Review: Beetle Boy by M.G. Leonard

beetle boy by m.g. leonard

The glorious start to a middle-grade trilogy about a brilliant boy, his loyal friends, and some amazingly intelligent beetles that brings together adventure, humor, and real science!

Darkus Cuttle’s dad mysteriously goes missing from his job as Director of Science at the Natural History Museum. Vanished without a trace! From a locked room! So Darkus moves in with his eccentric Uncle Max and next door to Humphrey and Pickering, two lunatic cousins with an enormous beetle infestation. Darkus soon discovers that the beetles are anything but ordinary. They’re an amazing, intelligent super species and they’re in danger of being exterminated. It’s up to Darkus and his friends to save the beetles. But they’re up against an even more terrifying villain–the mad scientist of fashion, haute couture villainess Lucretia Cutter. Lucretia has an alarming interest in insects and dastardly plans for the bugs. She won’t let anyone or anything stop her, including Darkus’s dad, who she has locked up in her dungeons! The beetles and kids join forces to rescue Mr. Cuttle and thwart Lucretia.

Description taken from Goodreads.


This book was a Tweens Read August pick. Check out M.G.’s post on the blog here

I’m no huge lover of beetles or insects, but I was initially interested in M.G. Leonard’s debut because I heard it was reminiscent of the kind of writing in another book I loved as a kid but can’t remember now (has snow and a red machine on the front? anyone?) Anyway, I went into Beetle Boy with high expectations, and almost all of them were met.

Starting with what I liked, I loved the factoids on beetles! M.G. clearly loves beetles, and she worked them into the novel without making it seem unnatural. There weren’t any info-dumps, and I came to appreciate beetles over the course of the story. I went it a bit skeptical of how well that element would be handled, but I was pleasantly surprised. I grew up on movies like Antz, The Ant Bully, and A Bug’s Life, and this book brought many great memories back for me.

Along that same vein, the writing and plot were spot-on. The writing captured the feel that I was looking for. Like some of the other books I’ve reviewed lately, it had this feel of older middle-grade fiction, books that aren’t narrated in such a whimsical way. I appreciated that, and I loved getting to know the characters. Each person was nuanced, and characters were distinctive.

What I disliked had to do with writing though, as much as I loved both of the execution of this story. I can’t truly see myself recommending this story to many kids in its target audience. It’s just too out-there, I guess. It’s a fun story, but enthusiasm for reading about bugs (no matter how cool they are) doesn’t transfer easily. I’d still recommend this to lower middle-grade readers.

Overall, not a bad read by any means. I was entertained, and I enjoyed learning about beetles. However, for the most part, I probably won’t be recommending this one. 3 stars.

Review: Mrs. Ravenbach’s Way by William M. Akers

mrs. ravenbach's way

Being a new student at the McKegway School for Clever and Gifted Children is crummy enough, but when Toby Wilcox is stuck in the fourth grade homeroom of Mrs. Ravenbach, a vainglorious German tyrant who worships “the order and the discipline,” he faces a much bigger challenge—fight back or be ground to goo in the gears of Teutonic efficiency.

Toby upends Mrs. Ravenbach’s perfectly ordered universe and risks everything to strike a blow for free-thinkers everywhere!

Mrs. Ravenbach’s Way is the first book in the series: The Amazing Escapades of Toby Wilcox.

Description taken from Goodreads.


Don’t go into this expecting a Roald Dahl-like read. If you’re looking for the Trunchbull, go read about the Trunchbull, but don’t try to find it here.

I went into this story wanting another horrible teacher the likes of which I’ve only ever found in Matilda, and it didn’t really work out that way. Akers’ writing lacks the signature wit and humor of Dahl’s books, and there was nothing remotely endearing about the teacher, the students, or the plot.

Mrs. Ravenbach’s Way is told from the perspective of the teacher, which was surprising. When I found this out, I hoped that Akers would try to justify why Ravenbach is the way that she is. What ended up happening was completely different. This book reads like an angry student wanted to get back at a teacher in a way that was embarrassing (for both parties) and wholly juvenile.

There was no one to champion in the book. The students were horrible, and the teacher was equally so. I’m not even quite sure what the author was trying to prove by writing this. I had hoped for more, maybe a little emotion, some kind of lesson even. Something. But all in all, there are a lot of students v.s. teacher books out there, and there’s nothing to be gained from this one.

1 star.

Series: The Amazing Escapades of Toby Wilcox #1

Tweens Read August Day 10: Monica Tesler & Bounders

Tweens Read August is a 14 day event taking place for the first two weeks of August. I’ll be hosting authors, regardless of debut year, whose books I’m the most excited for. Each day, I’ll announce who the next author is at the end of the post. There’s also a giveaway going on, so be sure to check that out!

It’s the tenth day of Tweens Read August, and today I’m interviewing Monica Tesler about her space adventure series Bounders!

Here’s a little bit about it:

bounders

Series: Bounders #1

Release Date: January 5th, 2016

Add to Goodreads

In the tradition of Michael Vey and The Unwanteds, twelve-year-old Jasper and his friends are forced to go up against an alien society in this first book in a brand-new adventure series!

Thirteen years ago, Earth Force—a space-military agency—discovered a connection between brain structure and space travel. Now they’ve brought together the first team of cadets, called Bounders, to be trained as high-level astronauts.

Twelve-year-old Jasper is part of this team being sent out into space. After being bullied back on Earth, Jasper is thrilled to have something new and different to do with other kids who are more like him. While learning all about the new technologies and taking classes in mobility—otherwise known as flying with jetpacks—Jasper befriends the four other students in his pod and finally feels like he has found his place in the world.

But then Jasper and his new friends learn that they haven’t been told everything about Earth Force. They weren’t brought to space for astronaut training, but to learn a new, highly classified brain-sync technology that allows them to manipulate matter and quantum bound, or teleport. And it isn’t long before they find out this new technology was actually stolen from an alien society.

When Jasper and his friends discover the truth about why Earth Force needs them, they are faced with a choice: rebel against the academy that brought them together, or fulfill their duty and protect the planet at all costs.

Description taken from Goodreads.

Interview with Monica Tesler, Author of the Bounders Series

Tell us a little bit about BOUNDERS! How does it stand out in MG science fiction?

BOUNDERS is the story of the first class of cadets at EarthBound Academy for quantum space travel. When the cadets arrive at the space station for training, they soon realize that Earth Force’s plans for them are far different from what they’ve been told. These kids have always felt different, but they never suspected they held the key to saving Earth from an alien threat.

One of the unique things about BOUNDERS, is it fits in many different storytelling boxes. It’s a science fiction adventure story, but it’s also a story about school and friendship. The core of the story is a mystery, as the kids search for answers about a huge secret they discover when they arrive at the space station and what that means for them as Bounders.

What’s your favorite thing about BOUNDERS?

My favorite part of BOUNDERS is the unlikely friendship that develops between the five main characters—Jasper, Cole, Lucy, Marco, and Mira. As the story progresses, the kids learn to work together through their own unique strengths and challenges. Their bond is what ultimately saves the day.

What can we look forward to in the second book of the series, THE TUNDRA TRIALS?

Excitement, danger, and adventure await the cadets in THE TUNDRA TRIALS which is scheduled to release on December 13, 2016. Most of the book takes place on Gulaga, the Tunneler planet. There are more aliens, more Earth Force secrets, and a space elevator!

What kind of research did you have to do to write this series?

I love to read about current developments in science and technology. The space travel used in the series—bounding—is loosely based on quantum entanglement principles. I read several articles on quantum entanglement so that I had a basic understanding of the science.

I once read a post about a theoretical space elevator that could transport goods and even people from the surface of a planet or celestial body to outside the atmosphere. That’s how I got the idea for the space elevator in THE TUNDRA TRIALS. Of course, in real life, space elevators are just in the concept/design stage, but maybe one day scientists will build one!

What advice would you give to aspiring science fiction authors?

The best advice I can give aspiring authors is to write something they enjoy and let go of outcomes. It’s important to learn how to finish projects, set them aside, and start something new. Get connected with other writers and gain an understanding of the business of publishing while writing, but don’t let that become too much of a time drain. Twitter will take your day away if you let it.

Reading is a necessity for all writers. For aspiring science fiction writers, I recommend reading widely within the genre and also keeping informed about current developments in science and technology. There is a long history of science inspiring science fiction and vice versa.

And most importantly—have fun!

 

Thanks so much for having me on the blog, Eli! I hope you and your readers enjoy BOUNDERS! Watch my website, www.monicatesler.com, for information about a preorder giveaway for THE TUNDRA TRIALS as we get closer to the December 13 release date! You can also find me on twitter and instagram as @MonicaTesler.

 

About the Author

monica tesler

Monica Tesler lives south of Boston with her family. She can often be found hiking or biking with her boys, writing on the commuter boat, or trying to catch a quiet moment for meditation. The first book in her debut middle grade science fiction series, BOUNDERS, released in early 2016 from Simon & Schuster/Aladdin. The second title, THE TUNDRA TRIALS, will release December 13, 2016.


Giveaway

Thanks to Monica for taking part in Tweens Read August! This book sounds great, and I’m interested to see the different aspects to it. If you’re looking forward to reading it as much as I am, add Bounders to Goodreads! The cover for The Tundra Trials, the second book in the series, is coming out soon too, so be sure to follow Monica on Twitter for all the latest news about that. The author being featured tomorrow is M.G. Leonard.

Tweens Read August Day 9: M.G. Leonard & Beetle Boy

Tweens Read August is a 14 day event taking place for the first two weeks of August. I’ll be hosting authors, regardless of debut year, whose books I’m the most excited for. Each day, I’ll announce who the next author is at the end of the post. There’s also a giveaway going on, so be sure to check that out!

It’s the ninth day of Tweens Read August, and M.G. Leonard is here to share her top ten writing tips with us!

Here’s a little bit about her debut, Beetle Boy:

beetle boy by m.g. leonard

Series: The Battle of the Beetles #1

Release Date: February 23rd, 2016

Add to Goodreads

The glorious start to a middle-grade trilogy about a brilliant boy, his loyal friends, and some amazingly intelligent beetles that brings together adventure, humor, and real science!

Darkus Cuttle’s dad mysteriously goes missing from his job as Director of Science at the Natural History Museum. Vanished without a trace! From a locked room! So Darkus moves in with his eccentric Uncle Max and next door to Humphrey and Pickering, two lunatic cousins with an enormous beetle infestation. Darkus soon discovers that the beetles are anything but ordinary. They’re an amazing, intelligent super species and they’re in danger of being exterminated. It’s up to Darkus and his friends to save the beetles. But they’re up against an even more terrifying villain–the mad scientist of fashion, haute couture villainess Lucretia Cutter. Lucretia has an alarming interest in insects and dastardly plans for the bugs. She won’t let anyone or anything stop her, including Darkus’s dad, who she has locked up in her dungeons! The beetles and kids join forces to rescue Mr. Cuttle and thwart Lucretia.

Description taken from Goodreads.

Top Ten Writing Tips

I love writing Top Tens. When Eli invited me to write a top ten, I considered telling you ten reasons to love my book Beetle Boy, but readers like to make up their own minds about what is good about a story, so I decided against it. Next, I considered writing about my top ten beetles, but I couldn’t reduce 350,000 species to a top ten. I’ve included thirty types of beetle in Beetle Boy and even then I felt bad for leaving out some super awesome ones.

Eventually, I decided to tell you my top ten writing tips, because people who love reading stories often go on to writing them. That is how I started. So here they are:

1) READ EVERYTHING

I know that sounds obvious, but you can only learn what you do and don’t like in stories by reading every book you can get your hands on. This can get expensive, so use your local library. If something is dreadful you have my permission not to finish it, but think about why it sucks.

2) DAYDREAM

Imagining is an important part of writing that is unique to all of us. Give yourself permission to stare out the window and imagine wild and crazy people and places.

3) EXPERIENCE DIFFERENT FORMS OF STORY

A book is not the only way to tell a story. Notice the different ways to tell a story, look at art, graphic novels, music, plays, dance, opera, films, animation and poems to see how they tell stories. Are you sure you want to write a book? Perhaps you want to write a film.

4) GET A NOTEBOOK

Scribble everything down. There is no right or wrong way to do this. It can be doodles, a line of dialogue you heard on the bus or a paragraph describing a city in the clouds. Your notebooks contain the ingredients for future stories. Mine are full of messy drawings, post-it notes, instructions, character descriptions, questions in capital letters and inspiring things other people have said. You cannot make a cake until you have all the ingredients; it’s the same with a book.

5) IGNORE OTHER PEOPLE’S ADVICE

Teachers said my handwriting, grammar, punctuation and attitude towards writing was bad through-out school. I have been beset by people helpfully advising me to give up, telling me how hard it is to write a book and how no one ever gets published. I ignored them and did it anyway. If you have stories to tell then you should go ahead and tell them.

6) TALENT IS ANOTHER WORD FOR HARD WORK

I thought you had to have a natural talent to do anything, but I have discovered that talent really means working hard. You will only have a talent for something you truly love because you will want to work hard at it. I love telling stories. I live for it. I love working hard and getting better at it. Working hard at something you love is rewarding.

7) DON’T GET IT RIGHT, GET IT WRITTEN

If you try and make each sentence perfect as you write it, you’ll never get to the end of your story. Write your story as fast as you can, without thinking about it too much. Get to the end. Then put it down and go and do something else. Come back to it later and read it, noting down all the things you need to do to make it better. It’s much easier to improve a story until it’s perfect than to write a perfect one first go.

8) READ YOUR WORDS OUT LOUD

When you read your writing out loud you notice words you have missed out, when your sentences are so long you run out of breath, when you use the same word three times in a sentence. If you are brave enough to read it to someone, then you’ll also notice if they get bored. All useful to help you improve your work.

9) LISTEN

When you are happy with something you’ve written, give it to someone you trust to be honest and ask them to read it and give you honest feedback. Be prepared to want to cry and shout at them, but don’t, instead, listen. This is what an editor at a publishing company does for an author, and we want to cry and shout, but instead we listen and see if we can address the problems they point out. This always makes the writing better.

10) LEARN

I have learned so much from all the mistakes I made writing Beetle Boy. I’m editing my second book Beetle Queen right now. It’s much easier because I have learnt from my mistakes, but I am making a whole host of new ones. I think Beetle Queen will be an even better book than Beetle Boy, but I know I’ll always be learning.

About the Author

m.g. leonard
M.G. Leonard is Senior Digital Media Producer at the National Theatre of Great Britain, where she creates podcasts and documentaries about making theater. Beetle Boy is her debut novel and the first book in The Beetle Trilogy. She lives in Brighton, England with her family. You can visit her online at http://www.mgleonard.com. Follow her on Twitter @MGLnrd.


Giveaway

Thanks to M.G. for being a part of Tweens Read August and coming up with this list of tips! Be sure to add Beetle Boy to Goodreads and enter the giveaway above. The author being featured tomorrow is Monica Tesler!

Tweens Read August Day 7: James R. Hannibal & The Lost Property Office

Tweens Read August is a 14 day event taking place for the first two weeks of August. I’ll be hosting authors, regardless of debut year, whose books I’m the most excited for. Each day, I’ll announce who the next author is at the end of the post. There’s also a giveaway going on, so be sure to check that out!

It’s the seventh day of Tweens Read August, and today, James R. Hannibal is here to talk to us about the unique superpowers in his MG mystery/adventure The Lost Property Office!

Here’s a little bit about it:

the lost property office by james r. hannibal

Release Date: November 8th, 2016

Series: Section 13 #1

Add to Goodreads

James R. Hannibal presents a thrilling adventure through history, complete with mysteries, secret items, codes, and a touch of magic in this stunning middle grade debut.

Thirteen-year-old Jack Buckles is great at finding things. Not just a missing glove or the other sock, but things normal people have long given up on ever seeing again. If only he could find his father, who has disappeared in London without a trace.

But Jack’s father was not who he claimed to be. It turns out that he was a member of a secret society of detectives that has served the crown for centuries—and membership into the Lost Property Office is Jack’s inheritance.

Now the only way Jack will ever see his father again is if he finds what the nefarious Clockmaker is after: the Ember, which holds a secret that has been kept since the Great Fire of London. Will Jack be able to find the Ember and save his father, or will his talent for finding things fall short?

Description taken from Goodreads.

Birth Defects and Superheroes

Maybe you’ve seen The Lost Property Office already, even though it doesn’t come out until November. I hope you have.

Big black cover.

Enormous clockwork beetle.

You can’t miss it.

The story opens a new series of London-based adventures filled with mystery and magic, science and history, secret societies and stern-faced old spinsters—elements of plot and milieu that were loads of fun to write. But it is the character of Jack and the way he sees the world that are most important to me. I want Jack’s experience to open up a conversation.

Thirteen-year- old Jack Buckles is a new take on the Holmesian, hyper-observant detective. Jack has a “birth defect” known as synesthesia, although you’ll never see the word in the book. He doesn’t know he has it, much like thousands of kids today who don’t know they are “synesthetes,” and are thus misdiagnosed as unfocused, or even ADD.

Synesthesia is a lack of walls between the senses. For a synesthete, sounds, smells, or pain may invoke colors and textures. Other synesthetes might hear whooshes and clacks while seeing movement or flashes of light. There are several varieties, and many synesthetes only experience one pair of crossed senses. Some of us, however, are cross wired through and through. I am a synesthete. Did I mention that? My synesthesia is debilitating at times, empowering at others. It has sent me running from my mother’s kitchen and helped me catch a terrorist. It has made me feel powerless and afraid and helped me put a bullet through a target from two miles away.

Knowledge shifts that balance.

To give you an idea why it is critical to identify child synesthetes early, let’s take a look at a well-known kid who might also have been considered “different.”

Imagine you are young Clark Kent. You have no idea why you struggle so hard to fit in. The other children at Smallville Elementary seem to have no trouble keeping their feet on the ground.

Their pencils never snap in their hands like yours do. Their deskwork never spontaneously combusts.

Maybe they’re all just smarter than you are.

When you finally get up enough courage to ask another boy how he manages to open every door without ripping the knob off, he stares back at you like you’re crazy. Word spreads. Soon the other kids are pointing and giggling when you walk by.

The teachers aren’t much better—yours especially. “Oh, I love little Clark,” Ms. Moore tells your mom in a voice that says she really doesn’t. “But he’s always bouncing off the walls. I have to pull him down off the ceiling twice a day. I have to literally pull him down. If he doesn’t quit leaping the language annex in a single bound, I might have to put him in the special class.”

The special class?

The coach likes you, though—as much good as that does.

“Who? Kent? Sure, he’s a space cadet. Head in the clouds all the time. But you should see him boot that kickball. I don’t care what they say about him. Kid’s gotta future.”

Future? What future? You’re going to be the kickball star from the special class. Great.

Now see yourself as a child with synesthesia:

You do your best to concentrate on the lesson but a bird chirps outside the window. Pinkish- white spikes fly across your vision. You can’t suppress them. Nor can you suppress the feeling that Ms. Moore is watching you.

How do all the other kids ignore the spikes? You can’t take Ms. Moore’s stink-eye anymore. You look down at your hands, willing the bird to shut up, then glance up again. Ms. Moore is still locked on. She’s waiting for you to crack.

A moment later, old Mr. Guthrie fires up his vintage lawnmower outside. It growls and coughs as it gobbles up the grass, and your battle for focus is over.

Resistance is futile.

A few others are distracted by the mower, too, but your brain is completely taken over. A bumpy gray mass with rust-colored rods poking out of it closes around you. You’re not imagining things. The mass is there—unsolicited, uncontrolled—you can feel it thumping your head and shoulders.

Ms. Moore sees you hunkering down and moves in for the kill. You barely process the question. You wouldn’t know the answer anyway. Margie Wutherford does. Her hand shoots up, making you look as stupid as you feel. How does she do it? How does she ignore Mr. Guthrie’s killer blob?

Life isn’t all bad. You’re absolutely brilliant at math and memorization. Letters, numbers, and dates have colors and textures that never change. They fly around your head in purple wisps and gold ribbons. You max every test—assuming you did the reading. You don’t understand why the other kids can’t do the same thing, but you don’t ask, not after what happened in fifth grade. You told Margie about the dates spent last spring as crazy-pink- January boy.

Memorization isn’t your only skill. The school nurse says you’re some sort of audio-prodigy. Your hearing is off the charts. Really? How could anyone miss those pink, brown, and blue blobs. You don’t have to hear the tones. You can see them. It doesn’t matter. The nurse doesn’t like you despite your super hearing. You’ve been in her office three times in three days this week alone for throwing up in the lunchroom. “You’re not sick,” she tells you. “If you keep making yourself vomit, you’re going to do permanent damage.”

You’re not making yourself do anything. Peas and onions have been on the menu all week. To smell them is to wade through slimy black mush. You can’t tell that to the nurse. Or your teacher. You heard Ms. Moore. Any more screw-ups and they’ll put you in that special class.

This was very much my life as an undiagnosed child synesthete. And this was very much Jack’s life before he came to London in search of his father—before he discovered his gift had a name.

By the way, that name is not synesthesia, not in my world.

Jack isn’t deficient. He doesn’t have an underdeveloped brain. Jack Buckles is a tracker.

Child synesthetes can have a birth defect, or they can be super heroes. Let’s start the conversation. Let’s give them the choice.

Addendum: We (the publisher and I) just received an advance review from a respected journal that illustrates my point. In the review, amid some nice compliments, the librarian/reviewer diagnoses Jack as “exhibiting behaviors on the autistic spectrum” even though autism is never mentioned and synesthesia is explained right there on the back cover. This innocent and well-intentioned mistake is a prime example of why this book is necessary, and why we need to talk about children and synesthesia in this country.

 

About the Author

james r. hannibal
James R. Hannibal is the author of the 2016 BEA Buzz Book The Lost Property Office, a middle grade mystery/adventure coming from Simon and Schuster Young Readers November 8. As a former stealth bomber pilot and drone pilot James has been shot at, locked up by a surface to air missile system, and aided the capture of High Value Targets. He is also the Thriller Award nominated author of the Nick Baron series from Berkley Books.


Giveaway

Thanks to James for being a part of Tweens Read August and doing this guest post! It was definitely thought provoking, and it made me think about the way I consider disabilities and superpowers in books and other media. Enter the giveaway above to enter an ARC of The Lost Property Office, a $25 bookstore giftcard, and other awesome swag, and be sure to add The Lost Property Office to Goodreads! You can also pick it up from stores on November 8th, 2016. The author being featured tomorrow is Brooks Benjamin!

Tweens Read August Day 2: Victoria J. Coe & Fenway and Hattie

Tweens Read August is a 14 day event taking place for the first two weeks of August. I’ll be hosting authors, regardless of debut year, whose books I’m the most excited for. Each day, I’ll announce who the next author is at the end of the post. There’s also a giveaway going on, so be sure to check that out!

It’s the second day of Tweens Read August, and today I’m hosting Victoria J. Coe! Victoria is the author of some amazing novels about an adorable little dog named Fenway and his human best friend, Hattie.

Here’s a little bit about the first book in the series, Fenway & Hattie:

fenway & hattie

“This perky, pet-centered tale takes readers inside the head of Fenway, an energetic and perpetually hopeful Jack Russell terrier with a deep love for food, intense hatred of squirrels, and undying adoration of his “small human,” Hattie. . . A fun, fresh frolic that animal-loving kids are sure to enjoy.” — Publishers Weekly

Release Date: February 9th, 2016

Add to Goodreads

Fenway is an excitable and endlessly energetic Jack Russell terrier. He lives in the city with Food Lady, Fetch Man, and—of course—his beloved short human and best-friend-in-the-world, Hattie.

But when his family moves to the suburbs, Fenway faces a world of changes. He’s pretty pleased with the huge Dog Park behind his new home, but he’s not so happy about the Evil Squirrels that taunt him from the trees, the super-slippery Wicked Floor in the Eating Room, and the changes that have come over Hattie lately. Rather than playing with Fenway, she seems more interested in her new short human friend, Angel, and learning to play baseball. His friends in the Dog Park next door say Hattie is outgrowing him, but that can’t be right.

And he’s going to prove it!

Get a dog’s-eye view of the world in this heartwarming, enthusiastic “tail” about two best friends.

Interview with Victoria Coe, Author of the Fenway and Hattie Series

What’s your favorite thing about Fenway and Hattie?

First off, thanks for hosting me on the blog, Eli! I’m very excited to be here!

My favorite thing about Fenway and Hattie is that it’s told strictly from Fenway’s point of view. And since he’s a dog, you only get his take on things. It’s up to the reader to figure out what’s really going on!

Why did you choose for Fenway to be a Jack Russell Terrier? 

I first imagined him as a dog whose family was moving and he was afraid of being left behind. Then I began to wonder what kind of dog he was, his personality, what was his family like, etc. And right as I started doing that—poof! He was a Jack Russell.

I didn’t question it at the time, but as I wrote the story and I poured a lot of my own personality into Fenway it seemed to click. I guess I’m a lot like a Jack Russell myself!

Do you think you’ll ever write about other animals? 

It’s funny. I always admired authors who wrote animal books and I thought to myself, “I could never pull that off.” And here I am!

Now I’m excited to continue writing more Fenway and Hattie stories – from Fenway’s point of view, of course. Fenway and Hattie and the Evil Bunny Gang will be out on January 24, 2017.

As far as books featuring other animals, who knows?

I love the cover of Fenway and Hattie! Do you know the terrier on the cover? 

Thanks! I love it, too. And I actually get asked that question a lot.

My publisher worked with Dave Kreutz, an amazing animal photographer. They held a casting call for Jack Russells and narrowed it down to the adorable dog you see on the book jacket. He was a magnificent choice for Fenway!

What’s been the hardest part of debut year? 

Without a doubt, the hardest part is WAITING. It was two full years between “the offer” and the date Fenway and Hattiehit bookstore shelves. Waiting 24 months would be hard for anyone. But for someone as impatient as Fenway—I mean, me!—that’s even harder!

Of course now that I see the book everywhere and I hear reactions from readers, it was totally worth the wait!

About the Author

victoria j. coe

Victoria J. Coe is a voracious reader, writing teacher, and Jack Russell terrier impersonator. She lives with her family on the outskirts of Boston, where she and her dog are always ready to track down evil.

Find Victoria: Website Ξ Instagram Ξ Twitter


Giveaway

 

Thanks to Victoria for taking part in Tweens Read August! Check out the synopsis and cover of the second Fenway and Hattie book (to be released January 24th, 2017) and the announcement of the third book in the series (to be released Winter 2018) down below. Be sure to add Fenway & Hattie to Goodreads as well. The author being featured tomorrow is Mike Grosso, whose debut I read and loved!

evil bunny gang cover

When evil bunnies invade the Dog Park, Fenway’s hot on their trail. Hattie seems understandably alarmed, though she clearly doesn’t appreciate his efforts. She shoos him out of the garden and fills in holes as fast as he can dig them!

Fenway wonders if his beloved Hattie could be working against him, until she brings home a cage with a bunny inside. He can hardly control his excitement – she captured one of the intruders! But when Fenway realizes Hattie actually likes the bunny, he’s crushed. Is his heart big enough to accept that Hattie can love another pet, too?

In this sequel to Fenway and Hattie, these two best buddies learn that making the right choice can be tough, but being a real friend is the greatest choice of all.

Review: The Executioner’s Daughter by Jane Hardstaff

the executioner's daughter

A child that is born to the river shall return to the river.

All her life, Moss has lived in the Tower of London with her father, who serves as the executioner for King Henry VIII. Prisoners condemned to death must face Pa and his axe—and Moss, who holds the basket that will catch their severed heads.

Twelve years you shall have. To love her. To hold her.

With the king sending more enemies to the block each day, Moss knows she can’t bear to be the executioner’s daughter any longer. She’s desperate to see the outside world, especially the River Thames, which flows just beyond the Tower’s walls. Even the chilling stories about the Riverwitch, who snatches children from the shore, won’t stop her.

After that, the child belongs to me.

When Moss finally finds a way out of the Tower, she discovers the river holds more dangers than she imagined—including the Riverwitch’s curse. The Riverwitch once helped Moss’s family in exchange for a terrible bargain; now she expects Moss to pay the debt.

Description taken from Goodreads.


This was described as a YA read, but it’s not one. It’s undeniably middle-grade, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The Executioner’s Daughter is about a little girl who grows into a teenager through the process of escaping the tower she’s lived in all her life.

The best parts to this book were the character development and the world-building, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who’s not interested in either one of those two things.

The character development was what drew me in, because I have no particular love of Tudor life. The Executioner’s Daughter isn’t a true adventure story in the sense of pacing and plot. It’s more about the main character’s mental journey. Once I realized that, I came to love Moss as a character. She’s strong-willed, she’s immature, she’s just a kid. By the end of the story, she matures greatly, and it was good to see that.

In that sense, this story is more traditional middle-grade than what you see these days. People who love old adventure stories may be interested in picking this one up.

But if you’re in it for the descriptions of Tudor life, you should know that the world-building is very well done. This does get a little brutal in some scenes, but it’s not that bad. If I had to name a general age range, I would say anywhere from 9 or 10 is a fitting age. The Executioner’s Daughter is a good introduction into the era, and people who love that time period won’t be disappointed.

All in all, not quite the action/adventure fantasy I was looking for, but a good read that I would recommend. The ending was pretty satisfactory for me, so I don’t know where the series will go, but I’ll be checking it out. 3 stars.

pg count for the hardback: 288

Series: The Executioner’s Daughter #1

Review: Fenway & Hattie by Victoria J. Coe

fenway & hattie by victoria j. coe

Fenway is an excitable and endlessly energetic Jack Russell terrier. He lives in the city with Food Lady, Fetch Man, and—of course—his beloved short human and best-friend-in-the-world, Hattie.

But when his family moves to the suburbs, Fenway faces a world of changes. He’s pretty pleased with the huge Dog Park behind his new home, but he’s not so happy about the Evil Squirrels that taunt him from the trees, the super-slippery Wicked Floor in the Eating Room, and the changes that have come over Hattie lately. Rather than playing with Fenway, she seems more interested in her new short human friend, Angel, and learning to play baseball. His friends in the Dog Park next door say Hattie is outgrowing him, but that can’t be right. And he’s going to prove it!

Description taken from Goodreads.


I mentioned in the Tweens Read August announcement post that Victoria J. Coe would be among the authors participating in the event, and in the effort to get some of these amazing books read, I picked up her debut, Fenway & Hattie. That was also why I read Counting Thyme, but unfortunately, I didn’t love Fenway & Hattie as much as I loved Counting Thyme.

Fenway & Hattie was cute, but it wasn’t particularly intriguing besides that. I love dog stories, from A Dog’s Purpose to One Good Dog, but this book didn’t bring anything new to the table. It felt cliché and spazzy. While I can understand the spazzy because of the nature of the POV being by a Jack Russell Terrier, I wasn’t particularly interested past the first few pages.

I continued reading, thinking maybe younger MG readers (or elementary school students) will like this one, and it turned out to be a good thing. I enjoyed the plot that came later on and the trials Fenway faced with the challenges of moving. It was also interesting to try and figure out what was going on from a dog’s perspective.

he plot isn’t bad, but most of the book feels meaningless because there’s just not a lot going on even over the span of 176 pages. The characters were fun to get to know, especially Hattie, and I loved her relationship with Fenway, but the writing was generally all over the place.

All in all, Fenway & Hattie is a fun read that I would probably only recommend to kids who read younger MG. Even though I didn’t truly enjoy this one, I might still pick up the next book because I’m interested to see where the plot goes. 2 stars.

pg count for the hardback: 176

Series: Fenway & Hattie #1

Review: The Mighty Odds by Amy Ignatow

the mighty odds by amy ignatow

Publication Date: September 13th, 2016

When a sweet nerd, an artsy cartoonist, a social outcast, and the most popular girl in school are involved in a mysterious bus accident, this seemingly random group of kids starts to notice some very strange abilities they did not have before. Artsy Martina can change her eye color. Nerdy Nick can teleport . . . four inches to the left. Outcast Farshad develops super strength, but only in his thumbs. And Cookie, the It Girl of school’s most popular clique, has suddenly developed the ability to read minds . . . when those minds are thinking about directions. They are oddly mighty—especially together.

This group—who would never hang out under normal circumstances—must now combine all of their strengths to figure out what happened during the bus accident. With alternating narratives from each of the heroes, including illustrated pieces from Martina.

Description taken from Goodreads.


I can only describe this as the Breakfast Club for today’s middle-graders.

There were some not-so-great things about this book, but for the most part, I liked it. I love stories where unlikely characters come together, and The Mighty Odds did it right. I loved getting to know each character, and I enjoyed how Ignatow handled the cultural differences shown over the course of the novel. Everyone was distinct and unique, and I loved their individual journeys as well as the main one.

Also notable are the backstories of each character, which slowed down the pace but made them more nuanced.

My problem was with the writing. It was a little too immature. I think this would best fit kids who read mature children’s lit, or maybe low middle-grade. Some of the jokes are hilarious, but the dialogue was unnatural and it made the kids feel like book characters and not real people in the beginning.

Another thing is the format. If you’re looking for Popularity Papers format for boys, I would suggest taking a look at The Mighty Odds. The cartoons were very not my style. It looked crude and misshapen, as much as I wanted to love it.

Other than that, there were a lot of things about this book that I liked. I wasn’t expecting many of its elements, such as the emphasis on mystery and bullying. This is where the backstories become important, and it was great to see that develop. The synopsis isn’t too clear on the plot, but I enjoyed it and the ending left me wanting more.

3 stars.

Series: Mighty Odds #1

ARC Review: Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm

full of beans by jennifer l. holm review

Newbery Honor Book Turtle in Paradise is beloved by readers, and now they can return to this wonderful world through the eyes of Turtle’s cousin Beans.

Grown-ups lie. That’s one truth Beans knows for sure. He and his gang know how to spot a whopper a mile away, because they are the savviest bunch of barefoot conchs (that means “locals”) in all of Key West. Not that Beans really minds; it’s 1934, the middle of the Great Depression. With no jobs on the island, and no money anywhere, who can really blame the grown-ups for telling a few tales? Besides, Beans isn’t anyone’s fool. In fact, he has plans. Big plans. And the consequences might surprise even Beans himself.

Description taken from Goodreads.


What an adorable book.

If you loved Turtle in Paradise, and even if you didn’t (I didn’t), I would suggest reading Full of Beans. It’s been a long time since I read a Jennifer Holm book, and despite the fact that I disliked TiP a lot when I first read it, this book makes me want to give it another chance.

Full of Beans centers around Turtle’s cousin, Beans, who acts like he’s a bad guy but is actually a good kid who makes some mistakes. Throughout the book, he has good intentions but loses his values in pursuit of his goals. In the end, he realizes that he was wrong and makes a comeback to the point he’s at when we meet him in Turtle in Paradise. I didn’t expect to love his journey as much as I did, but I got sucked into his personality and the setting of Key West.

I normally am not a fan of middle-grade historical fiction, but Jennifer L. Holm is almost always an exception to that. She provides some background about Key West during the Great Depression in the back of the book, and the way that she managed to layer that world with history was everything.

Nothing about the story felt forced or contrived. There were a few ridiculous exclamations in the book, and there were some weird names, but it all fit together perfectly. All I can say is, once again I’m thoroughly impressed with Holm’s writing and I’m so glad that I got the chance to pick this one up at BEA.

This one is releasing on August 30th, 2016, and you won’t want to miss it. 4.5 stars.

pg count for the ARC: 195 (with extras)

Series: Turtle in Paradise companion