Monday, August 31, 2020

Don't Turn Out the Lights!

Like most kids of the eighties and nineties, I grew up reading the SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK anthology by Alvin Schwartz with haunting illustrations by Stephen Gammell. Unlike other scary books for kids, that collection didn’t sugar-coat things. I remember being in fifth grade and getting super upset when I read a book (that shall remain unnamed :P) where the ‘monster’ turned out to be some big misunderstanding, basically a Scooby Doo ending. I wanted the monsters to be real, so that I could see kids overcoming true evil. So I could believe that I too could conquer my personal demons. I longed for that catharsis, and it required real monsters.

That's why I'm so thrilled to have a story in a brand new anthology, DON'T TURN OUT THE LIGHTS: A TRIBUTE TO ALVIN SCHWARTZ'S SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK, presented by the Horror Writers Association. For me, this was all about coming full circle, returning to the series that inspired my creativity as a child. The anthology features 35 original tales by 35 of today's top authors, edited by Jonathan Maberry.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Book Review: THE AMELIA SIX serves up girl power and history


First of all: I have always been obsessed with the mystery of Amelia Earhart's disappearance: did she survive the crash or smash into the ocean? 

Over the years, the mystery has been addressed in novels and nonfiction books.

But this might be my favourite story that includes Amelia:

I've been a huge fan of Kristin L. Gray since her debut novel, VILONIA BEEBE TAKES CHARGE.


She has a wonderful ability to put her readers in the shoes of their main character and have us root for them the whole way! (She is also the author of two wonderful picture books: KOALA IS NOT A BEAR and ROVER THROWS A PARTY)

The premise

Eleven-year-old Amelia Ashford—Millie to her friends (if she had any, that is)—doesn’t realize just how much adventure awaits her when she’s given the opportunity of a lifetime: to spend the night in Amelia Earhart’s childhood home with five other girls. Make that five strangers. But Millie’s mom is a pilot like the famous Amelia, and Millie would love to have something to write to her about…if only she had her address.

Once at Amelia’s house in Atchison, Kansas, Millie stumbles upon a display of Amelia’s famous flight goggles. She can’t believe her good luck, since they’re about to be relocated to a fancy museum in Washington, DC. But her luck changes quickly when the goggles disappear, and Millie was the last to see them. Soon, fingers are pointing in all directions, and someone falls strangely ill. Suddenly, a fun night of scavenger hunts and sweets takes a nosedive and the girls aren’t sure who to trust. With a blizzard raging outside and a house full of suspects, the girls have no choice but to band together. It’s up to the Amelia Six to find the culprit and return the goggles to their rightful place. Or the next body to collapse could be one of theirs.

My Thoughts

First of all, I LOVED this book. Not only because of my own obsession with Amelia, but because this is SUCH a good story.

Who wouldn't love a book where the first line of chapter one reads:

Imagine the worse smell you can think of, multiply it by rotten fish, and I promise you a turkey truck stinks worse.

I mean seriously, this is a GOOD opener!

I love Millie's awkwardness, her grief over her mother's leaving, and her thrill at getting to stay overnight at Amelia Earhart's house (who also happens to be her mother's idol).

Most of all, I loved that that this book tells the story of a group of smart girls. Smart girls who can solve a mystery themselves AND work out their interpersonal issues AND support each other. 

I love that this book promotes teamwork, creativity, problem-solving, and I LOVED the ending.

This book is a great whodunit with heart, and is a wonderful way to introduce kids to the history of women and early aviation and the life of Amelia Earhart. 

And there are great resources at the end for kids (and adults) who want to read more about Amelia.

This book is a winner - I highly recommend it!

Want to learn more about Kristin L. Gray? Visit her website:

Monday, August 10, 2020

Book Review: Groundhog Day goes Parisian and Middle Grade!


Thank you Jolly Fish Press for the ARC of PARIS ON REPEAT by Amy Bearce. The blog was offered a copy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.


Timid, self-conscious military kid Eve Hollis gets caught in a time loop during an eighth-grade class trip to Paris and must internalize some lessons about confidence, bravery, acceptance and love to break out of it and go home.

Back copy hails something to the effect of “Groundhog Day with a Parisian twist”. I haven’t seen that movie in about 30 years, so I can’t make any clever parallels or comparisons.

Bearce NAILS eighth-grade awkwardness/angst, and adorably intense friendships (not to mention the creepiness of male street vendors).

Let's talk about how Eve is fourteen.  Granted, many of us were that age at some point; I’m not sure how it became literary No Man’s Land. But I’m here for (fictional) fourteen-year-olds (that I can close the cover on). 

Bearce plays with the reader a lot, getting really close to tropes and then swerving away. I don’t do spoilers in reviews, but I can say: The twist on the “Friends before Guys” lesson is truly epic. Also, a compelling subplot features the Competing-Over-a-Best-Friend dynamic, a real-life trope we don’t see enough in kids’ books. 


  • Eve is white and race plays no role in the story. However, it’s clear from the names and brief physical descriptions of her classmates that 


  • Great  backmatter discussing the author’s time in France as a military kid and how Paris has changed since the book was written (pre-1919). 

This is kind of a double-edged sword: Eve’s fatal flaw is she needs to learn confidence and to accept herself and others (a skill we all should have)... but it’s iffy how a mysterious adult appears to be in control of holding her in the time loop “till she learns her lesson”. 

Categorize that how you will. But this is an enjoyable read if nothing else. 


  • Eve’s parents’ impending divorce is discussed (something Eve needs to forgive her parents for and accept);

  • Several scenes with the creepy/pushy street vendors and pickpockets were accurate but mildly upsetting. Another lesson Eve needs to learn is to stand up for herself.

  • Two of Eve's friends kiss (very PG-rated, but being a helicopter mom I had to mention it).

  • Eve’s first two days in the time loop are pretty repetitive and that part (about 10 pages in 214) of this otherwise entertaining book  drags a bit.

  • Bearce’s chapters skew longer (10+ pages), so this book may not be the best choice for a reluctant or unconfident reader. 

Give to:

  • Fans of Natalie Lloyd and Sheila Turnage

PARIS ON REPEAT is available now; look for the rest of the Wish & Wander series soon. 

Friday, August 7, 2020

Riveting Back-to-School Reads During Covid

I don't know about you, but my kids are a little creeped out right now. Not to mention feeling unsettled about the idea of wearing masks to school or sitting at a desk surrounded by Plexiglas. My son's school has decided on a hybrid classroom, with in-person attendance two days per week and virtual study the other days. Some families are choosing all virtual (my son's not-so-secret dream). 

Regardless of the structure decided on, middle grade readers need something to take their minds off how strange school (and life) are right now, during the Covid pandemic.This back-to-school list features books with a variety of educational settings that range from magical to downright creepy. They're sure to entertain, while also reminding kids that life isn't quite so crazy after all. These are not all strictly middle grade; some may appeal to more advanced readers.

The Charlie Bone Series by Jenny Nimmo

This story features Charlie Bone and other descendants of the Red King, who attend the magical Bloor's Academy. Students focus on art, drama, or music, which sounds pretty cool until you hear some of the school's draconian rules. 
Silence in the hall,
Talking not at all,
Even if you fall,
Never cry or call,
Be you small or tall.
Not to mention the hypnotic powers of some of the students. Prepare to be spooked!

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

In Battle School, young Ender trains to fight hostile aliens. But his training is not what it seems. It's also quite a contrast to what kids might experience today!

The Magic School Bus Series by Joanna Cole

This book series has been around forever, but new installments have been released along with a Netflix adaptation. The story centers around Ms. Frizzle and her students as they explore the world of science, large and small, through the transforming powers of the magic school bus.

 The Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling

Hogwarts, of Harry Potter lore, is a favorite fictional school the world over. Whether middle grades (or any of the rest of us) are reading them for the first time or the hundredth, Rowling will enchant and petrify in equal measure. There are tons of extras to read and activities to explore on the official Harry Potter website,

The Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

In this lyrical book, Miri and the other teenage girls from her mountain village are forced to attend an academy, where they are trained to become the potential princess. Needless to say, the competition is fierce, but not as harsh as the academy mistress or the bandits who invade the school. It is up to Miri to save them through a magic unique to the mountain dwelling people.

Matilda by Roald Dahl

The evil principal at Crunchem Hall terrorizes her students until Matilda discovers telekinetic powers and uses them to fight back.

What are some of your favorite fictional school tales?