MG Book Review - The Great Cat-Nap by A.M. Bostwick - A clever take on noir for mystery lovers of all ages.

the great cat nap
the great cat nap

Take a clever, determined reporter who moonlights as a detective, a sidekick who spends most of his time flirting with the ladies, a kidnapped beauty, and a host of lowlifes who just might hold the key to unlocking the case and what do you have?  You have The Great Cat-Nap, a delightful middle-grade mystery in the vein of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. With cats. Yes, you read that right. Cats. And really, what better animal to have as a stand in for Sam Spade than a slick, black cat with green eyes? Reading this novel as an adult was pure pleasure. The cat puns are thick on the ground, but somehow not overdone. You'll find yourself laughing at loud at how Bostwick turns even the most pedestrian cat stereotype on its head, and sometimes into something vaguely seedy, but still age appropriate. Cats that need to switch to water from heavy cream late at night. Dilated pupils from too much catnip. A crazy-cat lady beloved by the cats she rescues from the streets. Then, Bostwick will throw in a reference to noir canon which will go over kids' heads but will have adults nodding their heads and laughing at its ingenuity.

"Of all the rundown newspapers in all the cities, she had to walk into mine."

But, let's not forget the kids. They will love this book. It's a clever mystery which will keep them guessing but is also so well laid out they might be able to come up with the solution to the mystery just before Ace does. Any child who loves animals will love this book. Cats, dogs, a mink and a rat all play prominent roles. There's enough danger to keep them on the edge of their seat and enough humor and cleverness to keep them engaged and reading. It's not hard to imagine children who have their own pets, cats especially, putting this book down and imagining their pet as the star in their own adventure.

The Great Cat-Nap by A.M. Bostwick

Ace is a hard-core newspaper reporter. He's tenacious, confident, and assertive. He's also a cat. When the famous show cat Ruby the Russian goes missing, Ace is on the story. But he bites off more than he can chew when he agrees to play detective and find the prize-winning cat, believed to have been kidnapped by animal smugglers. Calling on his feline friends, a few dogs, and even a boastful rat nemesis, Ace’s investigation will lead him from the most respected parts of town to the lowly haunts of the underground alley cat system. He’ll have to try to break a cat out of the pound for priceless information and get into a single-pawed battle with smugglers before getting his shot at solving the dangerous crime, culminating on a chilly October night in the gray and lonely streets of downtown.

The winner of the 2014 TOFTE/WRIGHT CHILDREN'S LITERATURE AWARD, this 55,000 word middle-grade mystery is filled with adventure, suspense, and humor -- all told from the point of view of a cat!

E-Book available from

Barnes and Noble

Amazon

Kobo

About the Author

A.M. Bostwick writes Middle Grade and Young Adult novels. An early draft of her young adult novel, Break the Spell was a finalist in the 2013 Wisconsin Romance Writers of America Fab 5 Contest. The Great Cat Nap, winner of the 2014 Tofte/Wright Children's Literature Award from the Council for Wisconsin Writers, is her debut novel. Abigail lives in Tomahawk, WI, with her husband, dog and thrill-seeking cat. Follow her on Twitter @BostwickAM

My Writing Process Blog Tour - YA Author A.M. Bostwick

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IMG_3620
IMG_3620

When I asked A.M. Bostwick to participate in the My Writing Process Blog tour she agreed, with a caveat: she doesn't have a blog. No worries, I said. We'll post it on mine! Then she tagged three more people who don't have blogs. I'm happy to host their answers to the blog tour for the next few days.  First up, Abigail. What are you working on?

I’m on a break from a NA/YA I’ve spent nearly a year on. It was unexpected, but I decided to delve into a sequel to my debut MG novel, THE GREAT CAT NAP, a mystery adventure.  For the longest time, I didn’t know where time would find my feline narrator. All of a sudden, I just knew. I’ve had a lot of fun writing this – I knew all the characters, found plenty of new seedy ones for Ace to encounter and an entirely new mystery for Ace to solve that I hope will appeal to young readers.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

I flip between YA and MG and sometimes NA! So it depends. As for Ace, it’s different because it’s from the first person viewpoint of a cat, I suppose. He’s sophisticated, smart and sassy – and in a world that’s perhaps a bit more noir and dark than many MG. I think my YA differs in that I face some common dilemmas of that age group, but also some larger-than-life issues that are unique to the character. It’s not so unique, however, that someone couldn’t empathize with the situation and want to know how the character pulls through.

Why do you write what you do?

In MG, I like to write what amuses me. As a kid, I related strongly to books about animals. I grew up isolated, in the country, with a lot of cats, dogs and rescued wildlife. I loved books with animals as the heroes. As I got older, I really found myself in real-life, contemporary stories, however, which are what my YA focus on. So many of my friends found themselves in fantasy, and it took me a long time to get into that genre. Maybe that’s why I write contemporary. It’s still what I gravitate toward.

How does your writing process work?

As much as I try to “think” of ideas, that never works for me. It usually starts with a character speaking to me and suddenly everything catches fire and I write like crazy – scenes, parts of chapters, dialogue. Just to get the feel. Then I like an outline. I always know the end. Maybe not literally, but I know where the character arcs will end. I like to leave enough room to be surprised. Not everything is plotted. Just the main points.

abigail
abigail

A.M. Bostwick writes Middle Grade and Young Adult novels. An early draft of her young adult novel, “Break the Spell,” was a finalist in the 2013 Wisconsin Romance Writers of America Fab 5 Contest. Abigail lives in northern Wisconsin with her husband, dog and thrill-seeking cat. The Great Cat Nap, winner of the 2014 Tofte/Wright Children's Literature Award from the Council for Wisconsin Writers, is her debut novel.

Thanks, Abigail! For more information about Abigail and her writing as well as a sample chapter of THE GREAT CAT NAP, check out her website or follow her on Twitter @bostwickAM

Book Review - Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

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counting7s
counting7s

I am a contrarian. Not about life. I'm not going to say the glass is half full. There is water in it. You're thirsty. Drink and stop analyzing.

I am a contrarian when it comes to books.

I'm turned off by quirk.

By lack of punctuation.

By single sentence paragraphs.

By substituting writing style for characterization.

Tell the story. Don't let the writing get in the way. Or the voice.

Counting by 7s (★★★) is a run-of-the-mill YA story. You know how it will end. Nothing will shock you. Though you will get choked up.

Unless you have a heart of stone.

The voice is quirky, though with correct punctuation.

Single sentence paragraphs abound.

If you like that kind of stuff, then this book is for you.

If you don't, you can read it to pad your yearly reading goal. It's a fast read.

Because of all those single sentence paragraphs.

You won't regret reading it. You may even love it.

You definitely won't forget it.

June Reading Round Up: Young Adult Fiction

Sometimes, I confuse myself. I do. For the whole month of June, I was meh on reading. None of the books I read were so wonderful I couldn't put it down. But, six of the eight books I read this month received four or five stars. That is by far the best monthly rating average for the year. Maybe I graded the YA books on a curve, though that doesn't sound like me at all. I'm not nearly that nice.

An aside here: I'm sitting on my deck writing this post. It's 84 degrees in Texas at 5 pm on July 1. That makes me ridiculously happy.

Update: Here is is, July 3 and I haven't finished this post. That pretty much sums up my whole month of reading YA. Start and stop. Kinda dread going back to it but when I do, I enjoy it.

It's official: I'm a mess.

Top Pick of the Month

eleanor
eleanor

Eleanor and Park (★★★★★) by Rainbow Rowell - this was recommended by an agent I met at DFW Con and has been frequently included on Summer Reading lists.  It deserves the praise. I'm not sure what this would be categorized as - teen romance, maybe? But, it is a far cry from Sweet Valley High. The alternating POV and voices of the characters are well done and the setting (mid-80s) brought back teenage memories of my own. I don't even resent the author for that.

You Can't Go Wrong With...

Stargirl (★★★★★) by Jerry Spinelli

The Rules for Disappearing (★★★★) - a nice little thriller that probably shouldn't be a series, but whatever.

You want issues? I've got your issues.

Twisted (★★★★) by Laurie Halse Anderson - the ending, especially the resolution between the father and son, might be a little too pat, but overall a well-intentioned book with a good message.

Abandoned...

This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel - I am a huge fan of Oppel's Airborn series (if you haven't heard of it or read it, you really should; action adventure with airships, a little teen romance, shipwrecks, a desert island and pirates!) and I thought the premise of this series (the teen years of Viktor Frankenstein) was a cool hook. It just didn't keep me interested.

Divergent by Veronica Roth - tries a little too hard to fill The Hunger Games void.

Three YA Book Reviews - The Rules for Disappearing, Stargirl and Twisted

What I've discovered the last couple of weeks as these three reviews have sat on my hard drive is, while I like YA well enough, I just don't have much to say when it comes to reviews. Which is why I'm lumping three very different YA books together into one post: a thriller, a message book and a parable. First up, the thriller.

 

rules

 

Synopsis: She's been six different people in six different places: Madeline in Ohio, Isabelle in Missouri, Olivia in Kentucky . . . But now that she's been transplanted to rural Louisiana, she has decided that this fake identity will be her last.

Witness Protection has taken nearly everything from her. But for now, they've given her a new name, Megan Rose Jones, and a horrible hair color. For the past eight months, Meg has begged her father to answer one question: What on earth did he do-or see-that landed them in this god-awful mess? Meg has just about had it with all of the Suits' rules-and her dad's silence. If he won't help, it's time she got some answers for herself.

But Meg isn't counting on Ethan Landry, an adorable Louisiana farm boy who's too smart for his own good. He knows Meg is hiding something big. And it just might get both of them killed. As they embark on a perilous journey to free her family once and for all, Meg discovers that there's only one rule that really matters-survival.

I love the premise of The Rules for Disappearing (★★★★) and especially love it is set in eastern Louisiana. Southern literature, for the win! There were a couple of questions left unanswered at the end, which was irritating until I saw on Goodreads there is another book planned. I'm not entirely sure how this works as a series but I liked it well enough I will read the next book, as well as recommend The Rules for Disappearing to teens I know.

*~*

Next, the message book.

twisted

Synopsis: High school senior Tyler Miller used to be the kind of guy who faded into the background. But since he got busted for doing graffiti on the school, and spent the summer doing outdoor work to pay for it, he stands out like you wouldn't believe. His new physique attracts the attention of queen bee Bethany Milbury, who just so happens to be his father's boss's daughter, the sister of his biggest enemy, and Tyler's secret crush. And that sets off a string of events and changes that have Tyler questioning his place in school, in his family, and in the world.

A writer friend insisted I read Laurie Halse Anderson during my month of YA and this is what I picked up at the library. Twisted (★★★★) is clearly written with an interesting central character that is just on the right side of likable, if barely. But, what teens aren't barely likable? I didn't feel the author show the suicidal tendencies of the MC clearly enough to make me believe he would really kill himself when it came down to it. That the book was from the MC's point of view didn't help with the tension, either. But, I liked how the character found his agency at the end and took charge of his life.

*~*

Next up, the parable.

stargirl

Synopsis:Stargirl. From the day she arrives at quiet Mica High in a burst of color and sound, the hallways hum with the murmur of “Stargirl, Stargirl.” She captures Leo Borlock’s heart with just one smile. She sparks a school-spirit revolution with just one cheer. The students of Mica High are enchanted. At first.

Then they turn on her. Stargirl is suddenly shunned for everything that makes her different, and Leo, panicked and desperate with love, urges her to become the very thing that can destroy her: normal. In this celebration of nonconformity, Newbery Medalist Jerry Spinelli weaves a tense, emotional tale about the perils of popularity and the thrill and inspiration of first love.

A parable is a short tale that illustrates universal truth, one of the simplest of narratives. It sketches a setting, describes an action, and shows the results. It often involves a character facing a moraldilemma, or making a questionable decision and then suffering the consequences. Though the meaning of a parable is often not explicitly stated, the meaning is not usually intended to be hidden or secret but on the contrary quite straightforward and obvious. (source)

I may be the only person that thinks of Stargirl (★★★★★) as a parable, but it fits the above definition to a "t." The universal truth in Stargirl is to be true to yourself, to be kind above all, to put others first and to meet hatred with love. If those aren't messages Jesus would get behind, I don't know what are. This is the summer reading requirement for sixth grade in our district and I can't imagine a better message for kids going into middle school.

YA Book Review - Golden by Jessi Kirby

goldenWhy is it whenever there is a there is a  choice between stability and freedom, the traditional and the unexpected, it is always the arty, let's do the crazy option that is always chosen? How many romances have you read where the choice of future mate comes down to stable, buttoned down businessman/woman and the long-haired free spirit artist/carpenter/bartender? Who is chosen every time? The free-spirit. Why is it when the choice is between responsibility and irresponsibility, the latter always wins out and is, as a result, trumpeted as the way to true happiness? If I had to posit a theory, I'd guess the authors of these books are people who chose the responsible path and have regretted it. Who think their life is boring and OMG wouldn't it be so much better to be an struggling artist living above a shop with few possessions and even fewer expectations from others? Or, maybe they were pushed into a path they didn't really want to take and resented it. Whatever the case, contemporary fiction is littered with these stories and they all end the same. (If you know of one that ends with the main character choosing responsibility, please let me know.)

We can thank Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games for the current trend of adults devouring YA and New Adult novels. But, not all YA/NA crosses over well. Golden (★★) is firmly targeted to teens, with hardly a parent or adult being represented. The one parent that is given a few pages is overbearing and controlling. Of course. I can't imagine any adult, let alone a parent, even less a parent of a teenager who are constantly trying to teach our teens about responsibility and taking charge of their future would like Golden very much. But, teens will eat the message up with a spoon. The message being, as far as I can tell, that 1) a parent that wants the best for you is wrong and 2) making spur of the moment decisions that will negatively impact your future is okay as long as you have a hot snowboarder boyfriend you can fall back on.

Hey, I get it. I'm definitely not the target audience for this book. And, I don't think all YA, New Adult or whatever you want to call it, should have a message that is "parental approved." But, to have a "message" book that so clearly disregards both perspectives - the adult responsible one and the YA impulsive one - does a disservice to the target audience. In Golden, the author didn't do a good enough job of showing why the MC's decision was the right one. As a result, Golden will be one of those books that teens love but, when they revisit it as adults, they will wonder what the hell they were thinking.

 

YA Book Review - The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Theboyinthestripedpyjamas

TheboyinthestripedpyjamasThere is a major flaw at the center of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas: the main character is not believable. Bruno, the 9-year old son of a Nazi SS officer whose promotion to commandant of Auschwitz starts the book, is completely ignorant of the world he lives in. He doesn't know what a Jew is, how to pronounce "Furher," what "Heil Hitler" means, what a Star of David or a swastika is, or what the thousands of people behind the barbed wire fence behind his house are doing there.  This from a boy born in 1934, two years after Hitler rose to power and the son of a high-ranking Nazi who is not a German who went along to get along but was dedicated to eradicating Jews and who "the Fury had great plans for." This from a boy who, in the real world, would have been a member of the Hitler youth. This from a boy who would have heard friends, neighbors and strangers deriding Jews. This from a boy who would have seen a Star of David in Berlin.  This from a boy whose father wore a red, white and black armband on his arm every day. If Bruno would have been five or six then I might have bought it. But, he was a ridiculously immature nine-year old who I kept thinking wasn't so much an innocent as an idiot. Does Boyne expect the reader to believe Bruno's family would have kept their beliefs about Jews, the purity of the Aryan race and Nazi ideology secret? It's patently ridiculous. Bruno's father would have been indoctrinating him, not protecting him from the ideas. To keep that information from your children implies you are uncomfortable with the beliefs and nothing in the book indicated that was the case. So. That was the biggest issue, but not the only one. Shmuel, the boy Bruno meets through the fence because of course there is a large section that is never guarded, is unbelievable in his own way as well. This little boy prisoner can sneak away every day for over a year. And, it is easy enough for a half-starving child to lift the bottom of the chain-link fence enough to scoot under, but he never does. Nor does he ever tell any of his fellow prisoners about the unguarded spot with the wonky fence.  He never calls Bruno out in his ignorance. His father disappears and this little boy, who has lived in a death camp for at least a year, doesn't know where he went. He also doesn't know what happens to the prisoners who "march," but he never sees them return. Gosh, what could be happening to them?

This book was on an end cap at Barnes and Noble titled, "What Every Teen Should Read." Really? It read more like it was written for a child. Boyne never said "Auschwitz," instead dumbing down his protagonist even more by having him mispronounce it "Out With." Boyne doesn't describe an act of violence against a Jew that Bruno witnesses and he, unbelievably, let Shmuel live after being caught by an SS officer stealing food from Bruno's kitchen. By skimming over the details, the climax of the book didn't have the visceral emotion it should have, or easily could have.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (★★) is a dumbed down version of the Holocaust, masquerading as a YA book. While there aren't any gross inaccuracies that I could see (I am, admittedly, not an expert), the mistakes are in what isn't said, what is glossed over and ignored in the guise of being from an unbelievable naive 9-year old boy's perspective.  The best you can hope for is your child or teen will ask questions because Lord knows, Boyne leaves lots of gaps. When they do, you can help educate them about one of the darkest eras in World History because the only thing that will keep us from repeating the mistakes of those before is not forgetting.