March Book Giveaway Winners

Two great middle grade books were featured this month and today I am happy to announce the winners who will receive copies of them.

mirror coverA copy of MIRROR TO MIRROR by Rajani LaRocca goes to Melissa Tanaka.

Angie Quantrell is the lucky winner of a copy of THE CARREFOUR CURSE by Dianne K Salerni.

The Carrefour CursePlease email me your addresses so I can get the books to you ASAP. Thanks to all who entered and a special thanks to these two talented authors who agreed to share their books with readers.

The best way to show your appreciation is to leave a short review for the books on Amazon and Goodreads and spread the word to fellow book lovers.


Boost Your Brain

Want you and your family to have healthier, sharper, and better-functioning brains?  It is easier than you might think.  There is a lot you can do to improve brain health by following some science-based tips.

  1. Learning a foreign language helps your brain process information better and focus more sharply.  Try Apple’s  iPhone app Duolingo to learn Spanish, French, German, Italian, Swedish or several other languages.
  2. If you want to remember items from a list or details from notes, write them in RED.  Studies have shown that the color red “fixes” itself on our memory better than other colors.
  3. To improve attention and concentration, TRY PING PONG.
  4. To help recall details of an event, CLOSE YOUR EYES.  When visual distractions are removed, your brain focuses more efficiently.
  5. Eat fish and avocados. Both improve brain function by reducing inflammation.  A handful of nuts such as walnuts, almonds, peanuts also help improve cognition. fish dinner
  6. Try new things and see new sights.  New experiences give the brain exercise like a new muscle.
  7. Coloring eases stress and puts your brain in meditation mode.  Any activity that calms the body, restores the brain.  There are numerous coloring books for kids and adults of all ages. coloring
  8. GET UP AND MOVE! Aerobic exercise actually increases the size of your hippocampus – the part of the brain involved in learning and remembering.  Put on a record and dance, take a Zumba class, go jogging, or jump on a trampoline.  It’s all good for the brain.   kids in a tree
  9. Do something with your non-dominate hand. Brushing teeth, writing your name, unscrewing the lid of a jar.  By using your “other” hand, you challenge the brain to perform the activity and fire new synapses while doing it.
  10. Get a good night’s SLEEP: Good sleep is the best thing you can do for your brain long term says Henry Emmons, MD author of STAYING SHARP (Touchstone).  Be sure your children get enough rest as well.  The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours for ages 18-64 and 7-8 hours for ages 65 and up.  Children need at least 7-9 hours of sleep as well.
  11. Surf…the Internet: Searching for information on the web improves neural circuitry.
  12. Hang out with Friends and Family.  Social connections improve brain health.
  13. Get lots of B Vitamins: B vitamins lower homocysteine – an amino acid linked to dementia.  You can find B vitamins in whole grain breads, pasta, cereals and rice.  It’s also found in poultry, leafy greens, papayas, beans, oranges and cantaloupe.  MAKE A SALAD WITH MIXED GREENS, SUNFLOWER SEEDS, CHICK PEAS OR OTHER BEANS, ORANGE SLICES AND DICED CHICKEN for a vitamin B packed meal.
  14. Be OPTIMISTIC: Positive thinking activates your brains ability to adapt and change.

Author Dianne Salerni Presents A Spooky MG novel: THE CARREFOUR CURSE + a Chance to Win a Copy

Today I am really excited to feature a new book by middle grade author DIANNE SALERNI. THE CARREFOUR CURSE (Holiday House) is one of the most uniquely entertaining books I’ve read in awhile. I couldn’t put it down, and I had to ask Dianne how she came up with the idea for the story.

carrefour 2

Here’s my review:

This middle grade story is a clever and engaging page-turner that had me hooked from the first sentence: “You’ld think spitting up frogs would be a lot like the worst stomach flu you’ve ever had, but it’s surprisingly different.” Who wouldn’t want to read on after that hook?

There is so much that is fresh and original in this ghostly tale of power, charm, curses, and magic.The use of gemstones and their properties as chapter titles adds another layer of intrigue and originality to this kid-friendly and delightful story. Will there be a sequel? Sure hope so.

I asked Dianne a few questions about the novel. Here is the interview:

What do you want readers to know about the story?

The Carrefour Curse is my homage to all things gothic, but especially Dark Shadows, the supernatural soap opera from the 1960s and 70s. I used to watch this show as a preschooler—from behind a sofa—while I was supposed to be napping. I thought I was being sneaky, but my mother now tells me that she knew I was there and simply gave up trying to put me back to bed. One can probably pinpoint this show as the reason I have always loved creepy mansions, family secrets, ghosts, and time travel.

How did you decide on the plot/storyline using the gemstones as chapter headings?

As is typical for me, I outlined the first half of the plot and pantstered the rest of it. This resulted in a rather important character inventing herself in Chapter 23, inserting herself into the climax in Chapter 27, and forcing me—in later drafts—to weave her very existence into the first half of the book.

As for the chapter headings, they were a rather late addition. I wanted to provide more background into the kind of magic Garnet, my main character, performs with gemstones in a way that didn’t bog down the story. The chapter headings felt like the best way to do that because readers can skim them, read them closely, or ignore them at will. So far, early readers have reported enjoying both the glimpse into the mystical properties of gemstones and the hints that these headings provide on what might be coming up in the chapters.

That’s one of the things I enjoyed! What kind of research was involved in the story?

Well, first and most extensive was the research into the mystical properties associated with certain stones and gems. There’s a lot online, and I have a couple books on the subject. I also visited a local metaphysical shop called Find Your Harmony. In most cases, the properties attributed to various stones are so broad, I could pick and choose what best suited the story.

Additionally, I wanted a model for the crumbling Carrefour family mansion and eventually found what I was looking for in the abandoned Summerwind Mansion in Wisconsin. You can find photos of the dilapidated mansion at this website. The house burned down in 1988, so I had no idea what the interior was like and spent a great deal of time trying to track down floor plans or photographs. I gave up when a man in a discussion group claimed to have the floor plans and offered to show them to me if I met up with him in person. That sounded like a recipe for getting murdered, so I used the exterior of Summerwind as my model for Crossroad House and created my own interior design.

Encountering a spooky character while researching the story certainly added another layer of intrigue. Tell us a bit about the background/setting and how you developed that.

I was deliberately vague about the geographic location when I wrote the book, only mentioning New England once and having a character use the slang word wicked to mean extremely. But I definitely had Dark Shadows in mind, which was set in Maine.

Action centers on the crumbling, semi-sentient family mansion, Crossroad House. Garnet’s relatives tell her repeatedly that the house is not alive, but she overhears them saying things like, “The house is always listening,” and she herself feels as if she’s being watched.

Just like in the soap opera, there are also nearby ruins of an older family house, the original Carrefour manor that mysteriously burned down in the 1890s. On Dark Shadows, the Collins family referred to “the old house,” and I borrowed that language when I had the Carrefours call their ruins Old House.

Bad things happen at Old House, events I modeled after the eerie happenings in Ambrose Bierce’s 1889 vignette, The Spook House, in which two men stumble upon a house on a rainy night and discover a room full of dead people.

The Carrefour Curse was hard to put down, and it was also hard to say goodbye to the characters you created (every author’s dream!) Do you envision a sequel?

Until a couple months ago, I would have said that this is a standalone mystery. But several early readers have mentioned that there’s ample material for a sequel, so now I’m considering the idea. The time-traveling element means I can delve into the family’s past as well as their future. If the original book is successful, I might start poking around in the Carrefour family tree for a new conflict and a new villain.

What theme/message do you want readers to take away from this book?

Although my books tend toward speculative genres—fantasy for the Eighth Day series, ghosts for Eleanor, Alice, & the Roosevelt Ghosts, and science fiction for Jadie in Five Dimensions—my themes always seem to revolve around the same realistic one: families that rally together despite differences and estrangement. In The Carrefour Curse, I explore intergenerational trauma. The generations preceding Garnet have lived with the “curse” inflicted on them by an ancestor’s mistake, accepting dire consequences as unavoidable. Not so Garnet, who, along with her cousin Ash and others in her young, get-it-done generation, sets out to break the curse and make things right.

Diane has agreed to give away a signed copy of THE CARREFOUR CURSE to one lucky reader. To enter, leave a comment on this post and share it on your social media. A winner will be drawn at random from those entered and announced later this month.


DIANNE K. SALERNI is the author of eight YA and middle grade novels, including Junior Library Guild Selections Eleanor, Alice, & the Roosevelt Ghosts, Jadie in Five Dimensions, and The Carrefour Curse, as well as the state award nominated Eighth Day series. Dianne was a Pennsylvania public school teacher for 25 years before leaving the profession to spend time hanging around creepy cemeteries, attending ghost hunting classes, and climbing 2000 year-old pyramids in the name of book research. In her spare time, she volunteers at her local animal rescue shelter, walking dogs and serving the needs of the feline overlords.


Celebrate National Pi Day With…PIE!

Many of us can probably remember celebrating PI Day back when we were in school. That mathematical number for pi 3.14 that goes on forever is often honored by making pies. Since today is March 14…here are some facts about the day as well as some awesome deals that make PI Day something to celebrate.

Pi, also known by the Greek letter “π,” is a constant value used in math that represents the ratio of a circumference of a circle to its diameter, which is just about 3.14….15…9265359… (and so on). Not only that, but the fourteenth of March is also Albert Einstein’s birthday.  In 2009, US Congress declared Pi Day a National Holiday.

So, how did Pi Day end up in a country-wide phenomenon? Check out the history at:

Pi Day – March 14

Did you know there are special deals surrounding the holiday?

7-Eleven stores are serving up large pizzas for the magical price of $3.14 on National Pi Day. You can grab yours in-store through the loyalty program, in the 7-Eleven app, or via the 7NOW delivery app.

Boston Market
Grab yourself a Pot Pie for $3.14 at Boston Market on National Pi Day. That‘s a discount of more than 50% so it’s a good one for your bank account as well as your belly.

Check out more PI DAY deals using the National Day link above.

Here’s my recipe for an easy, tart, and refreshing KEY LIME PIE.

Take One Graham Cracker Crust. Set aside. graham crust

In a cold mixing bowl beat together at HIGH SPEED:

1 C of whipping cream (until stiff peaks form).  ADD:

The juice from 5 limes,


One can of Sweetened Condensed Milk. Beat until well-blended.

Pour into prepared crust. Freeze until set or overnight. I like the consistency of the frozen pie. Let is rest outside the freezer about 10-15 minutes before slicing. Sweet-tart heaven in a pie pan!



MIRROR TO MIRROR: Book Review and Interview With Newbury Honoree Rajani Larocca + A Chance to Win a Copy!

It was my thrill and privilege to read an ARC for author RAJANI LAROCCA’s newest middle grade novel in verse MIRROR TO MIRROR. Rajani won the Newbury Medal Honorable Mention for her previous verse novel RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE. In her new book, she explores the connection between identical twins, not only in the physical sense, but the emotional connections as well.

mirror cover

Here is my review of this amazing and timely book:

This lyrical novel in verse captures the pressure and anxiety of striving to be perfect in order to live up to the expectations of others. Raw and spare verse cuts to the heart of alternating voices of the twin sisters who despite their love and devotion to one another, grow further apart as they try to give each other space to shine.

This story will open up dialogue regarding mental health and the importance of speaking up and sharing feelings with someone so we don’t feel alone. Silence can often hurt and do more damage than words shared in love and understanding. Highly recommended.

I asked Rajani some questions about MIRROR TO MIRROR . Here is the interview.

I love the idea of twins telling the story in alternating voices. How did you settle on this format and the title for the book?

I knew this book would be dual POV from the very beginning. Dual POV is challenging to pull off, especially with identical twin characters, because it’s important to keep the characters’ voices distinct and make sure that each POV moves the story forward. In my first draft, I wrote Maya’s voice in verse and Chaya’s in prose, but I felt jarred going back and forth, and found myself writing chunks of the story at a time rather than alternating the voices as I wrote.

In revision, my editor suggested that I write both POV’s in poetry . . . and she was right. I still had to work hard to make the voices different from one another using the content and attitude in the poems, as well as structure, imagery, and word choice. The book starts with a couple of short paired poems, each titled “She’s the One,” where the twins express how they think about each other. These poems were drafted during that first revision, and I thought they vividly set the tone of the book and established the viewpoints of each twin.

The name of this book changed while I was revising! It was originally called Switch, but the story isn’t only about the twins switching places. Given the importance of mirrors in the book, my editor suggested Mirror to Mirror, and I thought that title worked really well.

How did you decide the time was right for a story like this?

It’s not easy to write about anxiety and mental health. But given the events of the past several years, anxiety is something that many people, including children, have had to contend with. As a doctor, I’ve seen my patients with anxiety and depression have worsening symptoms in recent years, and even some of my patients without a prior history of anxiety have developed it. And rates of anxiety and depression among young people have skyrocketed.

I wanted to explore anxiety and mental health in a poetic way. I wanted to show that people can struggle not only with symptoms, but also with telling others that they are struggling. I wanted to depict the helplessness that comes with seeing someone you love going through something difficult.

I love the emotional contrast between the girls and their parents, how each seems to take after one even though they begin the story doing everything together/the same. What kind of research/reflection did you have to do in order to make Maya and Chaya’s voices ring true?

Thank you! I did a lot of research for Mirror to Mirror. I interviewed several sets of identical twin sisters, and it was fascinating! Not only were they closer than other siblings, but some described each other as “soulmates.” They told me stories about eerie connections they had, and how no matter what else was going on in their lives, their bond was unshakable.

But there is room for misunderstanding even in the closest relationships. I tried to create a story where each twin thinks she’s doing something to help the other, but instead drives a wedge between them.

What do you want young readers to understand about these complex and often scary emotional experiences we all have and you so artfully portrayed in this story?

I hope that young readers understand that we all go through difficult times, even when we are surrounded by friends and family. I hope they learn that although we may sometimes struggle with anxiety and depression, we don’t have to deal with these feelings alone, and it’s important to share with those we love and trust, because only through sharing can we start to get help.

What is one of the ways this book can be used in the classroom?

I have some ideas for using poetry in a classroom:

  • Take someone you know well — a real person, or a character from a book or a movie — and write a poem about a secret or hidden side to that person
  • Write a poem about a secret or hidden side to yourself

I also hope educators can use the story to start a discussion about mental health and self-care.

Anything else we should know about MIRROR TO MIRROR?

Music plays a prominent role in many of my books, including this one. I used the titles of some real pieces of classical music in the story, and I also made up my own musical—and had a great time doing so.

Rajani has agreed to give a signed copy of her amazing new book to one lucky reader of this post chosen at random. To enter, leave a comment. USA only.

Rajani_LaRocca__Author 2Rajani LaRocca was born in India, raised in Kentucky, and now lives in the Boston area, where she practices medicine and writes award-winning books for young people, including Red, White, and Whole, which won a 2022 Newbery Honor, the Walter Dean Myers Award, Golden Kite Award, and New England Book Award. Her other books include: Midsummer’s Mayhem (2019), Seven Golden Rings (2020), Bracelets for Bina’s Brothers (2021), Much Ado About Baseball (2021), Where Three Oceans Meet (2021), My Little Golden Book About Kamala Harris (2021), The Secret Code Inside You (2021), I’ll Go and Come Back (2022), and more. She’s always been an omnivorous reader, and now she is an omnivorous writer of fiction and nonfiction, novels and picture books, prose and poetry. She finds inspiration in her family, her childhood, the natural world, math, science, and just about everywhere she looks. To connect with Rajani and learn more about her and her books visit her at and on Twitter and Instagram @rajanilarocca.

Book Giveaway: HIDDEN HOPE: How a Toy and a Hero Saved Lives During the Holocaust by Elisa Boxer

This sounds like such an exceptional book in the holocaust genre that I had to share it with my readers.

Writing and Illustrating

Elisa Boxer has written a new book, HIDDEN HOPE: How a Toy and a Hero Saved Lives During the Holocaust, illustrated by Amy June Bates and published by Abrams Books. It hits book shelves on March 14th. Abrams will send a copy to one lucky winner in the US.

All you have to do to get in the running is leave a comment. Reblog, tweet, or talk about it on Facebook with a link and you will get additional chances to win. Just let me know other things you do to share the good news, so I can put the right amount of tickets in my basket for you. Sharing on Facebook, Twitter or reblogging really helps spread the word for a new book. So, thanks for helping Chana and Susan.

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