January 15, 2018

Happy New Year--and Happy Writing!


Words of wisdom from Lawrence Ferlinghetti's typewriter in the Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., augmented with a few extra for those of us who need them.

May your 2018 be the best writing year yet!

XO,
Sarah and Tanita

January 09, 2018

2♦sdays @ our treehouse - 1/18 Challenge!

A few years back, B&N's Teen blog put up a post about which anthologies, in their opinion, had gotten the art of the young adult short story right. Their list included some headlining authors as well as smaller lights in the field. YA collections have always been useful for introducing lesser-known writers, which is why a couple of smart people in the industry, Nova Ren Suma and Emily X. R. Pan, have kicked off FORESHADOW. "FORESHADOW: A Serial YA Anthology is to offer a unique new online venue for young adult short stories, with a commitment to showcasing underrepresented voices, boosting emerging writers, and highlighting the beauty and power of YA fiction." This monthly anthology is the opportunity that many writers have been waiting for.

To that end, our writing group thought it would be fun to do a little exercise of our own. Through the first (technical) half of 2018, January - June, every second Tuesday of the month, we're going to post an image here on Wonderland of a Creative Commons licensed Flickr picture to which you can respond - via short story (potentially something to be polished for subbing to Foreshadow or elsewhere), poem, or just a scene polishing up dialogue, setting, characterization, or anything else you'd like to work on. Maybe you're doing Morning Pages, and writing three pages first thing. You can certainly come up with some thoughts on this image, and even some thoughts which might spur some deeper creativity. For two weeks, you can join the fun by posting a link to share. We'll keep the momentum going the following month by posting another image the second Tuesday of February, the 13th, and so on, until we take a breather for summer. We hope this will be the little kick in the pants you need to get writing, keep writing, or polish up your skills.

And without further ado, this month's image:

Harryhausen Skeletons

Harryhausen Skeletons, by Flickr user J├╝rgen Fauth of Berlin.

Happy Writing! Please consider sharing your link!

December 25, 2017

~Hiatus!~

Happy Reading, friends! We're busy Cybils-ing, so see y'all on January 9th!

December 21, 2017

Thursday Review: THE BOOK OF DUST by Philip Pullman

Synopsis: This was one of my "waiting on" titles of 2017—the His Dark Materials trilogy is one of my favorites (and one I wish I'd read as an actual young adult), and I've enjoyed other books by Pullman as well. The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage is the first in another trilogy, it seems, and it's a prequel to the adventures of Lyra in His Dark Materials. To my mind, it was worth the wait.

This story also concerns Lyra, but she isn't the main character this time. In fact, she's just a baby—a mysterious baby, as it turns out, who is being cared for by the nuns of a village priory outside Oxford. In that village lives our main character: a boy named Malcolm, whose parents run an inn. Malcolm lives at the inn, so all kinds of interesting gossip reaches his ears, and thus it is perhaps not such a huge surprise that he witnesses the unfortunate death of a spy and ends up with the spy's secret message in his very own hands…

Observations: I don't want to give away too much of the story, because it's too delightful to watch it unfold (plus you can always read the cover blurb). I will say that I was happy to return to this alternate world very like our own, and root for a hero with curiosity, tenacity, and an innate sense of right. Malcolm is truly good, and his love for the baby Lyra and determination to keep her safe drive the story and keep the reader hanging on every word.

Of course, any story that involves good vs. evil would be incomplete without a truly bad baddie, and Pullman has a talent for pushing just the right buttons to make the reader really uncomfortable—the enemy here takes the form of a truly frightening individual, and the philosophical underpinnings of WHY he is evil are possibly even more frightening.

Conclusion: I can safely say that, despite a few quibbles here and there with the style, I enjoyed this almost as much as the original trilogy, and sank gratefully and willingly back into the vivid world of Lyra's Oxford. Now I'm anxious for the second book…


I received my copy of this book courtesy of my library's ebook collection. You can find THE BOOK OF DUST: LA BELLE SAUVAGE by Philip Pullman at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

December 19, 2017

Cybils SpecFic Bookmark: IN 27 DAYS by ALLISON GERVAIS

The Cybils Countdown Continues!

The Cybils SpecFic Bookmark: As a panelist for Cybils YA Speculative Fiction, Round 1, I'm going to be briefly writing up some of the hundreds of book I read as part of the award. As panelist conclusions are not for public consumption, the purpose of these write-ups is to keep track of what I'm reading, and will mostly touch on plot synopsis, with minimal comments on thematic tropes.


Synopsis: One melancholy feeling day, Hadley Jamison arrives at school to hear that a boy she'd been in Freshman English with has committed suicide. The feeling of melancholy she feels quickly swells to true grief. She hadn't spoken with Asher Morales in years. Really, she only stared at him in Freshman English and blushed a lot... but it seems wrong that he's dead, wrong that someone who had such obvious depths - even if he never spoke to her to share them with her - could have thought his life wasn't worth living. Seeking closure, Hadley lurks at the back of the church where his funeral service is being held. She lingers at his casket, wondering what she could have said to change things. She meets his family, and, on the way home, is accosted by the most terrifying man she's ever seen. Parchment white skin, knife-edged cheekbones, and the most insinuating smile. He takes her to coffee, and she's powerless to escape him. He has a proposition for her - a little job he'd like her to do. If she'll just sign a contract to help out, he'll drop her back twenty-seven days in time. She'll have a chance to save Archer, and right a little wrong in the Universe.

The guy says some vague things about danger and trouble, but Hadley's only hearing that there's a chance to bring Asher back to his family. Her parents are on yet another business trip, and the last person she talks to every night is the doorman. What else does she have to do with the next month, anyway?

But Asher is not easy. He's rude. He's abrupt. He's closed off and cold. Hadley's doing everything she can to get close to him, but if someone doesn't want you as a friend, you won't be friends. Is it worth it to keep trying? Is it worth caring for someone who doesn't care for you, especially if it looks like it might cost you your life?

Semi-Spoiler-y Observations: Originally published on WattPad, this is a fast-paced, emotionally engaging adventure which leaves the reader little time to do anything but hang onto their hat and be dragged into the narrative. A dominant culture girl with a cast of mostly white friends (Asher is Italian) Hadley is a very regular, ordinary girl who is suddenly thrust into a cosmic tug of war essentially between death and chaos. While she is chosen to take a stand against chaos, I found myself with a tiny question of "Why?" I kind of wished for a little bit of ...mystery or backstory to give her character some depth. Her parents are workaholics with money and impeccable tastes, but how did the Universe know that Hadley was worthy of taking on this huge task? Does this second chance business happen for anyone else?

Most people won't worry with nagging questions like this one, however, and will race into the story. As an adventure, giving a human being the power to fight on the side of life, it is compulsively readable.

Conclusion: For anyone who has wished that they could have a second chance to make things right, this story will be the best of wish-fulfillment catnip. A slow burn romance, a boisterous Italian family, and a chance to tally one up for the side of good vs. evil makes this a light, fun, vacation read.



I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. You can find IN 27 DAYS by Allison Gervais at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

December 15, 2017

Cybils SpecFic Bookmark: SHE MYSELF AND I by EMMA YOUNG

The Cybils Countdown Continues!

The Cybils SpecFic Bookmark: As a panelist for Cybils YA Speculative Fiction, Round 1, I'm going to be briefly writing up some of the hundreds of book I read as part of the award. As panelist conclusions are not for public consumption, the purpose of these write-ups is to keep track of what I'm reading, and will mostly touch on plot synopsis, with minimal spoiler-y comments and thematic tropes.


Synopsis: Rosa is young, British, and has had a debilitating nerve disease which has taken her freedom. Quadriplegic and feeling like a burden on her family, she is eager and excited when a controversial "cure" emerges - the chance to swap her brain into the whole and healthy body of a comatose American girl named Sylvia who was also white and young. The family flies to America, and the surgery is done... but Rosa's doubts begin. Is she still... herself? Is she now someone else, too? Is she also carrying Sylvia's soul? Is it fair to go on if Sylvia - whom Rosa is now convinced is a resident somehow in her body - is unhappy? An unhealthy obsession with Sylvia begins, as Rosa researches her, stalks her family, and eventually attempts to insert herself into the life of the girl who is gone. With the help of a journalist with whom she becomes entangled, Rosa escapes from the medical facility where she's meant to be healing, and walks away from her own life to immerse herself in Sylvia's - hurting her own family, and ultimately herself. As she struggles to come to grips with who she is now, and who she's supposed to be, now that she's inhabiting Sylvia's body, Rosa falls in love and finds that the questions she had matter less than living her very best life, and being happy.

Observations: Speculative fiction has been debating the merits and demerits of brain swaps since the first very amusing black and white science fiction films. It's one of the last Big Questions about consciousness and the soul and the "you-ness" of a person. Rosa feels a lot of guilt after the surgery - guilty for being excited that she's attractive, guilty that she is attractive to others, guilty that she is just who she is, and not someone better or more deserving. She is conflicted and spends a lot of time in her head, coming to various conclusions about whether or not Sylvia is a reluctant rider in their shared body, or if Sylvia should take over and Rose should step back. She had a lot of questions, and I was dissatisfied with the conclusions Rosa came to, because she was derailed by her romance. Rosa watches a movie with a friend about a man who chooses to die rather than live with a disability... and especially since Rosa has lived with a disability, one that had really hit her from the ages of ten to eighteen, that seemed an odd choice, and I expected her to react differently to the film.

The author doesn't give us much information about Rosa's disease or the nature of its progression, or enough backstory to help us understand what what her life was really like, before having her brain swapped. Rosa's disability is framed against her parent's anxieties and her concern with not being a burden to them, but that tells us nothing about how she lived and what she did - which argues that the life of a quadriplegic person is of so little interest that the reader wouldn't have wanted to know anything about it. Which isn't true. This was one of the biggest quibbles I had with the novel.

Conclusion: An interesting and time-honored concept in speculative fiction, the brain swap remains one of the last bits of "undiscovered country" in our physiology. Rosa deals with questions and worries to that many a teen will relate. The idea of turning into a whole new person with a whole new brain, and finding a whole new attractiveness and a lightning fast romance will also resonate with many in an entertaining way - but readers seeking something with a deeper and more realistic look at disability might look to Sharon Draper's OUT OF MY MIND or Chelsie Hill's PUSH GIRL for more.



I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. You can find SHE MYSELF AND I by Emma Young at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

December 12, 2017

Cybils SpecFic Bookmark: BROKEN CIRCLE by J.L. POWERS & M.A. POWERS

Happy December! The Cybils Countdown Continues!

The Cybils SpecFic Bookmark: As a panelist for Cybils YA Speculative Fiction, Round 1, I'm going to be briefly writing up some of the hundreds of book I read as part of the award. As panelist conclusions are not for public consumption, the purpose of these write-ups is to keep track of what I'm reading, and will mostly touch on plot synopsis, with minimal comments on thematic tropes.


Synopsis: Adam just wishes he could sleep. That's what normal people do: see their fathers. Sleep. Go to school. Talk to people they might kind of crush on. Normal would be great, but it's just not in the cards. First, Adam's mother vanished when he was four, and his dad is always gone, and never around when he needs him... except Adam sometimes sees him in his dreams. Adam instead lives with his cranky, paranoid grandfather, who believes everyone is out to get him. Adam's next challenge is that he can see... shadows on people. He knows when they're going to die, and no matter what he does to try and tell them... they die anyway, even if he's changed their path. Finally, speaking of dreams, there's this kind of... monster who basically hugs him to death when he dreams, and then he wakes when his dream-Dad saves him. Lacking sleep and overdosed on coffee, Adam fights monsters in a waking dream at school one day. Unfortunately, he wakes up with everyone believing he's had a nasty psychotic break. In the name of getting him "help," his father enrolls him in a residential school... which isn't for kids with psychiatric problems at all. It's for kids with the power to be soul guides. Adam finds opening to him a world he could never have imagined in his deepest, scariest dreams. He finds a place to belong, which surprises him, and feeds his soul. He also finds out about his mother - who disappeared in mysterious circumstances - and the whys and wherefores of his parents' relationship. He also finds himself going up against a shadowy organization which is bent on destroying him, and maybe his school, too. Adam's going to need to accept a few key things before he can move his story further - and unravel the unknowns between him and his goal of being normal... well, as normal as a guy who can drop into Limbo can be.

Observations: In many ways this story is familiar - there have been myriad other Secret Identity novels in which the Lost Prince or Boy Who Lived is unaware of a birthright world just on the other side of a bland retaining wall. He twists in the wind in a world where he doesn't belong until, voila, the hidden door opens, the wall vanishes, and the world, with its thousand shades of gray, opens. Nothing is pure good or pure bad anymore, the character stumbles and drifts until he meets a band of plucky outliers, and together they navigate this new plane. There are PLENTY of Potter elements in this book, but it is not about the new-things-per-page lovely whimsy which drive the earliest Potter novels. This book is dark and grim and Adam's existence is both snarkily amusing and realistically painful. While there have been other YA novels riffing on the idea of the Grim Reaper, and while the cover with the elegant scythe on it is a dead giveaway of some of the narrative elements, there is a lot of difference here to be discovered. Readers will rejoice in the brother-and-sister team's worldbuilding, which is rich and detailed, and while the twists in this book are mostly known before the character knows them, the characterization and remix of mythology will keep readers reading. Adam's self-effacing, sarcastic voice will work well for many readers.

Conclusion: Come for the sarcasm and the familiarity, stay for the unknown and the yet undiscovered! While this book wrapped up nicely in an "episode" fashion, there are some unanswered questions which leave room for a sequel - stay tuned.

"The Powerses' worldbuilding and writing will keep [readers] hooked. They will find themselves questioning what is fact and what is fiction and cheering Adam on as he journeys in this new, strange world. A gripping, philosophical paranormal thriller." --Kirkus Reviews



I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. You can find BROKEN CIRCLE by J.L & M.A. POWERS at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!