THE ROOKIE BOOKIE for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

You know where this story is headed when young Mitch Sloan starts taking bets for football games in the halls61NAqO7mYxL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ of Jonasburg Middle School. Yes, it’s not long before the adults in that building shut down his business forever. Too bad since he’s good with numbers and has a great business sense. His slightly off beat parents seem to have neither as they work to make ends meet in their art studio. His brother is equally number challenged and more into  playing on the high school football team.

The charm of this story happens when Mitch stops being a bookie. He’s lost the friendship of Jamie (I. Do. Not. Have. A. Crush. On. Her.), other kids in school despise him, and the trust of his parents may be gone forever. He takes his love of numbers and odds, using them in a positive way in hopes of winning back the support he lost.

The story is told in Mitch’s own spot on 12-year-old voice and though not laugh out loud funny, the way he pursues life had me smiling. It moves along at a fast pace and is not really a sports book, more about a kid who likes sports. It’s an unusual collaboration between two authors who grew up together, both with a passion for sports. I enjoyed it thoroughly.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  New kid Mitch Sloan wants to fit in, but his nerdy love of statistics and making money isn’t winning him any friends in his sports-loving town–until he finds the perfect way to attain instant popularity. But running a football betting ring at school eventually turns sour, and Mitch loses the only real friend he’s made. He’ll have to win her back by using his brainpower for good and helping the school football team achieve victory–if they’ll listen to the advice of a former bookie!


  1. Math, especially statistics, can be a difficult task to weave into an MG book. The authors have succeeded in an interesting and understandable way.
  2. It’s also unusual to find behavioral science in a children’s book, and here even adults might learn a thing or two about the way we approach purchasing and advertising.
  3. The entire story sounds very possible, unlike a few others I’ve read this year that have you saying “No way that could have happened.”
  4. I enjoyed the all too true to life situation where Mitch is the polar opposite of his brother and parents. He’s better at analyzing sports than playing them and his business sense is off the charts compared to his parents.
  5. The way this one ends, I smell a sequel. I’ll be the first one in line to read it.


All of a sudden I saw Jamie in a dress with one of those strange little bouquets of flowers tied to her wrist, and me in a suit. Like I even own a suit. It was a very disturbing image…


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


Categories: Reviews | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

A Reluctant Choice: Goodbye to R.A.

One of the more popular series in the early days of my classroom was THE CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE books. CYOA_JourneyUndertheSea_1024x1024Boys especially gravitated to the decision making that occurred at the end of a chapter – If you want to risk death go to page 30. If you prefer to tell your parents skip ahead to p. 41. I made that one up, but you get the idea. The thought of not having to read an entire book or reread it for a different experience was appealing to many. I had several students reading every path to the end, often exceeding 40 different ways.

cyoa013185 of the original series were published in the 80’s and 90’s, reportedly selling 250 million copies. New titles continue to be published today. No small feat. The series is even credited for the strategy used today by many video games, putting the user in a role and forcing them to make decisions at critical junctures.

There have been numerous writers of the books, but the original publisher and frequent author, R.A. Montgomery passed away earlier this month. His final title released just this past September was GUS vs. THE ROBOT KING. RobotKing cover.indd

Thanks, R.A., for creating interest in reading for many reluctant readers. May your next adventure be as fun as your last.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

THE SECRET OF THE KEY for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

This is the fourth and final novel in Marianne Malone’s Sixty-Eight Rooms Adventures. I had read the first in 2010 and never found the time to revisit Ruthie and Jack’s magical time travel stories in books two and three. I took the chance on this one 9780307977212_p0_v1_s260x420hoping I hadn’t missed too much. Thankfully, I was updated throughout the pages as to what occurred since my last visit.

The series would appeal mostly to history loving readers. You experience many famous places and events from the past. It’s adventurous but not at a break-neck speed, so probably not the best for a read-aloud. The author went to great lengths to ensure authenticity of the real world and people. Her quote in the Acknowledgements should be a great reminder to all writers:

Writing is a lot like gardening; seeds germinate, flowers bloom, weeds grow, and great effort is necessary.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  Chicago sixth graders Ruthie and Jack think they’ve learned everything about the magic of the Art Institute’s Thorne Rooms. But the magic starts to act strangely when Ruthie and Jack discover two rings that are out of place—and out of time—and a portal that shouldn’t be open but somehow is. Ruthie and Jack follow the clues to seventeenth-century England and the Brownlow house, where they meet the Brownlow’s governess, Rebecca. But Rebecca has a few secrets of her own—and she might even be in the wrong century! Can Ruthie and Jack discover the truth about Rebecca’s mysterious past, or will they end up stuck in the wrong century themselves? Their quest for answers takes them from 1930s New York City and San Francisco to turn-of-the-century China. The only one who can truly answer their questions may be the woman who started it all: the room’s creator, Narcissa Thorne. But to talk to Mrs. Thorne, they’ll have to go back in time and find her!

Unlock the magic . . . in the exciting conclusion to the Sixty-Eight Rooms Adventures!


  1. Greg Call’s wonderful full page illustrations scattered throughout the book. The black and white sketches serve as a portrait to the time period or event being explored.
  2. I visited the actual Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago several years ago. These are the 68 rooms this series explores. How fun it has been to experience them again in this book and learn a bit more about their creator, Narcissa Thorne.
  3. I’ve read many time travel books, but this has one of the more unique methods for traveling back in time. Made you wish it was really possible.
  4. Like all good series, this one has a nice conclusion that tied up all the events that took place. Made me nod and smile at the same time.
  5. The historical snippets like Winston Churchill’s speech, the 1939 World’s Fair, China’s Boxer Rebellion, and King Tut exhibit happen all too quick. Hopefully an interested reader will find the author notes and resources in the back of the book to acquire deeper information. Most interesting!


She reached out toward the door but it was slipping away from her faster than she could react, shrinking to a tiny dot before disappearing completely.


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


Categories: Reviews | Tags: , , , , | 12 Comments

Character Development

What better way to find an MC for a new story than placing an ad. The response has been overwhelming with applications flooding my inbox. I’ve narrowed it down to the final four applicants.

WANTED: An MC for my latest story. Must be an underachiever and willing to go on an adventure – one that may change you forever. Apply on the  form below. Good luck!

APPLICANT 1: Austin Havner. Male. 12 years old.

Highly gifted. Bored with school. Understands the work, but there is something internally offensive about doing the work.

Positive Characteristics: “None that I can think of. I’m pretty much a failure.”

Other Thoughts: “Maybe I’m crazy – no one else feels that way – something must be wrong with me.”


APPLICANT 2: Luisa Duran. Female. 11 years old.

Perfectionist. School doesn’t interest her since she can never be as perfect as her older sisters.

Positive Characteristics: “I’m organized and push myself harder than my friends.”

Other Thoughts: “My work is never perfect so I don’t turn it in. Mistakes are humiliating and horrible. Once I find perfection, everything will change.”


APPLICANT 3: Micah Kidd-Gilman. Male. 11 years old.

Visual learner. Words just don’t work in his head. Prefers movement. Does not do well in a sit and listen classroom. His two moms refuse to medicate him despite the behavior phone calls from school.

Positive Characteristics: “I can build anything, including a rubber band/paper clip exploding trap for anyone who tries to put their hand in my locker.”

Other Thoughts: “I keep seeing my teacher’s head explode. I mean, it’s not real but it seems like it is. She’s that mad. Her head has been exploding a lot lately.”


APPLICANT 4: Rachel Burns. Female. 11 years old.

Has been in six different foster homes in five years. Doesn’t even know why she was removed from her real parents home in the first place. Has no energy to concentrate on school.

Positive Characteristics: “I don’t think I have any. Never really thought about it.”

Other Thoughts: “I’m going to run. I can’t get hurt anymore.”


Yes, it would be nice to have your potential characters fill out an application, but in the end the writer must do the groundwork. For this story that meant researching underachievement, thinking about kids I work with who are like this, and developing character traits for each. I have stacks of books, papers, and thoughts on every applicant, though filling out an application for each of them helped organize the process.

Who did I choose to be the MC of my next story? All four of course, and the fireworks in bringing these characters together are just beginning. It’s going to be a fun ride for THE MOHAVE DROPOUTS.


Categories: Writing | Tags: , | 5 Comments

POACHED for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

This is the second book in a series about 12-year-old Teddy Fitzroy who lives with his parents in a Texas zoo. I had not read the 41wiDplNXQL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_first book (BELLY UP), but Teddy fills you in along the way as to what happened in that first adventure. As the cute cover hints, this is about Teddy being accused of stealing the zoo’s prized koala, on loan from Australia. It’s a bumpy ride as Teddy sneaks around trying to uncover the real thief.

Although I loved the story, a few things made me pause. First we have another in what seems like an endless number of books with a bully. Maybe its just me, but I’m getting rather tired of the bully theme.

My other point is less troublesome, but as Teddy narrated the story I caught him saying words I don’t even think I used in college: effusive, inexplicable, transgression, and alliteration to name a few. I’ve never heard any 12-year-old use those words.

Other than that, Teddy is a convincing preteen with not only a crime on his hands, but all the other pressures of  being a middle grade student. It’s enjoyable to read, though probably not for the reluctant reader with its long chapters and overall length.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  School troublemaker Vance Jessup thinks Teddy Fitzroy’s home at FunJungle, a state-of-the-art zoo and theme park, is the perfect place for a cruel prank. Vance bullies Teddy into his scheme, but the plan goes terribly awry.

Teddy sneaks into the koala exhibit to hide out until the chaos dies down. But when the koala goes missing, Teddy is the only person caught on camera entering and exiting the exhibit.

Teddy didn’t commit the crime—but if he can’t find the real culprit, he’ll be sent to juvie as a convicted koala-napper.


  1. You’ll learn about koalas and other animals as the tale unfolds. I feel like I could work at a zoo now. Well, maybe with a bit more training.
  2. It’s a solid mystery that had me guessing right to the end. I changed my mind several times as to who stole the koala.
  3. Great read-aloud for a classroom or those nighttime moments before bed.
  4. It’s nice to have a book with two loving parents in the background. Teddy will need both to solve the mystery. For once in my recent reading I’m not hearing about a single parent family, an orphan, or an adopted child trying to adjust.
  5. All the plot points are neatly tied up by page 329. Of course there is room for more future Fun Jungle adventures and I’d welcome a third if the author chooses to go that route.


(Note: I don’t normally choose the very first line in a book as my favorite, but this one is a classic.)

I would never have been accused of stealing the koala if Vance Jessup hadn’t made me drop a human arm in the shark tank.


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


Categories: Reviews | Tags: , , , , | 13 Comments

All You Need is Time and a Little Luck

Whew. Glad to have those elections over. Now I can go back to watching TV without the mute button on.

  • If you have time and are close to either Utah, Colorado, Arizona, or Texas, be sure to stop by and celebrate the launch of our fearless MMGM leader Shannon Messenger’s new book, EVERBLAZE. All the details are here. She gets her Fall tour started off  not too far from my neck of the woods in Boulder, CO tonight at 5:30.
  • Contests are fun to enter, but I often say I’ll enter later when more time allows, then promptly miss the deadline. I’ve got myself covered this time with an entry into these MG giveaways. Join in and if I win, I promise to share.

Kindle Loaded with 50 Awesome Books for Tweens (Ends Nov. 17, 2014)

MIDDLE GRADE GIVEAWAYS (More than 50 separate contests. Must be a Goodreads member)

Blogging buddy Rosi has frequent giveaways at THE WRITE STUFF (This week is a copy of THE PAPER COWBOY)

Categories: Contests, Marketing, Reading | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

URBAN OUTLAWS for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

I was caught in the middle again. URBAN OUTLAWS has the unlikely premise of five 10-15 year-old orphans roaming the urban+outlaws+peter+jay+blackLondon underground, only surfacing every so often to right the world’s wrongs. The kid in me loved this adventurous story about a band of youngsters taking on some nasty characters. Technology is second hand to these kids and integrated into every one of their missions. They also treat their payoffs like Robin Hood – giving away much of what they steal to those in need.

But the adult in me kept wondering HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN? Where’s the Amber Alert? Are there kids really hiding out under the streets of London? Isn’t there some responsible person who could take these children and put them into loving homes? We may need another telethon… All right… I’ve calmed down. It’s fiction.

Boys and girls wanting to escape into this underground world of bright kids saving the world and living a parent-less life will be grabbing this one off the shelves. It’s smart, fun, and one wild ride from beginning to end. Okay, not quite the end since this is the first in a series.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  Deep beneath the city live five extraordinary kids: world-famous hacker Jack, gadget geek Charlie, free runner Slink, communications chief Obi, and decoy expert Wren. Orphans bonded over their shared sense of justice, the kids have formed the Urban Outlaws, a group dedicated to outsmarting criminals and handing out their stolen money through Random Acts of Kindness (R.A.K.s).

But the kids find themselves in serious trouble when they’re caught in an epic battle to control Proteus, a genius super-computer. Proteus can crack any code in the world-and steal top-secret documents in nanoseconds. It’s down to the Urban Outlaws to use their guile, guts, and skill to destroy the computer, avert world domination . . . and stay alive.


  1. There’s a character for every reader. They each have their own unique personalities and skills.
  2. Although the end is a nice resolution to what happened in the story, the author was sure to leave us with a few questions to set up a sequel. It will leave middle graders begging for more.
  3. The random acts of kindness are the heart of the book. Made me smile at each life these kids changed.
  4. Gadgets aren’t something homeless kids usually have a lot of, but this group has a bunch. They had me wanting to try them out for myself.
  5. I’m always trying to get boys to read, and I have another weapon in that battle.


Deafening shots rang out but it was too late – he leaped onto the ledge of the building and launched himself into nothing but open air.


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


Categories: Reviews | Tags: , , , | 9 Comments

Storyline versus Plotline

I often read or listen to people use the word plot and storyline interchangeably. Are they really describing the same thing? I checked the online Webster’s Dictionary, and it uses each term to describe the other. Interesting. But as I grow as a writer, I think there is a difference.

My first efforts at story writing started with the scenes in my head. I’d replay them over and over until I had a full movie. This method caused many apologies to the lady at the grocery store (Excuse me, I didn’t mean to run over your foot), the dog staring and I’m sure thinking, What? No walk this morning or tonight?, and the neighbor telling me about some escape convict on the loose in our neighborhood (Sorry, what did you say?). This story writing business is not for multitasking.

So that brings me back to plot and story. There’s an idea for an MG novel that has been swimming around my head for some time. It’s rather involved and despite attempts at making it work in my head, I wasn’t getting very far. There were too many elements to consider. I needed a list of events that would pull me from beginning to end.  Point A to point B etc. This to me is the storyline. A road map for the journey that lies ahead.

After putting those events on paper, I was satisfied with the rough outline, but there still was no plot. To move ahead I need to know how I will tell the story. That means defining characters and deciding on tense and narrative choices. Most important, how will the events in my story tie together for the reader? That to me is the heart of having a plot.

I’ll get there eventually with this one, although I may have to move away from the Halloween candy bowl. It’s already getting rather skimpy looking. I hope everyone has a happy Halloween!



Categories: Writing | Tags: , | 8 Comments

WRITTEN IN STONE for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

I won a signed copy of this historical tale from none other the than the Middle Grade Mafioso himself, Michael Gettel-Gilmartin. You can find him dishing out middle grade wonders on his personal blog or group blog Project Mayhem. Both will be worth your time as the Mafioso not only protects you, but he makes sure you hear about the best in MG.

He’s found a good one with WRITTEN IN STONE. Told from the perspective of Pearl, it begins with her as a great-grandmother,9780375869716 but soon flashes back to 1923 when she was 13 years-old. It’s a tough life as a member of the whale hunting Pacific Northwest’s Makah tribe. This was not something I was not familiar with and the words Rosanne Parry wrote brought this world vividly into my mind.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon):

Pearl has always dreamed of hunting whales, just like her father. Of taking to the sea in their eight-man canoe, standing at the prow with a harpoon, and waiting for a whale to lift its barnacle-speckled head as it offers its life for the life of the tribe. But now that can never be. Pearl’s father was lost on the last hunt, and the whales hide from the great steam-powered ships carrying harpoon cannons, which harvest not one but dozens of whales from the ocean. With the whales gone, Pearl’s people, the Makah, struggle to survive as Pearl searches for ways to preserve their stories and skills.


  1. Although the first half of the book is world building about a time and people most will not know, it’s when Pearl makes a hasty decision that ramps up the tension meter ten fold. A real page turner.
  2. A rich discussion could take place with the topic of how women were often limited in the roles they could take for a career or in a family. Quite a jolt to see how it was and sad to see it hasn’t changed in parts of the world today.
  3. I enjoyed learning about ‘drumming’ and how it served so many purposes.
  4. The author as a former teacher wrote this for her students who asked “Why is the story never about us?” She lists their names in the dedication. It took some time, but now they have their story.
  5. For me the novel was a beautiful reflection, a snapshot of life in the Makah tribe and how people tried to exploit it. The author’s notes and glossary are filled with insights. It might even be a good idea to read this first.


Grandma lifted my chin. “When you write a word down, you own that word forever,” she said.


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


Categories: Reviews | Tags: , , , | 11 Comments


Tells all? Well, at least the questions I asked. Annie is the author of ADVENTURE ON NEMESIS MOUNTAIN. Here’s what to expect from this new MG novel:

Adventure on Nemesis MountainEmilio would rather eat a slimy worm than miss the fifth grade field trip. Nemesis Mountain must be full of rare leaf specimens and bugs for his collection. Besides, he needs a break from the playground and Hans’s nonstop teasing. His excitement is squashed when he gets lost in the woods with his worst enemy.

Alone in the forest, the two boys battle to survive the harsh wilderness, facing challenges that will change their lives forever.


Sounds fantastic. Annie was also gracious enough to be interviewed. I hope readers will enjoy her answers to my questions as much as I did. First though, here’s a bit of background on Author Annie McMahon…

Annie McMahon is originally from Canada but now lives in New Jersey. She has a degree in computer programming, but her life took an unexpected turn and she ended up writing stories and articles instead of computer programs. Now she uses every spare minute to write children’s novels and to help other writers succeed.

Her three children have been the inspiration behind many of her short stories, over forty in total. Her flash fiction story, Paradoxical Neighbor, has been published by Nelson Education in a book for 10th graders, Nelson Literacy 10.

Gazebo Landscape

Annie has a certificate in copyediting, moderates a critique group for children’s writers, and is the editor at UK Children’s Publishing.

Annie is ready made for this type of work! Join me in welcoming Annie to ALWAYS in the MIDDLE today.

1. You’ve written over 40 short stories which is a huge achievement in itself. Was the writing process any different for your MG novel, ADVENTURE ON NEMESIS MOUNTAIN? (By the way, I love that title)

Thank you, Greg! Actually, my novel started as a short story (2000 words), which I later expanded into a chapter book (7000 words) then to a full-length novel (21,000 words). The process was a lot longer than for writing short stories, which can be done in one sitting. It took me five years to write, expand, revise, and finalize my novel.

2. Once that first draft was finished, how did you approach revisions?

After finishing my chapter book draft, I joined an online critique group. I received many detailed, chapter-by-chapter reviews and used that feedback in my revision, one chapter at a time. My critique partners helped me tremendously in identifying the parts I could expand and showing me what worked and didn’t work in my novel. Without them, I would still be far from my goal of being a published author. I revised countless times, until I was satisfied with the story.

3. Your main characters in ADVENTURE ON NEMESIS MOUNTAIN sound perfect to keep your story moving forward. How did you come up with the idea to create these two different personalities?

I was practicing my beginnings, writing a few paragraphs per story, whatever characters and settings came to mind. I had no particular ideas, just letting the pen lead the way and seeing where I end up. This one story got me writing way past a few paragraphs. I pictured Hans and Emilio, two boys totally different from each other, and how they interacted together. What could possibly happen to make them cooperate despite their dislike of each other? A story was born.

4. I always pick a favorite line to share when I’m reviewing novels here at ALWAYS in the MIDDLE. Do you have one from ADVENTURE ON NEMESIS MOUNTAIN?

Emilio narrowed his eyes and looked into the distance. “You act like a tough guy around your friends, but when faced with a stupid snake, your true nature shows through. You’re just a wimp.” He studied Hans. The smirk was gone.

5. What question would you like someone to ask you about this novel? You’ll finally have the chance to answer it!

Ooh, that’s a tough one! Since you mentioned you love my title, the question could be, “How did you come up with the title?” The novel was originally called MEREDITH MOUNTAIN MIRACLE. I liked the way it sounded, but some people commented that it was too feminine for a boy book. So I changed it to ADVENTURE ON NEMESIS MOUNTAIN, which gives a hint of what the story is about and sounds more “boyish.”

6. What are you working on now? Maybe a sequel?

I have three novels in progress, all very different from each other: a children’s novel about girls, this time, an interactive story for younger children, and a fantasy novel somewhere between MG and YA. I’m not sure yet which one I will finalize first. I might start by assembling all my short stories into an e-book, after revising them. I wrote them so long ago, and I’ve learned so much over the past five years, a revision is in order! And maybe write a few new ones. It would be easier to start with short stories since I haven’t written anything new in a while. I took a year off from writing to complete my copyediting certificate, then I got busy finalizing my novel for publication and now promoting it. I’m planning to start writing again before the end of the year. Looking forward to it, actually. I’m itching to write again!

Thanks for your time, Annie. You can find Annie through any of the links below. There’s also a link to a Rafflecopter giveaway.

Twitter: @anniemcmahon20


Goodreads: Annie McMahon

Author page on Amazon: Annie’s author page

Novel on Amazon: Adventure on Nemesis Mountain


Categories: Interviews | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

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