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.)

Why Writing Podcasts Are Better Than Broccoli

It’s a happy day when I can curl up in an armchair and get lost in the story of a kick-butt heroine or the little guy taking on the forces of evil. But while I cringe to admit it, I am awful about setting aside precious reading time for books on craft. They are the broccoli at the buffet.  Sorry, the fettuccine alfredo and triple fudge cake have filled up my plate. No room for you!

So I was incredibly excited to find a way around this conundrum of needing to focus more on craft and not wanting to give up fun reads…writing podcasts. Writing podcasts are like getting Hermoine to lend me her time-turner. They take boring errand time – driving to the bus stop to get the kids, grocery shopping, and even chopping vegetables for dinner – and turn it into time to focus on craft. They even provide encouragement to get over those days when the cursor seems to be taunting me, and insight into business aspects of publishing. What could be better?

The Writing Excuses tag line is “Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry and we’re not that smart.” But show’s four hosts, Mary Robinette Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells, are that smart. Their podcast for newbie fiction writers focuses on one topic on craft or the business of publishing each week. They are in their tenth season of this podcast, so there’s a lot of good stuff in their archive. Since the hosts’ writing ranges from horror to epic fantasy to online comics to historical romance, they approach each topic with a variety of perspectives and great insight. You can find Writing Excuses at  http://www.writingexcuses.com/ and on iTunes.

Mur Lafferty hosts I Should Be Writing: The Podcast for Wannabe Fiction Writers. Mur is amazingly forthright about the ups and downs of writing life. She talks about everything from getting rejections to writer’s block in a way that makes you feel like you’re not alone, wasting your time slogging away at your computer. Mur wants you to keep writing great stories. For some of Mur’s Momma Hen encouragement, find I Should Be Writing at http://murverse.com/podcasts/ and on iTunes.

A relatively new podcast I’ve started following is Ditch Diggers. Mur Lafferty hosts this podcast with Matt Wallace. While I Should Be Writing is targeted toward newbies, this show is focused on the realities of making a living as a writer. Mur’s openness about the good and the bad of writing as a career are pushed to brutal honesty by Matt’s pull-no-punches style. And these guys take on the issues no one talks about in public: when your agent doesn’t like your new book, when your publisher decides to change the terms of your already-signed contract. They’ve had great guests, including Kameron Hurley and Chuck Wendig. Mur promises that Ditch Diggers will show up at murverse.com, but it’s not there yet. Look for it on iTunes.

For a podcast that goes deep into craft, turn to Helping Writers Become Authors. K.M. Weiland puts tons of research into her podcasts, delving into a different craft topic each week. You can find Helping Writers Become Authors at http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/resources/podcasts/ and on iTunes.

So from me, here’s a big thank you to Mary, Brandon, Howard, Dan, Mur, Matt and K.M. for making learning about craft and the business of writing more like chocolate fudge cake than brocolli. And you, reader, have no more excuses. Go download some writing podcasts today.