Monday, September 12, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - Un Lun Dun

Un Lun Dun

Un Lun Dun published in U.S. by Del Rey in Jan 2008
Author: China Miéville
Purchased personally

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday again, and I'm proud to be part of this great tradition started by Shannon Whitney Messenger promoting middle grade books.

I was browsing through Mac's Backs, a wonderful independent bookstore near us, and I happened upon Un Lun Dun without ever having heard of it before. As I very much enjoyed The City and The City, I bought the book to see if China Miéville could do as good a job with middle grade as he had with adult science fiction.

Like some wonderful mix between The Phantom Tollbooth, No Passengers Beyond This Point and Neverwhere, this book takes kids on a wonderful, somewhat scary but ultimately fantastic voyage through an abcity beneath London populated by fantastical creatures who have seeped down from London.

Filled with wordplay and incredibly imaginative characters, this should be appealing to 5th to 7th graders, as well as many older teens and adults who are willing to give it a try. While the main characters are girls, this is a book that will appeal equally to boys and girls. I would strongly recommend it.

Five stars!

Purchase a copy on
...or on

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday was started by Shannon Whitney Messenger. She, and others frequent MMGM posters are:

Shannon Whitney Messenger at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe
Joanne Fritz at My Brain on Books
Shannon O'Donnell at Book Dreaming
Brooke Favero at somewhere in the middle
Myrna Foster at Night Writer
Sherrie Petersen at Write About Now
Kimberley Griffiths Little at Kimberley’s Wanderings
Barbara Watson at Novel and Nouveau

If you watch those blogs today, as well as Shannon's blog, you are likely to find other great middle grade book recommendations.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Digital Debuts: Enchantment by Charlotte Abel


Author: Charlotte Abel
Purchased from

Enchantment is an absolutely delightful and original book. It could be described as paranormal romance, but it is a far cry from the girl-meets-werewolf/vampire stories that abound. It combines magic, treachery, humor and thrills, as well as a rampant simmering sexuality that might seem out of place if you had not dealt with a teenage girl recently.

Channie Belks lives a hardscrabble life with her parents and siblings, crammed together in a small shack in the Ozark Mountains, but everything is about to get a lot worse. Her father's gambling leads to a nasty run-in with a powerful mage family, and the family has no choice but to leave in a hurry. Unsafe among any of the magic folks, they hide in a town of Magically Disabled people (like you and me). Channie, who has never been to a regular school, is suddenly faced with a very unfriendly student body, and prevented from using the one power she has that might have allowed her to make friends.

On the other hand, she meets Josh, a hot BMX racer with a killer smile, so perhaps you could call it even. Except for the curse.

That is what Enchantment is like, though I could never do it justice. Every corner hides a pitfall, but Channie faces them all. Not happily, or even nicely, but she faces them. We get carried along for the ride, and it is a wild one. I absolutely love the wonderful Ozark language and mentality, funny and different while never getting in the way. The book is flat out fun to read.

Younger readers, or squeamish parents, may have a little trouble with the obsession with sex. It is barely ever acted on or visible, and most girls over the age of 13 will have read stronger stuff, but I thought I should point that out. As for the magic, the folklore and the snappy plot, I can see those appealing to all ages.

Highly recommended. Five Stars!

Pick up a copy of Enchantment on or on

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Interview with Wren Emerson

In mid-June, I posted about a wonderful Digital Debut: Wren Emerson's I Wish..., the first book in a Young adult series titled The Witches of Desire. Recently, I was lucky enough to get Wren to spare a bit of time to answer questions.

Thus, I bring you my first interview, with the talented Wren Emerson:

1) When did you start writing, and when did you start thinking of yourself as a writer?

That's a hard one. I've always written. Not always with the clear intention of getting published, but I've always felt compelled to put words on a page and express myself that way. When I heard about indie publishing and decided that's what I wanted to do for a living, I started to think of myself as writer. Wild horses wouldn't have pried that out of my mouth to another living person though. I still don't necessarily bring up my writing when I talk to people in real life. I'm actually a little shy about the idea of people who already know me in a real life context knowing that I write.

I anticipate changing that when we move this summer. I plan to introduce myself as an author to the new people we meet and that's all they'll ever know me as. I guess what I'm saying is that it's much easier for me to reinvent myself than to try to change the impression of me that people already have as a non-writer.

2) Did you start by publishing short stories, or dive right into a novel?
I find short stories to be really hard for me. I'm working on several right now for different projects and oh boy. I started with I Wish and in a lot of ways I think it was far easier to write than any short story ever will be for me. I just don't think short, I suspect.

3) I've seen that you like to outline. Have you always written like that, or is it a learned habit?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Nate Rocks the World

Nate Rocks the World

Nate Rocks the World independently published.
Author: Karen Pokras Toz
Free copy sent by author after request

I have a backlog of books to review, most with partial reviews saved in draft mode, but I decided to do a Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (woefully neglected for the past several weeks) on another self-published book.
Nate Rockledge is ten years old, and he has many of the difficulties boys of his age face. His mother is a truly terrible cook. His father reminisces endlessly about past glories. His thirteen year old sister taunts him mercilessly.

But Nate has a secret. Like a fourth grade Walter Mitty, Nate dreams of heroic adventures where he saves the day, and often the life of the cute Madeline who lives across the street, although Nate! Unfortunately, after saving the day, he is left with little but the comics he draws and the wish that he could do something real. Little does he know how close the chance for real heroics is.

I love the way the author seamlessly blends Nate's real life and his fantasies of heroism and excitement. Middle grade readers, especially on the younger end, will easily relate to the loose boundaries between real life and fantasy, and will also instantly relate to the real trials and tribulations Nate faces with his family and friends.

I can easily recommend this book for both boys and girls in third through fifth grade. I'm glad to have had a chance to read it.

Four out of five stars.

Buy 'Nate Rocks the World' on

Normally, there are several bloggers who participate in Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, but since it is the 4th of July holiday here in the United States, most are taking a holday. The only other I have found so far is Deb Marshall, who is Canadian. She profiles Leslie Carmichael (Lyranel's Song and The Amulet of Amon-Ra), and has an interview with the author plus a giveaway. See her post HERE.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Review: Hogwash by Karma Wilson

Hogwash! (Wilson, Karma)

Hogwash! published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers June 2011
Author: Karma Wilson
Illustrator: Jim McMullan

Every once in a while, a picture book comes along where everything just works perfectly. This is one that is destined to be a classic. The sense of humor is enhanced by clever rhymes and fabulous illustrations. I had to share this with my wife, who has taught younger kids and has an early childhood education background, and she couldn't stop raving about it. With most books sent to us by the publisher for review, I pass them on to local schools or libraries, but we're hanging on to this to share with our (not yet born) grandkids.

The story is a wonderful, boisterous tale of a farmer determined to clean up his animals, and a bunch of pigs determined to stay muddy. It has a sense of fun and engagement similar to Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, another great book, although I think Hogwash! is even more perfect for reading over and over. I particularly love that the language is rich and beautiful while remaining accessible to young children. The text rhymes, but it is done cleverly and never dumbed down, so that a child would love the rhythmic sound without necessarily even realizing that it rhymed. My wife also noted that the signs the pigs post for the farmer are of a size and style that would encourage beginning readers to pick out the meaning, but still introduce new words.

At the risk of gushing, if you have a young child or grandchild, especially one who loves rhymes and fun and reading aloud, please order a copy of this. You could get it from a library first if you don't believe me, but trust me, you'll buy it eventually.

Five Stars!

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Friday, June 17, 2011

Digital Debuts: Wren Emerson's I Wish...

I Wish... (The Witches of Desire)

I Wish... (The Witches of Desire) published by Lakehouse Press May 2011
Author: Wren Emerson

This is my second review in a series called Digital Debuts in which I review debut books for young adults (or younger) by authors who have chosen to publish in eBook format only, at least to start. Usually, these will be self-published, or as good as self-published, and thus usually under $5. They are also great books that will entertain and provoke, but not disappoint.

Product description:
Thistle Nettlebottom knows her life isn't exactly normal. She travels the country with her secretive mother and bestselling author grandmother in a pink RV going from book signings to crazy research trips. She's never been to public school or had a boyfriend, but she can pick a lock and hotwire a car. One day the phone rings and they set a course to a tiny town that's not on any maps. Suddenly, Thistle finds her whole life changing.
From this rather odd beginning, we launch quickly into an almost dystopian world where Thistle, whose real name turns out to be something else, must cope with the Witches of Desire. That is to say, witches in the town of Desire, and a more competitive, nasty lot you will have trouble finding anywhere.

Desire is a matriarchal society, and Thistle faces a constant struggle to stay safe, and even alive, due to powers she never knew she had. If only her powers would let her know who was truly a friend and who was not. Or let her know whether to pursue the enticing-but-verboten Ben or the handsome-but-too-compliant Evan.

In her debut novel, Wren Emerson weaves an exciting and different world, and you will quickly find yourself lost in the intrigue and danger. Meant for older teens and young adults, this is only the first in a planned series, and I am sure that readers will be lining up to buy the sequel when it comes out.

In fact, my biggest objection to the novel was the somewhat abrupt ending, a common objection with YA books in series these days. If this were a traditionally published print book and we had to wait six months to a year for the sequel, I would hold that against the author, but since this is published as an ebook, I may let it slide... if she will hurry up and get the sequel out.

I Wish... is $2.99, and well worth the price. Give it a try, and let me know what you think. I believe this is a series, and an author, you will want to follow.

Four stars out of five.

Buy 'I Wish...' on
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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Review: Me...Jane by Patrick McDonnell

Me . . . Jane

Me...Jane published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in Apr 2011
Author/Illustrator: Patrick McDonnell

I received a review copy of this picture book from the publisher a while ago, and originally intended to feature it on Earth Day, but something stopped me. The book is beautiful, hardly a surprise given Patrick McDonnell's skill and experience. It shows Jane Goodall as a child and how her way of viewing the world led to her eventual inspirational work with chimpanzees.

Great stuff, and I have read a number of great reviews by people who are either huge fans of Dr. Goodall, or of Mr. McDonnell. The problem that I have with the book is that the audience it is aimed at doesn't know Ms. Goodall is or what she did, and the book really doesn't explain. In many ways, the best part of the book is the afterword which actually describes Dr. Goodall's passion and work.

All of the work is left to the parent or other adult reading to the child. Even the big reveal which shows the photograph of Dr. Jane Goodall does so without explanation or identification. I love to read picture books to kids, and love science and picture books which show science. I just wouldn't choose this one without preparing a clear explanation of who Jane Goodall is, a job which the author neglected to do in any form accessible to the audience.

Three stars out of five.

Buy 'Me . . . Jane' on

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Digital Debuts: Leanne Beattie's Cage of Bone

Cage of Bone

Cage of Bone, Amazon Digital Services in May 2011
Author: Leanne Beattie

This is my first review in a series called Digital Debuts in which I review debut books for young adults (or younger) by authors who have chosen to publish in eBook format only, at least to start. Usually, these will be self-published, or as good as self-published, and thus usually under $5. They are also great books that will entertain and provoke, but not disappoint.

Veronica Campbell, known as Ronnie to the few friends she has, finds her life crashing around her after her popular older sister, Katherine, commits suicide. Ronnie's mother is a mess, her father who had left them a year before has a new girlfriend, and Ronnie has trouble dealing with the kids in school. Not that she wants to deal with them. She doesn't want anything but to get her sister back, or at least to understand why Katherine would kill herself.

That might sound depressing, but through all the pain and anger, Ronnie shows signs of the strength and intelligence that will help her survive. She finds a cool guy at the record store, and though all the girls drool over him, there are signs that perhaps he has noticed her, past the combat boots and spiked hair and leave-me-alone attitutde.

This is a book for older teens and young adults. There's some drinking, some drug references and sexual activity that would not be right for younger teens. For those old enough and mature enough to handle it, the story is compelling and important, dealing with both the loss of loved ones and the loss of innocence. It is also a story of hope, although not a campy, easy hope. My only complaint might be that the story wound up quickly, but that is only a complaint because I wanted to know more about Ronnie, more about Griffin, more about how they all turn out.

Mostly, it is a book you should read. This is Leanne Beattie's first novel, but she has a deft and knowing touch when it comes to teenagers. I certainly hope to see more from Ms. Beattie, which is where you come in. Cage of Bone is $2.99, and worth much more. Buy her book. Share it with your friends. They'll thank you.

Five stars!

Buy from Amazon for $2.99

Published my first book, but one aimed at teens-YA is coming

I last posted on My Comfy Chair a month ago, even though I have many reviews partly written and books read that I want to share with you. As many of you may know through Twitter, Facebook and my author blog,, I have just released my first collection of stories titled Savage Fire.

The reason I haven't said much here is that the book is not appropriate for children and younger adults. It is aimed at 18 years and older. If you happen to be 18 or older and like horror, humor and bizarro, you can find Savage Fire on Amazon for the Kindle or on Smashwords for all digital formats.

But what about the teens and young adults? I haven't forgotten you. Sometime in the next six weeks, I plan to release another collection of stories called Rock the Monkey House, which is aimed at teens/young adult.

Stay tuned for more details!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Children's Book Awards 2011

I'm very excited to see so many books and authors I recognize. Let me know if there are any particular favorites of yours below, and I'll see if I can get a copy and review them.

Illustrator of the Year

Art & Max
David Wiesner for Art & Max

Author of the Year

The Heroes of Olympus, Book One: The Lost Hero
Rick Riordan for The Lost Hero

2011 Winners and Nominees:

K-Grade 2:
Little Pink Pup by Johanna Kerby--Winner!
Shark vs. Train by Tom Lichtenheld
How Rocket Learned to Read by Tad Hills
Hot Rod Hamster by Cynthia Lord
Even Monsters Need Haircuts by Matthew McElligott

Grades 3-4:
Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown by Jarrett J. Krosoczka--Winner!
Finally by Wendy Mass
Bad Kitty vs Uncle Murray by Nick Bruel
Encyclopedia Mythologica: Gods & Heroes by Matthew Reinhart and Robert Sabuda
Babymouse #12: Burns Rubber by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Grades 5-6
The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan--Winner!
Zebrafish by Peter H. Reynolds and FableVision
Big Nate: In a Class by Himself by Lincoln Peirce
It's a Book by Lane Smith
Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Teen Choice:
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan--Winner!
Burned (House of Night, Book 7) by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Spirit Bound by Richelle Mead
Fang (Maximum Ride) by James Patterson

Friday, April 29, 2011

Review: The Very Fairy Princess Takes the Stage

The Very Fairy Princess Takes the Stage

The Very Fairy Princess Takes the Stage Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, May 2011
Authors: Julie Andrews, Emma Walton Hamilton
Illustrator: Christine Davenier

I haven't had a chance to read The Very Fairy Princess, which came out a year ago, but since picture books should stand on their own, I decided to give this a try. Even aside from my curiosity about a celebrity author like Julie Andrews, I'm glad I did.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Earthling Hero

Earthling Hero

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday again, and I'm proud to be part of this great tradition started by Shannon Whitney Messenger promoting middle grade books. This week, I am pleased to share a book that is unusual in two ways. First, Earthling Hero is self-published, and second, it is in eBook form only. The self-publishing didn't worry me, as I have read some great self-published books, but a middle grade book only available in electronic form?

Fortunately, I gave the book a chance. It didn't hurt that it is available on both Amazon and Smashwords, so if you have a Kindle as I do, you can buy it that way, but if you don't, Smashwords has it in various formats, so that you can easily read it on-line or on another eReader. It also didn't hurt that the book is 99 cents!

In Earthling Hero, Mikey is 11 and a bit of a loner. He hikes in the mountains where his scientist parents live, and generally keeps to himself. All this changes when he wakes up one morning to find a boy in his room who looks just like him. Soon, he is embroiled in foiling a plot that threatens the planet. Oh yes, and he makes a couple friends as well.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Magical Middle Grade Mystery Tour

They do many wild and wonderful things over at From the Mixed-Up Files…of Middle-Grade Authors, a group blog of some very cool middle-grade writers. The latest is a Mixed-Up Middle-Grade Skype Tour.

The contest works like this: each season a group of five or more authors will set off in the Mixed-Up Middle-Grade Skype Tour Bus. You’ll have about a month to enter your class, club, or group to win a Skype visit from one of that season’s authors, along with a copy of their book, and more. For every retweet and/or Facebook reposting, you’ll get another entry. To increase your class or group’s chances, invite other adults- parents, teachers, or group members to leave comments at Each entry must be made in a separate comment. At the end of the month, a winner will be drawn for each Skype author visit. You’ll have six months from that date to schedule and conduct the visit. Authors and winners are paired randomly--you don’t enter to win a visit from a particular author. The winning entry will also receive a copy of the author’s book.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Mahvelous Middle Grade Monday - Fashionista Edition

The Time-Traveling Fashionista

The Time-Traveling Fashionista, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in Apr 2011
Author: Bianca Tuertsky
Illustrator: Sandra Suy

Product description:
Louise Lambert has always dreamed of movie starlets and exquisite gowns and longs for the day when she can fill the closet of her normal suburban home with stylish treasures. But when she receives a mysterious invitation to a vintage fashion sale in the mail, her once painfully average life is magically transformed into a time-travel adventure.

It is Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, and I couldn't resist highlighting this delightful, or as Louise learns to say when she travels back in time, simply mahvelous, debut novel by Bianca Tuertsky. It is listed as young adult, but the heroine is twelve and I think girls from nine and up will enjoy this. Released this week, there is still time for you to be the first to read (or introduce to your favorite middle grade/tween/teen girl) this fun and fashionable story.

Louise loves vintage fashions, and those tweens and teens who share her fascination will adore the twenty-five luxurious color illustrations of the glamorous dresses and clothing of the early 1900s, created by the talented Sandra Suy. Those of us who are less taken with fashion will still enjoy Louise and how she deals with her sudden lurch from ulta-ordinary shy twelve year-old with frizzy hair and braces to glamorous seventeen year-old actress, Alice Baxter.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunday Sharing - The Little Island

The Little Island

Our youth minister has changed the schedule some, so I will not officially teach Sunday School until May 1st, but I still have a chance to share books with the preschoolers in Sunday School, though I don't run the rest of the lesson. Thus, I am able to offer another Sunday Sharing post. After class, I'll update the post to talk about how the kids reacted to the book, sharing their reactions with you.

The Little Island, reissued by Doubleday in 2003 (first published in 1946)
Author: Margaret Wise Brown (written under the name Golden MacDonald)
Illustrator: Leonard Weisgard
Caldecott Medal winner

Years ago, I shared this book with my own children, as well as children in earlier Sunday School classes (I think I first taught Sunday School to preschoolers when my own daughter was three, and she's twenty-four now). My copy of the book was published in 1973, and has Golden MacDonald listed as the author, so I was surprised to look it up on Amazon and see Margaret Wise Brown as the author. She is the author of many books we have loved over the years, including The Runaway Bunny and Goodnight Moon, so it is fun to find out that she wrote The Little Island as well.

This is the story of a tiny island, and the flowers, trees and birds who live there, as well as the fish, lobsters and seals who swim nearby. It is also the story of a little kitten who visits the Island, and discovers something about faith and about being part of a bigger whole.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Review: If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period

If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period

If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period, Harcourt Children's Books in Sep. 2007
Author: Gennifer Choldenko

A few weeks ago, I reviewed Ms. Choldenko's book, No Passengers Beyond This Point (my review). I had requested the book, but the author included another book along with that, If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period. She explained that this latter book might fit well with my goal of promoting diversity, multiculturalism and acceptance.

I planned to hold off and wait, but this is a uniquely compelling book. I have to admit, it took me a little longer to get into the story, which is told in alternating chapters by two 7th graders.

Kirsten is white and struggles with her weight, her parents who fight almost constantly, her little sister who needs her support but drives her crazy, and the other girls at the exclusive Mountain School who vacillate between friendship and cruelty.

Walk is black and is starting at Mountain School for the first time due to a scholarship, after attending a rough public school where he had good friends but few opportunities. His mother, Sylvia, is a single mother trying to cope and help Walk avoid the dangers she sees everywhere.

Kirsten and Walk don't have much in common besides being in 7th grade at Mountain School and being two of the best students in the class. Even that is starting to slip away for Kirsten when they are thrown together and Kirsten discovers a secret that shakes them both to the core.

This book has an intensely personal feel which will draw kids in. Both main characters are struggling to find a place and identity with school, friends and parents who alternate between helping them and hurting them. Adolescent hormones swirl around as an undercurrent, but the strongest currents are those of finding one's place. I appreciated greatly that the parents were fully developed and complex.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Review: Amy Hodgepodge - All Mixed Up!

All Mixed Up! (Amy Hodgepodge, No. 1)

Amy Hodgepodge - All Mixed Up!, Grosset & Dunlap, May 2008
Authors: Kim Wayans, Kevin Knotts
Illustrator: Soo Jeong

Amy Hodges is starting 4th grade, and is very nervous. She has always been homeschooled, but has asked her parents if she can go to a real school. After her first day, she is not sure whether she made a good decision. Some people aren't very nice, and Amy isn't sure whether she really fits in. When the mean girls say she looks weird, she worries that she won't ever fit in because she is a mix of Korean, Japanese, white and black.

Cupcake Giveaway Update

Oh my gosh! My nephew from Thailand, Henry, was here doing college visits, and I completely forgot to do the drawing. I am so sorry. Somebody throw in a drum roll, please.

It's Raining Cupcakes

The signed paperback copy of It's Raining Cupcakes by Lisa Schroeder goes to...


Thank you to everybody for entering and for your patience with my absentmindedness. In the future, do not hesitate to nudge me if I appear to have fallen asleep.