Author Archives: DEBtastic Reads!

About DEBtastic Reads!

Writer, reader, traveler, dog- and duck-lover, mom and wife. Author of two nonfiction children's books.

Welcome to the Spotlight Jo Knowles and Read Between the Lines

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Happy Book Birthday!

I’m so happy to welcome back author and good friend Jo Knowles to celebrate the release of her newest YA. Stay tuned below for a chance to win your own copy!

9780763663872_p0_v1_s260x420Read Between the Lines (Candlewick/2015)

Nate Granger, unpopular, breaks his middle finger during high school gym class. Thus starts a day where the middle finger plays a part in the lives of students and others in this small town. A former high school student works at a nearby fast food joint, resentful of feeling stuck, taking it out on his neighbor. The neighbor boy, normally quiet, is frustrated by the taunting and steals a driveway paver from the neighbor and decides to use it against him. And so on — each life intertwines in some small or large way. Told is multiple POVs, this novel reveals in a heart-wrenching way how people’s outsides don’t always match their insides. Read Between the Lines prods the reader to do the same – to see what’s in between what is observed. Another outstanding novel by this talented author. I remain a fan!

Spotlight on Jo Knowles:

What was the spark behind the idea of this novel?

Many years ago I was driving with my husband and young son and a man was about to crash into us so my husband honked his horn to warn him. The guy gave us the finger! I was so upset about it, and kept saying to my husband, “Can you believe that guy?” until my husband was like, “You have got to let it go.” But for some reason I couldn’t. The whole incident made me start thinking about how much power we give that gesture, in different ways. But obviously that’s not exactly a book. What happened was, in thinking about how and why we give and get the finger, I also started thinking about the various stereotypes that exist in high school. The jock. The cheerleader. The bully. The dork. You get the picture. And I thought, what if I explored how each of these characters was more than their stereotype? More complex. More human. I picked away at this idea for years. But slowly, each character started coming to life, and then their stories started overlapping, and I could see why one character might see a person one way, but another character might see him or her in a completely different way, and neither would be all that accurate. The more I did this, the more complicated this structure became, but it was also a lot of fun! So I went with it, and after many years of working on it here and there just for fun between projects, the stories all started coming together in an exciting way. And finally I dared to share a draft with my editor, who, thankfully, thought it was a puzzle worth trying to finish.

This novel is quite a departure from your others in that it is not only told in multiple points of view but takes place in the span of one day. What were the particular challenges and joys of writing this way? Did you end up with a favorite character -not necessarily the one you liked the most, but the one who pulled on your heartstrings the most? I personally felt most for Dewey even though I didn’t particularly care for him. I won’t say more because I don’t want to give anything away.

The biggest challenge was to make sure that each scene that was repeated from another character’s point of view matched in terms of what people said and did. I have a notebook filled with timelines and character charts. I’m a totally disorganized person so this was a huge task for me. I’m very grateful for good copyeditors!

I think Dewey is one of my favorites, too! The more I wrote about him, the more I felt for him. I’ve had jobs I felt caged in, and I remember sitting in my car, feeling sick to my stomach before I headed into work, just like Dewey does. Of all the characters, Dewey felt the most trapped to me, and it was hard to put him through that daily grind, and to allow the other characters to see the worst side of him. It was rewarding to give him a moment in the sun, even if very brief. I like to imagine that it fed him, and gave him the strength to get through that job until he was old enough to leave and work with his dad.

One group of friends drive around in a car they call The Great White Beast. I love that! Mostly because when I was in high school, my friends named my car (a white 1965 Chevy Malibu SS) the Great White (as in shark). Did any of your cars have a nickname? 

We had an old VW convertible everyone called The Bug. I used to love driving around in that thing with my sister in the summer, blasting The Talking Heads from a boombox because the radio was broken. Everyone knew when the Knowles sisters were driving down the road. I hope we weren’t too obnoxious.

Jo Knowles is the author of Living With Jackie Chan, See You At Harry’s, Pearl, Jumping Off Swings, and Lessons from a Dead Girl. Her newest book, Read Between The Lines, was called “masterfully woven” in a starred review byKirkus. Some of her awards include two SCBWI Crystal Kite Awards, a New York Times Editor’s Choice and Notable Book, the PEN New England Children’s Book Discovery Award, an American Library Association Notable, Bank Street College’s Best Books for Children (Outstanding Merit), and YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults. Jo has a master’s degree in children’s literature and teaches writing for young adults in the MFA program at Southern New Hampshire University. She lives in Vermont with her husband and son.

For more about Jo and her books, check out her website, follow her on Twitter, friend her on Facebook, or read her blog on LiveJournal.

To celebrate the release of Jo’s newest novel, I’m giving away a copy to one lucky reader. Just follow the rules below:

1. To enter your name in a random drawing, comment on this post. For fun, share if you’ve ever had a nickname for one of your cars.

2. Comment by Saturday, March 14 at midnight EST. Winning name will be announced here on Tuesday, March 17th.

3. Entrants must have a US or Canada mailing address.

Check out the cool t-shirt I bought to celebrate Read Between The Lines:

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You can buy your own gear at her shop. If you don’t know what the shirt means, you will once you read the book! You definitely want to read this book!

Good luck and happy reading!

To see past Spotlight interviews, click here.

The Word Nest

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As some of you might know, as well as being a reader, I’m a writer. While the focus on this blog is definitely on books I read and love, I do have a website that is devoted to my writer-self. The Word Nest is the name of my writing studio, and now the name of my newly redesigned and relaunched website. I’d love for you to visit and take a look around. Also, I’m doing a giveaway of my own nonfiction kids books, so check out the blog there. Thanks for all your support – and I promise to get back to blogging fantastic books I’m reading very soon! In fact, stay tuned for a Spotlight on Jo Knowles’s newest upcoming YA release!

2014 Reading List

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Happy New Year! I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you for following this blog. It’s a joy to share my love of reading and books – and I love hearing from you, too! If you have a reading blog that I’m not currently following, please comment below with your url. I love seeing what everyone else is reading and I get some great recommendations for books I might not have otherwise picked up.

I had a goal to read 100 books last year. Alas, I read 74. That means that I was mostly focusing on my own writing. I read only 30 children’s/teen books – that was a surprise to me. But, I have a tendency to avoid reading my genre when I’m focused on my own work-in-progress, so perhaps this is a good sign (at least for my own writing). The great thing, though, was that I thoroughly enjoyed all the YA/MG books I read this year!

Here’s my list of books:

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OPEN ROAD SUMMER by Emery Lord (YA)

MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME edited by Stephanie Perkins (YA)

Oooh La La!

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Oops! I’ve been quieter than I planned. Hope everyone had a fabulous holiday and that 2015 will be stupendous and great! Where was I over the holiday?

I spent it with my husband and college-age daughter, in this city:

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Eating a lot of these:

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And stopping at this awesome place:

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We had an amazing and memorable week.

And special for you all because I know you’ll appreciate it -I saw this:

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And for anyone who loved ANNA & THE FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins, I stood here and made a wish:

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Oh, and what was I reading that week? This, which was perfect:

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Loved this book of twelve perfectly wonderful holiday love stories written by some of my favorite YA authors!

I promise to share my 2014 reading list at the start of the new year. Happy reading and thanks so much for reading this blog. I truly appreciate each and every one of you!

Shopping Suggestions

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It’s that time of year again, when we want to find the perfect gifts for family and friends. When I can, I prefer to give the gift of a book. Everyone wins – the receiver, the author, and the bookstore (please buy from your local Indie).

If you check out my reading list for the year (sidebar), these are the books I’ve read and enjoyed so far. But I’d like to highlight a few for your shopping pleasure. For the purpose of this blog, I’ll stick to children’s and teen fiction, but if you’d like my recommendations for adult fiction, just drop me a line.

9781423144342_p0_v2_s260x420  The Enchanter Heir by Cinda Williams Chima (Hyperion/2013)

In a continuation of the Heir Chronicles, this story focuses on Jonah and Emma. Both are survivors of the Thorn Hill massacre/accident (depending on who tells the story) – killing all the adults and turning the surviving children into “savants” or mutants. Not quite wizards or enchanters or warriors or sorcerers – but somehow having a special ability, but also cursed with short lives. Jonah is able to enchant, but also his bare touch will kill. Emma who knew nothing of this world comes to it after her grandfather is murdered and she’s united with her long-absent father. But then Jonah comes along to question Tyler (Emma’s father) about Thorn Hill and is ambushed by wizards and a battle ensues.  There is mystery, intrigue, and romance! The ending is a bit of a cliffhanger but fortunately the next book, The Sorcerer Heir was released in October! I’m looking forward to reading it!

 

9781423166801_p0_v2_s260x420  United We Spy by Ally Carter (Hyperion/2013)

In the last book of the Gallagher Girl series, Cam starts her last semester of her senior year as a Gallagher Girl with her three best friends and Zach by her side. Until  things go unexpectedly haywire and the girls must use their spy training to solve and save, once again. Always exciting and always fun, I will miss this series! If you haven’t read any of the books, definitely start with book 1 about a secret spy school for girls.

 

 

 

 

41zHaSex4JL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_  Yaqui Delgado Wants To Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina (Candlewick/2013)

Piddy Sanchez’s biggest issue used to be wanting to know who her father was. But then she and her mother move and Piddy starts a new high school. Immediately she catches the wrong kind of attention. A mean girl and her gang of girls want to hurt Piddy and she doesn’t understand why. Piddy’s grades suffer as she tries to avoid confrontation and Piddy feels alone. Things continue to get worse for Piddy and she must make a decision in order to get her life back. Touching story!

 

 

 

9780545035330_p0_v2_s260x420  Half A Chance by Cynthia Lord (Scholastic/2014)

When Lucy and her mom and photographer dad move to a cottage on a New Hampshire lake, she is, as always, worried about being the new kid. But summer gives her a chance to get to know her new home and make a new friend with neighbor Nate, even though he is only there for the summer. Lucy decides to enter a photography contest and with Nate’s help, she shoots photos, wondering if they will be good enough for her dad. She and Nate and his sister, follow the loons – recording their family life for the Loon Preservation Society and for Nate’s grandmother who is slowly starting to lose her memory. A story about friendship, family, and making and keeping memories. Beautifully written!

 

 

 

9780316043533_p0_v1_s260x420  Sorta Like A Rock Star by Matthew Quick (Little, Brown/2011)

Amber Appleton, age 17, lives with her mother in a yellow school bus (her mother’s part time job). With her little dog Bobby Big Boy, Amber tries to bring hope into everyone’s lives – her best friends, the seniors at the retirement home, a Vietnam Vet and her favorite teacher at school, but when tragedy strikes and Amber gives up, all those lives she’s touched – they come together to give her a great gift back. Quirky characters abound with touches of humor and great emotion.

 

 

 

 

9780807517390_p0_v1_s260x420  Dust of Eden: A Novel by Mariko Nagai (Albert Whitman & Co./2014)

After Pearl Harbor, Mina Masako Tagawa and her family are forced to leave their home in Seattle and relocate to an internment camp in Idaho. This is the story of the Japanese internment during WWII. In poignant and powerful verse, Mariko Nagai tells the story through middle-schooler Mina who has to leave behind everything – including her cat and best friend, Jamie. In the dusty barrack camps where the families are crammed together with no privacy and little amenities, Mina’s family cracks under the strain. The beauty lies in the telling – Nagai’s verse is filled with emotion. Grandpa’s roses are the beauty that survives in the harsh environment and serves as a reminder that under even the harshest conditions, beauty can be found.

 

 

 

9781452111742_p0_v3_s260x420  Always Emily by Michaela MacColl (Chronicle Books/2014)

In 1835 Haworth England, 17yo Emily is forced by her sister Charlotte to go away from her beloved moors to a boarding school, where Charlotte will be a teacher. Both sisters crave the writing life, but Charlotte is practical. Teaching would be a good practical profession. Headstrong Emily escapes back home after suffering homesickness and misery. Emily comes across a young man camping on the moors and becomes embroiled in a mystery. A gripping and engaging tale based on the famous Brontë sisters.

 

 

 

 

9781442444645_p0_v3_s260x420  Promise of Shadows by Justina Ireland (Simon & Schuster/2014)

The story opens on Zephyr who is stuck in Tartarus’ worst section, the Pits, as punishment for killing one of Hera’s guards. Zeph is a failed Harpy. Fortunately, she has found a protector in Cass. When her childhood friend (and crush) Tallon comes to the rescue to release her from the Underworld, she and Cass join Tallon, his dragon brother Blue and Zeph’s childhood nemisis Alora in a quest to keep Hera from taking over the mortal world. Exciting and original and full of adventure and tension! I hope there is another book after this one!

 

 

 

9780802728388_p0_v3_s260x420  Taste Test by Kelly Fiore (Bloomsbury/2013)

When Nora Henderson secures a place on the popular TV cooking competition for high school seniors, she is excited for a chance to achieve her dream of leaving small town Weston, NC and having a career in the culinary arts. When she arrives and meets the other contestants, she immediately loathes the arrogant son of a famous chef, Christian. The two become fierce competitors. During the course of the show, it seems someone is sabotaging the competition, seriously injuring some of the contestants. Nora is determined to figure out the mystery. Exciting mystery flavored with a spicy romance, and recipes!

 

 

 

9781442426702_p0_v5_s260x420  To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han (Simon & Schuster/2014)

Lara Jean has been in love with 5 boys in her 16 years, and she’s written each of them a love letter and sealed them in her closet. Those letters were meant for her and never for the recipients, but when those letters somehow reach these boys, Lara Jean must deal with the consequences. The hardest boy to deal with is Josh, her beloved older sister’s boyfriend. To try to convince Josh she no longer has feelings for him, she starts a fake relationship with Peter K, another letter recipient.  They write up a contract with rules, but, of course, complications arise as Josh tries to pursue Lara Jean. I laughed and cried and I loved that the MC was half Korean-American. Best news? There’s a companion book coming out in 2015!

 

 

 

9781442435001_p0_v5_s260x420  Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson (Simon & Schuster/2014)

When Emily discovers that her best friend Sloane has disappeared, she is lost without her. Sloan was what made life good, and what made Emily interesting. Sloan leaves behind a list of things for Emily to do – all things that scare her, like ride a horse, go skinny-dipping, and kiss a stranger. These are all Slone things, not Emily things. But Emily believes that doing these thing might bring Sloan back or at least give her a clue as to where she went. During the course of checking off things on her list, Emily becomes friends with class president, all-around-do-gooder and confident half of a couple, Frank Porter, and of course, things get complicated. Loved this story and didn’t want it to end. I just wanted to hang out with Emily (and Frank) longer.

 

 

 

9781595146748_p0_v2_s260x420  Like No Other by Una LaMarche (Razorbill/2014)

Devorah Blum has always been the rule follower in her Hasidic family, but when fate strikes during a storm while she’s at the hospital, she finds herself stuck in an elevator with a boy her age. She has never been alone with the opposite sex and while at first frightened, she is surprised at how comfortable she is with him. Jaxon, a East Indian nerd at heart, is instantly attracted to Devorah and tries hard to impress her. He’s usually tongue-tied in front of girls, but he is strangely comfortable with her as they share conversation and headphones. After they escape the elevator, they both feel an undeniable pull toward each other, and Devorah risks everything to try to be with him.

 

 

 

9781934133590_p0_v1_s260x420  Devin Rhodes Is Dead by Jennifer Wolf Kam (Mackinac Island Books/2014)

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!

 

 

 

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Cooper & Packrat #2: Mystery of the Eagle’s Nest by Tamra Wight (Islandport Press/2014)

Cooper and Packrat are back in another Wilder Campground adventure. Cooper and Packrat discover one of their campgroup geocache boxes filled with illegal eagle parts. They are determined to discover the mystery of these illegal activities. An adventurous story with fascinating facts about eagles

 

 

 

 

9780374384678_p0_v2_s260x420  The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski (FSG/2014)

Kestral is the General’s daughter – a proud Valorian living in luxury in the conquered Herrani capital. Her father has given her an ultimatum – marry or join the military by age 17. She wants neither. One day, she comes across a slave auction and she ends up bidding for and buying a slave – something she is ashamed of. Smith is arrogant and closed off, and yet the two start to form a sort of friendship – one that is not normal for mistress and slave – trust and attraction grows. But unbeknownst to Kestral, Smith (or Arin) is a plant and a spy who is second in command to the brewing rebellion. A gripping page-turning with a hot romance!

 

 

 

 

9780545613781_p0_v1_s260x420  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.

 

 

9780399252518_p0_v3_s260x420  Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (Nancy Paulsen Books/2014)

In free verse, Jacqueline Woodson recalls her childhood, from birth in Ohio, to a childhood raised by family in South Carolina, to moving again as a child to Brooklyn New York. And always was the dream of becoming a writer. With details of the race struggle during her childhood interspersed with touching detail about her family and forever friend, Woodson tells a story about her childhood.

 

 

 

 

 

Honestly, I recommend any of the books I’ve read and listed on the sidebar of my blog. These are just a few of my favorites from the year. Happy holidays, happy shopping, and of course happy reading!

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!