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26. Teen Thursday book review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

From the publisher:

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart.

Read it.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

My thoughts:

Confession time: I almost gave up on this book in the early pages. The story of a bunch of rich kids on an island just wasn't appealing to me, to be honest.

But I kept reading, and then got sucked in when Cadence ends up in a mysterious accident (finally something happened!), and I wanted to know what actually happened.

A good read if you have the patience. I was a bit disappointed at the very end, but the twist was nicely done (though I kinda caught on early).

Recommended for your clever teen girl.

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27. December musings and what kids want to read

I spent a glorious Thanksgiving break reading, thanks to Jenn's Bookshelves' brilliant idea to curl up with a book. I made my way through the better part of the pile of books I had waiting for me; some I read all the way, some I put aside to give away. Alas, the cupcake cozy just wasn't for me.

I've also been spending this past month or so thinking about what I want to write next. I've been reading middle-grade and YA, brainstorming ideas, and most of all...

I've been listening to kids. The ones who walk up to my signing table, and also the ones who don't. I watch to see what books they pick up, what books they take home. I've been listening to third, fourth--all the way to high school aged kids when they tell me what books they like, and why.

The younger kids like funny, fast, and some fantasy. Teens want to be swept away to a different place--they love those big, epic tales. Dystopian is still a favorite. Retellings of fairytales, too.

Scholastic did a quick study on what kids like; you can read all about it here. And one of my favorite MG reviewers Ms. Yingling has been talking (with exclamation marks, because this stuff is important) about how depressing recent books are that she reviews for her library. The study tells us kids want funny books, a whopping seventy percent.

So why the disconnect?

I don't know. If I can have a soapbox moment here... I think we should focus more on what kids want to read than on what we think they should read. In any case, I hope we'll see more funny books, don't you? We could all use a laugh.

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28. Happy Thanksgiving! I'll be Thankfully Reading...

Happy Turkey Day, all! I'm spending my Thanksgiving with the family and cats, at home, my favorite place to be.

And I won't be shopping this weekend; I just loathe the whole Black Friday thing. I might order some books off the internetz, or shop at Etsy for Small Business Saturday. But otherwise, I'm curling up with a book.

Look at this stack I brought home from Bouchercon! I will admit, some of these are not books I would be reading if they weren't in my book bag. But I wanted to read out of my comfort zone for a change, so I'm even going for a cozy mystery with cupcakes on the front. I'll let you know how it all works out...

Happy reading, guys!

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29. The Fun of School Visits (or: What Happens When You Leave the Bouchercon Conference Hotel)

I'm back from Bouchercon 2014! For those of you unfamiliar, Bouchercon is an annual mystery fan conference, a big one. This year it was in Long Beach, CA. So I got to escape the snow for just a few days (this was my deck, with sub-zero temps...).

The organizers were kind enough to connect me to a local school librarian, who invited me for a school visit at Dooley Elementary. School visits are my favorite part of the job, because I get to talk to the kids--this time, the entire cafeteria was packed. I told them all about my books, and about how George Washington was a master spy during the Revolutionary War. That particular talk is always fun.

And another favorite part of my job is meeting school librarians. This is Sharon Dudka, librarian extraordinaire. Like most librarians I meet, she is smart, has a great positive attitude, and knows how to get kids reading on a shoestring budget. If you happen to be in a giving mood, donate a book to your local school library.

Afterward, I had a good talk about how amazing teachers are with my cab driver David. We agreed they should get more respect and get paid better.

After my morning school visit, I was on a very cool panel on YA Dystopian, where (thankfully) we also talked about middle-grade. The best part: listening to Michelle Gagnon, Joelle Charbonneau, Sophie Littlefield, and Alexandra Monir talk about YA, and how cool their fans are. Jess Lourey moderated awesomely, and we got interesting questions too. Good stuff. But I forgot to take pictures...

I saw Michael Connelly in the lobby, but was too shy to tell him I love his books. And then I met author friends, reviewers, booksellers, and other great people over fancy appetizers and desserts.

So that's my Bouchercon report. Next week, I'll report on my book bag, which was full of books I plan to read during the Thankfully Reading Thanksgiving weekend...

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30. Character Book Club: Linc interviews middle-grade characters Lewis and Eva from TIME SQUARE--THE SHIFT

Linc: Lewis and Eva—it’s so cool to hang out with you guys today! I heard about your adventure called TIME SQUARE | THE SHIFT, and I have a lot of questions about this time traveling you’re doing. 

First, can you tell me what happened in the first book to make you both travel in time?

Lewis: Hi, Linc, it’s great to be here. Thanks for the invite. Time travel … hmmm … it’s one of those things that just happened out of the blue. It was all a complete accident, really. I think Eva can sum it up better than me.

Eva: Accident! That’s the perfect way to describe it. You could say we just fell into it. Our dad found an ancient relic in Machu Picchu and hid it in our basement. While he was showing it to us he rubbed it, and it sort of just swallowed him. We were both dragged into it when we tried to save him. Next thing, we were sitting on the ground being stared at by a bunch of people in a huge place called Time Square. The centre of time.

Lewis: Yeah, it’s a brilliant place that controls time. And if you’re licenced (or swallowed by a crusty old relic) it lets you get from one time to another.

Eva: Think of a Central Station for time travellers … and that’s Time Square.

Linc: My dad is a mechanic, but yours is a scientist. What’s that like? Who gets into trouble more: you two, or your dad? 

Eva: Dad’s great, but he can be a little bumbling. I mean, he’s smart and has discovered some amazing stuff, but, yeah … he’s caused a few problems along the way too.

Lewis: Yeah, like trapping us in Time Square.

Eva: But he didn’t mean to. You’ve done worse.

Lewis: Like what? I’ve never caused the family to cross into another dimension and get stranded with no way to get back to 1930. Dad’s handiwork is way worse than mine.

Eva: Yeah, ok, he’s got a point. Even though Lewis has caused more things to go wrong than dad, this Time Square thing has to be dad’s biggest foul up.

Linc: My spy missions seem like fun, but they get dangerous, too. How about your time travel adventures? What’s the scariest moment so far?

Lewis: I think the scariest moment so far was when it really hit me that we were actually in another time. If things didn’t work out, then we wouldn’t be able to get back to Time Square. I wasn’t too thrilled at the thought of being stuck in 1947.

Eva: Mine was when I realised that out little brother, Thomas, was still back in our house in Washington D.C. in 1930. I was so scared for him.

Lewis: He’ll be fine, Eva. Aunt Gracie will look after him ‘til we can find a way back.

Linc: Tell me about mission ELMR-01, in TIME SQUARE | UFO. That one sounds a lot like my Pandora missions, but even more mysterious…

Eva: Well, getting us stuck in Time Square wasn’t the only trouble dad caused. He sort of caused a Shift, which is a time glitch, and caused lot of travellers to become stranded throughout time.

Lewis: Yeah, good one dad!

Eva: So, we’ve both joined Operation Slingshot, which has been set up to find and rescue all of the missing travellers. ELMR is our rescue team name, and UFO is all about our first mission. There’s plenty of mystery and action.

Lewis: We went to a place called Roswell in 1947. Think space ships and aliens in a small town, then throw in a crazy inventor and a pile of twists. I think we did really well, considering it was our first mission.

Linc: Seems like you get a history lesson too, while you’re time traveling. What is the most interesting thing you learned so far?

Lewis: History! Not so far. For us, everything after 1930 is future. 

Eva: But it’s Linc’s history, Lewis. Yes, Linc, we’ve learned plenty of things about history.

Lewis: History, future, it’s all the same I guess. The most amazing thing we’ve seen has to be when we were being chased by those guards and saw the …

Eva: Lewis! … shhhh … don’t give too much away.

Linc: So after your mission to Roswell in TIME SQUARE | UFO …What’s next??

Eva: Our next mission, ELMR-02, is called TIME SQUARE | TRIANGLE. We’re off to the future, again, to save a traveller from a huge ocean liner somewhere between Bermuda and Florida. I’m sure it sounds easier than it will be. Who knows what twists are in store for us?

Lewis: I hate boats!

Eva: It’s a ship, Lewis. It’s not going to sink.

Lewis: How do you know? It’s still a boat. I hate boats!

Linc: If you were each granted three wishes, what would you wish for?

Lewis: Easy. One, I’d wish we weren’t going on a boat. Two, I’d wish to live on the sunny west coast in a huge house with cars and staff to look after me. Third, I’d wish to be able to take the inventions I’ve seen in 1947 back to 1930 and take the credit. But I know I can’t do that, shame really. That would be such a good wish.

Eva: I’d only need one wish, and that would be to get back home to our brother, Thomas.

Lewis: Ah, yeah … me too on that one. That can replace my third one. Good call, Eva. How come you’re always so … thoughtful?

Linc: Thanks so much for hanging out with me today, Lewis and Eva! I’ll set you up with my pal Henry, so he can invent you some cool spy gadgets for your future time travel adventures…

Lewis: Sounds great, it was fun to chat.

Eva: Thanks for having us, Linc. Maybe we could find a way for you and Henry to visit the Workshop in Time Square. That’s definitely gadget heaven.

You can find out more about S.W. Lothian and the Time Square series right here!


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31. MMGM book review: Time Square-The Shift by S.W. Lothian

From the publisher:

Imagine this. Your dad is a part-time archaeologist who has a tendency to discover things. One day, he comes home from an expedition with a crusty old relic, and dumps it in the basement. You’d probably think everything would be fine and dandy, but that’s where you’re wrong. Because that’s precisely when all the trouble started.

It’s 1930, and Lewis and Eva Hudson are a couple of twin teens with just such a dad. Then, on a chilly wintry day in Washington D.C., the three of them mysteriously disappear into thin air, without a trace.

Throw in a weird and mysterious rival with a point to prove, add a looming disaster that threatens to break time itself, and pretty soon they’re smack bang in the front seat of a roller-coaster to doomsville.

My thoughts:

I read this book on my e-reader this summer, while on a long road trip. I couldn't think of a better book to read--Time Square-The Shift had me hooked from the beginning. I found myself reading portions out loud, making my kids laugh with me.

S.W. Lothian has truly captured that MG audience in this book. I heard the next in the series just came out, so I can get back to the fun...

***Be sure to stop by this blog Friday, when Linc interviews Lewis and Eva for the character book club!***

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32. November Travel, Thankfully Reading, and Other Happenings

It's November! That may not come as a shock to you, but it was to me. Seeing the calendar date made me look behind me to see where time has gone...

But I'm a fan of November, so no worries. I get the hour back that was stolen for Daylight Savings, there are pretty fall colors here in Colorado, and Thanksgiving approaches, which is my favorite holiday. Food, family, all that.

Plus, I'm going to Scottsdale and L.A. next week! If you're attending the AZ & Mountains and Plains Library Association(s) conference, come say hi on Thursday. I'll be talking about different ways to reach reluctant readers.
And you can also find me in Los Angeles for Bouchercon! I'm on a YA panel Friday, and I'll be on the Queen Mary for the YA Funfest on Sunday. You can have lunch with me; I promise I have good table manners.

Also this November, as part of the CBC Roundtable, Linc interviews MG author S.W. Lothian's characters Lewis and Eva--that's on Friday the 14th. You must stop by for that; these characters are so cool.

One thing I don't like about Thanksgiving weekend is the shopping nonsense while the turkey is still warm. And I'm not alone. So Jenn's Book Thoughts has come up with the Thankfully Reading challenge: instead of shopping, we read. Brilliant idea. You can join the fun right here.

So that's November, in a nutshell. No NaNoWriMo for me, but I'm plenty busy anyway.

How about you? Anyone writing, or reading anything good...?

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33. It's A Book Birthday! How Do You Celebrate Accomplishments?

Double Vision: The Alias Men releases today! That means cake and lemonade, guys. Pass the plates...

You can buy the book right here. 

I can't believe this is the last book in the trilogy...! It's been such a blast to write Linc's adventures, and I'm pretty sure he's off to have some more, even if they might not happen on the page...

Anyway, this book birthday made me think about accomplishments, and how we celebrate them. I'm not much of a party animal--I celebrate with take-out for dinner (no cooking, which is nice), some form of chocolate for dessert, and maybe a glass of wine.

How about you? How do you celebrate your accomplishments...?

Oh, and if you want to win ALL THREE books in the Double Vision trilogy (signed hardcovers!), head over to the Secret Files of Fairday Morrow blog... Read the rest of this post

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34. Announcing The Alias Men Blog Tour!

And then there was book three of the trilogy...! Well, almost anyway--Double Vision: The Alias Men hits the shelves on October 14th. I hope you'll add it to your collection!

It wouldn't be a book release without a cool blog tour, so here's where you can find Linc and me for the next few weeks. I hope you'll follow along...

The Alias Men Blog Tour:
Oct. 6-10: The Secret Files of Fairday Morrowfeatures Double Vision: The Alias Menwith a review, author interview, plus a GIVEAWAY..!
Oct. 13: Linc hangs out at the great Erik’s blog, This Kid Reviews Books. Linc talks about spy techniques he picked up on his Pandora missions. And there’s another GIVEAWAY
Oct. 14: Double Vision: The Alias Men is released! Have a virtual party at the YA Sleuth blog…! And follow F.T. on Twitter @FTBradleyAuthor for more kid spy fun.
Oct. 16: F.T. Bradley gives you Five Ways to Bring MG into The Classroom at the Unleashing Readers blog, plus a GIVEAWAY.
Oct. 17: Linc is interviewed by Lizzy, Fairday and Marcus over at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrowblog. A fun post!
Oct. 20: Buried in Books lets F.T. Bradley talk about the Double Vision trilogy…
Oct. 20: Also this day, the fabulous Ms. Yingling reviews Double Vision: The Alias Men on her blog for Marvelous MG Monday…
Oct. 21: Another favorite blog, YA Book Nerd, hosts F.T. Bradley and the Double Vision trilogy, plus a GIVEAWAY
Oct. 21: F.T. Bradley hangs out at Sleuths, Spies and Alibis
Oct. 24: F.T. Bradley gives tips for parents of reluctant readers, Seven Ways to Get Your Kid to Read, at Pragmatic Mom’s blog, plus a GIVEAWAY!
Oct. 25: At the Nerdy Book Club, find F.T. Bradley’s top 10 books for reluctant readers...

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35. Too Many Books, Movies, TV, Not Enough Time... How Do You Decide?

We're busy here at Casa Bradley. This doesn't make us special--everyone has their jobs, after-

hours activities, friends to keep up with. Never mind pesky domestic duties. There's only so much time to read, watch TV, go see movies...

Something I noticed lately (and I don't know if this is new, or if I just have less time) is that there is SO MUCH TV! Good stuff, shows I don't get around to. Same goes for books: I just took a look at the CYBILS award nominations, and there was already a GIANT list of books I'd love to read. Hat tip to the judges for reading so many books. I know I'll be lucky if I get around to reading just a few...

Which made me wonder: how do you cull the herd of entertainment options? Do you wait to see what others like, or do you only read/watch what's new?

We just watched the latest Transformer movie, and afterward I kind of felt like someone owed me a few hours...

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36. Back In Colorado!

I'm back in Colorado!

Well, to be honest, I've been back since July, so it's not exactly news. But moving across a few states, yard installation, getting kids settled, and hosting out-of-town guests has been a bit of a time hog.

But now I'm jumping back onto the world wide web. It's good to be back, because I missed reading everyone else's blogs, hanging out on Twitter, finding out what's going on in middle-grade, mystery, and beyond. Turns out it's almost CYBILS time already. They're my favorite awards, so it'll be great to find out about everyone else's favorite titles of the past year.

And I'm back to writing middle-grade again. I forgot how much fun this part of the process is, and how much I love writing middle-grade. It's a cool mystery, that's all I've got so far. I'll keep you posted. Also, the third (and last) Linc adventure is out next month! More on this later.

So how about you, YA Sleutheri? What have you been up to....?

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37. Word from the road, Skype visits, moving, and writing

Before anyone sends a search party: I haven't fallen into a black hole, or deep swamp, or gone on a pilgrimage to a faraway place (although that last one sounds intriguing, right?). I apologize for the radio silence on the blog. But things have been, well, a bit busy around here.

First, I've been on the road. Good fun, especially the school visits! I love talking to kids, even if they are a lot smarter than I am... I've been to book signings, book festivals. This is me (to the right) with the lovely Emily from Lemuria Bookstore in Jackson, Mississippi. Local bookstores are always the best, but Lemuria is like a hideaway from the world, filled with books. Go visit if you get a chance; you won't regret it.

I've been enjoying my Skype visits with classrooms too. What did we do before the internet, people? It's awesome how you can travel without leaving home.

Also, I've been writing. Dark, broody YA crimey stuff. I'll keep you posted on where that goes, I promise.

And the Bradley clan is relocating, back to beautiful Colorado. We're packing up cats, kids, and books this June, so I'll apologize right now for future radio silence. This 2014 year appears to be the year of chaos...

How have you all been? Any good book recommendations for my summer reading pile??

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38. For World Read Aloud Day, here is my clue to finish the mystery scavenger hunt...

It's World Read Aloud Day! This is one of those holidays I can get behind, because I read aloud every day. It's easy, like national pizza eating day, or national chocolate day...

As part of a fun mystery scavenger hunt, I'm participating in a linked blog contest for kids run by LitWorld and BonbonBreak.com. Since I love codes (as those of you who've read the Double Vision books know), I wrote my secret word in a number code below.

To decode, simply substitute each number by the corresponding letter in the alphabet: so 1 is the letter A, 2 the letter B, and so on....

Here's your number code, kids:

20 - 8 - 5 - 13

Isn't this fun? Now you can head over to BonbonBreak to finish the puzzle...

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39. Happy birthday, George Washington!

It's George Washington's birthday! Pass the cake, all...

I hope you've enjoyed this mini-blog tour and celebration of Washington's spy history. And let me know if you have any facts to share about the first president in the comments! I'm a bit of a history nut...

Happy birthday, George.

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40. The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow interviews me (plus, a #giveaway of CODE NAME 711!)...

The awesome Secret Files of Fairday Morrow blog was kind enough to review Double Vision: Code Name 711 a few weeks ago. And now they've interviewed me, so I had a chance to talk about how long it takes to write a book, and what spy gadget I'd like Henry to invent for me.

Check out the interview, and enter the giveaway of Double Vision: Code Name 711!

And if you're in Jackson, Mississippi, come see me at Lemuria Bookstore. I'll be signing books at 5 p.m., and sharing cool spy stuff about George Washington... Read the rest of this post

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41. For Educators: George Washington resources to use in the classroom

As part of this week-long celebration of our first president's birthday, I wanted to share some resources I found helpful when doing research for Double Vision: Code Name 711. I hope educators out there find them useful! If you have any links to add, please comment...

The internet offers a wealth of links and resources to bring Revolutionary War history to life, and help kids see George Washington as a pretty cool guy who shaped our country. Here is a short list:

Culper Ring History Links
The International Spy Museum: this Washington, D.C. museum has a wealth of resources for educators, plus great events for kids throughout the year.
Mount Vernon: What better place to get the skinny on George Washington’s history than at his home, Mount Vernon. Be sure to visit the links at the bottom of this narrative, for images that bring the Culper Ring activities to life for students.
History Channel: a history on the Culper Ring. If working with older (middle-grade) students, consider watching the Decoded episode on the Culper Ring.
Stony Brook University library: Another recap of Culper Ring history, with great images of original documents.
Information on George Washington
The White House: Your first stop for all things presidential. You can find a biography on George Washington, and First Lady Martha.
Library of Congress: Did you know that the LOC has a whole section devoted to games, resources and activities for kids and families? A great site to keep bookmarked.
The Smithsonian Institute: Be sure to visit the Smithsonian’s kids page, and the “Mr. President” link for profiles on all our country’s presidents, including George Washington.
PBS George Washington page: A great comprehensive resource, for reports or other projects.

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42. Marvelous MG Monday review: George Washington, Spymaster by Thomas B. Allen

Happy President's Day! 

Since I'm celebrating George Washington's birthday (and his part in Double Vision: Code Name 711) on my blog all this week, I thought I would review some non-fiction for a change:

George Washington, Spymaster
How the Americans Outspied the British and won the Revolutionary War
by: Thomas B. Allen

From the publisher:

Follow the action as 1775 dawns, and Washington finds himself in serious trouble. At war with Britain, the world's most powerful empire, his ragtag army possesses only a few muskets, some cannons, and no money. The Americans' only hope is to wage an invisible war—a war of spies, intelligence networks, and deception. 

Enter the shadowy world of double agents, covert operations, codes and ciphers—a world so secret that America's spymaster himself doesn't know the identities of some of his agents. Meet members of the elusive Culper Ring, uncover a "mole" in the Sons of Liberty, and see how invisible ink and even a clothesline are used to send secret messages. You can even use Washington's own secret codebook, published here for the first time. Experience at close quarters the successes and failures of the Americans as they strive to outwit the British. Meet the chief of covert operations, one Benjamin Franklin, and several other surprising players in America's secret war. 

Author Thomas B. Allen has sifted through dozens of historical documents and coded letters to uncover the facts about a time shrouded in secrets. Archival art, coupled with lively pen-and-ink sketches by children's illustrator Cheryl Harness, detail all the action and adventure of this momentous tale. Like the highly acclaimed hardback, this little paperback is sure to have a big impact on the imagination of readers everywhere.

My thoughts:

Phew, that plot description from the publisher was long. But the praise is not unwarranted--this is a fun historical paperback perfect for anyone interested in learning more about George Washington. The historical facts are entertaining enough for any kid grade five and up (I found it fun to read). There's even a chart at the beginning of the book, so you can see just how intricate George Washington's web of spies really was. It's a fascinating bit of history, and this book makes George Washington three-dimensional to kids.

My only minor criticism is that it felt a little dated, with only pen-and-ink sketches. But otherwise, this is a non-fiction winner I highly recommend to teachers, parents and kids.

How I found out about this book:

A Google search when I was researching the Culper Ring (George Washington's spies) for Double Vision: Code Name 711 gave me this book. It's a bit of an undiscovered gem, I think...

For more Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday reviews, head over to author Shannon Messenger's blog!

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43. Announcing the Code Name 711 blog tour, part 2: a celebration of George Washington's birthday

It's Presidents Day next week, and George Washington's birthday on Feb. 22!

Okay, so our first president isn't alive anymore, but that doesn't mean we can't celebrate what a cool spy guy he was.

Since Double Vision: Code Name 711 features George Washington's spy history as the head of the Culper Ring, I thought I'd add a mini blog tour next week. Plus, the virtual cake is on me.

Here's the schedule; I hope you'll follow along!

Feb. 1-22: Goodreads giveaway of signed copies of Code Name 711 (see the handy-dandy gadget in the sidebar of this blog, to the right).

Feb. 17: Marvelous MG Monday review of non-fiction book George Washington, Spymaster. Right here, on the blog.

Feb. 19: Educator resources (links) to lots of information on George Washington and his role in the Revolutionary War as a Culper spy.

Feb 21: Author interview at the Secret Files of Fairday Morrow blog--plus, a giveaway of Code Name 711. 
And if you live near Jackson, MS, come see me at Lemuria Bookstore! I'll be doing lots of school visits around Jackson that day, and I'll be at the store to sign books at 5 p.m.

Feb. 22: George Washington's birthday!

I promise that by the time I finish this little blog tour, you'll look at George Washington in a whole new light.

Now I want to know: who is your favorite U.S. president, and why?

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44. COVER REVEAL: Double Vision: The Alias Men (!!!) #mglitchat #mglit

I finally get to reveal the cover of Double Vision: The Alias Men...! It's Linc's third (and final, since it's a trilogy) adventure, set in Hollywood.... The book is out October 14th; I'm grateful for those of you who continue to wait patiently for this book :-)

Check it out over at Sleuths, Spies and Alibis, and let me know what you think!

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45. Where I talk book covers and cover reveals

Good news: I get to reveal the cover of Double Vision: The Alias Men next week! It's Linc's third (and last) adventure, set in Hollywood and featuring Charlie Chaplin's hat that has dangerous powers... It's due out in the fall of this year.

Cover reveals are fun, especially for us author folk. There's something about a cover that makes the whole thing (that would be the book) real. But it's also a little nerve-wracking, since you don't know if people will like the cover.

And it always gets me to think about covers, both good and bad. Something I noticed: the more famous the author, the more boring the cover.... Just look at some of the blockbuster thrillers and mysteries: their covers are highly forgettable.

How about you, YA Sleutheri? Any favorite/ugly book covers that come to mind?

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46. For Multicultural Children's Book Day, I suggest Vanished by Sheela Chari (one of my all-time favorites) #MCKlitDay

It's Multicultural Children's Book Day! Don't worry if you weren't aware--I wasn't until the lovely Mia Wenjen (a.k.a. Pragmatic Mom) asked me to join in and feature a multicultural children's book today. So I did. Here's Mia's motivation behind Multicultural Children's Book Day, with some statistics, too. It's important stuff for all of us to consider.

I'll be honest: I agonized over picking the right book... I started by looking at picture books, because those are most likely to show their multiculturalness (is that a word?) on the cover. And there are lovely ones at my local library; we're fortunate that way. But then I felt out of my depth in the picture book department, so I went back to middle-grade, and looked at our bookshelf.

And one book jumped out at me: Vanished by Sheela Chari. It's a few years old, and originally made it on my radar because it was nominated for an Edgar Award in the Best Juvenile category. This book is one of our favorites here at Casa Bradley, and I hope you'll consider it for your kids, school or library. The author does an outstanding job blending mystery and Indian culture, with top-notch middle-grade appeal.

From the Publisher:

Eleven-year-old Neela dreams of being a famous musician, performing for admiring crowds on her traditional Indian stringed instrument. Her particular instrument was a gift from her grandmother-intricately carved with a mysterious-looking dragon.

When this special family heirloom vanishes from a local church, strange clues surface: a tea kettle ornamented with a familiar pointy-faced dragon, a threatening note, a connection to a famous dead musician, and even a legendary curse. The clues point all the way to India, where it seems that Neela's instrument has a long history of vanishing and reappearing. Even if Neela does track it down, will she be able to stop it from disappearing again?

My Thoughts:

This story felt like a classic middle-grade: the coming of age story, the unique cultural insight, and a mystery to keep the story moving. The author added some notes in the back of the book about the veena and her research--great extra material that I think should put this book with the classics in MG.

I'll add that I think this might be one of my all-time favorite covers...

How about you? Do you have a favorite multicultural children's book to share?

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47. Edgar Award nominees for Best Juvenile and Best YA

In case you missed it, last week Mystery Writers of America announced their Edgar Award nominees. As always, I'm going to make an attempt to read the Juvenile and YA category books.

In case you feel like joining in, here is the list:

Strike Three, You're Dead by Josh Berk (Random House Children's Books – Alfred A. Knopf BFYR)
Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking by Erin Dionne (Penguin Young Readers Group – Dial)
P.K. Pinkerton and the Petrified Man by Caroline Lawrence
 (Penguin Young Readers Group – Putnam Juvenile)
Lockwood & Co.: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud
(Disney Publishing Worldwide – Disney-Hyperion)
One Came Home by Amy Timberlake (Random House Children's Books – Alfred A. Knopf BFYR)


 All the Truth That's In Me by Julie Berry
(Penguin Young Readers Group – Viking Juvenile)
Far Far Away by Tom McNeal (Random House Children's Books – Alfred A. Knopf BFYR)
Criminal by Terra Elan McVoy (Simon & Schuster – Simon Pulse)
How to Lead a Life of Crime by Kirsten Miller
(Penguin Young Readers Group – Razorbill)
Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

Confession time: I had not heard of most of these... Since I read a lot of MG and YA mysteries, I did see the (very long) list of submissions, so I guess it's not surprising that these titles are unfamiliar to me. There are just so many books being published--which is a good thing.

I do have to say that I was surprised how many strong YA and MG mysteries from the submissions did not make the list this year, including ones by fairly well-known mystery authors... I guess awards are always a bit of a mystery, huh?

I'll be sure to review the nominees as I read them! This'll be fun...


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48. Cliches in middle-grade books for reluctant readers, and why they need to go

I spent the past few years very focused on reading as much middle-grade as possible--especially middle-grade aimed at reluctant readers. You know, the not-so-fat books, books with more illustrations in them (like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, only not), books with bigger type, you get the idea. If you're going to write for a certain age group, you should read lots in that department too, I think.

So you'll routinely see me checking out stacks of middle-grade books at the library. It's nice reading, even if you're not eight-to-twelve years old. But as I read more, I also started noticing some cliches/trends.

Trend 1: Lots of smarty-mouth books featuring boys. Now, I can't say anything about the mouth business, because Linc has his share of attitude. But some of the attitude I see in these books is kind of... Disrespectful toward adults, or fellow kids that are portly/foreign/homely-looking. Maybe it's the parent in me, but I frowned at this trend. You can be a smart-mouth without being disrespectful, I think (hope).

Trend 2: In these same books, we're FOREVER AT SCHOOL. Wimpy Kid makes it work, but there's more to life than school, even if you're a kid who gets around on a bike or via parental transportation.

Trend 3: No plot. A smart mouth and middle-school detention does not a story make.

What's frustrating to me about these books is that I visit classrooms full of the intended readers all the time. We plot a novel together (loads of fun), and what strikes me every time is how smart, creative, imaginative, and positive middle-schoolers are. They deserve better books. Especially if they're reluctant readers, because how do we expect them to keep reading if all they get is books on boogers, farts, and snarky comments about odd kids?

The good news? There are a lot more books being published for middle-graders, and really GOOD books at that. Sure, many are still in the fantasy department, but contemporary fiction is represented too. Let's hope that we'll see fewer Wimpy Kid knock-offs (why try anyway? Jeff Kinney does such a great job), and more stories taking kids on adventures outside the classroom... More mysteries too, I hope.

What do you think? Are there any cliches you're sick of seeing?

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49. Blog post: My plans for 2014 and January, plus a cat picture

Happy 2014! Hopefully, you're off to a good start, despite the frosty temperatures. Me, I've been fighting a wicked jetlag from our trip to the homeland (that's the Netherlands for me), and Paris, with a quick stop in Germany. I'll be sure to share some pics soon.

But I'm finally ready to join the new year, and have some new goals. First I'll be posting on Thursdays from now on--or at least, that's the plan. With writing, book business, and life in general, it seems like a good target. I hope you'll continue to stick around. What to expect? I'm glad you asked (maybe you didn't, but I'll share anyway. You can always skip to the cat picture).

1. More about books, and about reluctant readers.
I've been hosting a workshop at library and book conventions on reaching the reluctant reader, and the feedback and book recommendations from librarians, teachers and kids have been the best part for me. I'll share bits and pieces of info here in 2014.

2. More reviews.
My goal is to read all the books that were recommended to me during my workshop--so YA and MG for reluctant readers straight from the source. I'm excited to check out these titles.

3. More reviews--part 2.
I hope to read the Edgar nominees for both Juvenile and YA. It's a lofty goal, but I'm hoping to make it...

4. More reports from the road.
Because those are fun. I'm busy planning events for the first half of 2014; I'll have more to share on this next month...

In January, I'll be writing (YA this time, top-secret work-in-progress), and at the end of the month I'll be driving up to Jackson, MS to sign books at Lemuria along with fellow MG author J.E. Thompson. I'm really looking forward to this event.

How is your 2014 kicking off? Any good plans?

Oh, and here's the cat picture, as promised:

I put this basket out to hold our plethora of computer/electronics cables, but Xena instantly claimed it and gave me the stink-eye. It's obvious who rules the house...

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50. Have a great holiday week!

I hope you spend this week with a great book, good food, and the people you love...

Happy holidays, and I'll see you in 2014!


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