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Monday, August 22, 2016

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Interview with Hazelwind from THE GUARDIAN HERD #4: WINDBORN.

Omigosh, people! I am so excited today. In February of this year, I met Jennifer Lynn Alvarez at Green Bean Books in Portland. (She was doing a reading with the equally excellent Anne Nesbet and Kristen Kittscher.) Jennifer's the author of the amazing The Guardian Herd series, and she agreed to share with the Middle Grade Mafioso some fantastic goodies from the series. First, an interview with the popular buckskin stallion Hazelwind of Sun Herd, taking a break from the intense action in Anok to answer a few questions for us. Hazelwind's also brought a never-before-seen sketch of himself that appears in The Guardian Herd #4 WINDBORN. (This book releases online and in bookstores on 09/20/2016.) Then, there's a video. Finally, there are PRIZES!!!! Jennifer will send one lucky commenter a Guardian Herd Windborn notebook, as well as a signed book plate and some character trading cards. Isn't that amazing?!

But first, I'd like to welcome Hazelwind, and thank him for joining us today at Middle Grade Mafioso.

Hazelwind: Glad to be here actually. Thanks for having me.

Middle Grade Mafioso: So book #3 LANDFALL ended in a huge cliffhanger. As a character in this series, what was that like for you?

Hazelwind: That’s a good question. The truth is that it’s as tough for the characters as it is for the readers. The author doesn’t allow us to read ahead, so none of us had a clue who would live, who would die, or what would happen next. Actually, I think it’s worse for us than it is for the readers. They’re safe in their Landwalker homes or schools, but we’re in Anok, in a forest called the Trap. It’s anything but safe.

MGM: Since you mention it, what are conditions like in the Trap?

Hazelwind: It was springtime when I was there, but still cold and foggy. Day after day went by without any of us seeing the sun. The Trap is located in Northern Anok, on the tundra. The predators are huge and the food is scarce. I much preferred the chapters that took place in Sun Herd’s lands. The weather there is almost always pleasant.

MGM: So if you’re no longer in the Trap, where are you?

Hazelwind: Well, that’s tricky. If I tell you, then I’ll give away some stuff that happens in book four, WINDBORN, and that’ s top secret.

MGM: But by now, you’ve finished the final chapters of WINDBORN, so you know how it ends, right?

Hazelwind: That’s right.

MGM: Can you tell readers anything that might ease their minds? Is Morningleaf alive? Does Star defeat Nightwing? Is Thundersky freed from the Beyond?

Hazelwind: (nickers) It wouldn’t be top secret if I told you now, would it? But honestly, a book is a journey that must be experienced. It wouldn’t be fair to readers for me to reveal anything.

MGM: All right, I tried. Now, let’s move on. Your character Hazelwind is often compared to his powerful sire, Thundersky. Can we assume from this that Hazelwind will one day become a great leader?

Hazelwind (snorts): I don’t know about that, but my character certainly has the potential. He’s honorable and tough, like his sire was, but I think Hazelwind is more thoughtful. You can’t be around Star for long without second-guessing everything you thought you knew to be true. And I think Hazelwind is a stallion that pegasi would follow, but he wouldn’t be a leader like Thundersky was. He’d probably employ a council of advisors, more like Star.

MGM: Yes, that makes sense and there are so many pegasi to choose from. Can you tell your fans what it’s like working with such a large cast of pegasi characters? Do you all get along? Any practical jokers in the book?

Hazelwind: [nickering] That would be Bumblewind—he’s a joker. There’s a scene in LANDFALL where Dewberry has to fling rocks at a pinecone, kind of like target practice. Each time she threw a rock, Bumblewind shook the tree. She got so mad!

MGM: [laughs] I wouldn’t mess with Dewberry. 

Hazelwind: That’s smart, she’s a tough mare, but to answer your question, we all get along really well. We’ve adventured through three books together and now a fourth. We’ve been through it all, you know, sadness and loss and triumphs too. It’s bonded us as a herd, which is exactly what the book series is about—uniting to solve problems instead of fighting to force solutions. I think we exemplify Star’s ideal guardian herd—most days.

MGM: I know you can’t reveal this, but readers want to know if Star and Morningleaf end up together. Can you comment on their relationship?

Hazelwind: She’s my sister, so no. I won’t comment other than to say, she’s very, very young. And so is Star.

MGM: Hmm, okay. Another thing readers want to know is what was it like training with the United Army and then battling against the Ice Warriors and Frostfire’s Black Army in book #3? Were those chapters tough on the characters? 

Hazelwind: Warrior training was awesome! I learned so much from the steeds in the other herds. Bringing all of our talents together made each of us stronger. I got in great shape too. But the battle scenes, those are never easy. They’re grueling and frightening, to be honest, but worth it because we were battling to preserve freedom for all pegasi. It was an honor to serve in those scenes.

MGM: But at the end of LANDFALL, Nightwing appears to prevail. How did that feel? 

Hazelwind: (pauses) I’m still sick about it.

MGM: I can see how much the series means to you, Hazelwind.

Hazelwind: Yeah, it’s not just a book series, you know. Not to me.

MGM: Perhaps now would be a good time for your announcement?

Hazelwind: Sure! I’m happy to say that the pegasi’s adventures will continue with a new trilogy called THE GUARDIAN HERD: DARK WATER TRIALS, beginning Fall of 2017. These three books will follow some existing characters across the sea to a foreign land. There they will encounter new creatures, new dangers, and new friends too.

MGM: Can you tell us who the existing characters are?

Hazelwind: Not yet, but a few of them will be very familiar to readers.

MGM: And what sort of new creatures will the pegasi encounter in this foreign land?

Hazelwind: Drooling dragons, fighting scarabs, hordes of giants, and Landwalkers, to name a few.

MGM: You mean humans?

Hazelwind: Yeah, if that’s what you want to call them. Some pegasi mysteries will also be revealed. We’re all super excited about the new trilogy. The first book is titled PROMISE KEEPER.

MGM: Sounds exciting! Well, thank you for joining us today at Middle Grade Mafioso, Hazelwind. We appreciate you taking some time out of the series to answer our questions.

Hazelwind: Anytime!

MGM: And here's the sketch!!! (By the marvelous illustrator, David McClellan.)

Here's the video... (N.b. Some sky-diving involved...)

About the Author:
Jennifer Lynn Alvarez draws on her lifelong love of horses  when writing her books. She lives in Northern California with her husband, children, and more than her fair share of pets. She's pictured here with her beloved mare, Maddie.

Visit the official website to play games, take quizzes, meet the pegasi, chat on the fan forum, enter to win prizes, subscribe to the newsletter!

AND... Don't forget to comment for a chance to win those fabulous prizes. Thank you Hazlewind (and Jennifer!) for visiting us today. Ciao!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: JOSHUA AND THE ARROW REALM by Donna Galanti (Book Trailer Reveal and Giveaway)

I’m thrilled to unveil the trailer for book two in my friend Donna Galanti’s fantasy adventure Lightning Road series,  JOSHUA AND THE ARROW REALM, arriving August 30th. The Midwest Book Review calls book one, JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTNING ROAD, “a heart-pounding thrill ride full of unexpected twists and turns from start to finish.”

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


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

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

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

And here's the book trailer:



Barnes & Noble

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

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Cover Reveal for Kate Ristau's CLOCKBREAKERS

I love Greek Mythology as well as time travel, so when Portland author Kate Ristau asked me if the Don and I would like to reveal the cover of her second novel, CLOCKBREAKERS, we jumped at the chance. Here's what CLOCKBREAKERS is about:
On her eleventh birthday, Charlie receives a key to go back in time. But before she blows out her candles, she rolls her wheelchair right into Ancient Greece with her best friend Maria and her former best friend Trent. She’s a Clockbreaker on an action-packed adventure with a mission: to save her father, and perhaps even save the world.
Doesn't that sound terrific?! The cover art, by Portland artist Lee Moyer is also breathtaking. Drum roll, please:

I'd snap that off the shelves in a heartbeat. (That minotaur's stare sends shivers down my spine!) CLOCKBREAKERS release date is October the 1st from Indigo Sea Press. If you'd like to read an excerpt, Kate Ristau has one on her website.

Thanks, Kate, for giving Middle Grade Mafioso the honor of revealing this great cover. We look forward to reading CLOCKBREAKERS.

About the Author:

Kate Ristau
is a folklorist and an author. After working for AmeriCorps, she moved to Oregon, where she completed her Masters Degree in folklore at the University of Oregon, where she also taught.

She is the author of Commas: An Irreverent Primer, a grammar handbook co-written with her fellow professor, Maren Bradley Anderson. Anderson and Ristau also edited an anthology of poems, essays, and short stories titled Coarse Grounds: A Coffee Anthology.

Her first novel, Shadowgirl, was released by Lycaon Press in May of 2015. Her second novel, Clockbreakers, will be released on October 1st by Indigo Sea Press.

Kate also spends a lot of her time with Willamette Writers, where she is the Communications Director. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband, her son and her dog.
Twitter  Facebook  Website

About the Illustrator:

Lee Moyer served as Art Director for Electronic Arts, Concept Lead for Hasbro, and collaborated with many best-selling-authors for his trilogy of Literary Pin-Up Calendars. He co-created and was lead designer of games Sanctum, Star Chamber, and 13th Age. His board game, with Keith Baker and Paul Komoda, The Doom That Came to Atlantic City was published by Cryptozoic in 2014. He paints more than a dozen posters for film, theatre, and musical events annually. He spent an hour every day for a year painting his series Small Gods.

Lee lives in Portland, Oregon and travels widely for work, gallery shows, teaching and lecturing.

He plays a mean game of Scrabble. Website

Monday, July 25, 2016

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: COVER REVEAL for H.M. Bouman's A CRACK IN THE SEA

Friends, the Don and I do love a good cover. And we also love being the first to know things. So a cover reveal is right up our alley!

We are thrilled to be able to reveal the cover art (and some inner illustrations) for H.M. Bouwman's A CRACK IN THE SEA. The back cover contains the inscription Three families, two worlds, and one magical portal. Sweet!

Here's the cover:

Isn't it gorgeous? And here's what the novel is about:

No one comes to the Second World on purpose. The doorway between worlds opens only when least expected. The Raft King is desperate to change that by finding the doorway that will finally take him and the people of Raftworld back home. To do it, he needs Pip, a young boy with an incredible gift—he can speak to fish; and the Raft King is not above kidnapping to get what he wants. Pip’s sister Kinchen, though, is determined to rescue her brother and foil the Raft King’s plans.

This is but the first of three extraordinary stories that collide on the high seas of the Second World. The second story takes us back to the beginning: Venus and Swimmer are twins captured aboard a slave ship bound for Jamaica in 1781. They save themselves and others from a life of enslavement with a risky, magical plan—one that leads them from the shark-infested waters of the first world to the second. Pip and Kinchen will hear all about them before their own story is said and done. So will Thanh and his sister Sang, who we meet in 1976 on a small boat as they try to escape post-war Vietnam. But after a storm and a pirate attack, they’re not sure they’ll ever see shore again. What brings these three sets of siblings together on an adventure of a lifetime is a little magic, helpful sea monsters and that very special portal, A Crack in the Sea.

The novel includes some stunning interior art by illustrator, Yuko Shimizu. Here are two of the pieces:

What do you guys think? I received an ARC from the publisher, G.P. Putnam's Sons, and can't wait to read it on my hols in British Columbia (the closest to a trip to Britain I seem to be able to make.) A review will be forthcoming. Publication date for A CRACK IN THE SEA is January 3rd, 2017.

About the Author:

H. M. Bouwman is the author of The Remarkable & Very True Story of Lucy & Snowcap. An associate professor of English at the University of St. Thomas, she lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with her two sons. A Crack in the Sea is her second novel.

About the Illustrator:

Yuko Shimizu is a Japanese illustrator based in New York City and an instructor at the School of Visual Arts. In 2009, Newsweek Japan chose Yuko as one of the “100 Japanese People the World Respects.” Yuko is the illustrator of the picture book Barbed Wire Baseball, and her work can also be seen on Gap T-shirts, Pepsi cans, Visa billboards, and Microsoft and Target ads, as well as on numerous book covers and in the pages of The New York Times, Time, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker and many others.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: THE PECULIAR HAUNTING OF THELMA BEE by Erin Petti

THE PECULIAR HAUNTING OF THELMA BEE by Erin Petti (Mighty Media Press, September 6, 2016)

What It's About:
Eleven-year-old budding scientist Thelma Bee has adventure in her blood. But she gets more than she bargained for when a ghost kidnaps her father. Now her only clues are a strange jewelry box and the word “Return,” whispered to her by the ghost. It’s up to Thelma to get her dad back, and it might be more dangerous than she thought—there’s someone wielding dark magic, and they’re coming after her next.

Opening Lines:
"Thelma Bee dragged still sleepy fingers through her bangs as she marched into the backyard. October was serving up another perfect day--chilly air, crispy leaves, and early sun."

Why I Liked It:
Wow! This is right up there with the spookiest books I've read. There were some truly terrifying scenes--and if my hair was being raised, goodness knows what was happening to the 11-year-old readers'. First off, Thelma's dad disappears into an old jewelry box. Thelma herself gets sucked into the box, and meets an imprisoned ancestor who reveals to her just what is going on. Then, while searching for her dad, the car she and her friends are riding in is attacked by a bull. One of the friends falls into a raging torrent, and the villain has spectacular magic powers, like being able to suspend people in mid-air. His hideous sidekick is a shapeshifter. There are thrills and chills aplenty so... Hang onto your hats!

Thelma is a great creation: a scientist whom we first see trying to grow a Mexican orchid (her experiments are described with a lot of humor: "Steadfast for days, Thelma had eaten only Mexican food, spoken only Spanish, and even played mariachi music around the plant.") Thelma's best friend, Alexander, is a polyglot and there are other delightful supporting characters who make up the Riverfish Valley Paranormal Society (RVPS). They're the source of much of the humor, which leavens the truly terrifying moments. If you like spooky stuff--interspersed with some great laughs-- this is a book for you!

About the Author:
Erin Petti lives by the ocean in Massachusetts with her husband and toddler. She loves to read about magic, dinosaurs, folklore, and ghosts. Erin has a masters in education and a background in improvisational comedy at ImprovBoston.

P.S. This is a great interactive idea. Readers can choose the cover for the book. Vote at and enter to win a Thelma Bee gift box with a signed book,
stickers, buttons, a Thelma Bee journal, and more! The deadline is August the 1st!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: STARS SO SWEET by Tara Dairman

STARS SO SWEET by Tara Dairman (Putnam, July 2016)

I'm so happy to introduce the third book in Tara Dairman's All Four Stars series. Tara was snapped up by agent Ammi-Joan Paquette after the Baker's Dozen auction in 2011, and I loved both previous books in this series, which I reviewed HERE and HERE.
I'm delighted to have been able to enjoy another Gladys Gatsby adventure and to take part in this blog tour.

What It's About (via Goodreads): 
As the summer winds down and Gladys Gatsby prepares to start middle school, she is nervous about juggling schoolwork and looming deadlines from her secret job as the New York Standard’s youngest restaurant critic. When her editor pushes for a face-to-face meeting to discuss more opportunities with the paper, Gladys knows she must finally come clean to her parents. But her perfectly planned reveal is put on hold when her parents arrive home with a surprise:  her Aunt Lydia, one of the only adults who knows her secret, fresh off the plane from Paris. Gladys and Aunt Lydia try one last ruse to fool her editor at the Standard, but even with her aunt’s help, Gladys just can’t manage the drama of middle school and a secret life. It’s time for Gladys to be true to herself and honest with her friends and family, regardless of what those around her think.

Opening Lines:
"Gladys Gatsby felt like a live fish was flopping around in her stomach."

Why I Loved It:

  1. The characters: Gladys is an endearing character. True to the middle grade experience, she worries about whether she fits in, about friendships, and about the journey to middle school. Yet she is loyal, level-headed, and creative. Tara Dairman does a good job with all her characters. Charissa, for example, could easily have been written as a stereotypical "mean girl," but instead we are shown a more rounded side to her. I also liked the fact that characters from the earlier novels were developed--Gladys' Aunt Lydia being a case in point.
  2. The humor. Tara Dairman, for my money, is one of the funniest middle grade writers around. Her humor isn't the obvious, gross sort. Often times, it is situational. I'll never forget the "Gladys-under-the restaurant table" scene in All Four Stars, or the disastrous swim test in The Stars of Summer. In Stars So Sweet, there are deliciously comic moments when Gladys tries to wiggle out of meeting her editor in person. Chuckles abound!
  3. The covers. All three books have had wonderful, memorable colors--by artist Kelly Murphy. Very eye-catching.
In conclusion, Stars So Sweet is a delightful addition to the Gladys canon. Hooray for Tara!

About The Author:

Tara Dairman is the author of the middle-grade ALL FOUR STARS series, the newest addition being Stars So Sweet. She is also a playwright and world-traveler. 

Tara holds a B.A. in Creative Writing from Dartmouth College and is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. You can find her online in the following places:

Monday, June 20, 2016

DIYMFA: A Great Writing Resource

I am, I must admit, a bit of a fiend when it comes to collecting books on writing, a.k.a Craft Books. There's hardly a one I haven't perused, and many of them make it onto my shelves. (What can I say? Buying books is a bit of an addiction.)

Several years ago, I came across the DIYMFA website, the brainchild of Gabriela Pereira. Gabriela had earned an MFA herself, but saw the need to help others who might not have the time or the financial wherewithal to pursue a traditional MFA.

From the get-go, I was attracted by the design of the website, and by the way Gabriela Pereira organized things. (It came as no surprise to learn, while reading DIYMFA, that she has a masters in design as well as her MFA.) Gabriela was big on creating community also, and I enjoyed the conversational style in her regular emails to her blog subscribers.

I jumped, therefore, at the opportunity to join her "street team," and the chance to read her book DIYMFA (Writers Digest books, July 2016). I wasn't disappointed.

DIYMFA is the book I wished I'd had in my innocent little hands when I started my writing journey all those years ago. Organized in three parts--Write with Focus; Read with Purpose; and Build Your Community--it's cram packed with tips, insights and examples from some of my favorite writers. (Is it a coincidence that Gabriela and I share a love for Jane Austen, Harry Potter, and the Hunger Games? I think not.)

This is the meat of the book, where Gabriela tackles motivation, three act structure, creating characters, Point of View, dialogue, and revising in layers. Even if you've immersed yourself in craft books like yours truly, you will still experience new insights--from how to create a mind map, to using the acronym WORST to figure out what your character wants**, to revising in layers--courtesy of the revision pyramid.

**WORST stands for
W = What does your character want? What is her deepest desire?
O = What obstacles are in her way?
R = What will your character risk on the quest for this desire?
S = What’s at stake in your story? What will happen if the character fails?
T = How does your character transform or change on this journey?

When you study for an MFA, you immerse yourself in reading great books. Gabriela gives tips on how to build your own library, gives you permission to DNF a book (c'mon, life is too short if you are finding yourself slogging through a book), and shows you how to read as a writer. I particularly loved her thorough examination of Kate Chopin's short story, The Story of an Hour.

This section of the book is packed with advice about how to maintain a circle of trust, using the acronym CASA:
C = Critique
A = Accountability
S = Support
A = Advice or Apprenticeship

There are tools for how to start a critique group, and how best to critique another's work and accept the critique of your own. Gabriela is also very thorough when talking about crafting your author identity, and how best to  network at writing conferences. (I particularly liked her "Four-Step Networking Formula for Introverts," as "networking" always gives me the willies.)

DIYMFA concludes with a commencement address, including these stirring lines:
Writing is survival. You must stay on the battlefield after everyone
else has given into defeat. “Overnight success” is a myth. The secret is
to persist until everyone has given up and you’re the only one left standing.
Some people say that writers are born, not made, and I agree—but with
a twist. I believe that every single human on this planet is born a writer, it’s
just that most people give up somewhere along the way.
Don’t give up.

In conclusion, I have to say that with the tools imparted by Gabriela Pereira in DIYMFA, it becomes a lot easier to stay the course on the writing jungle gym! I'm eagerly awaiting the arrival of my copy after it publishes on July the 8th!

(Click this link to order it from Writers Digest for 24% savings.)