MG Book Review – Rump: The True Story of Rumplestiltskin by @LieslShurtliff


Spoiler Alert… Rumplestiltskin wasn’t a bad guy.  Or so is told in Rump by Liesl Shurtliff. Shurtliff where the truth is revealed about a fairy tale “villain” that really is a likable protagonist in search for his full name and the destiny that comes with it.

In a world where people believe that a person’s name is directly attached to their destiny, Rump wonders what his life is meant to be since he is named after a person’s backside. The path to famous fairy tale all starts when he discovers his mother’s old spinning wheel.  While he is warned against using it, the magic inside of him draws him to the wheel and straw becomes gold.  The need for more food leads Rump to spinning more and more gold, but what he soon learns is that he has no power over what he gets in return. This all leads to him to the fateful night where he the queen is in danger of losing her baby if she can’t guess his name. Continue reading


YA/MG Review – Gregor the Overlander & the Curse of the Warmbloods

gregor 34 star

This is the third book in the YA series, read first two over a year ago, and continues the tale of am 11 year old boy, Gregor, who falls down under New York City and discovers a world full of conflict.  He and young sister, Boots, come across a race of pale humans and large talking creatures (bats, cockroaches, rats, among others).  Gregor learns he is part of a prophecy and heads out on a quest, that leads to him finding his lost father.

The first two books kept me wanting more until it was done – four hours for each, which is fast for me since I have ADHD!  The pace was quick, the character development was rich and the climax was built to a perfect crescendo.

With that being said, the third installment in Suzanne Collins Gregor the Overlander series, The Curse of the Warmbloods, does an adequate job carrying on the story of this unlikely hero.  The basis of the plot is that there is a plague in the Underland and Gregor is once again brought in as part of a prophecy, this time with his mother (who doesn’t like Gregor going to this world).  The mother becomes ill and the race to find the cure is on.

Gregor and the gang have a goal to find the cure and cool a rising conflict between the Rats and Humans.  The characters are mostly part of the same group, but there a few additions to the cast.  The pace is good, but not up to the first two.  There is a good amount of peril and a couple characters are developed in more detail, giving the reader new insight into this world.

I found myself not caring as much about the group of characters and was a little underwhelmed at the end battle.  The answers to the cure and the genesis of the disease was a nice touch, but a bit predictable for me as an adult reader.

While I have pointed out a few weaknesses in the story compared to the first two, Ms. Collins does a great job creating a fantasy world that becomes more real as the reader progresses through the books.  It is a strong story as a whole and deserves to be read.

It has an 11 year old character, but this story is classified as YA.  I found it in the MG section of my local library.  So, parents should be aware that the level of action, violence and death is more than other books with similarly aged characters.

Just started #4.

What I Learned – WIK13

Last weekend was WIK13 – Writing & Illustrating for Kids 2013.  Attendees from Georgia, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle (along with others) gathered in Hoover, AL to learn, mingle and network. 

The weekend kicked off with a writers’ intensive with author Matt de la Pena (Mexican Whiteboy, Ball Don’t Lie, etc.).  I kicked myself for not signing up once I heard him speak on Saturday morning as the keynote speaker.  He was relatable, funny and full of wisdom.  Driving home that dreams can come true with hard work and steal from the world around you in creating the characters and events in your writing.  While I did not attend his breakout session, I heard he hit another home run there!

I did attend What’s My Motivation, lead by Heather Alexander, Editor at Dial Books.  She read from several MG and YA books to demonstrate the use of verbal and nonverbal clues that tell volumes about the character in the scene.  Subtle gestures, internal dialogue and response to other characters helped paint a picture for the reader and gave us examples of where to strive for in our writing. 

Through this session, I found that I could take my characters deeper and develop a richer canvas in my story.  I also picked up on Ms. Alexander’s advice to go through my manuscript and re-read each sentence to see if it 1) revealed something about the character, 2) developed the world, or 3) drove the plot.  I have already killed a few awkward sentences that did not add anything and altered others to deepen the scene or character.

The second session was lead by Jen Rofe’, an agent at Andrea Brown Literary, and was called The So What Factor.  Jen brought her knowledge and energy to the topic and was able to cover a lot in the two-part session.  Dissecting Dirty Dancing and The Great Gatsby scene by scene showed how characters with impact + compelling plot + connectivity = SO WHAT FACTOR.  Creating an emotional response to our characters, putting them in impossible situations and connecting all the parts together will have the reader wanting to turn the page. 

It was good to her state that the writer should drive their characters up a tree and throw rocks at them before helping them down.  The protagonist in my story is always up a tree with rocks being thrown at him, but he always finds his way down (to the next tree) – truly validating!!  I have also woven small points from the different parts in the story that come back to be important – woohoo again! 

In retrospect, the sessions I chose were perfect for where I am and showed me that I am close to having a story I can be truly proud of.  Tweaks are needed, scenes added/dropped and clearer character motivation will lead to a So What Factor worth reading. 

Fingers crossed!

MG Review: Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by @ChristophrHealy

n4141665 stars

In attempts to catch up with summer reading reviews, I am pleased to share The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle by Christopher Healy. This is book #1 in the League of Princes series and a creative look at some familiar stories.

In the story, Healy introduces us to several Prince Charming characters and their princesses from four popular fairy tales/Disney movies – Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.  Even though it shares the basic premise of the storybook love stories, this slant portrays a very different, and hilarious, depiction of what really happened.  Each character is presented with backstory, quirks, flaws and desires.  As a parent reading with my 9 year old, I found myself laughing out loud along with my son.  Healy is gifted at bringing the reader into this world and to pull for the “heroes”. Another bonus is princesses are more than just a pretty face, they are very strong female characters girls can look up to.

In the book, the four Princes Charming are trying to save royal bards from a wicked witch.  These song writers have written each of their stories with one major thing left out – their actual name.  While the princesses are the focus of the tunes, the princes are cast as the generic prince and they despise it –  but it brings them together.

Their quest to storm the castle and save the bards keeps getting tripped up by their character flaws, but in the end they accomplish their goal of defeating the witch.  In what seems like a redemption of their names becomes just another blow to their egos – leading to the second book, The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle.

I absolutely LOVED this book.  Filled with humor and action, the mid-grade reader will enjoy the story (even though some of the words are advanced, leading to me defining for my guy so he could understand what was being said).  As an adult, it was pure fun.  I might even call it – dare I use the word – delightful.  (There I said it, not a manly word, but fits perfectly) 🙂

Go out and pick up the two books (teaser: half way through book 2 and it does not disappoint) and look for book 3 in spring 2014.


MG Review – The One and Only Ivan by @kaaauthor


5 stars
Now that the summer has come to a close and the kids are back at school, I begin my summer reading wrap up. First on the list is The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, which I was lucky enough to find at my local library.

This book has won numerous awards and after reading it I can say that it more than lived up to the hype. I remember reading “award winning” books as a kid and for me that usually meant one thing – BORING. What adults deem as a great book many times differs from the attended audience’s opinion. I can attest that Ivan kept me and my reluctant reader engaged and craving more when it was time to turn the lights out for the night.

For those who are not familiar with the story, The One and Only Ivan is about a silverback gorilla, Ivan, who lives in a mall with a few other animals. His life is confined to his glass enclosure where kids can gawk at him and do their best gorilla impressions. Ivan is not impressed with humans much, except for the daughter of the mall’s janitor, Julia. The connection she forms with Ivan is beautiful and endearing as they both are able to express themselves through art.

While Ivan is not able to communicate with Julia, he is able to talk with the other animals at the mall. The character development of the animals draws the reader in their world, far different than a Disney movie. I felt as if I could truly see the world through their eyes and feel what was in their heart. The animal characters posses a level of “humanity” that aided in the portrayal of the emotional complexity that we cannot always see in animals. The gentle and expressive Ivan feels loneliness, pride, love and sadness and the reader is bought along for the ride.

Each time I read the story, I can admit that I had a lump in my throat, and occasionally cried. I know it is not “manly” to admit crying over a gorilla’s feelings, but it is a true testament to Applegate’s ability to convey the depth of his soul. The reader is rewarded with a perfectly satisfying ending where Ivan and his fellow animals find happiness.

This has become one of my top recommendations to parents and writers as a story to engage the mind and touch the heart. The next time you are in the bookstore, buy this book for yourself (and share it with your child).