Thursday, April 12, 2018

Brain Lair Blog moving

Hi everyone,

Until my new combined website is ready, thebrainlair will be posting at:

This week we will have a

  • guest post by author, Angie Smibert (Bone's Gift, 2018) about the folklore featured in the book.
  • my review of the book
  • recap of Kwame Alexander's visit to South Bend
  • the possibility of ordering books through the Brain Lair Bookstore!
Join us!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Personalized Subscription Boxes

What do you think of personalized subscription boxes? 
The boxes would be available in 1, 3, 6, or 12 mos increments and include 1 or 2 books. 
Subscribers would receive a survey to complete for the initial box. 
Subsequent boxes will be refined based on feedback from recipient. Boxes may include a few book-related goodies.
These carefully curated boxes could be for personal use or sent to someone as a gift. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Brain Lair Bookstore - Kickstarter ( cancelled)

#BuildABookstore #SaveALife

Kickstarter cancelled for now:

Dear Family and Friends,

Thank you for your support! In about 3 weeks, we raised over $11,000! That is amazing and we should be super proud of ourselves! During those three weeks, I’d done more research and had been updating and revising the Bookstore Kickstarter but could not keep up with the feedback. I’d also been in touch with two mentors who have experience with the Kickstarter platform. It was suggested that I cancel the kickstarter, and work with one of the mentors on revising it with a stronger, more cohesive message.

The research shows that successful crowdfunding campaigns have usually raised 1/3 of what they need within the first 15 days. Since the funding is all or nothing - I would hate to continue and then we don’t fund the project. This will give me time to do more research, reach out to more people in my community, and find a potential space.

All of your pledges will be returned. But don’t spend the money just yet! I plan on opening a new kickstarter in a few months. As backers, we can still communicate through this platform. I will keep you informed every step of the way. As soon as the new Brain Lair Bookstore Kickstarter is open - you will receive a link.

Again, I thank all of you for your tweets, posts, blogs, and just loving encouragement. The “crowd” part of this crowdfunding has just been phenomenal. My heart is full.  

Kathy AKA The Brain Lair.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Gratitude - One Word #SOL17

My  One Word for 2017 is Gratitude. 

It was tough to settle on a word this year. Not because one didn't come to me but because Gratitude sounds HARD! I'd had a tough year, I was not feeling really grateful. Which is how I knew this was my word.

It's March and I'm finally finishing this post. I'm looking at this as a reminder to think intentionally about my life, especially all the ways I can express my gratitude for the joy in my life.

Right now?

I'm grateful to be on the 2018 Printz Committee! There are so many books we are reading, though I can't discuss them with you just yet! 😉

I'm grateful for my voxer group who share my zeal for connecting books and readers. 📚

I'm grateful for my daughters Jessica (my heart daughter) and Elizabeth (my soul daughter) who are thoughtful, kind, and hardworking. And good-looking! 👸🙌

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Thank you #Bravery

My One Word for 2016 was bravery.

Without "BRAVERY"which is what I named my iphone, I would not have been able to kickoff the NerdTalks at NerdCampMI in July 2016.

Without "BRAVERY",  I would not have been able to make a quick trip to Toronto and hang out with my best daughter.

Without "BRAVERY",  and a huge push from Sherry Gick, I would not have gone back to Sharjah UAE and would have missed out on some great sessions and meeting up with some great people.

Doing these things has made me want to do more. Esse Quam Videri- that's our school motto, and now mine. I don't know what my word for 2017 will be but I can't wait to find out!

Happy New Year, friends! And in the words of Neil Gaiman:

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Batty About Books - Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

In light of the recent election, Maria and I have been jolted out of our comfort zones and have been trying to take action in our respective states. 

The appointments over the last month have reminded me of several dystopian novels, including Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and 1984 by George Orwell. Maria was reminded of  The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood and The Gate To Women's Country by Sheri S Tepper.

 As we decide how we want to read and discuss these books - under the regime of the president-elect - we thought we would repost our original thoughts on F451.  I thought it fit with the president-elect stating he does not read. (here and here)

This week we look back at our posting from 2012 when Bradbury died.

In tribute to Ray Bradbury, who died June 5, 2012, Maria and I decided to read Fahrenheit 451 one week and watch the movie the next week.

We read the book in its entirety then shared our thoughts.  It was a powerful book and it elicited some powerful responses.


Batty About 

Fahrenheit 451

Part 1 - Hearths and Salamanders
This part is all about light and darkness and the pursuit of happiness.  In the very first pages I love how Bradbury invokes fire/light by introducing the symbols of the phoenix and the salamander.  I also love the various ways he describes light: “the hysterical light of electricity”, “comfortable and rare and gently flattering light of the candle”. There is also much darkness - the bedroom, the time of the fires, the Hound.  And the realization that noise and action and ignorance does not make you happy. In just 68 pages he introduces you to everything he’s going to discuss later. You start to slow down and pay attention and listen.  Something the people in Fahrenheit rarely do.
Maria: I also commented on the imagery and symbolism in his description of light and fire. I found it breathtaking. I kept speeding up to read more, then slowing down and rereading so I could savor it.

Part 2 - The Sand and The Sieve

“Nobody listens anymore. I just want someone to hear what I have to say. And maybe if I talk long enough, it'll make sense.”(82)

Having a hard time articulating how this makes me feel.  I feel like this sometimes - when I’m puzzling out a problem and If I just keep repeating it, the pieces will come together. Also, though, it reminds me of how our society uses social media.  We have this stream of followers/friends but is anyone really listening? We want to be heard. Desperately sometimes. So we keep talking. And we RT things, and we share, and we like, and we comment. And all the while we are hoping that we get this same courtesy in return. We want to be heard.
Maria: Yes! I mention this when I discuss how prophetic he sounds in this book. I’ve found my voice online. Yes, many times I’m talking to hear myself talk (or tweet) but I’ve found so many more like minded souls online than I could ever find in person near my house. I want to be heard, so I try to also remember to hear others... and talk back to them the way I want them to talk back to me.

Also, though, it’s what I fear will happen to us if we continue spending so much time in front of the computer instead of with actual people.  Will we be able to communicate - which goes both ways? Are we just putting things out there and not really listening? We can’t see a person’s body language, we can’t read their sarcasm or their levels of joy or pain - because we have levels.  It’s like Montag mentions - the sand and the sieve, you keep putting it out there but it seems to just fall through the holes.
Maria: Yes, this is a legitimate fear. This is why we can’t live our lives just behind a screen. And it’s why I think people also love things like Skype. It gives us a better glimpse into the mind of those across the screen from us. I loved that image of the sand and the sieve. So powerful.

Part 3 - Burning Bright
Here we are at the end. This part was a little confusing. A little sad.

I was a little confused about Beatty and his wanting to die. His quoting of books - though it kinda reminds me of the extreme radical “christians” who use obscure and out of context quotes from the bible to justify their actions - he’d obviously been reading, but why was he still in charge (disregarding the afterwords).  Did he want to die because people he knew were now getting hurt? Did he want to die because he saw what the lack of real knowledge was doing to the people?  This scares me because I see it so much today. People argue online with no real knowledge of the underlying issues. They often are just responding to something without looking into themselves. There used to be “reliable” sources to turn to. Now you turn to Google and, depending on the metrics they are using for their search engine, they return the search they want you to see or that someone paid to have come to the top. And it’s the same for all search engines. We don’t know who the experts are anymore because anyone can publish a book or create a webpage. And we have books! Imagine if we didn’t.  BTW, have you read FEED by MT Anderson?
Maria: Okay, can I just say how wonderful it is how deep this book pushed us? That didn’t happen with World Without Heroes or Dragon Castle. And yes, I agree with you so completely here, too. I feel like I never know enough about an issue to really push back and people or argue a point, but I’m in the minority. People can twist and turn any words to fit their own preconceived notions. Yet I wonder if relying on “experts” is always that much better? Yes, at least in the past people generally had to prove some level of knowledge before they were published... but there was still a lot of wrongheaded crap published, right? (and still manages to get published now.. And no we shouldn’t just rely on “experts”. That leads to a different level of trouble!)
And no, I haven’t read FEED. I’d love to hear about it! (Remarkable YA SF read about a future where chips are implanted. They “feed” us advertising, shopping, school, etc.  A definite one for us to read!)

“But that’s the wonderful thing about man; he never gets so discouraged or disgusted that he gives up doing it all over again because he knows very well it is important and worth the doing.” (153)
It saddens me that this is the attitude, albeit a good one. We will do it again. But the underlying meaning for me was we will screw it up again. We will fight again. We will destroy again.
Maria: Hmmm... love this quote, but I both agree and disagree with it. SOME of mankind keeps the hope alive, and some gives up. I guess that’s like in the Dark Ages. Sometimes the struggle to survive is all, but there are always some who keep that fire burning for us. Thankfully.

Yes, we WILL screw up again. Destroy again - and then build again. Have you watched any Battlestar Galatica? That is the underlying theme of that tale. “It has all happened before, and it will all happen again”. We can only hope that each time we rise a little higher, and don’t dip quite as low.

(I just started watching the new (2004-2009) Battlestar Galactica! And this was going through my mind. )

On the other hand, I like that they were each books, or poems, or essays.  That you could meet with someone and they could recite something to you. That it could all be captured again. But, that is because they took the time to learn the knowledge.  This makes me want to read more classics and history books. Who is the keeper of the knowledge right now? I was going to discuss reading habits but decided that’s a rant I want to do some other time.  I’m bookmarking some studies though!
Maria: Yes! This is a point I intended to make but didn’t bring up. We can’t rely on the internet being our “keepers of knowledge”. Yet we can’t ignore the new knowledge either.

You can’t read this book too many times. I do think you can be introduced to this book too young though.  Bradbury switches around in the book between thoughts and actions and characters quickly and you must be paying attention. Maria: Yes, yes! I think if you are too young when reading this book, it just won’t “click” for you. There’s not enough action to hold a very young reader, I don’t think. High school or college is perfect. It’s not a hard read, but you really need some life experience to appreciate it. I’ll tell you what, I want to go roll in the grass right now (but it’s dark and raining). Your wrap up sounds an awful lot like mine did.
Which, is  part of the overall message I took from the book. Slow down. Pay attention. Listen. Remember. Be present above all - turn off the computer/television/smartphone and be in this moment.

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Saturday, October 1, 2016

Story Behind Write This Down - Guest Post

Mills, Claudia. Write This Down. Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR, Macmillan), 2016. 256 pages. $15.99. 978-0-37430-1644.

Affiliate Links: Amazon | IndieBound | Book Depository

Read my review - Write This Down Blog Tour

Read on to find out how Claudia Mills learned from her character, Autumn Granger, as well as her own life to pen Write This Down.

The Story Behind the Story

Most authors get their ideas in some way from their own lives. I know I do. I draw on childhood memories of growing up in New Jersey with my sister; I steal incidents my two sons brought home from elementary and middle school; when I do author visits at schools around the country, I think of myself as an undercover agent, there to scout for something wonderful to write about.

But when stories are inspired by real life, authors face tough ethical questions. Do we have the right to borrow material from other people’s lives? What if the stories we use are embarrassing or painful (which, after all, tend to be the best ones!)? But if we decide that we shouldn’t draw on real life, how on earth are we going to write stories that have that deep believability, that essence of truth?

The desire to explore this ethical dilemma was the impetus for Write This Down. At first I knew only that I wanted to tell the story of a girl who loves to write, who yearns to be published, and who faces a wrenching choice when she finally has the chance to achieve her dream, but at the cost of exposing something intensely personal about someone she loves. I figured that as my character wrestled with what she should do, it would help clarify my own deliberations. I tend to write the books that I most need to read.

I wanted to make things as hard as possible for my character, Autumn Granger; we authors have to harden our hearts to amp up the difficulty of any choice a character needs to make. So I thought. . . what if one of the main reasons Autumn is so determined to be published is to impress her idolized older brother, Hunter, who used to be her chief protector, but now openly mocks her writing? What form of mockery would be most painful? Ooh, what if he takes a secret poem she’s written to her crush, and reads it to his friends, who include the crush’s older brother? I saved notebooks filled with love poems I wrote in junior high to various boys with whom I fell in and out of love. I copied one of them, almost verbatim, to be the poem Hunter mocks in the book.

Still brainstorming, I asked myself: what if Autumn has the chance to be published by writing something about that very brother? What if her essay reveals what she herself discovers in the course of the book: the reason why her brother has changed so much toward her, a reason that has to do with Hunter’s own past heartbreak, his own inner demons?

Autumn and Hunter are both fictional characters, of course. I had a younger sister, not an older brother. (I wrote about that relationship in an early book of mine, The One and Only Cynthia Jane Thornton, about a girl who tries to distinguish herself from her one-year-younger sister, Lucy. After reading it, my sister said she now planned to publish her own book called Cynthia and Lucy, The Real Story: At Last It Can Be Told.) But as an aspiring writer, Autumn is nonetheless like me in so many ways. Certainly she smarts under rejections just as I did at her age, and still do. In fact, the program Autumn attends at the public library, where two literary agents scathingly critique attendees’ manuscripts on the spot, was inspired by a similar program I attended recently. Even as the author of almost 60 published books, I left close to tears at the reaction my work received.

I wasn’t sure until I got to the conclusion of the book what I would have Autumn decide about her ethical dilemma. In the end, I felt as if I were merely scribbling down what transpired as Autumn made her own choice, as characters tend to do. But watching Autumn weigh the joys of publication against its costs and betrayals helped me sort through these issues.

We base our characters on ourselves. But we end up learning from them, too.

Write This Down by Claudia Mills - Blog Tour

Mills, Claudia. Write This Down. Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR, Macmillan), 2016. 256 pages. $15.99. 978-0-37430-1644.

Affiliate Links: Amazon | IndieBound | Book Depository

Genre: Realistic, Writing, School Story
Cover Appeal: It's eye-catching but I wonder if students would recognize the almost quote. Will need some book-talking

Immediately After
I know just the 5th graders who will love this.

Autumn is obsessed with two things; writing and Cameron Miller. Her writing is not going as well as she would like and her relationship with Cameron is only in her head. Meanwhile her brother Hunter has changed. He's no longer the loving supportive brother she can talk to, instead he makes fun of her writing and her crush! To his band! Which includes Cameron's brother!

Write This Down has a lot going for it including, a great friendship, loving parents, and a teacher who cares. Autumn and Kylee support each other even if they don't agree. They look out for each other and have more friends than each other. Autumn is well-rounded and makes mistakes. She also cares about her family - even when Hunter doesn't return the affection. I enjoyed seeing her and Cameron's "relationship" evolve.  Her obsession blinds her to some of what's going on around her but she knows she only has herself to blame.

This is a good middle grades read. The relationships were plausible, including the loved teacher and the parents doing whatever it takes to get their son back on track. A few writing scenarios seemed contrived and a tiny bit repetitive. The resolution was satisfying and had a little bit of a surprise. Loved the dilemma of who your story belongs to if you include other recognizable people. I give this a 3 out of 4. Will definitely purchase for the LS library.

Book Excerpt
Claudia Mills online Author Page | Blog | Twitter

Read The Story Behind "Write This Down" - A Guest Post by Claudia Mills

Blog Tour Stops
September 27: Ruth at ruth ayers writes
September 28: Cindy at Charting By the Stars
September 29: Melanie at Two Writing Teachers
September 30: Niki at Daydream Reader
October 1: Kathy at The Brain Lair
October 2Maria at Maria's Mélange

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Paths and Portals by Gene Luen Yang - Blog Tour

Yang, Gene Luen. Paths and Portals (Secret Coders, 2). First Second (Macmillan), 2016. 96 pages. $10.99.  978-1-62672-0763.  

Affiliate Links: Amazon | IndieBound | Book Depository

Genre: Fantasy, Graphic Novel
Cover Appeal: It's not as bright as other graphic novel series, the red is pretty faded looking. Kids who loved Secret Coders, 1 will definitely be looking for this but others will need a bit of convincing. 

Immediately After

WHAT??!! And the next book doesn't release until 2017??!! ARGH!

Paths and Portals picks up right where book 1 left off, with the answer to the code! We jump in with Eni (must be named for the ENIAC right?) and Hopper (Grace Hopper, computer programmer) are joined by Josh and start writing code using Logo. The coding will lead them to solve the mystery of Stately Academy. We know it involves Principal Dean, with the help of the rugby team, but what do they want?


The novel itself is two color - green and black. Because this is a graphic novel that is also teaching you programming, many of the pages have side by side panels of Hopper thinking and the robot turtle moving in accordance with her thoughts, which will help students "see" her thoughts in action.

There are also full-sized pages where students can write in their solutions to the given coding problem.

Don't miss more inside shots at Macmillan's Path and Portals page!


These books score on both the story and the coding activity. The activities are woven naturally into the book and will not push you out of the action. Each book in the series, so far, seem to stick to one narrative so they are straightforward. The books, however, are super short. You barely get into the story before you are left with a giant cliffhanger. This would not be so bad if the books were being released shortly after one another. With a count of less than 100 pages though, it seems unnecessary. I give this a 3.5 out of 4 copies. I would buy it for both my LS and MS libraries as well as the coding option classroom.

Want more Secret Coders? Check these places out!

A special short comic story featuring Eni, Hopper and Josh! Lost and Found (scroll down and don't miss any pages!)
Gene Yang online: Blog | Twitter | Secret Coders (lots of fun activities and programming!)
Mike Holmes' online: Blog | Twitter
Macmillan Gene Yang page.

Visit other great tour stops below!


August 31: Colby at Sharp Read
September 1: Jess at Reading Nook Reviews
September 2: Samantha at Forest of Words and Pages
September 5: Jennifer at YA Book Nerd
September 6: Maria at Maria's Mélange
September 7: Gigi at Late Bloomer's Book Blog
September 8: Jen at Starry Eyed Revue
September 9: Cheyenne at The Hollow Cupboards
September 12: Anya at On Starships and Dragonwings
September 13: April at Good Books and Good Wine
September 14: Cindy at Charting by the Stars
September 15: Erica at The Book Cellar
September 16: Sandie at Teen Lit Rocks
September 19: Asheley at Into the Hall of Books
September 20: Daphne at Gone Pecan
September 21Mary Ann at Great Kids Books
September 22: Kathy at The Brain Lair
September 23: Michelle & Leslie at Undeniably (Book) Nerdy
September 26Laurie at Reader Girls
September 27: Margie at Librarian's Quest
September 28Victoria at Art, Books, & Coffee
September 29Cee at The Novel Hermit
September 30: Amanda at Forever Young Adult

Monday, September 5, 2016

Playing for the Devil's Fire by Phillippe Diederich - Review

Playing for the Devil's Fire
by Phillippe Diederich
Cinco Punta Press
Audience: Middle School and above
Mexico City * Lucha Libra * Drugs * Poverty

"I guess that's what I always liked about these movies. They weren't about heroes with supernatural powers. They were about real people. They gave me the feeling that I too could be like..."

Fourteen year-old Liberio's, aka Boli, daily struggles include his love for the much older Ximena (19) and trying to pull together enough money to see one of his favorite luchadors, El Hijo del Santo, wrestle in the upcoming fair.

Mosca and Boli spend most of their afternoons in the plaza and around the City of Izayoc shining shoes and playing marbles. Then someone discovers the head of el profe Quintanilla and, not long after,  the body of Rocio Morales.  Troubles seemed to have arrived with the appearance of Joaquin Carrillo. Soon many of the stores in Izayoc start shutting down and people close to Boli start disappearing. Can Boli and, a down on his luck lucho libre, Chicano find out what's happening without putting themselves or anyone else in danger?

The mystery of Playing for the Devil's Fire sucks you in slowly. As Boli's fear for his life and those of his loved ones increases, so does the readers fear. You want to warn him. As the true motivations of the characters are revealed, Boli's innocence is threatened as he doesn't know who to trust. The love of money changes almost everyone but has a deep and dark influence over the law enforcement. No one is trying to help, believing they will be the next to lose their businesses or their lives.

There were a couple of times I wondered how old Boli and his sister were, based on their actions as well as the celebrities mentioned (Pancho Villa, El Chavo di ocho, and the calendar of Tania Rincon). Gaby is seventeen but doesn't go to school. She practically runs the bakery and enters into a contract.

Overall, it was an exciting window into another culture. Since there is a glossary in the back, Diederich doesn't stop the story to translate any words or phrases, many of which you can glean from context clues.  He lays out the varying levels of poverty and how each affects character. The ending is quick and leaves you wondering about Boli and his future.

About The Author

Phillippe Diederich is a Haitian-American writer. Born in the Dominican Republic, he was raised in Mexico City and Miami. His parents were kicked out of Haiti by the dictatorship of Papa Doc Duvalier in 1963. He spent his youth listening to his parents and friends talking politics and nostalgically dreaming of the day they would return to Haiti. In 1980, the family moved to Miami, where they joined a community of exiles from all parts of Latin America—Cuba, Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, El Salvador. Like other children of exiles, Diederich grew up without his relatives—grandparents, cousins, uncles, aunts. Diederich traveled repeatedly to Cuba as a photojournalist throughout the 1990s. He has an MFA in creative writing from the University of South Florida and lives in Florida.

Blog Tour

August 31: Rich in Color review (
Sept 1: The Pirate Tree review & interview (
Sept 4: Guest Post for Clear Eyes, Full Shelves (
Sept 5: Review, The Brain Lair (
Sept 6: Rich in Color author interview (
September 7: Edi Campbell CrazyquiltEdi review (
September 8: Anastasia Suen, #KidLitBookoftheday (
September 9: Reading Through Life author highlight plus links to blog tour (
Sept 9: Guest Post, The Brain Lair (
September 12: Linda Washington ( )
September 13: Excerpt, Review, and Guest Post at Mom Read it (


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