Monday, October 24, 2016


The Inquisitor's Tale (Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog) by Adam Gidwitz, illuminated by Hatem Aly (Sept 27, 2016, Dutton Children's Books, 384 pages, for ages 10 and up).

Synopsis (from the publisher):  1242. On a dark night, travelers from across France cross paths at an inn and begin to tell stories of three children. Their adventures take them on a chase through France: they are taken captive by knights, sit alongside a king, and save the land from a farting dragon. On the run to escape prejudice and persecution and save precious and holy texts from being burned, their quest drives them forward to a final showdown at Mont Saint-Michel, where all will come to question if these children can perform the miracles of saints.
Join William, an oblate on a mission from his monastery; Jacob, a Jewish boy who has fled his burning village; and Jeanne, a peasant girl who hides her prophetic visions. They are accompanied by Jeanne’s loyal greyhound, Gwenforte . . . recently brought back from the dead. Told in multiple voices, in a style reminiscent of The Canterbury Tales, our narrator collects their stories and the saga of these three unlikely allies begins to come together.

Why I recommend it: A medieval story that's still quite timely. It speaks volumes about the way we treat each other today. It's also one of the most unusual MG novels I've ever read. You'll find yourself so caught up in the story and so curious about where this is leading that you'll want to put off tasks and cancel appointments just so you can keep reading. (Not that I, coughcough, did those things...)

Favorite lines: There are so many! It's a very quotable book. Randomly picking one:  "William always admired the Italian boys' way of looking up from under their eyebrows that was either totally respectful or utterly disrespectful, and you could never tell which." (from p. 35 of the advanced reading copy)

Bonus: It's illuminating as well as entertaining. You'll learn a lot about thirteenth-century France. Adam Gidwitz spent six years researching this novel and it paid off beautifully.

Author's website

For another take on this book (and a fun interview with the author) visit Middle Grade Mafioso's post from October 3, 2016.

Monday, October 17, 2016

And the winner of TIME TRAVELING WITH A HAMSTER is...

I'm happy to announce that according to randomizer, the winner of the hardcover copy of TIME TRAVELING WITH A HAMSTER is...


Congratulations, Patricia! Expect a message from me asking for your mailing address.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Exclusive Interview with Ross Welford, author of TIME TRAVELING WITH A HAMSTER -- and a Giveaway!

Time Traveling With a Hamster by Ross Welford (Schwartz & Wade, 2016)

(See my review in last week's post.)

Ross Welford, author of Time Traveling With a Hamster, kindly agreed to answer three questions for My Brain on Books.

Ross Welford, from his Twitter account

1) Your time travel rules make so much sense I actually believed time travel was possible. How did you come up with these rules? 

Thank you for noticing!  Time travel is - I discover - a nightmare to plot, so it’s nice to hear I got it right.  The main thing I had to invent was “Dad’s Law Of Doppelgängers” - the rule that states you can occupy a bit of space-time only once.  This came from necessity, really.  Let’s say you have a time-machine and, like Al, you go back in time and create a big disaster...  (I’m being careful with spoilers here: if you’ve read it you’ll know what I mean).  So what’s to stop you getting back into your time-machine, and travelling back in time again and putting it right?  I’d end up with a sort of time travelling Groundhog Day.   I did not want Al to be able to do that.  There was another thing in my mind as well, and that was Back To The Future.  I love those films, but I wanted to avoid too many similarities.  I’m especially thinking of the scene where Marty sees himself playing guitar at the school dance.  I did not want Al to meet himself.  (Why not?  Dunno, just didn’t.)  Out of that grew the doppelgänger ‘rule’ and once I’d worked it out, it actually kind of made sense!  Time travel is, obviously, a fantasy - but I think it’s quite a powerful fantasy, and it was fun to try to make it seem real, if only for the duration of the story.

2) This is your debut novel and I'm most impressed. Tell us briefly about your writing journey. Were there other (unpublished) books you wrote along the way? How did you find your agent?

About seven years ago I studied part-time for an MA in Screenwriting.  Until then I had written virtually no fiction ever.  Screenwriting’s a hard gig, though, and I did nothing with the MA I gained.  So in 2013, I started a story about a kid who finds a time portal in a cupboard at school.  Then I stopped at about 20,000 words, stuck on where to go next.  My local adult ed center was running a course based on NaNoWriMo, the writing club that hauls you through a 50,000 word draft in a month.  That was November.  After a couple more drafts, by spring 2014 it was the story we now have, more or less.  Different title, different ending, but still…

So, I knew that I had to start sending it out there, but I knew no one in publishing and sent out about four and then...  A friend at a party said that he happened to know someone who worked at the literary agency Peters, Fraser & Dunlop (I had never heard of them, knowing next to nothing about publishing). So I sent it off and waited, and waited, and waited….  And then things happened very quickly.  In December, I received a call from Silvia Molteni from PFD who took me on as a client straight away, and about three months later I had a two-book deal with Harper Collins, UK.  Shortly after that, it was sold to the US. (Schwartz & Wade, Penguin Random House).  A second book, What Not To Do If You Turn Invisible will be out in the UK early 2017.


(And an aside here to fellow writers:  I do realize that this is far from typical and that I have been very fortunate.  Sorry!)

3) You're right, Ross. That's far from typical! But congratulations! Now, could you briefly describe your writing space? Was it plastered with charts and timetables a la A Beautiful Mind while you were writing TIME TRAVELING WITH A HAMSTER? 

Early on, I did try plotting with yellow post-its arranged on a large glass door, and then I tried color-coding for when the action was in 1984!  It just got in the way though, and I found I didn’t need it. Quite a lot of Al’s adventures were unplanned - inasmuch as I didn’t know when I started writing the book that he would get into the scrapes he does.  Instead of post-it notes, there were lots of scribbled notes with arrows and crossings-out.  When I submitted the final draft, I was certain there were no errors in the timeline.  The editors found two - thankfully easily fixed.  Hurrah for copy editors!

They certainly did a great job. Thanks for stopping by, Ross. 

Giveaway details: The publisher has generously offered one hardcover copy for a giveaway. To enter, you must be a follower of this blog and you must comment on this post. If you mention this giveaway on social media, please let me know and I'll give you extra chances. This giveaway is open to U.S. mailing addresses only. Giveaway ends Sunday October 16th at 10 pm EDT and the winner will be announced on Monday October 17th. Good luck!

Monday, October 3, 2016


Time Traveling With a Hamster by Ross Welford (October 4, 2016, Schwartz & Wade, 432 pages, for ages 8 to 12).

Synopsis (from the publisher)My dad died twice. Once when he was thirty-nine and again four years later, when he was twelve. On his twelfth birthday, Al Chaudhury receives a letter from his dead father. It directs him to the bunker of their old house, where Al finds a time machine (an ancient computer and a tin bucket). The letter also outlines a mission: travel back to 1984 and prevent the go-kart accident that will eventually take his father’s life. But as Al soon discovers, whizzing back thirty years requires not only imagination and courage, but also lying to your mom, stealing a moped, and setting your school on fire—oh, and keeping your pet hamster safe.

Why I recommend it: Color me impressed. An endearing main character and a clever, engaging plot help make this British import absolutely brilliant. Those opening lines drew me in immediately: My dad died twice. Once when he was thirty-nine and again four years later, when he was twelve. After a beginning like that, how could you possibly stop reading?

Time travel that makes sense is extremely hard to pull off but Welford really thought this through. He must have had charts, maps, and timetables plastered all over his writing office. There's an answer for everything, even the famous "Grandfather Paradox" of time travel. You'll be amazed what happens in this humorous and touching tale. Al (along with Grandpa Byron, the coolest grandfather ever) is a character you'll grow to love. And yes, the hamster has an important role to play.

Reading this turned my weekend into a fun escapist mini-vacation.

Ross Welford's blog

Follow Ross on Twitter

Bonus: Stay tuned next week for an exclusive interview with Ross Welford and a giveaway!

Monday, September 26, 2016

And the Winner of FULL OF BEANS is...

I'm happy to announce that, according to randomizer, the winner of the hardcover copy of FULL OF BEANS is...

Congratulations, Suzanne! Expect an email from me asking for your mailing address.

*   *   *

Next week, I'll be featuring a review of TIME TRAVELING WITH A HAMSTER by Ross Welford, and the week after, an exclusive Q&A with Ross, and a giveaway!

Monday, September 19, 2016

FULL OF BEANS by Jennifer L. Holm -- and a GIVEAWAY!

Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm (August 30, 2016, Random House, 208 pages, for ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from the publisher): Grown-ups lie. That’s one truth Beans knows for sure. He and his gang know how to spot a whopper a mile away, because they are the savviest bunch of barefoot conchs (that means “locals”) in all of Key West. Not that Beans really minds; it’s 1934, the middle of the Great Depression. With no jobs on the island, and no money anywhere, who can really blame the grown-ups for telling a few tales? Besides, Beans isn’t anyone’s fool. In fact, he has plans. Big plans. And the consequences might surprise even Beans himself.

Why I recommend it:  Well, first of all, I'm a sucker for any MG novel about The Great Depression, but especially when it's a marvelous mix of humorous and heartwarming. But also, to be honest, this is just plain fun. The kind of book that leaves you smiling when you turn the last page.

Beans is a wise-cracking, lovable scamp of a character. If you've read Turtle in Paradise, this is actually a prequel, and leads right up to the beginning of Turtle in Paradise. But where the first book was Turtle's POV, Full of Beans is all about her cousin Beans Curry, and his various get-rich-quick schemes.

Favorite lines: I felt like Daddy Warbucks.
                         Except with hair.   (p.77)

Bonus: Another great read-aloud.

Giveaway details: Through the generosity of the publisher I have one hardcover copy to give away. To enter you must be a follower of this blog and you must comment on this post. This giveaway is open to US and Canadian mailing addresses only and will end at 10:00 pm EDT on Sunday Sept 25. Winner to be announced Monday Sept 26. Good luck!

Monday, September 12, 2016


Long-time readers of this blog may remember my review of LUG: DAWN OF THE ICE AGE by David Zeltser, that I featured (with a moving guest post by David) in Sept 2014.

Well, hold onto your snow possums because Lug, my favorite caveboy hero, is back! And the sequel is funnier than ever.

Lug: Blast From the North by David Zeltser. illustrations by Jan Gerardi (September 1, 2016, Carolrhoda Books/Lerner Publishing Group, 160 pages, for ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from the publisher): After saving his clan from saber-toothed tigers, Lug the caveboy has become a hero. The only problem: between the nightmares and his sudden skittishness around animals, he doesn't feel like much of a hero. But now he and his friends, Stony and Echo, have even bigger problems. A giant glacier is rolling toward their village—faster than any ordinary mass of ice should move—and it's on course to crush the whole settlement! Maybe Blast, the mysterious northern boy who lives on the glacier, can help Lug's clan. Or maybe it will be up to Lug to save the day again, whether he's ready to or not.

Why I recommend it: This is a funny and entertaining read throughout. I didn't think it was possible to outdo the humor and charm in the first book, Lug: Dawn of the Ice Age. But Zeltser manages it with ease. I read this book in one sitting, no doubt with a goofy smile on my face, and cheered on Lug and his loyal friends (Yay for Echo! Girl power!). An environmental message that's timely but never preachy and a thoroughly satisfying ending add to the appeal. Black and white illustrations are sprinkled throughout. Bonus: This would make a wonderful read-aloud.

Favorite line:  The first thing the boy did was throw his vegetable at me. (p. 20)

Do you have any favorite humorous MG books that also include a subtle (or maybe not-so-subtle) environmental message?