourself, grownup you!

Like what Jody’s writing about? Support her and keep in touch through FacebookTwitter, and her blog. Learn more about Easter Ann Peters’ Operation Cool here. Jody hopes you’ll say hi. She loves meeting fellow story lovers! Have a tween (or tween-at-heart) in your life? Get them a copy of Easter Ann Peters' Operation Cool at Amazon or or your local bookseller. There’s also a Kindle edition.

If you believe there’s need for greater awareness about alcoholism or if you just like to spread the word about a good story, please consider spreading the word:

Here are sample Facebook posts or Tweets:

Check out recent reviews of Easter Ann Peters’ Operation Cool on Goodreads

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Guest Post with Laurel Garver

Today, I am thrilled to host my good bloggy friend, Laurel, as she promotes her new novel.

Please give her a warm welcome!

Let it simmer

by Laurel Garver, author of NEVER GONE

Chances are, if you’re reading this, you aren’t participating in NaNoWriMo. The program simply isn’t for everyone — it might not fit your life circumstances, your process, or your most promising ideas.

As a matter of fact, some of the most powerful ideas you’ll have as a writer may first come to you long before you’re ready to write them. That was certainly the case with my debut novel NEVER GONE.

I “met” my character Dani twenty years ago, while out on a walk in the countryside around Devon, Pennsylvania, a bedroom community of Philadelphia. Strangely enough, she felt like a real person who fell in step with me as I walked. She told me about the difficult relationship she had with her mother since her dad had died, how it was tough to hang onto her faith when her church-going parent had been snatched and she was stuck with the atheist. She told me about her dad’s Britishisms that she missed, and how her mother seemed emotionally frozen.

At only 23, I wasn’t entirely sure where to even begin writing this hurting girl. I searched magazines for models of the characters, then did pencil drawings to adapt to what I saw in my mind’s eye. I wrote pages of notes and a few disjointed scenes. I couldn’t shake the feeling that this story was bigger than my ability to write it. I stuffed the project in a drawer and returned to short stories and poetry.

Dani languished in a drawer until 2005, a few years after I lost my own father.  I was growing restless as a stay-at-home mother, and a friend urged me to pick up writing again. I did a little digging through my idea file and came across my character sketches. Something inside me lit up.

I knew how it felt to lose a parent. I’d spend a week watching my dad die by inches in an ICU and hospice but held those painful experiences locked deep inside me. It was time to work through those emotions and here was my vehicle.

Best of all, there was enough difference between Dani’s loss and mine to help me have emotional truth, yet creative distance. I wouldn’t have the pressure to contort her story to match mine, but could let it unfold naturally.  Unlike fifteen-year-old Dani, I was a married adult with a toddler when I lost my dad. He had suffered from poor health for years and was elderly, rather than in the prime of life and killed in an accident like Dani’s dad. But my loss gave me new insight about what it might be like to lose someone young.  The emotions are run through the filter of higher stakes.

As much as I sometimes blush about NEVER GONE’s long road to publication, I don’t regret the decade and a half it sat in a drawer.  I encourage all young writers to keep a big file of ideas and have faith that your best ideas will come to fruition when you are ready to write them.


Laurel Garver is a magazine editor, professor’s wife and mom to an energetic fourth grader. An indie film enthusiast and incurable Anglophile, she enjoys geeking out about Harry Potter and Dr. Who, playing word games, singing, and mentoring teens at her church.

About the book:

Days after her father’s death, fifteen-year-old Dani Deane begins seeing him all around New York — wading through discarded sketches in her room, roaming the halls at church, socializing at his post-funeral reception. Is grief making her crazy? Or could her dad really be lingering between this world and the next, trying to contact her?

Dani desperately longs for his help. Without him keeping the peace, Dani’s relationship with her mother is deteriorating fast. Soon Mum ships her off to rural England with Dad’s relatives for a visit that Dani fears will become a permanent stay. But she won’t let her arty, urban life slip away without a fight, especially when daily phone calls with her lab partner Theo become her lifeline.

To find her way home, Dani must somehow reconnect with Mum. But as she seeks advice from relatives and insights from old letters, she uncovers family secrets that shake her to the core. Convinced that Dad’s ghost alone can help her, she sets out on a dangerous journey to contact him one last time.

Add it on Goodreads

The e-book is available at, Amazon UK, Barnes and Noble, KoboSmashwords

The paperback is available at CreateSpace, Amazon

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