MOTLEY EDUCATION for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Congrats to Amanda at A Bookshelf Monstrosity,the winner of a $25 Starbucks gift card in my Golden Cup Year End Celebration Giveaway. Amanda is a librarian and provides a wide variety of reviews on her site.

Now, on to this weeks feature…

I gravitated toward MOTLEY EDUCATION first by the unique title and then by the motleyeducintriguing and creepy cover design. Sixth grade at Motley Junior High brings more than just the 3 R’s. There’s mystery, ghostly spirits, and a great pairing of two memorable characters, Ebony and Fleishman.

The story moves along at a perfect pace. Doses of humor and many plot twists keep the pages turning. The world building in this fantasy is excellent, and you’ll feel like you are right in the middle of the action.

There’s series potential as Ebony Charmed still has much to learn as her importance in the grand scheme is very evident. I’m looking forward to the next chapter!


FULL PLOT (From LEAP BOOKS) Forget having a lively after school social life, Ebony Charmed is fighting to keep the entire afterlife alive.

Ebony’s less-than-average spirit tracking abilities are ruining more than sixth grade at Motley Junior High: School for the Psychically and Celestially Gifted. Her parents argue so much her dad’s moved out. And, even though he’s scared of his own shadow and insists on bringing his slimy, legless lizard everywhere they go, Ebony wouldn’t survive without her best friend, Fleishman.

When Ebony’s Deadly Creatures & Relics’ project goes missing she learns her missing project is one of the keys to saving the spirit world.

Now Ebony and Fleishman must battle beasts from Norse mythology to retrieve her project before spirits are lost, the Well of Urd dries up, and Ebony loses all hope of reuniting her family. But someone lies in wait, and he has other plans…including creating a new world of spirits without them in it.


  1. Fantasy worlds always boggle me with their new words. I was happy to receive a little help before the story began with a welcome Mythical Terms and Creatures section. There’s also more facts in the back along with a quiz to see what role you would play at the school–a Luminary or a Sensory.
  2. Norse mythology is a super backdrop to the action. It made me want to learn more about this body of mythology.
  3. The creatures are fierce but not too scary. They’re unique and ones you’ll still be happy to keep in the book and not behind one of your doors.
  4. The Terms for Enrollment form at the beginning of the story is full of funny lines like “Conjuring spells or energy to get rid of a sibling is strictly prohibited.”
  5. The imagination that went into the construction of the plot is superb. You’ll remember Ebony’s tale long after reading.

FAVORITE LINESThe remainder of the front door shook, and the eccentric door handle rattled with more noise than Ebony thought possible. One piece of the vase rolled toward the bottom of the staircase. The center of the door bloated like the belly of a plump pig.

AUTHOR QUOTE:  I’m a dreamer by nature. I’ve always loved make believe and how it can apply to real life. Being a movie buff as a tween/teen, I used to deconstruct films scene by scene and then add my preferences or touches. Life moved on, and I married. My love for storytelling gained new breath, when I had my kids. They grew and kept me more than busy. But about four years ago, I decided it was time to do more. Thus – the birth to becoming an author was born. (From S.A. Larson’s 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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Author Interview: Eric Kahn Gale


Hi Eric and welcome to ALWAYS in the MIDDLE. Congratulations on your new book, THE WIZARD’S DOG, scheduled to be launched next week. I’ll have a review later this month. First off, how did you decide to become a writer?

I actually first became interested in writing because of acting! In middle school, I was in every single play and musical. I was a waiter in Hello Dolly, a butler in Annie, and a popcorn vendor in State Fair. I was usually in the chorus, and frequently service-people, and I would have been fine with that if I’d thought the plays were a little better. But as much as I loved the art of acting, I didn’t like the material that I was acting.

A friend of mine (who is also a writer today) suggested that we could write our own play to act in. This had never occurred to me. We wrote film scripts and a few short plays. By college, I’d written a full play that I was really proud of, but I couldn’t get a production mounted anywhere. Plays took money to produce, and I was unable to produce any money. If this play were instead a novel, I realized, it would cost me about 10¢ a page to print it out at Fedex office and I would have a complete work of art.

That’s what turned me to book writing and ten years later I’d transformed that play into my second novel, The Zoo at the Edge of the World.

Very cool beginnings! Your books are often based on your own experiences like THE BULLY BOOK. Where did the idea come from for THE WIZARD’S DOG?


My wife and I have an adorable Chow Mix called Bowser. In our first apartment together, I noticed Bowser’s intense fascination with the sounds our neighbors made in the hallway beyond our apartment door. He would stare at the door and get very excited whenever I opened it to let someone in or to go out for a walk.

I don’t know if this is typical, but in our household 30% of the conversation between my wife and me is talking in Bowser’s voice. The voices and concerns of the Bowser character have changed over the years, but early in our relationship I had him speaking like a young British boy who was endlessly fascinated by the Magic Door that sealed our apartment off from the world. I imagined he saw me as a wizard for my door opening and food producing powers and joked about it endlessly.

But it wasn’t until years later when I was desperately searching for a new book premise that this joke came back to me and I saw what fertile ground it was for a story. I’d always dreamed of writing a book from the point-of-view of a dog and it felt so good to finally have an angle from which to approach it.

And it came off great! What challenges did you have writing this fantasy adventure?

Nosewise’s character voice was hard to pin down. He is the first-person narrator of the book and therefore uses language to tell his story, so some anthropomorphizing of Nosewise was necessary. Yet, I wanted him to maintain the point-of-view of a dog, so early in the book, though Nosewise accurately relates events to readers, he doesn’t really understand them. For example, in the first scene, Nosewise’s master Merlin is instructing his apprentice Morgana in the art of casting magical light. Nosewise sees Merlin acting similarly to how he did when he taught Nosewise to Sit, Stay, and Roll Over, and conflates the dog tricks he learned with the spell-casting skills Morgana is acquiring. He wonders why the tricks Merlin taught him are so lame in comparison.

Keeping his narration funny, balanced and plot-driven was very difficult and probably the reason why I rewrote this novel about ten times before finally getting it right.

I’m glad you kept at it! Your main character, Nosewise, sounds like my kind of dog. What are some of his endearing traits that readers will surely become attached to?

Nosewise was born into an abusive household and abandoned like so many dogs in our world today. Merlin rescued him from a dire situation and gave him a loving home that Nosewise treasures above all else. He wants to be in the same room as Merlin at all times, always doing what he is doing, and he hates being separated. That’s why when Merlin is kidnapped, Nosewise travels through danger and over great distances to rescue him.

But he is also frustrated by the limits of a dog’s place in the world. He hates the un-openable doors that block Nosewise from the study when Merlin and Morgana are studying magic, from the food in the fridge, and from the “bathroom” in the garden. He can’t go into all of the places where humans can. Nosewise’s acquisition of magic and the freedom and agency it brings him is one of my favorite aspects of the book.

Now that you are a seasoned veteran in the writing trenches, what aspect of publishing has been the most difficult?

Not writing! Some authors have dozens of book ideas in the pipeline and they just pick up the next one whenever they finish a book. I’m not so lucky. Luckily, I’ve been giving the opportunity to work on a sequel to The Wizard’s Dog so I get to stay in this wonderful world and keep hanging out with these characters. But someday, this series will come to an end and I’ll need to look for another idea!

I love writing everyday, but when you’re searching for a new idea, you’re not really writing. You’re brainstorming. You’re grasping at straws and you’re trying new stuff out. Sometimes you might even think you’ve hit on a great idea only to discard it a day, or a month later. Then you’re right back to not writing. And that is the worst.

Writers will have empathy with your answer. So… Nosewise is up for more adventure. Any hints as to what comes next in The Wizard’s Dog series?

I wish I could write Nosewise novels for the rest of my life, but I think I’m going to have to settle for three. I’m in the process of finishing up The Wizard’s Dog’s first sequel and I’m loving it so much. The fantasy is bigger, brighter and deeper with lots of new Fae characters and an adventure that takes our heroes through several layers of the Otherworld. I can’t say much about it now except that they’re searching for a certain magical cup in hopes of saving a dying friend.

Thank you Eric for your thoughtful answers. You can find more about Eric at his website.

And… Wait, what’s this? Here’s the trailer for THE WIZARD’S DOG:

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SAVE THE SEASON! for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

This new book is patterned after the Choose Your Own Adventure books with a few 51775340brilliant changes. You play the role of Adam, the best hockey goalie on his team, at least until your twin sister begins to show off her skills. The girls team dissolved after not have enough players so she’s joined the guys.

Your goal is a happy ending with a win in the championship. The decisions you make are awarded with Talent Points for confidence, skill, speed, and teamwork. You keep track of them in a chart at the back of the book.  Getting to the big game could be rough depending on the choices you make in your on-ice play and in your relationship with your sister and teammates. You won’t have to read far before you are directed to another part of the story based on your answer to a question or on how many talent points you’ve earned (… go to page 27 or …. go to page 18).

I read the story several times to see how my choices played out. More than once I ended up at the dreaded page informing me my season is over, but I did finally make it to the final page of victory. Reluctant readers and sports lovers will enjoy every moment of this hockey themed book. It’s a fun page turner in more ways than one.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon)  You may have read sports books before, but you’ve never read one like this. You’re the main character, and it’s up to you to Save the Season! As the starting goalie for the local boys’ hockey team, you’ve got a good thing going. At least, you did. Now, you’re living a nightmare: The team’s new backup goalie might actually be better than you, and she’s your sister! Can you improve your skills and help the team become champions? Or will you lose the big tournament? Save the Season! isn’t like other hockey books for kids. With an interactive format, your choices affect the story’s outcome. Plus, it’s a game within a game: Collect points for your decisions in order to upgrade your character’s hockey skills. So read the book by Lisa M. Bolt Simons, collect the points, and choose to win!


  1. There’s a lot of hockey action along with the events of everyday life when Adam is home with family. A very realistic portrayal.
  2. Girls will enjoy this one as much as boys, especially with a discrimination theme running throughout as Anna does not get much playing time on this all boys team.
  3. Keeping track of Talent Points kept you motivated to make the right decision. A great addition.
  4. Hurray for a book with a two parent family. They do still exist in MG!
  5. The decision making continues as you decide which book to read next. There are two more titles in the series featuring soccer (GOAL-MINDED) and baseball (OUT AT HOME).


For a moment, you think maybe he’ll pass it to Ty. On the other hand, Billy’s favorite shot is the five hole–the open space between your legs–because his shot is so quick. Should you play against the pass, or will you concentrate on protecting the five hole? What will you choose to do?

AUTHOR QUOTE:  On December 21, 1972, my dad, the slot pilot with the United States Air Force Thunderbird squadron, slammed into the Nevada earth in his F-4. The crew chief in the back seat, on the final flight of his Thunderbird tour, was killed with him.

My dad was 30 years old; I was 3 1/2.

The only memory I own of my dad are of his hands typing.  It wasn’t until I was writing a book about him that a friend pointed out what should’ve been obvious: my only memory is of my dad typing. Writing. What you do, Lisa.

(For more insights about her life and other books visit Lisa’s Web Page )


If you missed my GOLDEN CUP AWARDS post from last week, CLICK HERE. You will find all of my favorite MG reading moments from 2016 and have a chance to win a $25 Starbucks gift card!


Make a comment below if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them.

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


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Favorite Middle Grade Reading Moments 2016 & a Giveaway

The end of 2016 went by so fast I didn’t have time to post my GOLDEN CUP AWARDS.

cupIt’s not a list of favorite books, but instead recognition for my most memorable middle grade reading moments of 2016 and a giveaway!

One lucky readers will receive a $25 STARBUCKS gift card. All you have to do is post a comment stating your favorite in one of the categories (MG or otherwise) or just state a favorite book you read this past year. I’ll draw the winner on January 12th at 7 pm Eastern Time. You’ll get to fill your own cup with a favorite warm beverage to start off your new year. Good luck!

Without further delay, on to my GOLDEN CUP AWARDS:

  • FAVORITE OPENING LINE: The back of Kyle Hampton’s head pushes hard against my mouth, and I realize this is not how we should have been introduced. (CLAYTON STONE–FACING OFF)
  • FAVORITE ENDING: Tie THE BEST MAN & SOAR (Tracy Edward Wymer)
  • FAVORITE FRIENDSHIP: Topher, Brand, and Steve (MS. BIXBY’S LAST DAY)

Have a safe and happy 2017 full of reading and writing.

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Some breaking news before the review–The Cybil’s Finalists have been announced! Go here for all the nominees. Below are the choices for Middle Grade Fiction. I’ll be helping to judge the winner, but fortunately I have a head start as I’ve reviewed 5 of the 7.

Now let’s get going with my first review of a 2017 title…

Inciting event. It’s the key scene early in a story setting the stage for the problem the main characters try and overcome. In THE JOLLY REGINA there needed to be a 9781419721366_s3good one because Jaundice and Kale Bland are the most boring characters ever created. Of course they wouldn’t have it any other way. They love the boring life. Ever since their parents left and never came back, they darn socks and watch the grass grow.

Then someone is at the door. Inciting event? You bet it is in the form of a pirate who kidnaps the girls and takes them to the Jolly Regina, an all female pirate ship. From then on it’s a rollicking adventure as they learn the ways of pirate life while trying to get their old one back. The mystery of their missing parents also begins to unravel.

The twenty-five chapters are short with snappy dialog and laugh out loud results. This would be a great first book for a child entering the MG years. It’s an easy read that keeps entertaining with each step down the plank.


FULL PLOT (From AMAZON) In the spirit of A Series of Unfortunate Events and the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series, The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters will captivate middle-grade readers looking for humor, hijinks, and a swashbuckling good time. Meet Jaundice and Kale Bland, two sisters who avoid excitement at any cost. Together, they patiently await the return of their parents, who left on an errand years ago and have never returned.

One day, the Bland sisters are kidnapped by an all-female band of pirates. They’re unwillingly swept into a high-seas romp that might just lead to solving the mystery of what happened to their parents. With whimsical illustrations and Roald Dahl–esque wit, The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters is the visually stunning, laugh-out-loud funny start to a new series for readers who are looking for an anything-but-bland adventure.


  1. Kids won’t get some of the references but it had me giggling. For instance… Captain Ann Tennille.
  2. The fun pen and ink sketches throughout also added a smile.
  3. A challenging vocabulary word is defined at the beginning of each chapter along with a drawing depicting the word. A great way to increase comprehension.
  4. A fine supporting cast of characters make the story complete. They each have their own mini-story and you’ll cringe but also maybe grin as to how Peg lost her leg.
  5. This has series potential, and I’m sure we will find Jaundice and Kale back for another adventure. Young readers rejoice! Yo Ho Ho!

FAVORITE LINESThe Bland Sisters look forward most to the evenings, when they entertain themselves by reading the dictionary to each other, then staring at the wallpaper until they fall asleep.

AUTHOR QUOTE:  I discovered I had talent for singing and acting in high school, and that I had little interest in studying, or even attending certain classes. I possessed a master key to the school (don’t ask how I got it) and became an expert at forging certain parents’ and teachers’ signatures, in order to spend time in the school theater, away from Gym class. (To this day, I maintain a pathological fear of being hit in the face with a volleyball.) Eventually one of my friends got me involved with the school paper, which led to many late nights spent laying out each issue (by hand) and eating a lot of Domino’s pizza. The life of a writer began to intrigue me. (For more visit Kara’s Author Web Site)



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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This one was sitting in my pile waiting to be read for a few months. It looked interestingfallingoversideways with the saxophone on the cover, but other than that I had no idea what it was about. It only took a few pages to realize the journey I would be a part of for several hours. It wasn’t a journey I was prepared to take.

You see, this book is about a father who has a stroke and the hardships and turmoil it causes for his wife, son, and daughter, Claire. I had a close relative who went through this a year ago so I was well aware of a stroke patient’s slow come back to living a normal life. Despite not wanting to be dragged through this family’s ordeal, I continued reading because of Claire’s voice.

She’s the eighth grade narrator of the story and her depiction of life as a dancer, band member, and her last year of middle school, made this story even more realistic. Yes, the world of middle school couldn’t have been depicted any better. One would think this might be a YA book (lower YA?), but I’ll peg it as upper MG. The language is bleeped out in creative ways (although you know what they’re saying), and many of the scenes might be best for 6th to 9th graders.

Overall, FALLING OVER SIDEWAYS is a sad, honest, and yes, a humorous story about one’s family struggle to get through an unexpected event.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon) It’s not easy being Claire. (Really.)

Claire’s life is a joke . . . but she’s not laughing. While her friends seem to be leaping forward, she’s dancing in the same place. The mean girls at school are living up to their mean name, and there’s a boy, Ryder, who’s just as bad, if not worse. And at home, nobody’s really listening to her — if anything, they seem to be more in on the joke than she is.

Then into all of this (not-very-funny-to-Claire) comedy comes something intense and tragic — while her dad is talking to her at the kitchen table, he falls over with a medical emergency. Suddenly the joke has become very serious — and the only way Claire, her family, and her friends are going to get through it is if they can find a way to make it funny again.


  1. Tragedy can often bring a family closer as so expertly revealed here.
  2. The author did his research on the treatment and care of a stroke patient. It’s vividly described and accurate.
  3. Older brother Matthew would make an interesting novel subject. He’s the perfect kid who reveals a few chinks in his armor along the way. Great writing to make the secondary characters just as memorable.
  4. A strong family is the centerpiece. Too many books these days have the exact opposite.
  5. The ending is what I wanted and the author delivered. Thank you!

FAVORITE LINES: One thing that keeps me up at night is the fear that the boys in my grade will never mature. Seriously, sometimes I look around my class, at Ryder making disgusting faces at me, or at the two random boys in front of me attempting to burp the Pledge of Allegiance, or at all the other guys hard at work, diligently drawing their private parts in the margins of each other’s homework papers, and I shudder. What if video games, repeated brain injuries from sports, and genetically modified foods have destroyed their higher mental functions?

AUTHOR QUOTE: (from Jordan’s website) My favorite school subject was always English, although I was pretty good at everything except sitting still and being quiet. I’m pretty sure my teachers didn’t know what to make of me, because I got straight A’s, but got in trouble constantly. This didn’t stop until I was in my first semester at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan. The girl of my adolescent dreams was in my freshman English class, and one day when I was making jokes nonstop, she turned to me and hissed, “Why are you so immature?”

At that moment, I instantly became a model citizen.


It’s almost time for the six finalists to be named for this year’s CYBIL’s Middle grade fiction category. The announcement is coming on January 1st. The finalists are great representatives for what makes MG books so good. I’ll be helping select the overall winner  to be revealed on February 14th.


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



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CLICK HERE TO START for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

This fun mystery is a sparkling debut for author, Denis Markell. It has touches of what most young readers love: Humor, mystery, and video games.clickheretostart

Ted is a gamer, especially escape type games. He takes his skills to real life after his late great-uncle leaves him the contents of his apartment. His final words to Ted are: THE BOX IS ONLY THE BEGINNING. KEEP LOOKING FOR THE ANSWERS. ALWAYS GO FOR BROKE! PROMISE ME!

Ted is joined by best friend, Caleb, and a maybe new friend in spunky Isabel. Together they find clues to try and figure out just what Uncle ‘T’ had in mind, or if he’d lost his mind toward the end. There are numerous twists and puzzling clues (none of which I guessed correctly as to their meaning). It’s a non-stop ride right up to the thrilling climatic scenes.

A hint of a sequel is in the final pages. One that would surely be welcome.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon)  What if playing video games was prepping you to solve an incredible real-world puzzle and locate a priceless treasure?

Twelve-year-old Ted Gerson has spent most of his summer playing video games. So when his great-uncle dies and bequeaths him the all so-called treasure in his overstuffed junk shop of an apartment, Ted explores it like it’s another level to beat. And to his shock, he finds that eccentric Great-Uncle Ted actually has set the place up like a real-life escape-the-room game!

Using his specially honed skills, Ted sets off to win the greatest game he’s ever played, with help from his friends Caleb and Isabel. Together they discover that Uncle Ted’s “treasure” might be exactly that—real gold and jewels found by a Japanese American unit that served in World War II. With each puzzle Ted and his friends solve, they get closer to unraveling the mystery—but someone dangerous is hot on their heels, and he’s not about to let them get away with the fortune.


  1. Middle grade readers are introduced to a classic detective story–The Maltese Falcon– as it plays a part in solving of this new mystery.
  2. Isabel is a transplant from New York City to the California setting of this novel. She’s a tough cookie and smart beyond her years thanks to her travels and extensive reading. It was a nice to see a more than strong female character stand up to her new male buddies.
  3. Several historical events are woven into the story. The first is the treatment of Japanese in America during World War II. The second is Nazi War art, pieces that went missing after the war. History is so much fun to read when it is a part of a story like this.
  4. Ted narrates the story in his always perceptive way. He’s a mixed race half Japanese/ half Jewish kid with heart. He’s a friend you’d like to have in real life.
  5. The book has wide appeal from boys to girls and their parents. There’s something here for everyone in a witty, fun, mystery.


Finally, Caleb, master of knowing what not to say, pipes up. “Ted can burp the entire alphabet.” This is said with exactly the right mixture of pride and awe that Caleb must think will make any New York City private-school girl gasp in admiration.

But somehow, amazingly, Isabel looks less than impressed.

I realize it’s time for me to take back control of the situation.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR  (From RANDOM HOUSE Publishers)This is Denis Markell’s first novel, and he took writing it very seriously, playing hours and hours worth of escape-the-room games for research (or so he told his family). He also cowrote an award-winning Off-Broadway musical revue and wrote a few musical comedies for the stage; various and sundry sitcoms; a play with Joan Rivers; an episode of Thundercats; two picture books illustrated by his wife, Melissa Iwai—The Great Stroller Adventure and Hush, Little Monster—and Poser, a memoir of his years as a male model.

(One of these things is not true.)


Make a comment below if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them.

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


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