Friday, June 29, 2012

Storyteller's Journey

Sizzling Summer Reading List!

I can fondly recall the end of each elementary school year when the dutiful teachers issued summer reading lists - I loved it! Since I read and review so many amazing middle grade books for my blog, I decided to post my own sizzling summer reading list. The ten wonderful books listed below all contain stories that occur in the summer, and are all novels I would highly recommend. Whether you'd like a "light read" with a glass of lemonade (or chardonnay) or would simply like to enjoy a bit of exceptional writing, these ten tales will fit the bill!
Simply click on a title for a review of the book that interests you.

  *1 - Dead End in Norvelt, by Jack Gantos 
  *2 - The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly
  *3 - The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron
  *4 - Because of Winn-Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo
  *5 - Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech
  *6 - Olive's Ocean, by Kevin Henkes
  *7 - Turtle in Paradise, by Jennifer L. Holm 
  *8 - The Wanderer, by Sharon Creech
  *9 - Moon Over Manifest, by Clare Vanderpool
*10 - Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms, by Lissa Evans

Happy reading, and have a great summer!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Bibliophile's Corner

The Apothecary
by Maile Meloy

Flap Copy Description:

A mysterious apothecary.
A magic book.
A missing scientist.
An impossible plan.

It's 1952 and the Scott family has moved unexpectedly from Los Angeles to London. Janie Scott feels uncertain in her strange new school until she meets Benjamin Burrows, the local apothecary's curiously defiant son, who dreams of becoming a spy.
Benjamin's father  promises Janie a cure for homesickness, and it seems to work. But Mr. Burrows is no ordinary apothecary, and he holds dangerous secrets. When he disappears, Benjamin and Janie find themselves entrusted with his sacred book, the Pharmacopoeia. And Russian spies are intent on getting their hands on it.
Discovering transformative elixirs they never imagined could exist, Janie and Benjamin embark on a dangerous quest to save the apothecary and prevent an impending nuclear disaster.

My Thoughts:
The Apothecary is the debut middle grade novel of award-winning author Maile Meloy. This magical and mysterious story is set in London amidst the aftermath of World War II. Ms. Meloy's setting descriptions, character development, and imaginative plot make for a story that will definitely delight the young reader, with a depth befitting an adult novel. I would highly recommend The Apothecary to readers aged 9 and up.
To learn more about the author Maile Meloy, click here:

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Incredible Inspiration

Flowers seem intended for the solace of ordinary humanity.

John Ruskin

English artist, writer, and philanthropist.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Storyteller's Journey

The Most Unlikely Characters

One element that I'm hoping to improve within my W.I.P. (as I go through yet another revision) is the level of tension in my story. Presenting more challenges in the path of my protagonist is one option. However, as I pondered the other ways that I might achieve this specific goal, I had a light-bulb moment. It is so simple, and yet so profound, that I'm sure many of you are already aware of this tip:

The more diverse my characters are from one another, the more chances I have of creating tension in my story.
A type of internal tension can be maintained simply by creating unlikely characters that become friends. The best example of this that comes to my mind, comes (again) from the master storyteller, J.K. Rowling. Think about Harry, Ron, and Hermione - these three friends couldn't have been more different from one another if they'd tried!

* Harry's lack of family love and support. (He was basically an orphan held captive by his retarded relatives.)
* Ron's insecurity from belonging to a quirky family - even by wizard standards.
* Hermione's somewhat sheltered and spoiled upbringing. (In the beginning, she was a bit of a controlling know-it-all.)
These differences (and more) allowed Ms. Rowling to create and maintain a constant tension throughout the entire Harry Potter series. In the midst of the struggles that these three characters faced, they forged a friendship that was far stronger than if they had all been from the same type of family, neighborhood, or social class.

The diversity in the three main characters even allowed J. K. Rowling the ability to maintain a type of internal tension when Harry wasn't fighting with Voldemort, Draco Malfoy, or Professor Snape!

This revelation has caused me to dig into each of my characters and add a few traits that will increase their differences. Hopefully that will create a bit of constant tension in my story.

I'd love to hear how you create more tension in your manuscripts!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Whimsical Word of the Week

Perendinate -

to put off until the day after tomorrow; also, to keep postponing from day to day.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Bibliophile's Corner

Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms
by Lissa Evans

Flap Copy Description:
When ten-year-old Stuart stumbles upon a note daring him to find his great-uncle's hidden workshop full of wonderful mechanisms, trickery, and magic, he sets out on an adventure of a lifetime. In order to find the place, Stuart must believe the unbelievable - while dodging the annoyingly prying eyes of his triplet neighbors, April, May, and June.
With clues to follow, puzzles, to solve, and the quirkiest of characters, this uniquely charming fiction debut by comedienne Lissa Evans is sure to enchant middle-grade readers - and believers - everywhere.

My thoughts:
Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms was initially released in the U.K. under the title: Small Change for Stuart. This mesmerizing book is full of magic and mystery - just what you'd expect from a British author. However, Lissa Evans is not your typical author. She had a brief career as a medical doctor...and then became a stand-up comedienne! (Sounds like the perfect preparation for a children's author!) She also worked in television, producing and directing, where she won a variety of awards - including an Emmy. This MG novel has colorful characters, a wonderful plot, loads of laughs, and best of all: it's the first book in a series starring Stuart Horten!

Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms/Small Change for Stuart has been short-listed for both the 2012 Carnegie Medal in Literature and the 2012 Costa Award. Since I was unfamiliar with both of these awards issued in Great Britain, I did a bit of research.
To learn more about the Carnegie Medal Award, click here:

To learn more about the Costa Award, click here:

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Incredible Inspiration

To her the name of father was another name for love.

Fanny Fern
American newspaper columnist and author.

Happy Father's Day!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Storyteller's Journey

          Taking a Look Inside

As a young college student majoring in dental hygiene, I was required to take the same prerequisite courses as the nursing students. I will always remember one particular day in a special anatomy physiology class where we listened to our instructor lecture, as we crowded around a cadaver! Gazing into the cavity of a deceased human being was creepy and somewhat shocking to my teen-age eyes. However, it did allow me a better understanding of the form, function, and location of the major organs of the human body. I recall Dr. Erna Apsler's eastern European accent sounding something like: "Here ve have a gud ecksample of ze corpus callosum - ze fissha betveen ze right and ze left hemisphveeres."

As I peel back the layers of my WIP and take a look inside - a critical look - I'm hoping to gain a better understanding as to whether or not the important elements of my novel are correctly developed, properly placed, and serving their intended purpose. Only with that information can I make the necessary revisions to improve my manuscript. I can only imagine my dearly departed college professor (a medical doctor) saying:
"Maybe zis time you vill write ze manuscript properly!"

(Dr. Erna Apsler and her husband, Dr. Alfred Apsler, changed the face of education in our city with their high level of excellence. Their generous financial contributions continue to give students the opportunity to pursue higher education, as they have for the last four decades.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Monday, June 11, 2012

Bibliophile's Corner

Get Me Out Of Here!
by James Patterson
and Chris Tedbetts

Illustrated by
Linda Park

Flap Copy Description:
Hi, I'm Rafe...and this is my latest tale of middle school madness!

* I get to move to the BIG CITY...
* but we live in the world's dinkiest house.
* I'm accepted to an AMAZING school...
* where all the kids are supersmart snobs.
* My first assignment is to create drawings based on my AWESOME life
* but I can't think of a single one.
* So I gear up for another mission, EVEN CRAZIER than my last one...
* and this time it's all about getting a life - the most INTERESTING life
   a middle schooler ever had.

So if you're ready for a super-surprising and totally off-the-wall adventure...
Well... Let's DO this thing!

My thoughts:
International bestselling author, James Patterson has lent his literary talents to his new graphic novel, MIDDLE SCHOOL - Get Me Out Of Here. Mr. Patterson does a wonderful job of capturing the challenges, and comedy, of life in middle school. With a great cast of characters, a speedy pace, and witty humor at every turn this MG novel is a great read for the lover of laughs and the passionate prankster!

To check out James Patterson's website, and to view his current television advertisement, click here:

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Incredible Inspiration

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.

John Burroughs
American naturalist and essayist

Friday, June 8, 2012

Storyteller's Journey

          Satisfying the Scribe

I've heard writers mention many things that they really need to do their craft: a certain music, a computer with two screens, a certain software, inspiring knick-knacks in their work area, and on and on. I have something different in mind...

It has been three years since our little dog, Robin, passed away. Our whole family was understandably shaken by our loss. Following her death, my husband boldly stated that he never wanted another pet. (I knew that his comment came from his desire to never again experience the pain we all endured.)

Last Saturday we attended a lovely dinner party at the home of our friends - Kevin and Kristy. They have a wonderful black rescue dog, named Jackson. Whenever I'm around an affectionate (and well-mannered) dog I melt. The thing is, Michael connected with Jackson too. I think there may be a crack in his no-pet policy - it's time to renegotiate. Wish me luck...a dog is what will satisfy this scribe!

I would love to hear about your pet - or any other special items 
that add to your comfort and inspiration while you're writing!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Whimsical Word of the Week

Kibitz -

to look on and offer unsolicited, meddlesome advice; to make wisecracks when others are trying to work or speak seriously.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Bibliophile's Corner

Julie of the Wolves
by Jean Craighead George

Flap Copy Description:
Faced with the prospect of a disagreeable arranged marriage or a journey across the barren Alaskan tundra, 13-year-old Miyax chooses the tundra. She finds herself caught between the traditional Eskimo ways and the modern ways of the whites. Miyax, or Julie as her pen pal Amy calls her, sets out alone to visit Amy in San Francisco, a world far away from Eskimo culture and the frozen land of Alaska. During her long and arduous journey, Miyax comes to appreciate the value of her Eskimo heritage, learns about herself, and wins the friendship of a pack of wolves. After learning the language of the wolves and slowly earning their trust, Julie becomes a member of the pack.

My Thoughts:
Award-winning author, Jean Craighead George wrote over one hundred books for children in her long life. After she passed away on May 15, 2012 my local library set up a display of Ms. George's books in her memory. Although I had read Julie of the Wolves many years ago, I decided to read the Newbery Medal Award winning book again.

Jean Craighead George skillfully captured the life of the young Eskimo girl, Miyax (Julie) as she sets out on an unexpected journey of survival. She not only learns about her own inner strength, but about life, when she meets a pack of wolves who eventually accept her as one of their own. Ms. George's vast knowledge of Alaska and its wildlife, made this classic middle grade novel all the more believable. Julie of the Wolves is beautifully written and is a treasure to anyone who loves and respects nature.

To learn more about the amazing life of Jean Craighead George, click here:

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Incredible Inspiration

Lake Quinault - Washington State

Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake.

Wallace Stevens

American Poet and Pulitzer Prize winner -1955

Friday, June 1, 2012

Storyteller's Journey

            Where Is the Magic?

As I near the end of my third revision on my WIP, I have come to a most unfortunate realization: It's missing something - there is no magic! In an attempt to strive for a stellar story, my manuscript reads like something I would receive a C+ grade for - from a high school English teacher!
This past week I have scrutinized the wonderful stories I admire and asked the question: Why are they so special? Obviously, there are as many different reasons as there are Newbery Medal Award winners! However, for my purposes, I have come up with a list of attributes that most award-winning stories have in common. As I begin my fourth revision next week, I'm hoping to take my manuscript from the mundane, to the magical.

These are some points for me to ponder:

1) Character Development - When J. K. Rowling wrote the first book in her Harry Potter series, her own mother had recently passed away. She states that tapping into her own grief allowed her to create believable emotions for Harry. Can I dig deeper, to create stronger characters?

2) Distinct Voices - Developing a distinct voice for each character gives the reader a better insight to each of them, and can be very entertaining. As I've read through my WIP, I have noticed that my characters' voices (with two exceptions) sound too similar.
I have more work to do with voice.

3) Interesting Word Choices - This is something I love in a good book. However, even though it's important to me, I can tell my writing became lazy toward the end of my story. Add this to the list, too.

4) Rhythm in the Text - This goes along with the previous point. I enjoy reading a book that is somewhat poetic in style. (Great example: The Underneath, by Kathi Appelt.) Here, too, my writing became routine. Lots of work to do.

5) Suspense and Surprises - Like most readers, I love a few little (and not so little) surprises that an author weaves into her novel.
Did I hold enough back? The answer is no!

6) Colorful Setting Descriptions - This is one area that I feel I did a decent job. However, it also needs to be reviewed.

7) Humor - This point I failed miserably. Although I love good humor, I'm terrible at it. I'm not sure I can pull this one off!

8) Fatal Flaws in Characters - My protagonist comes off too perfect - with the exception of a slight anger problem. Today's MG readers don't want "sugar, and spice, and everything nice."
All my primary characters need to be more textured.

9) Engaging Hero's Journey - I feel so-so about this point. However, the initial challenge to my main character needs to be emphasized more. Set a better hook!

10) Special Ingredient - This is by far the most important item on my list, and it may be the most difficult to attain. Every winning story includes a bit of the author herself - something that is unique to her personality. It is that one element that comes from you, and you alone. It might be your gift of humor, a painful childhood experience, or your quirky outlook on life. Whatever it is to each one of us, we can't afford to leave it out - it's like breathing life into our words. It is that special ingredient that will set our stories apart. For me, one of my "special ingredients" is my love of nature. It shows up in almost everything I write - including my historical fiction manuscript.
I need to determine that I have integrated the subject of nature into my story, not merely tacked it on.

It may seem like I'm being a bit hard on myself...but being my own toughest critic is the best chance I have of attaining my writing goals.

I'd love for you to share how you add "the magic" to your manuscripts!