Round-up of the Goodreads Reading Challenge 2020!

At the beginning of the year I had planned to read around 50 books (keeping in mind my work schedules and timelines). However, as a result of the pandemic and work from home situation, I was able to increase this number up to 74!

As per the Goodreads stats, the longest book I read was Midnight Sun by Stephanie Meyer (671 pages), Edwards take on the events that occur in Twilight.

The shortest book read, with just 24 pages was a delightful children’s book titled Dinosaur Adventure: A Field Trip to Remember (Let’s Learn While Playing #2) by Kelly Santana-Banks

It also turns out that my average rating is 3.5 stars!

I love how Goodreads has summarized the books and my year. Check out my list here.

MY 2020 BOOKS
The Tower Lord by Anthony RyanA Heart So Fierce and Broken by Brigid KemmererShadow Trials by Isla FrostFirstborn Academy by Isla FrostFirstborn Academy by Isla Frost
The Selection by Kiera CassThe One by Kiera CassThe Elite by Kiera CassHouse of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. MaasTwo Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus
Inebriated by Katey TaylorLegendary by Stephanie GarberDragon Connection by Ava RichardsonFinale by Stephanie GarberSunrise on Half Moon Bay by Robyn Carr
The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten WhiteQueen of Corvids by J.C. McKenzieRescuing Lord Inglewood by Sally BrittonPrejudice Meets Pride by Rachael AndersonA History of Hexing by Evie Wilde
Keep Forever by Alexa KingaardThe School for Good and Evil by Soman ChainaniThe Girl in the Corner by Amanda ProwseA Torch Against the Night by Sabaa TahirAn Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa TahirAsh Princess by Laura SebastianLady Smoke by Laura SebastianEmber Queen by Laura SebastianWrong Place, Right Time by E.B. Roshan
Summer at Hope Haven by Kristin HarperLucy's Last Chance by Elle SweetMidnight Sun by Stephenie MeyerWho Threw Draco Down the Chimney? by Smita BhattacharyaThe Damned by Renée Ahdieh
The Beautiful by Renée AhdiehThe Guilty Die Twice by Don HartshornThorne Bay by Jeanine CroftProject Hackathon by Arushi AggarwalTwo Murders Too Many by Bluette Matthey
Return to Virgin River by Robyn CarrThe Pigeon Whisperer by Motaz H MatarHinterland by L.M. BrownThe Tech by Mark RavineDinosaur Adventure by Kelly Santana-Banks
Aunt Ivy's Cottage by Kristin HarperPrism by Nina WalkerThe Pageant by Leigh WalkerThe Gala by Leigh WalkerFracture by Nina Walker
The Finale by Leigh Walker337 by M. Jonathan LeeTen Days with a Duke by Erica RidleyThe Guardians of the Halahala by Shatrujeet NathRed Queen by Victoria Aveyard
Winter of the Wolf by Martha Hunt HandlerBeyond Belief by Ronald CrouchThe Eye of Ra by Ben GartnerSol Invictus by Ben GartnerThe Case of the Smuggler’s Curse by F.S. Dawson
Murder at the Lakeside Library by Holly DanversThe Violinist of Auschwitz by Ellie MidwoodNever Say No by Elizabeth NeepA ​Sky Beyond the Storm by Sabaa Tahir58 Farm End by Natasha Murray
Across the Lake by Nancy LiPetriWedding Bells on Victory Street by Pam HowesForever Your Duke by Erica RidleyChronicles of a Spell Caster by J.J. SingletonSummer of L.U.C.K. by Laura Segal Stegman
Midnight Train to Prague by Carol WindleyThe Lost Village by Daniela SacerdotiAlessia in Atlantis: The Forbidden VialMurder in the Snow (A Lady Eleanor Swift Mystery #4)

Do share your thoughts on the books I’ve read and don’t hesitate to leave recommendations for books to read in 2021!

Book Review – Alessia in Atlantis: The Forbidden Vial by Nathalie Laine

About the Book:

A fantasy adventure perfect for fans of Keeper of the Lost Cities and His Dark Materials

It’s not unusual for twelve-year-old Alessia to lose control of her emotions and create a scene at school. It is unusual for her to be attacked by a giant frog monster and plunged into the underwater realm of Atlantis in an overturned boat.

On arriving in Atlantis, she learns that her long-lost father may have been from there. Determined to investigate, she stays and enrolls in Atlantide school: The Octopus’s Garden.

But uncovering the truth is not easy when the tyrannical Atlantide Emperor forbids asking about missing people. With the help of her newfound school friends, Alessia will have to steal evidence from a grumpy teacher, escape from rebel merfolk and make rhymes with menacing blue people of Minch to discover the key to her past.

Meanwhile, someone knows exactly who she’s the daughter of, and is ready to kill her for it.

My Thoughts:

I was approved a copy of this book via NetGalley.

I am so grateful to have gotten the chance to read this book! Alessia in Atlantis is a wonderfully written middle grade fantasy fiction that takes the reader into the depths of Atlantis. We are introduced to Alessia, a twelve year old who doesn’t seem to always have control over her emotions and who finds it difficult to make friends. When she hears a sirens call (quite unusual for humans) and ends up in Atlantis, she makes the decision to stay in hopes of finding out more about her father.

I loved reading about the lost city and the creatures who inhabit it. The author has done a wonderful job with the descriptions and paints a lovely picture. The characters in the book are fun to read about and I love how Alessia’s friends move in to help her in her search. As the story progresses, the reader is taken on a journey through Atlantis as secrets are revealed and all is not as it seems!

The book is gripping and absolutely worth the read. This book though aimed at middle grades, is a wonderful read even for adults! I do hope to read more by the author about Alessia’s adventures.

Round-up 2020 – Books with a lasting impact!

Hey guys!

As you might have observed, I have been doing round-up posts with a focus on genres read this year.

However, in this post, I wanted to focus on books that left an impact on me that lasted well after finishing the book. This year, I discovered a lot of new books spread across various genres, but a few were just amazing! These books gave me something to think about, brought out a lot of emotions or just sent me on a wonderful adventure filled with fun and learning!

Click on the book image to read my review of the book

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Historical Fiction

The Violinist of Auschwitz The Lost Village

Fantasy Fiction

A Heart So Fierce and Broken (The Cursebreaker Series) Finale (Caraval, #3) A ​Sky Beyond the Storm (An Ember in the Ashes, #4)

Middle Grade Fiction

 Sol Invictus (The Eye of Ra, #2)

General/Contemporary Fiction

337

 

Do share your thoughts in case you have read the above books. If you have recommendations for such reads, please leave a comment so that I can add the book to my ever growing TBR pile!

Book Review: Summer of L.U.C.K. by Laura Segal Stegman

I was provided with a copy of the book by the author in exchange for an honest review. Read on to know more about the books and my thoughts.

Summer of L.U.C.K.

 

Summer of L.U.C.K., a magical middle grade fantasy novel for ages 8 to 12 by Laura Segal Stegman, was released by INtense Publications on September 15, 2020, and will be followed by a sequel in 2021. Stegman is a Los Angeles-based arts publicist and author. Summer of L.U.C.K. is her debut, and it is available wherever books are sold.

THE STORY

Summer of L.U.C.K. is about three kids finding their way to self-acceptance with the help of a ghost who haunts a magical carnival.

View Book Trailer on YouTube HERE

Stuttering Darby is never perfect enough for her mother. Justin’s been silent since his dad died. Naz is struggling to learn English. But after they meet at summer camp, mysterious calliope music from an abandoned warehouse grants them power to communicate without words. When they sneak inside, the dark, empty space bursts into a magical carnival. They’re greeted by the ghost of Leroy Usher, who asks for their help convincing his family to restore the carnival to its former glory. In return, he promises to teach the kids how to find their voices.

As Darby, Justin, and Naz are swept off on a series of midnight adventures via Mr. Usher’s carnival rides, they discover they’re capable of more than they ever imagined. With each challenge, their confidence in communicating – and in themselves – grows. Meanwhile, they scheme to persuade the Usher family to revive the carnival. But when Darby’s bunkmates trick her into starring in the camp talent show, her budding confidence falters. Can she risk being less than perfect by performing in the show and speaking up to Mr. Usher’s resistant son? If not, she’ll put the carnival in danger and sabotage her most important quest: to believe in herself, stutter and all.

CONTACT:

INtense Publications
Laura Segal Stegman
Twitter: @LauraStegman
Instagram: @laura_stegman
Facebook: LauraSegalStegmanAuthor

My Thoughts:

Summer of L.U.C.K. is a wonderful story that focuses on three children and their problems. Darby speaks with a stutter and has a low self-esteem. Naz moves to America from Morocco and is trying to learn to speak English and mingle with children his age while dealing with missing his father. Justin is dealing with the loss of his father and his inability to voice his feelings or talk about his situation.

The three of them meet at summer camp, brought together by mysterious music that only the three of them seem to hear. On investigating, they end up at the adjoining property which used to be a carnival. The author brings to us a mix of magic and delight in this book as the children meet with the ghost of Mr. Leroy Usher, the owner of the carnival. Spurred into trying to save him and reunite him with his wife, the children are forced to confront their problems and try to come out of them, try to move forward and grow.

This is a story with a strong message which is woven very well into the story. The focus is on self-discovery and healing as well as forging friendships and creating bonds. A story of learning, the author brings to us a delightful set of characters who overcome their fears and inhibitions to help a whole lot of people including themselves! The story also pushes the reader to imagine a world of magic and all possibilities as anything can happen if you just believe.

This book is a great read not just for children, but for adults too! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and I hope everyone else does too!

Round-up of 2020: Middle Grade and Children’s Fiction books!

Having read a whole lot of books this year, I have decided to do a sum up of the different genres and list my favourite books among those read in 2020! These posts will help me with the final round-up of favourite books read in 2020 at the end of the year (in another 15 days! :D)

                          —————————————————————————————————–

In this post, I am summarizing the list of middle grade fiction and children’s books that I read and enjoyed this year! They are not listed in any particular order and I truly enjoyed all of them.

Reading all these books took me back to my childhood and growing up with Enid Blyton’s novels! It’s wonderful to see how many authors have come out with such wonderful stories and even as an adult, I am glad that I have had the chance to enjoy these books!

The Eye of Ra by Ben Gartner

Sol Invictus (The Eye of Ra #2) by Ben Gartner

The Case of the Smuggler’s Curse by F.S. Dawson

Beyond Belief: The Adventure Begins by Ron Crouch

Dinosaur Adventure: A Field Trip to Remember by Kelly Santana-Banks

Project Hackathon (Coding Supergirls Book 1) by Arushi Aggarwal

Don’t hesitate to share your thoughts or book recommendations in this Genre!

In Conversation with author Ben Gartner!

It is my pleasure to host author Ben Gartner on the blog.

His middle grade fiction books have been doing the rounds and I have had the privilege to read and review them on the blog! They are quirky, fun and full of historical adventures that speak to imaginative minds!

Read on to know more about Ben and to connect further with him!

What prompted you to start writing?

Like many writers out there, I’ve been living in the world of my imagination since I was a kid. I’ve always loved to read—anything I can get my hands on, pretty much. I’ve often said the day I stop learning is the day I die, and I think we can learn a lot from both fiction and nonfiction. I think that is why, in my writing, I tend to meld the two. Fantasy, science fiction, but with some historical trivia that makes it interesting to learn.

How did the book “The Eye of Ra” happen?

This is a fun story. J I had been working on an adult thriller at the time. Around the dinner table, my kids kept asking me about it and, well, it wasn’t exactly suitable for them. I mean, I could discuss the overall process and such, but not the nitty gritty plot details and the more fun stuff like that. So we decided to work on a new story together! They helped outline and brainstorm and sketch out the characters, their motivations and quirks, and the overall storyline. Then I went and wrote out a draft, all while discussing challenges over dinner. They were great sounding boards. I could run an idea by them and tell immediately if it hit or not. They do NOT pull the punches! Which is exactly what I need, their absolute candor. So it started as a fun “side” project, but then in writing it, I realized… well, I think that dovetails into your next question. 😉

Why did you choose to write middle grade fiction?

How it started: As a fun bonding activity with my sons.

How it’s going: The more I got into the middle grade niche, I realized I really have a passion for this age group and this time in our lives. Not only for my own personal reasons, but also for scientific ones. I love neuroscience and to think about thinking, and the middle grade time period is one of immense growth in the brain. In fact, I wrote another blog post about that here: https://mgbookvillage.org/2020/03/25/why-mg-books-and-the-authors-that-write-them-are-so-important-by-ben-gartner/

But mostly, because it’s FUN (more on that later).

Why did you choose to base the books on historical events/settings?

I really enjoy the nooks and crannies of any subject. The ones that make you go “huh!” And our own human story (history) is full of those, so there is plenty of material that spurs ideas. In looking at the archaeological record left by those who came before us, we can find a lot of commonalities, a lot of intriguing differences, and—most importantly for a writer—a lot of mystery. Holes. Gaps in our understanding where we can only make speculative, educated guesses. Those gaps give birth to story.

What inspired the book titles?

Well, as you read them you will see there is a running theme around the sun. Not only because it is a source of reverence throughout different cultures and eras, but also because it is a powerful force! Ra was the ancient Egyptian sun god (book 1 title being The Eye of Ra). And Sol Invictus translates to the “Unconquered Sun,” which was the Roman god of the sun (John and Sarah travel to an ancient Roman frontier town in modern-day Switzerland called Aventicum). Book 3 will carry on this tradition when John and Sarah travel back to the time of the ancient Mexica people (now commonly referred to as the Aztec). I have a working title for book 3 too, but I’m going to save that for now. 😉

How much research went into the writing of the two books?

The setting for both is quite different and in different time frames.

Lots! Fortunately, I love research rabbit holes. I am a proud researcher, Word Nerd, and lover of etymology. The research often gives rise to the core story itself, but also fleshes out the time and place and characters with idiosyncratic details of that era. So, while I do take artistic liberties, I also try to make the details realistic. The clothes, the culture, the games, the daily life—I try to make those as authentic as possible and even enlist experts in the field to verify my writing. (There is one tiny inaccuracy in The Eye of Ra. Email me if you find it and I’ll give you a bonus prize!)

How much does your day-to-day life inspire your characters?

It is important to note that I have two boys, who are now thirteen and ten. They were eleven and nine when I started this process. In some important ways, I wrote these characters so that they would be relatable to them (they did help create them, after all!). In other equally important ways, I did NOT want these characters to be mirror copies of my own children. I’d say that both John and Sarah share some attributes from both of my children, but myself as well, and others I’ve met. They are definitely fabrications of their own. But the more I write and think about them, the more realistic they become to me. I can easily imagine having them over to sit at a dinner with us.

What do you like best about writing a story?

The immersion of imagination. Time skips by faster when I’m writing than any other thing because I become so engrossed in the world and the plot. I am the creator and it is a powerful feeling. Mwahahahaha! Plus, I love a good turn of phrase. Words are powerful.

What kind of impact do your stories have on you?

This is a great blog question, and one I’ve never been asked before. Nice one. I’ve done a lot of therapeutic writing over the years. Journals, stories that I knew would never be shown to another person, that sort of thing. For me, I love to think (often, over-think, but that’s a different topic), and writing is a very helpful way for me to process my own feelings and thoughts, whether they be emotional or more concrete. So, I’d say that my stories and I have a symbiotic relationship. We both need and feed from the other.

Finally, what message do you want to share with us readers?

I hope that reading is FUN for you. That doesn’t mean it can’t cover difficult topics. That doesn’t mean escapism is bad. But if you are enjoying a book, that is the best. And if you’re not having fun with it, then you should probably pick something else. My sincere wish is that you have FUN with John and Sarah on their adventures through time.

And I love to hear from my readers, so don’t be shy about contacting me at ben@bengartner.com!

My website is https://BenGartner.com.

I’m active on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BGartnerWriting.

I post occasionally on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/BGartnerWriting and even less so on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/BenGartnerAuthor.

Don’t forget that book two, SOL INVICTUS comes out on Groundhog Day, 2.2.21!

Or you can pre-order now from your local bookseller here: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781734155235 or from everywhere else like Amazon and Barnes & Noble here: https://books2read.com/sol-invictus-ben-gartner

And thank you so much for having me, Namrata! Always fun to talk shop. Happy reading!

Book Review: The Case of the Smuggler’s Curse by F.S. Dawson

The Case of the Smuggler’s Curse (The After School Detective Club Book 1)

My Thoughts:

This book, written for children by author Mark Dawson under a pseudonym, is a fast-paced fun read! The story focuses on 4 children and a dog who initially don’t know each other very well, but form a special bond eventually. The children are inquisitive and get caught up in solving a mystery. This book reminds me of Enid Blyton’s Mystery series, but where the children have access to modern amenities and gadgets! A well-written book, this is definitely a series that children will enjoy reading!

Book Review: Sol Invictus (The Eye of Ra #2) by Ben Gartner

I was provided with an eARC by the author in exchange for an honest review.

About the Book:

Sol Invictus (The Eye of Ra, #2)

Siblings John and Sarah barely made it home last time, but in their next time traveling adventure the challenge really heats up. Surrounded by clashing cultures on the ancient Roman frontier, they must fulfill their quest to unite the emperor with his enemy, an Alemanni barbarian, or risk being stuck in time forever.

An action-packed fantasy full of sword fights, chariot chases, fearsome wild animals, and high mountain survival. For graduates of the Magic Tree House looking for a thrilling middle grade page-turner, read Sol Invictus, book two of The Eye of Ra series!

My Thoughts:

Oh my my my, this book takes the reader into the heart of ancient Rome! The second book in The Eye of Ra series, follows the siblings, Sarah and John, as they get pulled into a new adventure this time starting at the Museum! This time though, they go into it knowingly, having been told that the fate of the world rests on them. They are told that they are on a quest to unite the emperor with one of his enemies.

The story is action-packed with a lot of fights, chases and hiking! Once again we have a reference to the Sun God, but as perceived in the eyes of the Romans. I thoroughly enjoyed this story and I think that it was even better than the first book. The story is a delight and once again the reader is treated to some historical facts mixed in with some sections where the author has taken creative liberty! There is another delightful recipe at the end, something that John, ‘the Little Chef’ learns during his adventure. The author makes certain references to Book 1 which helps remind the reader of some happenings or experiences from it. However, this book can also be read as a stand alone!

One part of the story that stood out to me was the bond between the siblings. Sarah is struggling for some amount of independence and does not want to have her younger brother trailing her all the time. However, when thrown into adverse situations or faced with a reality where she is separated from him, she starts to appreciate John more. This is wonderful to read about as the siblings rediscover their bond and learn to trust one another again while making new friends in ancient Rome and fighting off the enemy.

This series so far is filled with adventure, mystery and a lot of learning! The author leaves quite a bit to the imagination and through the books encourages us all to indulge in the impossible and enjoy ourselves! And finally, there is a hint that there is more where these books came from, more adventures for Sarah, John and all of us readers, children and adults alike!

Book Review: The Eye of Ra by Ben Gartner

About the Book:

The Eye of Ra (The Eye of Ra, #1)

 

Exploring a mysterious cave in the mountains behind their house, John and his sister Sarah are shocked to discover they’ve time traveled to ancient Egypt!

Now they must work together to find a way back home from an ancient civilization of golden desert sand and a towering new pyramid, without parents to save them. The adventures abound—cobras, scorpions, a tomb robber, and more! The two kids have to trust each other, make friends who can help, and survive the challenges thrown at them . . . or be stuck in ancient Egypt forever.

For readers graduating from the Magic Treehouse series and ready for intense action, dive into this middle grade novel rich with meticulous historical detail.

 

 

My Thoughts:

The Eye of Ra is a fun-filled adventure that will take the readers into Ancient Egypt through a mysterious cave. The story is well-written and the characters are realistic and inquisitive. I thoroughly enjoyed this story as it took me back to the days when I would read Enid Blyton’s adventure series.

The author keeps the story light while giving us a glimpse into Ancient Egypt and the way of life, a history lesson without being obvious and preaching. This first book in the series introduces us to some wonderful kids and their thoughts related to friendship and family. As the story progresses, through shared experiences and support, they find their way back to the present day, having learnt a great deal out of the experience!

I highly recommend this book for everyone, no matter their age, as everyone has a child waiting to explore and let their imagination run loose!

Look out for Book 2, SOL INVICTUS, which will release in February 2021!

In Conversation with Ronald Crouch

I have the pleasure of hosting author Ronald Crouch on the blog. I recently read his first book, a middle grade adventure book titled Beyond Belief: The Adventure Begins.

The book truly is the beginning of an adventure for people of all ages and has an educational aspect to it.

Read on to know more about Ron and his experiences with writing this book.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am a child psychologist, married 22 years, and I am the father of a little critical thinker who constantly fact-checks me and asks for evidence. That’s both wonderful and a lot of work. He keeps me on my toes. We are Americans but we live in Germany, where I work at a hospital. We live in a tiny little village on the edge of the black forest, which can be pretty spooky. We bought an old church and we are rehabbing it into a house, which can also be pretty spooky. It is a good thing that we like spooky.

What prompted you to start writing?

For my son’s tenth birthday I looked for a fun adventure story that had the themes he loved and which we often talked about in our family. Themes like critical thinking, cognitive biases, psychology, and being skeptical. It is something we have really emphasized for our son because the world seems to have transitioned from an information age into a misinformation age, and as parents we felt we have to prepare our kid for that. But when I looked for middle reader books with these themes there wasn’t anything that I could find that really dug into these topics and talked about them directly in the context of a fun story. I had a good idea of what an age-appropriate adventure story with those themes would be like. So I thought it would be fun to write one. I always wanted to write for kids, and so this was the perfect excuse to pursue that dream while meeting what I think is an important need.

How did the book “Beyond Belief: The Adventure Begins” happen?

Because the book was originally a birthday gift for my son, I thought about what would be fun for him to read; what would make him excited. I remembered that before moving to Germany, when we lived in Washington, one of our favorite things to do was take what we called “critical thinking field trips.” We had this book, Weird Washington, and he would look up places where strange things were happening, choose a place, and then we would go on a road trip to investigate it. He absolutely loved it. For example, we visited a place called “gravity hill” just outside Prosser, Washington. It is one of those hills where cars are supposed to run uphill. And you know what? It worked! It really seemed like the car was rolling up the hill. But he figured out that the hill was very slight and that the wind was blowing strongly up the hill. We tested his idea by opening the car doors and using them like sails. If it was the wind, we thought, then the car would roll faster with the doors open. And it turned out it did. Afterward, we had lunch in Prosser and he told the story of that adventure to folks at the pizza parlor with so much excitement and pride. I kept thinking of that excitement and pride when I was coming up with the scenes and places in the book. I wanted the main character to feel that, and hopefully, the reader might catch a little of that too. 

Why did you choose to write middle-grade fiction?

I primarily work with children ages 6 to 13. I really enjoy the way their imaginations work and the things that fascinate that age group. Thanks to my work I also have a good sense of what they wish for and what developmental conflicts they have. So writing for that age group felt like a natural choice for me.

What is the ideal target age group for this book?

I think that most children from 8 to 12 will enjoy this book. But it isn’t too scary, so precocious young readers can enjoy it too. But to be totally honest, my ideal target group is actually adults! That is because I really want parents to read this book to their children so that they can have conversations about critical thinking, cognitive biases, and deeper things like how we know what is true. So sprinkled throughout the book are scenes and characters that I hope adults will love and find funny.

Why choose to write about paranormal investigation?

A paranormal investigation is a perfect thing for middle-grade readers because they have one foot in the world of a child and one foot in the world of an adolescent. For them, ghosts and scary things might still be real, but reality is coming into focus with each passing day. Part of the developmental task for this age group is to make that transition from the spooky world of magical thinking into a world that is grounded in reality. It is a hard transition to make. A big part of it is investigating, asking questions, testing assumptions, and finding how the world really works. So a paranormal investigation team seemed like a natural choice. Plus, I thought it was a lot of fun to write about.

How important do you think it is for children to start to relate to and understand psychology?

It is so much more important than most people understand. Psychology is all about knowing why we feel, think, and act the way that we do. If you listen to the kinds of questions that kids ask their parents and teachers, many of them are about exactly these things. The nice thing about psychology is that it actually has some answers to these questions that make sense and are rooted in science. If you give those to your kids then they can better understand themselves and others. 

How old would you say the main character is?

I purposely left that vague in the book so that kids could make the character the age that want him to be. I know that most young readers like to follow the adventures of a kid who is slightly older than themselves. But in my mind, he is ten because that is the age of my son and that is who that character really is to me.

How much research went into the writing of this book?

Most of the research went into studying the places and scenes where the book takes place. For example, there is a scene that takes place at the McMinnville UFO festival in Oregon. This is a festival that takes place once a year. Even though I have been to McMinnville, I have not been to the festival. So for my research, I got to watch hours of hijinks from the festival online. It was actually a lot of fun.

How easy or difficult was it to write this book and create the characters for it?

I found that it was surprisingly easy, and I think that is because these characters are all people that I know already, and they are either close family or famous people who inspire me. For instance, I based the character of Uncle Freeman on James “The Amazing” Randi, who sadly just passed away. I have read so much about him, watched hours of his magic acts and TED talks, and so when I wrote that character it was simple to do. Uncle Freeman was already a character in my life, so to speak. 

How much does your day to day life inspire your characters?

It has a big effect on my characters. The things that I hear my son say, the kinds of questions children ask in my work, the research I read on psychology for my job each day, all these things come together to make my characters come to life. 

How much time do you spend on your writing on average per day?

It varies considerably. I find that if I don’t write for at least half an hour a day then I begin to lose momentum in my writing and it starts to get hard to get back into the story when I return to it. But when I’m in the thick of writing I can spend five or six hours at a time really digging in. As a parent that is hard to do, and it means a lot of negotiating with my wife. Luckily, after 22 years of marriage, I have a lot of support from her.

What do you like best about writing a story?

This is the first book I’ve written, and what I have discovered is that, although writing is work and you have to discipline yourself to do it, I actually have a lot of fun coming up with the twists and turns in the story. That sense of fun is the thing I enjoyed the most and it is one of the things I look for now when I’m writing. I’m almost finished with the next book in the series and I used that emotional sense of whether I’m having fun writing it as a kind of north star guiding my process.

What kind of impact do your stories have on you?

This story brought me a lot of joy because it connected me to a lot of new people. Since publishing it I have heard from children that have read it that they love the book and can’t wait for the next one. One parent reached out and said that her son couldn’t stop talking about the book. Another said that her teenage son had “his mind blown” by how fun psychology could be. I laughed a lot at that one. I had a teacher in the states contact me because she wanted the children in her class to read the book and talk about its themes. We are trying to set up an online book reading for them, which I’m really excited about. I didn’t know how much those connections would mean to me, but I have really cherished them. For the next book in the series, I’ve reached out to these young fans and offered them a look at the next book. I’ve even had some of them become early readers, giving me their feedback. I think the value of that connection, and that chance it gives me to foster confidence and a love of reading in children, has been the most important thing for me. 

What do you do when you aren’t writing?

I am working on turning a former church into a proper home. That is a big job. When I’m not writing I’m often fixing old doors, building bookshelves, installing plumbing, or trying to get fifty-year-old lights to work. I also do a lot of hiking around the black forest, and I have a feeling that at least one book in this series is going to happen there.

Finally, what message do you want to share with us readers?

My message to readers, especially parents reading to their children, is don’t stop the conversation when you reach the end of the book. Use it as a springboard to learn more about critical thinking, psychology, and science. I know that children are naturally hungry to learn more about these things if they learn them through a story or with a parent. Keep the discussion going. That is really important because there is no sign that the misinformation out there is going to let up anytime soon. This book can be a chance to start the process of protecting your kids from it by teaching them to stay skeptical and think critically. And that is my final message: stay skeptical and think critically!