Monday, July 24, 2017

Review: The World's Greatest Adventure Machine by Frank L. Cole

Trevor (the troublemaker), Devin (the internet star), Cameron (the genius), and Nika (the reserved) just won the Castleton's contest to be the first to ride the World's Greatest Adventure Machine, a new, state-of-the-art roller coaster. As the adventure unfolds, the four winners begin to suspect there's more to their fellow participants than meets the eye. And if trusting their fellow riders isn't enough, the ride seems to have a mind of it's own, putting Trevor, Devin, Cameron, and Nika on an wild and twisted adventure they couldn't imagine in their wildest dreams. But as they embark on their journey it seems the adventure machine has other plans for them and if they aren't careful they might never get off the ride.

The thing that stood out for me the most in this story were the characters. Each were unique and fun to follow in their own right. And as the reader learned more about them, it was easier to fall deeper and deeper into their story. It was fun to see what would come up in the adventure next and watch how the characters would react and affect how the story unfolded. It was also incredibly endearing to watch the characters get to know themselves better through interacting with each other through their experiences on the ride.

This story also had many great, entertaining, and unexpected moments. It kept the reader guessing about the characters and the plot as things progressed. It was almost impossible to predict what would come up next on the ride but was fun to experience it as the characters did.

This is an exciting story that middle grade readers will get lost in and love to follow Trevor, Devin, Cameron, and Nika through their adventure. There's humor, danger, and twists and turns to keep any young reader engaged from beginning to end. I recommend this for any Middle Grade reader looking for a fun adventure.

*ARC generously provided by Penguin Random House Delacorte Press in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Review: Hyacinth and the Secrets Beneath

When I was a kid, my favorite books and movies were often stories about characters bored with their ordinary lives who were suddenly pulled into adventuring through exciting and potentially dangerous worlds they hadn’t known existed. The characters had to learn how to navigate these new worlds as the story went on, even as they pressed forward to solve whatever problems had dragged them there in the first place.

The book HYACINTH AND THE SECRETS BENEATH, by Jacob Sager Weinstein, reminded me a lot of those stories. Boiled down to its core, this book is a chase that only momentarily lets up long enough to let another part of the chase begin. It’s told in first person by a strong main character with a healthy dose of snark in her voice, and an even greater willingness to roll with all of the strange things happening around her.

Hyacinth is the type of girl who confronts the problems and changes that happen in her life, preparing herself for what may come by learning as much as she can. Someone in her family is an unreliable DIY worker? She teaches herself plumbing basics in case she has to fix things. She and her mother are relocating from America to live with her aunt in London? She reads about her new city to familiarize herself with its extensive history. 

The problem is that after settling in at her aunt’s home, she quickly learns that almost everything she thought she knew about the city and its extensive history is completely wrong. There’s an enormous separate world filled with magic in the sewers just beneath London that drives and connects the fate of the city above. When Hyacinth learns she has unwittingly put the entire city in danger, she’s guided into this world to both try and repair her mistakes and rescue her kidnapped mother. She meets up with a collection of strange creatures and even stranger people throughout her adventure, many of them being not what they first seem. 

The mystery that begins the adventure starts in the first pages of the book and continues relentlessly to the very end. I've seen too many students in the past few years abandon books because they weren't captured by the story in the very first pages. This would be a good book to match with readers looking for something imaginative and exciting that hits the ground running.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Using Music to Spark Your Muse

Stuck staring at a blank page (or screen)? Feel like life has squeezed the creativity out of you? 

Believe it or not, the answer is in your iphone. Or wherever you store your favorite tunes. Music is a fab tool for overcoming writers block and fueling your imagination. 

Research shows that when people listen to music (especially songs they enjoy), their creativity and problem-solving abilities increase. Music can enhance abstract thinking and allow listeners to enter a mind-wandering mode, which is known to promote creative thought.

“Without music, life would be a mistake.” - Friedrich Nietzsche

Listen to a wide variety of genres

This trick takes your brain down new, exciting pathways. Branch out from your standard playlist and try out a song that might usually make you cringe. If that cringe-worthy feeling is enough to send shudders down your spine, just think of the emotion it could elicit in your readers. 

You may also find yourself enjoying a whole new style of music, once you give it a chance. Use the new lyrics and beats as springboards for your imagination. Study the style and ask yourself why it works. What about this song made it good enough to be played on the radio? Studying the rhythms and ideas of a wide variety of music can help generate ideas in your own work. 

Use music as a writing prompt

This is a fun way to stir up those creative juices. Choose a song at random from your playlist (or alternatively, turn on the radio!). Think of one of your main characters. Then listen to a 10-30 second clip of the song, with that character in mind.

See what new images, conflicts, and inspiration arise when you link the character to the feelings or words of the song. Then do a timed free write. Why timed? Because pressure can really stimulate your imagination. But if pressure shuts you down, turn the timer off. Either way, you’ll have plenty to write about.

Play inspiring tracks in the background while you write

Inspiring doesn't necessarily mean uplifting. Instead, choose music that reflects the rhythm of the scene you are trying to write or that elicits the same emotion you intend to evoke. 

For instance, the soundtrack from Pirates of the Caribbean is great to listen to when you’re writing fight scenes. It’s quick-paced, intense, and laced with a sense of danger. On the other hand, Taylor Swift’s Love Story might inspire just the right emotions for a tender-sweet romance.

Do you listen to music when you write or use it for writing prompts? If so, share some of your fave writing tunes below!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Best. Night. Ever. ARC Giveaway

  Top Seven Reasons To Read Best. Night. Ever. (On sale 8/15/17) :
1. Seven points of view and seven (yes, seven!) authors:  (Rachele Alpine, Ronni Arno, Alison Cherry, Stephanie Faris,
Jen Malone, Gail Nall, and Dee Romito)

2. A soapy plan to sabotage the Heart Grenade teen band


 3. A quacking, locker room duck parade and a wild-goose-slash-duck chase

4. An adventurous ride on a lawnmower known as “The Munchinator”


5. A creek that’s colder than an iceberg mixed with a Popsicle mixed with the look Mom gives when you threaten to slam the bedroom door in the middle of one of her lectures.

6. Third grade twins who own a forty-seven-thousand-button remote, but no curling iron.

7. A guy who makes a HUGE mistake—saying yes to two girls. (Spoiler alert: He may or may not turn into a frozen, sputtering, multicolored glitter statue.)

For a chance to win an ARC of this epic middle school adventure, leave a comment and your email below. A winner will be drawn at random.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Interview with Alexandra Ott + Giveaway

I recently got the opportunity to speak with the amazing Alexandra Ott about her debut middle grade novel, RULES FOR THIEVES. It's the story of twelve-year-old Alli Rosco, an orphan who's forced to join a legendary band of thieves in order to try and save herself from a deadly curse. And, in honor of her new release, I'll be giving away a free copy of the book!!!

Rules for Thieves is a story about curses, thieves and life-or-death adventure, so…is it based on real life?

Alli’s story is entirely fictional. After all, I’m not a magically cursed member of a secret band of thieves in real life . . . as far as anyone knows. ;)

What drew you to writing for middle grade readers?

I loved reading middle fiction as a kid (and still do). It’s so fun, and full of adventure as well as heart. It was middle grade fiction that really made me fall in love with reading when I was younger. That’s where a lot of the inspiration for RULES FOR THIEVES came from—thinking about the stories I loved as a kid and how I might write one of my own.

What has been the most surprising part of becoming a real-life big time author?

The most surprising thing about being published, for me, is how much time I have to spend doing things other than writing. I always used to imagine being an author would mean spending all day typing at my keyboard, but I do lots of other things too. Some of them are boring business-related tasks, but others are fun--like this interview, for instance!

What advice would you give to young people interested in writing?

Read a lot. Write a lot. Love what you write. Don’t give up.

Bonus: Please tell me more about your canine overlord.

My canine overlord is a nine-year-old Lhasa Apso named Penny. She likes to assist with my writing process by sitting underneath my desk and giving me sad looks when I spend too much time paying attention to the computer instead of her. She’s fluffy and adorable, so she knows I can’t resist. :)

Thanks so much Alexandra for stopping by!!! And now for the contest!

If you'd like to enter to win a copy of Alexandra's amazing book, RULES FOR THIEVES, please respond to the following question in the comments by 7/15. What rule do you most enjoy breaking? Good luck!

More About Alexandra Ott

Alexandra Ott holds a B.A. in English from the University of Tulsa. She currently lives in Oklahoma with her tiny canine overlord. Rules for Thieves is her debut novel. Visit her online at and on Twitter @Alexandra_Ott.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Breathing Room: Or, what the ocean taught me about pacing

If you’ve been hanging around me or my social media sites much at all, you know I love the ocean. One of the things I love about it is how it always changes. Last week on one of my beach-walks, the ocean was quiet. No wind, so no waves – no crashing over the rocks, barely even any noticeable gentle-breaking against the shore. The gulls were strangely quiet, too. Perhaps they’d already had a good feed and were snoozing somewhere while their breakfast digested. In all that absence of noise, the sound I became aware of was the scritch scritch of crabs scurrying about under the rocks.

This was a very different experience than the beach on a stormy day – wind howling past my ears, surf pounding relentlessly against the rocks. The ocean on a stormy day is all about power, and not so much about subtle scritch scritching.

It’s not just the water that changes, of course. Every day the driftwood has been rearranged and new flotsam and jetsam has been offered up. There’s always some new shell or stone or piece of sea glass to catch my eye. And have you noticed how different the air smells at low tide than at high tide? All these things – the changing sights, sounds, smells – keep the beach interesting and make me want to go back again and again (and I do!).

Recently I was thinking about pacing in fiction. And just as a walk by the ocean every single day might get dull if things never changed, if it was predictable, if there was never anything new to grab my attention, so it is with fiction. If scene after scene is the same pace, I’m likely to put the book down. If it's all fast, I get tired; if it's all slow, I get bored. But if it changes, if it has both quiet moments that allow me to discover hidden treasures, and dramatic moments that take my breath away by their power or action or suspense, then I keep reading.

The variety in pacing comes naturally if you use an “action/reaction” or “scene/sequel” structure when you’re writing and revising. If you’re not quite so intentional while you’re first-drafting (like me), just think of pacing as giving readers time to breathe after those scenes that make them hold their breath.

Great pacing = giving readers time to breathe
after making them hold their breath.

Those slower scenes shouldn’t put your readers to sleep, however. You’ve likely heard the advice to “leave out the boring parts”. Think about it – which parts do you skip when you’re reading? Probably excess backstory, or some “set-up” or exposition that somehow missed getting cut during revisions. If it’s not essential, leave it out.

So what can go in the slower scenes? Each scene still has to move things forward plot-wise or character-development-wise, but the quieter scenes likely contain things such as:
  • a character reacting to what just happened
  • the aftermath of an action
  • description or essential backstory
  • introduction or continuation of a sub-plot. 
And of course, the pace can be slowed by word choice and sentence structure. So, conflict and tension, yes – you want the reader to keep turning pages – but vary it. Think breathing room.

If the ocean never changed…well, truth be told, I’d probably keep going to the beach, lol. I just love it that much. But if the pacing in a story never changes – whether it’s constantly fast, or constantly slow – I’m probably going to close the book. Want to keep me reading? Make me hold my breath, then give me time to breathe.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Book Review and Giveaway: The Doodle Adventures by Mike Lowery!

There is something about an interactive book, isn't there?

When Workman Publishing asked if Middle Grade Minded would be interested in reviewing the Doodle Adventures books, we jumped in with both feet.

Actually, we could have jumped in with both pencils, or crayons, or markers, or... You get the picture!

Three pages in, I was hooked.

We, the readers, are corralled by an incorrigible and long-suffering duck, Carl, to help with an important mission - in this case, flying into space to retrieve a jar stolen by Captain Sleezog, Ruler of K-82, the planet of SLUGS.

Not only do we have to help retrieve the jar, we have to help by illustrating the book, too!

Hello? We get to doodle in the book? We get to draw all over it? Count me, and every other kid who picks up this book, in.

Add in a dash of wit, some laugh-out loud story-telling, and our chance to unleash our inner Leonard da Vinci (or Mike Lowery!), this book is FUN.

Lucky for us, there are two more books in the series:

The whole time I was reading this I was thinking: Man, I wish these books existed when I was a kid!

My second thought was: Man, I wish I had these books when I took my kids on long car trips!

These books are a great way to spark creativity, imagination, and will likely inspire many readers to write and illustrate their own books!

I guarantee these will be a hit with the kids in your life!

Want to learn more about the author? Visit

And guess what? You get a chance to win your very own set of the Doodle Adventures books.  All you have to do is leave a comment below, telling me that you want to win the books and what your favourite thing to doodle was as a kid (I could draw a mean cat!)  and you'll be entered in the contest!

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