Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Michele Weber Hurwitz, author of The Summer I Saved The World...in 65 Days {Interview and Giveaway}

I'm thrilled to have author Michele Weber Hurwitz stopping by today to chat about her new middle-grade book, The Summer I Saved The World...in 65 Days! You can check out our Interview and enter the Giveaway below....

The Summer I Saved the World...in 65 Days
by Michele Weber Hurwitz
Wendy Lamb Books/Random House

It's summertime, and thirteen-year-old Nina Ross is feeling kind of lost. Her beloved grandma died last year; her parents work all the time; her brother's busy; and her best friend is into clothes, makeup, and boys. While Nina doesn't know what "her thing" is yet, it's definitely not shopping and makeup. And it's not boys, either. Though . . . has Eli, the boy next door, always been so cute?
   This summer, Nina decides to change things. She hatches a plan. There are sixty-five days of summer. Every day, she'll anonymously do one small but remarkable good thing for someone in her neighborhood, and find out: does doing good actually make a difference? Along the way, she discovers that her neighborhood, and her family, are full of surprises and secrets.
   In this bighearted, sweetly romantic novel, things may not turn out exactly as Nina expects. They might be better.

What three words best describe The Summer I Saved The World...in 65 Days?

Inspiring, surprising, hopeful.

Can you give us your best one sentence pitch to convince readers to give The Summer I Saved The World...in 65 Days a try?

If you're looking for a change of pace from the recent trend of dystopian-apocalyptic novels and want something that leaves you with a happy heart and a sense that there's more good in the world than bad, then this novel is for you!

Grab a copy of The Summer I Saved The World...in 65 Days and answer the following:

favorite chapter? Actually, the first, because the last sentence is: "And that is the beginning of everything." It's when Nina, the main character, gets the glimmer of the idea for her summer of good things.

hardest chapter to write? There wasn't any one specific chapter that was hardest to write, but I did struggle a bit with a few scenes -- mostly the more emotional ones -- working through several drafts to get them just right. And, Nina's brother Matt wasn't fully defined in the earlier versions. I had to work on developing his character more than the others.

favorite page? So many! Hard to choose...but maybe, the very last one :)

hardest page to write? Always, the first.

flip to a random page and give us a 1-2 sentences teaser: "Eli picks up the crab apple, throws it sky-high, and then catches it. 'See you later, Mystery Girl.' "

What inspired The Summer I Saved The World...in 65 Days? How did the story come to be?

My inspiration came from several thoughts. We hear so much about paying it forward and random acts of kindness, but sometimes the amount of problems in our world overwhelms me, and I wondered -- does doing good really do any good? Is it making a difference? I was curious, too, if people always react positively when random good comes their way. Also, I worry about how technology has altered family life and neighborhoods, and how we live in this era of a sort of "disconnected connection." Lastly, I read about a class at the University of Iowa where the professor had students write down each day three positive events or experiences -- no matter how big or small
-- and how this changed their perspectives. I started doing that too. We tend to focus on the negative, or what goes wrong, instead of recognizing small, good things that go right every day.

So out of these thoughts, my novel started to materialize. I wanted to write something uplifting and positive and hopeful, but also examine my question if doing good has an impact.

Do you have an absolute favorite character in The Summer I Saved The World...in 65 Days? What do you love about him/her? Did any of your characters surprise you?

Of course I adore Nina, the main character, who is inquisitive, positive, and honest. Mrs. Millman, a suspicious neighbor, is quirky and hilarious, panicky at times, but also very true-to-life. She was so much fun to write and develop. I also have a soft spot for Thomas, a 5-year old boy in the neighborhood. He's full of tender, sweet surprises! When I was writing him, sometimes his funny dialogue came out of nowhere and cracked me up.

Your character Nina decides to do some random acts of kindness; can you tell us one of your favorite acts that she does? Have you ever done a random act of kindness or been the recipient of one?

There's a pivotal moment in the story when Nina does something in memory of her grandma, who died a year earlier, and the poignancy and importance of that scene gets me every time! It's also a moment where she attempts to figure out exactly why she's doing the good things. As for me, I try to be a little kinder than necessary, as the saying goes. Just last week, I was at the airport waiting for my flight and helped a woman who didn't speak English make a call on a pay phone. She was so bewildered and lost. All I did was dial the number for her and put the coins in, but she hugged me like I saved her life. Those kinds of experiences make me just stop in my tracks and realize the impact of little kindnesses.

What do you hope readers will learn or take away from The Summer I Saved The World...in 65 Days?

That small things matter, and they're much bigger than they seem. Also, that doing good doesn't have to be about raising tons of money or spending a Saturday cleaning up a park (although those efforts are certainly wonderful). But more just about being a good person, being nice to your fellow humans! At the end of your day, ask yourself what stuck with you. I'm willing to bet it was something little yet powerful.

As a middle-grade author, why do you think MG is so important? What do you love about writing and reading MG?

I love that middle-graders are in the middle! They have a combination of childhood innocence and burgeoning maturity, and they have so many questions. Good, deep, thoughtful questions about everything! Books can help them discover who they are and the kind of person they want to become. I feel honored to write for this audience and I hope my stories resonate. One of my most treasured emails from a reader came from Lucy, who wrote that the main character in my first middle grade novel, Calli Be Gold, "inspires me to be open and kind to everyone. She makes me want to be myself." Honestly, for a writer, it doesn't get any better than that.

Fill in the blanks:

I’m really awesome at _Organizing things. Shelves, closets, desks, you name it and I can organize it in twenty minutes flat! I often make my family crazy :)

I’m really embarrassed to admit __I can't swim.

The last great book I read was _Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell.

If you were to create and bake a cupcake inspired by The Summer I Saved The World...in 65 Days, what would it look and taste like, and what would you call it?

This is the most creative question I've ever gotten! Hmm. Nina's brother Matt calls her "Nina-green-a," because she has green eyes, so I think that would be a great name for a cupcake inspired by this book! It would have amazingly delicious creamy green frosting, but the cake part would be devil's food, because this book is full of the unexpected.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Michele! That cupcake sounds super yummy!!

Michele Weber Hurwitz lives near Chicago with her husband and three children. When she's not writing or organizing things, she loves to walk and eat chocolate. Visit her at micheleweberhurwitz.com and follow her on Twitter @MicheleWHurwitz.

Win a signed hardcover copy of
The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days!
Michele has generously offered one signed hardcover copy for one winner.
-US only
-ends 4/30
-must be 13+
-winner will be emailed and must claim prize within 48 hours
-I am not responsible for lost, damaged, or stolen prizes
Fill out Rafflecopter form:

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Monday, April 21, 2014

The Ninja Librarians Blog Tour {Review & Interview}

After some technical difficulties and delays, I'm thrilled to have The Ninja Librarians Blog Tour stopping by today with my Review and Author Interview...

The Ninja Librarians: the accidental keyhand
by Jen Swann Downey
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Just a little story about your average sword-swinging, karate-chopping, crime-fighting ninja librarians
Dorrie Barnes had no idea an overdue library book would change her life. When Dorrie and her brother Marcus chase her pet mongoose into the janitor's closet of their local library, they accidentally fall through a passage into Petrarch's Library -the headquarters of a secret society of ninja librarians who have an important mission: protect those whose words have gotten them into trouble. Anywhere in the world and at any time in history.
Dorrie would love nothing more than to join the society. But when a traitor surfaces, she and her friends are the prime suspects. Can they clear their names before the only passage back to the twenty-first century closes forever?

Jennifer Swann Downey’s The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand is an action-packed, super creative, and captivating middle-grade read that combines all my favorite things: books, libraries, adventure, and swords!

Dorrie Barnes, swords-woman; adventure seeker; overdue library book offender, and her brother Marcus stumble upon an ancient secret and the thrill of a lifetime when they chase a pet mongoose into their local library. They fall through a passage into Petrarch’s Library, home of a thousand libraries and a society of sword-wielding, ninja librarians. These ninja librarians protect writers and their words, and their secrets must be protected at all cost. Dorrie wants nothing more than to join this society, and when a traitor turns ups, she gets her chance to prove her worth.

The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand is bursting with excitement, mystery, thrills, and imagination! Fresh and fun, clever and charming, this story delighted and entertained me from beginning to end. Let’s be honest, it just doesn’t get any cooler than fierce, sword-wielding,ninja librarians who can visit libraries all over the world and throughout time. Downey has taken this spectacular premise and, using her wonderful way with words, has created pure book magic!

With a library full of sparkle and shine, Downey’s storytelling is pitch-perfect for the middle-grade crowd. Readers will love falling down that hole with Dorrie and Marcus and exploring the massive world it leads to. Petrarch’s Library, with its connections to other times and places around the world, makes for an inspiring and endless setting. Part Hogwarts, Camp Half-Blood, and Narnia, this world is brimming with wonders, amazing things to be learned, and fantastic discoveries to be made. Dorrie and Marcus’ adventures in this world take them from sword lessons with Cyrano de Bergerac to Ancient Greece to putting on a play with the Casanova...and, of course, there’s danger. Wonderful, spine-tingly, exhilarating danger!

But, luckily, our young heroine and hero are more than capable of dealing with such danger! Dorrie, Marcus, and their new friends at Petrarch’s Library, make for an exciting, eccentric cast of characters. I just love Dorrie’s feisty, courageous spunk and Marcus’s goofy, amusing humor. Young readers will easily be able to connect with these two and root for them.

Crazy twists and turns, unexpected friends and foes, and some surprising revelations all lead to a pretty epic showdown and ending...an ending that left me wanting more and so excited for further books!

My Final Thoughts: In The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand, Jennifer Downey brings history to life and celebrates literature through page-turning adventure and addicting storytelling. A wildly fun must read!

What three words best describe The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand?
Snickerful,. Fantastical, Ox-hearted.
Can you give us your best one sentence pitch to convince readers, especially reluctant readers, to give The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand a try?
Ingredients: Girl with sword, mad warrior lybrarians, a magical library with wings sticking out into the past, ornery mongoose, funny brother, seriously important mission.
Grab a copy of The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand and answer the following:
favorite chapter?
Oh, the agony. But I’ll say Chapter 10: A Little Night Music. For the mix of cozy and madcap
favorite page?
Page 172 . For the mix of fact and fiction
favorite character?
Besides my mix of a dauntful, dauntless heroine? Cyrano de Bergerac
flip to a random page and give us a 1-2 sentence teaser:
-- In the morning brightness, Dorrie noticed that over the mantel hung an enormous black chalkboard painted with a grid of white lines. Chalked in words crowded in between the lines. At the top, large letters shifted and swam like eels before Dorrie’s eyes, finally spelling out the words: “Mission Docket.”
“Why do the words in this place DO that?” asked Dorrie. --
Where did the crazy awesome idea for The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand come from? How did the story come to be?
The story revolves around a kid, Dorrie, stumbling upon the secret headquarters of a group of warrior lybrarians whose mission is to protect those whose words get them into trouble. It’s an uncomfortable time in Dorrie’s life when she’s losing her faith in her old vision about how she’s going to fight the world’s villains, and hasn’t yet conjured a new vision. I believe her conundrum came from my own memories of being a kid who imagined responses to threatening social realities like war, violence,  racism, totalitarianism,, etc in games of “pretend”, and had to face bumping up against the limits of that strategy, as I got older.
As for the idea for the world in which her story takes place…
With all my soul, I have loved libraries since I remember loving anything. Always, they seemed too be condensed multiverses, with every book a doorway into another reality. Similarly, librarians have always struck me as powerful, heroic, and mysterious guardians of this multiverse. Imagining them as literal warriors took so very little effort.
Fill in the blanks:
I’m really awesome at blundering foolishly forward. This, of course, is also the least awesome thing about me.
I’m really embarrassed to admit that I am a terribly irresponsible library book borrower.
The last great book I read was I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.
If you were to create and bake a cupcake inspired by The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand, what would it look and taste like, and what would you call it?
Mm. I really shouldn’t answer such question on an empty stomach.
About that bottom cakey part…chocolate shot through with swirls of raspberry, vanilla, and secret messages written on tiny marzipan scrolls. On top, a great steep dollop of white icing worked into the architectural tangle that is Petrarch’s Library.  Embedded in both parts? An abundance of spun sugar windows that you can only see with a magnifying glass.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Jen! That cupcake sounds superb!!

Jen Swann Downey's non-fiction pieces have appeared in New York Magazine, the Washington Post, Women's Day, and other publications. Her first middle-grade novel, THE NINJA LIBRARIANS, will be published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, April 1, 2014. Jen divides her time between libraries and other places, and will never stop looking for lickable wallpaper.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Interview and Giveaway: Justin Swapp, author of The Magic Shop

I'm thrilled to have Justin Swapp stopping by today to chat about his fantastical middle-grade book, The Magic Shop! Check out our Interview below and enter the Giveaway to win a copy...

The Magic Shop
by Justin Swapp

When Marcus's grandparents decide it would be good for him and his twin sister, Ellie, to tend the family business, a Magic Shop, the children are thrown into a world that they never knew existed. Not only is the family business a front, but Marcus learns that he has been marked as a dead man from the time he was born.  
Marcus tries to develop his powers before the Dun-Bahr find him and assimilate the magic he was born with. Will he and his sister survive? Will they find their parents? First they must discover the secret his grandparents have been keeping from them all these years. It all comes down to what's hidden at the Magic Shop.

What three words best describe The Magic Shop?

Unexpected, adventurous, Page-turner.

Can you give us your best one sentence pitch to convince readers, especially reluctant readers, to give The Magic Shop a try?

When Marcus and Ellie sell a magical item that they shouldn’t have from their grandparent’s Magic Shop, they find themselves thrown into a strange world full of sketchy characters with unclear intentions, and embark on a journey to reclaim the object that was to have ultimately restored their family.

(How’s that for a crazy run on sentence?)

Grab a copy of The Magic Shop and answer the following:
favorite chapter? Chapter 26: The Brimlets. Epic family fight in the blood circle.

favorite page? 160. I wrote it half asleep, and when I woke up, I really liked it.

hardest page or chapter to write? Chapter 1: Issues. Getting the beginning just right is always a challenge.

flip to a random page and give us a 1-2 sentences teaser: "He glared at Mr. Diddley's yellow-toothed smile, and thought how he’d like to shove a toothbrush in his mouth and teach him how to use it."

What inspired The Magic Shop? How did the story come to be?

I was working on another (unreleased) book, and got stuck. Someone in my writer’s group was in the same situation, and she had decided to leave her work in progress behind, and to start on a new book. She encouraged me to do the same, but I was reluctant.

One night, I was watching an episode of Fringe (a good Sci-Fi show), and I was thinking about twisting a sci-fi theme and turning it fantasy. There was a great scene about a pawnshop, and a universal soldier entering and asking the shopkeeper for “the back room.” For whatever reason, that stuck with me.  So, I wrote a scene about a young boy that had to miss out on an afternoon of Basketball (my favorite sport) because he had to watch his grandparent’s shop. As he was sulking, a stranger comes in, and asks for “the back room.” They have a strange interaction, and Marcus discovers that there is a shop within the shop, filled with real magical items. Although he did it with good intentions, Marcus sells something that he wasn’t supposed to and thus commences a crazy adventure to set things right in a world he never knew existed.

Who is your favorite character in The Magic Shop? What do you love about him/her?

Elba, the Crypt Keeper (Keeper of the Dead –You know, that kind of thing).  She’s hard to read, and you never quite know what side she’s on. This makes her complicated, and interesting.

Can you tell us a bit about the actual magic shop in The Magic Shop? What makes this place unique?

Well, they live in The Magic Shop, for starters, and there are so many secrets right under their nose. Also, it’s a humble little family shop juxtaposed against a glitz and glam Magic Shop down the street.

If you could possess one magical power or enchantment/spell, what would it be and how would you use it?

Um, “World Peace?” Kidding.

I guess I would live forever, and do lots of great things. Flying would be cool too, though, wouldn’t it?

What has been the most rewarding aspect of being an author?

I think it’s the over-thought, or subliminal thinking that is happening when you are writing (or not writing). You can be totally stuck on the conscious level, but in the subconscious, the brain is still plugging along. It’s amazing when you just write, and then suddenly realize how everything connects in such a special way.

Fill in the blanks:
I’m really awesome at _ foosball__.
I’m really embarrassed to admit that __ I fell off a stage once__.
The last great book I read was _ Larry Correia’s, Monster Hunter International__.

If you were to create and bake a cupcake inspired by The Magic Shop, what would it look and taste like, and what would you call it?

It would look like Phoenix droppings. I’d call it Uribrim, and it would taste like licorice. (This will make sense if you read the book!!)

Thanks so much for stopping by, Justin!

Justin was born with an active imagination on a U.S. naval base in Spain, but has spent most of his life in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains of Utah. He is bilingual, and has lived all over the world. He has four children; two boys, and two girls, and an enduring wife. He doesn't have any pets that he's aware of, but his children have been known to hide things under his bed.

In his free time Justin loves to read, write, and play games. He enjoys his close friends, and loves to make people laugh. To learn more about Justin, or his work, you can visit him at www.justinswapp.com
Justin is the author of The Magic Shop. He has also been published in several anthologies, including The Crimson Pact (Volumes 1, 2, and 5), The Memory Eater, and Short Sips: Coffee House Flash Fiction Collection 2.

Win 1 of 3 ebook copies of 
The Magic Shop!
Justin has generously offered three e-copies for three winners.
-open to those who can read ebooks
-ends 4/26
-must be 13+, one free entry per person
-winners will be emailed and must claim prize within 48 hours
Fill out the Rafflecopter form:

a Rafflecopter giveaway