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.

FORT for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Congratulations to my two anniversary winners from last week’s giveaway:

SIX FEMALE PROTAGONIST BOOKS and a $15 Starbuck’s gift card: Rosi Hollinbeck (Check out her blog at THE WRITE STUFF)

SIX MALE PROTAGONIST BOOKS and a $15 Starbuck’s gift card: Patricia Tilton (Check out her blog at CHILDREN’S BOOKS HEAL)

Thanks to all that entered. I have more giveaways with some exciting new releases coming in September!


It’s time to focus ahead to the coming months of fall and cooler weather. In most places school is back in session, but this tale of two boys might be what you need to relive those warm summer days that disappear all too quick…

The tale is told in first person by, Wyatt, a city boy who is visiting with his dad during the summer in upstate 22718759New York. Wyatt is very well adjusted to the two parent routine as  divorce is mentioned but never becomes a theme to the the story. Nice to see divorce depicted in this way where it isn’t overly devastating to a family.  Wyatt’s friend during his summer visit is a country boy named Augie, who has a few outdoor skills that come in handy. (I may never look at a squirrel the same way.) Together the two friends build a fort in the wilderness, or so it seems that way since they aren’t too far from civilization.

It’s shaping up to be the best end of the summer before intruders start to poke around their fort: two older bullies who ruin their plans and another developmentally disabled boy they’re not quite sure of. What ensues is a fresh approach in dealing with their problem and one that will appeal to young readers. It got me reminiscing on a favorite summer with my best friend as this gentle ride tugged at memories in my past.



In this boys-will-be-boys summer story about friendship and revenge, eleven-year-old Wyatt and his friend Augie aren’t looking for a fight. They’re having the best summer of their lives hanging out in the fort they built in the woods, fishing and hunting, cooking over a campfire, and sleeping out. But when two older boys mess with the fort–and with another kid who can’t fight back–the friends are forced to launch Operation Doom, with unexpected results for all concerned, in this novel about two funny and very real young heroes.


  1. The ingenious way the boys get back at the bullies. It’s not mean spirited or hurtful (not too much anyway) and provides a few giggles to readers.
  2. City boys and girls will long for a summer like this with slingshots, pocket knives, hunting for food, and creepy sounds in the wilderness.
  3. Several adults pop in and out of the story to provide support, but they let this be the kids’ story. Just like it should be in any MG novel.
  4. This believable tale is a welcome break from high tech action stories. It’s a quick read and would be perfect as a read-aloud.
  5. There’s a hint at the end that we may see another adventure with these two friends the next summer. I’d welcome a continuation of this as a series.


Augie had never said it to her because I think he was afraid it would break her heart, but he had told me. “The only way I’m ever going to college is if I grow three and a half feet and magically learn to play basketball, or if they start giving out brain transplants.”


“I try to write books that I would have loved to read when I was a child. It is very gratifying to hear from children that something I wrote touched them, making them laugh or cry, or think and feel something new.”

For more insights see Cynthia DeFelice’s web site.




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


AN MMGM 2nd Anniversary Celebration

A few notes before the celebration begins… 1) The winner of Carter Roy’s two book BLOOD GUARD series is  CINDY TRAN. You can check her review blog out at Cindy Reads A Lot.  Congratulations! I’ll get those out to you this week.

2) Take a look at  Author Kevin Gerard’s Kick Starter campaign for his fourth Diego Dragon’s book. Good luck with this, Kevin!


With that complete, the time has come to celebrate my two years in Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday! Yes, for 24 months I’ve been posting reviews, but it’s also my 3 year blogging anniversary! Thanks to all of you who stop by either once in a while or every week. I couldn’t keep this up without you.

Let’s kick off this celebration with a double giveaway. I have a stack of books  for two separate lucky winners. One stack has six books with female protagonists and the other has six books with with male protagonists. All are like new, only once read. But that’s not all… each stack comes with its very own $15 Starbucks gift card! You’ll be the envy of everyone with your stash of books in one hand and favorite drink in the other.

FEMALE PROTAGONIST STACK (Three hardbacks and three paperbacks)


MALE PROTAGONIST STACK (Four hardbacks and two paperbacks)


So how do you enter??? It’s easy. Just state your favorite book(s) read since last summer (MG or otherwise). For each book you list, up to a maximum of five books, you will get an entry for each one. wheel

My faithful visitors are also getting bonus entries. For every 10 comments you’ve made on this blog from last August through this past Friday, I’ll throw in another entry.

On Sunday, August 30th at 5 PM EDT, I’ll throw all the names into this shiny wheel. The first name chosen will get their choice of stacks. The second name chosen will receive the remaining one.

Good Luck and thank you to Shannon for hosting and putting together the MMGM links each week!


THE GLASS GAUNTLET for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Trust no one… That theme continues to ring true in the second installment of the Blood Guard Trilogy.

Due to release this week, THE GLASS GAUNTLET, is a plot twisting story of 13-year-old Ronan. He’s now in training to become a 51sUO9Zx62L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_member of the The Blood Guard, aka, the good guys. His main duty is to protect his friend, Greta, from The Bend Sinister, an evil society of individuals wanting to bring an end to this world as we know it.

Yes, the second book in a planned series of three is a tough one to write. Up front you know that not every problem can be solved. Something has to be left for the final book. There will also be new readers who somehow skipped the first book and jumped into this one. How do you bring them up to speed but keep the plot moving forward? Finally, how does one end a story that is to be continued?

Thankfully, in the hands of author, Carter Roy, all is well with each of those concerns. He weaves in information from the first story so you won’t be totally lost and a few new interesting characters are introduced along the way. We also get a deeper understanding of Jack Dawson, a teen who is actually 198 or so in age. Not too much more is revealed about Ronan, Greta, and younger Tommy’s character, but you get the feeling the final book will find them them growing even closer.

The mark of a great fantasy adventure is it keeps you guessing as to what happens next. THE GLASS GAUNTLET has all of that and more. Equally good news is a chance for you to win both books. Details are below!


FULL PLOT (From Amazon):

Ronan Truelove barely survived his first encounter with his father and the Bend Sinister. Now, he’s determined to become one of the Blood Guard, a sword-wielding secret society sworn to protect thirty-six pure souls crucial to the world’s survival.

Eager to prove he’s got what it takes, Ronan is sent on his first mission with his friends Greta and Sammy to visit a weird-sounding school and take a series of tests called the Glass Gauntlet. Paper and pencils and nerdy scholarship—where’s the life-or-death challenge in that?

But the Glass Gauntlet is actually something much more dangerous: head-to-head competitions against ruthless opponents. Nothing and no one are what they seem. Who can he trust, and who will kill him? Ronan has to figure it out fast because his enemies are multiplying, and soon he will have to pass the ultimate test: facing his father again and standing up to those who threaten not only him and his friends but also the world.


  1. The Glass Gauntlet, the Verity Glass, and the Damascene ‘Scope are a few of the unusual and cool objects you will learn about. Their “soulful” purpose guide the story.
  2. Jack Dawkins not only comes back to life each time he goes through another untimely death, but he does so with wit and charm. He makes a great older leader for our group of young ones in training.
  3. Just going through the chapter titles will provide you with a few chuckles. My favorites: STICKING OUT LIKE A GLASS THUMB; YOU CAN DUNK A KID IN WATER, BUT YOU CAN’T MAKE HIM SINK; YOU DON’T KNOW JACK;  and A FISTFUL OF SOUL.
  4. The action spills off the pages at the perfect moments. There’s tension, some gruesome but not too gruesome parts, and more than a few scenes had me in awe, scratching my head, and saying “How did he come up with that one?”
  5. The world building is marvelous. From the training headquarters to the site of the competition, it all lends itself to words painting a visual for readers.


“We’ve never officially trained any Blood Guard candidates before. You three are the first.” Dawkins’ face broke out into the enormous smile he uses when he’s trying to be charming. “But trust me: You are going to love this place!”


Carter Roy has painted houses and worked on construction sites; waited tables and driven delivery trucks; been a stage hand for rock bands and a videographer on a cruise ship; worked as a line cook in a kitchen, a projectionist in a movie theater, and a rhetoric teacher at a university. He has been a reference librarian and a book seller, edited hundreds of books for major publications, and written award-winning short stories for adult readers that have appeared in a half-dozen journals and anthologies. The Blood Guard was his first book, and The Glass Gauntlet is his second. He lives in New York City.    Carter Roy’s web site.

CONTEST TIME! How you can win both books in the Blood Guard Series?


Last week I reviewed Book One, THE BLOOD GUARD. If you commented (or still want to) I’ve already entered you into this weeks drawing for a The Blood Guard Series two pack. You can double your chances by also commenting on this review. Just complete your comments to one or both reviews by Sunday, August, 23rd, 5 p.m. EDT. I’ll then draw the lucky name who will win a brand new hardback of THE GLASS GAUNTLET, and a once read hardback of THE BLOOD GUARD. The winner will be notified via email next Sunday and reported here on Monday. Good luck!


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


LUCKY STRIKE for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday EXTRA

I added this title to my list earlier this year for a reason only I might have –  the theme of luck or lack of it was something I covered in one of my own stories I’ve been editing for what seems like forever. My worry was that the story I had written would be too much like this one. Thankfully that wasn’t the case as LUCKY STRIKE goes down an entirely different road. It’s a journey I thoroughly enjoyed.LUCKY-STRIKE-front-cover-200x300

Written in third person, the action centers around a boy (Nate Harlow) who has the worst luck of any kid. It’s also about his best friendship with, Gen, a gifted thinker and outlier in the social world of school. Nate isn’t much better in that pursuit but when he survives an unfortunate lightning strike his future changes. He instantly becomes the luckiest boy in his small seaside Florida town.

This would make a great read aloud as the discussion that would follow would be rich with debate. Probability or dumb luck? How do  families deal with change? Does one really have good or bad luck?

After reading this touching story, you’ll feel great for having done so.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  Nate Harlow has never had a lucky day in his life. He’s never won a prize, he’s never been picked first, he’s never even won a coin toss. His best friend, Genesis Beam (aka Gen), believes in science and logic, and she doesn’t think for one second that there’s such a thing as luck, good or bad. But only an extremely unlucky person could be struck by lightning on his birthday… and that person is Nate Harlow. By some miracle, though, Nate survives, and the strike seems to have changed his luck. Suddenly, Nate’s grandpa is the busiest fisherman in their small, beachside town. And Nate finds himself the center of attention, the most popular kid at school, the one who hits a game-winning home run! This lucky streak can’t last forever, though, and as a hurricane draws close to the shores of Paradise Beach, Nate and Gen may need more than just good luck to save their friendship and their town: They need a miracle.


  1. The sub-plot of loggerhead turtles migrating to shore to lay their eggs, and the protective nature of Nate and Gen was a welcome addition to the story. Being quite a ways inland, I’d never learned about the habits of this species.
  2. Nate initially reacts to his change with skepticism, but soon he embraces the good luck and uses it to his advantage. Of course in the process he leaves behind his best friend. Nate is a special kid and his true side is something we hope comes out in all children.
  3. Intermixed between the magic of Nate’s good fortune is a realistic portrayal of life in a sea town. Many memorable characters lift off the pages.
  4. The message about the importance of friendship rings true throughout the story. Young readers will embrace this theme.
  5. The writing of the climatic scene was excellent as the viewpoint switches back and forth to Nate and Gen. Great learning for any writer trying to increase the stakes in their own ending scenes.

FAVORITE LINES: He heard the wail of a siren in the distance. He saw his grandpa run across the road. He felt Grandpa’s heart hammering in his chest. Nate wanted so badly to tell him it was all okay.

For more information visit Bobbie Pyron’s Website


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


THE BLOOD GUARD for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

This debut came out last year, but I only just got to it now. What was I thinking? THE BLOOD GUARD is a fantastic adventure full of twists and turns, humor at the most unlikely times, and a cast of characters you want to know more about.511ThyJmYTL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Thirteen-year-old, Ronan, is a rather clueless protagonist from the start, but as the story progresses he learns about the secrets his parents have kept from him. Seems that his mother is member of The Blood Guard, a secret society that keeps care of 36 people in the world known as the Pure. Their existence basically keep the world from ending. As for his father, that gets a bit more confusing. No spoilers here.

With heart stopping action and some rather gruesome events, I’d reserve this one for 5-8th graders. Yes, it is intense at times, but far from nightmare inducing. Instead, you’ll be racing through the chapters to see what happens next.

There are a few loose ends left dangling with this one, but more is on the way. The next book in this series, BLOOD GUARD #2: THE GLASS GAUNTLET, is released August 18th. I learned my lesson and set out to not wait a year on this one. I’ll have a review next week!

PUBLICATION DATE:2014   WORD COUNT: 63,170        LEVEL: 5.0

FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  When thirteen-year-old Ronan Truelove’s seemingly ordinary mom snatches him from school, then sets off on a high speed car chase, Ronan is shocked. His quiet, nerdy dad has been kidnapped? And the kidnappers are after him, too?

His mom, he quickly learns, is anything but ordinary. In fact, she’s a member of an ancient order of knights, the Blood Guard, a sword-wielding secret society sworn to protect the Pure—thirty-six noble souls whose safety is crucial if the world as we know it is to survive.

Now all those after-school activities—gymnastics, judo, survival training—she made him take, make sense. For suddenly Ronan is swept up in a sometimes funny, sometimes scary, but always thrilling adventure—dashing from one danger to the next, using his wits to escape the Bend Sinister, a posse of evil doers with strange powers. Falling in with two unlikely companions, Greta, a scrappy, strong-willed girl he’s never much liked and Jack, a devil-may-care teenage pickpocket, Ronan is left with only his wits and his mom’s last words of advice: Trust no one.

That’s a lot for an ordinary kid to deal with. But then again, maybe Ronan’s not ordinary at all.


  1. I’ve read many stories of this type where the action is so non-stop that eventually it loses my interest. Not so here as writers of fantasy/adventure novels should take note at the expert way Mr. Roy handles the balance of action and plot development.
  2. The cast of characters are a true blast. It begins with Ronan and Greta but there’s more. The youngest is Sammy, age 11, and the oldest is Jack, who is the oldest teenager ever. We don’t fully understand this group, but I’m sure their characters will become even more fleshed out in the next two books.
  3. I was laughing out loud at many of the unexpected comments. The best come from Jack, who seems to be a leftover from Oliver Twist, and Ronan, who would blend into any middle school setting. They both put a light touch on some intense scenes.
  4. It’s engaging, never boring, and for reluctant readers, it might be the perfect story to get them hooked.
  5. Yes, this is another kids versus the bad’s guy story, but the fun and unique elements of this one make it rise to the top.


Call me Ronan.

That’s my middle name. My first is Evelyn and my last is Truelove, which is kind of a spectacular bummer on all fronts, because I’m a guy. My mom’s uncle Evelyn was from Great Britain, where I guess that name doesn’t sound weird for a boy. He had a house on a huge wooded lake in northern Michigan. So because my mom liked paddling a canoe there when she was nine, she gave me the first name that sounds like a girl’s.

I can’t even begin to explain how wrong this is.


I don’t know that I ever made a conscious decision to become a writer. I just sort of always was. I wrote stories and plays all through grade school, and then film scripts and stories throughout junior high and high school. I can’t think of a time when I wasn’t working on some sort of story or other.” From Carter Roy’s web site.


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


A Cover for My New Critique Group

After my previous critique group disbanded, I began a search for some fellow MG writers to give my manuscripts one more look through. It didn’t take long to find three ladies desperately seeking (my words, not theirs) an MG writer.

I wasn’t sure at first since they were an Adult, YA, and a Picture Book writer, all sporting new works ready to be critiqued: A 120,000 word Historical Fiction, two separate YA contemporary offerings, and two picture books. They’d been together for several years and preferred having the various levels in their group to get a broader scope of opinions. I went ahead and signed on as the newbie.

They are spread around the country so my monthly writer’s group meeting (with to die for snacks)  is no more. Anyway, I couldn’t wait to get started and send the first chapters of two stories that have been revised again, but it seems like the final push as they’ve been critiqued to the max. My instructions came the next day with directions to send a sample book cover for each story. Huh? Was I in the wrong group?

I soon found out this was how they start their critique process, to see how you might interpret a front cover for your story. “Interesting,” I said. “I’ll get back to you on that one.”

I thought about book covers I adore, mostly the simple ones that provide just a hint as to what lies ahead. I don’t like dark covers where details are hard to decipher or busy covers with so much going on my head is spinning. I sifted through some of my favorites:


  1. THE WEDNESDAY WARS provides a window to the main character with his desk slightly tilted. And what’s with the rodent?  This one grabbed me right away.
  2. LIAR AND SPY is a simple cover that says a lot. The title of course, but also the calming blue colors with the one light shining in the top room. So intriguing.
  3. DEAD END IN NORVELT is sadly hilarious. The boy’s head covered by the dead end sign, and how will that plane be a part of the story?

So I went to work on my first cover. It was rather an amazing process, thinking about my story as a whole and trying to capture a new reader’s attention in a single cover. It also made the story feel more complete.  I could see this taking a good portion of August so I kept it simple.  I’m just glad I don’t design book covers for a living. I’ll stick to writing and leave the covers to professionals.