Book Review -GENIUS: THE GAME by Leopoldo Gout


Rex – a 16 year old Mexican-American coder

Cai – a 16 year old Chinese blogger/activist

Tunde – a 14 year old Nigerian engineer who up-cycles garbage into technology for his Nigerian village

These teens are online friends who get the opportunity to meet IRL (in real life) for the first time when they’re invited to a competition hosted by the world’s top tech visionary, Kiran Biswas. Winners will receive spots on Kiran’s team doing cutting-edge tech development. Um…yes, I’ll read that arc, please!

To win the competition, Rex, Cai and Tunde will need to outsmart the top two hundred teen minds in the world. They have to do this while each of them simultaneously faces a threat to himself/herself or their family. I was particularly drawn in by the plight of Tunde, who has never been far from his small village, let alone to Boston, where the competition is being held. His family is held captive by a Nigerian military warlord. His parents and his entire village will be wiped-out unless Tunde both wins the contest and develops a new, powerful weapon and delivers it to the warlord, forcing him to choose between saving his family and helping a vicious killer.

Genius: The Game is tightly written and, of course, has tons of cool technology. Readers who love games, tech, and conspiracies will love it! Release date: May 3.

Find Genius: The Game on:



Barnes & Noble




MORE BANG FOR YOUR BOOK, a series on book marketing, interviews Karin Lefranc




Karin’s debut picture book, I Want To Eat Your Books, launched September, 2015. She talks with us today about all she learned from that book launch.

FoWP: Karin, readers have fallen in love with your zombie and the boy who tries to keep him from devouring every book in the school. A big part of getting this book into readers’ hands was you. You were everywhere when the book launched in September – signing books in bookstores and libraries, even the YMCA! What was your game plan for the book launch?

Karin: I wanted to generate as much excitement as I could for I Want To Eat Your Books anywhere and everywhere! My publicist at Sky Pony sent press releases to the media and bloggers. I visited many bookstores for book signings and I got the word out about all my readings on Twitter and Facebook.

FoWP: Where did you get help from your publisher and where did you need to make things happen for yourself?

Karin: My publicist at Sky Pony, Cheryl Lew, was a huge help! She wrote a press release to the media, including bloggers, a month or so before publication. She also worked with the Sky Pony sales teams to generate excitement for selling the book.

FoWP: What was the most non-traditional place you went to talk about I Want To Eat Your Books?

Karin: Probably the YMCA. It’s not a place I would have thought of, but I’m a member there and so they asked me to be a part of their Halloween celebration—as the author of a zombie book I fit right in! We had a huge cardboard cutout of the zombie, and sponges made to look like books for the kids to toss into the zombie’s mouth. This awesome creation was actually made for the launch party at Simsbury Library. The Simsbury librarians went above and beyond, creating cool crafts, games and treats for the children.

FoWP: I loved your book trailer. Did it cost a fortune to make?

Karin:  Not at all. At first I thought it would, too, but I went to I got lucky and got found Anne-Rae, and she did a wonderful job. When I wanted to add audio, she was more than willing to add it if I sent her the voice over. And it all cost less than $75. Here is her link:  I got the trailer on Twitter, Facebook, andYouTube. If you have a book trailer, it’s also a good idea to add to and so teachers can find your book.

FoWP: You had events scheduled during the week and every weekend. It must have been exhausting! How did you balance appearances with everything else in your life and what advice do you have for other debut authors?

Karin: My husband would laugh at this question because my life was a rather unbalanced at the time! As authors, we are usually on our own writing and so marketing our book is a whole other way of life. It’s about constantly putting yourself and your book out there. I tried to schedule two book signings nearby if they were far away. There is only so much publishers can do unless you’re a big name author, so it’s really up to the author to get creative. I made cute badges with the cover of the book and found a company that did square ones, which looked more like a book than a round one. Here is the link: I also made bookmarks, another inexpensive marketing tool you can giveaway at book signings as well as leave with libraries and bookstores. I called all the bookstores in my area and told them I’m a local author and available to come and do a reading and/or book signing. Every Barnes & Noble has a customer relations manager that you can ask to speak to, or you can also email them with your press release, reviews etc.

FoWP: What did you learn from marketing I Want To Eat Your Books that would change your marketing plan for your next book?

Karin: I would start earlier—at least six months out. I would do a cover reveal on several Children’s blogs. I would do more online blog contests. I think it’s important to use whatever makes your book different and interesting to generate fun ideas and promotions. There are lots of grown up zombie lovers out there, so my goal was also to be where they were online and even at the popular zombie running races around the country. My book is also about the love of reading and the power of reading so I am now targeting literacy groups to find ways to work with them.

Thanks for all your marketing advice, Karin! Find out more about the launch of Karin’s debut novel, here.

I Want To Eat Your Books
By Karin Lefranc (writer) and Tyler Parker (illustrator)
Release Date: September 22, 2015
Sky Pony Press

Find I Want To Eat Your Books:
Barnes and Noble

How have you gotten MORE BANG FOR YOUR BOOK? Share your book marketing and promotion ideas in the comments below!

2014-5 NESCBWI croppedAbout R.J. Allen

I write middle grade stories that blend mystery and adventure. My best story ideas come from my two crazy kids. Connect with me at or on Twitterat @RebeccaJ_Allen.

Author Chat: Karin Lefranc talks about her debut picture book — I WANT TO EAT YOUR BOOKS

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? 
I have lived in five countries but am now settled in a quiet Connecticut town with my French husband and brood of three girls and one boy. Apart from a few years owning a children’s store, I have always worked in publishing from newspapers to books. I like the written word in all its forms!

What do you do for fun when you are not writing?
I love reading, of course, and hiking, movies, yoga. In fact, I am a certified children’s yoga teacher and am busy creating a yoga lesson plan for I Want To Eat Your Books for teachers to use in the classroom to focus their students.

When did you first start writing?
Unlike many writers I had no idea I was going to write fiction until about five years ago. However, I have always loved writing. I was in English major and then went on to write for a local newspaper in Connecticut, which was soon followed by writing cover copy and press releases for a publishing company in London. I thought creative writing was for other people until I was overcome by a strong urge to write poems and stories. And once I dipped my pen into the world of fiction, I was hooked. I now write it all from poems to picture books to novels.

Did you have a favorite book or author that influenced you when you were growing up?
I had many different influential writers at different stages of my childhood. I grew up in England so loved Enid Blyton mysteries, but also Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. I loved the classics like Anne of Green Gables, Black Beauty, Flicka, The Sword in the Stone, Watership Down, The Hobbit. I lived in South Africa from age six to twelve, and there was minimal television, so books were a big part of my creative world.

What was your inspiration for I Want To Eat Your Books?
After three girls, I had a son. He loves monster stories and he was especially fascinated by zombies. I saw this same fascination when I taught kids yoga classes—these kids were craving zombies. There are lots of books about ghosts and ghouls and monsters in all shapes and sizes but most zombie books were written for older children, so I decided I want to write one for the little guys!

What was your favorite part of the book, and why?
I like the part where the boys show the zombie the book about the brain, and he stares at an illustration of the parts of the brain from the prefrontal cortex to the amygdale—and is sucked in…to the world of books!

How did you and the illustrator collaborate on this project?
We did most of our collaboration through our wonderful editor Julie Matysik at Sky Pony Press. She would send me Tyler’s illustrations and if I had any suggestions I would make them through her.

This is such a fun book for the Halloween season! What will you dress up as for Halloween? 
I shall be a zombie mommy! But I am hoping children will enjoy this book any time of year, not just Halloween.

What project are you working on now?
I am writing a middle-grade contemporary fantasy about a timid twelve-year-old girl called Hedda who finds out she’s related to the might Scandinavian warrior Beowulf and has to face her own fears in order to save the troll king’s daughter.

I Want To Eat Your Books
By Karin Lefranc (writer) and Tyler Parker (illustrator)
Release Date: September 22, 2015
Sky Pony Press

Find I Want To Eat Your Books:
Barnes and Noble

What I learned from Pitch Wars last year even though I wasn’t picked as a mentee.

Pitch wars is such an awesome contest! Last year I learned so much from it and I didn’t even make it in. How? Lots of ways.

First, I received a few query and/or first page critiques from former mentors and mentees who were offering them on the Pitch Wars feed. The Twitter writing community is so generous and supportive! Keep your eye out for offers on the feed. I’ve already seen a couple. They didn’t just help me get that query to the next level. They also helped me learn to write a better query, a skill I used on my new manuscript.

I met an awesome new critique partner who helped me get through the “is my stuff really that bad?” reaction when those critiques came back with LOTS of comments. I’d already revised my query and first ten pages based on agent/editor feedback from the New England SCBWI conference and was sure they were golden. They weren’t. This new critique partner was there with the tough love when when I questioned some of the comments. She even critiqued my revised query and first chapter. We later ended up exchanging entire manuscripts. Her name? Marty Mayberry…and this year she’s a mentor for YA! Tell all your YA friends to sub to her because her crits are spot on!

Lastly, Pitch Wars opened my eye to the world of Twitter writing contests. If you don’t make Pitch Wars, it’s not the end of the world…revise and submit to the next one. These contests helped me figure out just how high the bar is for getting my writing ready to make it into contests and for submitting to agents. It’s painful to submit your words and get rejected. But for me, the worst part of early agent rejections was that they were form rejects, providing zero insight into whether my writing was awful or “not quite there,” whether the problem was my plot or characters or whatever. With contests, you can frequently read the entries that did make it and take lessons to make your own work better. That is invaluable.

Even though I didn’t make it into Pitch Wars, I improved my query and first page enough to get a spot in Nightmare on Query Street which lead to my first full request. Yay! Thanks to mentor Michelle Hauck for hosting that contest and mentor Sarah Glen Marsh coaching me on my query and 1st page! I learned enough about writing queries and first pages to get my new manuscript into The Writer’s Voice, and with mentor Monica Bustamante Wagner and Stephanie Garber’s help, got another request.

I wish I could say that after those requests I had an agent and was done with contests. I still have more to learn, so I’m back for Pitch Wars again. But this year, I’m having fun making new writer friends and enjoying the community, not stressing about it (mostly!)

In closing I’d like to send a huge Thanks to Brenda Drake and all the Pitch Wars Mentors for giving their time to help other writers take their next step towards their publishing dreams! I’d also like to  wish my fellow potential mentees the best of luck, whether you get into Pitch Wars, or just make friends and improve your writing.

A shout out to two soon-to-be-released middle grade reads.

7th most imp

The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall – Set in the 1960’s, this story dives into the life of Arthur T. Owens, a boy who picks up a brick and throws it at an old trash picker. Instead of sending Arthur to juvie, the judge sentences him to do 120 hours of community service working for the man he assaulted, 4 hours every Saturday. Arthur is grossed out to find he’s expected to pick through trash looking for the seven things on the trash picker’s list.

Shelley makes the character of Arthur really come to life…I found myself wondering if this story was really fiction. The book delves into the problems in Arthur’s life that led to him throwing the brick, his struggle to accomplish a disgusting and degrading task so he won’t end up back at juvie, and how he grows as a result of his relationship with the man he assaulted. It provides a great lesson on how one moment of anger can change your life if a way that kids today will easily relate to. I highly recommend it.

Pub date: September 8, 2015

In Don’t Vote For Me by Krista Van Dolzer, Veronica Pritchard-Pratt is running for Class President. Again. David thinks someone else should have a say in how things at school are run and makes the mistake of saying so out loud. David ends up running against Veronica, trying to figure out how to steal votes from the most popular girl in seventh grade But as David spends more time with Veronica, on the campaign trail and practicing for the band recital, he finds that there’s more to Veronica than he thought, and maybe she deserves to win the for me

Don’t Vote For Me is a fun romp through the antics of a middle school class office election. The reader learns, through David’s eyes, that the grass isn’t always greener at the popular table in the caf. It’s a fun read for any middle grader.

Click here for an excerpt from Don’t Vote For Me and to enter the Rafflecopter for a chance to win one of two copies of the book.

Pub date: August 4, 2015

A Few Great Middle Grade Books for Your TBR List

After I finished patting myself on the back for reaching my 2015 reading goal in June in this post, it occurred to me that a few of my recent reads weren’t getting the “air time” they deserve. So while really enjoyed Cinder by Marissa Meyer and The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater, you don’t need me to tell you they’re good. The Twitter chatter and award nominations speak for themselves. Let tell you about a few books that are great but not getting the buzz they deserve.

Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

Present day England is haunted by ghosts that threaten the population every night and can only be seen by kids. Teenaged Anthony Lockwood starts a Psychic Detection Agency and hires Lucy and George to help him take on cases to rid clients of the spirits haunting them. But while other agencies are run by adults, Lockwood & Co decides to face the ghosts on their own, and their methods are sometimes not the most conventional. Will their psychic senses and rapiers save them from being frozen by the ghost-touch? Lockwood & Co has great world-building, humor and is down-right creepy.

Space Case by Stuart Gibbs

What could be more interesting than getting a spot living in the first space station on the moon? A lot of things, according to 12-year-old Dash Gibson. But when the base’s top scientist turns up dead, Dash doesn’t believe the story that it was suicide. Dash and his family are trapped in the base with the killer, making life much more interesting. Dash launches his own investigation, but soon finds himself in hot water. The Space Case has great characters and enough action to distract a gamer from his iPad.

At Your Service by Jen Malone

Twelve-year-old Chloe Turner’s dream is to be a concierge at a top NYC hotel, just like her dad. She’s well on her way, serving as junior concierge under her father. She handles the hotel’s smallest and sometimes most demanding guests. Organizing back-stage visits with the Rockettes is right up Chloe’s alley. But when Chloe loses a visiting princess on the streets of Manhattan, can she find her before the king finds out? Or the press? At Your Service is a great romp through the tourist spots of New York, as well as a story about having a dream and working hard to achieve it.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Okay, you’ve heard of Huck Finn, but when was the last time you read it? For me, it was probably high school. I bought the audio book because it was assigned for one of my son’s summer literary art projects and I was worried that my twelve-year-old would have trouble getting through a classic over vacation. I was so wrong! Huck has a hilarious voice that while very different from the way we talk today, is nonetheless approachable. Huck, Jim and Tom Sawyer get themselves caught in one mess after another and their schemes for escape generally make things worse rather than better. This book got two kids and I through 20 hours of driving to and from a visit to Grandma’s. ‘Nough said.

What’s your favorite recent middle grade read? (The comment button is right under the post title.)

How I Hit My 2015 Reading Goal in June.

2015 was the first year I had a goal for the number of books I wanted to read. In previous years, I read books, but not as many as I would have liked. There were always books that came up in writerly discussions that I felt I should have read, but hadn’t gotten to. I had all the typical excuses: “I don’t want to cut into my writing time” and “I read a lot for critiquing and beta reads.” But I decided that this year I was going to get past the excuses and pick up the pace.

How did I do it?

I set an achievable goal. Well, as it turns out, I set my goal way too low. I saw other writers on Twitter talking about their goals to read 50 books. A book a week? It just didn’t seem possible with writing and critiquing and kids/family commitments and life. I set my goal at 25.

Clearly my goal should have been 50. I read 27 books before June 30th and I haven’t even had my beachy, read-a-thon vacation yet. I’ll easily hit 50 books easily by the end of the year. But if I set my goal at 50 initially, I wouldn’t be able to write this blog post…so there’s that.

I tracked my progress. I set up a simple excel spreadsheet where I could type in a new title as I started a book and mark it as read when I finished it, then get excited about the next title I was going to add. It’s the tiny rewards in life that keep us plugging away.

I read in all formats. At any given point in time I have a few different books going. I have a physical book I’m reading, I have an audio book I’m listening to when I’m driving or when chopping vegetables (see my post on Why Writing Podcasts Are Better Than Brocolli to find out more about my love of anything that turns errand time into productive time), and I usually have a second audio book I’m listening to when my kids are in the car. The “kids’ book” strategy started when my son needed to make it through Tom Sawyer as a summer read. Too classic for a 12 year old boy, I thought, but not so! We all loved it and listened to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as well. “Reading” in the car not only cuts down on squabbling in the back seat, but also means my kids are reading more too. Audio reading with my kids means that there are more 39 Clues titles in my “read books” list than I would care to admit. I love Halli Gomez’s voice in this series, but still would have dropped it after book 3 if it weren’t for the back seat’s insistence.

Since I had a little spreadsheet tracking my books, I also tracked the format of the books I was reading. Seven were hard cover, 4 were paperback, 2 were kindle and a whopping 14 were audio books. My take-away is that for me, this “made” reading time from listening to audio books is key to getting more books read.

The 27 books I read even include 2 on craft. I’m pretty bad about spending precious reading time on craft books rather than getting lost in a novel, so I’m particularly proud of having had two on my list. I have to credit this to awesome critique partners who gave me great recommendations: Bird by Bird and Save the Cat. Both were great! In fact, I’m sure I’ll reread Save the Cat since I’m trying to get better at plotting

What will I do differently in the second half of the year?

From July on, I’d like to be a bit more mindful about the audio books I suggest to my kids. Too many 39 Clues titles. ‘Nough said.

I’m considering an Audible subscription. I’ve held off on buying audio books because they’re more expensive than Kindle or paperback. Of the audio books I read in the last 6 months, one was purchased, the others were borrowed from the library. But my little study of how much more reading I can do when listening rather than having to find time to sit down with a book makes it pretty clear that audio books helped a lot.

The Audible subscription comes down to being mindful about listening to the books that will be the most enjoyable and will most help me improve my writing. While browsing the library’s audio catalogue led to some great finds, it also limited me to their catalogue.

Next week’s post will be about the books I most enjoyed over the first 6 months of 2015.
Do You Have a Reading Goal for 2015? How’s it going? Feel free to leave a comment! (The comment button is right under the post title.)