Monday, January 28, 2013

'Kiwi in Cat City' and Writing for Kids by Vickie Johnstone

 Please extend a welcome to author Vickie Johnstone. For today's stop on the Raining Cats & Dogs book tour, she is here to tell us more about the book and writing for kids. Thanks for stopping by!
Kiwi in Cat City is a story for middle-grade readers, which I wrote in 2002. The heroine, a black cat called Kiwi, is based on a cat I used to have. I’ve always been a bit animal mad. As a kid, one of my best-est buddies was a black cat called Mitzi and we used to ‘chat’ a lot. Well, we did get her when I was about six! In my book, I made Kiwi magical and able to communicate with two children, Amy (aged 12) and James (aged 9), so fulfilling my dream from childhood!

After magically turning Amy and James into kittens, Kiwi takes them to visit her other home of Cat City – a world full of cats who talk, work, have parties, drive around in catcars and live like us. Kiwi introduces the kittens to her friend, Inspector Furrball, the head of the Cat Squad, and they help to investigate a catnapping. I grew up watching Top Cat and Scoobey-Doo, so I guess they were my inspiration!

Although I wrote Kiwi in Cat City in 2002, I didn’t show it to anyone except one publisher, who rejected it, and so I forgot about it. Around Christmas 2011, I discovered kindle self-publishing. Finally, the book was out there, waiting to be read and no longer trapped in a dusty drawer. I met a lot of writers online and, newly inspired, I wrote ten more books. The Kiwi Series has six books now and I hope to write more. The characters go on adventures different worlds, such as the UnderPaw beneath Cat City, the Land of Giant Mice, a haunted house, Father Christmas’ home, the watery Isle of the Serpent and back in time to Ancient Egypt. I love the characters in these books and writing them is like watching a cartoon rolling in my head – I just had to do all the voices myself!

What I love about writing for youngsters is the escapism and freedom of creating fantasy worlds, and throwing in some magic because we all love to believe in things that are out of this world – things that maybe could happen if you wish hard enough. I try to make the language simple to understand, without dumbing it down. Kids are intelligent after all, and learning new words is good. I think they see things that we don’t see. I try to create pictures and build up descriptions, but not too detailed. I try to create a movie with words.

Most of my characters are animals. As a child I loved to read books with creatures in them, like Fantastic Mr Fox and The Three Bears. Growing up, we had a kind of miniature zoo at home and I used to talk to all the animals. My dad bred budgies and I thought I could communicate with them by winking. In writing these Kiwi books, I’m remembering more things from my childhood and recalling all the things I thought were marvellous – talking animals, visiting new worlds, being able to turn into animals, using magic – and, of course, good has to win over evil, because nothing really bad can happen.

The children, Amy and James, are central characters. They’re both good-natured and curious. They like learning new things, discovering new places and meeting new characters – and they are open-minded, even when meeting an octopus or a tiny crab. They’re not judgemental, they don’t approve of bullying and they treat everyone equally. They’re also brave, intelligent and resourceful. On top of that, they love their cat, Kiwi, and treat her on the same level as a person. In the books, the animals have the same rights as humans and wish to be treated with respect.

I think that learning is important. We all learn things as we grow up, and often we learn through making mistakes. We learn what is good and what is bad, and we learn how to trust in ourselves – some characters in the books go through this experience. Good deeds are rewarded and bad ones are not.

I haven’t had many reviews from young readers, but I really treasure them. It’s wonderful to hear what they think. It almost feels like they’ve read the book with me or stepped into it, running with Kiwi and turning into a kitten to go on an adventure. Then I’m reminded of being nine again and escaping into a novel, tucked up in bed.

All in all, I love writing for children. Kids are savvy and open to new things. They are the new generation of discoverers, eager to embark on their own journeys. And some will grow up to write stories that remind them of their childhood dreams.

Kiwi in Cat City

Book blurb:

One dark night, Amy cannot sleep and she looks out of the window into the garden to see her cat, Kiwi, transfixed by the moon, which is glowing brightly like a cat's claw. Waking her brother, James, Amy suggests they follow Kiwi to see where she goes... whether it involves a hunt for mice or something else. Little do they know that, with a flick of her tail, Kiwi is going to magically change them into kittens and lead them on the adventure of their lives to a land they never knew existed in their wildest dreams. In the blue-lit world of Cat City, the budding detectives help Inspector Furrball to solve the mystery of the missing catizens and find out what happened to Madame Purrfect.

For children aged 9+, teens and adults. This book is the first in the Kiwi Series. So far, there are six books.

Buy links:  
Ebook price: $.99/77p

Paperback price: $7.50/£4.86

Author bio:

Vickie Johnstone lives in London, UK, where she works as a freelance sub-editor on magazines and an editor on indie books. She has a thing about fluffy cats and also loves reading, writing, films, the sea, rock music, art, nature, Milky Bar, Baileys and travelling.

Vickie has self-published the following books:

Kaleidoscope (poetry); Travelling Light(poetry); Life’s Rhythms (haiku); 3 Heads & a Tail (comedy); Kiwi in Cat City (magical cat series for middle grade readers); Kiwi and the Missing Magic; Kiwi and the Living Nightmare; Kiwi and the Serpent of the Isle; Kiwi in the Realm of Ra; Kiwi’s Christmas Tail; Day of the Living Pizza (comedy detective series for middle grade readers), and Dayof the Pesky Shadow. The Kiwi Series has illustrations by Nikki McBroom.

Author links:

Twitter: @vickiejohnstone 

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Friday, January 25, 2013

'Nate Rocks the Boat' Book Tour & Review


With fourth grade finally winding down, 10-year-old Nathan Rockledge is looking forward to a fun and relaxing summer at home with his friends. That is, until his mom decides he has to go to overnight camp with his annoying older sister.  When his best friend Tommy decides to tag along, Nathan thinks maybe his summer won’t actually be so bad. After all, he does get to be away from his mom's awful cooking for an entire six weeks.

Amongst Color War competitions, a flaky counselor, and a bully named "No-Neck,” Nathan turns to his trusty sketchpad, transforming himself into Nate Rocks: 10-year-old extraordinaire. His speedboat ready for action, Nate saves the day time and again from the perils of floods, snakes, ghosts, and even the most wanted criminals.

Join Nathan, Tommy, Abby, and a whole new cast of characters as Nate Rocks once again proves nothing can hold him back in this second book of the Nate Rocks series.

**My Thoughts**

This is my second book by author Karen Pokras Toz and my first book about Nate Rocks. It is apparently the second book in the series, but can definitely be read as a stand-alone book.

Nate seems to be like a typical 10 year-old boy, only he has the most overactive imagination I have seen in a long time. His world often blends between reality and fantasy as he daydreams about being a superhero. As he is daydreaming, he tends to doodle in the margins of whatever paper he has on hand. Only on occasion, those fantastic daydreams about being a hero and saving someone, actually end up being true!

Nate is stuck going to camp for the summer, but is lucky to have his best friend with him. The boys get up to the usual camp shenanigans and end up having a better time than they ever thought they would.

Nate Rocks is a fun read even for kids younger than 10. I have the other book in the series and look forward to reading more!

Buy links: Paperback \ Kindle 


Karen Pokras Toz is a writer, wife and mom. Karen grew up in Connecticut and currently lives outside of Philadelphia with her husband and three children. In June 2011, Karen published her first middle grade children’s novel for 7-12 year olds called Nate Rocks the World, which won First Place for Children’s Chapter Books and the Grand Prize Overall in the 2012 Purple Dragonfly Book Awards, as well as placing first for a Global E-Book Award for Pre-Teen Literature. In 2012, Karen published the second in the Nate Rocks series, Nate Rocks the Boat, followed by middle grade novel, Millicent Marie Is Not My Name. Karen is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI).


Giveaway: You can win a $20 gift card and this stuffed bag, simply by entering the Rafflecopter below!

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Sunday, January 20, 2013

'Mystery at Lake Placid (Screech Owls)' by Roy MacGregor



Olympic-sized trouble awaits the Screech Owls at Lake Placid!

Travis Lindsay, his best friend, Nish, and all their pals on the Screech Owls hockey team are on their way to New York for an international peewee tournament. As the team makes its way to Lake Placid, excitement builds with the prospect of playing on an Olympic rink, in a huge arena, scouts in the stands!

But barely have they arrived when things start to go wrong. Their star center, Sarah, plays badly. Travis gets knocked down in the street. And someone starts tampering with the equipment. Who is trying to sabotage the Screech Owls? And can Travis and the others stop the destruction before the final game? 

Advance Praise

“I read Roy MacGregor books when I was a kid and recommend them highly. His newest creation, the Screech Owls, will certainly become a must-read for any young hockey fan.” – Taylor Hall

“The Screech Owls are great reading for the hockey players in your family.” – Wayne Gretzky 
**My thoughts**
This book is the first in the Screech Owls series, being rereleased on February 12, 2013. It is the perfect read for fans of hockey, young and old.  The action described during each game makes you feel like you are actually in the stands watching. The touch of mystery adds some intrigue to the action!
The Screech Owls are a peewee Canadian team, who visit the legendary ice rink at Lake Placid for an international tournament. The beginning of the book goes through a lengthy description of all of the characters, in the form of a team roster description of each player. One of the things that I love is that their star player is a girl named Sarah!
The story is told from the point-of-view of Travis, who is an excellent player in his own right. He also seems to be the most "normal" of all the other boys on the team. He is passionate about the game and dedicated to his team.
Someone is messing with them, sabotaging the Screech Owls during the tournament. The team takes it upon themselves to discover who the culprit actually is. You will have several suspects along the way, but may be surprised to find out the truth!
Another great part of this book is the message imparted to the players by their coach. "Hockey is full of mistakes." Also, "Screech Owls are allowed one mistake." You may make a mistake. Own up to it and you can be given another chance.
I look forward to checking out the rest of this series!


Publisher's Website

Publisher's Blog




I received an eARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

'Kid in Chief' by Paul Maguire


When third-grader Bobby Barton visits Washington, D.C. on a class trip, he doesn't know he will walk away with a chance to become the leader of our nation. It's on that trip that Bobby finds a missing part of the United States Constitution telling him how he could become President! Soon after making this discovery, Bobby moves into the White House as the youngest American President in history. With his friends Maria Cagney (Bobby's Vice-President) and Kevin Sawyer (his Chief of Staff), Bobby is faced with many important decisions, confusing situations, and exciting adventures. Bobby quickly finds out that being President is a very tough job. Join him as he and his friends learn all about how the government works, having loads of fun along the way!

Purchase on Amazon: 

Find out more about author Paul Maguire and his books at

Read Paul Maguire's blog at

Saturday, January 12, 2013

'Millicent Marie Is Not My Name' Book Review & Tour

Twelve-year-old Millicent Marie does not like her name. After all, she was named for a woman who died more than fifty years ago and was not the most loveable member of the Harris family. Her friends call her Millie, but when she writes in her diary she refers to herself as Amanda – the name she always wished she had.

When Millie’s younger brother finds her diary on her computer, he decides to publish it as a blog for the entire world to see, including the boy Millie has a crush on. In the midst of all the mayhem, Millie/Amanda discovers she is suddenly Springside Elementary’s most sought after sixth-grade mystery gossip and advice columnist.

But not all is fun and games, as Millie quickly learns, once she realizes feelings are at stake. Nobody, least of all Millie, expects things to turn out as they do in this tale of friendship and respect.

Read an excerpt:
Carrying the grocery bags in from the garage is one of my least favorite jobs. My mother seems to have this irrational fear that we will some day run out of food and other necessities. So whenever anything goes on sale, she feels as if she has to buy the entire available stock – just in case. Our basement looks like some sort of doomsday shelter with its rows and rows of shelves overflowing with paper towels, bags of pretzels, and canned soup. At least I know I will never go hungry.

“Where’s Doogle?” I ask Mom. Why does it seem like my little brother always disappears when there are chores to do?

Douglas is at a friend’s house.”

My mom hates it when I call my brother Doogle. I can’t help it. That has been his name since the first day my parents brought him home from the hospital. I was two and a half years old. In two and a half year old speak, Douglas equaled “Doogle.” Ten years later, it still seems to fit him. At least Douglas isn’t as bad as Millicent Marie.
The bag of groceries I lift feels like a load of bricks: ten supersized bottles of liquid soap. Well, at least we’ll all be clean.

Doogle and I used to get along great. We’d ride our bikes together, play video games against each other, and even make up pranks to pull on Mom and Dad. That was before he turned ten. Now he’s just a royal pest. He wouldn’t be so bad if he would just stay out of my stuff. I’m constantly catching him in my room, and when I ask him what he’s up to he always has an excuse. “Mom sent me up here to get blah blah blah.” Doubt it. I wish I had a lock on my door. After all, I am twelve. A girl needs her privacy you know.
“So Millicent Marie, what’s this I hear about you not trying out for the soccer team this year?” Mom asks.

“How did you know that?”

“I ran into Mrs. Tiller at the grocery store. She said she was talking to Mrs. Nelson who had heard it from Mr. Siegel who was talking with Coach Darden just a few days ago.”

“The gossip mill at its finest,” I mumble.

“What’s that?” Mom asks.

“Nothing. I was thinking of joining the Drama Club instead. They’re doing a musical mishmash of fairy tales and classics called Romeo and Cinderella.

“That’s ... different. But I hate to break it you, your singing voice is not the best – and I’m not sure your acting is much better for that matter.”

Sigh. Gotta love Mom, always so supportive. “I want to be on the stage crew. You know, help with set design and other backstage stuff.”

“But soccer’s your thing. You’ve been playing since you were five years old.”

Soccer was my thing, but honestly, after the experience I had at the soccer clinic last week, I had no desire to hang out with any of those girls anymore. It all started when Haylee Tyler, the girl who has for some unknown reason hated me for years, started a rumor about me liking Dan Holt, which was so not true. Now, Jordan Cowell, he’s another story. Jordan is tall and cute and funny and in the Drama Club. Anyway, back to Haylee. So she told everyone on the soccer team that I liked Dan, who by the way, is the geekiest kid in the entire school. So what if I ate lunch with him the other day? To be honest, I felt bad for him. Everyone else is so mean to him all the time. It isn’t his fault he has bad skin and enjoys a good math problem. Besides, we’ve been friends since kindergarten. He’s a nice kid once you get past the dorkdom. Anyway, Natalie - she’s my best friend - wasn’t in school, so I decided to sit with Dan. What’s the big deal?

Well apparently Haylee and her sidekicks thought it was funny enough to write “geek lover” in lip-gloss all over my locker. I wound up missing half the clinic cleaning it up. This was not the first time, either. For whatever reason, Haylee Tyler takes great pleasure out of making my life miserable. Normally, I’m able to just brush it off, but this year Haylee announced she was joining the soccer team. My soccer team. Rumor has it that Coach Darden had been trying to get her to play for years. I hate to admit it, but she’s pretty good. Much better than me, and I’ve been playing forever. I’ve heard she’s even up for team captain. Still, it doesn’t mean she gets to treat me that way.
“Well, I was thinking I would try something new. Besides, Doogle gets to try different activities, why can’t I?”

“Okay, Millicent Marie, I suppose you’re right. It’s good to try different things. Can you do me a favor and put Sparkles’ food in the basement? My back is really acting up today.”


“Thanks, Millicent Marie,” Mom says, walking back into the house.

Sure, I’ll grab the fifty-pound bag of dog food that our tiny eight pound dog-wanna-be will never even eat because we already have ten other bags of it in the basement. Yup, five hundred and fifty pounds of dog food for one scrawny, little mutt named Sparkles. Doogle named him. Welcome to my family.

**My thoughts**

I loved this book! I feel like there is a new trend of kids in late elementary/middle school putting up blogs and keeping journals. I mean, you have Wimpy Kid and the Blogtastic series, which I have reviewed and read before. Those series have been fun for me to read. I think I liked this book better, though.

Millie is funny in her observations of her family and the world around her. Her mother has watched too many episodes of Extreme Couponing. Her brother is your usual pain in the butt. Her best friend makes me cringe during her exaltations, but feel grateful for her devotion. I found myself laughing out loud throughout the book.

Millie has an air of intelligence and realism about her that I felt was missing from those other series. She could have been me at that age, or any of my friends. Thank God my little sister never found any of my diaries and that the Internet didn't exist when I was that age!

I feel like many readers will understand Millie's desire to take on a new persona as she is trying to feel more like she fits in at her school. Few people are truly comfortable in their skin as they enter those awkward tween years. Friendships and relationships are changing. Life is confusing and complicated. Sometimes you need someone you can talk to, and parents are not always the easiest option. That's what makes "Amanda" such a good friend to one particular reader. 

Kids at that age are also notoriously gossipy and are quick to point out the faults of others. This seems to carry on through at least high school, if not beyond. Millie learns an important lesson about how gossiping is just as bad as "telling the truth" all of the time. If it is hurtful, it shouldn't necessarily be shared.

I would love to see more books about Millicent Marie!

Buy links: Amazon | Kindle

Karen Pokras Toz is a writer, wife and mom. Karen grew up in Connecticut and currently lives outside of Philadelphia with her husband and three children. In June 2011, Karen published her first middle grade children’s novel for 7-12 year olds called Nate Rocks the World, which won First Place for Children’s Chapter Books and the Grand Prize Overall in the 2012 Purple Dragonfly Book Awards, as well as placing first for a Global E-Book Award for Pre-Teen Literature. In 2012, Karen published the second in the Nate Rocks series, Nate Rocks the Boat, followed by middle grade novel, Millicent Marie Is Not My Name. Karen is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI).


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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

'The Dare Club: Nita' Book Review Tour

The Dare Club: Nita
by Laurie Bradach & Kim “Howard” Johnson



Nita Congroy has relocated to the most boring town on the planet. That is, until would-be boyfriend Brad Keeley spills the beans about a secret group of girls known as The Dare Club. During her subterranean initiation below the high school, Nita overhears a plan by contractors and school officials to embezzle millions of dollars in grant money. When she is betrayed, The Dare Club's pranks become deadly serious.

With the clock ticking, Nita will need the help of her new friends to expose the chilling plot--and hopefully survive long enough to snag a date to the Homecoming Dance.


Read an excerpt:
At least a dozen of the most popular, meanest students on campus were now spinning manically, twisting and turning, swiping at stains that just kept getting bigger. More students had rushed to their aid, and now those do-gooders were frantically trying to rid themselves of the mysterious goo that seemed to be everywhere. One brave soul put hand to mouth, and a cry went up that the substance was chocolate.

Runny, melted chocolate was extruding everywhere.

The students began to examine their chairs. The dark wood seats had perfectly camouflaged the squishy chocolate bars that had been placed on them. The chairs could be wiped off, the clothing would come clean again, but Lauren Wells might never recover from the humiliation.

Lauren needs her diaper changed!” someone shouted. “It’s already on YouTube!”

Epic,” Nita whispered under her breath.

It took several minutes for order to be restored. Mr. Withers excused all of the candy-coated students, while the rest of the class—Nita included—were instructed to remain in their seats.

Mr. Withers began walking up and down each aisle, dabbing at the stains on his shirt, making them larger and more noticeable. “There will be an investigation into this matter,” he said. “And when I find out who is responsible…”

He had just started up Nita’s aisle when the bell rang. The raven-haired girl literally sprang from her seat. As she did, a candy bar bounced from her purse and landed right in Mr. Withers path. Nita heard the sharp intake of breath, and saw the girl’s panicked look. Mr. Withers saw it too, and began weaving up the aisle through a cluster of departing students. For a moment he was buried in the crowd. In that instant, Nita scooped up the candy bar and stuck it in her own backpack.

Then Mr. Withers was there.

His eyes narrowed. “Did I just see what I think I saw?”

**My thoughts**

First, I would like to mention that this book is definitely for the middle grade end of the spectrum that I cover on this blog. It also falls into the young adult category, but mature elementary and middle school-aged kids will love this.

I adored this book!

So, what would you do to fit in at your new school? Nita has a strong and fearless personality that quickly allows her access to the secret Dare Club. Both her personality and her involvement with the club quickly get her into trouble with other kids at the school. Things quickly go south when a seemingly harmless dare quickly uncovers a dangerous plot at the school. She becomes implicated in the crime and can't figure out whom she can trust.

I felt that the writing was strong. Characters were well developed. Enough action and suspense kept the plot rolling along, complete with twists and turns. I have always loved stories about kids getting involved in mysteries. I loved getting to know Nita and the other girls and can't wait to read more in the series!  


Buy link: Paperback | Kindle 


AUTHOR Bio and Links:

Kim “Howard” Johnson has written comic books for Marvel, DC, and Event Comics. He is a director of improvisational comedy, an actor, and is rumored to hang around with the Monty Python gang. Howard’s other books include Monty Python’s Tunisian Holiday and The Funniest One in the Room.

Laurie Bradach has nearly escaped the world of comics. Currently, she devotes her time to writing action-adventure stories without the use of word balloons. She is active in her local Romance Writers of America chapter, Heart and Scroll, and is a founding member of Random Moon Books. Laurie is also the author of A Good Draw, a romantic suspense novel.

Howard and Laurie are delighted to have written their first book together without killing each other. Be sure to look for the second book in the series, The Dare Club: Lindy.

Laurie and Kim will be awarding a $20 Amazon Gift Card to a randomly drawn commenter during the tour. Follow the tour for more chances to win!