Monday, December 15, 2014

A Million Ways Home by Dianna Dorisi Winget (plus Interview)

A MILLION WAYS HOME by Dianna Dorisi Winget (Scholastic Press, 2014)

What It's About (from Dianna's website): Poppy's life has been turned upside down after her grandma (and guardian) had a stroke and ended up in the hospital. But Poppy is working on a plan to help Grandma Beth so their life together can go back to normal. But when she witnesses an armed robbery, "back to normal" slips even further out of her reach. To keep Poppy safe, the budget-strapped police devise an unusual "witness protection program," wherein Poppy will stay with Detective Brannigan's mother. Soon Poppy is feeling almost at home, even making sort-of friends with a girl named Lizzie and definitely friending Gunner, a beautiful dog with an uncertain fate. But it's still not home. So while she and Lizzie navigate a rocky friendship and plot to save Gunner's life, Poppy also tries to figure out a new plan to save Grandma Beth and their home, all while avoiding a dangerous robber who might be searching for her. But what if Grandma Beth can never come home and the robber is put behind bars? What will happen to Poppy then?

Opening Lines: "I didn't know how to make the little girl stop crying."

Why I Loved it: I love the main character's--Poppy Parker's--voice. It was totally real on so many levels. That enabled me to handle the tough subject matter--Poppy witnesses a murder, lies about recognizing the culprit, and ends up in a very scary chase through the park, with the murderer hot on her heels. I also loved the portrayal of the adults, as well as Gunner, a German Shepherd on death row. There are several sad scenes, which Ms. Winget handles deftly. All in all, a fantastic contemporary middle grade.

I featured Dianna Dorisi Winget's debut, A Smidgen of Sky, in October 2012--a novel which I was very taken with then too. And I got to ask Ms. Winget a few of my patented Mafioso questions:

Who are your favorite (mg) writers? This changes fairly often depending on which book I've most recently fallen in love with, but here are a few current favorites-Ingrid Law, Katherine Applegate, Kirby Larson, Jennifer Nielsen

What's on your nightstand right now?  I don't actually have a nightstand, so I'll tell you what's in my cluttered magazine rack next to my recliner. This is where I do 90 percent of my reading, where I sit, stuffed in between my two dogs, with barely enough room to move.

The Dogs of Winter, by Bobbie Pyron
Dash, by Kirby Larson
The Bridge from Me to You, by Lisa Schroeder
Conviction, by Kelly Loy Gilbert

Choose a favorite scene in your novel, and say why you like it. Ooooh, so tough! One scene I really love is the brief one that takes place shortly after Poppy meets Detective Trey Brannigan. Poppy's tickled to discover several boxes of Twinkies in his kitchen cabinet and threatens to steal all of them. Trey calmly replies that she's not big enough to take his Twinkies. That scene always makes me laugh because it's a fun glimpse into the relationship that develops between them. 

I'm really awesome at... shirking my responsibilities, such as housecleaning, so I have more time to read.

What's your favorite breakfast? I love cereal. My favorite is granola with raspberries/huckleberries on top.

Where in the world would you like to travel? I'm really not much of a traveler, but I'd love to visit Australia and snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. I'd also like to spend some time in the South--maybe Georgia or Alabama, because my debut, A Smidgen of Sky, as well as the newly released sequel, A Sliver of Sun, are both set in the South, even though I'm a northerner :)

About the Author: You can read all about Dianna on her bio page on her website HERE


Looking forward to a Sliver of Sun, Dianna. Thanks for visiting today, everyone!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: THE GREAT GREENE HEIST by Varian Johnson

THE GREAT GREENE HEIST (by Varian Johnson, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2014)

What It's About: Saving the school -- one con at a time.

Jackson Greene swears he's given up scheming. Then school bully Keith Sinclair announces he's running for Student Council president, against Jackson's former friend Gaby de la Cruz. Gaby wants Jackson to stay out of it -- but he knows Keith has "connections" to the principal, which could win him the presidency no matter the vote count.

So Jackson assembles a crack team: Hashemi Larijani, tech genius. Victor Cho, bankroll. Megan Feldman, science goddess. Charlie de la Cruz, reporter. Together they devise a plan that will take down Keith, win Gaby's respect, and make sure the election is done right. If they can pull it off, it will be remembered as the school's greatest con ever -- one worthy of the name THE GREAT GREENE HEIST.

Opening Lines: "As Jackson Greene sped past the Maplewood Middle School cafeteria – his trademark red tie skewed slightly to the left, a yellow No. 2 pencil balanced behind his ear, and a small spiral-bound notebook tucked in his right jacket pocket – he found himself dangerously close to sliding back into the warm confines of scheming and pranking.”

What I Liked: There's been a call lately for #MoreDiverseBooks, and this one definitely fits the bill. As you can see from this eye-catcher of a cover, there is a lot of diversity in this school body.

I really enjoyed Jackson Greene's acumen and intelligence, as he and his crew work to pull off this magnificent con. The author has mentioned one of his inspirations as being Ocean's Eleven, and part of the fun is trying to figure out how this is all going to work. The narrative is fast-paced and I would particularly recommend it to writers studying how to make an omniscient narration work. (As such, you may enjoy Varian Johnson's interview at The Nerdy Book Club where he writes: "I read, and re-read, and re-read again The Westing Game. I studied the mechanics of how author Ellen Raskin slipped in and out of each character’s head;  how she used the narrator’s voice to play with the reader. Her use of omniscient perspective became the blueprint for the novel.")

This novel has gotten a lot of buzz, and I think it is richly deserved. I can see this as being a hit with middle grade readers all across the board!

About the Author (From his website): Varian Johnson is the author of four novels, including The Great Greene Heist, a Publishers Weekly Best Summer Book of 2014. His novels for older readers include My Life as a Rhombus, named to the Texas Library Association Tayshas High School Reading List and the New York Public Library “Stuff for the Teen Age” list, and Saving Maddie, a Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book.

Varian was born in Florence, South Carolina, and attended the University of Oklahoma, where he received a BS in Civil Engineering. He later received an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Varian now lives outside of Austin, TX with his family.