Book Reviews and More

Hi! This blog is for my classes at Texas Woman's University.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Writing Process Blog Tour

Hello everyone!

I'm honored that the lovely and talented Melissa Buron asked me to participate in the Writing Process Blog Tour. Melissa was one of wonderful writers who participated in the Summer Reading and Writing challenge. She is a busy lady! You can check out her writing process blog hop post at Now - onto my answers:

What am I working on?
I am currently focusing on a middle grade novel. I also have several picture books that are works-in-progress that I revisit frequently (usually when I’m stuck on the middle grade novel!).

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I really, really love dialogue. That’s my favorite thing to write. So a lot of my manuscripts, even my picture books, are dialogue-driven. I especially love books with dialogue directly aimed at the reader. It’s something that I’m working on currently with one of my picture books. It’s so much fun!

Why do I write what I do?
I like to challenge myself with different formats. Sometimes I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing - because it’s definitely challenging! So a project often comes to mind because I enjoy books with a certain style of writing, and wonder if I can pull it off. For example, my current middle grade novel has five first person points of view. I decided to write it that way because I personally like books with several points of view. Have I succeeded with it? I’m not sure. I’ll let you know when I finish! It’s entirely possibly that I’ll end up rewriting the whole thing in third person or from just one character’s point of view, but I wanted to give it a try. Another love of mine is epistolary novels (novels written as letters, or these days, even e-mails back and forth). So I’m thinking my next project will be in an epistolary format - I just have to figure out what the story will be!

For my picture books projects, I may focus on different things - like I want to write a book under 200 words, or with an unreliable narrator, or in rhyme, etc. For me, experimenting with styles is part of the fun of the writing process.

How does my writing process work?

It varies depending on whether it is summer or the school year, but overall the processes are generally the same. I do my best writing if I can get the main chunk of it in as soon as I get the kids off to school or before they wake up in the summer. I try to get in 500 words in that first session. Then, during the day, I’ve really been working on taking advantage of shorter spurts of time as well. I’ve started carrying my laptop and/or a notebook with me all the time to try and squeeze in writing whenever I get a chance. This year I have kids in four different levels of school: college, high school, middle school, and elementary school. As you can imagine, I spend a lot of time at a variety of different activities. So while I’m waiting at cross country, gymnastics, baseball, track, swimming, carpool line, etc. I try to write. Sometimes I feel a little anti-social if there are other parents around who would like to chat, so I try to balance my times of being social with times of hiding in my car to write. I’ve found that I can usually get a surprising amount of progress even in those stolen moments of time.

I usually write at home, but I’m also a big fan of writing at the library. It helps me sometimes to get out, so I don’t feel guilty about the never-ending list of things that need to be done around the house. When I first started writing and the kids didn’t have as many evening activities, I used to go to the library every Monday night to write while my husband took care of the kids. That’s where I really started on my writing journey and wrote my very first picture book manuscripts. I loved that uninterrupted writing time, and was so grateful that my whole family supported my writing efforts. I’d love to add that evening writing time once a week back to my schedule - but we’ll have to see how this school year’s activities and my graduate school classes pan out. I think I’ll probably still be typing away in my car for years to come!

Thanks for joining me! Next on the list is the creative and crafty author Rebecca Nolen. I met Rebecca through SCBWI and really enjoy her company. Here's a little more about her: 

Rebecca Nolen was born and raised in Houston, TX, back when it felt like a small town and Foley's had an animated display windows at Christmas. In childhood, she rode her bike up and down trails and caught horney toads and snakes with her brothers. She developed a love for reading. After reading the Nancy Drew series, she would sneak read Alfred Hitchcock magazine, and horror comics until she discovered Author Conan Doyle and Egdar Allen Poe. In tenth grade she read all of Charles Dickens and Robert B. Costain. Now she usually reads British Murder/Mysteries and suspense and children's books. That love of books naturally created a desire to write. She has two published novels, Deadly Thyme a psychological suspense set in Britain, and The Dry a middle-grade dark historical fantasy.

You can find Rebecca at She should have her Blog Hop post up within the next week, so check back often!


Thursday, September 18, 2014

My Top 5 on the Texas Bluebonnet List

Hello to everyone!

I apologize for my lag in posting last week. School is underway here and that means we are on the go! I wish that I could say that I spent the last week frantically finishing my manuscript, but alas, it was mostly taken up by training new library volunteers, running the kids around to their activities, and doing homework for my graduate school classes. I have two interesting, but project-heavy, classes this semester so they will keep me hard at work!

But I wanted to flashback to summer a minute and share with you my personal top 5 Texas Bluebonnet books. I was surprised by my mixed reactions to the books on the list. Some I flew threw, and others I really struggled to finish. I am taking a look at what worked and didn't work for me with those books, so I can apply it to my own writing.

I definitely enjoyed more than 5 of the books, but here are the ones that I found most entertaining.

The picture book The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers is taking the book world by storm. It is so charming and fun, it's definitely one that I can read again and again. Two of the books, Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead and Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by K.G. Campbell, I had already read before the Bluebonnet list even came out. Both were clever and heartfelt middle grade books that deserve the recognition they've gotten (Flora & Ulysses won the Newbery earlier this year). The Neptune Project, by Polly Holyoke surprised me with how much I enjoyed it. The adventure novel is obviously going to have a sequel, and I will make sure to pick that one up. I also enjoyed the steampunk adventure novel The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man's Canyon. I wouldn't have thought of myself a steampunk fan, but the interesting premise and well-portrayed sibling relationships kept me hooked.

I know I said top 5, but if I had to give a few shout-outs for recommendations for reluctant readers, it would be to Spy Camp by Stuart Gibbs, Platypus Police Squad: The Frog who Croaked by Jarrett J. Krosoczka and Face Bug by J. Patrick Lewis. All three are fun, easy reads and I especially love Face Bug for combining the high interest topic of bugs with poetry.

So there you have it! Whew! I made it through all 20 Bluebonnet books. I hope you were able to enjoy some as well - or that you add a few to your to-be-read list.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

My Top 5 on the Texas 2 X 2 Reading List

Hi everyone!

Well, I've almost finished the Bluebonnet books for this year. I've got one left that I accidentally returned early to the library, so I've requested it and hope to get it in soon so I can finish the list!

For today, I'm going to mention my Top 5 books on the 2 X 2 Reading List 2014, which I also read this summer. As you may remember, these are books recommended by the Texas Library Association (TLA) for age 2 to grade 2. Such a fun range! There are 20 really great books on the list, but I'll share just a few of my favorites.

Two of the books I had already recommended to my SCBWI group before I even knew they were on the list - so those are definitely ones I really enjoyed. The first is The Watermelon Seed by Greg Pizzoli. Let's face it, the color palette and illustrations are what really won me over with this one. I love the greens and pinkish-reds and graphic design elements the artist/illustrator uses throughout the book. The second one I had recommended was The Black Rabbit by Philippa Leathers. Such a clever way to present childhood fears in a reassuring way. Both of these books took ideas that have been done before (swallowing a seed, scary shadow) and put their own unique stamp on them.

Another book that takes a familiar storyline and gives it a fun twist is Little Red Hot by Eric A. Kimmel. It seems like every time I say that I'm tired of fairy tale remakes, a clever one comes along that catches my fancy. This was one of my son's favorite stories of the bunch too. I liked this fun retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. It's a great opportunity to compare and contrast the original story to the remake as well if you're presenting it to a group of kids. For more on that concept, see my reviews about Traditional Tales, especially The Three Ninja Pigs.

Digger, Dozer, Dumper by Hope Vestergaard was another one I enjoyed. Poetry and construction vehicles! What an original combination. I liked how the author used a favorite subject for this age, and used it to introduce them to poetry. Very nicely done.

Turkey Tot by George Shannon was clever as well. I liked the way the Turkey creatively solved his problems and didn't give up on himself despite the doubts of his friends. Another example of a nice message delivered in a creative way. Plus - I've always had an affection for those stompers made out of tin cans (read the book to find out what I mean!).

Also, as for family favorites, one of my daughters used her own money to buy her brother Night Light by Nicholas Blechman at the book fair. The cut-outs and guessing factor definitely make this book a winner. As for my husband, Fraidyzoo by Thyra Heder was one of his top picks. He was a fan of the creative illustrations in this twist on the traditional ABC tale. My son also enjoyed Count the Monkeys. I doubt there are many kids who can resist the charm and humor of Mac Barnett.

The 2 X 2 list has a lot of strong books on it this year. I hope you take the time to enjoy them. Tune in next week for my top Bluebonnet picks!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Summer Challenge - Last Check-in

Hi everyone!

Happy Labor Day! I hope that y'all are all enjoying the day. I can't believe we are at the end of summer. Of course, school started for the kids and myself within the last couple of weeks, but we are already appreciating the three-day weekend.

How did you do on the summer reading and writing challenge? I finished all the books on the 2 X 2 Reading List and have two more to go on the Bluebonnet list. Hopefully I'll finished one of those tonight, and then I've only got one more to squeeze in this week. The reading challenge was more difficult than I expected, mostly because I kept getting distracted by other books that intrigued me along the way. But I definitely enjoyed a lot of the books on the Bluebonnet list, ones that I might not have read without the challenge. So I am grateful for it.

As far as my manuscript goes, I'm almost finished with the first draft! I was hoping to be done by today, but I've reset my goal to my birthday later this month. It will be a nice present to myself to get my first draft finished. I'm actually looking forward to revising.

I hope that you are all happy with the progress you've made this summer. Thanks for joining me in this challenge!

Take care, McCourt