The dust has settled and I’m happy to announce the three winners of my MMGM and Blog Anniversary celebration:

First Name drawn with their choice of three prize packages:

Joanne R. Fritz

Two runners-up will receive one of the remaining prize packages:

Patricia Tilton

Dorine White

I’ll be contacting each of you soon. Thanks to all who entered. Keep visiting and your name may be drawn next time.

See you next Monday when I will review one of my favorites of 2016.

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MMGM and Blogging Anniversary Celebration Giveaway

Whoopee! It’s my third year anniversary participating in Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous MMGM2Middle Grade Monday and my four year blogging anniversary. What a fun ride with more to come. I’m so grateful to the many readers who stop by on regular basis.


It’s time for a huge giveaway to say thanks. The best part is if you have ever visited ALWAYS in the MIDDLE then you are already entered. I’m giving you an entry for each month you commented from September, 2015 to August, 2016. That could be 12 entries. If you want a lucky 13th or are new to the blog and want to enter then just comment on this post.

Three lucky readers will receive one of these prize packages. The first name drawn will have their choice and the other two will randomly receive one of the remaining prize packages. The titles are ones I have reviewed in the past or will in the future (Click on an image to read a previously posted review). Drum roll, please, as I am thrilled to reveal the special celebration giveaways…

Prize Package 1A: A $25 Amazon Gift Card and these four books–






Prize Package 1B: A $25 Amazon Gift Card and these five books– (Thanks to Author Kevin Gerard for the donation of the entire Diego’s Dragon Series!)



Prize Package 1C: A $25 Amazon Gift Card and these four books–






There’s only one word for this celebration – spectacular! happy-face-clipart-y4T9gyjiE

I’ll draw the winning names at 2pm Eastern time on Thursday, August 25th.

Thank you for another great year and good luck!

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My Favorites so far…

(Just four days remain until my big Anniversary Celebration. Come back on Monday, August 22nd for all the fun details.)

Today’s post is also about the future. It’s time to gear up for another year of school, cooler temperatures, and the upcoming CYBILS.

Nominations open October 1st. Each of us may only nominate one book in each category so I hope many others share their love for the growing list of my favorite books in the Middle Grade Fiction and Speculative Fiction categories of books released since October 16th, 2015. These 11 make my short list, which will most likely grow to a larger list of 20 as I continue to dive head first into the many fine titles of 2016.










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JOSHUA AND THE ARROW REALM for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday


I’m thrilled to unveil the trailer for book two in Donna Galanti’s fantaJoshua-and-the-Arrow-Realm-ebook-663x1024sy adventure Lightning Road series, JOSHUA AND THE ARROW REALM, arriving August 30th. The Midwest Book Review calls book one, JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTNING ROAD, “a heart-pounding thrill ride full of unexpected twists and turns from start to finish.”  Grab book one for just $.99cents now through September 20th.

Be sure to enter the fun giveaway package at the bottom of this post that includes a paperback of book one, poster of the Lost Realm, bookmarks, and a $25 B&N gift card (U.S. only). Sign up for Donna’s Thunderclap book release campaign and help her zap the world through social media with her lightning message!

Wow! And here are my thoughts on this second adventure…

Last year I reviewed the first book in the Lightning Road series, Joshua and the Lightning Road.  I’m always a bit leery of sequels as the second book often falls short of the lofty heights set in the first one. No worries here. JOSHUA AND THE ARROW REALM increases the momentum with an exciting non-stop story line of Greek heroes, hungry beasts, and betrayal from the past and future.

From the first chapter I felt like I was on a roller coaster never knowing when the next twist or turn would happen. You can’t get off, nor do you want to. Joshua is faced again with who he is and how he belongs. Just what is his destiny? He just wants to be a normal kid… but he also knows it’s not possible if what some people are saying is true. He is the one who can bring peace to both this new world and his own… the oracle.

You could jump right into this one as the past adventure is explained throughout, but you’d miss out on the world building and character arc so gracefully laid out. I’m highly anticipating the next road Joshua travels.


On August 30th take the lightning road back to a world of beasts, bandits, and heroes in book two of the Lightning Road series. Join Joshua in a new fight for power in the Arrow Realm. Can Joshua and his friends conquer an unstoppable evil?

Joshua never thought he’d return to the world of Nostos but is soon called to the Arrow Realm to free his imprisoned friend, King Apollo, kidnapped as a power pawn in Queen Artemis’s quest to conquer every realm. With his loyalties divided between our world and theirs, Joshua wonders whether he alone can restore magic to the twelve powerless Olympian heirs and save all those enslaved. But when he finds himself abandoned in his quest, he fears he cannot only save those imprisoned—but himself as well.

“Fast-paced and endlessly inventive, Joshua and the Arrow Realm is a high-stakes romp through a wild world where descendants of the Greek gods walk beside you, beasts abound, and not everything—or everyone—is as it seems.” ~ Michael Northrop, New York Times bestselling author of the TombQuest series


  1. I hear the same word from kids describing books they do not like. “Boring” is not something that could ever be uttered about Joshua’s tale. It’s smart, gripping, and one thrilling ride.
  2. French speaking Charlie is the perfect friend for Joshua as they both embark on this adventure. Charlie speaks in honest terms no matter what danger lies ahead.
  3. Family is an important element throughout. Joshua is not sure who his father is or if he has a sibling. Are they even alive? They mystery will continue.
  4. Joshua internal thoughts about his abilities are portrayed in a believable way. He’s scared and curious at the same time. Very typical of an early teen.
  5. High stakes for sure. There’s a world he doesn’t fully understand, near death at every turn, and trapped children Joshua must save. The entire experience will have your heart racing.



A faint rumble groaned through the whistling wind.


Thunder ripped the sky overhead.

Charlie reached the frozen pond, spinning across it. “Woohoo! I win! You Americans can’t beat us at speed!”

Lightning flashed. It zinged across the pine trees like brilliant sunlight. A seed of terror flickered inside me.

Boom! Boom!

Another flash scorched the sky.

Charlie’s smile fell to a frown as he raced across the ice, peering up into the swirling clouds.

We both knew what lightning could do.

Suddenly, sneaking outside for a moonlit sled ride before Bo Chez got home from his monthly poker game didn’t seem so smart.

The sleet turned to snow. Icicles flew off trees like glass splinters, shattering on the hard snow. As I shot toward the pond, a tree on the edge moved. Its branches swayed in the swirling snow.

It wasn’t a tree, but a girl! She stumbled through the mad flurry, arms outstretched.

“Charlie, look!”

Gusts snatched the words away as my sled hit the ice and careened out of control on the bumpy surface. The girl staggered and fell onto the pond. I twisted my sled away to avoid hitting her and smashed right into Charlie. With a yelp, he pulled me up, and we clumped toward the girl. We lifted her up, half dragging her back up the hill to the house in the pelting snow and sleet.

“Who is she?” Charlie yelled.

“No idea,” I yelled back.

He said more, but his words were lost in the wind.

My lungs burned with the cold and effort. There was only one reason someone would appear with lightning—to steal us. This girl might appear like a waif unprepared for a storm but I couldn’t trust that’s all she was.



DonnaDonna Galanti is the author of The Element Trilogy (Imajin Books) and The LightningRoad series (Month9Books). She attended an English school housed in a magical castle, where her wild imagination was held back only by her itchy uniform (bowler hat and tie included!). There she fell in love with the worlds of C.S. Lewis and Roald Dahl, and wrote her first fantasy about Dodo birds, wizards, and a flying ship. She’s lived in other exotic locations, including Hawaii where she served as a U.S. Navy photographer. She lives with her family and two crazy cats in an old farmhouse, and dreams of returning one day to a castle. Donna is a contributing editor for International Thriller Writers the Big Thrill magazine and blogs with other middle grade authors at Project Middle Grade Mayhem. You can find her at



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


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Sports Titles for the Future Olympian

The Olympics in Rio are well underway. The events are fun and exciting to watch and the effect is often a good one for kids. They become more active and their interest in sport’s related books takes off. National Geographic Kids has two great ones to keep the budding superstar busy.

The first is WEIRD BUT TRUE! SPORTS. Here’s the official run-down from AMAZON:

Did you know that the average NFL team produces some 5,500 pounds of 61twr0+u9TL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_laundry per WEEK, or that a table tennis ball broke the sound barrier, or the Olympic torch has been to space? Weird But True Sports, the newest installment in the wildly popular Weird But True series, contains 300 wacky sports stats, facts and stories — all coupled with big, bright, bold photos and graphics.   From a national marbles tournament to the record for the most dogs on a surfboard, Weird But True Sports not only reveals the craziest info about football, baseball, hockey and soccer, but also delves into the more obscure sporting events out there (like the Rabbit Grand National in North Yorkshire England!).  WBT Sports is also a bit of a cultural trip, as it features sporting events from around the world like the Asian sport of Sepaktakraw, the Japanese sport of Bo-taoshi and the Indian game of Kabaddi.  The book is also packed with lots of fun Olympics trivia as well — like the fact that olympic gold medals aren’t actually made of gold — they are mostly silver!  

I read this in between breaks watching the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics. I smiled (the record for the number of dogs on a surfboard is 17, and yes there is a picture), shook my head (there’s an annual race in North Carolina where participants run 2.5 miles, eat a dozen donuts, and race back to where they started), and my jaw dropped several times at many of the weird facts (A study found that a 3-hour baseball game involves an average of just 18 minutes of actual play time).

All 300 facts can be read in order or start with the handy Factfinder Index to point yourself to your favorite sport. Entertaining and hard to put down this would be great on car trips. Teachers beware : the kid who is suddenly engrossed in his or her math book might have a copy of WEIRD BU T TRUE  tucked inside!

The companion offering, EVERYTHING SPORTS by Eric Zweig is a full size book filled50505596 with facts and splashy, colorful photos that put you smack in the middle of the action. Many span two full pages. There are four chapter categories to organize the action: SPECTACULAR SPORTS; DRIBBLE, DRIVE, HUSTLE; A WORLD OF SPORTS; and SPORTS FUN. In the back is an interactive glossary with a test to check on your sports smarts, where to find out more, and an alphabetical index.

Here’s the official word: Perfect for reluctant readers and featuring Olympics-specific spreads, this book has it all.   From archery to zip lining this book covers EVERYTHING about the world’s most popular, most obscure and most grueling team and individual sports. Dozens of athletics pursuits are profiled and the book covers sports history, rules and regs, and training, and and a Hall of Fame that profiles the giants in downhill skiing, hockey, gymnastics, football and more.  There is even a quiz kids can take to see if they’d make a good ref.  Packed with big, bold pictures and graphics and featuring a diverse array of athletes (men and women of all races, young and old,) Everything Sports not only includes the most popular sports such as baseball, basketball, football, soccer, tennis, but also features the more extreme and quirkier sports like parkour, wakeboarding, fencing, curling, and table tennis. 

Once the Olympic closing ceremonies take place there will be no need for withdrawal. Just pick up both these fun and memorable titles. A springboard for your own Olympic size dreams.


Only 11 days until my anniversary celebration giveaway. It’s the biggest one yet. Many of these summer National Geographic Kids books are included. Time to go… I need to get back to watching the Rio Summer Olympics.

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DR. FELL AND THE PLAYGROUND OF DOOM for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

If you ever see this guy move into your town – pack up and get out of there. Dr. Fell bringsdrfell-cover creepiness to a whole new level. Life as you know it is pretty much over once he moves into a neighborhood and casts his weird spell over the residents. This is so you can’t comprehend what he’s really up to with the little ones or urchins as he calls them.

Everyone seems to be in love with this weird man especially after he builds a massive playground structure in his front yard that children gravitate toward. It’s so dangerous that injuries occur daily. Breaks, bruises, and near death experiences are cured in quick fashion by the good doctor. How is he doing this and just what is his real purpose?

Fortunately for the reader there are three kids who aren’t under his spell. Best friends Gail and Nancy, along with Gail’s younger brother, Jerry. They pursue an answer to the strangeness and get in a little deeper than any of them want. The mystery unravels in this 27 chapter tale that may not be the best to read at bedtime. No nightmares for me but those a bit younger might not be so fortunate.

The story of Dr. Fell is perfect for the upcoming fall season of ghosts and goblins. A good mixture of humor and fright for those who enjoy a sinister antagonist.


FULL PLOT: A strange old man named Dr. Fell moves into the long-abandoned house at the end of Hardscrabble Street and very quickly builds the most amazing playground in the history of playgrounds in his front yard. Every child in the neighborhood (and soon every child in every other neighborhood) is drawn to and becomes obsessed with his playground, and Dr. Fell himself becomes an instant celebrity. That more and more children are getting hurt on his playground bothers nobody, since Dr. Fell always brings the injured child into his home and returns him or her later that day in perfect health no matter the injury–scraped knee, bruised elbow, twisted ankle, broken wrist, punctured lung, cracked skull, what have you. Only Gail and Jerry Bloom and their friend Nancy Pinkblossom seem to be immune to the decrepit man’s call and think anything’s wrong, and they soon realize that if they don’t do something, their entire neighborhood (as well as pretty much every other neighborhood) is doomed.


  1. Full page art work is scattered throughout. The sketches are a fun companion that will have you smiling.
  2. This would make a super read aloud in the classroom. I can already hear the kids saying “When are you going to read another chapter.”
  3. The author obviously had fun making up the names for the residents. Candice Gloomfellow, Ethel Pusster, and Bud Fetidsky to name a few.
  4. Dr. Fell never comes out and says anything in simple terms. He uses an elegant language, but the youngsters quickly figure out the real meaning. Fun to read and laughable.
  5. Do I smell a sequel? It seems by the ending in this story that one might be forthcoming. I look forward to this possibility.

FAVORITE LINES (from a frightful first meeting with Dr. Fell):

Dr. Fell extended a pale, bony hand toward the children. They watched it approach as if in slow motion, each knobby knuckle looking like it was ready to crack into dust at the faintest breeze. Finally, Gail, not wanting to be impolite, met the hand with her own and gave it a limp shake, careful not to exert too much pressure for fear of crushing the old man’s fingers.

ABOUT the AUTHOR: David Neilsen is a classically trained actor/storyteller, a journalist, and a theater/improvisation teacher for children and adults. During the Halloween season, David can be found telling spooky tales to audiences of all ages, or performing one of his one-man shows based on the stories of horror author H.P. Lovecraft. David lives in New York with his family. Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom is his first novel.

Want to listen to some of David’s work? Here’s the first five minutes of the audio book David recorded. He has the spot on voice to pull it off.


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


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A Writing Conference Saturday

writer's digestI spent last Saturday at the Colorado Writer’s Workshop. They are offered frequently in cities across the U.S. It’s always a treat to disappear for a writer’s conference, even for just a day.  Although my level of knowledge about writing and publishing has skyrocketed the past 6 years, there’s always something new to share.

Brian Klems, online editor for Writer’s Digest, led each section of the day for approximately 100 writers from teens to those close to 80. Here are a small percentage of answers to the questions covered…

How do you write like a pro?

Avoid prologues. Open with conflict. Create flawed characters. Pick up the pace of your novel. Tighten each sentence. Leave each chapter with a hook.

Do I need an agent?

No – but 95% of the time it’s in your best interest.

How many agents should I query before giving up?

Twenty more than whatever your gut says.

Can I get published without a platform (i.e., the places where you can be found on the Internet)?

Yes. but it’s getting more difficult.

How do I know if my manuscript is ready to pitch to agents or self-publish?

When it has strong characters, good plot points, is clear of typos and written well.

Is there something unique I can do to promote a book that won’t be out for months or a year?

Write side stories about secondary characters in your novel. Posting those will let readers see another side to your writing and insights into your new book.

When should I start writing my next book?

Immediately after finishing your current book. Also have multiple book ideas at all times.

How often should I promote myself on social media?

Constantly, it’s part of the job.

What can I do to have a long, successful writing career?

Continue to write, read, and build your platform.

The most helpful session was one called “Writers’ Got Talent”. Eight literary agents critiqued first pages in a most brutal way. Submitted first pages from the audience were read (I submitted a first page, but it wasn’t one of the ones randomly chosen). The reading stopped once three hands came up from the panel. Not one first page made it to the end. It vividly demonstrated how quickly agents reject submissions. Ouch.

Here are just a sampling of the rejection reasons I jotted down:

  • Starting a story with your MC waking up.
  • Telling your readers what they will get out of your story.
  • Too much description.
  • The MC was never introduced. Preferably do that in the first paragraph.
  • Too much remembering and reminiscing and recalling.
  • Telling a character what they already know. This is called the “As you know, Bob” opening.
  • All action and no emotion. Make us care.

Well, time to go back and recheck those manuscripts. Moving forward is what determined writer’s do.cropped-thumbsup.jpg

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