SOME KIND OF HAPPINESS for Marvelous Middle Grade EXTRA

First up… The winner of THE BLOOD GUARD TRILOGY is Amanda K. Thompson. Amanda is a writer and book reviewer. You can find more on her blog, TO READ OR NOT TO READ? Congratulations, Amanda.


I am officially declaring 2016 in MG books as The Year of the Tween Girl in Crisis. Part of that declaration comes about because I just read four of these in a row before I righted myself. I keep expecting every 11 or 12 year old girl I pass to break into tears. But I digress…

Finley Hart has an imagination leading her to secretly write about a mythical kingdom she 13260524creates while her own world seems to be crumbling. Her parents, on the verge of separation or divorce, dump Finley off at Grandma’s house for the summer so they can figure out what they want to do. Sounds logical enough except the dad has not talked to his mother in years and Finley has never met her.  There are also cousins and aunts she must get to know while there.

Her fantasy story in her head is woven into the real one she is experiencing. There’s a mystery of a long ago fire with many clues leading me fairly early to a correct guess as to why it happened. There’s also Grandma who keeps a lot of secrets while putting forth an aura that everything is just fine.

The book is a tad long for MG fiction and adults may enjoy this more than children. Thank goodness for the secondary kid characters. They help make the story one you want to finish. Excuse me while I find a few silly, humorous books to help me return to the fun side of MG.


FULL PLOT (From Claire Legrand’s Web Site)


• Her parents, who are having problems. (But they pretend like they’re not.)
• Being sent to her grandparents’ house for the summer.
• Never having met said grandparents.
• Her blue days—when life feels overwhelming, and it’s hard to keep her head up. (This happens a lot.)

Finley’s only retreat is the Everwood, a forest kingdom that exists in the pages of her notebook. Until she discovers the endless woods behind her grandparents’ house and realizes the Everwood is real–and holds more mysteries than she’d ever imagined, including a family of pirates that she isn’t allowed to talk to, trees covered in ash, and a strange old wizard living in a house made of bones.

With the help of her cousins, Finley sets out on a mission to save the dying Everwood and uncover its secrets. But as the mysteries pile up and the frightening sadness inside her grows, Finley realizes that if she wants to save the Everwood, she’ll first have to save herself.


  1. Appearances and whispers about the past can lead you to wrong conclusions about others. A great lesson as the three Bailey boys don’t look like anyone you’d want to get to know.
  2. Keeping on that tangent–Jack Bailey is a pure delight. He gives Finley confidence and heart. It’s a boy you’d want in your own neighborhood.
  3. Despite her unusual way of dealing with everything, Grandma reminded me of my own grandmother–hiding personal struggles to keep the family happy. You can understand the reasoning of Grandma Hart after reading this story.
  4. If you are dealing with anxiety, depression, and anxiety attacks then this is the book to show how others deal with the same issues.
  5. The real forest was an interesting and fun escape for all the kids. It was their Everwood from Finley’s stories.


I feel small and huge and the same time, like I could either shrink into a tiny, happy ball or balloon up until I burst into pieces. I sit straight and still in my seat, but my insides are a wild party

ABOUT Claire Legrand (from Claire’s Web Site)

Claire Legrand used to be a musician until she realized she couldn’t stop thinking about the stories in her head. Now she is a writer and former librarian living in central New Jersey (although her heart will always live in her home state of Texas).


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

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THE BLAZING BRIDGE for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

The Blood Guard trilogy concludes with THE BLAZING BRIDGE. blazing-bridge-cover The excitement and adventure follows the first two installments: THE BLOOD GUARD and THE GLASS GAUNTLET. New readers to the series could get by with just reading Book 3, but they’ll miss the fun lead-up to this fitting end.

Young Evelyn Ronan Truelove (he prefers just Ronan for obvious reasons) takes you through many of New York City’s iconic sights like Times Square, Madison Square Garden, and an epic finale on the Brooklyn Bridge that you see on the cover.

Thirteen years old now, Ronan must  protect his friend, Greta, from the deadly Bend Sinister. Their youthful exchanges were some of my favorite parts. Dawkins, a much older friend, is also along for the ride. His role is to lead but also push Ronan toward the person he is to become.

Action packed, humorous, and rather scary in parts–these three elements alone make it a perfect choice for middle grade readers. Check out my interview with Carter Roy posted last Friday.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon)

Ronan Truelove’s best friend, scrappy smart aleck Greta Sustermann, has no idea that she is one of the thirty-six Pure souls crucial to the safety of the world. But Ronan’s evil father has figured it out—and he’s leading the Bend Sinister straight to Greta. If they capture her, she’ll suffer a fate far worse than mere death. But to get to Greta, they’re going to have to go through Ronan first.

Standing with Ronan are plucky hacker Sammy; witty, unkillable Jack Dawkins; and a sharp-tongued woman named Diz, who drives a dangerously souped-up taxi. One breathless close call after another leads to an ugly showdown: Ronan alone against his father, with the fate of Greta, his friends, and the entire world hanging in the balance. Will Ronan be able to rise up and prove once and for all that he has what it takes to join the Blood Guard?

By turns heart-stopping and hilarious, The Blazing Bridge brings the Blood Guard trilogy to a surprising, clever, and altogether thrilling conclusion.


  1. The pacing might have you finishing the story before you’re ready. The tense scenes are mixed in well with the calmer parts.
  2. Ronan’s unfortunate relationship with his dad comes full circle on The Brooklyn Bridge. A sad, but necessary encounter.
  3. I hope the next time I’m visiting New York City, I can get a ride in Diz’s cab. Here’s one cab driver who you might not want to argue with.
  4. Jack Dawkins, the young in appearance but way older member of the Blood Guard, makes a great character. Ronan describes him this way: Jack Dawkins is like your best friend’s annoying older brother–a skinny hipster who acts all worldly even though he looks like he’s still in his teens.
  5. Pulling off a successful single book is hard enough, but here we have a satisfying trilogy that never drags and always has the plot moving forward. Could there be a YA story next featuring this cast? I can only wish.


Greta wrapped her fingers around my wrist and twisted her arm to throw me off balance, then yanked me over her foot.

I tripped and sprawled on the ground at Elmo’s feet.

“What was that for?” I asked Greta.

“I’m not some maiden in distress to be carried out of harm’s way, Evelyn Ronan Truelove,” she said.

Elmo gave me a hand up.

“I never said you were!” I said, raising my hands in surrender.

From a list of  promises Carter says will not happen in this third story:

It will not leave any threads unknotted. That is to say, it will tie up all the story threads from books one and two—including some that you think I forgot about, or which you didn’t even notice because they flew past so quickly.

(For the entire list visit Carter’s Web Site )


One lucky winner will receive a complete set of all three Blood Guard books (THE BLOOD GUARD, THE GLASS GAUNTLET, and THE BLAZING BRIDGE). (U.S. addresses only.) To enter just leave a comment. Good luck.



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


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Interview with Author Carter Roy

Happy Friday everyone! Today I have Carter Roy, author of The Blood Guard series, who has somehow found the time to answer a few questions during the launch week of his new middle grade novel, THE BLAZING BRIDGE–book three of the Blood Guard Trilogy.  I’ll have a review this coming Marvelous Middle Grade Monday:


Make a comment either today or on my review post this Monday for a chance to win a great giveaway. One lucky winner will receive a complete set of all three Blood Guard books (THE BLOOD GUARD, THE GLASS GAUNTLET, and THE BLAZING BRIDGE). (U.S. addresses only.) Good luck to all who enter.


Before I begin the interview, here’s the background on this gifted author:


Carter Roy has painted houses and worked on construction sites, waited tables and driven delivery trucks, been a stagehand for rock bands and a videographer on a cruise ship, and worked as a line cook in a kitchen, a projectionist in a movie theater, and a rhetoric teacher at a university. He has been a reference librarian and a bookseller, edited hundreds of books for major publishers, and written award-winning short stories that have appeared in a half-dozen journals and anthologies. His first two books were The Blood Guard and The Glass Gauntlet. He lives with his wife and daughter in New York City and can be found at or on Twitter @CarterRoyBooks.

Without further delay… A big welcome to author, Carter Roy.

First off, you’ve had many different careers before you became a writer. What prepared you most for the job of putting a compelling story together for young readers?

I wish I could point to one of my weirder jobs as being a particular help with my writing—you know, “on the cruise ship, it fell to me to entertain the passengers when we were becalmed at sea for three weeks!” or something similarly nutty. But the truth is more boring than that. (It usually is.)

I have been very lucky in that I worked as an editor of novels for kids, and with some of the best writers in the business—Bruce Coville, Jane Yolen, M.T. Anderson, and on and on. There’s nothing quite like helping an established writer refine his or her work to show a fledgling writer how stories are put together. I did my best to pay attention.

What are the positives of writing a trilogy along with the challenges?

As a reader, I often lamented “middle-book syndrome”—the way that a lot of trilogies sag in book two. Book one is always fun (a story is beginning!) and book three is usually satisfying (at last the story is wrapped up!), but that middle entry? It was often stuck in No Man’s Land: not allowed to start or end anything, and as a result books two can have identity problems.

I tried to avoid that in The Glass Gauntlet. In addition to carrying on the main storyline, I added a separate story about the kids undergoing the twisted Glass Gauntlet competition. My hope was that what initially appeared to be unrelated to our main story would provide a nice kick of surprise when it actually turned out to be intimately linked to that storyline. Did I succeed? Beats me.

Writing a trilogy gives a writer many opportunities like that to “change up” the story. That is, to keep redefining the central conflict—to make it bigger or badder. In book three, for example, Ronan and Dawkins realize that they’ve misunderstood their enemies’ goal from the very start. The situation is much more dire than they’d ever imagined and doom is much closer to hand.

The Blood Guard series is full of suspense and surprises in almost every chapter. How do you go about crafting this type of story? Do ideas come as you write or is it all planned out ahead of time?

Ah! Am I a planner or a pantser? (“Pantser” as in “by the seat of the pants”; not, as you might fear, because I am one of those creeps who yank down other people’s pants.) (For the record, I am not.)

Truth is, I use both methods. I outline the larger story and the big action moments chapter by chapter so that I have some sort of road map for where the story is going. And then I feel safe to throw away the outline as I write.

Why do that? First, sometimes the outline will say only something along the lines of “backstory about Dawkins.” (This was true in book three.) At that point, I had no idea how it would fit into the story, but I knew that I wanted it, and in terms of pacing, figured I could take a breather with that chapter. (And it turned into two chapters—which meant rejiggering some later chapters in the outline. )

Second, I really try to give the books have an almost ridiculous forward momentum so that even the most reluctant of readers will be hooked. So whenever I feel the story needs to be goosed, I do something—such as pull forward some piece of action that I’d been saving for later. Or I rearrange the boring parts of the story. (That is, background, exposition, that sort of thing.)

This is what happened in book one when we learned the truth about Greta. Originally that was going to be in book two, but … why wait?

Ronan Truelove is such an endearing character. How was he created in your mind and did Ronan come first or the story?

I’m glad you find Ronan endearing; I kind of like him myself! The idea behind the story of the Blood Guard came first, but then right on its heels came Ronan—a boy who wasn’t “the One,” or special as so many protagonists are in so much middle grade and teen fiction. I was hoping Ronan could just be a normal kid who gets swept up into extraordinary events, because when I was a reader Ronan’s age, living in the suburbs of San Diego, I longed for adventures to come find me. It never did, so as an adult, I invented my own.

What is the biggest challenge of being an author in today’s publishing world?

Probably the biggest challenge facing a writer in today’s world is simply in getting the word out about one’s books. There are so many different leisure time and entertainment options clamoring for our attention: movies, television, video games, social media, as well as the entire bookstore of other books. And most of those things are available at the touch of a finger. Getting a potential reader to give you a chance can look almost impossible.

And yet it does happen, so I write on, fingers crossed that the books will find their readers.

What advice would you give to middle grade readers who aspire to be authors?

My advice is that a would-be writer should write, write, write, and write. Write every day. Make it a habit. Finish what you write. And then revise what you write (because all good writing is rewriting). The best way to learn is to do it, and to do it regularly.

What other writing projects do you have planned for the future?

At the moment I am revising a novel for publication in the next year or so. It’s a standalone story for middle graders called Very. That title may change, but it is the name of the main character, Veronica, which is shortened to Very. She’s a girl who, through no fault of her own, becomes lost in what may very well turn out to be God’s library. It is a change of pace from the Blood Guard novels, and is a book about storytelling and magic, about fate and being the author of one’s own story. I hope readers embrace Very as eagerly as they have Ronan!

Thank you for your time, Carter.

Thank you, Greg.

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Celebrate President’s Day with OUR COUNTRY’S PRESIDENTS

“I do solemnly swear…”

I’m sure many of you were like me this past November, glued to the the screen as we watched this year’s presidential election come down to the wire. Author Ann Bausum and the editors at National Geographic Children’s Books also gave the night their undivided attention but for far different reasons. They had a deadline to meet.

National Geographic’s Our Country’s Presidents (ages 10+) is released every four years presidentsjust in time for the inauguration.  In this newest edition there are profiles of the 44 individuals who have served as President, plus extensive coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign as well as America’s newest commander in chief.

I read the book in order through all 224 pages. The next time the category of U.S. Presidents pops up on Jeopardy–watch out. I’ll ace every question. Of course most readers will probably use this source like an encyclopedia, looking for one specific piece of information. Even the most obscure facts can be found…

  • Who had the shortest term in office? (William Henry Harrison–41 days in 1941)
  • Who had the longest inauguration speech? (Harrison again at one hour and twenty minutes)
  • Which president is consistently ranked among the worst in U.S. History because of widespread corruption? (Warren G. Harding, 1921-1923)
  • Who lived the longest? (Gerald Ford, 93 years old at his death)

But don’t be misled that OUR COUNTRY’S PRESIDENTS is just a compilation of facts. There is so much more. The encyclopedia is divided into six eras in our history from THE PRESIDENCY AND HOW IT GREW (1789-1837) all the way to FOOTPRINTS ON THE GLOBAL FRONTIER (1981-present). Each section begins with a timeline of important events in that era.

Next is the official full color portrait or photograph of each president from that era followed by a 2-6 page profile. You will also find a fact box with the president’s official signature along with a wide variety of additional information, including how many states were in the Union at the start of their term.

Nearly two dozen bonus two-page spreads are scattered throughout the book jumping into topics beyond what is covered about the 45 presidents. I enjoyed: You’ve Got Mail: Swapping Letters With the President; Kids in the White House: At Home in the Spotlight; and Presidential Landmarks: from Log Cabins to Libraries.

The book ends with more delights, including a four page chart of the election results (I hadn’t recalled Jimmy Carter’s attempt at a second term earned him only 49 electoral votes!).

There are also ways to learn more with a selection of books, websites, videos, and places to visit. A handy bibliography and index help direct readers to the information they need.

Teachers, parents, and students will find this encyclopedia a hard one to put down. Don’t worry, you have four years. Plenty of time for each of us to discover the inspiration of our unique history in the White House from this fantastic source.


Author Carter Roy stops by this Friday to answer a few questions. He’s about to launch the third book in the BLOOD GUARD series. See you then!

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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A finalist for the 2016 Cybil’s award, this story is about the journey a grandfather takescrazyhorse with his grandson to understand the life and heroism of Lakota Indian leader, Crazy Horse. It begins in South Dakota and moves into Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana. Each stop is another place where Crazy Horse left a part of his heritage. Landscapes, monuments, and landmarks trigger each part of his story.

There is a reason for the trip as Jimmy, the grandson, has been bullied for the way he looks (too white) and he doesn’t have the courage to stand up to his tormentors. This sub-plot occurs at the beginning and end, but otherwise Jimmy is in learning mode the entire way. He says “Wow” a lot as he soaks up the story along with the rest of us.

Most of the book is a recounting of the struggles and decisions Crazy Horse made to save his people from the intrusion of the white man, or Long Knives as they are known. This would make a great companion source in a history class as Crazy Horse’s plight has never been so clearly stated. If all you’ve heard about is Little Big Horn, then you’ll be in for quite a learning experience as you wrap yourself around the story with compassion and understanding.


FULL PLOT (From AMAZON) Jimmy McClean is a Lakota boy—though you wouldn’t guess it by his name: his father is part white and part Lakota, and his mother is Lakota. When he embarks on a journey with his grandfather, Nyles High Eagle, he learns more and more about his Lakota heritage—in particular, the story of Crazy Horse, one of the most important figures in Lakota and American history. Drawing references and inspiration from the oral stories of the Lakota tradition, celebrated author Joseph Marshall III juxtaposes the contemporary story of Jimmy with an insider’s perspective on the life of Tasunke Witko, better known as Crazy Horse (c. 1840–1877). The book follows the heroic deeds of the Lakota leader who took up arms against the US federal government to fight against encroachments on the territories and way of life of the Lakota people, including leading a war party to victory at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Along with Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse was the last of the Lakota to surrender his people to the US army. Through his grandfather’s tales about the famous warrior, Jimmy learns more about his Lakota heritage and, ultimately, himself.


  1. A handy map appears before the story begins tracing the route Jimmy takes with his grandfather. You’ll be wanting to visit some of the same sites.
  2. An extensive 16 page glossary covers all the words and Indian names young readers may not be familiar with. A great source to even read ahead of time.
  3. I came away with a reminder that in war there are no winners–everyone loses something.
  4. This is a unique book that shows diversity in a different way than most MG stories.
  5. The connection you can make with your own culture by listening to family members who have a few more miles under their belts.


“The problem is,” Anne McClean would say, “your three Lakota parts are all hidden inside. Your one white part is on the outside.”

Jimmy understood what she meant, but it didn’t make him feel any better. It was the main reason Corky and Jesse teased him.

“You’re just an Indian pretending to be white” was what Corky liked to say.


Joseph Marshall III was born and raised on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation and is an enrolled member of the Sicangu Lakota (Rosebud Sioux) tribe. Because he was raised in a traditional Lakota household by his maternal grandparents, his first language is Lakota. In that environment he also learned the ancient tradition of oral storytelling. (For More visit Joseph’s Author Website.)


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

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And The Winner is…

shackles-from-the-deep                                  crossingtheline-cover

The winner of my recent giveaway for SHACKLES OF THE DEEP and an ARC of CROSSING THE LINE is Rosi Hollinbeck. Congratulations. You can catch Rosi’s reviews and her own giveaways at THE WRITE STUFF.

I’ll have another giveaway of a timely new novel, THE ONLY ROAD, coming up next month. Meanwhile check back on Friday for my feature on IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF CRAZY HORSE.

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ZACK DELACRUZ: JUST MY LUCK for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Zack returns in book number two of the series. No worries if you missed book one, ME AND MY BIG MOUTH, where Zack tries to save the sixth grade dance. This is a totally new adventure set two weeks later. justmyluck

Zack is back to his normal self staying clear of bullies and generally keeping a low profile at Davy Crockett Middle school in San Antonio, Texas. It lasts about 7 pages when Zack spots the new girl he must talk to, but an embarrassing loss in a key part of his clothes disrupts that move. Zack tries many more times throughout the story to get this girl to talk with him, but she won’t. It’s not until the climatic ending when Zack finds out why.

Funny and memorable, Zack is sure to please reluctant readers with the 30 short chapters. His narration is spot on and you’ll learn a few things about the culture and community of San Antonio. Who knew something called a cascarone would bring so much delight to a middle school. Even without one, this story brought delight to me.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon)  Zack Delacruz is back—and eager to meet Abhi, the new girl at school. But things get off to a rough start when he accidentally knocks her to the ground during a game of dodgeball. And whenever he tries to make amends, she just ignores him. Nothing works—not his friends’ advice or his “lucky” cologne. In fact, he just seems more and more cursed! Then, at the Fall Fiesta-val, Zack finally learns the real reason behind Abhi’s cold shoulder . . . but not before total chaos erupts. With a runaway train, exploding confetti-filled eggs, and Abhi’s terrifying older brother, will Zack ever get a chance to talk to his crush? In the end, Zack learns what it means to believe, to listen, and to be a good friend.


  1. San Antonio is a setting I’d never read in an MG book. Having visited the city myself, it was fun to see it from the inside through the author’s eyes.
  2. Middle school for a sixth grader is portrayed to perfection here. One day you’re in elementary school on top of the heap, then middle school slams you hard with the realities of growing up.
  3. Zack’s parents have joint custody. It’s an accurate view of life for the parents and Zack.
  4. Any bad day at school you’ve ever had will seem like a minor inconvenience compared to what Zack goes through.
  5. The inside covers have an illustrated page of students in the front and faculty in the back. A yearbook style look at the diversity and quirks of those pictured.


I wondered if Mrs. O’Shansky, the head cafeteria lady, had made the tables-are-for-eating-students sign. If she did, she ought to loosen her hairnet for more blood circulation to her brain. One thing’s for sure, whoever wrote that sign didn’t have Mrs. Harrington for English. That lady is all about “your writing making sense.” You have to know what punctuation means. Especially when it’s “published,” and I know anything laminated is definitely published.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jeff has been sharing writing strategies with teachers and students for over 25 years. Whether presenting at national conferences like NCTE, ASCD, or in classrooms or writing his books for teachers or middle grade readers, Jeff’s passion for writing and grammar inspires teachers and young writers to soar. When he’s not writing with his “revising” dogs at home near downtown San Antonio, Texas, he’s walking, talking, or doing staff development around the US (and sometimes New Zealand).

To learn more visit Jeff’s web site on writing and publishing  at WRITE GUY.



The Cybil’s MG Fiction winner for 2016 is GHOST!

ghost-9781481450157_hrI reviewed GHOST back in November (see it here). Below is the description the judges wrote for the Cybil’s announcement:

Ghost is a true joy to read, share, and celebrate the powerful messages. You’ll remember many of the passages long after reading. Ghost’s spot-on unique voice and amusing insights are surprising and always in character. This budding track star has a lot of societal strikes against him: poor, African-American male, a victim of violence, child of a single-parent household, and his father is in jail. It would be easy for him to give up and join a gang, but instead he discovers the power of teamwork and consequences for his poor choices. Ghost is an engaging and fully realized character and many kids will find something to relate to.

The supporting characters are also multi-dimensional, each with a story of their own. This begins with Coach. The benefits of hard work and practice are something Ghost would never realize without him. He is a strong figure who has something to offer his team and a willingness to stick with these kids.

The storytelling is endearing and diversity takes center stage. Author Jason Reynolds deserves a victory lap. We’ll sit back and anxiously await the next book in this track and field series.

See the full set of winners on the Cybil’s site.

It was a fun experience interacting with the other four judges over the seven nominees. Email was the preferred mode of communication and for two weeks each book had its own email thread. My mailbox was overflowing. About a week ago an eighth thread asked the important question–Which books are on top of your list? I had two favorites and one of them appeared on every judges’ final list. No more discussion needed. I’m so pleased with the choice.


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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