Book Nook, December Book Blast, Publishing

Old Gems & New

Hey Everyone,

Happy Limbo Week… you know what I mean, the week between Christmas and New Years that makes you feel, well in limbo. The party is over, yet the next one is just days away. It’s hard to focus on anything new because you’re wrapping up all the old. It’s the best week ever, but also the worst!

So during limbo week I thought I’d focus on some of the old gems that made this site sparkle in 2015 and also some of the new ones that are planned for 2016…

This website and blog saw some changes this year. We shifted focus (especially in the Book Nook) from both middle grade books and YA, to simply middle grade. I thought the change was necessary because quite honestly, there aren’t enough hours in my day for me to read all the YA books that are amazing. I mean, sure I read YA, but it seems that by the time I read all those fabulous YA titles, the entire world has already read them first. So really then, why do readers need my YA recommendations anyway?

I have a better handle on middle grade books anyway (since middle grade is my life!) so that was the reason for the big shift. I’d like readers to be able to click on the tab and find some great titles they can check out and since I read middle grade all the time, turning the Book Nook into simple middle grade titles was a no brainer! I’ll admit sometimes I’m a little slow to update it though. I can see right now there are some titles that are listed as TBR that I read months ago! But, I’m working on it…

I also added some tools for tween writers—stuff that I think any young writer would love to use while writing their own creative gems.  Right now they’re in PDF format as a free download. Maybe one day I’ll turn them into something more concrete—like an actual print book or more possibly a downloadable app. Hmm…so many ideas so little time!

So what did you all think of the December Book Blast of middle grade books?? That was a first on the blog and I have to say it was, in fact, a blast! It was great for me to channel the books I love every day for 23 days, and encouraged me to seek out titles that I thought would appeal to the masses. But I did learn two things. There are WAY more than 23 books that are worth highlighting AND blogging every day (with mentions on both Twitter and Facebook) is way more work than I can handle. Have any of you ever tried blogging every day? If you have, I’m ultra impressed. It takes a lot of time! I hope you enjoyed the book related countdown to Christmas though. It was great fun for me. 🙂 To go back and read through the titles, click on the December Book Blast tab at the right, or click here.

Critique Corner saw some action at the beginning of 2015 and it was a big success—largely due to the bonus critiques from the lovely Mel Mercado, my writing crit partner and treasured friend. But interest has shifted, I think. Writers seem more reluctant to submit their beginning paragraphs for critique. I think that must mean that more and more of you are finding crit partners and groups and that is fantastic. I always say that finding the right people to critique your work is more valuable than all the rubies in the world! So I’ll keep you posted on the future of our in house critiques. I’m always open to hosting them if there is interest, so please keep the comments and emails coming. I love hearing your thoughts!

Speaking of hearing your thoughts, you may have noticed a new tab on the site that has a little something to do with my writing services. I’ll be posting separately about them but I will say this: The idea to offer them came directly as a result of your emails. I appreciate your questions about my work as a ghostwriter and requests for critiques.  I thought it was time I listened!  (More on that to come)

You may remember, I signed with my amazing literary agent, Rebecca Angus at the end of the summer. I consider that to be one of the most outstanding gems of my entire year! If you missed my agent announcement you can read it here. So now that I’m inching toward the 6 month mark of agent-dom, I thought you guys might be interested in hearing about what happens AFTER a writer signs with an agent and what it’s like to be out on submission. I know many writers have posted about this topic already, but each of our stories are different and I’d love to share mine. Hopefully I can help shed some light on the whole process.

Swirl and Spark saw a record number of views this year with a record number of readers. Seeing the readership grow means the world to me and is very humbling. That means that you think I have something worthwhile to offer here on the site. I’ll do my very best to keep doing it—and to do it even better in 2016!

December Book Blast

December Book Blast: Day 23

Merry Christmas Eve Eve, my friends!

I hope you’ve enjoyed the December Book Blast this month and hopefully found a few great middle grade books to add to your shopping list- or even to your own To Be Read list. I’m all for supporting our fellow authors by spreading some holiday book love cheer! The countdown to Christmas is practically complete, but first, here’s my final recommendation- my December Day 23 pick…


December Book Blast Day 23 pick

From the publisher:

Told in diary form by an irresistible heroine, this playful and perceptive novel from the New York Times bestselling author of the May Bird trilogy sparkles with science, myth, magic, and the strange beauty of the everyday marvels we sometimes forget to notice.

Spirited, restless Gracie Lockwood has lived in Cliffden, Maine, her whole life. She’s a typical girl in an atypical world: one where sasquatches helped to win the Civil War, where dragons glide over Route 1 on their way south for the winter (sometimes burning down a T.J. Maxx or an Applebee’s along the way), where giants hide in caves near LA and mermaids hunt along the beaches, and where Dark Clouds come for people when they die.

To Gracie it’s all pretty ho-hum…until a Cloud comes looking for her little brother Sam, turning her small-town life upside down. Determined to protect Sam against all odds, her parents pack the family into a used Winnebago and set out on an epic search for a safe place that most people say doesn’t exist: The Extraordinary World. It’s rumored to lie at the ends of the earth, and no one has ever made it there and lived to tell the tale. To reach it, the Lockwoods will have to learn to believe in each other—and to trust that the world holds more possibilities than they’ve ever imagined.

From me:

I have so many middle grade books on my To Be Read list, but this one has actually moved right to the top for 2016. It looks sooo good!

December Book Blast, Uncategorized

December Book Blast: Day 22

Hi everyone,

I hope you’re not getting overwhelmed by the rush of the holiday season. To help you out with the young readers on your list, here’s my December Day 22 pick…

UNDER THE EGG by Laura Marx Fitzgerald!

December Book Blast Day 22

From the publisher:

When Theodora Tenpenny’s grandfather passes away, the 13-year-old inherits $463, a decaying Greenwich Village townhouse and a mystery. Jack’s last words to his granddaughter are “look under the egg,” referring to his painting above the fireplace. With a bit of luck — and an overturned bottle of rubbing alcohol — Theo discovers a hidden painting beneath the surface. Unlike Jack’s signature abstracts, this painting depicts a Madonna and Child. Theo knows a thing or two about art, and recognizes a masterpiece when she sees one. She would be overjoyed at the windfall, if not for the fact that her grandfather was a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Could he have stolen the painting?

From me:

This middle grade mystery looks like a great story. If there were more hours in the day, I’d have read this one already. But I’ll definitely get to it in the New Year. It’s got puzzles, inheritances, and art. How cool is that?

December Book Blast, Uncategorized

December Book Blast: Day 21

Hi everybody,

I have an unusual choice for my December Day 21 pick. It’s a book that hasn’t been released yet. But…it will be out in April, and you CAN pre-order it now at I wanted to include it because its a middle grade by a debut author- and it looks fantastic!


December Book Blast Day 21

From the publisher:

Football hero. Ninja freestyler. It’s seventh grade. Anything is possible.

All Dillon wants is to be a real dancer. And if he wins a summer scholarship at Dance-Splosion, he’s on his way. The problem? His dad wants him to play football. And Dillon’s freestyle crew, the Dizzee Freekz, says that dance studios are for sellouts. His friends want Dillon to kill it at the audition—so he can turn around and tell the studio just how wrong their rules and creativity-strangling ways are.

At first, Dillon’s willing to go along with his crew’s plan, even convincing one of the snobbiest girls at school to work with him on his technique. But as Dillon’s dancing improves, he wonders: what if studios aren’t the enemy? And what if he actually has a shot at winning the scholarship?

Dillon’s life is about to get crazy . . . on and off the dance floor in this kid-friendly humorous debut by Brooks Benjamin.

From me:

I have heard AMAZING things about this story so go ahead and pre-order it, or make a note to check it out in April. I definitely will!

December Book Blast, Uncategorized

December Book Blast: Day 20

Hey there!

And now for my December Day 20 pick…

AL CAPONE DOES MY SHIRTS by Gennifer Choldenko!

December Book Blast Day 20

From the publisher:

Moose Flannagan moves with his family to Alcatraz so his dad can work as a prison guard and his sister, Natalie, can attend a special school. But Natalie has autism, and when she’s denied admittance to the school, the stark setting of Alcatraz begins to unravel the tenuous coping mechanisms Moose’s family has used for dealing with her disorder. When Moose meets Piper, the cute daughter of the Warden, he knows right off she’s trouble. But she’s also strangely irresistible. All Moose wants to do is protect Natalie, live up to his parents’ expectations, and stay out of trouble. But on Alcatraz, trouble is never very far away.

From me:

I had to highlight this book…It’s celebrating its 10th anniversary of winning the Newberry medal! And what a well deserved honor…I was ultra impressed by the voice and the original plot. Having toured Alcatraz in San Francisco, I thought I’d love this historical fiction story, but I actually loved it even more than I thought. So if you have a young reader on your list, don’t forget this one. Boys, girls, adults…everyone will adore this one!

December Book Blast

December Book Blast: Day 19

Hi Guys,

My December Day 19 pick is…

PRINCESS FOR HIRE by Lindsey Leavitt!


Desi Bascomb has been longing for a bit of glamour in her Idaho life. So when a flawlessly dressed woman steps out of an iridescent bubble and wants to know if Desi would like to become a substitute princess, Desi of course agrees.

This adorable middle grade book, the first in the series, is about princesses. Enough said! Great gift for any young princess on your list:)

December Book Blast, Uncategorized

December Book Blast: Day 18

Happy Friday, my friends!

Here’s my December Day 18 pick…


December Book Blast Day 18

From the publisher:

As if being 12 3/4 isn’t bad enough, Vanessa Rothrock’s mother is running for president and it’s ruining her life. Isn’t it enough that her enormous feet trip her up all the time, even on stage during the school spelling bee? Isn’t it enough that Reginald Trumball, love of Vanessa’s pathetic life, read her personal and private list of deficiencies to some boy she doesn’t even know? And that the Boob Fairy hasn’t visited her even once?! Doesn’t Mom realize that Vanessa needs her more than the rest of the country? More importantly, doesn’t she realize that she may be in grave danger? Vanessa’s receiving threatening notes at school–notes that imply some psycho has it out for her mother at the Democratic National Convention. Vanessa might be the only person who can save her. But does she have the courage to do what that requires?

From me:

This hysterical middle grade story is perfect as we gear up for the presidential election. No matter what your political preference, most kids will agree, having a parent run for president may not be all it’s cracked up to be.


December Book Blast, Uncategorized

December Book Blast: Day 17

Hi Everyone,

Here’s my December Day 17 pick…

WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead!

December Book Blast Day 17

From the Publisher:

This remarkable novel holds a fantastic puzzle at its heart.

By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, and they know who to avoid. Like the crazy guy on the corner.

But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a kid on the street for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then a mysterious note arrives, scrawled on a tiny slip of paper. The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows things no one should know. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late.

From me:

Excuse me while I gush about this book for a second. I know, I know…I’m not the first to do so. But I just have to say, if you haven’t read it yet, you must. I had the pleasure of meeting the author at the Rochester Book Children’s Festival the year it was published and she was lovely and encouraging and a pleasure to talk to! She signed a copy of the book and I read it the second I got home. What a fantastic story! I was blown away. When I heard that it had won the Newberry Medal a few months later. I was thrilled for her and not at all surprised. It’s that good. 🙂


December Book Blast, Uncategorized

December Book Blast: Day 16

Hi Guys,

I’m sorry to post this so late. My daughter got accepted to her first choice college today and our house has been a chaotic celebration as a result!

But here it is, my Day 16 pick…

A SNICKER OF MAGIC by Natalie LLoyd!

December Book Blast Day 16

From the Publisher:

Midnight Gulch used to be a magical place, a town where people could sing up thunderstorms and dance up sunflowers. But that was long ago, before a curse drove the magic away. Twelve-year-old Felicity knows all about things like that; her nomadic mother is cursed with a wandering heart.

But when she arrives in Midnight Gulch, Felicity thinks her luck’s about to change. A “word collector,” Felicity sees words everywhere—shining above strangers, tucked into church eves, and tangled up her dog’s floppy ears—but Midnight Gulch is the first place she’s ever seen the word “home.” And then there’s Jonah, a mysterious, spiky-haired do-gooder who shimmers with words Felicity’s never seen before, words that make Felicity’s heart beat a little faster.

Felicity wants to stay in Midnight Gulch more than anything, but first, she’ll need to figure out how to bring back the magic, breaking the spell that’s been cast over the town . . . and her mother’s broken heart.

From me:

This is another middle grade book that has been on my TBR list for a awhile. I started reading it a few days ago and I can’t put it down. I’ll let you know when I finish, but if you’re headed out to the stores this weekend, you might want to take a peek at this one. The plot is super original and the voice is amazing!

December Book Blast, Uncategorized

December Book Blast: Day 15

Hey Guys,

Happy Monday! For all you skating buffs out there, my December Day 15 pick is for you…


December Book Blast Day 15

From the publisher:

Figure skating is Kaitlin’s passion, but she lands on thin ice after a meltdown in this funny, touching story. Because when you fall down, you have to pick yourself up—even if it’s in front of judges and a crowd.

Kaitlin has always dreamed of being a champion figure skater, and she’s given up a lot to pursue her passion. But after she has a totally uncharacteristic tantrum at a major competition, she’s dropped by her coach and her prestigious skating club.

When no other club will have her, she’s forced to join the ridiculed and run-down Fallton Club, jokingly referred to as the “Fall Down Club.” At first Kaitlin thinks this is a complete disaster, but after meeting some of the other skaters—including a boy who happens to have the most perfect hair she’s ever seen—she realizes it might not actually be so bad.

Yet learning a whole new program right before Regionals is a huge challenge, and when she realizes that all the other area skaters target Fallton for pranks, she begins to wonder if joining the Fall Down Club has any upsides.

From me:

This fantastic new middle grade book is right at the top of my TBR list for a few reasons… not only do I love all things ice skating related, and this plot sounds adorable, but Gail Nall is a really great person too. I “met” Gail in the fall of 2014 when I submitted to her for Pitch Wars (an online writing contest). Even though my MS wasn’t chosen, she gave me constructive feedback that was spot on, and the suggestions she made ultimately led to me finding my agent! So yeah, I’m happy to support her writing too. Off to the bookstore I go…and you should too!