Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Space Opera Pick: Pitch Dark

Pitch Dark
by Courtney Alameda
Feiwel and Friends
384  pages
ISBN: 97812500085894

Pitch Dark is one of the best books of the year. A science fiction horror story that is chock full of gore, action and moxie. Tuck and his family jettisoned from Earth on the John Muir, a spacecraft. He wakes up from stasis  four hundred years later, and finds himself alone (?)  on the ship. Alone, except for the monsters who used to be human and a few other humans. Most of the crew died, but those who didn't mutated into fast and furious beasts capable of killing with just their voice. Tuck learns to kill them, but must always be wary of attack. An engineer, Tuck keeps the ship running with the hope of someday someone will rescue them.

Laura Cruz is on the Conquistador with archeologists and scientists from post apocalyptic Earth. She's  a teen hacker who sabotages her own ship's mainframe in order to remove a chip that controls her. Another hacker with evil intent is  on board. The Conquistador finds damaged spaceship John Muir and attempts to come alongside it to see if  anyone survived or if it contains any artifacts they need in order to save Earth.

Laura is horrified when her ship collides with the derelict wreck of John Muir. Her mother and family escape the Conquistador in a smaller ship leaving a trail of clues for her to follow. Laura boards the John Muir and meets Tuck. The two of them must  survive the monsters, keep the John Muir intact  and pray for discovery before their supplies run out or the monsters kill them.

The rapid pace of Pitch Dark will keep  pages turning at a furious pace. Teen readers (and adults) who seek a thrill ride will love Pitch Dark. Even this non-SF fan loved the story and the characters, and I read it in one sitting.  Sublime pacing, expert world building and a resounding story make this book a solid five stars. There's no one I'd rather be lost in space with than Tuck and Laura.

Highly, highly recommended for every sci-fi reader and every YA fan. You won't forget this book!

Grades 9 and up for gore and violence.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Horror Pick: The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein
by Kiersten White
Delacourte Press
287 pages
ISBN: 9780525577942

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein is the perfect book to curl up by the fireplace with. Don't let the lights grow too dim. Don't let the shadows linger too long. This spooky and creepy read will keep you up at night.

Deftly re-imagined by Kiersten White, Mary Shelley's masterpiece has undergone big changes. The main character of this novel is a female who fights to stay alive and stay safe. Although set in the 1800s, Elizabeth Lavenza is as feisty as power female protagonists of today.

Elizabeth is born into poverty. She's sold away by her unloving father to become a playmate of a wealthy family's son. Victor, even as a boy, isn't quite right. There's something wrong. Something that lurks deep inside of him. He's dangerous to himself and others. Victor's a problem child, and unless he can learn to play with others, he'll never become human.

Young Elizabeth knows her place in the household is precarious unless she can make insert herself into Victor's life so deeply that he must have her to survive. She is intelligent beyond her years, but because it is the 1800's, she must use feminine wiles to get what she wants. Feminists may have a problem with this, but it's doubtful whether feminists would read a YA retelling in the first place.

Readers will love the fact that they get to see Victor's own descent into madness.

The setting is atmospheric and imaginative; the story is historically beautiful and gritty. Mary Shelley would be proud to see this version if she were alive today. The cover art is breathtaking with creepy raised lettering sewn together with needle and thread. In fact, I would say this is my favorite YA cover of the year.

Highly, highly recommended for any horror collection. Grade 8 and up.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

YA Pick: Isle of Blood and Stone

Isle of Blood and Stone
by Makiia Lucier
Houghton Mifflen Harcourt
389 pages
ISBN: 9780544968578

Beautifully imagined and entertaining, The Isle of Blood and Stone may become your favorite YA read of the year!

Two maps are discovered and the secrets they hold must be deciphered by Elias, a mapmaker himself. Two princes were murdered as boys eighteen years ago, and now their younger brother sits on he throne. Ulises and Elias, friends as boys, now their roles have changed to ruler and nobleman. King Ulises asks (orders) Elias to find the man behind the maps and uncover their secrets. Could it be that Elias's father, the original mapmaker, is still alive?

Elias goes on a journey (but remains close to home)  to find the truth but some enemies want the "bodies to remain buried." When two kingdoms are at war, secrets are buried deep and some friends are enemies and some enemies are friends.

Isle of Blood and Stone has everything that make speculative fiction fun! Epic world building, interesting, powerful characters that readers will empathize with, a hero's journey (close to home), long buried secrets, warring kingdoms and a struggles for power. The maps play an important part in the book and are integral to the story.

A real page turner, give this novel to fans of Tamora Pierce. The book is the first in a duology.

This book is on the consideration list for the Cybils Awards 2018.

Highly recommended grade 9-up.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for my review.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Picture Book Pick: Life With My Family

Life With My Family
by Renee Hooker & Karl Jones
Illustrated by Kathryn Durst
Penguin Workshop/Penguin Random House
32 pages
ISBN: 9781524789374

Funny and heartfelt art captures a chaotic family scene where the sister wonders what else could we be? She imagines her family as: a pod of pelicans, a swarm of bees, a school of fish, a herd of buffalo, a pride of lions, a pandemonium of parrots and lesser known animals like wombats and jelly fish. The girl realizes that even though her family is loud and messy, there is no place she'd rather be.

Each animal sports human accessories so that young readers can tell which member of the family is portrayed: Mama wears earrings, Papa wears glasses, the brother with red hair sports a tuft of red hair, and the baby has a pacifier, and this makes it fun for the youngest readers.

Highly recommended ages 1-up. Cute family interaction and fun artwork make this a keeper of a book! Included is a list of terms for collective nouns, or terms of venery, for each group of animals.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Picture Book Pick: Tomorrow I'll Be Brave

Tomorrow I'll Be Brave
by Jessica Hische
Penguin Workshop/Penguin Random House
40 pages
ISBN: 9781524787011

Insightful and positive, this quick read is a bedtime story sure to teach and instill qualities of confidence, having fun whether you win or not, learning new things, asking questions, creating things and being brave.

Colorful illustrations by the author are gender neural and sure to appeal to young readers. The words: adventurous, strong, brave, creative, smart, confident, and  curious  come alive in an illustration near the end, and readers learn that even if they didn't do all those things today, there is always tomorrow to try again.

Powerful and appealing, give this little beauty to every child in your life!

Highly, highly recommended age two and up.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Picture Book Pick: No Boring Stories

No Boring Stories!
by Julie Falatko
Illustrated by Charles Santoso
Viking; Penguin Young Readers
48 pages
ISBN: 9780451476821
Available November 6, 2018

A mole invites his friends: a crab, a weevil and a warthog to write an exciting story featuring princesses, a giant robot suit, grapes, and lasers. A cute bunny who just won't go away keeps trying to tell his story and FIX theirs. The others don't want a story about cute, furry animals, birthdays and mommies.

Eventually they all work together to develop a story with a beginning, a middle and an end that they are all happy with and they celebrate as friends.

Funny, new words that young readers will want to include in their developing vocabulary are: mandibles, steed, humiliate, evidence, and discarded.

Recommended age 3-up.

Monday, October 22, 2018

YA Pick: Not Even Bones

Not Even Bones
by Rebecca Schaeffer
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
355 pages
ISBN: 9781328863546

Gruesome, grisly and ghastly but all in the best ways, Not Even Bones lives up to its pitched comparisons "'Dexter' meets 'This Savage Song.'" Schaeffer goes in deep (pun intended) in her descriptions of dissections, body parts, the human meat market, cutting skin off the body, and meat hunters who enjoy eating their products. It's as if Jeffrey Dahmer has been cloned and is in the body parts smuggling business!

Nita has grown up with dead bodies and learned to take them apart, piece by piece. Her mother marvels at her butchery skills, but then  Mom brings home a live boy that she intends to sell off piece by piece. He was being kept by a collector in Buenos Aires, but her mother grabbed him and begins posting his body parts for sale online. Nita is fine with chopping up dead bodies, but she cannot bring herself to cut off the boy's ears or toes, so she sets him free, giving him  a bus ticket and her phone.

Nita knows her mother will be furious. That boy was worth close to $1 million, and her mother doesn't like to lose money. Even worse, her mother's punishments are legendary. Nita is taken away and loses consciousness. She wakes up in a high tech cage beside another prisoner who tells her they are for sale in the worst meat market in the world. Nita always knew her mother could  be cruel, but she had no idea the depths of her evil. Her mother sold her for profit. Nita is an unnatural herself and her parts are worth far more than the boy she set free.

In a world where humans traffic in fresh body parts of unnatural species, kill or be killed is the new norm. Not Even Bones begins the story with Nita fighting for her freedom. When she escapes her cage, she is sure she's beat death, but the surprise twist at the end blows up the entire book setting the stage for book two. Kudos to Rebecca Schaeffer for the BAM! surprise twist that will leave teen readers reeling.

Recommended grade 9 and up. For readers who enjoy gore and blood and are not bothered by grisly details like livers, hearts, cutting off digits or skinning live subjects.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

High School Pick: Here To Stay

Here To Stay
by Sara Farizan
Algonquin Young Readers
204 pages
ISBN: 9781616208721

Shy teen Bijan Mijadi  loves basketball and plays on his school's JV squad. When he's called up to the varsity squad and sinks  with the winning basket, he's his school's new  hero. Students congratulate him and the coach even asks Bijan to join the varsity squad for the rest of the season. Not everyone is happy to see Bijan join the team. Some people want him to fail.

When a photo of Bijan is photoshopped  to make him look like a terrorist, the school administrator is outraged and vows to find the culprit and punish him or her. Some students rally  together to champion Bijan, but he just wants the incident to go away. Islamophobia and hate speech does not just "go away" his mother insists. She and other parents meet and pass out flyers to rally the community. Bijan is now poster boy for a movement he wants no part of. Can't he just play basketball and crush on cute girl Elle in peace?

Play by play announcers,real-life basketball announcers Kevin and Reggie (Kevin Harlan and Reggie Miller),  provide narration for some of Bijan's inner thoughts and epic fails. Their tongue-in-cheek banter makes this novel special. Basketball terminology and the mention of game legends like Bill Laimbeer (legendary bad boy player fans loved to hate) make Here To Stay a smart addition to sports fiction. It's obvious that Farizan knows a thing or two about the sport.

This timely topic will resonate with readers of all backgrounds. Bijan is a character they'll fall in love with. Here To Stay will be on the top of all awards lists this season! Can you say TAYSHAS?

Highly, highly recommended grade 8-up. A MUST READ.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Lower Middle Grade Pick: If This Were a Story

If This Were a Story
by Beth Turley
Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
256 pages
ISBN: 9781534420618

This sweet and soaring debut by Beth Turley introduces readers to nine-year old Hannah. Hannah is in fifth grade. She wishes her parents would stop their fighting. When they fight, she turns to her stuffed elephant, Ambrose. One night, Ambrose comes to life and has a conversation with Hannah. He tells her that he'll always be there for her as long as she needs him.

Bullies at school are bothering Hannah. Someone even wrote a note and left it where she'd find it. It said: Nobody likes Hannah. Her teacher demands to see the note and warns the class they will be punished for their behavior. Hannah is sent to her counselor for a "talk." Hannah parents are called and they pull together to help Hannah  feel better. Hannah is happy to see her parents stop their fighting. 

Hannah's best friend Courtney seems to be distancing herself from Hannah. There is trouble on all fronts, so  Hannah puts her energy into  practicing for the spelling bee. An avid speller and lover of vocabulary words, Hannah is in her element when learning new words and using them. She daydreams frequently and is creative and imaginative. She imagines how scenes would turn out, "if this were a story," but then she counters by saying, "...but this is real life, so..." Ambrose the elephant  becomes her constant source of comfort as things spiral down. Hannah can't wait until she meets upper grade pen pal Ashley, but when she does, Ashley isn't as "cool" or fun as Hannah had envisioned. 

Readers will be surprised by the twist in the ending which will  lead to spirited classroom discussions about bullying and its effect on everyone involved.

Not to be missed for its timely topic and masterful storytelling, If This Were a Story is likely to earn many state awards. Can you say Texas Bluebonnet? You heard it here first.

Highly recommended grade 3-6.  Bullying.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the ARC from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Friday, September 21, 2018

YA Pick: Heartless

by Marissa Meyer
Feiwel and Friends
449 pages
ISBN: 9781250044655

Heartless is a richly imagined, breathtakingly told story prequel of the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. Evocative of Carroll's mad romp and "Wicked," Heartless delivers this story to this generation of readers. All the principal characters appear: the Cheshire Cat, Cath (who becomes the Queen of Hearts), the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit and with Meyer's deft ability to tell a tale, live again in this book.

Catherine  wants to open a bakery and sell the best tarts and pastries in all of Hearts, but her mother has other ideas. No high born woman should work in business. The king has his eye on Cath as a wife, but Cath meets and falls under the spell of Jest, a new court jester. There's magic and monsters in this kingdom and enough trouble to keep the young couple apart.

There is no happy ending in this book. We all know Cath turns into the Queen of Hearts, so we are prepared for her wicked behavior. It's interesting to see a villain as a young and innocent teen before life and love wreaks their heart and mind.

For fans of Meyer's The Lunar Chronicles, this is a must read. This is not simply a retelling of Alice in Wonderland; it's a prequel  which means Meyer can imagine anything for young Catherine.

Recommended grade 7-up.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I purchased this book for my library.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

High School Pick: Fat Girl on a Plane

Fat Girl on a Plane
by Kelly DeVos
Harlequin Teen
376 pages
ISBN: 9780373212538

Fat Girl on a Plane is an important book for teen readers tackling issues of self-esteem, body shaming, body image, self acceptance, overcoming obstacles, and rising to challenges. Cookie Von is an aspiring fashion designer with a keen eye and a knack for pattern, proportion, and color. She makes much of her own wardrobe and writes a fashion blog. Fat Cookie is forced to buy two seats on a plane and she vows that she's done being "the fat girl on a plane."

The story jumps back and forth from fat Cookie (in high school) to skinny Cookie in a fashion design program at ASU. Some readers may become disconnected with the way the story is told, but it's a strong story nonetheless.

Cookie has self-doubt and a good bit of self-loathing brought on by stares and comments from complete strangers and most biting of all: rude comments from her super-model mother. One lesson Cookie learns is that fat or skinny, things don't change that much. Sure, men give her approving looks. People take her designs more seriously, but designing for plus-size women isn't considered a real design business.

Through it all, Cookie sticks to her guns and creates plus-size fashionable pieces because she believes that fat people deserve fashion. A woman should not have to wear tents or caftans because she is bigger than runway models. Fashionable pieces can be created and worn by all sizes of women. Fat Girl on a Plane forces readers to view fashion from the eyes of women who have been under served and unrepresented by designers, publishers, fashion editors, models, and media. The plus-size market is a gold mine if someone like Cookie makes it their own. 

Once skinny, Cookie attracts a much older, more worldly boyfriend. This is where this YA novel veers off path. With profanity and sexual references, this book cannot be placed in a middle school library. Cookie is in her first year of college and if there were still a recognized genre as New Adult, that's where this title would be placed.

Recommended grades 9 and up. Profanity, sex.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Picture Book Pick: The Wall in the Middle of the Book

The Wall in the Middle of the Book
by Jon Agee
Illustrations by the author
Dial Books for Young Readers
48 pages
ISBN: 9780525555452

Available October 2, 2018

A story that could only come from the imaginative mind of Jon Agee, The Wall in the Middle of the Book will entertain and captivate young readers. As a read aloud or bedtime story, parents and readers will want to encourage youngsters to see EVERYTHING happening on both sides of the wall at the same time. Children will point out what they see on both sides. The poor knight, however, cannot see over the wall and assumes the worst. 

The tiny knight is safe on his side of the wall; the left side of the book is safe he explains. The wall protects him from the right side where there is danger lurking. Wild animals: a rhino, a tiger and a gorilla are on the right. When a mouse appears, the larger animals run!

The knight climbs a ladder not at all worried about the rising waters at his feet. Several pages later,  the safe side, the left side, doesn't seem so safe after all. An ogre that eats people is on the right side. The knight is torn. What should he do?

Careful readers will spot clues on each page that tell more of the story. Children are apt to tell YOU the story of the knight and what he will do.

A MUST HAVE for every young reader. Buy this for your favorite toddler and toddler parents.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

@Cybils2018 Announces Judges!

The judges for @Cybilsawards @Cybils2018 were announced September 18 on the Cybils page.
You can see the lists here 

I am a 2018 Cybils YA Speculative Fiction Judge. The Cybils Awards recognize the best books in Children's and YA for the year. This year is the tenth anniversary of the Cybils Awards. Cybils judges are children's and YA bloggers who review books on their blogs and champion literacy in young readers. I am thrilled to represent this blog!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Series Pick: Nate Expectations

Nate Expectations
by Time Federle
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
256 pages
ISBN: 9781481404129

The third book in the Nate series does not disappoint. Nate Expectations finds Nate Foster in high school and living back in his small hometown in Pennsylvania. After his Broadway show closes, Nate goes home. He's able to get through each day with the help of his friend and sidekick Libby. This theater kid cannot go home and forget about theater. That would be like forgetting to breathe.

Nate takes over the production of Great Expectations for his drama department in true Nate style. Even though he misses his new boyfriend and he's "out" to his friends, he's still not "out" to his parents.

Lighthearted, funny, and heart-warming, the Nate series is a series of books for every reader--whether they are into musical theater or not. It doesn't matter their gender or their preferences, Nate is such a winning character, everyone will love him. Rarely does an author capture the voice of a middle grade boy. Even though in the this book Nate is in high school, the book is great for middle school readers and up.

Highly, highly recommended for readers of the earlier books, and if you haven't read the Nate series, what are you waiting for. This series is a MUST READ.

Grade 7-up.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the ARC from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Friday, August 31, 2018

What I Learned About Writing from Pitch Wars!

Pitch Wars is an online writing experience and contest where writers submit a never before published manuscript in the hopes of gaining an author/mentor who will take their manuscript and help them make it the best version of their story before the agent round. I entered Pitch Wars last year with my YA manuscript which I thought was Pitch Wars ready. Boy, was I wrong.

There are online Facebook pages for hopefuls and forums where people share their pages. The more places you visit, the more you will learn. I gained insight and CPs. A CP is a critique partner who will read your pages and give you as much or as little critique as you ask. I wanted my CPs to be brutal. I wanted them to tell me everything right and everything wrong with my pages. When I read my CPs' pages I was blown away. There are some TALENTED writers in the pool that submit to Pitch Wars. Last year, my pages didn't stack up.

What you need for Pitch Wars: You will need a one-page query, a one-page synopsis, a FINISHED manuscript and a coat of armor. You can read about the query, synopsis, story arc, pacing, character and other elements. The more you study and LEARN, the better your manuscript will be.

When I wrote my first manuscript, I was a pantser. I didn't know the ending of the story. I didn't have an outline. I knew who my characters were and what the premise was, but that was it. I didn't yet know who the antagonist was. I didn't know the problems my protagonist would face. That manuscript took my three long years (I have a full time job and family).

My second manuscript was hugely different. Now I'm a planner. I had the idea, characters, outline and ending. I wrote that manuscript in three months and it's leaps and bounds better than the YA manuscript I submitted last year. What's the difference? How did my writing get so much better?

TWITTER. I follow the tags #writingcommunity #writetip #writers #amwriting #amediting #ontheporch and #writing. There are so many great links shared on Twitter by writers, editors, agents, mentors. If you're not active on Twitter, you're limiting your knowledge of upcoming contests, events, freebies, internships and friends for life.

Before the Pitch Wars window opens, many mentors offer giveaways for your first pages, your query and/or your synopsis. You should retweet, follow and comment to all of these. I won several free eyes on my pages both years.

Before you query anything, you should have CPs and beta readers. I am lucky that my best friend for life has a writer brain. She was writing her manuscript as I wrote mine. We traded chapters from the beginning. She is now close to signing with an agent. Currently she has four full asks out to agents. I suspect she'll snag one soon  and her book will follow.

If I don't find a mentor in Pitch Wars this year, I've made so many contacts, learned tons, commented on others' writing and posts, shared information and links, and gained skills to push my book baby into the world. I will query this manuscript until I find that unicorn agent. I know you're out there! 

Monday, August 20, 2018

YA Pick: Bad Romance

Bad Romance
by Heather Demetrios
Square Fish
369 pages
ISBN: 9781250158772

Bad Romance is a cautionary tale for girls (and boys) who find themselves in love and in over their heads. It's hard to love someone you hate, and even harder to hate someone you love. It's her junior year and theater nerd Grace sees Gavin. Her life is now played out in the theater of her mind. Gavin is the male lead and he is oh, so special and charming.

What Grace learns is that Gavin is a manipulating, lying sociopath. After dating Summer, Gavin fails at a suicide attempt. Grace is drawn to this boy, the one who tried to die. Soon she is the center of his world. As Gavin closes in on her and challenges her friendships and free time, Grace doesn't seem to mind until it's almost too late.

The author includes a list of resources for teen readers who are in abusive relationships. The staggering fact is that one in three teens have experienced dating abuse.

This is not a feel good romance novel. It is, however, and important one that will result in thoughtful discussions about love and relationships.

Highly recommended for grade 9 and up.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the ARC from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Picture Book Pick: Try a Little Kindness

Try a Little Kindness
by Henry Cole
Scholastic Press
32 pages
ISBN: 978133825643

Available October 9, 2018

This sweet read will help the younger set learn manners and practice being helpful. Cute animals teach littles to read to a friend, to send thank you notes, to  visit someone who is lonely, and to  give up your seat to someone else.

Heartfelt and much needed, Try a Little Kindness is sure to bring a smile to the reader as well as the child it's read to.

Highly recommended for young readers.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

#Boost My Bio: @Pitchwars

Hi, I'm (Pamela) Thompson McLeod, long-time high school teacher and middle school librarian. I am entering Pitch Wars this year for the second time. Although I did not get a mentor last year (with my YA manuscript), I learned so much about writing and made so many FRIENDS in the writing community. Twitter is a great place to find like-minded writers and people who love reading and writing. I stay away from rants and politics and love the #writing community #amwriting #5AM writingclub #writetip #writer #writers

This year, the manuscript I am entering is middle grade #MG: FAKING IT: 11yo Kyle enters an online recipe contest with a recipe he never even cooked. He is chosen to be a contestant on a junior chef show. Too bad Kyle is a fake. He can't cook. Not even one little bit. His BFF Addie suggests he learn to cook by watching YouTube videos. Kyle has three days and YouTube. With a little luck and sheer grit, Kyle makes it through early rounds, but it's heating up in the kitchen. Kyle is bundle of nerves when his chef father shows up as a judge. Suddenly, winning isn't enough. Kyle has to prove himself to everyone, including his father.

Like Kyle, I enter recipe contests and even won some big ones. Here is my winning Third Place recipe that gave me the idea for my story! And like Kyle, I create recipes. I don't cook them. At all. Ever. And they win! I won Second Place for an Italian Stallion Maria I entered. It was a double non-cook. I didn't make it, and nothing in it is cooked, yet it won Second Place in a COOKING CONTEST!

So, I'm a recipe junkie, a recipe contest enthusiast, collector of vintage 50's-70's cookbooks (Junior League cookbooks from cities in the South are  my faves), a writer of dreams and a CP to my BFF Leslie Rush who entered Pitch Wars with me last year. Leslie's manuscript was chosen by a mentor for Author Mentor Match and she is waiting for the agent round. Both of us are hopeful our stories will touch the lives of readers.

This is a photo of me with my American bulldog Bowdee (short for Beaudacious)!

I am entering Pitch Wars in August! If you've never heard of Pitch Wars, it's an event where never published manuscripts and hopeful writers enter their first chapter, a query and a synopsis of their manuscript to the site. Mentors will make their picks and announce their mentees. If I'm lucky enough to be chosen, my mentor will go through my story word by word and help me make it shiny and bright. After the story is polished to perfection, there is an agent round! If I am lucky enough to find an agent or if she/he finds me! I have a chance to get my book baby out into the world. Here's hoping the universe is listening. Universe?

Everything Pitchwars 

I review YA for School Library Journal and VOYA and judged YA Fiction for last year's Cybils. I am currently a literary intern and a YA librarian (and writer).

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Battle of the Battle Books: Unconventional Warfare vs. On Blood Road

On Blood Road
by Steve Watkins
Scholastic Press
288 pages
ISBN: 978133819013
Publication Date: October 30, 2018

Special Forces: Unconventional Warfare
by Chris Lynch
Scholastic Press
176 pages
ISBN: 9780545861625
Publication Date: November 27, 2018

Two high-interest war stories by two talented Scholastic writers are coming soon. It is a nice thing to see Scholastic offer other books on war other than World War II and the Holocaust. It appears that the Vietnam era is finally being addressed for younger readers. Scholastic is marketing these titles for age twelve, but both books are gritty, and Unconventional Warfare has an older main character. I think the reading level is okay for younger readers and reluctant readers, but the content and gore may be better suited for high school readers, especially those reluctant readers who need a fast read. Both books are quick reads and few pages.

Special Forces: Unconventional Warfare features main character Danny Manion who is always ready for a fight. When fighting gets him in trouble and ready for sentencing, Danny is given the choice: go to jail or join the military. Danny opts for the military and is assigned to SOG, an elite group of covert fighters which include members from SEAL teams, Green Berets and the CIA. Fast-paced action will keep readers captivated.

On Blood Road is a grittier read. Taylor Sorenson is not a soldier; he's in Vietnam to visit his father who works at the U.S. Embassy. When Taylor sneaks away from a fancy dinner to go see the Tet celebrations, chaos erupts and he is captured by the North Vietnamese Army. Younger readers may find this book too gory for their tastes, but Watkins delivers on details and panic.

Give these reads to readers who have enjoyed Lynch's WWII series and non-fiction fans who read about war and warfare.

Both books are recommended grade 9 and up. In my community, these titles would not be in the middle school library.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the ARCs from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Dystopian Pick: Plague Land

Plague Land
by Alex Scarrow
December 2017
384 pages
ISBN: 9781492652106

In this scary sci-fi dystopian novel, main character Leon watches a news story about  a horrific virus that has broken out in Africa. His mother tells him not to worry; they're so far away in England. Within a week, the deadly sickness has spread to England, and it's terrifying.

Bodies liquify and turn to "juice."Entire cities are wiped out. The strange thing is that the way the plague seems to be moving, as if it's adapting. Humans are on the run, but there is no outrunning whatever this is. It  may be the end of the human race.

The ending leave an opening for a series, and YA fans will not want to wait long to pick up the sequel.

Recommended grade 9-up.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the ARC from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Picture Book Pick: Hedgehog Needs a Hug

Hedgehog Needs a Hug
by Jen Betton 
Illustrations by the author 
G.P. Putnam's Sons 
32 pages
ISBN: 9781524737122

Jen Betton's debut children's book is a true treasure. Captivating art and winsome characters will leave young readers in stitches. 

Poor Hedgehog. He wants a hug in the worst way. He wakes up in a sad state and knows that a hug will make him feel so much better. He approaches forest animals and asks for a hug. No one wants to hug Hedgehog. They are afraid of his prickles, but they give him excuses why they can't hug him. Rabbit, Raccoon and Turtle turn him down, but Fox agrees to hug him. Hedgehog realizes Fox wants to eat him and scurries away. Finally, Hedgehog finds a hug from Skunk and they become fast friends. 

Young readers will love the sound and rhythm of new words not usually present in children's picture books: toddled, scram, scuffle, scoot, scampered, trudged, shuffled, and drawled. 

Each animal has its own way of moving that children will memorize and love to repeat. Rabbit hops away, "hippityy-skippity-scram." Raccoon left Hedgehog  by "scuffle-scoot-scampered." Fox moves by "sly-slide-slinking" and Hedgehog "tip-patter-padded" over to Skunk for a hug. 

This is a fun book to read for read aloud. For children who may not know forest creatures, it's an adventure. Hedgehog Needs a Hug is my favorite picture book this year! 

Highly, highly recommended for every bedtime and story time. You MUST read this book out loud and you MUST read it many times! 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Picture Book Pick: The Honeybee

The Honeybee
By Kirsten Hall
Illustrations by Isabelle Arsenault
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
48 pages
ISBN: 9781481469975

This beautiful cover pops and the book's end papers are decked out in the bees' signature colors: yellow and black and will catch your eye, but the happy illustrations and text that follows the production of honey and the bees' lives will keep young readers entertained. The honeybee is one of the world's endangered species and young readers will cheer for the bees after reading all about them. The bees are shown working and on the production line where they, "Chew, chew--we're changing its makeup,/ We're giving the nectar a chemical shake-up." The faces and features of each bee is unique and children will love their personalities.

Did you know that bees can smell fear? The book instructs people to stand still and be calm and the bee or bees will most likely fly away. However, bees are territorial, so it warns not to get too close to the hive.

A page from the author with bee facts and what children (and adults) can do to help the bees and save them is included.

A cute must-read for the budding animal activist, environmental warrior, budding young scientist or beekeeper, or anyone who loves animals and nature.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Picture Book Pick: How Do Dinosaurs Learn To Read?

How Do Dinosaurs Learn To Read?
by Jane Yolen
Illustrations by Mark Teague
The Blue Sky Press/Scholastic
32 pages
ISBN: 978133233018

Available: Jane 26, 2018

The beloved Teague dinosaurs are back and they are amusing and captivating as they learn to read and treat their books with care. Every parent and librarian will love this book for teaching young ones how to turn pages carefully and how to keep their books away from water.

Fans of the dream team Yolen & Teague will love this latest addition to the series. As expected, each dinosaur makes its appearance on the end papers with their names. Reading tips are included.

Highly, highly recommended for every child's personal library. A great addition to any picture book collection.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the ARC from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Graphic Pick: Making Friends

Making Friends
by Kristen Gudsnuk
272 pages; full color illustrations
ISBN: 9781338139211

Available July 31, 2018

Danny had her tight circle of friends in sixth grade but now that she's in middle school, she's a little lost. Everyone has a different lunch shift and different classes than she does. She's feeling a little left out--a lot left out! When she "inherits" her great aunt's sketch book, she discovers that her kooky aunt might actually have had magical powers. Danny accidentally creates her new best friend. Suddenly "Making Friends" is exactly that! Creating a new person!

For fans of graphic novels and ages 8-12 should enjoy this spirited romp.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this ARC from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Friday, May 11, 2018

YA Slasher Pick: There's Someone Inside Your House

There's Someone Inside Your House
by Stephanie Perkins
287 pages
ISBN: 9780525426011

There's a slasher loose in Osborne High School  and more than likely probably someone they see every day. As student bodies begin piling up in their small town in Nebraska, the police investigate all the teens who know each other. The murders don't seem to be connected in any way the police can decipher and they are getting more and more brutal.

Makani is new to town, having just moved from Hawaii to escape a past that is bound to intrude on her present. When she first sees goth boy Ollie, she's in love. The relationship between the two characters make this book special. When Makani is targeted, both Ollie and her grandmother step in to save her life. The killer is nearly apprehended but outruns Ollie (btw, naked Ollie!).

The police are incompetent and Makani and Ollie do more to solve the case and save themselves than anyone else. There are moments of great slasher gore and the book picks up, but so many more moments of promises that are dashed before the reader can enjoy the horror. Makani's BIG secret turns out to be not so big and not so terrifying.

This book doesn't fit the romance genre and it's not horror, maybe horrifying romance? Cover art will sell this one from the shelves and Stephanie Perkins' fans will likely buy it. If you are looking for a solid horror book for teens, this one just doesn't deliver.

Grade 9 and up.
FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Book Giveaway and Author Interview: Sayantani Dasgupta (The Serpent's Secret) Middle Grades

I have THREE copies of The Serpent's Secrect (Thank you, Brent!) up for grabs! WIN a copy of The Serpent's Secret! Post a comment  about the interview to the blog. Include comment, your first name, city, state and email address. I will never share your email address with anyone. Deadline for posts is noon MST  April 24. Winners will be chosen randomly by Randomizer. Please check your email after noon MST on April 24 when I notify winners. Winners have 24 hours to respond to my email. Books will ship to winners from New York. Good luck and start posting!                  
                                                               Read my review here

The Serpent's Secret
Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond, Book 1
by Sayantani Dasgupta
Scholastic Press
368 pages
ISBN: 9781338185706

Meeting Sayantani in Dallas at Texas Library Conference in April 2018! So exciting to meet you in person! Thank you for your kind words, your exciting book (s) for children (and adults), and your unflagging generosity. The Serpent's Secret is my favorite MG of the season (as everyone knows!)

Thank you, Sayantani, for agreeing to answer my questions! It's wonderful to have the opportunity to share your answers with your young (and older) readers. They will get to know a little more about you as a person. The Serpent's Secret is a breakout book and I am honored to have met you in person and continue to be honored for your friendship and Tweets on Twitter! 

Interview With Sayantani

1.          The Serpent’s Secret is a planned series. Where are you right now as a writer? Are you finished with book 2 and in edits? Is book three started? Are all of them finished?

Hi Pamela! Thank you so much for having me! I’m honored!

Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond is planned as a series – I have some ideas of how many there will be, but I’m not sure I’m ready to tell! For the time being, I can tell you definitively that Book #2 (title and cover to be revealed soon!) will be out February 2019 and I think it’s safe to say that there may be some more adventures in Kiranmala’s future…

I’ve finished and handed in Book 2 – which means that Scholastic is in the midst of making ARCs/galleys! So that’s very exciting! And I might be working on Book 3 as we speak!

2.          How many edits or changes did your manuscript go through from querying and landing your agent to landing a publisher? Once the publisher got your draft, how much editing was done? How long did it all take from your first draft to published?

Well, this is an interesting story. I wrote The Serpent’s Secret for my now teenage children back when they were middle grade readers. I wrote it because I realized that although books were more diverse than when I was young (and could literally find no representations of myself in books or media) they weren’t still that diverse across genre. My son in particular was a big fantasy fan, and I wanted to give him and his younger sister a heroine who looked like them! I probably finished that very first draft of The Serpent’s Secret back in 2009 or 2010 without an eye initially to publishing it. It was a fun family project in which I wrote a modern day adventure story for my children based on the Bengali folktales I heard from my grandmother and loved so much as a kid.

By 2011, however, when I first took the completed out with a different agent than the one I currently have, we got a long list of very polite rejections. I think now that the story might not have been ready, but also that the market probably wasn’t ready for an immigrant daughter adventure fantasy with humor and space elements. I mean a book with folk tales and string theory side by side might have been a little hard for folks to fathom! Back then, editors kept asking that I keep Kiranmala’s voice but write her story as realistic fiction. I’m so happy to see the market has changed and there is so much more diverse science fiction and fantasy getting published now.

For the next five or so years, I wrote other manuscripts, edited The Serpent’s Secret on my own many times, attended innumerable workshops and conferences, and worked with a critique group. Eventually in 2016, I signed with my current agent, Brent Taylor. Once I signed on with him, the tempo of things changed a lot! I did a very quick round of edits with him, and within a month of signing with him, we had the book at a very exciting six publishing house auction! After so much time thinking it would never happen, I couldn’t believe it. I kind of still can’t believe it! Then I worked with my editors at Scholastic on another very quick round of edits and the rest is intergalactic demon slaying history!

3.          Besides folklore and middle grades, is there another genre you’d like to write? What would it be and why?

When I was young and dreamed of being a writer, I always thought that I would write grown up, literary fiction. Part of the reason is because I started thinking of myself as a writer only after being introduced to wonderful novelists of color like Toni Morrison, Julia Alvarez, Gabriel García Marquez, Paule Marshall, and Salman Rushdie. But I think I’d also internalized this idea that to write my immigrant daughter story, I’d have to make it very serious, with lots of mangoes, and monsoons, and lots of crying involved. I’d internalized this message that literature from writers of color had to somehow put our pain on display. I’m so lucky I eventually realized that my story wasn’t that, and my fictional voice wasn’t that, and it didn’t have to be. I wanted to tell an immigrant daughter story not about pain, or cultural conflict (whatever that means) but about quirkiness, joy and power! Finding my humorous middle grade writing voice was amazing, like finding a hidden part of myself. (As my own kids will attest, I’m kind of a twelve year old at heart!)

So I do imagine more middle grade fantasy in my future, maybe some middle grade realistic fiction as well. I have a few ideas for YA novels too, one historical and one realistic fiction. There’s a family story of some great aunts who were involved in the Indian revolution from the British I’ve been longing to tell. But no matter what I write, it will probably have a bit of humor. I do love a good laugh! Joy and laughter can be a form of resistance!

4.          Besides writing, what are your other hobbies?

Reading (of course), watching movies and going to the theater with my kids, travelling with family, gardening, cooking!

5.          If you could do anything for a living besides writing and the medical field, what would it be and why?

Children’s literature is already a third career (after being a pediatrician, and then slowly transitioning away from seeing patients and into teaching at the college level)! But I think, if I was to do something besides being a doctor, teacher, or writer, honestly, I’d be a librarian! All of my career twists and turns have ultimately been about storytelling and story receiving. And I still get that fluttery “what should I read first?” feeling when I enter a library. I love talking about books, recommending books, handling books! (Although, confession time: as a teen, I was a library volunteer, but I spent a lot of time hiding in the stacks, reading, when I should have been re-shelving! Maybe that’s why I didn’t go to library school, I knew I’d have a hard time staying away from all that reading temptation!)

6.          What is the last middle grade or YA book you read?

I’m in the middle of reading several right now, but my last YA read was actually a listen. I recently finished the audio book of The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein (it’s a prequel of sorts to her amazing Code Name Verity). It’s a lovely, evocative family mystery set in Scotland, and the accents were scrumptious to listen to! Middle grade, I just finished reading Celia C. Pérez’ First Rule of Punk which I thought was just awesome! Amazing voice, spunky heroine, warm family context, and beautiful, fun zines throughout the text!

7.          This is the first time you’ve been on a book tour. What is the funniest thing that’s happened to you? What is the BEST thing that has happened on tour?

While I obviously love interacting with teachers, librarians, booksellers and fellow authors on tour, for me, the most memorable thing about being on book tour is undoubtedly interacting with kids in schools. They’re the ones who ask the hardest/funniest questions too. One young woman recently got up, after I’d talked all about how I wrote The Serpent’s Secret for my kids and how they helped me edit it, and asked, “If your kids helped you so much with the book, why didn’t you dedicate it to them?” I almost fell over. She wasn’t trying to give me a hard time, she was just being honestly curious! (In case folks are wondering, I dedicated Book 1 to immigrant parents, and my own parents – but Book 2 is dedicated to diasporic kids and my own kids!) I asked another young woman, a sixth grader, the other day what kind of books she likes reading. She looked at me seriously and said, “Anything with an empowered girl protagonist. There’s not enough of that out there, and I feel strongly about that.” I couldn’t do anything but give her a first bump of agreement!

8.          What books would you recommend that EVERY child/teen read before they become an adult?

I’m not sure if there’s any one set of books – I’d say it’s important for children and teens to read, read widely, and read both what they’re naturally drawn to and outside of their comfort zones. I think most importantly all kids should be able to read books that are mirrors – in other words, books that somehow reflect their experiences – and books that are windows – in other words, books that allow them to gain an understanding and empathy for experiences and people unlike them. (For more on mirrors and windows, see Dr. Rudine Sims Bishops’ groundbreaking writing on this!)

9.          What children’s or YA book should every ADULT read and why?

Again, I’m not sure if there’s any one or more books I’d recommend, but I think that adults should read books for young people. For pleasure, for sharing with the young people in their lives, and for a reminder of what it means to be young and in relation with stories. I think that reading books for young people can help adults  awaken their wonder, joy and curiosity again. I think some of the most revolutionary and socially transformative thinking is happening in children’s literature. Particularly now that we slowly (slowly!) see so many more authors from marginalized identities representing their own communities’ stories. As the great Madeline L’Engle said, “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children." And that applies to reading too.

10.       What traits do you share with Kiranmala? What traits of hers would you love to have as your own?

When I was young, I sometimes said things before thinking, and later regretted my words, like Kiranmala. I also definitely underestimated my parents’ general awesomeness – I knew they loved me, but like Kiranmala, sometimes wished they could be just like everyone else. It’s a common immigrant kid experience, and it was really important for me to recognize that it was our family’s uniqueness that was our strength, and that it was only by embracing all of who I was that I could find my true self. So even though it’s a story full of flying horses, drooly rakkshosh demons and evil snake kings, Kiranmala’s story really is my own immigrant daughter story, about returning to the land of my ancestors, the stories of my family, to find my own superpowers! Except I’m not sure if, confronted by a giant demon breaking through my kitchen, I could be as brave as Kiranmala is!

11.       What smells or scents bring back your childhood?

Lilac – my mom had a tree right outside our kitchen window when I was growing up in Ohio. Jasmine – the smell always reminds me of my childhood visits to India. And of course the smell of Indian cooking!

12.       What food speaks to your SOUL?

Bengali food – of course!

13.       What is your greatest vacation of all time?

When my kids were younger, I would have said by a beach or a pool so that they can have fun and I can sit by them reading and writing! I still enjoy vacations like that, but I equally enjoy travelling the world with my kids and husband. As a big book and theater nerd, the best vacations are ones that involve some kind of visit to a writer’s home, or to see a great play! (My kids are both in a children’s Shakespeare theater company near our home, so anytime I can see good Shakespeare, I’m happy!)

14.       If you had one wish for both of your children, what would it be?

Oh, just for them to make the world a better and more just place for all. Not too big of a task, no pressure! J

15.   If you have a favorite charity or would like to support one, what is it and why?

I support a lot of conservation, gender justice and social justice organizations. I regularly support Amnesty International, Doctors for Human Rights, and The Southern Poverty Law Center, who all do important work against injustice and hate. There’s too much of that in the world, and if being a children’s author has taught me anything, it’s that we all must keep doing the work of revolutionary love.