Book Reviews

Maxi’s Secrets (or what you can learn from a dog) – book review

Image result for maxi's secretMaxi’s Secrets by Lynn Plourde

This middle grade book is about the relationship between Timminy, his dog Maxi and his neighbor Abby. While it was an enjoyable story, I felt it lacked the arc needed to make the story really sizzle. For me, the side character, of Rory felt unimportant, when it really could have been a much larger part of the story. As the friendship with Timminy and Abby was lackluster. Also, I am not sure that the secrets belong to Maxi, but to Timminy, which I found a little confusing.

The reader is told in the second sentence that Maxi dies, which kept me reading to find out why, but sadly had that not been in the opening I might not have made it very far into the book. Maxi’s Secrets was well written with excellent descriptions of Timminy and Maxi, yet I didn’t feel connected with the characters emotionally as I should.

Middle graders can relate to the story of Timminy, but Abby as well. I just wish that Rory had played a bigger role as there seemed to be an underlining story in which middle graders would like to know more about.

3 out of 5 stars.

Book Reviews

Lily and Dunkin – book review & personal story

Me, age 13, throwing a fit before leaving for middle school. You can see my father taking the photo in the mirror, he found my middle grade stress humorous.
Me, age 13, throwing a fit before leaving for middle school. You can see my father taking the photo in the mirror, he found my middle grade stress humorous.

I’ve read all four of Donna Gephart’s books and loved them all. Which meant when her latest book landed on the book shelf I had to read it. Lily and Dunkin is a middle grade book centered around being transgender and bipolar disorder.

For me, middle grade was horrible (and I was dealing with neither of the above mentioned)! Flat out worst time of my life. My friends from elementary school were starting to smoke and we went in different directions leaving me alone in a big scary building. I was in search of a female role model (my mom had passed at this point and I didn’t have a relationship with my step-mom) and located one. Her name was Sarah, and she was great at everything and pretty too. She played every sport the school offered! And she was nice enough to befriend me before she went off to high school. Yet, because of me looking up to her I got called a lesbian more times than I could count. I would sit outside Mrs. Adam’s classroom door and cry at least once a week. I had boyfriends non-stop and so if I said “I’m not a lesbian I have a boyfriend” then they would call me bi-sexual. I started spending a lot of time napping in the nurses office with a “stomach ache.”

I loved the private thoughts of Lily and Dunkin that covered the first several chapters. Even as adults we have these conversations with ourselves about other people, when we don’t know what others are thinking, we assume. Gephart showcases this brilliantly. (I will say I saw cheering for Bob more than anything).

When I first heard the summary of this book I was a bit surprised. While I know children at this reading age group have these experiences, I was thinking more like “the publishing company didn’t say no?”

Gephart has courage, her agent, editors and publisher have courage. As an author I have thought about topics to write about that would spark both sides. I didn’t know if I would have the courage to put something out there and “see”, maybe now, I might.


Spotlight on Writing

Mini Interview with Rhonda McCormack

photoI had the pleasure of meeting Ms. McCormack at a SCBWI get together a few years back. We have remained friends over the years, and not only is she a writer and artist, but also a wonderful lady who always has great insights on wellness and life. Her book Wildflowers was released in August 2012, and one lucky visitor will get an autographed copy!! (To enter, please leave a comment below. The winner will be picked at random next Thursday, June 6th.)

1. What is your favorite YA book?
 Oh boy.  This will be impossible to nail down.  But after a think, I do have a favorite novel about two young girls who transition through many living situations before coming into a unique arrangement with their mother’s younger sister.  The book is Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, and though it’s not officially put in the YA genre, it is some of the most beautiful writing I’ve ever read on the young adult experience.  Another amazing (amazing!) book not in the YA genre but featuring young adult characters is Atonement by Ian McEwan.  These books have more adult themes and situations, but again, speak to the honesty of young adulthood.
As a young reader, I was drawn to authors like Judy Blume and Lois Lowry, who wrote the Anastasia Krupnik novels that still make me laugh today.  I also recall that the family’s copy of The Outsiders had smooshed corners and rumpled page edges from the many (many) reads it got.  Two others worth mentioning are The Chocolate War (Cormier) and The Last Unicorn (Beagle).
As for contemporary YA, I was deeply touched by A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park, though this is more middle grade than YA.  I also felt moved by The Book Thief (Zusak) and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian (Alexie), and most recently, I read Endangered by Eliot Schrefer and found the story so thoughtful and powerful that I’ve been referring left and right.  Oh, and there’s Hattie Big Sky (Larson) for good YA historical fiction, and Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick My Ass (Medina) for a powerful narrative on bullying, and there’s John Green and Tom Leveen for authentic teen voices.
See how hard this is?  I could go on and on and on…
2. How does being an artist enhance your writing?

In any and every way I can think of.  The long and the short of it is that both can be meditative or generate energy, but moving away from words, sentences, structure and getting into the studio allows me perspective.  My art is less formal than my writing, and working on a painting while also working on a novel can open me up to that space where the writing flows.  It’s not always the case that I have both going at the same time, but I’m moving more towards that end.

3. Your book Wildflowers focuses on environmental issues. Tell us one change you have made within your home to be more environmentally friendly?

My interest in being a good environmental steward proceeded Wildflowers, and over the years our homes have just grown more and more Eco-friendly.  Some of the cooler things we’ve done include using insulation made from recycled blue jeans and installing a tank-less water heater, and I swear by using less toxic paints and cleaners.  I’ve also enjoyed finding product manufacturers who have an environmental philosophy outlined as part of their business model.  Room and Board and Flor are two companies I’ve found that are dedicated to using Eco-minded materials and production practices, as well as being committed to quality products and fair treatment of labor.

4.  What is your favorite thing about indie publishing?
The creative freedoms.  For writers, artists, and illustrators who would love to see the book they’ve imagined in their heads come to life exactly as they see it, Indie is a super cool option.  I’ve written a lot about the importance of quality writing, design, and marketing when deciding to enter the Indie movement, but if the creator is up for it, it’s a fascinating (and challenging) artistic experience.