Welcome to the Spotlight Daphne Benedis-Grab and The Angel Tree!

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Tis the season! It’s getting to be that time of the year when many of us start thinking about Christmas – and I have a wonderful book to share with you. Stay tuned below for a chance to win a copy of this fabulous book! Join me in shining the spotlight on author Daphne Benedis-Grab and her MG novel

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The Angel Tree by Daphne Benedis-Grab (Scholastic/2014)

Every Christmas in the small town of Pine River, the Angel Tree is mysteriously erected in the town square. People young and old tie wishes to the tree, and those wishes, with the generous help of the townsfolk, come true. Lucy wishes that the surgery for her sick seeing-eye dog that her family can’t afford will be provided. Max wants nothing more than to get out of the depressing run-down apartment his family lives in after their house burned down. Joe, new to town, and friendless, wishes his mother could come to him for Christmas. Cami doesn’t tie her wish onto the tree because she wants to discover who the mysterious benefactor is. When the four come together to solve the mystery, a greater gift of friendship materializes. A heart-warming tale perfect for the Christmas season and any other time of the year.

Spotlight on Daphne Benedis-Grab:

Please tell us what sparked the idea for The Angel Tree. And how did the characters of Max, Lucy, Joe and Cami come to you? I love how each had his/her own individual stories, but also came together and formed friendships.

I love Christmas and everything about it- except for the way that sometimes it gets turned into a consumer holiday with kids thinking about presents and not much else. I have nothing against presents, or getting excited about them- that is great! But Christmas is about more than a pile of loot and when my kids turned eight, we started talking about that. Which lead me to start thinking about how much fun it would be to write a story that captured what Christmas means to me.

Thanks! I love writing about friendship and this is the first time I’ve written so many voices in a story. Cami, Joe, Max and Lucy came to me the way most characters do- a mix of my own traits, experiences and feelings combined with things that I’m thinking about, like something going on with my kids or something I’ve read. I used to play the violin like Cami and my kids are adopted like Lucy. A good friend has a son with learning disabilities which got me thinking about Max. And it just went from there…

How did you develop the mystery of The Angel Tree? Did you know early on who the benefactor was and the story behind his/her intentions?

I did know who was behind the mystery but setting it up with enough clues yet not too many was hard! My editor was a big help there- we did a pretty I depth revision after I gave her the first draft where she pointed out places where clues could come up organically without being too obvious (I hope)!

You must love Christmas! What is one of your favorite Christmas traditions – either from childhood or now. And what do you think your 11-year-old self would have wished had you been able to tie a wish onto Pine River’s Angel Tree?

I adore Christmas and I have a lot of favorite traditions- come to my Facebook page in November and December where I’ll post pictures and details about them and hopefully hear from other people what some of their favorites are. But if I had to pick just one it’s decorating the tree. Our ornaments are a mix of homemade that remind me of the kids growing up (they made such cute ornaments when they were toddlers!) and ornaments we bought traveling that bring back memories of those trips. We play carols, bake cookies and when it’s all done we turn out the lights in the apartment, turn on the lights on the tree and it’s magic.

I actually put my eleven year old wish in the book as an example early on- I am the kid who wanted a horse!

Debbi, thank you for having me on your awesome blog!!

Thank you, Daphne!

Daphne Benedis-Grab is the author of The Angel Tree, as well as two young adult novels, and her short stories have appeared in American Girl Magazine.  She earned an MFA at The New School and is an adjunct professor at McDaniel College. She lives in New York City with her husband, two kids and a cat who has been known to keep her computer warm while she is away from her desk.

For more about Daphne and her books, check out her web site, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter!

For a chance to win a copy of The Angel Tree, just follow these instructions:

1.  Comment below.

2. You must have a US or Canada mailing address to win.

3. Enter by Friday, November 7th, midnight EST. Winner will be chosen at random and announced here on Tuesday the 11th.

Good luck and happy reading!

 

And The Winner Is…

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Thank you to everyone who stopped by to help shine the spotlight on debut YA author Jennifer Wolf Kam and her book:

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Devin Rhodes Is Dead by Jennifer Wolf Kam (Mackinac Island Press/2014)

If you missed the interview, check it out here.

I used a random number generator to pick the winner of a copy of this thrilling debut novel. The winning number is…

(drum roll)

commenter number ONE! Congratulations drluper! WOOHOO! Please contact me at just kid ink at yahoo dot com (no spaces) with your mailing address and I will be sure to get your copy in the mail ASAP!

Thank you to everyone for stopping by. Stayed tuned for more book buzz, giveaways, and spotlight interviews!

Happy reading!

Welcome to the Spotlight Jennifer Wolf Kam and Devin Rhodes Is Dead!

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I’m throwing confetti, welcoming talented friend, Jennifer Wolf Kam to the spotlight, in celebration of her debut YA novel! Stay tuned below for a chance to win a copy of this!

9781934133590_p0_v1_s260x420Devin Rhodes Is Dead by Jennifer Wolf Kam (Mackinac Island Press/2014)

Not only is this novel a stunning and outstanding debut, but it is the recipient of the Children’s Book of the Year award presented by the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

Fifteen-year-old Devin Rhodes is found dead at the bottom of the ravine, and best friend Cass is wracked by guilt that overshadows the loss and grief she feels over the last moments she shared with Devin. Cass struggles with her feelings over how used and small she felt when she was around Devin and the forever friendship they’d shared. When she believes that Devin’s ghost is haunting her, Cass wants nothing more than to forget, even as everyone around her prods her to remember, especially the detective that comes to question her. Told in alternating before and after chapters, this suspenseful story about friendship is a true page-turner with an ending that doesn’t disappoint. Outstanding page-turning story!

Spotlight on Jennifer Wolf Kam:

Please tell us your journey with this story – what was the spark of inspiration and how did you feel when you knew this story was to become a book?

When you lose someone important in your life, whether through death, separation or growing distance, it leaves an open wound. I was curious about what happens to a person when they lose someone close, but there is no closure, no sense of finality–when there are unresolved issues. I think we all long for more time and second chances with those we love.

Cass’s friendship with Devin is so layered, like many long-term friendships. Devin sometimes takes advantage of the power she holds and Cass sometimes allows it. What were the particular challenges of writing about a friendship like this?

I think many of us have relationships in our lives that are difficult, relationships that cause others to wonder why we have them in the first place. Friendships are complicated, some more than others. My biggest challenge in portraying the relationship between Cass and Devin was demonstrating both how and why, despite Devin’s treatment of Cass, Cass still holds onto their friendship.

The mystery aspect is so suspenseful! How did you discover the truth behind how Devin died (no spoilers!)? Did you start off knowing what happened? What was your process?

I love the thrill of a good mystery! When I started writing DEVIN RHODES IS DEAD, I deliberately avoided thinking about the ending. I felt as though, prolonging the mystery for me, helped me to more effectively build and develop suspense for my readers. Plus–I enjoyed giving myself a good case of the shivers! But, of course, at some point a writer needs to figure out the story’s ending, otherwise, it’s quite easy to fall into a plotless abyss.

As for my process, while the book is written in alternating past/present chapters, it’s still told linearly. There were weeks when I only worked on the “Before” chapters and weeks where I only wrote “After” chapters. It was important that the story presented itself as whole in both time sequences. That said, I don’t typically write linearly. I often write scenes that I have in my head, even when I’m not really up to that scene in the book.

Cass and Devin share best friend charms. Did you ever have something special to symbolize a special friendship you had? What was it?

I never had a best friend charm with my best friend, but I knew people who did. I always found them fascinating–such statements of solidarity and permanence in a confusing and capricious tween/teen world.

My best friend and I created a time capsule in 7th grade. We filled it with funny poems and lists of what was important to us at the time. We opened it up every 6 months and added to it, dating all the new materials. I think we continued it into college until, eventually, it was lost to time. Then again, it might actually be somewhere in my closet. =)

Jennifer Wolf Kam began writing stories as soon as she could hold a crayon. Today she holds an MFA in writing for children and young adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. DEVIN RHODES IS DEAD is her first novel and the winner of the National Association of Elementary School Principals National Children’s Book of the Year Award. Jennifer lives in a suburb of New York City, with her husband, two sons, and a love for chocolate.

For more about Jennifer and her books, check out her web site, follow her on Twitter, friend her on Facebook, and follow her on Tumblr.

For a chance to win a copy of Devin Rhodes Is Dead, just follow these instructions:

1.  Comment below.

2. You must have a US or Canada mailing address to win.

3. Enter by Friday, October 17th midnight EST. Winner will be chosen at random and announced here on Tuesday the 21st.

Good luck and happy reading!

Book Buzz! Cooper & Packrat Are Back!

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Cooper & Packrat: Mystery of the Eagle’s Nest by Tamra Wight, illustrated by Carl DiRocco

Islandport Press, 2014

Cooper and Packrat are back in another Wilder Campground adventure. This time after they discover one of their campgroup geocache boxes filled with illegal eagle parts, two goons chase them down. Cooper and Packrat are determined to discover the mystery of these illegal activities, while trying to evade the thugs. When they find out that the campground eaglets may be in danger, they enlist the help of their friend Roy and try to protect the eagles. Will they save the baby eagles? Will they find out the mystery behind the stolen eagle parts? And will Cooper get grounded by his parents for sleuthing? An adventurous story with fascinating eagle facts.

This book is perfect for young readers who love adventure, mystery, and nature. I already look forward to the next installment. I hope there’s a next book!

For more about Tamra and her books, see my spotlight interview with her here.

Happy reading!

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Highlights Foundation – A Writer’s Retreat

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I’m going to digress a bit from my reading raves to talk about my fantastic few days at The Highlights Foundation where I took a Revision Workshop with Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson. It was in a word -blissful!

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I didn’t take photos of the most important part – the actual workshops – because I was too busy listening to what Harold and Eileen had to share about revision techniques. Okay, I lie – that wasn’t the most important part, even though it was a key element. Everything about this retreat was important!

If you’ve ever considered taking a Highlights Foundation workshop or going for their Unworkshop days (where you go just to work on your own), I highly recommend it! I don’t know that I’ve ever worked so well, so focused over a 4 day period away from home. The lodgings are extremely comfortable and the atmosphere is conducive to writing. It’s quiet and peaceful and there are plenty of places to sit and write, including your room. Meals and snacks are provided – and the food was absolutely delicious. (Confession: I asked for seconds of dessert one night.)

The revision retreat itself was perfect for me – I’m diving into a tough revision of a YA novel. The sessions in the mornings were informative and interesting, and gave us opportunities to put some new techniques into practice. Having the afternoons free for writing (or critique group) time was outstanding. I didn’t know how much real work I would get done in the afternoons (I’m typically a morning writer), but when I sat down to write, the hours flew by! Going on hikes in the gorgeous hills before dinner helped me settle my mind and regroup. Evenings were on our own and varied. The first night, I read and relaxed in my comfy and quiet room. The second night, I wrote. I admit that I hadn’t planned to, but my neighbors all said they would be writing that evening, so peer pressure pushed me to write as well. The third night, a group of us got together to read one another’s work and offer feedback. And the last night (sigh) we had a bonfire and roasted marshmallows and talked about the market. There were 13 of us, plus Harold and Eileen, and our group really connected. I miss everyone!

The days went by too quickly, but the good news is that I carried all the positive energy home with me and worked hard all week. I feel like I’ve gained new insight into revision and am excited to dive into this next draft. Thank you to everyone at the Highlights Foundation, to Harold and Eileen, and my new friends, Kristy, Theresa, Marie, Carole, Nathalie, Betsy, Marie, Taunya, Linda, Raj, Eric, Jennifer, and Catherine! It was a honor and a pleasure!

Check out Kathryn Erskine’s post about this wonderful place. It was when I read her post that I knew I was going to have an amazing time there. For another retreater’s take on this workshop, check out Kristy Boyce’s blog post.

Happy reading and writing!

Summer Reads

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Summer is a busy time for me with a bit of travel and a lot of writing and reading. Plus, as many of you know, I now have ducks!

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Long story, but meet Darcy (the white Pekin) and Lizzy (the black Indian Runner). I’ve had them since they were ducklings and they are now a little over four months old. I’m completely smitten by my ducks and fortunately they seem to adore me right back. Ducks are kind of like dogs – they follow simple commands (come, stay, go home, etc.) and are great company. I spend almost every afternoon sitting in the fenced-in backyard with them. They forage, run around, take a dip in the kiddie pool, and act cute, and I read. *

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I’ve been reading some fantastic books! Here are some I recommend if you’re looking for great summer reads!

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Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson (YA)

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Landline by Rainbow Rowell (adult fiction)

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Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins (YA)

If you pre-order you get some really cool swag!

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To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han (YA)

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One Plus One by Jojo Moyes (adult fiction)

Plus don’t forget the great books I’ve highlighted in my Spotlight interviews!

If you have book recs for me, feel free to share in the comments! I have a huge towering TBR pile but I’m always willing to buy more books!

Happy summer and happy reading!

*For anyone concerned about the well-being of my ducks, I have a long history of working with animals of all kinds and a degree in Zoology.

 

And The Winner Is…

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Thanks to everyone for stopping by to shine the spotlight on Justina Ireland and her awesome YA novel

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Promise of Shadows (Simon & Schuster/2014)

If you missed it, be sure to check out my interview with Justina: click here.

Using a random number generator and numbering the comments in order of appearance, the winner of a copy of Promise of Shadows is: number 3. Who is that? Why it’s Catey! WOOHOO! Please email me at just kid ink at yahoo dot com (no spaces) with your mailing address and I’ll be sure to get you your copy ASAP!

Thanks for stopping by! Come back soon for more book buzz and give-aways.

Happy reading!