MOTHMAN’S CURSE for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Before we begin this spooky month of reviews, I need to announce last week’s winner of CURIOSITY HOUSE: THE SHRUNKEN HEAD. It’s none other than Michael Gettel Gilmartin. Congratulations. You can find Michael on his own blog, THE MIDDLE GRADE MAFIOSO, or on his group blog, PROJECT MAYHEM- The manic minds of middle grade writers.




Turn off the lamps and turn on the flashlight. I’m dedicating this month to all that is spooky in MG. I’ll recommend the best in ghosts, goblin, and creature type stories. The featured books are great for this time of the year, but they actually can bring goose bumps no matter what month you decide to read.

First up is this new title, MOTHMAN’S CURSE.51z6W1IQeWL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Josie is our 12-year-old heroine and narrates the story. Combined with her two younger brothers, the trio are smart, adventurous, and for the most part get along. Their unique personalities set them up to have success. The pace is perfect as the kids deal with everyday life and this strange creature known as the Mothman. Spooky for sure and scary, too, but not enough to bother the majority of MG readers.

Although fairly hefty for a MG book, drawings of the key events in the story are interspersed every chapter. It’s an enjoyable ride all the way to its thrilling conclusion.



When Josie and her brothers uncover a haunted camera, the Mothman legend becomes a terrifying reality that threatens their entire town in this spooky and action-filled novel.

Josie may live in the most haunted town in America, but the only strange thing she ever sees is the parade of oddball customers that comes through her family’s auction house each week. But when she and her brothers discover a Polaroid camera that prints pictures of the ghost of local recluse John Goodrich, they are drawn into a mystery dating back over a hundred years. A desperate spirit, cursed jewelry, natural disasters, and the horrible specter of Mothman all weave in and out of the puzzle that Josie must solve to break the curse and save her own life.


  1. The family business is an auction house where curious items are auctioned every weekend. Such a unique sidelight, and one of the youngsters, Fox, is a an up and coming auctioneer. He even holds his own auctions just for other kids.
  2. It was great to see the opposite side of Josie and Fox’s personalities come through. Josie gains more confidence and Fox shows he can be more serious.
  3. The story is based on a real urban legend that I knew nothing about. The author provided links if readers want to learn more about Mothman.
  4. The ending is a fast paced conclusion and will keep readers flipping the pages.
  5. There’s a touch of time travel with Josie and they were some of my favorite scenes. She was able to see what happened in the past and figure out how to deal with the future.


Fox kept staring, his breath rough. I pulled my sweatshirt sleeves down over my hands to slow the cold creeping into my limbs. Mason curled up against me. I could feel his heart racing in his chest.


I grew up loving stories about the creatures that curl your toes and the legends that send a shiver down your spine. Now I love writing about them, too. I grew up in the northwest and now live in Utah with my family, our dog, Chewie, and a house full of vintage finds that I secretly hope might be haunted. (From Christine’s web site)


Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.


CURIOSITY HOUSE: THE SHRUNKEN HEAD for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

The first book in this planned series is set to debut tomorrow, and I’m thrilled to give you a preview of what to expect. First off, if you have no idea what a dime museum is, I didn’t either.

Dime museums were popular in the 1800’s and a one of the more popular ones was in New York City, started by the legendary P.T. Barnum. They were home for freak shows, curiosities, and circus performers. Dime museums popped up in many eastern U.S. cities.

The setting for THE SHRUNKEN HEAD is 1930’s New York at the mysterious Dumfrey’s Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders! 23277166Most kids here in the western U.S. have no interest in 1930’s New York, but that minor concern will disappear once they discover what’s inside the doors of the museum.

The action centers around four orphans with unusual abilities: A contortionist, a mind reader, a knife thrower, and a boy with strength beyond his years. When Mr. Dunfrey’s prized possession, a shrunken head, disappears, the four children set out to solve the mystery. What ensues is murder and mayhem.

Both funny and fast paced, this series is sure to attract readers of all ages, not just MG. I for one became an instant fan.

Comment below and win a brand new hard back copy of CURIOSITY HOUSE – THE SHRUNKEN HEAD, courtesy of Harper Collins Publishers. The cover in the image doesn’t do it justice. The actual cover is shiny and gorgeous. You have until October 4th, 7 p.m. EDT to enter. I’ll announce the winner on this blog next Monday.



The book is about, among other things: the strongest boy in the world, a talking cockatoo, a faulty mind reader, a beautiful bearded lady and a nervous magician, an old museum, and a shrunken head.

Blessed with extraordinary abilities, orphans Philippa, Sam, and Thomas have grown up happily in Dumfrey’s Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders. But when a fourth child, Max, a knife-thrower, joins the group, it sets off an unforgettable chain of events.

When the museum’s Amazonian shrunken head is stolen, the four are determined to get it back. But their search leads them to a series of murders and an explosive secret about their pasts. This sensational new series combines the unparalleled storytelling gifts of Lauren Oliver with the rich knowledge of the notorious relics collector H. C. Chester.

What you will find in this book:

  • A rather attractive bearded lady
  • Several scandalous murders
  • A deliciously disgusting Amazonian shrunken head
  • Four extraordinary children with equally extraordinary abilities
  • A quite loquacious talking bird

What you will NOT find in this book:

  • An accountant named Seymour
  • A never-ending line at the post office
  • Brussels sprouts (shudder)
  • A lecture on finishing all your homework on time
  • A sweet, gooey story for nice little girls and boys


  1. The personalities of the four children are like very different puzzle pieces that end up fitting together nicely. Readers for sure will have a favorite to remember.
  2. The mystery angle was a fun one to follow. I had it pretty well figured out by the end but the ride getting there was a scream.
  3. You’ll be left hanging at the end, but not too bad. Most of the plot points and secrets are revealed. There’s just enough left to anxiously await book #2 in the series.
  4. The creepy underworld of  New York City was actually a nice change of pace from most MG books. I hope we learn more about this setting as the trilogy continues.
  5. Full page sketches of the many weird things going on are scattered throughout the book. It’s a window to this unique time period.

FAVORITE LINES: Just one of many…

He was wearing the most hideous outfit Max had ever seen: vivid green trousers and scuffled brown shoes paired with an orange-checked shirt that clashed horrendously with his hair. If his clothing could speak, Max knew it would be screaming.


How would you describe our book in 15 words or less?

I would describe it thusly: “A thrilling mystery set in a colorful era of bygone New York City and involving one of the most fables rarities of all time – the shrunken head of the legendary Amazonian chieftan, Ticuna-Piranha!” (I am cognizant of the fact that this description exceed the prescribed length. However, so exceptional is our book – if I may be permitted to say so – that a mere “fifteen words or less” cannot do it justice.)

For more insights see Lauren Oliver’s web site.

Want to meet the authors? Lauren Oliver & H.C. Chester will be visiting local schools (also check for book store appearances in your area) in Atlanta (9/29), Chicago (9/30), Houston (10/1), and San Francisco (10/2 where there’s already a scheduled visit to NAPA STORE/3740 Bel Aire Plaza at 4 p.m.), and they will be appearing at the Texas Book Festival (10/17 & 10/18)

Final tidbit: H.C. Chester is also the alter ego of Harold Schechter, renowned true crime writer and professor of American literature and popular culture at Queens College. And he’s Lauren Oliver’s father. The father-daughter writing team combined their talents – Harold Schechter’s vast knowledge from studying crimes and murders and a lifetime of collecting weird and bizarre artifacts, with Lauren Oliver’s skill at writing compelling and relatable stories for young readers.


Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.


Middle Grade News

It’s been a busy month for me as I finish up final edits on four manuscripts. I won’t go into the messy details that got me into this way of writing because I have other news to share.

The annual CYBILS Award (Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards) season is upon us and I’ve been chosen as a Round 2 judge in the Middle Grade Fiction category. Nominations in a variety of picture book, MG, and YA categories begin on October 1st and continue through October 15th. Anyone can nominate at

Cybils-Logo-2015-Web-SmAfter all the nominations are in, the Round 1 judging panel takes over narrowing the list to a select group of books. The Round 2 judges begin there work on  January 1st reading every finalist selection (I’m hoping I’ve read a few by then). The award winners are announced on Feb. 14, 2016. I can’t wait!


About a year ago I was asked to write a short piece for the great folks at CHILDREN’S BOOK INSIDER: WRITE FOR KIDS. I wrote the page, sent it off, and that was that. Many other educators did the same and they have compiled all this advice into an e-book.

dj226-9e4639e9-eebb-410b-8c87-ee0c46b74ac2-v2You can get your own free copy by visiting and giving them an email address to send the eBook. Here’s the teaser blurb:

The eBook is packed with great advice, specifically geared toward teachers (and ex-teachers) who want to write children’s books. (Not a teacher?  No worries — you’ll still find a treasure trove of writing advice that you’ll really enjoy.)

If you don’t get a copy, I can at least share my piece. It’s right there on page 44:

Writing a Children’s book. It’s a journey I knew nothing about five years ago. I had many misconceptions and it took me this long to do things the right way. Here are the roadblocks to avoid that will hopefully bring you success in your journey.

  1. DOING THINGS TOO QUICKLY. I wrote my first story in about three months and thought by the next year I’d be seeing it on the bookshelf. That was the teacher coming out in me; always meeting that next deadline or getting to the next meeting on time. Get it done and check it off. Well, relax. Sit back and write your story. Let it sit for a month. Read it again for first revisions. Let it sit for another month. Revise again. Next get a few people to critique your story. Preferably not teaching mates or family, they’ll be too nice. Revise again and again and again.
  1. YOU THINK YOU KNOW HOW TO WRITE A NOVEL.Take a class, get reading the many fine blogs out there, or check out the great books available that will teach you how, and of course join Children’s Book Insider and SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).
  1. CRITICISM. You should be ready for this one because as a teacher you are constantly under the radar by students, parents, and administrators. Your writing will be no different. Take each piece of advice and let it simmer for a few days. No one wants you to fail. The people I have met and worked with only served to make me a better writer.
  1. DON’T STOP READING. In fact read more, especially in your chosen genre. You’ll learn many things about plot and character development from the many gifted children’s authors active today.
  1. IT’S NOT A VACATION. Yes, you may have a summer free from grading papers, piling up in-service credits, or planning curriculum, but be prepared for that time to be filled with writing, revising, reading, and networking. Also, after living in the teaching world you may have a hard time adjusting to the fact that writing is a solitary endeavor. You’ll be alone with your thoughts 90% of the time. What will push you forward is your love of writing and connecting with an age group you’ve been around so much. My entire professional adult life has been spent teaching, mentoring, and now writing to the MG group. Creating a great middle grade story is hands down the hardest job I’ve ever had!



MYSTERIES OF COVE: FIRES OF INVENTION for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

I’ve come across a few kids, mostly boys, who will read nothing but non-fiction. They have a passion for finding out how things work and are constantly ‘fiddling’ around with whatever object is close by. 51mBm3beYAL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Maybe this first book in the new MYSTERIES OF COVE trilogy will provide a fiction outlet for their way of thinking. That’s a mechanical dragon on the cover created by two of the main characters in this tale, Trenton and Kallista,

There’s not only a dragon, but Cove is a city built within a mountain when technology destroys the outside world. Life inside forbids creativity or invention since that is what chased them into this new environment to begin with. It’s the future, but the inhabitants of Cove survive by incorporating technology born out of the 1800’s. It’s safer that way.

Enter our young teen heroes and they will stop at nothing to uncover the secrets of Cove set into motion over 100 years in the past. And that means secretly building that dragon. The adventure is fast paced and you will be visualizing this new society as the levels inside the mountain come alive.

Enjoy the ride on this one now so you’ll be ready for the book two where the world outside the Cove will be explored.

PUBLICATION DATE: September 29, 2015   PAGE COUNT: 288    

FULL PLOT (From Amazon): Trenton Colman is a creative thirteen-year-old boy with a knack for all things mechanical. But his talents are viewed with suspicion in Cove, a steam-powered city built inside a mountain. In Cove, creativity is a crime and invention is a curse word.

Kallista Babbage is a repair technician and daughter of the notorious Leo Babbage, whose father died in an explosion an event the leaders of Cove point to as an example of the danger of creativity.

Working together, Trenton and Kallista learn that Leo Babbage was developing a secret project before he perished. Following clues he left behind, they begin to assemble a strange machine that is unlikely anything they’ve ever seen before. They soon discover that what they are building may threaten every truth their city is founded on and quite possibly their very lives.


  1. It’s rather uncomfortably amusing as Trenton struggles to understand how to talk to girls. He’s so much better at communicating by building things and never knows what to say. Boys nearing that age will immediately understand his frustration.
  2. The ending is one of those endings where you just say “Wow! I like where this is going.” The first story is nicely connected with what is set to happen in the next book.
  3. Trenton and Kallista are different in so many ways, but their love of fixing things brings them closer together. A great pairing of these two as their characters are so well defined. Their interactions are a joy to follow.
  4. Much to be learned with the themes of censorship, oppressive government, and technology influence. It would make for a great classroom discussion with other real societies in our own world’s history.
  5. There’s nothing predictable in this story. I tried many times to guess what would happen next and never did connect with perfection. That alone will keep readers glued.


He clenched his hands in his hair. His mother. This would kill her. How many times had she warned him that tinkering would get him into trouble? How many times had she made him sit at the table, writing line after line: We are all gears and cogs in a magnificent machine. When we do our part as it has been prescribed, the machine runs smoothly. When we do things differently, society suffers.


One of my favorite experiences is having a boy or girl tell me that my books are the reason they learned a love for reading. .” From J. Scott Savage’s web site.


Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.


THE BRAIN SUCKER for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

First off I have the winner of last week’s copy of CONFESSIONS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND. Congratulations to  BIBI BELFORD.  She is the MG author of the touching and enjoyable CANNED AND CRUSHED. I’ll get that out to you this week, Bibi. Now on to today’s review…


When I first saw the cover for this book, I was certain that the pages inside would be a graphic novel full of The Brain Sucker by Glenn Woodcartoonish pictures. Wrong. What I found was a science fiction type story set in a contemporary setting with three very compelling teens. First we have our main protagonist, Callum, a boy who has spent his life in a wheelchair. Then there’s Sophie, a wizard at building things, and Jinx, who is trying desperately to control his own bad luck.

THE BRAIN SUCKER was first released in Australia three years ago, followed by Great Britain in 2014, and finally Canada/U.S. in 2015. The book has also been nominated for the 2015 Sakura Medal in Japan (a book award voted on by children and young adults in Japan).

It is a quick read that moves along at a hearty pace as our trio of heroes attempts to stop an evil man from sucking the goodness out of every brain in the city. His secret device has already been successful at turning the nicest people into complete, shall I say, morons.

Reluctant readers will gravitate toward text that has space above and below each line. The story will appeal to 8-12 year-old boys and girls who want to escape on a thrilling adventure to save the world.

PUBLICATION DATE: 2012, 2014, 2015   PAGE COUNT: 221


Evil genius Lester Smythe has a black heart. He’s invented a dangerous brain-sucking machine that removes the goodness from its victims. Now he’s using it to rid the world of all human kindness. But Lester didn’t count on Callum McCullock and his two best friends, engineering whiz Sophie and Jinx Paterson, the world’s unluckiest boy. The trio vow to foil Lester’s evil plan but can they stop him before things go from bad to disastrous?


  1. A wheelchair bound main character is a rarity so this was a welcome surprise. Callum has such a great independent attitude, and getting top of the line new wheels for his birthday starts the story off just right.
  2. Most stories with gadgets have a stereotypical boy in the role of someone who creates these wonders. Here though we have, Sophie, a girl who puts forth her tool belt savvy in almost every scene.
  3. A nice subplot is Callum’s relationship with his grandmother who is trying to adopt him after being his guardian.
  4. I loved how this ended in a climatic battle with the evil genius. Bad news at every turn gives a lesson to writers to surprise your readers.
  5. I smell a sequel as there is so much more to learn about these three characters.


Callum could barely contain his excitement. If his new chair was as good as he hoped, it would make a big difference in his life. When you’re stuck in a wheelchair, mobility is everything, and the Thunderkit looked like it could conquer mountains, or the very least the steps outside the corner shop.


“A great number of people assisted in bringing this book to print, so if you don’t like it, they’re to blame.”Glenn-Wood-Author-Brain-SuckerAbout Glenn Wood –

Glenn Wood is an award winning copywriter and author who has four published books to his credit. These include his popular autobiographical novels – The Laughing Policeman and Cop Out – and two middle school books The Brain Sucker and The Bully Chip.

For more insights and tongue in cheek humor see Glenn Wood’s web site.


The U.S./Canada Edition of THE BRAIN SUCKER is now available on AMAZON. I know, don’t judge a book by its cover, but I do like the previous covers better:

getimage 14060474



Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.


CONFESSIONS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

I have my own confession to make. When I was a young boy growing up in a house full of girls, I had an imaginary friend. His name was The Invisible Man. Not the most creative name, but he served his purpose, giving me comfort in those early years. Of course as I grew older he left my world to remain only in name.

Now comes along a special book, CONFESSIONS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND: A Memoir by Jacques Papier. The concept is so brilliant,514noAQ7Z8L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ so creative, and so full of  insights about growing up, that I’m sure it will become a classic. Seems that the fine folks at 20th Century Fox Animation think so, too. They’ve already acquired the rights to the story even before the book is published.

The standard way to do a story of this type would be to write it from the perspective of the child who has the imaginary friend. Thank goodness the gifted author, Michelle Cuevas, chose to write this from Jacques’s first person narrative, because he is the imaginary friend.

You will laugh out loud in several places and possibly have a tear or two as real-life emotional issues are explored. This would make an excellent introduction to new readers of middle grade, but in reality young and old alike will be touched by its charm.

If you leave a comment (even an I want to win! will do), I’ll enter you in a drawing for a brand new hardback edition of CONFESSIONS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND courtesy of Penguin/Random House Publishers.  Hurry up though as I will draw the name next Sunday evening (Sept. 13 – 6pm EDT). If you win it will be one of those books that won’t stay on your bookshelf for long.


FULL PLOT (From Penguin-Random House):

Jacques Papier has the sneaking suspicion that everyone except his sister Fleur hates him. Teachers ignore him when his hand is raised in class, he is never chosen for sports teams, and his parents often need to be reminded to set a place for him at the dinner table. But he is shocked when he finally learns the truth: He is Fleur’s imaginary friend! When he convinces Fleur to set him free, he begins a surprising, touching, and always funny quest to find himself—to figure out who Jacques Papier truly is, and where he belongs.


  1. Reluctant readers rejoice. The chapters are short (the first one is only 111 words). and the spacing of the lines perfect for eyes that shudder at too many words on one page. There are also small kid-like pencil sketches every so often to break up the text.
  2. The humor is surprising and sophisticated. It caught me of guard while reading the story as I waited to get a haircut. I couldn’t stop myself from giggling. I wish there was a picture of the looks I was getting from others wondering what could be bringing so much joy to my corner of the waiting area.
  3. Imaginaries Anonymous and The Office of Reassignment were both marvelous parallels to the real world. Show don’t Tell has a place for authors to study by visiting these pages.
  4. The story is a bundled up nicely for a successful conclusion. Not exactly what you expect, but so powerful in its effect.
  5. All of the characters Jacques meets along the way will be ones you may of crossed paths in your own life. They are each there to make a point about belonging and learning about oneself.

FAVORITE LINES:(And there are so many to choose from!)

“See,” I said, crouching back down to join Bernard. “I told you she’d be fine. She’s just sitting there with an ice pack over her eye. If it were anything serious, there would be an ambulance or a priest or something.”


What inspired you to tell your story?

I guess I just wanted there to be a story out there for everyone who ever felt like I did; everyone who has felt unseen and invisible at some point in their lives. Some people probably feel like that right now. And I wanted them to know they’re not alone.

Also, I’d like to meet Oprah.

WHO IS AUTHOR, Michelle Cuevas?

Michelle Cuevas graduated from William’s College an holds a master of fine arts degree in creative writing from the University of Virginia. She is the author of The Masterwork of a Painting Elephant and Beyond the Laughing Sky. She lives in Massachusetts.   Michelle Cuevas’s web site.



Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.


A lot to like about like


Read to become a better writer.

I’ve never had a problem with that advice since I read more than 100 books per year. But when I became serious enough to write my own stories, my habits changed from reading for pure enjoyment to reading as an analyzer or student of another author’s writing.

Back then I’d take out my highlighter and spread yellow across my favorite lines. The result was the books I read looked more like a college textbook. I then changed to writing my favorite lines in a journal, leaving the books in much better condition for the next reader.

One of the areas of writing that I was having trouble with at the time was the use of ‘like’ in comparisons. Mine sounded so cliché:

My heart pounded like a drum.

Not that unique or creative. Now, after years of reading MG books, I have a nice collection of like’s to learn from, and how to use them. Here are some examples…

One of he reasons to use like is to let the reader experience an image of what the character is looking at. Author Jack Gantos gives us a perfect example in DEAD END IN NORVELT:

I glanced at my hair in the mirror. My brown curls stood up on my head like a field planted with question marks. There was no reason to brush it. The question marks would just stand up into exclamation points and then wilt back over into question marks.

Like can also be used to provide further understanding of sensory stimuli. Here are few short lines from the marvelous CONFESSIONS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND by Michelle Cuevas (I’ll have a review next week and a giveaway):

“What is that smell?” they would shout over and over. “It smells like whale belches and mustache crumbs. Like stale dreams and moldy milk stew. It smells … like dirty socks!”

Yes, it would have been easier to say the smell was bad, but the effect is not nearly what you get from those lines.

The final way I’ve seen ‘like’ used is setting the scene at the beginning of chapter. The upcoming MYSTERIES OF COVE: FIRES OF INVENTION by J. Scott Savage uses this early on in his fantastic new series:

The electric bulbs in little brass cages on the wall were still dark, and the flickering gas lamp in the corner made his shadow waver like a frightened ghost.

Yes, I’m in that small room with the main character, Trenton, thanks to that line.

So go on and use like in your writing… just not too much. Use only when you need to make a comparison that will enhance the experience for your readers.

Happy Labor Day weekend to all! Three day weekends are like a gift that make you smile when opened.

Better, but I’ll keep working at it.