THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

I was getting to the end of this short book and found myself wishing for more, wishing there was a way to stay in Destiny. Sometimes an61VVpCoK9eL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ author creates a bond for her readers with the setting and characters and that’s exactly what happened for me. Young Theo M. Thomas is the perfect voice to carry this off. A gifted play it by ear pianist and a budding baseball star, Theo’s story is more about dealing with the past and an uncertain future.

He’s been living with his grandparents after his own parents were killed. When the story begins he’s already with the uncle he doesn’t know, but who agreed to care for Theo after the grandparents circumstances change. Bad choice as this Vietnam vet has no skills in dealing with a child. Set in 1974, the story is a slice of contemporary life 40 years ago. Save this one for a trip or as a read-aloud. Yes, you’ll want more mystery, baseball, and piano, and that’s why I hope there will be a next chapter in Theo’s life.

PUBLICATION DATE:2015   Page Count: 179

FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  When Theo gets off a bus in Destiny, Florida, he’s left behind the only life he’s ever known. Now he’s got to live with Uncle Raymond, a Vietnam War vet and a loner who wants nothing to do with this long-lost nephew. Thank goodness for Miss Sister Grandersole’s Rooming House and Dance School. The piano that sits in Miss Sister’s dance studio calls to Theo. He can’t wait to play those ivory keys. When Anabel arrives things get even more enticing. This feisty girl, a baseball fanatic, invites Theo on her quest to uncover the town’s connection to old-time ball players rumored to have lived there years before. A mystery, an adventure, and a musical exploration unfold as this town called Destiny lives up to its name.


  1. That cover grabbed me from the get go. A large piano, a small boy, and his baseball glove. The title along with Theo and his baseball glove are raised on the page giving it a specialness all its own.
  2. The well thought out cast of secondary characters adds depth to the story. There’s Miss Sister, who understands Theo from the first day. Anabel, his baseball loving new friend, well, his only friend. And finally, Uncle Raymond, who perhaps changes the most of anyone.
  3. The fictional town of Destiny is based on many real Florida beachfront communities. I’ve visited a few of those and found the depiction here to be perfect.
  4. Theo and Anabel are a charming twosome and one of my favorite friendships I’ve come to know in books over the past ten years.
  5. Although this is a quiet book, the noise the author makes with her writing is enough to make any writer sit up and notice.


1.The last place I want to be is upstairs with my uncle. The first place I want to be is here. Near Miss Sister, not too far from her piano.

2. Nobody in the history of the universe ever learned one single fact worth knowing on the last day of school.


“Although this is fiction the character of Miss Sister Grandersole was based on much loved dance teachers in the small town where I grew up including one everybody called Sister.


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


Preposition Parade

Critique partners have always been great giving me pages of helpful feedback, but no one ever said “Whoa, you’ve got too many prepositions.” Why would they? We need prepositions in our writing. On the other hand… prepositions can become a problem when you have too many or when they take you down the path of telling instead of showing.

After rewriting, polishing, and generally being consumed by one of my drafts, it was time to face the prepositions head on. It turned in to the most time consuming and technical changes I’ve ever experienced, but in the end it served its purpose by making my writing better. Those sentences are snappier and readers will benefit.  Here’s what I did:

  1. I found sites with lists of prepositions and began to choose the words that I figured were splattered on my 126 page manuscript.
  2. I did a search for them in my story, one at a time using WORD”s search tool.
  3. I read each sentence where they occurred and made a decision whether there was another way to show what was going on or if the preposition could be dropped.

My list consisted of 35 prepositions. The first set below (in caps), frequently lit up pages like New York City at night. It helped to see them in close proximity to each other. Making changes made the text flow smoother.


I’d like to give an example I actually used, but with so many changes it’s hard to come up with an exact one. I tried recreating an example…

I walked around to the back of the store and a black cat startled me as it ran across the alley… Whew, what a mess. Okay, how about…  I went behind the building. Lights flickered warning me to not go forward. A black cat hissed and ran, going out of its way to cross my path. 

This second set below were not as huge of a problem, but by making changes to several pages I could tell there was an improvement.


Example: I went over to her house. That’s an easy fix and could be shortened to I went to her house.

If you would like a PDF download of the Preposition Parade words, click the page below. I’m going to use this list both in my revisions and future writing.

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Snowy 24 hours in Colorado. It’s a good night to get some reading done!

THE BATTLE OF DARCY LANE for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

darcy lanePreteen girls will love this new title. It’s filled with much of what they’re thinking about or currently facing: New friends, old friends, cute boys, getting rid of old toys, and going shopping for… YIKES… a first bra (It may take me a few days to recover from that chapter). It’s told through the eyes of 12-year-old Julia and her voice is spot on for this age. The author typically writes YA so she does push the limits on this one, but thankfully it remains in the MG world where girls around 10-12 will enjoy.

PUBLICATION DATE:2014   Page Count: 203

FULL PLOT (From Amazon):

It is summertime, and twelve-year-old Julia Richards cannot stand the anticipation. Everyone on Darcy Lane seems to be holding their breath waiting for the cicadas to emerge, but what Julia and her best friend, Taylor, want is some real excitement. Which arrives in the form of a new neighbor named Alyssa, who introduces a ball game called Russia . . . and an unwelcome level of BFF rivalry.

Suddenly nothing stands unchallenged—not Julia’s friendships, her crush, or her independence. But while Julia realizes that she cannot control all the changes in her life, she hangs onto the hope that everything will go in her favor if she can just win one magnificent showdown.


  1. A somewhat rare two parent home in an MG novel, and what great parents they are – always trying to do what’s best for Julia. It shows in the time they each spend with her to help solve life’s problems.
  2. Russia. Not the country, but the game… I’d never heard of it either. It becomes a subplot as Julia and her friends challenge each other. With its element of coordination, Russia would be a great game to start or end a PE class, or something to do outside for bored young ones. I wanted to share this game but was unsure if I had all the rules after finishing the book. Fortunately, the author supplied all the steps to play in the back of the book.
  3. I liked the underlying theme that if you want to make friends just do what you like to do and you’ll find others to connect with. For Julia that means playing the clarinet. Music camp provides her with a positive influence in contrast to the girls living on her street.
  4. Cicadas. These insects have fascinating habits that are revealed in the pages. Julia’s town is experiencing the end of the Cicada’s life cycle and when they arrive your drawn into the sight, sound, and mess left behind.
  5. The characters are all believable, though the mother of one is a bit over the top with her degrading remarks directed at Julia.


I went out to the pool and sat down at the edge, with my feet in, waiting for a face to appear so I wouldn’t be alone.


“I once (for a whole year!) saw fit to do stand-up comedy. Word on the street is I had good jokes but terrible stage presence.”


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


Thinking and Wondering No More


I recently had the privilege of a librarian friend agreeing to critique my writing. Tilly the Hun, as I affectionately call her, works in low socioeconomic school, doesn’t do any kind of social media, has never written a book, but boy can she pinpoint areas that need strengthening. She is a true ruler of the written word. She’d make a great editor, but will never give up her first love – reading and teaching.

I convinced Tilly for only the second time to read one of my manuscripts. She rarely has the time so it took some convincing. Note: Chocolate covered strawberries do wonders for getting your way.

I had her critique one of my stories that’s getting close to sending out. Actually, she completed her scathing critique before Halloween, but I just got to it this month. Okay, it wasn’t that bad. She loved the story, felt the characters were perfect, and thought the themes fit well with an MG audience. Her concern was with the first third of the manuscript.

“VOICE. It’s missing from those first 40 pages. Your character comes alive after that and I loved him dearly. Recapture in those first pages what you have in the final two-thirds and you have a winning story.”

I reread the story and of course she was right. But what made that first third different? It took me days to figure out what was going on here. Part of it was the familiarity of the character growing the more I wrote the story. By page 40 I was in the characters head. The other part turned out to be word choice.

The story was written in first person and two words evident early on disappeared once the MC found his voice. So here they are…


That internal voice in any character does not think or wonder, they just do.

WEAK: I’m thinking of going swimming.

BETTER: I take a quick peek at Mom. She turns the page of her book. How can she read when it’s 90 degrees out here? If she’s not going to let me go swimming then my summer is pretty much over. I slide two fingers inside my purple cast but can’t reach the itch. Mom gets up, smiles, and heads to the snack bar or changing room. It doesn’t matter which. I raise my arm as high as it will go and walk to the pool’s edge. This may be a mistake.

The voice and personality are coming out in the second version. Wondering can receive similar treatment. Yes, the word count increases with the extra words, but by eliminating a fraction of unneeded propositions it brought the word count back down. The culprits: SINCE, THROUGH, ABOUT, ACROSS, AFTER, AROUND.

Do a search for any of the above words and watch your story become more interesting, tighter, and have a better flow.

Thank you, Tilly!

WHERE I BELONG for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Mary Downing Hahn. She’s had a prolific writing career that began in 1979. You may have read one of her titles without realizing there are many more out there to enjoy.  WHERE I BELONG is her 32nd book.where I belong

This story revolves around the voice of Brendan, a 12 year old boy who never quite fits in. His love of drawing and the woods, along with hair that never gets cut, leave him on the bad end of many threats and taunts. Hahn writes the character in a sensitive way and you feel for what this boy is going through. Themes of self-confidence, friendship, and bullying would be perfect for kids trying to deal with any of these issues.

This was an enjoyable, quick, and very memorable read.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  No one is kind to sixth-grader Brendan Doyle: his foster mother, his teachers, his classmates, and especially the thugs who bully him. He takes refuge in books, drawing, carving, and daydreaming. When Brendan stumbles upon an old man near his tree house in the Virginia woods, he is quick to believe that this is the magical Green Man, guardian spirit of the forest. Brendan’s need to immerse himself in his fantasy world becomes more acute, until he meets a girl with secrets of her own who may just keep his feet on the ground.


  1. I’ve met many Brendan’s in my classroom over the years. A square peg trying to fit into a round hole. No matter what you do it’s tough to break through the hard shell they hide in. This story brings understanding that when a child’s world on the outside is so bad homework is the least of their worries.
  2. Shea becomes the friend who serves as Brendan’s lifesaver. Their friendship is always on shaky grounds, but trust is what they both come to know.
  3. Books like these are tough to read. Bad teachers, a bad foster parent, and juvenile delinquents on the run. I only keep reading because I know in most MG books there will be a bright light at the end. I’m not crazy about this ending but know the character has changed for the better.
  4. The short chapters and sentence structure may appeal to reluctant readers.
  5. The forest is often an escape for troubled kids. I’ve spent more than a few weeks at an outdoor education camp where kids are in tears the day they leave. For Brendan it’s his outlet for growth.

FAVORITE LINES: I hope she really didn’t say that, I hope its not true, my mother didn’t take drugs, she didn’t, she didn’t.

QUOTE FROM AUTHOR: I played in the woods whenever I could when I was a child. That was one of the things I hated about leaving my childhood, was leaving all those long days exploring the woods.”


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


Always in the Middle and Moving Forward

There is a lot to report as I get started on the new year…

Jacket+Nickel+Bay+Nick1. Several months ago I nominated NICKEL BAY NICK by Dean Pitchford for the 2014 Cybils (Children and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards) in the Middle Grade Fiction category. The finalists were announced last week and my nominee made the cut to the final seven! Cheers and good luck to one of my favorite books. If you need a memory refresher here’s my review from last year.

2. Yesterday I completed my fourth MG Manuscript, THE MOHAVE DROPOUTS. This initial draft took me three months to complete and I’m looking forward to the eventual rewrites. Yes, four stories are enough for now and it’s time to concentrate on polishing the ones I have and getting them noticed. My mind is swimming with more  story ideas, but those will have to wait until I’m satisfied with the foursome I’ve created.  Each are in different phases of the editing and rewriting process, but I’m excited about their progress.

3. CBS Sunday Morning interviewed Jeff Kinney, the author of the wildly popular Wimpy Kid series. People seem to either love or hate his stories of adolescent angst told through the eyes of young Greg Heffley. His response to what he thinks of this varied critical feedback may surprise you. See for yourself in this 6 minute interview.

4. Except for short pleasure jaunts, I’m not traveling this year teaching classes one weekend per month. I’ve been doing that for 15 years but most of the classes are now online (not my preference, but certainly easier for the students). I’ll miss seeing small town America like Beaufort, SC, Cody, WY, Spartanburg, GA, and twenty more. The people in these towns are what make these places truly great.

5. I began blogging long ago but only became serious about the task when ALWAYS in the MIDDLE started 30 months ago. Since then I have posted 250 times and who knows how much time involved in their creation. It’s not a chore but a love. I can’t wait to find out what the next 250 bring me.

“In the end, the only people who fail are those who do not try.” – David Viscott

Counting by 7s for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Before diving into this first review for 2015, here are the results of the drawing  for two fantastic book packages:

The four book package goes to….Rosi Hollinbeck at The Write Stuff

The three book package goes to…Andrea Mack at That’s Another Story

Congratulations and I will be emailing you for addresses.


To start the new year I’ve been cleaning up my list of books to be read (TBR). One title that had been on there for over a year can finally be scratched from the list as today is all about this popular title from late 2013 – COUNTING BY 7s.7s

It reminded me of watching a blockbuster movie after everyone else had seen it months earlier. After listening and reading all the chatter, you know the best parts and the plot, but now its time to formulate your own opinion. So… it was good. I was hoping for great but maybe the timing wasn’t right or was it the POV? I’d spent seven of my own teaching years in a full time program for highly gifted kids and wished the entire book had been told from Willow Chance’s gifted mind. Instead it bounced from Willow’s first person narration to numerous third person views of the other characters.

Despite my personal preferences there was still much to love about this unusual story.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life . . . until now.

Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.


  1. A garden provides the parallel for growth from the characters and the plants themselves. It’s a perfect pairing.
  2. Willow is brilliant, funny, and perceptive but so are the cast of characters around her.
  3. Willow’s plunge into the foster care system is a realistic look at how it works in our own backyards for so many kids.
  4. Dell, the counselor. He’s awful at his job, but slowly he begins to see that he can be better. I’ve known quite a few Dell’s and they need to read this book.
  5. Lesson learned: Labels can do more harm than good sometimes.

FAVORITE LINES: On the 7th day of the 7th month (Is it any wonder I love that number) my new parents drove north to a hospital 257 miles from their home, where they named me after a cold-climate tree and changed the world. Or at least our world.

QUOTE FROM AUTHOR: “…So I think I was drawn to write about Willow in a personal way from my own family.”


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