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Friday, November 17, 2017

Guest Post & Giveaway: Hillary Homzie and Laney Nielson, authors of the new middle-grade Swirl novels

Sweet Treats for the Holidays
Pumpkin Spice & Peppermint Cocoa

Guest Post by Hillary Homzie and Laney Nielson

Thank you so much for having us on Word Spelunking! We definitely agree that life is sweeter with books and cupcakes. And we think it’s even sweeter with pumpkin spice and peppermint cocoa! In October, Hillary launched Swirl, Sky Pony’s new line for tween readers with the novel, Pumpkin Spice Secrets and now Laney’s Peppermint Cocoa Crushes is also out—both are here in time for the holidays.

It was fun cooking up these stories featuring friendships, crushes and lots of middle school activities. Sweet drinks and yummy flavors inspired us too! To celebrate, we’ve matched our books with some recipes we think readers might enjoy.

First about the books…

Sometimes secrets aren't so sweet...

Just as Maddie picks up her pumpkin spice frappe from the coffee shop counter, she spills it all over the cute boy behind her. Talk about mortifying! Luckily, the boy -- Jacob -- is also friendly and easygoing, and soon Maddie is deeply in crush.

But before she can tell her best friend Jana about him at lunch the next day, Jana announces her huge new crush -- on Jacob! Maddie doesn't want to cause trouble, so she keeps her feelings hidden. Jana will get over him soon, right?

Add major school stress to Maddie's secret, and it's a recipe for disaster. Can she stay true to both her friend and her heart... without it all turning into a sticky mess?

The major stress part is debating. Maddie is one of those kids who doesn’t like public speaking. In fact, she has a tendency to listen to other people and not speak up. Hillary admits that when she was younger, she fell into the not-speaking-up camp. In fact, she’s still working on it. So a big theme in this book is learning to speak up and communicate how you feel. Debate plays a part in helping Maddie to do that. Friendships are a whole lot easier when you express yourself truthfully.

Friends, cocoa, crushes... catastrophe!
Sasha is so excited. 'Tis the season for snow, gifts, peppermint cocoa, and the Holidaze Spectacular -- the school's variety show competition with an amazing grand prize! She and her best friends, twins Karly and Kevin, are working on a dance routine for it, and Sasha is sure they'll win. She's also sure that her crush -- Kevin -- likes her back. She just needs to find a way to tell him.
But then nothing goes as planned. Karly disappears into quiz bowl, things with Kevin are going nowhere, and Sasha's head is spinning between rehearsals, homework, and volunteer commitments. Everything is falling apart! Can Sasha repair a friendship, figure out her crush, and still make the most of her moment in the spotlight?

We think that readers will appreciate some of the delightful surprises in this book. What you need to know is that it’s full of holiday cheer, but it’s also realistic in that life is definitely not perfect. Sasha’s mother wants her to imagine a STEM related future and Sasha imagines a more artistic path. The mom in Peppermint Cocoa Crushes is fairly recently divorced and Sasha and her family must adjust to a new reality. And yet, life is ultimately very sweet.

And now for some fun recipes featuring our favorite ingredients…

If you enjoy these sweet treats, be on the look out for Cinnamon Bun Besties by Stacia Deutsch and Salted Caramel Dreams by Jackie Nastri Bardenwerper, two more Swirl novels coming early 2018!


Hillary & Laney

Win a copy of Pumpkin Spice Secrets and Peppermint Cocoa Crushes!
The folks at Sky Pony Press have generously offered a copy of each book for one winner.
-US/CAN only
-ends 11/24/17 at 11:59 pm ET
-one winner get a copy of both books
-winner will be emailed and must claim prize within 48 hours
-word spelunking is not responsible for lost, damaged, or stolen prizes in the mail

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Splendid Baron Submarine Tour

The Splendid Baron Submarine Tour is stopping by today with an author interview and giveaway! This tour is hosted by The Children's Book Review and sponsored by Amberjack Publishing...

written by Eric Bower
illustrated by Agnieszka Grochalska
Waldo “W.B.” Baron is back with another amazing adventure in another incredible invention! Pirate treasure? A clandestine meeting? A terribly rude monkey with personal boundary and hygiene issues? Two of those things sound like a dream come true to W.B, whose clever inventor parents are hired―by the Vice President!―to go on a super secret and intensely important treasure hunt to repay a national debt. If only it weren’t for that lousy, rude monkey, it would be the beginning of a perfect adventure. But at least it isn’t squirrels…
The treasure hunt gives the Baron family the opportunity to use their exceptional steam-powered submarine, freshly biggened and ready for adventure! But things are seldom straightforward for the eccentric Baron family, and this treasure hunt is no exception. W.B.’s trademark bad luck has him suffering monstrous marine misfortune and marauding monkey misery.
Can the Baron family embark on their newest adventure without the eggy and depressing Aunt Dorcas? Will the Barons find the treasure they seek? Will they save the country from financial ruin? Where does the monkey fit in, anyway? Do we like asking questions? Not really, but inside you’ll meet someone who likes asking questions and then answering them (despite his claims to the contrary, he really does like it).
Oh, did we mention the pirate’s curse?
Ages 9-12 | Publisher: Amberjack Publishing | November 14, 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-1944995256
Available on Amazon
Available on Barnes and Noble
Available on IndieBound

Rectangular, inedible, and booky.


My favorite chapter is Chapter 5, where W.B. is forced to scuba dive in shark and eel infested waters. I’m particularly fond of the bit where he misunderstands his mother’s warning about hyperventilation. This feels like a mistake I might have made as a child.

27. I don’t remember what is on this page, but I’ve always been partial to page 27 of my books.

My favorite setting is the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, where the Baron submarine has experienced an unfortunate breakdown -though I suppose any breakdown in a submarine could accurately be described as “unfortunate”.

“And then I spotted something out of the corner of my eye which was either a sea monster or a giant collection of seaweed floating towards me. When I had finished bravely screaming, I decided that I had appreciated the ocean for long enough and quickly made my way back to the submarine.”

I think what makes W.B. special is that he doesn’t think he’s special, despite all of the amazing things he accomplishes. He’s happy to play a supporting role to those he feels have real talent and expertise, which keeps him humble and kind. But that’s not what I love about him. I love that he appears to be made of rubber and can withstand a baffling array of stumbles and falls and other inexplicable accidents without ever getting seriously injured. He also doesn’t complain, whereas I will compose an updated Last Will and Testament if I ever suffer so much as a papercut.    


I’M REALLY AWESOME AT Avoiding questions that I do not know how to answer. I’m also quite good at pairing socks with sweaters.

I’M REALLY EMBARRASSED TO ADMIT That I can’t roll my R’s when I try to pronounce Spanish words. I sound like a drowning cat.

THE LAST GREAT BOOK I READ WAS I Shall Wear Midnight, by Terry Pratchett. His entire Tiffany Aching series is an absolute marvel. I can only dream of one day writing something half as good.
If a cupcake were baked based off the book, it would have to be a cupcake that would satisfy the appetite of the main character, W.B. –who is sweet, but whose stomach is comparable to a garbage disposal. The cupcake would be the size of an actual cake, with an assortment of regular-sized cupcakes embedded in the top. It would taste like the feeling I imagine someone experiences moments before they fall into the throngs of diabetic shock, and should be called the “Don’t Plan On Doing Anything After You Eat This, Cuz You Ain’t Gonna.”

Eric Bower is the author of The Bizarre Baron Inventions series. He was born in Denville, New Jersey, an event of which he has little recollection, yet the people who were there have repeatedly assured him that it happened. He currently lives in Pasadena, California. His favorite type of pasta is cavatappi, his favorite movie is The Palm Beach Story, and he is the proud recipient of a “Beanology Degree” from Jelly Belly University in Fairfield, California. His wife and family have told him that the degree is nothing to be proud of, since “It’s not a real degree. You know that . . . Right?” and “Eric, they literally give them to everyone who visits the Jelly Belly factory,” but he knows that they’re all just jealous.

Enter to win a The Splendid Baron Submarine themed prize pack!

One (1) winner receives:
  • A copy of The Splendid Baron Submarine, by Eric Bower
  • A The Splendid Baron Submarine themed gift pack. Includes some pirate-themed goodies, Go Fish, and ghostly treats as well.
Giveaway begins November 15, 2017, at 12:01 A.M. MT and ends December 15, 2017, at 11:59 P.M. MT.
Giveaway open to residents of the fifty United States and the District of Columbia who are 13 and older.
Prizes provided by Amberjack Publishing
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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Penelope March is Melting Blog Tour (review)

Penelope March Is Melting
By Jeffrey Michael Ruby
November 14, 2017
Random House Children’s Books
Source: finished copy from pub

An icy-cold mystery adventure to warm your heart--perfect for fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society and Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library!

Something sinister has come to Glacier Cove, an icy-cold town that sits on top of an iceberg . Nothing bad ever happens here. Until now. And it's up to Penelope March to stop it.

Mmm-hmm, that Penelope--the bookworm who lives in the ramshackle house with her brother, Miles. The girl with the mom who--poof!--disappeared. The one everyone ignores . . . except strange Coral Wanamaker, a tiny thing with raven-black hair and a black coat.

When Penelope meets someone who seems to know secrets not only about Glacier Cove but about Penelope herself, she and Miles are pulled into an ancient mystery. Together, they'll face the coldest, cruelest enemy ever known. Looks like the girl who only reads about adventures is going to start living one.

Magic cookies! Volcanoes! Penguins! Sea monsters! And a girl hero with the strength and imagination to spring into action.


Twelve year old Penelope March is a self proclaimed bookworm whose best friend is her brother Miles. Together, Penelope and Miles live with their distant father in a barely held together shack in the nothing ever happens here town of Glacier Cove. Glacier Cove is your average little town, with shops, a school, and gossips...except Glacier Cove is located on a isolated iceberg floating in the middle of the ocean. And when not so normal and kind of freaky bizarre things begin to happen, Penelope finds herself immersed in an anything but average adventure featuring a kook with a chainsaw, a strange girl, military penguins, magic cookies, and a mysterious and terrifying monster!

Jeffrey Michael Ruby’s Penelope March Is Melting is an imaginative and exciting middle-grade debut! Bursting with a freezer full of laughs, heart, and thrilling adventure, this is certainly a page turner.

With fast-paced action, whimsical and amusing storytelling, a quirky setting, and engaging characters, Penelope March Is Melting is fresh, unforgettable, and captivating. Ruby expertly weaves a story that is anything but predictable, with its zany and wonderfully outlandish twists, turns, and surprises that will thrill young readers. Glacier Cove, the shouldn’t-exist-but-totally-does town on an iceberg, makes for a truly unique and awesomely wacky setting.

Ruby offers readers an eclectic and fun assortment of characters! From bookish, brave Penelope to sunny Miles; mysterious Coral; wackadoodle Buzzardstock; and the most unusual and likable bunch of penguins you’ll ever meet, young readers will be mesmerized by the humor, heart, and strangeness of them all.

With an out-of-the-box setting, exciting adventure, and unforgettable characters, Penelope March Is Melting will make even the hardest to please bookworms smile!

4/5 Cupcakes

Jeffrey Michael Ruby is the chief dining critic of Chicago magazine. He is the coauthor of Everybody Loves Pizza: The Deep Dish on America’s Favorite Food, and has also played college basketball in Ireland, assisted in an autopsy, and sumo wrestled in front of 20,000 people in New Jersey. He lives in Chicago with his wife and three children. Penelope March Is Melting is his first novel. Visit Jeffrey at, @dropkickjeffy on Twitter, and