Middle grade books with animals often have humans sharing the pages. Not so here. 27220549With this new story it’s all about the animals and specifically ones that choose nighttime to roam. The main characters are a fox, a sugar glider, and a pangolin. Wolves, bats, alligators and many more creatures of the night are also a part of this adventuresome undertaking.

THE MYSTERIOUS ABDUCTIONS is the first release of a planned series (Book two, THE OMINOUS EYE, is scheduled for September, 2016). What you will find tucked away on these pages is a huge mystery about animals vanishing, lots of humor, and a plot that zips its way to a satisfying conclusion. The short chapters (33 in all) would make a great read-aloud.

If you have an animal loving reader searching for a fun story, they won’t be disappointed by this unique tale.


FULL PLOT (From THE NOCTURNALS WEBSITE ) The Nocturnals features three unlikely friends: Dawn, a serious fox, Tobin, a sweet pangolin and Bismark, the loud mouthed, pint sized sugar glider. The stories all play out in their nighttime world with teamwork, friendship and humor in every adventure.

In The Mysterious Abductions, the animals form a brigade of the night after a random encounter with a blood-thirsty snake, and just in time because something is threatening their night realm. Animals are disappearing without a trace. Together with the help of a wombat, a band of coyotes and many others, Dawn, Tobin and Bismark journey to the depths of the earth in a wacky, high stakes game that will determine all of their survival.


  1. After reading the tale you will have learned many characteristics of animals and their unique behavior. It’s not a listing of facts but instead are woven into the story. I now feel like an expert on animal behavior.
  2. The importance of friendship and family is a super theme evident throughout.
  3. A strong core group of characters, each with distinct personalities, should keep this series interesting especially for the intended audience.
  4. The book jacket hides the cover with only ‘The’ carried over. An extra bit of fun that had me smiling at the creativity.
  5. Surprises pop up at unexpected times. You’ll find a nocturnal brigade and a life or death hockey match as an example. There’s also a fun twist when the animals speak short foreign phrases.

FAVORITE LINES: “Since I am the bravest soul of us all,” said the sugar glider, “I shall gallantly remain in this tree – in its precarious limbs, at its most perilous pinnacle – while the two of you resolve that, um, teensy trouble down below.” He cleared his throat and stood tall. “Farethewell!”


Tracey Hecht Photo Credit Bailey Carr PhotographyTracey Hecht is a writer and entrepreneur who has written, directed and produced for film. Tracey currently splits her time between New York City and Oquossoc, Maine with her husband, four children and three pets—none of which are a sugar glider. This is her first middle grade series.

Illustrator KateLiebmanKate Liebman is an artist who lives and works in New York City. She graduated from Yale University, contributes to the Brooklyn Rail, and has shown her work at multiple galleries. She grew up in Santa Monica,  California. This is her first children’s book.

See more at THE NOCTURNALS website including some great resources for teachers.




Make a comment if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them. Just click on the Comments word below.

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


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cover-the_screaming_statue     23277166

Congratulations to SUSAN OLSON. She is the winner of the Curiosity House prize package. I will be sending her book one and two along with a nifty set of character cards. Susan is an author and reviews time travel books on her blog, TIME TRAVEL TIMES TWO. Enjoy!

I’ll be back tomorrow with a review of THE NOCTURNALS.

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This second book in the Curiosity House series is released next week. You can find my cover-the_screaming_statueinterview with one of the characters, Sam-Strongboy, and the two authors by clicking the link HERE. Comment either here or on that post (or both for a double entry) to have a chance to win a nifty deck of Curiosity House character cards and a hardback edition of  book one, CURIOSITY HOUSE: THE SHRUNKEN HEAD & book two, CURIOSITY HOUSE: THE SCREAMING STATUE.  I can’t wait to draw the lucky winner’s name on May 1st.

But first… on to the review of this welcome sequel.

All the favorite kid performers return: Pippa and her mind reading ability, Max the girl who throws an accurate knife, Thomas a boy who makes like Gumby and contorts into any small space. And of course Sam, the boy who is frightfully strong. All is not well at Dumfreys’s Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders. The audiences have gotten way too small at their daily performance, and the place is in danger of closing.

New to the cast is a real head turner– Howie. He has more up his sleeve than being able to show off his owl like skills.

There’s humor and mystery at every turn and you will for sure be wanting more. Yes, one major escape ensures us book three can’t be far behind. In the mean time enjoy this unique and fun series by a pair of collaborators who know each other well.

FULL PLOT (From-THE CURIOSITY HOUSE WEBSITE)Four orphans with extraordinary abilities and questionable pasts—Pippa, Sam, Thomas, and Max—are happy to be out of harm’s way now that the notorious villain Nicholas Rattigan is halfway across the country in Chicago. But unfortunately their home, Dumfreys’s Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders, is in danger of closing its doors forever.

But their troubles only get worse. The four friends are shocked when their beloved friend, famous sculptor Siegfried Eckleberger, is murdered. As they investigate, they find clues that his death may be tied to the murder of a rich and powerful New York heiress, as well as to their own pasts.

In this second book in the exceptional Curiosity House series by bestselling author Lauren Oliver and shadowy recluse H. C. Chester, the four extraordinary children must avenge their friend’s death, try to save their home, and unravel the secrets of their past . . . before their past unravels them.

This is the second book in the series and so boasts many wondrous and mysterious things inside, such as:

  • Howie, the “owl boy,” whose head turns just about all the way around
  • A mean but important house cat
  • Some perfectly ghastly wax sculptures
  • A very thin boy named Chubby
  • An awful mechanical leg

It continues not to have:

  • A cautionary tale about running with scissors
  • A list of time-consuming chores
  • Nutritious and decidedly not delicious vegetables
  • A perfectly sweet bedtime story about a wayward bunny
  • Two wet kisses on the cheek from your Aunt Mildred


  1. The murder and mayhem is not too dark and perfect for middle grade eyes. The suspense and unique characters will have even the most reluctant readers curious.
  2. The setting is rich with historical references. Set almost 90 years ago in one of the most exciting cities then and now: New York City.
  3. The whimsical and unique drawings continue to amuse and inspire one to read on.
  4. The climatic scene caught me by surprise and as intended it had me furious but also itching to get my hands on book three.
  5. You may find yourself with a favorite character but for me they each had their own charm and likability. Each one grows in your understanding of their life as someone who doesn’t fit the mold.


Mr. Sadowski blinked rapidly, his eyes passing back and forth between all four children. “The funeral service–yes, yes. Of course. How very kind. But you see, I can’t let you inside. Not without consulting Aaron.”

To this, even Max had no immediate reply.

“But isn’t Aaron–oof.” Pippa elbowed Sam in the stomach before he could say “dead.”

A TEACHER RESOURCE (From the book’s website)  Curiosity House touches on themes of belonging, difference, and family, all while being set against a bustling 1930s backdrop that provides perfect opportunities for the study of American history. We hope you’ll consider working Curiosity House into your lessons using the following resources: (Click here for the two free downloads)


Make a comment if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them. Click on the comments link below.

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CURIOSITY HOUSE: THE SCREAMING STATUE Blog Tour for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Welcome to a special blog tour stop for CURIOSITY HOUSE: THE SCREAMING STATUE. cover-the_screaming_statueOther tour stops this week include  MIDDLE GRADE MAFIA  (Tuesday); LITERARY HOOTS (Wednesday); UNLEASHING READERS (Thursday); and ME, MYSELF, AND I (Friday).

Last year I featured a review of the exciting first book, CURIOSITY HOUSE: THE SHRUNKEN HEAD.  I’m holding off my review of the second book until tomorrow, April 26th, because today I have two special interviews and a giveaway.

First up is a unique chat with Sam, the strongest twelve-and-three quarters-year-old in the country, possibly the world.  He once lifted a car–one-handed–to save a dog trapped beneath it, and in fact he loves animals and is desperate for a pet (preferably a dog, cat, or rabbit, but he would even be happy with a turtle).

Sam plays a key role in the CURIOSITY HOUSE Series as one of the young residents and performers at Dumfrey’s Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities, and Horrors.He’s quite tall for his age and very polite. He extended his hand for us to shake, but quickly pulled back fearing he would crush my fingers. Thanks for the heads-up thinking, Sam. Now on to the interview:


Your ability is astounding. When did you first realize you had unbelievable strength?

I’ve known since I was a kid–I mean, for as long as I can remember. When I was a toddler I used to play airplane with Mr. Dumfrey, except I was the one holding him up.

What is the most unusual thing (or person) you have ever lifted?

One time I had to lift a five-ton industrial mixer at a bakery in Queens to find a lady’s earring. I smelled like powdered sugar for days.

Are there drawbacks to being so strong?

Oh, yeah. To be honest, most of the time, I hate it. Mr. D says I can’t have a pet, not even a turtle, because he’s worried I might hurt it. I’m always breaking things. And forget hugs–I might squeeze the life out of someone without meaning to.

What tips do you have for your young readers who want to increase their own strength?

Get sleep! I sleep a lot.

If you could trade your ability with one of the other curious residents of Mr. Dumfrey’s Dime Museum, whose ability would you most like to have?

Definitely Pippa’s.  I’d love to know what Max was thinking. I mean, I’d love to know what lots of people are thinking, but Max too, for sure.


Thanks Sam and good luck with figuring out Max. If you’re ever out my way in a blizzard, I’ll hire you to help with snow removal.

Exit Sam and right on cue are the inspiration behind this imaginative and fun series… Lauren Oliver and H.C. Chester.


Welcome to ALWAYS in the MIDDLE. I enjoyed talking with Sam. What do you like about writing for a young audience?

I fell in love with reading when I was a “middle grade” reader, and to a certain extent writing for that age group feels like a joyful continuation of my first explorations into books and reading.

You have collaborated on two books in the Curiosity House Series, what approach did you take to ensure your ideas, writing style, and creativity were each represented?

We actually had a fairly regimented way of working. Mr. Chester did the research and structured the book, providing invaluable insights about the way the mystery should unfold, and I simply wrote under his direction. Then he edited, and reedited, and reedited….

How long did it take to write this sequel from inception to release?

The book took about 8-10 months to write. But as is typical in publishing, it took another year and a half to be released!

Which character’s ability at Mr. Dumfrey’s Dime Museum would you most like to have?

Hmmm. I think that being a knife thrower would be pretty cool, actually!

What advice do you have for kids (big or little) who want to be future published authors like yourselves?

Practice! And read as much as you can.

Thank you Lauren and H.C.! Be sure to visit their superb Curiosity House website.

Finally, I have an awesome giveaway – Hard back copies of THE STOLEN HEAD and THE SCREAMING STATUE… plus a nifty set of playing cards featuring the residents and curious items from the museum. Just comment below either today or on the review post tomorrow. I’ll announce the winner  May 2nd. Good luck!


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


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Giveaway Results

9781454917519_cvrThe winner of Cici Reno#MiddleSchoolMatchmaker is Sue Kooky. She reviews books on her blog, KITTY CAT AT THE LIBRARY.  Enjoy the book and thanks to all those that commented.

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National Geographic Shines with New Releases

Happy Earth Day tomorrow!

Did you know 2016 is the 100th year anniversary of the founding of the National Parks Service? natparksTime sure flies! And, through the Every Kid in a Park program, 4th graders can visit ANY national park for free though August 2016!

This week is National Parks Appreciation Week, but National Geographic is celebrating all year with new explorations of the power of the parks. What better way than to begin with this gorgeous handbook – NATIONAL PARKS GUIDE U.S.A. by Sarah Wassner Flynn and Julie Beer.

The photography is stunning and your favorite park is easy to find. Arranged by geographic location, parks are introduced with four pages of information, photos, and a map. Here’s a sample:

national parks

The guide also aims to raise preservation awareness, offering conservation tips, and detailing the best parks in which to spot endangered species like gray wolves and California condors. Packing checklists and suggested bicycling and spelunking excursions round out this comprehensive guide.

Kids and adults alike will certainly be rewarded by the many fun facts. The only fights you’ll have in the car now is who gets to read this fantastic guide first.

I have one copy to give to the first person (U.S. Resident only) who gets this answer correct in the comments below: According to this guide, what National Park is known for its UFO sightings?


Need more guides? I have two courtesy of National Geographic!

BIRDS by Julie Beer and ROCKS & MINERALS by Nancy Honovich. Both are a part of the National birdsGeographic KIDS ULTIMATE Explorer FIELD GUIDE series. They are durable and portable – just right for the pocket or backpack.

BIRDS is loaded with facts. Your kids kids will learn how, when, and where to spot birds in their own backyard. In full color throughout, my favorite parts were the special features called Birdtastics. Here you will find a closer look at unique bird habitats, strange bird behaviors, birds that are now extinct and much more.

rocksROCKS AND MINERALS is equally compelling. This guide will spill all the secrets for the explorer in your house. The result will be true rock hound superstars with everything they dig up on excursions or field trips. The ground we walk on will have new meaning with this handy guide.

Colorful, informative, and just hard to put down.

I also have one copy of each of these guides. They will go to the first U.S. resident who can answer either or both of these questions in the comments below:

ROCKS & MINERALS GIVEAWAY:  What mineral is often mistakenly assumed to be formed from coal, but in reality it forms in an igneous rock called peridotite? Sarah S. correctly submitted Diamonds and is the winner of the Rocks & Minerals book.

BIRDS GIVEAWAY: What bird is known as the Clown of the Seas? (Violet Tiger correctly guessed The Puffin and is the winner of the Birds’ book!))


If you have a passionate belief in the power of science, exploration and storytelling to change the world then find out more from National Geographic. You will find great articles, thousands of videos, pages just for kids, and so much more. A great resource!



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A Chat with Kristina Springer- Author of CiCi Reno:#MiddleSchoolMatchmaker

I posted my review of CiCi Reno:#Middle School Matchmaker yesterday on Marvelous Middle Grade Monday. You may comment on that post, or today’s, or both for a chance to win a giveaway of this great new title. (U.S. and Canadian residents only on this one). I’ll announce the winner on April 25th.

Author Kristina Springer was gracious enough to stop by on her busy launch day toKSpringer_Color touch base on a variety of topics.

Hi Kristina and welcome to ALWAYS in the MIDDLE on a very special day – the release of your new MG novel CiCi Reno: #MiddleSchoolMatchmaker. You aren’t new to book birthdays going back to your first, THE ESPRESSOLOGIST (Oct. 27, 2009, and many more after including MY FAKE BOYFRIEND IS BETTER THAN YOURS (Aug. 10, 2010) and JUST YOUR AVERAGE PRINCESS (Oct. 11, 2011). How is this launch for Cici the same or different from your other books?

Thanks for having me! This launch feels MUCH different for me. For one, I kinda feel like I know what I’m doing now. When my first book, The Espressologist, came out I did hardly any promotion. I think I thought magical marketing fairies would do all of the work and while there is a great publicity team with your publisher (Sterling Children’s has the BEST!), authors have to also do a lot of promotion. I also feel like my writing has improved a lot as well since then. The Espressologist was only the second book I ever wrote (the first one was never subbed to publishers). Since then I’ve written a dozen books and another half dozen partial books.

9781454917519_cvrCici Reno’s helpful personality, her modern girl outlook on the middle school world, and her love of yoga had me cheering for her throughout the story. Where did you come up with the unique personality traits for Cici?

Cici is a compilation of a lot of different characters I know (and don’t know). There are bits of her that are similar to my daughters and their friends and my nieces. But then I also wanted her to have the kind of confidence a Gilmore Girl would have (I’m obsessed with the Gilmore Girls!). There’s also a piece of her reminiscent of a yoga instructor I had who was just really chill and laid back. I wanted Cici to be this cool kid who I’d love to have had as a friend in middle school.

How did you approach writing Cici Reno: #MiddleSchoolMatchmaker? Did you have the entire plot in your head and let the words flow or did you just write and hope the story worked itself out?

I tend to be able to see the beginning and end of a book right away. So I always kinda know where I want to go with it. With this book I didn’t make a strict outline ahead of time but I would jot down scenes as I thought of them and throw those all into a notes file in Word. Then as I wrote the book I’d read through all of my notes for ideas on where I wanted to go with each chapter and loosely organized it there. The last thing I did was figure out the yoga poses that Cici would tweet at the beginning of each chapter because I wanted the pose to help with a situation that happened in that chapter.

Will there be more from Cici in future books? And/or… what are you working on now?

Yes! And I’m so happy about this—I love Cici! I just finished outlining book 2 in the Yoga Girl series and I’ve written the first few chapters.

I read your complete bio and you went down many roads before becoming a MG and YA writer. From the experiences you’ve had getting to this point as a successful author, what advice would you give to young aspiring writers?

I would tell them two things: 1) Write. You have to get something down on the page, even if it’s terrible writing. You can always go back and fix it later. Try not to get hung up on your first draft. And 2) Be stubborn and believe in yourself. There’s so, so much rejection in this industry and you just have to let it roll off your back and keep trying. With the first young adult book I wrote I had queried 100 agents (not all at once—in batches of ten). I signed with the 87th agent I’d queried. That’s a heck of a lot of people telling me no. And then we didn’t even send that book out to publishers. By that time I had written The Espressologist and was really excited about it. We sent it out right away and within a few weeks had an auction between four publishing houses.

A few just for fun:

Favorite time of the day to write? 11am-2pm

Favorite Middle Grade word? Like

Favorite yoga pose? Savasana (aka, corpse pose). My daughters tease me because it’s basically lying on your back, relaxing, but it’s always the last pose of the class and my very favorite—love it!

Favorite social media site?Ooh, it’s a tie. I adore Twitter (@TinaSpringer) but I also newly love Instagram. I’m obsessed. I only got actively into it about six months ago but I’m super hooked.

Favorite part of a book launch?

My very favorite part will always be first seeing the book on the shelf at the bookstore. But I also love giving stuff away and I will be giving out Cici Reno themed prizes packs all day on twitter, Instagram, and facebook on 4/19.

Twitter: @TinaSpringer



Thanks for taking the time to chat. Good luck with the launch and have a fun day, Kristina.

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