STORY THIEVES—SECRET ORIGINS for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

The third installment of the Story Thieves series had me puzzled at its conclusion. If this secret-origins-9781481461252_hrwas a trilogy, why weren’t all the plot points neatly wrapped up on the final pages? I must have missed the memo because this is destined to be a five book series. Thank goodness.

If you are new to Story Thieves, don’t begin here. You’ll be totally confused—well, enough that you won’t enjoy it as much. Start from the beginning with STORY THIEVES, a grand adventure. Next move into STORY THIEVES—THE STOLEN CHAPTERS, a wildly imaginative mystery. Only then should you delve into STOLEN CHAPTER—SECRET ORIGINS, set in the comic book world.

Yes, the mystery and adventure threads continue here with Owen and Bethany in search of her father. You’ll find the same level of humor and snappy dialog. There are even a few comic book panels thrown in. Great for avid readers or as a read-aloud, its just hard to resist the creativity that went into the building of this tale.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  Owen and Bethany have sworn off jumping into books for good. But they didn’t make any promises about not jumping through strange portals that lead to a comic book world.

Jupiter City was once filled with brightly costumed superheroes and villains, but nowadays, there’s nothing left but the Dark. Even the villains are terrified of the Dark’s shadows, and most of the heroes have either disappeared or been lost to mind control. The one hero who might have stopped all of this, Doc Twilight, has been imprisoned by the Dark.

But who is Doc Twilight really? And how can Bethany and Owen defeat the Dark without superpowers of their own? They’ll definitely need the help of some old friends and new allies to bring the light back to Jupiter City, and find out the truth behind the Dark.

It all comes back to Bethany’s own secret origins. What really happened when her fictional father disappeared years ago? Who is Nobody, and why is he writing these Story Thieves books? And what kind of supervillain name is The Rotten Banana?


  1. You’ll either groan at The Rotten Banana character or enjoy his side splitting one-liners. He has a bruised past, making him either a super hero or a less appealing villain. The puns are his only slip-up so be warned.
  2. The twist in this series has always been the division between the fiction and non-fiction worlds. It’s a marvelous play on your thoughts as a reader or writer.
  3. No worries if you aren’t a comic book fan. There’s enough going on in the heads of the main characters to keep you reading.
  4. The Dark makes for a fantastic antagonist. He’s protected by shadows to add to his mysterious creepiness.
  5. Strong main and secondary characters. Their personalities shine through with every  dialog exchange. The cover is also one of my favorites.

FAVORITE LINES: Pretty much,” Owen told her, shrugging. “It’s how superheroes get their powers, and if we want to beat the Dark, we’re going to have to play by the same rules he does.”

Bethany just shook her head, her mouth hanging open. “This might be your worst idea since you saved the Magister.”

Owen nodded. “Probably. But I’m right about this, and you know it.”

QUOTE FROM AUTHOR: The fourth book will be in the Choose Your Own Adventure style, with readers getting to choose what Owen should do next, while he fights against those choices. As far as the fifth book, I don’t plan for that one to be in a particular different genre. Number five will mostly just wrap up the series. From a Reading Rainbow Interview


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


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TRAIN I RIDE for Marvelous Middle Grade EXTRA

Here is another heartbreaking, but eventually hopeful tale of a young girl. This time we trainiridehave Rydr, who turns 13 part way through her ride from Palm Springs to Chicago on an Amtrak train. Her life has been full of disappointment and sadness. The train ride is exactly what she needs to bring new purpose and direction to a world she doesn’t understand

The bad parts of Rydr’s past are woven into the present. There are even many humorous moments as she gets to know a scout troop and Neal, the snack bar attendant. I’d reserve this one for sixth grade and up with the many deep issues portrayed. Girls who are experiencing loss of family and home would best benefit from the beautiful writing put forth here.


FULL PLOT (From AMAZON)  Rydr is on a train heading east, leaving California, where her gramma can’t take care of her anymore, and traveling to Chicago, to live with an unknown relative. She brings with her a backpack, memories both happy and sad, and a box, containing something very important.

As Rydr meets her fellow passengers and learns their stories, her own story begins to emerge. It’s one of sadness and heartache, and one Rydr would sometimes like to forget. But as much as Rydr may want to run away from her past, on the train she finds that hope and forgiveness are all around her, and most importantly, within her, if she’s willing to look for it.

  1. A perfect setting on this train. It has all the elements of an Amtrak ride: interesting stories from passengers, the food, and yes, the delays. It reminded me of a few trips I’ve taken on the tracks.
  2. Dorothea serves as Rydr’s guardian while on the train. You might be able to pick her out on the cover. All I can say is give this woman a raise. She goes out of her way to help young Rydr.
  3. Girls these days seem to be getting derailed more and more and books like this one can help them see that they are not alone in their fight for a meaningful life.
  4. Neal, the snack stand attendant, also changes thanks to his friendship with Rydr. Their interactions were some of my favorite.
  5. The scout she befriends, nicknamed Tenderchunks by his troop, is the boy Rydr needs. His compassion and thoughtfulness is something many boys could learn from.

FAVORITE LINES“You guys need all the help you can get, I suppose. And you need to allow girls into your little club. You’ve got too much testosterone.”

“I agree.”

I pause and look at him surprised. “You do?”

“Yeah.” He looks at me like he’s stating the obvious. “It’s like all the boys are cruel and they’re pretending to be virtuous. But I feel like I’m gonna get beat up at any moment.”


“In the ’90s, I would write short stories and send them to literary publications that would pay you in copies, but I never felt like my head was organized enough to manage a novel, because I have a sort of random way about me,” he says. “I don’t know what’s going to come out of my mouth next.”


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

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JED and the JUNKYARD WAR for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

This debut novel has one of the more creative portals to another world. Forget about goingjedandjunkyardwar to the attic. Jed finds his in the form of a tunnel in the back of the dishwasher. The thought even had me looking past the dirty dishes of my own dishwasher. It’s good I had this story because it turns out my dishwasher is one of the boring models that only washes dishes.

This book is the first in a series and you’ll be clamoring for more by the final pages. There’s mystery, a world full of junk, and some pretty nasty characters. Jed carries the load well both in the action packed scenes and in the quieter moments. He slowly discovers the meaning of his own life and the parents who raised him. He’s also from Denver which made me smile.

For those who like a fantastic adventure with a heavy dose of steampunk, you’ll feel right at home. The third person narrative sparkles and the cover is just a hint of what you’ll experience.


FULL PLOT (From AMAZON)  Jed is a regular kid with a normal, loving family . . . that is, if it’s normal for a loving family to drop their child off in the middle of nowhere and expect him home in time for Sunday dinner. Luckily, Jed excels at being a regular kid who-armed with wit and determination-can make his way out of any situation.

At least until the morning of his twelfth birthday, when Jed wakes to discover his parents missing. Something is wrong. Really wrong. Jed just doesn’t realize it’s floating-city, violent-junk-storm, battling-metals, Frankensteined-scavengers kind of wrong. Yet.

A cryptic list of instructions leads Jed into a mysterious world at war over . . . junk. Here, batteries and bottled water are currency, tremendously large things fall from the sky, and nothing is exactly what it seems.

Resilient Jed, ready to escape this upside-down place, bargains his way onto a flying tugboat with a crew of misfit junkers. They set course to find Jed’s family, but a soul-crushing revelation sends Jed spiraling out of control . . . perhaps for good.


  1. Five full page drawings are scattered across the pages. They match the images you already have in your head about this new world.
  2. A magical fantasy that is very different from all the others.
  3. The ending was perfect. A great twist to propel it into the second book while tidying up most of the plot points.
  4. Shay is the youthful female Jed befriends. He along with everyone else can’t quite figure out her quirky behavior. She’s a fun, mysterious character who never does things the way she’s supposed to. Looking forward to more of her in the second book.
  5. It’s a smart adventure boys as well as girls should enjoy–even those who normally stay away from reading about magical worlds.


Four weeks ago, Jed had been like any other eleven-year-old. Sort of. If other eleven-year-olds had mothers who drove them (blindfolded) to the middle of Yellowstone National Park and left them with four dollars and a can of range soda, then, yes, Jed had been exactly like the other eleven-year-olds.

He could still feel the way his mother’s lipstick-slathered kiss had squished onto his forehead.

“Don’t get into trouble now,” she’d said. “Be safe. And watch out for Grizzlies. They’ll eat you in two bites.”

I truly believe that success in publishing is not a game of luck—but rather a reckless, confident, foolhardy, ridiculous, arduous, tenacious, exhausting, grueling charge into the unknown then charging again, and again, and again, and again until the day comes when your earned fortitude lifts you beyond the mountain peak of rejection and into the valley of more work. (Read more at the Jed and the Junkyard War website)


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

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


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Celebrate Women’s History Month with MOTOR GIRLS

First up… The winner of last Monday’s giveaway of THE ONLY ROAD is MS. YINGLING READS. Karen provides wonderful insights into books and she is the most prolific reader I know. Congratulations!



This new title from Sue Macy and National Geographic takes off right away with a forward by race car driver, Danica Patrick. It’s inspirational and I loved her closing line:

I encourage you to embrace being different, and to become the very first you the world has ever seen.

The five quick chapters are filled with stories of the first cars at the turn of the 20th century and how women became a force in the auto industry, both in driving and in production. It takes you through World War I when the auto’s importance dramatically expanded.

Scattered throughout are fun features. Here’s a just a few things I learned…

  • In 1901 New York City, those drivers caught speeding were fined along with their passengers.
  • There were actual etiquette manuals of how to treat your riding guests like where the unmarried ones should sit (back seat).
  • Automobiles were wide open carriages and dressing for a ride was a task: hats, hoods, gloves, and foot protectors to name a few of the inconveniences.
  • Many book series about cars were written for kids: THE MOTOR BOYS, THE MOTOR GIRLS, and THE MOTOR MAIDS. The colorful covers depicted the fun and thrill of driving.
  • The first motor hotel (Motel) opened in California in 1925.

Here’s the official blurb from National Geographic:

Come along for a joy ride in this enthralling tribute to the daring women—Motor Girls, as they were called at the turn of the century—who got behind the wheel of the first cars and paved the way for change. The automobile has always symbolized freedom, and in this book we meet the first generation of female motorists who drove cars for fun, profit, and to make a statement about the evolving role of women. From the advent of the auto in the 1890s to the 1920s when the breaking down of barriers for women was in full swing, readers will be delighted to see historical photos, art, and artifacts and to discover the many ways these progressive females influenced fashion, the economy, politics, and the world around them.

My Final Word:

This is a rare look at a forgotten time in our history. Today, women race cars and head some of the biggest auto manufacturers in the world. You will appreciate the struggles other women went through to open up the auto industry for the pacesetters of the 21st century. Girl power all the way.

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THE ONLY ROAD for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

The topics of border walls and immigration have flooded newscasts and social media the-only-road this past year. Opinions are  strong. THE ONLY ROAD delves into the issue from the other side of the border–actually two borders. It’s about a family making a tough decision and the consequences of their decision. If I were in their shoes, I’d probably make the same choice.

That choice is to send their 12-year-old son, Jamie, and his cousin Angela on a dangerous trek to cross two borders and join Jamie’s older brother in New Mexico. Their town in Guatemala is run by a ruthless gang and even the police are corrupt. You pay this gang to ensure your own safety and young people are forced to join the gang. Declining either will lead to death like it did for Miguel, Jamie’s cousin and Angela’s brother.

The only hope for a safe life for these two is El Norte (the north) and Estados Unidos (United States). The parents make the difficult decision to make a better future for their children by saying goodbye. They prepare them for this trip by sewing the needed money for their crossing in the lining of their pants. A friend smuggles the two in his truck across to Mexico and from their it’s all walking, trains, and bus travel. It’s fraught with danger, who can you trust scenarios, and life threatening situations.

Told in third person, but always close to Jamie, the story would be best for age 11 and up (good for a mature fifth grader, but the stark realities might be too much for an 8 or 9 year old). The POV choice is a good one as it keeps young readers on the outside looking in on the horrific life of two kids on the run.

Spend some time on THE ONLY ROAD. It will be an eye-opening experience and you might never look at the face of immigration the same way.

I have a brand new hardback of THE ONLY ROAD for one lucky reader. Just comment and I will draw the winner at 10 pm EDT on March 16th.


FULL PLOT (From AMAZON) Twelve-year-old Jaime makes the treacherous and life-changing journey from his home in Guatemala to live with his older brother in the United States in this gripping and realistic middle grade novel.

Jaime is sitting on his bed drawing when he hears a scream. Instantly, he knows: Miguel, his cousin and best friend, is dead.

Everyone in Jaime’s small town in Guatemala knows someone who has been killed by the Alphas, a powerful gang that’s known for violence and drug trafficking. Anyone who refuses to work for them is hurt or killed—like Miguel. With Miguel gone, Jaime fears that he is next. There’s only one choice: accompanied by his cousin Ángela, Jaime must flee his home to live with his older brother in New Mexico.

Inspired by true events, The Only Road is an individual story of a boy who feels that leaving his home and risking everything is his only chance for a better life. It is a story of fear and bravery, love and loss, strangers becoming family, and one boy’s treacherous and life-changing journey.


  1. Jamie loves to draw and his sketchbook is the one prized possession that keeps him moving forward. He’s quite good at it, too. He can hardly believe there are schools with art teachers. Art makes a great side story to the one in real life.
  2. Spanish words are mixed throughout but a 20-page glossary fills you in on their meaning.
  3. The story deftly shows how money and power are the core of the immigration issue. If you need something there’s always a person on either side of the border willing to take your money.
  4. Angela takes on the mothering role both for Jamie at times and for a young refugee they meet along the way. Family is of the utmost importance even if you’ve left most of them behind.
  5. I was thankful for what I have, but also sad for those with much less.


No one said anything, but a murmur passed through the car. This was it. This would be how they ended their journey. So much for the first-class cabin with comfy seats and AC. They were no better off than cattle going off to be slaughtered. Except maybe cattle cars had more ventilation. Jamie wondered how long they had, how much oxygen was left in the car. If only Miguel was here. He was the one good at math and science. He would know how much time they had left.

AUTHOR QUOTE (from Alexandra’s Web Site)

The biggest advice I can give anyone who really, really, really wants to write is to keep doing it. Regardless of how many people say that you’ll never make it and that you’re just wasting your time, if it’s what you want to do, THEN DO IT! Same goes for anything else you want to do in life (especially in the arts–dancing, singing, painting, acting, etc). Others may try to put you down, but you are the only one who knows whether you can make it or not. Honestly!


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

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


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I’m catching up with my stack of to be read books, which has me adding more. It’s a never ending stream of great middle grade books coming out this year. Many launch dates have already occurred, but many more are set to arrive over the next nine months.

No way do I have time to read every one. Goodreads list of 2017 Middle Grade Novels totals a mind numbing 378!  I need a more selective list like this one at BRIGHTLY—a more manageable list of 17 books (8 of which are already out).

My own personal list for 2017 has three at the very top:


  1. I love a good dog story every once in awhile as long as the dog stays alive to the last page. My pick for this year is CHESTER AND GUS by Cammie McGovern–April 4, 2017:

Chester has always wanted to become a service dog. When he fails his certification test, though, it seems like that dream will never come true—until a family adopts him. They want him to be a companion for their ten-year-old son, Gus, who has autism. But Gus acts so differently than anyone Chester has ever met. He never wants to pet Chester, and sometimes he doesn’t even want Chester in the room. Chester’s not sure how to help Gus since this isn’t exactly the job he trained for—but he’s determined to figure it out. Because after all, Gus is now his person.

In the spirit of beloved classics like Because of Winn-Dixie, Shiloh, and Old Yeller, Cammie McGovern’s heartfelt novel—told from Chester’s point of view—explores the extraordinary friendship between a child and a dog with a poignant and modern twist.


2. I hid a baby duck in my closet as a kid and tried to raise him. I even had a wading pool in there, but the constant peeping brought both parents to my side after about four hours. This isn’t a story about a duck, but I’m sure I’ll be smiling the whole way. A BOY CALLED BAT by Elana K. Arnold-March 14, 2017:

For Bixby Alexander Tam (nicknamed Bat), life tends to be full of surprises—some of them good, some not so good. Today, though, is a good-surprise day. Bat’s mom, a veterinarian, has brought home a baby skunk, which she needs to take care of until she can hand him over to a wild-animal shelter.

But the minute Bat meets the kit, he knows they belong together. And he’s got one month to show his mom that a baby skunk might just make a pretty terrific pet.

41fco0vin8l-_sy344_bo1204203200_3. I enjoy friendship stories and here comes a tender sounding tale with a unique title, THE SOMEDAY SUITCASE by Corey Ann Haydu–June 27, 2017:

Clover and Danny are the kind of best friends who make each other even better. They’re so important to each other that Clover believes they’re symbiotic her favorite science word, which describes two beings who can’t function without the other. But when Danny comes down with a mysterious illness that won’t go away, the doctors can’t figure out what’s wrong with him. So Clover decides to take matters into her own hands by making lists–list of Danny’s symptoms, his good days, his bad days.

As the evidence piles up, only one thing becomes clear: Danny is only better when Clover is around.

Suddenly it feels like time is running out for Clover and Danny to do everything they’ve planned together–to finally see snow, to go on a trip with the suitcase they picked out together. Will science be able to save Danny, or is this the one time when magic can overcome the unthinkable?


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THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

MMGM LINKS: Shannon, our MMGM leader, is powerless this past weekend thanks to a storm. I’ll post what I find below to help her out:

  1. Completely Full Bookshelf  (WHERE I LIVE)
  4. Melissa Roske (ASK THE AUTHOR: Carter Higgins)
  5. A Bookshelf Monstrosity (MIGHTY JACK)
  8. Kitty Cat at the Library (TALONS OF POWER)
  10. My Brain On Books (TWO NAOMIS)
  11. Mundie Kids (The SILVER MASK)
  12. Jenni Enzor (THE MOZART SEASON)
  13. Tales from the Raven (JASPER AND THE RIDDLE OF RILEY’S MINE)
  14. I’ll add yours here if I missed you!



After reading this heartbreaking story, it made me think of the newest generation in our world. It doesn’t matter what continent they live on, whether they’re rich or live in poverty, or if they even live with their birth parents. I’m positive they would share in the cry for peace and no more use of nuclear weapons.

I first came across THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM after reading a review from Patricia thelastcherryblossomTilton over at her blog, Children’s Book’s Heal. I added it to my TBR list and hoped to read it sometime this year. A short time later I received the book thanks to a gentle nudge from the author and her publisher.

It didn’t make it any easier to read the story when I knew that a horrific bomb would drop on Hiroshima, changing the lives of every resident and the characters I’d spent a few hours getting to know. 80,000 died within hours and 140,000-150,000 died within five years as a result of the atomic bomb.

But there is hope from this tragedy, hope we can learn to treat others with respect and chase away the desire for any more wars. This is a perfect story to place in classrooms studying World War II. It’s a front row seat to the atrocities innocent people endure when war takes center stage. The haunting prose will for sure touch both middle grade readers and adults. I can certainly attest to that.


FULL PLOT (From AMAZON) Yuriko is happy growing up in Hiroshima when it’s just her and Papa. But her aunt Kimiko and her cousin Genji are living with them now, and the family is only getting bigger with talk of a double marriage! And while things are changing at home, the world beyond their doors is even more unpredictable. World War II is coming to an end, and Japan’s fate is not entirely clear, with any battle losses being hidden from its people. Yuriko is used to the sirens and air raid drills, but things start to feel more real when the neighbors who have left to fight stop coming home. When the atomic bomb hits Hiroshima, it’s through Yuriko’s twelve-year-old eyes that we witness the devastation and horror.

This is a story that offers young readers insight into how children lived during the war, while also introducing them to Japanese culture. Based loosely on author Kathleen Burkinshaw’s mother’s first-hand experience surviving the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, The Last Cherry Blossom hopes to warn readers of the immense damage nuclear war can bring, while reminding readers that the “enemy” in any war is often not so different from ourselves.


  1. The additions after the end of the story were interesting and welcome. This included Kathleen’s tender Afterword, a bibliography of other books written on the subject, a glossary of Japanese words used in the story, and statistics about Hiroshima.
  2. Yuriko makes the perfect narrator. She worries about all the same things girls her age today worry about: family, friends, and school. I couldn’t come up with a better way to tell this story.
  3. Instead of reading a fact based article, History comes alive here. Whether this topic is new or old for you, you’ll leave with new knowledge.
  4. Each chapter begins with a radio transcript, words form a war poster, or newspaper headline. They set the atmosphere for what you were about to read. Chilling and effective.
  5. I kept wondering how the author was going to end Yuriko’s story. There were many directions possible but the one chosen couldn’t have been better. It left an image embedded deep in my heart.

FAVORITE LINES:  I took Papa’s hand as the temple bell began striking. It rang out 108 times. Each toll of the bell was intended to symbolize the release of a sin or bad habit, giving a fresh start to the New Year. But with each bong I sat wishing, “Peace, peace, peace…”

AUTHOR QUOTE (from Kathleen Burkinshaw’s blog): 

One of the reasons that I chose not to start THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM on the day of the bombing, but instead give the reader a glimpse into Yuriko’s family life first, was to show readers that even though Yuriko lived in Japan she still had the same love of family, fear of losing loved ones in the war, and enjoyed being with her friends. She acted very similar to and had the same emotions as the children in the Allied countries. I hope that by discussing her family traditions and introducing the readers to a culture they may not know much about, I am giving them more than just a couple of paragraphs in a history text-book about the end of WWII in the Pacific. And by the end of the book, they could discover that the people we might see as the ‘enemy’ are not always so different from ourselves.


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

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


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