STARRED REVIEW for FINDERS KEEPERS by Shelly Tougas!

I’m so pleased to share the news that Shelley’s Tougas’s second novel, FINDERS KEEPERS, has received a *starred review* from Booklist:

“The only time 10-year-old Christa feels she belongs is when she is at her family’s cabin in Wisconsin. But to her dismay, this will be their last summer on Whitefish Lake, because her father has lost his job and they cannot afford to keep the cabin. Next door, a boy named Alex has just moved in, and the two team up to do some sleuthing and treasure hunting. Rumor has it that Al Capone once hid a suitcase of cash in the area, and if they can find it Christa’s family might be able to hang on to their cabin. Tougas, known best for her historic nonfiction (Little Rock Girl 1957, 2011), has crafted a charming story of family history and personal connections (both lost and found) that is reminiscent of Blue Balliett and the Penderwicks’ adventures. Christa is a delightful protagonist—spunky, witty, and self-confident, in spite of her lack of social graces—and her companionship with Alex is well drawn. More thoughtful than most mysteries, this novel addresses serious issues (financial challenges and strained family relationships, in particular) without bogging down the narrative, and its resolution is both rewarding and poignant. Christa and Alex prove a winning duo, whose quest for Capone’s lost loot will keep readers glued to the page.” – Booklist

And here are glowing reviews from School Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews:

“Readers will enjoy the tongue-in-cheek humor and fast-paced story that revels in outdoor summertime fun. Family issues drive the heart of the narrative, and Christa, described as immature by her family, must face events as they unfold. Lovable and prone to a modest amount of mishaps, Christa learns about the angst a struggling family must endure and the dynamics of true friendship from young and old. VERDICT: Lighter than Gennifer Choldenko’s Al Capone Does My Shirts (Putnam, 2004), this is an entertaining middle grade mystery.” – School Library Journal

“The fast-paced ending has enough bite to satisfy. The premise will cause inevitable comparisons to Gennifer Choldenko's Alcatraz tales, but the story stands on its own. Entertaining and humorous.” – Kirkus Reviews

The book is available in bookstores and libraries on September 1st, 2015.

To buy copies of FINDERS KEEPERS, click here: Powells, IndieBound, Barnes + Noble, Amazon

STARRED review for LAST IN A LONG LINE OF REBELS by Lisa Lewis Tyre!

I'm so happy to share the *starred* review from Publishers Weekly for LAST IN A LONG LINE OF REBELS by Lisa Lewis Tyre.  I adored this hysterical, heartfelt book from the minute I read it, and couldn't be more pleased about the attention it's getting, starting with it being selected for the Middle Grade Buzz Panel at the recent BEA meeting!

"Tyre’s accomplished debut takes place in 1999 in the small Southern town of Zollicoffer, Tenn., where 12-year-old Lou Mayhew’s 175-year-old home is her only claim to fame. The daughter of a junkman and a pregnant “enviro-artist” mother, Lou is determined that the summer before seventh grade will be less boring than the previous one. Eavesdropping one day, she learns that her beloved house may soon be razed, and her mission immediately becomes clear. Enlisting her best friends to help save her home, high-spirited, persistent Lou finds a new interest in history—especially her family’s, which holds its own surprises. As the four children try to solve a Civil War mystery and find a cache of purportedly missing gold, they also confront a contemporary case of racism. Strong secondary characters, including Lou’s thrice-divorced flirtatious grandmother, help build the strong sense of small-town community. Tyre masterfully weaves historical details into Lou’s discoveries in ways that never feel facile, while deftly and satisfyingly resolving past and present puzzles. Ages 10–up."

Congratulations to Lisa!

LAST IN A LONG LINE OF REBELS will be published this September -- keep your eyes out for it!

Happy Book Birthday to THE REVENGE PLAYBOOK by Rachael Allen


I can't tell you how excited I am about Rachael Allen's wonderful new YA novel, The Revenge Playbook, which is available now.  But don't take my word for it, here's what Booklist and a few others have to say:

The novel deftly and gracefully explores many difficult themes, ranging from sexual assault to hazing, expertly balancing weighty issues with the more lighthearted struggles of high school. This timely novel provocatively shines a light on the power that many high-school football players can wield and sometimes abuse.” —Booklist

“In the girl-power revenge spirit of E. Lockhart’s award-winning The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, Allen’s novel pits wronged girls against the quintessential teenaged old-boy network: the varsity football team.”  —VOYA

"This loose readalike to E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (Disney-Hyperion, 2008), celebrates girl power and focuses on challenging “old boys’ clubs” traditions…It’s a book about high school, bullying, popularity, and finding your own voice while doing what is right. VERDICT: A fun YA title that challenges sexist attitudes in modern-day high school culture.” — School Library Journal

"While the initial setup feels comic, the book takes a hard look at real difficulties. Written in chapters featuring each of the girls, their different personalities add a nice level of complexity to the story. A deceptively light look at the dark side of football culture." — Kirkus Reviews

This is exactly why I fell in love with Rachael Allen's writing -- she sneaks up on you with the big stuff, in the most elegant, skillful way.  Her books (this is her second, her debut was 17 FIRST KISSES) are fun to read, and stay with you for days.  I'm so proud of them both!

To celebrate the publication, Rachael has created the #BFFdraft!  Its fun, its celebrates girls and their friendships, and I love it.  You should join!  Here's more detail, from Rachael's site:

On June 16, 2015, use the hashtag #BFFdraft to talk about who you’d want in your ultimate BFF group. You can pick YA characters, celebrities, girls who are doing cool stuff to make the world a better place, girls who are already your besties. Anyone. But it’s not like a fantasy football draft where once someone gets picked, no one else can have them. (So, don’t worry. You can all be best friends with Taylor Swift.) You can also talk about what friendship means to you and what you look for in someone you #BFFdraft.

Then tweet your picks, or post a photo of you and your BFF on Instagram or Facebook, or a gif of a celebrity pick on Tumblr, all with the hashtag #BFFdraft. If you have room to add #RevengePlaybook too, that would be wonderful, but if you need those extra characters, I totally get it :)

Join in!

To buy copies of The Revenge Playbook, click here:

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Conference Goers


Originally posted on Bent on Books, this advice still works!

This morning I opened my email to find a message from one of the fabulous organizers of the Kansas SCBWI meeting, where I’ll be in October, followed by a reminder about a dinner this week with a group of NJ SCBWI members here in New York.  Got me thinking about conferences, and other opportunities to meet editors and agents, and how writers can make the most out of these events….and tada!  Some ideas to keep in mind as you prepare for your own meetings and conferences:

One.  No need for nerves!

I understand that just considering the idea of talking about your work can make your knees knock, I do.  Writing, coaxing your ideas into life on paper, is a delicate thing.  Sharing those ideas with people you don’t know can feel like inviting in the wind.  Will it blow soft?  Or, will it stir everything up beyond recognition?

Here’s what I try to remember: we’re all in this together.  All of us are here because we love stories.  We want to fall in love with a character and we want to know what’s going to happen to them next.  So, you have something in common with most anyone that you’re going to meet.  And all of us have dealt with rejection – as writers, as agent and as editors.  Something else we all have in common!  See this commonality between yourself and others and it may help with the nerves.

Two.  Be ready to talk about your project

Sometimes at a conference, I’m chatting with a writer, having a great time comparing notes about recent movies or a trip, all while getting the feeling that she wants to tell me her project, but doesn’t want to be pushy.  When, and how, should you tell an agent or editor about your book?

If we’re chatting, that’s the right time.  If I’m heading off to a presentation, or we’re in the line for the bathroom it’s not – but in essence, if we’re having a good conversation, you should let me know about your project.  That’s the when.  As for the how: keep it simple and ask, Can I tell you about my project?

That’ll probably do the trick.  I think it’s a good idea to practice what you’ll say next – not to memorize necessarily, because that can feel stiff (though if you know that you need to do that, go ahead) – but to have a couple lines or phrases ready, so you don’t have to dig for them.  The key here is to keep it short, a couple sentences only.  All you want to is to capture my interest, because with everything going on at the conference, I’m not going to remember lengthy descriptions.  So those lines should get right to the heart of your story, and leave me wanting more.

Three.  Be ready to talk about something other than your project

As much as you want to be ready to share your book, don’t let that readiness keep you from other conversations with an agent or editor.  Yes, you’re hoping to inspire interest, but it’s also your chance to get a sense of the person you’re meeting – is this agent or editor easy to talk to?  Does your taste in reading resonate with each other?  The right agent for you is someone who loves your writing and wants to represent you, of course, but is also someone you have a rapport with.  This is your opportunity to get a feel for that.

Four.  Don’t worry if I don’t want to take samples of your work on the spot

Basically, this boils down to one thing: how heavy my bags will be and how little I want to drag them through an airport.  And in the rest of my work I do everything via email, so your material will actually get more attention if it comes to me that way.

Five.  Don’t take criticism as a negative

This is a tough one, because of course criticism can be hard to hear.  Yes, it would be so good to have an agent faint with delight or an editor hand you a contract on the spot.  Who amongst us hasn’t polished up a little mental reel of a gracious acceptance speech of awards and accolades before an adoring crowd of our peers?  The truth is that everyone, everyone has gotten feedback that they weren’t expecting to hear.  Everyone has had to re-think something that felt just right.

More often than not, I think part of what makes criticism hard to hear is that it’s so unexpected – after all, if you had noticed that passage had some clunky dialogue, you would’ve fixed it yourself.  Feel free to ask a question if something is surprising; dig into what your reader is telling you and really get to the bottom of their concern.  If you understand it, it may not feel so uncomfortable.

And finally, when you give your work to lots of different people, you’re likely to get lots of different feedback.  Responding to every bit of that may send you off in all kinds of directions, some of them opposing.  So, plan to filter the feedback you get – see what the thru-line is, what you hear more than once.  Remembering that you have a plan for using criticism may help you hear it when you’re meeting with editors or agents.

Six. Remember to listen, as well as to talk

As much as a conference is an occasion to discuss your work, and hopefully create some interest in it, there’s usually so much other opportunity available – to learn something about your craft, to understand someone else’s process, to find out what editors are excited about, to learn about various author’s paths to publication.  All of that is enriching to you and your writing; take advantage of it!

Seven.  Plan to make connections with other writers

This is the most important piece of advice I have.  Some of your writing may be meant for you alone, but if you’re going to a conference, you have writing to share.  You’re hoping that your words will have meaning for others and you want to connect through that.  Paradoxically, writing is a singular task and it can be lonely.  Plus, without the person on the other end to respond to your writing, how do you know how it’s going?   If you don’t already have a writing partner or group, that’s probably the most important thing you can find at a conference.  So, keep your eye out for a like minded writer and see what they’re up to!

Finally, this feels like it goes without saying: have fun!  What tips do you have?