STORY THIEVES for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Here’s the start of another series from author James Riley, although in his bio he claims to be non-existent. I know his writing from the popular Half Upon a Time trilogy. With Story Thieves he has brought forth an intriguing concept – two kids, Owen and Bethany, leap in and out of a book’s pages and experience what is happening in the story they’re in. story-thieves-9781481409193_hr

It gets quite involved as they get separated in one of Owen’s favorite stories (One you won’t find on the bookshelves, but there are quick journeys into real books). I liked the interaction with the two of them staying together so when they split up it was a disappointment.  Multiple third person POV’s are not my favorite. You just get going on Bethany’s story and then it is interrupted for an update on Owen. Alas, with the way the story unfolds it’s the only logical way to present the tale.

Story Thieves is exciting, funny in parts, and got me thinking – each our lives are a story being written. I’ll keep mine to a single POV.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  Life is boring when you live in the real world, instead of starring in your own book series. Owen knows that better than anyone, what with the real world’s homework and chores.

But everything changes the day Owen sees the impossible happen—his classmate Bethany climb out of a book in the library. It turns out Bethany’s half-fictional and has been searching every book she can find for her missing father, a fictional character.

Bethany can’t let anyone else learn her secret, so Owen makes her a deal: All she has to do is take him into a book in Owen’s favorite Kiel Gnomenfoot series, and he’ll never say a word. Besides, visiting the book might help Bethany find her father…

…Or it might just destroy the Kiel Gnomenfoot series, reveal Bethany’s secret to the entire world, and force Owen to live out Kiel Gnomenfoot’s final (very final) adventure.


  1. The strength of this plot will grow as more volumes are completed in this series. I was guessing all the way as to what little tidbits of future conflict lie ahead in books to come.
  2. Bethany and Owen are engaging characters. They make for fine protagonists and both experience change in their way of thinking. Bethany is a tough girl who is in charge and Owen is your typical ‘Oh that would be so cool’ boy. Middle level readers have a couple more heroes to cheer for.
  3. I read an author interview recently and the question was describe your book in one word. I’d have to call this one CLEVER.
  4. Kiel makes for an interesting fictional character pulled from his own fictional story into this one. He’s funny and quirky and I’m sure he’s not going away in future books.
  5. With this being a series, I was not surprised by the many loose ends left on the last page. The dangling plot points serve as a great discussion as to what happens next. I’m never right about these things, but there are some enticing possibilities with the characters. Just what you want as an author of a series – readers debating as to what happens next.

FAVORITE LINES: “You don’t ever speak to me again, do you understand? And if you ever tell anyone about me, I’ll find the deepest, darkest math book I can find, and drop you into the most boring part!”

QUOTE FROM AUTHOR: “But by my nature of being ridiculous, it felt like maybe writing for kids might be a fun choice. I have such a love for my favorite childhood authors that it felt like trying to join a club with all of my favorite people already inside. Though it took a lot of knocking!.” SOURCE


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


Sometimes the Stories Write Themselves

I first met this mopped headed, outdoor loving boy when he was 8-years-old. Not soon after we were matched in the Big Brother’s program. It’s been 15 years since that day and much has happened in both our lives. His though has the makings of a great story. His real dad had disappeared when he was just a toddler. My role was to get together with him weekly and do an activity that he enjoyed. Whether it be fishing, camping, skiing, or playing his beloved game of soccer, his enthusiastic spirit was a joy to observe.

We continued our activities right through high school and he even used my car to learn how to drive. After graduating, he enrolled at the University of Colorado and graduated four years later with a degree in Biology and Environmental Ecology. What was he going to do now with his life and new degree? Certainly not sit in an office away from the outdoors. Several hints arrived when I began getting emails and calls from several environmental organizations.

This weekend my young friend starts his first real job as a research field technician for Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory. His first assignment makes me glad its not me, but he hasn’t stopped smiling: Three months in the rugged northern mountains of New Mexico studying the Mexican Spotted Owl. This is an endangered species and answers to its slow demise hope to come from this study.

I asked him to write a journal of his experience in the hopes of posting his thoughts here. He’ll have plenty of time in the wilderness where his only companions will be another field technician and recordings that they’ll play in the middle of the night to attract the owls to their location.

Good luck, Little Brother. You are on your way!



THE TRUTH ABOUT TWINKIE PIE for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

If you are searching for a book with a heavy dose of drama, look no further. Twelve-year-old GiGi has just moved with her twenty something sister into an apartment in Long Island, New York. 24350601Her past and why they are there without parents begins to unfold. So too does GiGi’s new life in a prestigious private school where friendships she’s never had before take hold.

There are a few mature themes explored here but never expanded into YA territory. Although I liked this book, a few plot twists had me shaking my head. No spoilers here, but when GiGi decides to find her mom, her journey left me wondering why no one noticed. Although the page count looks hefty for MG, many of the pages include recipes that you can savor or skip over. I do know the writing is good when I kept turning the final 50 pages, avoiding what I should be doing instead.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  Take two sisters making it on their own: brainy twelve-year-old GiGi (short for Galileo Galilei, a name she never says out loud) and junior-high-dropout-turned-hairstylist DiDi (short for Delta Dawn). Add a million dollars in prize money from a national cooking contest and a move from the trailer parks of South Carolina to the Gold Coast of New York. Mix in a fancy new school, new friends and enemies, a first crush, and a generous sprinkling of family secrets.


  1. I have relatives in the south and when they are in town they love to show off their cooking. “Oh my” is all I can say after eating way too much. The recipes scattered throughout the story are tied nicely to the plot. I wanted to try each one out. I may start with the Madder’n Heck Smashed Potatoes
  2. GiGi. Yes, there were times I didn’t enjoy this MC, but she has an emotional load to deal with in her short life. I’ll give her some slack and know her good side is going to show through more in the future.
  3. Trip. I believe every school has their own version of Trip. A popular boy kids and parents can’t get enough of in class or out in public. He even jokingly calls himself “The Perfect Boy.” Of course there is a bit more to Trip that is uncovered in the story.
  4. Themes of friendship, family, and forgiveness are brought forth in true authentic seventh grade voices. It had me saying “I’ve heard a kid say that before,” and made me smile at the writing.
  5. We have another book girls should love. Boys… probably not.

FAVORITE LINES: DiDi says Wish Pie should have been named Stop All Your Bellyaching and Just Be Who You Are Pie. When I told her that was the dumbest name I’d ever heard, she said, “People don’t care what you name it, G. They like pie for what’s on the inside.”

QUOTE FROM AUTHOR: “The amount of maraschino cherries it would take to make whipped cream the actual color of Cherries in the Snow lipstick is terrifying, I know this from experience. So I will ask for a little leeway with this bit of fiction.”


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


Middle Shelf Magazine

On Monday I posted my review of Jennifer Richard Jacobson’s novel, SMALL AS AN ELEPHANT. I also mentioned the release of her newest, PAPER THINGS. The very next day I came across an interview with her in the newest issue of Middle Shelf Magazine. Here are the questions MSM asked:

What inspired you to tackle homelessness in PAPER THINGS?

What do you hope readers will gain from reading Ari’s story?

Which of your characters (if any) resemble you?

How has being a teacher helped you as a writer?

Who is your hero?

Who is the most interesting person you’ve ever met?

What is your favorite inspirational quote?

Head on over to Middle Shelf Magazine for her insightful answers. You can also subscribe for free so you don’t miss an issue.

In addition to the fine interview and many excellent MG reviews, this month’s magazine recognizes ALWAYS in the MIDDLE for the second time. My blog will wear the button proudly. Thank you Middle Shelf Magazine.

Best Blogs Badge 2015

SMALL AS AN ELEPHANT for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Last year I wrote and finished a manuscript in close third person. It’s like first person, but you’re more like a camera that hovers near your MC’s eyes. It”s quite elegant writing if done right. Before starting my project I read several books written in this way. One of my favorites was Small as an Elephant.31ybVrekqpL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Since I am ready for a rewrite of my own close 3rd person manuscript, I re-read Jennifer Jacobson’s novel last week to get me in the correct writing frame of mind. I’m glad I did as it allowed me to step back and observe the writing.

Your emotions will twist and turn as you follow Jack trying to find home and his mom who abandoned him. In this day of Amber Alerts and cell phones, I first had reservations about the plot and could a child be on the run for so long. Jack though makes everything very believable.

The author has another family contemporary MG story out last month, PAPER THINGS. It’s back to the more familiar first person POV and I am looking forward to also reading that one soon.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  Ever since Jack can remember, his mom has been unpredictable, sometimes loving and fun, other times caught in a whirlwind of energy and “spinning” wildly until it’s over. But Jack never thought his mom would take off during the night and leave him at a campground in Acadia National Park, with no way to reach her and barely enough money for food. Any other kid would report his mom gone, but Jack knows by now that he needs to figure things out for himself – starting with how to get from the backwoods of Maine to his home in Boston before DSS catches on. With nothing but a small toy elephant to keep him company, Jack begins the long journey south, a journey that will test his wits and his loyalties – and his trust that he may be part of a larger herd after all.


  1. Jack has a love of elephants and his passion is a central theme of the story. Each chapter begins with an interesting quote or fact about this huge creature. I will look at elephants differently from now on.
  2. I had anticipated the ending but not the way it was written. Surprises for sure.
  3. Jack must do things he normally wouldn’t do like steal. He’s very torn though with every decision he must make. Jack’s a good kid thrown into an awful situation.
  4. Mental illness has been explored before in MG books (Waiting for Normal was the last one I read). It brings light to the upheaval brought to families and the emotional scars left. I’m more hopeful for those in need after books of this type.
  5. Jack’s adventure takes him to some unique hideouts. There’s only one that is very appealing – the remaining locations will have you cringing.

FAVORITE LINES:“Of course you can read a book for grown-ups, Jack. You’re a smart kid,” his mom had said. “Read a chapter to me.”

He had, skipping over a bad word or two, and she had smiled.

QUOTE FROM AUTHOR: “I struggled to figure out how Jack, an abandoned boy, would survive – not in the wilderness, but in civilization. I physically traced Jack’s route (every place he visits actually exists) and tried to imagine what the journey would be like for an eleven-year-old, entirely on his own, and with a big secret to keep.”


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



With our fearless leader hunkered down completing her crazy schedule (and new book!), here are the links I have gathered. Hope this helps (I’ll keep updating as I find more sites 3/10/15)

Alex from Randomly Reading (BREAKING STALIN’S NOSE)


Story Time Secrets (MURDER IS BAD MANNERS)


Ms. Yingling (MARK OF THE THIEF)



Andrea L. Mack (STRIKER)


Patricia Tilton (HATTIE BIG SKY)



MMGM2 I’ll throw in these, too. Although not normally in the MMGM bundle, I enjoyed their reviews this week: Wondrous Reads (WITCH WARS) This Kid Reviews Books (THE LEGEND OF THE RIF) Bookworm for KIds (MASIE AND THE MONEY MARAUDER)


I was just beginning to read my third straight MG book and like the previous two it was going to be full of emotion and gut wrenching family situations. Death, divorce, sibling fights, and unthinkable tragedies were the norm for my book selections in February. I needed a break and my go to author for humor, Tommy Greenwald, did the trick in his fourth guide 9781596438408_p0_v3_s260x420from the Charlie Joe Jackson series.

Yes, Charlie Joe is way over the top, but he has a loving family with a sense of humor about his antics. Middle school has brought many challenges for Charlie Joe including spending a lot of time trying to figure out girls. He also is broke and ends up in three money making schemes. He narrates most of the book but does turn over a few chapters to his friend, Katie Friedman (She takes center stage in her own book released last month – KATIE FRIEDMAN GIVES UP TEXTING!)

Reluctant readers will enjoy the variety of chapter lengths (a few are only one sentence long) and any book that has cow jumping in the climax of the story is sure to appeal to many boys and girls alike. To me its like dessert and had me smiling the entire way.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon): Charlie Joe’s weekly allowance just isn’t cutting it and he desperately needs money to buy a Botman, the latest gadget to sweep his middle school. Only catch is, he wants to earn the money by doing the least amount of work possible. After several failed attempts, including a near disastrous day of dog-walking, Charlie Joe hatches a plan to throw his own bar mitzvah (no gifts please—checks only) even though he’s not Jewish. Hilarity ensues when throwing a fake coming-of-age party turns out to be much harder than it looks.


  1. The plot is so ridiculous, but it works because Charlie Joe makes it all seem very plausible.
  2. The parents are loving and fair when CJJ makes mistakes. His older sister is also very supportive. It’s nice to have a family intact in an MG book.
  3. I notice  when boys pick up books they tend to flip through the pages to check how crowded the text is on the pages and for visuals. This series has different fonts and enough pictures to peek their interest. Little do they know its a trap, but a good one.
  4. Charlie Joe spouts his wisdom with eight separate financial tips throughout the book. Some of it actually makes sense, but most is the 13-year-old mind seeing things a bit differently. Funny all the way for sure.
  5. I can already predict the next Charlie Joe guide. It will have something to do with getting the right girlfriend. Things are headed that way with the previous stories so I hope Mr. Greenwald is already going down that writing path.

FAVORITE LINES: Now, usually I loved teacher development day, like all kids, but suddenly I realized how ridiculous it was. What was it that teachers were constantly developing anyway?

QUOTE FROM AUTHOR: “No dogs or cows were harmed in the making of this book.”


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