December 16, 2013

Would anyone like to do a MIDDLE GRADE book giveaway hop with me???

Hey all! 
I'm wanting to promote MG books more, so I thought maybe I'd host a Middle Grade Giveaway Hop with ONLY MG books being given away. 

 Would anyone join a hop if I hosted? Would you put up a book to giveaway?? 

I'm thinking it would be in late January (24-27). 

 Fill out the Mr. Linky to generate the list AND the Google Form so I can get emails etc. to email people out the information.
If I have enough people interested by Jan 2nd I'll go ahead and plan the hop.

Please feel free to share this so others can join in as well!


There is a giveaway up on my students' blog!  Check it out HERE!!

December 6, 2013

Book Review: Blue Moon by James Ponti

Don't miss out interview with the author James Ponti.  You can find it HERE.

Title: Blue Moon
Author: James Ponti
Genre: Horror/Zombie
Age: 9-12
Series: Dead City #2

Molly is ready for more nonstop, undead action in this follow-up to Dead City, which Kirkus Reviews described as “a fast-paced read for those who like their zombies with just a little fright.”
When Molly Bigelow discovered that zombies shared New York with humans, she didn’t think life could get more shocking. Then she learned that her mother was once one of the greatest zombie killers ever—and she discovered that her dead mother is not technically dead at all (although she isn’t alive, either).

Molly’s efforts to keep these secrets and to help her Omega team track down the identity of the original thirteen zombies will take her from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade to New Year’s Eve in Times Square. Her loyalties to friends and family will be put to the test. And her life will be changed in ways she never could have imagined.

My Thoughts
So it's not secret to my students that I love zombie books (well and tv shows but don't get me started on The Walking Dead right now), so of course I needed to read and review the second book in the Dead City series.  For the record I LOVED the first book and literally yelled at the end of it because it left off in such a cliff hanger! Now the fear with that is that I won't like the second book as much.  I'm happy to report that I did like it!!!

What I liked was that, although this one was less zombie, it had much more of the back story about how the zombies started in the first place AND what they are up to now.  It was a big question for me in the first book - why are there zombies in New York? How did they start?  And the second book answers those questions.  I feel now like I really understand where this is all coming from and that's great because it adds another layer to the story, so it's not just zombie fighting.

I also liked the mystery aspect to the second book.  The Omega team Molly is part of is trying to figure out what the zombies are up to, and they need to piece together a lot of clues.  I loved how well they pieces all fit together.  I had several "a-ha" moments throughout the story.  And what was really great was that once again the ending totally caught me off guard! The pieces come together so well at the end, and I never saw it coming.  Well done Mr. Ponti with that!

Final thought: Wonderful sequel to a great middle grade zombie book.

PS - I do also love how James Ponti is weaving history/facts about New York throughout the whole story.  It just makes it seem that much more real! In this book there is a lot with the Thanksgiving/New Years events in New York.  I could pictures things easily because I knew those events!

Author Interview: James Ponti Author of the Dead City Series

This is being ran on Hooked on Books today - the blog written by my 6th grade students.
Please if you want to leave a commnet, leave it on Hooked on Books, so they see it!

Today we are proud to welcome James Ponti to Hooked on Books

James Ponti is the author of the Dead City Series - a great MG zombie series where a group of kids fight zombies! You can see a review of the first book in the series, Dead City, HERE on The O.W.L.

Mr. Ponti offered to do and interview and gave us the chance to review the second book in the series Blue Moon - that review is up later today!

Welcome James Ponti to Hooked on Books!

First some questions about you as an author

Why do you write?
Like many writers I have a colorful and unique family. A real family tradition was telling stories about trips and funny things that had happened to us, so I think I always liked storytelling. I also have a natural instinct to play “what if” when I see situations. For example, if I was riding in a car and saw an armored truck, I’d imagine what if someone was trying to rob that truck, how would they do it? These two things naturally led me to making up stories. At a very early age – I think around 10 – I decided I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. At times I changed what type of writer I wanted to be (a journalist, a playwright, a screenwriter, a novelist) but it was always one type of writer or another.

Does writing all day get boring?

It is a rare thing for me to get to write all day. I have a regular job as a television producer for NBC Sports on the Golf Channel so most of my writing is done at night or on the weekends. But it never gets boring. It does, however, get frustrating at times. I will rewrite some passages thirty, forty times changing it little by little until I can get it right. This can be frustrating because I’ll know that something’s not quite the way I want it to be but I have to keep trying new twists until I figure out how to fix it.

When you were in middle school did you like to write? When did you start writing?

I started writing stories in elementary school. The first one I remember was in second grade. It was about Mickey Mouse having a birthday party and all of his friends bought him a lamp. I have no idea why I came up with a lamp but a funny thing was that when I grew up I spent two years writing for the Mickey Mouse Club.

I really got into writing, however, in middle school. During the summer before seventh grade I got the chance to write for a special kids section of my hometown newspaper (The Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, Florida). Then in eighth grade I wrote the class play, which we performed for the school. It was a disaster story about Santa’s sleigh being hijacked by terrorists and in addition to writing the play, I also played President Jimmy Carter. (I think I only had one line because I was a much better writer than actor.) 
Both of these experiences made me want to write even more.

Where you a big reader when you were a kid?

This is a great question and people are usually surprised when I say that not only was I not a big reader, I wasn't a reader at all. I think the term they use now is that I was a reluctant reader. There were a few reasons for this. First of all, I was terribly slow at it. It was beyond frustrating that other people could read so much faster and it made me not want to do it at all.

Second, I had trouble sitting still long enough to really get into a book. (This is funny, because I didn't have trouble sitting still to write, only to read.) But I would much rather go down the basketball court and shoot baskets all day than read.

Finally, when I tried to read I had trouble finding books I liked. The one exception was From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I have loved that book my whole life. I think there is more variety of books for Middle Grade now than there was when I was growing up but I just didn't connect. Where I did connect was at the movie theater. I have always loved movies and when I was a kid you were allowed to stay in the theater and watch the movie for a second time and I did that all the time.

When I went to college, I went to film school and I majored in screenwriting. This had a big impact on how I write books. I think I structure them like movies. I also like to write dialogue in books because it’s such a big part of screenwriting. It was during college that I finally started reading and I really love to do it now. Not reading as a kid is one of the only real regrets that I have.

Now lets hear about this books!
This premise of this series is pretty great. What was the inspiration for it? Where did the ideas come from?

I came up with the story backwards. I knew I wanted to write about smart kids and that led me to coming up with a science magnet school where they all meet. Then I wanted them to work as a team and solve mysteries, so I had started to wonder why type of mysteries would smart science kids solve. That got me thinking about supernatural mysteries and I thought it would be neat if some of the mysteries led them to real otherworldly creatures. But I wanted it to seem real and have it be somewhat believable. That’s what led me to undead New Yorkers who look and act like regular ones. Like I said earlier, though, it’s all “what if?” What if they tried to use science to disprove supernatural claims? And what if some of the things couldn't be disproved? And what if there were different types of zombies, some good and some bad?

Are any of the characters in Blue Moon or the series based on people you know or people you’ve met?

Almost all of the characters are based in part on people I know. It’s important that the characters you write have strengths and flaws and I put many of my flaws in all of the kids on the Omega team. The two boys characters are named after my sons Alex and Grayson and they share some of the same characteristics with the actual ones. But it’s important to remember that you can only go so far with basing characters on people. For the story to work you can’t worry about how a real person you know would react, you have to write it like the fictional person you created would react. Also, if you think of a character as someone real who you care about it’s hard to have them face struggles because part of your mind is seeing that friend.

One thing you might not think about, though, is the setting. All the locations in the books are inspired by real places I found interesting. I've worked on TV shows for networks like the History Channel and they've taken me into underground mines and subway tunnels, which play a big role in the Dead City. One time I did an interview at the very top of the George Washington Bridge. (It was terrifying.) I used that setting and what I learned there for an important scene in Dead City. Whenever I go to New York, where the books are set, I make sure to set aside time to explore and look for interesting places where Molly and her friends can also go.

How long did it take you to write the book? How many times did this book get sent back to the editor for changes? – Basically how many drafts did it go through – how long did it take?
That’s a hard question for me to answer. Like I said before, I don’t really get to write all the time so I have to work in clumps. Also, while I’m still writing the first draft I’ll rewrite the same section more times than I care to count. Officially my guess is that the Dead City books so far have probably taken about a month to outline, about six months to write a first draft, and another couple of months back and forth with my editor. (The extremely talented Fiona Simpson.) I would say that the first rewrite can be pretty extensive, so that’s two drafts of big changes. (For example, she convinced me to move what I originally had at the end of book 2 and save it for the beginning of book 3.) After that there’s a polish, which has to do mostly with correcting mistakes like time passage and logic and then there’s one last copyediting pass. (This one is important because someone’s whose not worked on the book at all reads it so she can have a fresh opinion.) If you added it up it’s probably four drafts over about nine months.

What is the hardest part about writing this book or series?

There’s something very unrealistic at the heart of the Dead City books and that’s the idea that there are thousands of zombies living in and under New York City. For that story to work for me, I had to make it as realistic as possible and that’s not always easy. It’s taken a lot of research about New York. The truth is, while this is hard, it’s also my favorite part of writing these books.

The other part that is really hard is coming up with a plot and series of mysteries that is hard to figure out but that also makes sense when you find out the answer. This is really the secret to me. If you’re reading it and can figure everything out before the characters you lose interest. But, if you get to the end and it doesn't make sense, you feel cheated.

What is something you want us to know about this series?

Because I struggled with reading as a kid, I've tried to write books that I would have liked to read. I've also tried to do something different in how I write them. A lot of the story has been a real mystery to me as I work on it. I know some things that I want to happen, but for the most part I try to come up with mysteries and clues that I find intriguing. Then I try to solve them along with the characters. Sometimes, it doesn't work and you have to start over but when it does it feels really great.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer all our questions!!!
Watch the blog because later today there will be a review of Blue Moon, the second book in the Dead City series.

December 4, 2013

Great Teen Gift Idea From SoHo Books +GIVEAWAY

Do you have a teenager in your life that you never know what to get for gifts??? 
I've got a great idea for you!!

SoHo Press has this great deal called The Teen Book of the Month Club! That's right a book of the month club!

Here'a a brief description from their site:

—1 book per month, starting at $9.99
—50% off selected backlist titles
—Complimentary Soho Teen swag
—Free shipping in U.S.
—Members’ discount on every product in the Soho Store
—Give it as a Gift

You need to check it out.  Go HERE to do that (or click the image above)!

Wait there's more (I feel like one of those TV commericials!)

They are having a giveaway as well.  
One lucky duck will win a Soho Teen Black Box--a surprise pack of 12 hardcover and paperback books! 
Enter using the Rafflecopter below.

November 16, 2013

Author Interview: Walter Dean Myers and a Chance to Help Give to The Fallen Heros Fund

I'm unbelievably excited today! 
I had the amazing chance to ask one of  my most favorite authors, Walter Dean Myers a few question about his book Fallen Angels.  

Before I get into the interview you need to understand how much I love that book.  When I first started teaching 18 years ago I read Fallen Angels and was blown away.  It was the first YA book I read that was raw and realistic.  It showed me how powerful books for teens can be.  It has, since then, continued to hold a special place in my heart.  So when I was contacted by Goodman Media to share a wonderful opportunity to both share about the launch of Fallen Angels in ebook form and help veterans I jumped at the chance.  But then they offered to let me ask Mr. Myers some questions.  I just about fell over! I could not be more excited to share this all with you.

First if you don't know about Fallen Angels:

FALLEN ANGELS tells the story of seventeen-year-old Richie Perry, a Harlem teenager who volunteers for the service when his dream of attending college falls through. Perry and his platoon - Peewee, Lobel, Johnson, and Brunner - come face-to-face with the Vietcong, the harsh realities of war, and some dark truths about themselves. The book has won numerous awards and accolades, including the Coretta Scott King Award, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, a Booklist Editors’ Choice, and a School Library Journal Best Book.

Now I would like to welcome Walter Dean Myers to The OWL

First I’d like to ask about Fallen Angels.  It was written at time when books this realistic were not widely written for teens.  What lead you to write the story and what did you hope teens would gain from reading it? 
The initial story was prompted by my own experiences.  I joined the Army at 17, full of spirit and patriotism, and little knowledge about war. My younger brother joined after I did and was killed on his first day in Vietnam.  A sobering experience.  I realized, of course, that I had influenced his entry into the military.  I wanted, needed, to remove the romanticism that had influenced me to join and this became my impetus for writing the book.  I wanted teens to understand the brutality of war when they were thinking of joining the Armed forces and also later, when they were in positions to influence our nation’s entry into wars.

Some people shy away from sharing Fallen Angels with students because of its content and the language in it.  What is your response to that issue? 

The bottom line of personal involvement is that you are asked to kill people you do not know, who have not personally offended you, and who might not be a danger to you if you did not engage them on the battlefield. To accomplish this soldiers are taught to dehumanize the enemy. Young men and women, fresh out of high school, need to be changed into young killers.  They are encouraged to use language and symbols that turns Asians into Gooks, Charlies, and the like. Unfortunately this language often slips over into the relations between soldiers.  I should have explained this better in the book.

You now have a sequel, Sunrise over Fallujah, and a prequel, Invasion, to Fallen Angels.  The stories take place many years apart.  Why did you decide to create the series in that way? 

What constantly shocks me is the seemingly never ending idea that violence can possibly answer man’s problems. Today, nations continue to build atomic arsenals at a time when the entire world is convinced that these weapons can end all life on this planet.  The poorest nations spend their resources on arms and soldiers instead of feeding their people. Can’t we ever learn that wars don’t work?  Perhaps not. But we have to teach that wars are not the answer.   It’s our only hope.  I keep revisiting the different conflicts in an effort to understand the thinking that caused them.

Your stories withstand the test of time.  Fallen Angels was first published in 1988, yet students still relate to the characters now?  Why do you think that is?

We are fascinated by the extremes of human emotion.  Love, fear, hatred, serve as beacons to help us explore the feelings that drive us from day to day. When those extremes are combined, when the fear of combat is melded with the friendship of the young soldiers, we recognize the  complex stages of our own lives.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions!
Thank you for your continued interest.  

I feel now like I understand the book and it's sequel/prequel much more!

Ok if you've never read Fallen Angels, or you want to reread it - November is the time to pick up the ebook.  Here is why:


Proceeds from E-Launch to Benefit Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the original publication of FALLEN ANGELS, the multi-million-copy bestselling novel by current National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Walter Dean Myers, Zola Books is releasing it as an e-book for the very first time.  FALLEN ANGELS, lauded as one of the best of the post-Vietnam novels, has continued to sell in paperback year after year, and today, Zola is excited to bring the powerfully moving story of a young man’s first experience of war to an even wider audience. 

Released on November 7, 2013, the FALLEN ANGELS e-book will include a bonus interview with Walter Dean Myers. The discussion covers Myers’s perspective on how war has changed over the years, the most poignant reader reactions to FALLEN ANGELS, his advice for readers coming to it for the first time, and more.

To commemorate the e-release, days before Veterans’ Day, Zola Books will launch a limited time promotion to raise funds for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, an independent not-for-profit organization that has provided close to $150 million in support for the families of military personnel lost in service to our nation, and for severely wounded veterans. Both Walter Dean Myers and Zola Books have agreed to donate 100% of their proceeds from all sales from November 7 through November 30.  The FALLEN ANGELS e-book will be available for $6.99.

You can find the book HERE.
And it can be read on Nooks, Kindles and tablets.

“I have been a fan of Walter Dean Myers – the writer and the man – for many years, and it is an honor to publish one of his most significant books,” said Joe Regal, CEO and co-founder of Zola Books. “There is no better way to honor Walter’s body of work, particularly FALLEN ANGELS, than by making a donation to the IFHF, an organization that offers tremendous support to the men and women who have sacrificed for our country.”

About Walter Dean Myers:
Walter Dean Myers is the New York Times bestselling author of Monster, the winner of the first Michael L. Printz Award, the 2012-2013 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, and inaugural NYC Literary Honoree. Myers has received almost every single major award in the field of children’s literature. He is the author of two Newbery Honor books and five Coretta Scott King Awardees. He is the recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults, a three-time National Book Award Finalist, as well as the first-ever recipient of the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement. He was the 2010 United States nominee for the Hans Christian Andersen Award, and is considered one of the preeminent writers for young people. Walter lives in Jersey City, NJ with his family. You can visit him online

About Zola Books:
Zola Books' mission is to create an online paradise for book lovers. Zola takes everything readers do in the real world – browse bookstores, read book reviews, visit blogs, follow authors, share reviews and recommendations, and buy all kinds of books – and puts it all in one place. Zola also shares profits with booksellers who recommend books online and off. In addition, Zola offers exclusive e-books from major writers - including The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, The New Hunger by Isaac Marion, and The Accidental Victim by James Reston Jr. Visit us at and follow us at @zolabooks.

November 8, 2013

Early Book Review: Panic by Lauren Oliver

Title: Panic
Author: Lauren Oliver
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Age: 14+
Stand alone book
Release Date: March 14

Panic began as so many things do in Carp, a dead-end town of 12,000 people in the middle of nowhere: because it was summer, and there was nothing else to do.

Heather never thought she would compete in Panic, a legendary game played by graduating seniors, where the stakes are high and the payoff is even higher. She’d never thought of herself as fearless, the kind of person who would fight to stand out. But when she finds something, and someone, to fight for, she will discover that she is braver than she ever thought.

Dodge has never been afraid of Panic. His secret will fuel him, and get him all the way through the game, he’s sure of it. But what he doesn't know is that he’s not the only one with a secret. Everyone has something to play for.

For Heather and Dodge, the game will bring new alliances, unexpected revelations, and the possibility of first love for each of them—and the knowledge that sometimes the very things we fear are those we need the most.

I loved Lauren Oliver's book Before I Fall.  It is long lasting favorite of mine.  I also read Delirium and enjoyed it as well (I never did go on to the rest of the series tho), so when I was able to get an advanced copy of her new book Panic I was really excited.  Now that I've finished it, I have mixed emotions.  Really mixed emotions.  There were parts I enjoyed a lot, but some parts seemed predictable.  Without having spoilers, I can't tell you exactly what I found predictable.

I liked the fact that Oliver went back to realistic fiction with this book.  (Although Before I Fall is NOT complete realistic fiction it feels like it) There is so much dystopia and fantasy that is was nice to go back to something real! The main character Heather was great.  She is so strong! Heather's mom is really not a mom.  She drinks, doesn't come home sometimes, and treats them like an inconvenience sometimes.  Heather uses this to push herself to try to be better. She takes care of her little sister Lily and because more a mom to her.  But at the same time, she has a typical teenage experience - boyfriends, good friends, parties.  I liked that there was this balance.  It made her seem more realistic.  It also made her decision to join the game Panic less understandable to me! That was ok though because even she isn't completely sure why she decided to join.  The other characters were good too.  The character of Dodge was good even though as a person I didn't care for him.  I understand why he was the way he was, so I got him.  Natalie, Heather's best friend, could have been developed more as well as Bishop another friend.  

I also liked Panic itself. You need to understand that this is a long standing tradition for graduating seniors that everyone at least gives money to the pot that goes to the winner! You can opt out of playing Panic, but you can't opt out of 100% of it.  I loved how Panic showed how desperate some kids are to get out of the life they've been handed, and how they'll do anything to take a chance to get out. You see Panic can be deadly.  So here are kids willing to take that much of a risk for a way out.  As an adult I can see the error in their willingness to play because I know there are other ways to get out of the place they are in now - but I could see and understand why they joined. 

What I didn't like - or what bothered me...  There was a huge part of the plot that I couldn't buy into as well because I saw from the start where it was headed.  I could tell that it was put into the story for one purpose, and when it actually happened in the story I was saying "I told you so"! This held me back from truly really really liking the book.  It was too coincidental or something but it bothered me. I'm sorry I can't go into detail about exactly what this was, but I don't want to spoil anything!

Final thought:  I liked it but was held back from LOVING it.

For the guys?  Hmmmmm I'd love to say yes.  It does give the perspective of another player in the game, Dodge, so they'd get a boy's view.  But I'm not sure that would be enough for this story to really appeal to boys.  

Note: this book is clearly for ages 14+  These are graduating seniors, so some of the things they say and do are clearly not for the younger age group.  

Review: Cool Creations in 35 Pieces

Title: Cool Creations in 35 Pieces
Author: Sean Kenney
Genre: Nonfiction
Ages: ALL!

About the Book
Building with LEGO® pieces can inspire children and adults alike to construct wonderfully imaginative and grand creations – towering castles, massive aircrafts, and intricate cities. But LEGO models don’t have to be complicated to be fun and exciting. InCool Creations in 35 Pieces, best-selling author and artist Sean Kenney taps deep into his imagination with an exercise that will challenge readers of all ages. He creates dozens of figures—from menacing robots with names like Blurg and Scraps, to transforming trucks, to creatures that live in the rainforest—out of LEGOs, but uses no more than 35 pieces in each construct.

Cool Creations in 35 Pieces is Sean’s sixth book that showcases his LEGO art work. His intricate-yet-simple designs will inspire millions of LEGO fans to unleash their own imaginations. He provides starting points, and also includes a step-by-step instruction guide on how he created his pieces.

Sean Kenney ABCAbout the Author
Sean Kenney is an artist who creates sculptures and models out of LEGO bricks at his studio in New York City. A LEGO-certified professional, Kenney has toured the world with his creations and produced six inspirational and instructive children’s books, including Cool Castles, Cool Robots, among others. To find out more information about his books and artwork, visit

My Son's Thoughts

I have a 12 year old son who loves Legos.  This is him a few years back after a trip to the Lego store.

He constantly amazes me with the creations he comes up with.  Several years ago he made a Titanic look alike! So when I was offered this book for review I knew I had the perfect expert for it sitting right in my house! I told him about the book, and he was interested right away.  He asked if it was here yet several times as we waited for it to arrive. Finally it came!

I watched him pour over the ideas in the book, and then instantly went over to our HUGE two tubs of Legos and start digging.  Within 15 minutes he had made a few of the ideas. 

Here's what he did:

So later I asked him what he thought about the book.  You need to understand my son is a boy of few words when it comes to praising something! Just getting to say he likes something can be difficult.

Here was our exchange

Me: What did you think of it?
Him: It was good.
Me: Was there ideas in there that you liked?
Him: Yes.
Me: A lot or just a few?
Him: A lot.
Me: Did you find things you hadn't thought of?
Him: Yes.  I mean I hadn't thought of making the city like it showed.
Me: What did you make that you liked?
Him: Well...... the city like I said.  Also the gas station.
Me: Were the instructions good?
Him: Yes
Me: To keep it fair was there anything you didn't like?
Him: There was a few things shown in the pictures that I couldn't find in the instructions.
Me: Did you just miss them?  
Him: No.
(I verified this.....)
Me: Do you think it's a good book?
Him: Yes.
Me: Why?
Him: Because it had good ideas and you only needed a few bricks.  Except sometimes they were rare bricks and I had to dig to find them.
Me: Did it show you some ways to use bricks that you hadn't thought of before?
Him: Yes (and then he went on to explain what brick and EXACTLY how you used it in a way he hadn't thought of but as a non-Lego person I didn't get it)
Me: So it was a good book and you'd give it a good review?
Him: Yes

Isn't he just detailed???? So according to a 12 year old boy who loves Legos this is a good book.  As his mom - I liked it because it kept him busy NOT on the computer.  I'd suggest it for any Lego lovers you have in your life.  It would be a perfect holiday gift!

Ps I liked the Nutty Animals and Goofy Faces- cute ideas there. 

November 7, 2013

Author Interview: M.D. Payne - Monster Juice Series

Today Hooked on Books is happy to welcome M.D. Payne. He is the author of the fun Monster Juice Series.

My students brainstormed questions they had for an author, and I narrowed it down to the most common or interesting. Before we get to the answers a bit about the books.

The Fear the Barfitron
When Chris Taylor discovers that the residents of the retirement home where he volunteers are secretly monsters--and have stolen what appears to be his life essence--he leaves to recruit his friends to help him get it back. But once they return to the retirement home, the boys find themselves at the center of a vomit-inducing war against some of the grossest monsters this world has ever encountered. Will Chris and his friends join the residents to fight off the Barfitron?

Chris Taylor and his friends are sent on an unexpected school field trip to a remote tropical island--only to find their new monstrous friends waiting for them. Once again, they need the boys' help: A new evil is on the rise. And it's a frightening sea monster made entirely out of dead skin. Will the boys be able to help defeat such a monster?

They look like pure fun!

Now for the interview.  Welcome to Hooked on Books!

Why do you write?
This question reminds me of a famous quote made by one of the first people to climb Mount Everest, George Mallory. When asked why he wanted to climb Everest, George replied, “Because it’s there.” The idea of doing something simply because you feel like you must rings true for me. I write because I feel I have to create, and I’ve been lucky enough, after years of dabbling in music, acting, audio production, radio, film and television that I’ve found a really fun creative outlet.

Does writing all day get boring?
I would love to find out! At the moment, I juggle my children’s book writing with a full-time job and a family that includes a beautiful 14-month old girl. That being said, my full-time job as a Director of Communications at a private school in Manhattan also requires a large amount of writing, and it does sometimes feel like I’m stuck in a computer all day long. So, I wouldn’t say it gets “boring” so much as, like anything you do non-stop, endless and overwhelming. Sometimes I feel like I spend so much time writing that I can’t communicate properly without a keyboard in front of me.

When you were in middle school did you like to write? When did you start writing?
I’ve always liked writing. When I was seven, I wrote a book of cool presidential facts—not for school or my parents or anyone but me. (That reminds me—I really need to ask my mother where that is!) In middle school I won the Young Writer’s Competition and had my worked published in my local paper, the Idaho Statesman. I just recently re-read my story, Creatures of the Night, and I was shocked at how violent it was. I was writing for adults as a kid, and now, as an adult, I’m writing for kids! But, it’s all been horror so far.

Where you a big reader when you were a kid?
Yes! I remember reading during recess out in the huge grass field behind Rio Vista Elementary School. I read a lot in elementary school—Bunnicula, The Celery Stalks at Midnight, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The House with the Clock in its Walls, A Wrinkle in Time, and countless other tales. By the time I hit middle school, I spent most of my free time playing video games, but I still read, mainly Stephen King and lots of non-fiction.

This premise of this series is pretty funny and crazy. What was the inspiration for them?  Where did the ideas come from?
The series started with a very simple idea—what would a retirement home filled with monsters look like? Then, I had to figure out what would happen if kids unraveled the secret of the retirement home. Then, I realized the reason that the old monsters were so old was because newer, more evil monsters were taking over. And what would save the old monsters, and in turn, all of humanity? Gross stuff. Barf and burps. By then, I was just really excited to see how I could mix everything together—be funny, gross and scary all at once, but in a way that moved the story along.

I have so many influences. On the funny-scary side, Goosebumps was a huge influence, as was The Addams Family and The Munsters. On the funny-gross side, my number one influence was the cartoon Ren and Stimpy, which to this day I regard as the funniest thing ever animated. And I’ve always been a funny person—I love making people laugh.

Are any of the characters in Monster Juice series based on people you know or people you’ve met?
Many of the characters in Monster Juice are based on people I know. I actually had a really hard time figuring out how to write the first book, until I started thinking about my own time at middle school, and all of the people I knew there. That’s what got me goin’! Chris is me as a kid, so I get to write as “myself.” Shane is a dear friend of mine from middle school who is like his namesake in many ways—having a black belt, for one. Ben is an interesting character because I wrote him with an adult friend of mine in mind--I never actually knew him as a kid. Gordon is totally made up. Then there are teachers featured who actually were real—Mr. Stewart is the greatest science teacher of all time, and I was lucky to have him in the 8th grade.

How long did it take you to write either book? How many times did this book get sent back to the editor for changes? – Basically how many drafts did it go through – how long did it take?
Fear the Barfitron took a really long time, as I was working with my editor on the entire series idea as well as the first book that would kick it off. We started talking about the idea in 2009, and it wasn’t until mid-2011 that I really started drafting. Then, it took about a year of going back and forth with changes and refinements to make it right. The main bulk of the book went through 3 major drafts before we focused in on just a few sections and finished it off. Fartsunami was a completely different beast—it only took 2-3 months to draft, there were only a few structural changes in a second draft, and then a lot of changes came after it was laid out because it was too long. I think, all told, Fartsunami took 6 months from beginning to end.

What is the hardest part about writing this series?
This was my first series, as well as my first books, so the hardest part was just answering the question, “Can I really do this?!” I had a lot of doubts that I had to break through, and I also had to learn patience—as you see from above, writing a book takes a lot of time! The second hardest thing was writing for 8-10 year olds—you become quite limited not only by simpler words but by simpler plot devices: you can’t confuse the reader or they’ll slam the book shut, but you need to keep the story going. I think I hit a happy medium.

What is something you want us to know about this series?
I had a lot of fun and a lot of laughs writing it, so I hope that readers have a lot of fun and tons of laughs while reading it. It takes a while to get into the characters and the story, but then once the second half gets cookin’, BOOM, you’re off! So be patient. I know I had to be. J

Thank you so much for visiting with us! If you want to know more about the series check out the video below or M.D. Payne's Tumblr account House of Payne.

This interview was also ran on my student book review blog Hooked on Books.

November 3, 2013

Middle Grade Monday: Chomp

It's Middle Grade Monday!

For those of you that don't know - the great MG (and YA) author Shannon Messenger started a great movement to make Monday "Middle Grade Monday".  Every Monday she has a posts filled with links of great MG books that are being shared and reviewed.  
I have been thinking for a long time that The O.W.L. should be MG only just because there are so few blogs with that focus.  I've tried, but it's gets frustrating that my MG posts get so few comments etc.  
But you what, it's time - time to promote MG!

(My student blog also has a MGM review up for The Farfield Curse by Bran Hambric)

Here's this week's book:

Title: Chomp

Author: Carl Hiaasen
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Age: 9-12
Stand Alone Book

Wahoo Cray lives in a zoo. His father is an animal wrangler, so he's grown up with all manner of gators, snakes, parrots, rats, monkeys, snappers, and more in his backyard. The critters he can handle. His father is the unpredictable one.

When his dad takes a job with a reality TV show called "Expedition Survival!", Wahoo figures he'll have to do a bit of wrangling himself—to keep his dad from killing Derek Badger, the show's boneheaded star, before the shoot is over. But the job keeps getting more complicated. Derek Badger seems to actually believe his PR and insists on using wild animals for his stunts. And Wahoo's acquired a shadow named Tuna—a girl who's sporting a shiner courtesy of her old man and needs a place to hide out.

They've only been on location in the Everglades for a day before Derek gets bitten by a bat and goes missing in a storm. Search parties head out and promptly get lost themselves. And then Tuna's dad shows up with a gun . . .

It's anyone's guess who will actually survive "Expedition Survival". . . .

Ok I have a confession to make, and you may all gasp at this........I've never read a Carl Hiaasen book before! I've seen them all and heard about how good they are (Flush, Hoot, Scat), but I just never picked one up to read it.  Then this summer I did this program called Camp Read-a-Lot, and Chomp was one of the choices.  I decided it was time.  And I'm so excited because it was great! Now I can wholeheartedly recommend it to my students.

I found this book to be funny, serious, fast-paced and smartly done. It was funny because of the character of Derek Badger.  Here is a guy that plays on survivalist on TV but is clearly not one in real life.  The problem is - he's believing the hype about himself, so he thinks he can do all kinds of things he can't do.  This gets him into one problem after another.  I found myself just shaking my head at him but laughing at him too - especially towards the end of the book (but I can't say way or I'd spoil it!).  He's written so larger than life that he almost become a caricature of a real person.  Thankfully it's kept from getting to crazy and totally unbelievable.

I also liked the character of Wahoo (how can you not like a kid name Wahoo). He's such a smart kid - figuring out how to keep his dad, the 
TV crew and himself - all under control.  Over and over again he had to figure out how to keep his dad on the job he was hired to do for the TV show.  He had to remain calm when his dad was ranting and ready to walk.  You could easily see what Wahoo does has unrealistic, but honestly I could see a kid acting like him especially growing up in the family Wahoo grew up in.

I need to talk about the story of Tuna.  This is a young girl that Wahoo and his dad end up helping.  If there was any part of the story that was unrealistic this might have been it.  I like Tuna's story - she's on the run from her dad - but how she ends up with Wahoo's family seemed a bit unrealistic.  What I liked was how her mind worked. Wahoo was street smart, but Tuna added the book smart that was often times needed.

Lastly I liked the message embedded into the story.  It dealt with how we treat the environment.  What I liked was that it was clearly there - there was no  missing the message - BUT it didn't club you over the head with it in a super preachy way.  It just made it clear in a way that you saw the affects of NOT taking care of animals and the land they live on.  Well done there!

Final thought:  I'm glad I got to meet Wahoo and these crazy cast of characters.  Enjoyable and smart.

For the Guys?  Yup for sure.  Wahoo is someone boys could relate to, and I think many would enjoy the outdoor aspect of the book.  

November 2, 2013

Under 14's Only Month at The Book Zone (AKA MG Books!)

Hey all I wanted to share a great month long event that is happening over at The Book Zone.  The entire month of November is decided at U14 books - we here in the US know them as Middle Grade (MG) books.  They are those great books written for the wonderful kids 14.  

I'm very excited to see this, because I've always felt there isn't enough focus put on this category of books.  I see YA everywhere, but it's much harder to find MG. And it's frustrating to read great MG/U14 books, review them and have very few comments.  Even more frustrating to have a giveaway and very few entries! 
So months like Under 14's Only are perfect!  

I hope you all stop over and check out the books highlighted throughout the month.  I know I will be!

Oh!  I do have to give a shout out to Shannon Messenger and her Middle Grade Mondays.  She has done a great job get the spotlight on MG books more! I really need to get my act together so I can participate more!

I also know Green Bean Teen Queen also does a Tween Tuesday post quit often.  

Plus I know there are plans in the works by Deb Marshall for another March of Middle Grade! 

Let's hear about any more that you know of! 
And lets get MG/U14's in the spotlight!!

October 31, 2013

Unbreathable Book Blitz +GIVEAWAY

Today I'm excited to share with you a new book - Unbreathable! I'm excited because it's written by a fellow blogger.

Title: Unbreathable (Unbreathable, #1)
Author: Hafsah Laziaf
Publisher: Self
Release date: October 29, 2013
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Fantasy

Summary from Goodreads:

One hundred and fifty years ago, Earth was destroyed, and the remaining humans fled to the dusty red planet of Jutaire, where the only oxygen is manufactured, food is scarce, and death strikes often. 

When Lissa's father discovers Earth still exists, she accidentally inhales the toxic air of Jutaire, and in one breath, discovers she isn't quite human.

Her father hangs for his discovery, and Lissa knows the Chancellors will come for her, for she saw the Earth that night too. With nothing to lose, she sets out to expose the truth. It isn't long before she meets Julian, a beautiful boy who can breathe the toxic air like she can - and shows her that the Jute, the original inhabitants of the planet, are more tangled in their lives than she knows.

But the Chancellors are only pawns in a greater game - one where the Jute control everything. Worse, the Jute plan to leave Jutaire for Earth, but to get there, they need her. And they'll stop at nothing until Lissa is in their clutches, even if they kill every human in the process. 

The race for Earth has begun.

Unbreathable is a tale of love, redemption, and sacrifice, and one girl's struggle to find her place in a world where she doesn't belong.

Purchase links:

Check out the Trailer:

About the author:
Hafsah Laziaf was born on the east coast on a hot summer day in 1993, raised on the west coast and is now stuck in the middle – in Texas – with more books than she can read. She’s the designer behind IceyDesigns and the blogger behind IceyBooks.

UNBREATHABLE is her debut novel.

Connect with Hafsah Laziaf:

Giveaway details:
1st place: a signed paperback copy of UNBREATHABLE (US)
2nd place: an e-book of UNBREATHABLE (INT)
3rd place: an UNBREATHABLE swag pack (US)

a Rafflecopter giveaway