June 29, 2006

Wolf? Man? Wolfman?

Though this novel by Vivian Vande Velde is now out of print,
The Changeling Prince can be found in the library in paperback version, and if you have an hour or two to kill, it's dark and grisly and entertaining. It's also loosely connected to another Vande Velde novel called The Conjuring Princess.

Weiland is sixteen... he thinks. He knows that he's a wolf who has been changed into a human. He knows he lives in a mountain hall full of other changed animals by the will of Daria, who is an evil woman. But that's all he knows for sure.

Weiland has been trained as a highwayman, and all he knows is fighting - hand to hand, tooth and claw. Being a man is painful and confusing, but Weiland hates being a wolf. He can remember nothing in wolf form, though Daria once told him that the wolf pelt on her bed used to be his mother. Weiland is terrified of eating one of his housemates, or a human, and being unable to remember. Being a wolf brings on mindless animal instincts. Being a wolf also means sometimes stumbling into traps. Weiland must be wise and canny, or Daria will let him be killed. Her punishments are merciless. So, when Daria moves them to the town below their mountain hall, Weiland knows she's got a reason... but what?

Dying of Shame

YA novels about different countries often focus on the exoticized features of their culture, but playwright and first-time YA novelist Allan Stratton doesn't go that direction. Chanda Kabelo's pretty much the same as anyone, even though she lives a world away in Africa. Like any sixteen year old, she's got people who bug her (Mrs. Tafa, the nosy neighbor and her Mom's drunken boyfriend), annoying siblings, (her little sister, Iris, is especially a pain in the butt), hard classes and tests at school, and a best friend, Esther. What's not normal about Chanda's life is how many people are dying.
But nobody talks about it.

Not really, anyway. See, people get so thin... and then they start getting sores, and fevers, and raving... and people start backing away. Nobody ever says what they're dying from. If they ever said the word, they could lose their jobs, lose their houses. Nobody would speak to them. They might find their possessions burned and cast out into the road. It's better to pretend. Call it cancer. Call it TB. Call for a witch doctor. Just don't take the test. Just don't say the word. It's better to go away and die alone than to talk about it. It's a terrible burden of shame.

It's just another one of Chanda's Secrets -- people in her village are dying of AIDS.

This book is an awesome (and tear-inducing) testament to the power of a person trying to save the ones she loves - by any means necessary. Shame can only defeat in silence; truth however, can set a village free.

June 27, 2006

Grrrl Power

Thanks to Seren for giving me a heads up about Salon's Broadsheet kudos to New Moon Magazine for Girls. I've blogged about these fine people before, but I still think their mag is one of the coolest things going for girls who want to talk and think about a real future. And it's free of ads! (Remember when Sassy was cool like that? Johnny Depp and no ads. Bliss.) Also, you've got to check out the work of the world's deepest and most articulate 7-year-old, Alexa Kitchen. I wish I understood the world as well as she did when I was her age!

My other favorite site is still also Who I Am for girl-centric and positive journals and books and jewelry. If I can't get into the wayback machine to be ten again (and who wants to!?), I can at least pass along these fun places to you.

Viva la girlz!

Westerfield Rides Again - on a hoverboard

My camping out at the library paid off in me being one of the first to read Specials, the last of the Uglies trilogy by Scott Westerfeld. These futuristic novels are thought-provoking and deep, but they're also entirely entertaining, with high-speed chase scenes and more cool-stuff-per-page than ever. The hoverboards we read about in the first novel are so yesterday -- now there are skintennae, sneaksuits, and more. Westerfeld really hits that storytelling stride that keeps you reading in a can't-stop-now kind of way, which is great fun.

Tally Youngblood and her fast paced friends first were Uglies, living apart from their parents in dorms and waiting for their 16th birthday and the operation that would make them into Pretties. Their world is controlled and circumscribed because of the mistakes of the 'Rusties,' the 21st century idiots who killed the wilds with toxic spills, wars and nuclear fallout. Everyone lives in cities now, where waste is taken care of and everyone and everything is taken care of. Ideas are parceled out from the City on newfeeds - no one bothers to read actual books - there are more entertaining things to do. Individualism has given way to a group mind, and even the people who think they are original are somehow... part of a group. There are stages to life, and everyone waits their turn and goes through with little muss, fuss or originality. Except Tally.

Tally's not the kind of girl to wait for something if she can figure out how to have it now. Sneaking out of the dorm and going into Prettytown before she turns sixteen is only the beginning. After being exposed to more people than her controlled environment wants her to, Tally isn't entirely sure she's keen to be changed into a mindlessly happy Pretty. Tally then finds that there's a world outside of the city where she lives, a world that is even more alien than the world of the Pretties across the river. Tempted to find adventure, Tally leaves, but once outside, she finds that life is harder than she thought. Mistakes can be made. In a wrenching quest for redemption from a mistake, Tally becomes a Pretty, but even there, nothing goes quite as planned. Her beautiful friends are aware, like she is, of the vapidity of their lives. There has to be something more. Once again, Tally makes a move that changes the course of her world's history.

Now in the last novel of the series, Tally is no longer the bubbleheaded but disillusioned Pretty, but an ultrafast fighting machine. She has a body that is superhuman, razor-sharp teeth and talon-like nails. She's a warrior, intended for Special Circumstances. Even more specialized, Tally is a Cutter; one of a group of kids who use cutting themselves to lift their brains above the noise of their bodies. It's a way toward greater control, of separating themselves from everyone. They're the elite. Westerfeld even changes the language of the slang in Tally's new world. She no longer seeks to be "bubbly," as she did as a Pretty, or to find events that are 'happy-making'; now the way to be is "icy," in charge, ultra-cool, and totally devoid of emotions. Tally's best friend Shay tells her she screws up everything with her stupid, bumbling emotions leaking all over the place, and Tally knows it's true. She longs to do better, and when she loses someone dear to her, Tally finally believes - and shuts down all her emotions.

Humanity's struggle to be human in a high tech world is played out to an open-ended conclusion. Partially an anti-war tale, partially a pro-environmental story, Specials is a fast ride. The end of the novel is thoughtful and surprisingly hopeful, and I found myself reading the last couple of pages over again - hoping someday that our world has a superhero like Tally.

June 26, 2006


So, the ALA Conference is going on now in New Orleans, and may I just say a gentle 'God bless you and your air conditioners too' to all the fine people who chose to go and support the once beautiful city, as it rebuilds. The South sure loves humidity, and those who love books have even braved that fierce heat and nasty wetness for a good cause. Good on you, librarians & Co., and don't forget to pack the hives medication! It's looks to be a memorable speaker lineup, featuring Laura Bush and Cokie Roberts (!), but I look forward more to the conference ending --because my editor is there, and took my manuscript with her. Depending on how cranky the heat makes her I may be back in Edit Hell once again...

A fun find for me is The Edge of the Forest, a children's literature monthly put together by many fine people with YA and Children's lit blogs. How cool is that? Something for every age group, including picture book reviews! Literature for children is getting a real presence on the Web... Friday I was following a woman whose license plate advertised her web presence as Kid Lit Suzy dot com. Strangely enough,my former Mills professor and a fairly well-known middle grade author also lives in this town, and I haven't run across her yet...but I've seen "Suzy" twice. Strange world.

In preparing to try and write my(drumroll, please) Epic Fairytale, I ran across something called The Mythopoeic Society, which has announced their finalists for the Mythopoeic Awards. Started in 1967, the Mythopoeic Society is "a non-profit international literary and educational organization for the study, discussion, and enjoyment of fantastic and mythic literature, especially the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Charles Williams." (I haven't read any of the work of Charles Williams! And now I'm hunting up some to see what it's all about!) The Society puts out a couple of periodicals, including one specifically for book reviews (called Mythprint - you have got to love that!), a scholarly journal , and a yearly literary journal with short stories, etc. Incidentally, this East Bay group's finalists for Mythopoeic Fantasy Awards include Holly Black, Diane Duane of the Young Wizards series, and Clare B. Dunkle, three of my favorite fantasy authors. Tough choice!

This year's conference is in Oklahoma, but their 2007 Conference is already slated to be in Berkeley... I think I'll see if I can be there!


The Chronicle had a nice kid's section this past Sunday. My favorite book they reviewed is on the artist's path -- on the struggles and joys of embracing art. Robert Burleigh writes about Paul Cézanne, and the work it took for him to produce such beauty. It's a middle grade novel/picture book, and it includes both historical detail and photographs; the art is also fabulous. Another great review that makes me want to pick up the book is of Cynthia Kadohata's Weedflower a YA novel detailing the Japanese internment. As always, in these times, I think it's crucial that teens are reading about our history in this country, if only so that they can protest when their government tries to repeat it... Since Kadohata made the characters so live in Kira-Kira, Weedflower may be well worth checking out as well. Great reading for another muggy summer week. Cheers!

Best Friends Forever?

Sometimes it just doesn't take much to rock the boat. Quiet Anna and her fearless buddy, Zoe, have been best friends since they were really little. Nothing they've done has been about anything but the two of them - as a matter of fact, the world is their movie, and everyone else is an "extra." What happens when the lead in the show takes a tumble off the roof beam of the barn and breaks her arm in two places? Anna's going to camp to be a Counselor-In-Training all alone, and she's actually pretty nervous. There's no one to look to, without Isabel. Anna thinks she's going to have a tough and awful time, but she hadn't counted on The Isabel Factor. Suddenly camp - and the people around her - take on a whole new significance. Anna realizes things about herself - good things and bad - that she's never seen before. Can Anna and Zoe's friendship take a new and empowered Anna? Canadian author Gayle Friesen pulls out another great YA novel.

Flipped Over Fairytales

The Outspoken Princess and the Gentle Knight is a book of short fairytales from the European tradition that include a fair number of more modern tales, including one from Tanith Lee and Jane Yolen. In these tales, the strictures of behavior are overturned and princesses rebel against their roles, the second son turns out to be a daughter, and the selkies aren't held hostage, but come and go as they please. A fun addition to the fairytale pantheon.

What is it with dragons and maidens, anyway?

Probably the funniest thing about Vivian Vande Velde's quick-paced novel, Dragon's Bait is the idea that dragons aren't really all that into, um, young maidens. See, it's a misconception, that's what it is. Of course, it isn't often talked about, because who really gets around to discussing it with the dragon before they're burnt to a nice turn and gulped whole? Alys does, and Selendrile, the dragon, tells her like it is: it's not the dragons who come up with the menu plan.

She asked, “Why is it dragons ask for maidens?”
The dragon-youth released her, his hand shaking. Startled, she looked up and saw that he was silently laughing. “Dragons don’t ask for maidens,” he said. “Dragons are offered maidens.”
Alys shook her head to show she didn’t understand.
“Is a king likely to be a maiden? Or a village headman? It’s the men who make the laws that decree that maidens be offered.”
Alys thought of all the lovely old songs, the grieving kings, the valiant knights. “That’s a lie,” she whispered.
“Perhaps.” She saw a glint in his eyes. “I do lie.”

A trumped-up charge of witchcraft leaves bewildered Alys chained to a post outside of town, waiting to die, while weeping over the loss of her father. She's angry enough to tell the dragon to come and get her, but when it does, what happens next is nothing like she imagined. A light and entertaining novel about revenge.

June 25, 2006

Stumbling Across Faerie

I have to admit to being a sucker, apparently, for books about humans stumbling across the world of Faerie, and Faerie being nothing like what the stories would have you believe. I really enjoyed Herbie Brennan's Faerie Wars for that reason, and Charles De Lint also goes in that direction a bit.

I was lent The Various by Steve Augarde and it sat on my shelf for a while, because it had an unfortunately vague cover blurb. I thought it was going to portray Faerie in a rather unimaginative fashion, I'm afraid. When I finally did pick it up and thumbed through the first few pages, reading about twelve-year-old Midge discovering this ragged bunch of warlike little people in a pocket of undeveloped forest on her uncle's land in the English countryside, I immediately (and fortunately) forgot all about the blurb.

This was absorbing tale of faerie folk who are, like Brennan's, much like humans in nature, but very different as far as culture and society are concerned. They're very...medieval, and not a little strange. The one tribe of the Various (as they call themselves) that is winged primarily uses them for gliding and climbing trees. While there is a touch of the magical about them--in their diminutive stature and the occasional magical object--they have mainly gotten to a point of needing to live off the land, as farmers, fisherfolk, and hunters, in this small, isolated remaining pocket of forest where humans haven't yet developed the land. And if Midge's uncle decides to sell it, they would have nowhere to go. Would they need to make themselves known to humans? Would they have to try to make it to another isolated forest, if they could find one?

Midge, while visiting her uncle, discovers the existence of the Various, but this knowledge comes as a bit of a burden. At the same time, she is struggling with her relationship with her mother. It's a multilayered story, doubly impressive because the author is also the cover (and interior) artist. The pictures create a very distinct feeling, and really add a lot, though they're small and non-intrusive. Apparently Augarde has done a lot of pop-up books, which sounds intriguing. And, this is evidently the first in a trilogy. I look forward to more. This was a very different and unexpected little gem.

June 21, 2006

Warriors Walking Tall

Young Warriors, the thoughtful and creative anthology edited by Josepha Sherman (I look forward to reading one of her books) and Tamora Pierce, pulls together fifteen short stories about what it takes to be a warrior. Whether you're someone who fights for the rights of others, or someone who believes the real struggle is within ourselves, these engaging pieces by some of the best known authors of YA science fiction and fantasy will make you smile, make you think, and make you want to read more. And therein is the anthology bonus - the chance to use your library/Google connections to find more books and authors to explore.

Dark and Dickensonian

First published in 1974 (then made into an horrific movie in 1977), this oldie by the prolific Joan Aiken is back in print. Its evocative title and weird cover art caught my eye immediately, and the first few sentences wouldn't let me go. Midnight is a Place indeed -- and an awful one!

Lucas Bell is stuck, stuck, stuck. Exiled from warm India by the death of his father, he has been brought to the hulking gothic ruins of the house in Midnight Court, where he feels like he'll be molding away forever. Nothing has happened for the year he's been stuck in freezing, wet, foggy old England, trying to survive on nasty food tossed in front of him by angry servants, and avoiding his tutor, Mr. Oakapple, and worst of all, his guardian, the choleric and irascible Sir Randolph. Lucas cringes away from all that is real, and instead invests himself in an imaginary friend, to whom he writes epic volumes of letters that are colorful and vibrant. It's all that keeps him going. But things change from bad to worse, as one rainy cold day, someone else gets dropped into that house of ill humors, and then everything falls apart. Before it's all over, there's a monstrous fire, man-eating hogs, at least three murder attempts, a suicide, and scraping poverty. But endurance, imagination and strength of character will see Lucas through, and readers will feel satisfied with the non-sugary ending of the story.

Aiken has written a spine-shiveringly dark book, which is deliciously awful, and not easy to put down. Readers will want to track down all her morbidly imaginative works.

Thoughts from Left Field

In Praise of Book Reviews: Reviewing for the 48 Hour Book Contest (for which I read a whopping 2,004 pages, so I don't feel quite so bad anymore that it was only 7 books) made me uncomfortably aware of the hyperbole of critique. I always feel just a bit leery when I read jacket blurbs that say that something is "laugh out loud hilarious," "edgy," (I am actually to the point of getting a rash when I read the 'e-word,') or "brilliant," or "luminous." I almost never feel the same way, and it makes me feel like a right idiot to be the one person on Planet Earth who just thinks a novel is simply 'pretty funny' or 'cute' or "has quirky, lovable characters." Especially when I read The Book Thief, I realized that all the adjectives in praise of the novel had been taken by writers before me (except for the word 'humbling,' which is what I felt about the whole huge scope of the novel and my talent next to the talent of Mr. Zusak). It makes me wonder what blurb writers do when they really don't like what they've been asked to read and review. Are all the adjectives an elaborate cover-up for what they really mean? I smile whenever I read blurbs put out by friends of authors, and I solemnly promise not to make ANY of you write ANYTHING like that on books of mine, when I am rich and famou$, and I'll do the same for you. If I like it, I'll say so. If not... well, then look out for adjective overload and clouds of purple prose!

Dickens,The Movie: Last week (years late) I "discovered" graphic novels. Okay, I'd read some before, but they were comic books - which are old school, right? So, now that I'm hip with the new name, I'm keeping an eye out for more graphic literature that appeals to my reluctant reader little brother and sister but doesn't insult them (like the horrible comic of the New Testament that someone gave me as a child. Pah!). I discovered a BBC site on Victorianism and Dickens. They've animated Bleak House, of all things, and it's worth a quick visit.

The Light Fantastic: I read with interest last Sunday's Washington Post interview with Shannon Hale, author of The Goose Girl and other novels. The nicest thing her readers have told her, Hale says, is that they didn't realize they were reading fantasy when they started reading Goose Girl, which is actually a retelling of one of Grimm's famous tales. They just opened up the book, and fell headlong into a good story. What a nice thought.

I remember hearing Bruce Coville speak at a Conference once on what he calls the "cool things per page" ratio in fantasy novels. The Goose Girl is full of things that aren't part of the 'now' world, so the reader is drawn in quickly and propelled along, and then - hey! Magic! It's always really neat to see the stuff we writers know about in theory work so well. I look forward to getting back into the mythical worlds and peopling them with such memorable characters that the fantasy element is the last thing on a reader's mind... At least that's the plan! (And I was really pleased to see an editor interview at Cynsations of Mirrorstone Books, a new imprint at Wizards of the Coast, which still is interested in unagented stuff from new writers, so there's still hope for people who've never published in the genre before!)
Ah well, back to work.

June 20, 2006


I recently read another YA novel aimed at girls, and there was the usual roll call of products in it that I've counted before - brands of lipstick, jeans, shoes, lingerie, shirts, cars, etc. It wasn't too invasive, it wasn't overboard, but I noticed it because it really has become something that was once a buzz and now has grown to a roar. And I looked back at my two novels in progress and realized, to my chagrin, that I actually talk about certain TV shows and cooking professionals in those books. Am I guilty of trying to turn my readers into FoodTV afficianados? I hope not!

I agree with the point of view raised at Cynsations, that we perhaps label types of people with our choices of brands and labels. There is a lot that can be inferred from the way our characters shop, the places they go, the food they eat. And for a novelist, mostly this kind of thing is deliberate. But I do wonder, for those who are inserting brand names every other sentence ...I wonder if they aren't perhaps narrowing their audience. For instance, I know when I read a novel where the characters wear Juicy Couture hoodies, I know it's not meant for me. It's meant for girls with money to burn and small figures. My agent mentioned that this is also why many American novels cannot "cross the pond" and do well in the UK and Australia -- because one of the things that doesn't translate well the world around is hyper-affluence in young adults! It's an uniquely American value, the importance of things... labels... brand names.

When I knew I wanted to write YA novels, I knew I wanted to write them to show the commonalities of the human experience, of the experience of growing up. I wanted every YA to have access to that little moment that feels like "Hey! That happened to me too!" so that they would know that they weren't alone in feeling the way they did about a particular topic. As others have said, maybe it's not for us to judge those who do put labels and brand names in their work, but I know that I'm going to be very sparing about it. The things that we have in common in this world are more important to me than the things which divide us - So if my character never drives off in a Lexus, drinking a Snapple and talking on her T-Mobile... well, I'll guess she'll still be okay...

June 19, 2006

48 Hour Reading...

The contest is over, and I only managed a lousy seven books! You can check them out on our review site, but I'm a bit disappointed I got nowhere near my goal of at least twelve. Sigh! Next time I'll hole up somewhere in the woods where no one can find me! I hear we're doing this again next year, so I'm already making plans.

Meanwhile, I just came back from the library. As a gift to myself in Editing Hell... I'm going to go and read another book.

48 Hour Reading Contest: Stealing a Future

I remember when I was eight asking our German next-door neighbor, Petra, if her family were Nazis. I cringe when I think how painful that question must have been, but I had a very black/white version of the world, and German people - even young redheaded ones who offered me cookies - were scary and bad.

YA novels don't often talk about the toll that the Third Reich took on the Germans, which is why the characters in The Book Thief tug so on the heart. Markus Zusak's stylistic prose lays starkly bare the atrocities of war in the toll upon lives and spirit. Not only were the Jewish people diminished, but the Germans as well, and their countrymen, who had to make choices to stand and be struck down, or follow the silent crowd. Repeatedly Zusak crafts haunting passages that make the reader stop; this isn't a story that can be rushed through, only absorbed and swallowed slowly.

Liesel Meminger has many losses. First, her father doesn't come home, and is rumored to be a Communist. Her mother, trying to save her son and daughter, takes a train to Munich to foster them out to someone with more clout in the world, and the ability to feed them. On the way there, Liesel's brother dies. When the burial is over, Liesel stares at the grave, clutching a book one of the gravediggers has lost. It's her first book, The Gravedigger's Handbook, and the last time she sees her brother, and the last time she sees her mother.
It is not, however, the last time she steals a book.
Liesel's world is thin and hungry, her nights full of stalking specters and screaming. Days are a little better, though, and Liesel doesn't know that she's as poor as she could. She is rich in love. She has a friend, the fiercely competitive Rudy. He runs and plays ball with her, and through him, Liesel finds a kind of immunity from the bumps and scrapes of the world. He loves her, and she loves him thoroughly, and they call each other filthy names to show that love. Rosa, Liesel's foster-mother's cheerful swearing is also a kind of love, but best of them all and closest to her heart is her foster-father Hans, whose accordion and gentle presence in the dark of screaming nightmares eventually brings a kind of peace to her narrow world.

Liesel's world opens to her as Hans teaches her to read, painting out the puzzling words on the basement wall, practicing with her day in and day out, until she learns. Soon Liesel knows she must have more books. They are a treasure worth having, so she steals them -- from a Nazi book-burning, from the library of the mayor's wife, from anyone who has one. She shares them with a purpose. The world opens wide for the fearful people during bombing raids, the story captivates the widow down the road who hates her foster-mother and spits on her door daily, and the story is the sky and the stars and daily bread to the Jewish man hiding in the basement at home. Gurgle narrated by Death himself, whose daily walks through Liesel's world allow him to watch her closely, this is an amazing book that leaves you breathless with the pain of the small treasures snatched from someone so young. Less a book about the triumph of life, The Book Thief reminds us of the importance of the ability to feed one's soul through story.

48 Hour Reading Contest: Diva Duos

THIS book is frothy and fun, and I was amused to find it had a sequel in the make. Introducing Vivian Leigh Reid, Daughter of the Diva is definitely a 'tween teen beach read.

Vivian - who prefers to be called Leigh - has lived with her father since her mother took off for stardom and Hollywood when she was three. Leigh's almost fifteen. She's not much of a Mom, but Leigh isn't much of a daughter. She'd rather spend a summer in hell than with her mother, who is shooting on location in Ireland, a country where it never ceases to rain, and she'll be stuck face to face with her fame-starved mother, Annika, for six whole weeks. She and her Dad aren't getting along, though, and this summer, he's calling the shots. "It's your turn," he tells her mother, and Leigh is sent along like a sullen package. The mother/daughter bonding time begins inauspiciously, as her mother asks her to pretend they're sisters! Annika smokes all the time, even indoors, and they have to share a room in the single bedroom cottage where they're staying. Then Annika decides Leigh should become her personal assistant. It's kind of a drag, except when Leigh - who is going to be a vet - scores a part in the movie. As her mother tries everything to keep the camera on herself, things start to look up. Sean, the co-star , is a hottie, and everyone would prefer Leigh to her old Mom, right? Even though Sean's twenty-one, he's fair game, right? Or maybe not.

48 Hour Reading Contest: Feminist Future

First of all, I don't know who decided that Candas Jane Dorsey's A Paradigm of Earth was a YA novel. Not that it wasn't brilliant, but it was complicated and deep, with a decidedly open attitude about adult issues, (and with a few disturbed characters, too). Somone must have mis-shelved it, and I didn't look before I picked it up... Even though it's not quite YA, it's fascinating.

A woman who loses her father to cancer and her mother to suicide the next day is empty of everything, and feeling shredded. She is a counselor in a hospital, whose work with the severely disfigured or disabled has left her nothing to fall back on. She's just lost her girlfriend, but gained a house, through inheritance. She fills it with strangers, trying to find family. She's broke and miserable and depressed in such an elemental way that she appears colorless on the page. Nothing matters to her, not the news screaming from the headlines (and being chatted about by the members of her co-op) that an alien has landed on earth. She's not impressed. A gray woman who answers an ad for a childcare worker, teaching an adult.
The adult, she finds out, is blue. Eventually that is what she names him/her, Blue, for the blue shade of his/her skin. An alien being, emptied of any knowledge of his/her own home or civilization, his/her only purpose is to learn -- everything -- about being a human. S/he has a human body, of sorts, but it isn't potty trained. It throws food like a toddler, when it doesn't like the taste. Week by week, it develops, and the life of the gray woman, and soon, the lives of her housemates, is changed irrevocably.
Why is this Blue here? What does it really mean to be human? How can a single person be a paradigm of Earth?

This is a fascinating and well-written novel... definitely not YA, but worth reading for the future-tense possibilities.

48 Hour Reading Contest: Dreams and Nightmares

I know I'm posting these late! Somehow, this turned into the worst weekend EVER to do a reading contest, but never mind, I got through it, and it was fun to keep snatching moutfuls of story whenever I had a moment. And, for the first time, I got to read a graphic novel! Neil Gaiman's Sandman: The Dream Hunters was unexpectedly not like a comic book, but a deeply involved and stylishly illustrated novel in its own right, beginning with a strange story about a badger and a fox, who, seeing the coming winter, try to drive a monk out of his temple in a variety of interesting and menacingways (which backfire on them most amusingly). From an almost fable-like beginning, the novel morphs into a more substantial and detailed story, which is about greed, desire and fear. In the end, the fox who once only saw him as a means to a warmer place to sleep, falls in love with the monk, and makes a desperate bid to save him from his enemies with the help of dreams. The Dream King, stylishly illustrated by Yoshikata Amano, is beautifully androgynous, dangerous looking and powerful. A convoluted tale that is too short, with pictures startling enough to keep you turning back to them over and over again.

June 16, 2006

48 Hour Reading Contest: Through the Wall

A.Fortis is always waxing eloquent about the ever fey Neil Gaiman, so I am taking a detour from Pratchett-mania to see what he's all about. And a beautiful beginner's book to discovering Gaiman is Stardust.

Side-by-side, the people of Wall live with Faery. Only every eight years do their paths cross, at the Faire, when at midday the guards stand down, and folk from all over come to mingle and buy wishes and cures from the fey on the other side of the wall. The people of Wall are hard and bluff, the people of Faery have odd eyes, and a certain weirdness around their ears. Once, the two sides of the wall combined, and a baby was born. He was raised in Wall, but when a heartless dare sent him to catch a falling star, he crossed the line to take up his true roots. Only, he didn't know they were his true roots. He didn't know that stars weren't something you just picked up and took home. He also didn't know how infrequently stars fell, and how many others in Faery wanted to get their hands on one.

The witch-women wanted a star desperately. Fallen stars kept them young.
The remaining sons of the Lord of Stormhold needed the star to prove their right of ascension to Lordship, and to give them impetus to murder their remaining brothers.
Against the darker forces of faery, and against the bewildering tangle of the land itself, what chance does one, halfling boy have?

And what will it all have been worth, when he gets home?

48 Hour Reading Contest: More Prom! Aaargh!

This book was a big surprise. Since I somehow got on a prom reading jag, I thought I was going to have to slap someone to finish this, but author Blake Nelson saved me. Though the novel starts out frothily enough, it deepens, and how!

The premise of Prom Anonymous is that three girls who have been friends since middle school are trying to go to the prom together for one last hurrah. They've really drifted apart through the years: Jace is an up-and-coming tennis star, Chloe is... weird, and Laura is cheerleader. A jock, a princess and a goth go into a bar... Yeah, sounds like the set-up for a joke, but it's not. Laura is an organizer, and sets out to 'organize' her friends. She already has a boyfriend, so she's set, but she doesn't account for the fact that she and her boyfriend are growing apart. Jace finally asks out a fellow jock, the highest ranking tennis player in the school, *but he's a bit more complicated than she thought. And Chloe's poetic passion erupts in a burst of creativity about the anonymous Zach whom she's supposed to remember forever, but once she meets him, is it really going to be all that magical? This novel is snarky and sarcastic and sly and actually very sweetly nostalgic about that End All Be All Celebration: Prom. Chloe's poems are a hilarious and perfect touch, including the title poem:
prom anonymous
boy, date,
zach who
likes yellow,
zach who is
tall, will like me
or not (nothing to
be done)
we'll take
pictures, dance, run through
the streets,
maybe one moment of
"yes, the stars are lovely,
and the trees are like kings"
and then:
see ya,
(they say
i'll remember you forever)

*Jace is my newest vote for the Cool Girl list! She proves herself woman enough to really deal!

48 Hour Reading Contest: Geeks and Freaks

I wish I could say I really loved this book as much as I like the title. Alyson Noel's novel, Art Geeks and Prom Queens is a storyline with a lot of potential, as the main character has an interesting theory -- there are certain 'types' of people in high school that end up with certain other 'types.' The Jocks go with the Cheerleaders, the Art Geeks go with the Computer Nerds, etc. There can be a lot of humor in discovering that the stereotypes we employ to make our way in the world are only accurate some of the time, but it seems that the character, Rio, never really discovers this. Instead, at her new, fancy Southern California school, Rio relies on her "types" theory to give herself the excuse to change into the person she usually loathes - a shallow follower her ignores her heart and makes friends with equally shallow people. The story is difficult to read unless the reader is familiar with the Gossip Girl series, and comfortable with the stereotypes therein. This is Queen Bees and Wannabes all over again - a simplistic story of a girl who wants to fit in and will do anything to do so, including snubbing her first friends at the new school, turning her back on her precious hobbies, drinking, doing drugs, using guys, and more. There is a titanic battle between Kirsti, the real Queen Bee at the school, and newcomer Rio that also is a bit contrived. The teens I know are a bit more real than this, but this is a quick, frothy read where all's well that ...ends.

June 15, 2006


There is nothing as cool as a trip to the library, unless it's a trip to the bookstore with lots of money. These things should inspire me to get a real job, but alas... What I am inspired to do, though, is read the Cool Girl novels this weekend that I haven't yet read. I may not get them all written up in time to qualify for the 48 Hour Book Challenge, but I'm already making lists and gloating because Liesel, main character in Markus Zusak's latest novel counts as a cool girl, and that one's already next to my bed. The most fun thing about this challenge is that I have an actual excuse to read all weekend. It's awful that it's Father's Day and I have a birthday party to attend this weekend, this is going to severely cut into my reading time. Fortunately I'm going to see my father at my brother-in-law's party; I can fling two gifts at them and leave, thereby cementing my reputation as an antisocial boor, and picking up where I left off on my last chapter...!

A.Fortis is always finding really cool graphic novels to share. I know nothing from that genre, so was pleased to read that Hyperion is publishing Abadazan, an intriguing graphic novel book-within-a-book kind of thing. It's partly the journal of a girl named Kate, interspersed with pages from a novel of this fantasy realm, Abadazan, and includes a graphic novel section as well. It sounds really interesting.

Something else graphic I want to check out is a surprise find from Mo Willems. The cartoonist of Pigeon and Codename: Kids Next Door fame has written an older picturebook - kind of adult, really - called You Can Never Find A Rickshaw When It Monsoons: The World on One Cartoon A Day. It's a collection of travel cartoons Willems did less when he embarked on a trip around the world less than a week after he graduated from college. What a cool idea, to wander the world sketching it as you go. Reviews says Willems captures world cultures 'drolly,' which has got to be the only way to capture them. I've heard the book might make a great gift, so possibly I'll fling it at someone this weekend.

Sigh. The recent Kids and Family Reading Report states that only 29% of kids ages 9-11 years old are high frequency readers and that the percentage of kids who read for fun (which is the definition of 'high frequency reader') continues to drop off through age 17. There's more detail, of course, talking about boys vs. girls, and telling us yet again that reading for boys drops off sharply after a certain age, etc., etc., ad infinitum, blah blah. The results of the study aren't really new. Perhaps a more beneficial conversation would be a plan to do something about it involving parents, teachers, schools and communities. Then there could be a study published about how well it worked, and what else we could do to fine tune it. Imagine all the new information then! The more readers, the more thinkers; the more thinkers, the more informed and involved citizens in our world, and God knows we need people who are paying attention!

June 14, 2006

Post-Life Citizens Brigade

12-year-old Johnny Maxwell has been having a really odd life lately. His best mates, Wobbler, Bigmac and Yo-less think the Trying Times his parents are going through have gone to his head. He lives across town, now, with his Gran and Grandpa, so there's not so much shouting, thus he's not playing many video games, but his walk home from school takes him past the cemetery, and Johnny likes it. He's really a dweeb. Or a nerd. Or whatever the cool word is this week. Johnny and his mates don't really know much about cool.

See, the weird thing about the cemetery is, the City Council is talking about digging up the old caskets and turning the site into... a suite of office buildings. With a fountain, of course, and benches and things. It'd be classy. It's too much money to maintain the old cemetery. Besides, there aren't any really famous people there, right? And new office buildings would Create Jobs. It wouldn't bother anyone.

Johnny's not convinced. For one thing, he knows it would bother some folks. The dead. See, they've told him it would.

Another sly and funny Pratchett tale about Johnny Maxwell and his completely buddies, with some thoughts on the connection between the living and the dearly departed, and how it's never too late to do what you want and have a great time - even if it's after life is over.

Saving the World... One Game at a Time

Terry Pratchett's book has gotten missed before, what with the reams of Discworld fantasies he's written, but this is true Pratchett - engaging and funny and sly. He writes satirically of video games in Only You Can Save Mankind, bringing to mind the bad old days of playing Space Invaders or some such dreck, where there were lines of mindless aliens, lining up to shoot you -- and be shot.

But what would happen if a message flashed across the screen that said "We Surrender?"

Johnny Maxwell is twelve. There's enough crap going on at home to make video games seem like a welcome escape from the Trying Times they're all going through. Nobody's cooking much at home. Nobody really cares where he gets to, but he's got pocket money, and his good mate Wobbler keeps giving him games he's hacked and hijacked to keep him busy. It's all going well until the day the Scree Wee captain calls a halt. It's not a game, she explains to him. We're dying.
We want safe conduct home.
Johnny, bewildered, says okay.

That couldn't have really happened, his mates tell him. Bigmac thinks he's nutty. Yo-less, his buddy who wants to be a doctor, and reads Books, says that Johnny is putting all his anxiety about his parents into his video gaming. Wobbler thinks he should just hack a new game.

The aliens are going home, right? But that's not the end of it. See, the Geneva Convention says that the wounded have to be bound, and the hungry fed, and that all parties have be returned to safe and neutral space. How's he supposed to do that? He's just a kid! And anyway, there's a really, really good player out there, and all she wants to do is kill aliens. Johnny's got his job cut out for him.

Subtly, Pratchett writes a beautifully complex and nuanced treatise on not only games but the sanitizing of ...war. And how, even though it's on the tube 24-7, people are dying.

Angry, angry girls

Gennifer Choldenko is a genius. Her novel, Notes from a Liar and her Dog is spot on about certain parts of growing up -- the angry bits. Just about every little girl goes through a period where her mother is her worst adversary. Antonia MacPherson is so unhappy with her mother, her father, her sisters and her life that she tells her favorite teacher, Just Carol, that she's adopted. None of those crazy people are her real family.

Ant is hurting, and Choldenko doesn't pull punches about some of the reasons why. Without her saying so, the reader knows that Ant MacPherson's mom wishes:
*that Ant would go by her given name, 'Antonia.' ("Ants spoil picnics," her father once tells her unkindly)
* that Ant would be more girly - and give up her best friend, Harrison, and her smelly dog Pistachio
* that Ant was "easy" like her two sisters, both of whom were named after queens.
* that Ant was beautiful

There are some really angry emotions rolling around in this book, and there's hurt shoved down deep. There are some really inventive lies told, too, but Ant realizes she can't keep on going like this. For one thing, Just Carol doesn't tell lies. And more than ever, Ant realizes she needs somebody on her side.

A really great, empowering book for middle graders and older graders too.


I remember I went on and on and on about Robin McKinley's novel, Sunshine, and thought I would never like another vampire novel nearly as well. There are, frankly, too many of them just written flippantly, basing their storylines on Buffy -- still -- or on a collection of well known items about the undead. (Just writing that line makes me laugh.) Very few people know how to make a fairytale new. Anne Rice sort of covered a lot of stuff, and mostly what people write are just ...sequels.

I was pleased to review Stephenie Meyers' novel, Twilight, which was an engagingly modern tale of star-crossed human-vampire lovers, but with the added benefit of an exploration of vampire... familial structure? Not post-apocalyptic like McKinley's book, but a tale in modern times of the obsession of a predator, Edward... with his prey, Bella, the newest student in the high school purgatory where he is stuck. Can you make a love story out of that?

The haze of desire provoked by Edward's dazzling eyes and the scent a vampire breathes are a new twist on the vampire lore, and keep things interesting. The antipathy between Bella and Edward also keep things interesting, as he goes out of his way to avoid her, even as he obsesses. Romance is in the air, the novel has been optioned as a movie, and a sequel is on the way. This is supposed to be a trilogy, and you may wonder if anyone can keep the romantic tension that long. Well, a hint: vampires are made for eating fragile humans, not romancing them. What happens with all that brute strength is the vampire loses control?

SUMMER READS: Not Your Mother's Faeries

I can't imagine how I've never posted anything by Holly Black before, but somehow I missed posting my review of Tithe! Well, no worries. It's a novel that isn't really explainable, because the storyline is multisensory, multilayered angst over grit. You've just got to read it!

Kaye is sixteen, and her life's already kind of a disaster. School isn't doable, of course, not while traveling with her Mom's band, and her Mom's singing career is, as usual, about to unravel. Kaye gets her Mom to safety when one of her boyfriend goes whacko on them, and they end up at Grandma's, where Kaye spent a lot of time growing up. Things aren't so good there, either. They're actually downright weird... all those imaginary friends she used to have aren't exactly imaginary. Her friend Janet's boyfriend is acting weird toward her. And then she meets this guy, Roiben... and he's, like, bleeding, at the edge of the woods. Something's going on. Her 'imaginary' friends say it's the Wild Hunt. And they're looking for a tithe...

This novel has all sorts of folktales like Tam Lin and others woven through, paired with filthy New Jersey and modern times. It's a wild ride, and you'll enjoy it. The end leaves space for a sequel, and there's word Black is working on it!

More recently, I finished Valiant, a novel set in the same gritty universe as Black's first book. Things aren't quite ...normal in the faery realms. There's been a power shift, since Kaye came to town, and there have been some changes. One of the worst changes is that the fey are... dying. Someone is poisoning them. But that's really no concern of Valerie Russell's. Her best friend, Ruth, is the one who'd know about that kind of stuff. She's the artsy one, the queer one with the velvet smoking jackets and all the snappy comebacks and the style. Val is just... herself. She has a boyfriend. She plays lacrosse. She lives with her Mom, who is kind of ditz, being makeup obsessed and a real estate agent, on top of that, but she's okay.
When the life Valerie thought she knew cracked open and exploded, she heads into New York and finds herself sleeping on the street. She has no idea of anything, but she knows she's never going home, not now. Head shaved, she squats with a loopy girl named Lolli and her boyfriend, Sketchy Dave, who lead her to their underground hovel. Luis, Dave's brother, isn't happy. Lolli says it's because he works for goblins, dealing some kind of drugs or something. She offers to show the disbelieving Val the goblin she's talking about...

Edgy and dark, Black's second novel is just as good as her first, and you'll want to clear a couple of hours to sit down and finish it!

Coming of Age In So Many Ways

Going for the Record is a tough novel to read, in some ways, but I was really glad to read it. The author, Julie A. Swanson writes a generously loving yet realistic novel about the horrors of watching someone you love die of cancer. Since in the past three years I've lost two aunts to cancer, and in the year before two friends, this was a great book for me to read. I've never read a YA novel that talks about things in such detail, and it made me wonder if Swanson hadn't suffered a similar up-close loss.

Soccer plays a big part in Leah Weiczynkowski's life, and her father is proud of her, when, as a senior, she is standing on the edge of her dream - to play in the World Cup and the Olympics. Too bad the timing is so poor, though; as her dream begins, his nightmare begins as well. Pancreatic cancer: painful, invasive, and quick. Leah has to put aside her love for her game in order to love her father. But what must she do to love herself too?

About Her Mom, Mostly

I picked up C.S. Adler's novel, Shadows on Little Reef Bay, the other day in the library because I always pick up a random handful, and sometimes I pick up gems.

This book was published in 1984, and it really reminded me of some of the best and worst things about YA literature in the past. What was nice about this novel is that 80's YA lit focused on 'hard reality' a lot -- people could be poor or counting pennies, and all this was explored without undue emphasis. It normalized whatever was going on in the world into a sort of "everybody is dealing with this" that made the books feel very static - and very safe. The fifteen year old main character, Stacy, seems young and naïve and that, too, gives the story a slow feeling of security. Nothing terriblyintriguingg going to happen with this girl, she's simply still a child. It's apparent that the writer believes this firmly.

What was sort of awful was that the novel didn't focus as much on the young adult in the novel, but kept laying out broad hints that her mother was practically unfit, and sort of flighty. It stood out clearly that the author wanted readers to pick this up. In the end, when serious danger accosts the heroine, the reader is almost bewildered and caught off guard, because so far the worst thing that has happened in the novel is that the mother is an unbearably clichéd "artist type" and Stacy seems chronically bored and nosy - which is why she stumbles into a drug running outfit on the island where her art teacher mother is on sabbatical.

The villians are obvious to the reader, if not Stacy, and the end is strangely stilted. The author seems to have definite Opinions about people, especially about 'artist types' and parents who don't parent, and these unwieldy opinions are forced out of the mouth of the character. A novel that could have done with a different point of view, this was at least a fun moment in the Wayback Machine to give us a picture of YA lit of the 1980's.

Unlucky Ad Placement

There's a sort of fairytale inplausibility about Kate Brian's novel, Lucky T, that normally would have made me smile. A novel that includes romance and travel is usually a slam dunk. Instead, this novel was to me an unfortunate hodgepodge of brand names, ad placement, and a very slim storyline indeed.

Carrie Fitzgerald is lucky, lucky. Even though her parents are divorced, she has a cool dad who is a commercial pilot. She has beaucoup gifts from him, and lots of clothes from her mother who does divorce guilt very well. Carrie excels at school, socially, and is gorgeous, but she knows she owes her luck all to a t-shirt her father got her. On the day he brought it home, things began to happen. When, in a groaningly obvious accident, the tee gets shipped off to India in a clothing drive for battered women, Carrie literally runs after it. To Calcutta. Because it's her luck, after all. She's got to get it.

While virtually unsupervised, this high school sophomore cuts a bold swath through India's poorest and most crowded city, making friends, helping orphans (please, hold onto your hair, as projectile vomiting may soon occur) dispensing gifts, and overall having a swell time. She meets a hottie, she does traditional Indian dances in the street (gagging now) wearing a sari (and no one asks what tradition, or anything unpleasant and specific like that). Yay, another American girl's been to India and come away with a bindi. Can we all stop exoticizing other cultures, end this stupid commercial for American commercialism and go home, now!?

June 13, 2006

UnderCover Girls and King Dorks

Oh, man, is it ONLY Tuesday!? I need a vacation already. Actually, I've just read that the U. of Hawai'i at Manoa is having their Thirteenth Biennial Conference on Literature: Imagining Other Lives, Other Times, Other Places, and I'm wishing I was going. Put on by Children's Literature Hawai'i, the conference features one of my favorite middle grade writers, Karen Hesse, and I just realized that if the PhD plans I had only a few years ago had panned out, I'd already be there. Sigh.

(Actually, I'm not sure what the sigh was for... I have enough to do this week without homework!)

Well, I feel slightly vindicated for my little grip last week on how so much of YA fiction is turning into a long commercial to a particular brand of something or other, since Monday's New York Times carried a piece on the same thing. Though there is still no money changing hands (and that's really intriguing to me - would you, as a writer, do free advertising?) CoverGirl cosmetics is well mentioned in Cathy's Book, and the company is launching a website in August to help tie the two.

Despite the buzz, this pat-my-back, I'll-pat-yours routine isn't anything new, really. I guess it's simply the first time there's been a formalized arrangement of you change that eyeliner to a color we make, we list your novel on our website, but there are some issues that bear deeper thought. How long is your publisher going to be your publisher if they're taking funds from someone else to create your book? How long until that touches you as the writer?, On one hand, it's a nifty idea to have websites and addresses where readers can get more information on the book, and from what I hear of the novel, it's kind of an updated, choose-your-own-adventure which uses technology to go even further with the storyline. That's excellent! On the other hand... further ad space for makeup products? Even a tiny bit of marketing to teen readers seems in bad taste. Mmm, gonna have to think about that one...

The Chron did a great piece this morning on Frank Portman and his new novel that's already generated so much excitement (in its FIFTH printing after only two months on the shelves - wow!) King Dork. I had to laugh at Portman's assumption that someday he'd be a literati, smoking a pipe and teaching school somewhere like Maine. Yeah, that's how all humanities majors start out, isn't it? And then you interact with both academia and reality for a bit, and realize you might need to think again. This novel wasn't necessarily on top of my must-read list (okay, I admit it - I've grown out of my punk band phase), but the enthused folks at 'not your mother's bookclub' have talked it up so much that it's rapidly moving to the top of my pile.

Happy Writing...!

June 09, 2006

Once upon a time, in Vermont...

Witness, but Karen Hesse, is a gripping story, told in blank verse form, of a Vermont town in 1924 who suffered an incursion of the Klan on their small town. 'Family Values' and American purity was stressed then, as it sometimes is now, and few saw through it, until things begin to happen. Good people questioned themselves. And some did not.

I loved the sepia-toned photographs, which, like a list of actors in a playbill, I kept flipping back to look at repeatedly. The story really came alive.

A quick and insightful piece, encouraging me to read more Karen Hesse!

Writing Emotionally

Though A.Fortis talked about this one before, I wanted to definitely encourage anyone who hasn't yet had a chance to read Joyce Maynard's The Usual Rules. Sometimes writers struggle to write about emotion, and in the wake of the East Coast terrorist attacks in 2001, we were a nation awash in so many emotions that we couldn't separate them out. Maynard uses a number of ways to convey emotion, including sometimes showing emotional conversations, interactions and present tense action without using quotation marks, almost as if it's a film happening without sound. Although the novel is of a serious and heavy nature, it has the required 'kernel of hope' that YA writers hardly ever do without. There are some unexpected pains and arguably there is some convenience in the resolution in the storyline, but the idea that spring comes after winter is always a good theme. I'm glad I finally got around to reading this.


I've been whinging about the dearth of multicultural children's lit. Aside from Mitali Perkins, whom we've gushed about before on this site, I am cheered to find a South Asian children's site that is an annotated bibliography that keeps track of what's new, what's out there, etc., for the young reader. Yay!

You know I have gnashed and wept and griped before about the lack of centrally featured strong and impervious girls in literature... (I mean, it's a bit of a shame that the Potter epics aren't called Hermione and the Sorcerers Sword, isn't it? Okay, okay, I know that may be pushing it, but...) I was pleased to find that East Bay maven Jen Robinson has started an official Cool Girls List, and at one point, it was going to be highlighting the top twenty coolest girls in literature. Hah! It's much longer than that now, and I can think of many more!

Awhile ago, Texas illustrator Don Tate blogged about the lack of stories of black males who just ... do stuff, like normal people. I let that thought percolate around in my head in view of the conversations I've had with The Agent, and remembering a very nice rejection I received which said that they appreciated that my character's race wasn't a subject of angst for her, that it was a "refreshing change." I am encouraged by his comments and the number of people who have linked to the post, discussed it, etc., and I know I have my work cut out for me... maybe we all do.

It's the Mother of All Reading Weekends!

Every once in awhile I find new bloggers on my favorite topic, YA and Children's Books, and I get a warm fuzzy. I've got more than a warm fuzzy now, I've got The Mother of All Challenges for a book reading/reviewing extravaganza. (Yes, I, too, am prone to hyperbole. I even like spelling the word. Wheee!) How many books can you read and review in 48 hours?! Game to find out? Some of the participants are professional reviewers, ALA types, junior librarians, etc., and your honor as a complete weekend slacker and constant-reader-of-YA-novels-while-eating-in-bed is at stake. The person who started this thinks she can read/review, count 'em, 40. Four-Oh. Are you in?

Final rules and information will be available on Thursday, June 15th, and then it's on. And here's a review of the rules so far:

The weekend is June 16–18th, 2006. Read and blog for any 48-hour period within the Friday-to-Monday-morning window. Start no sooner than 7:00 a.m. on Friday the 15th and end no later than 7:00 a.m. Monday. So, go from 7:00 p.m. Friday to 7:00 p.m. on Sunday... or maybe 7:00 a.m. Saturday to 7:00 a.m. Monday works better for you. But the 48 hours do need to be in a row.

The books should be about fourth-grade level and up. Adult books are fine, especially if any adult book bloggers want to play.

It’s your call as to how much you want to put into it. If you want to skip sleep and showers to do this, go for it (but don’t stand next to me). If you want to be a bit more laid back, fine. But you have to put something into it or it’s not a challenge.

The length of the reviews are not an issue. You can write a sentence, paragraph, or a full-length review.

For promotion/solidarity purposes, let your readers know when you are starting the challenge with a specific entry on that day. When you write your final summary on Monday, let that be the last thing you write that day, so for one day, we’ll all be on the same page, so to speak.

Your final summary should be posted online after 8:00 on Monday morning, even if you finished your 48 hours on Sunday. Include the number of books read, the approximate hours you spent reading, and any other comments you want to make on the experience.

Hit the link here to sign up, and start stockpiling food in your bedroom. Good luck!

The One You've Been Waiting For!

I've actually read two other books recently which I'm not going to even dignify with links. One was a really OBVIOUS mystery, the other a really tacky commercial for just about every product you can think of, written with such a blush-inducing materialistic slant that the writer should be ashamed. So you can imagine my relief when I discovered that the second novel in the Sangreal Trilogy, the one we've been waiting for was waiting for me at the library. Whee!

At first, I was a little confused at the title; depending on which printing, the novel can be called The Traitor's Sword, or The Sword of Straw, but once you get past the first chapter, the title doesn't matter anyway. Nathan's not in bed again. He's dematerializing as he dream-travels, and before you know it, he's knee-deep in... elsewhere. It's a futuristic city, this time, and he sees the Grandir. But he also finds another kingdom, where there is an ailing king and a princess whose kingdom is falling apart. Headstrong as usual, Nathan rushes in -- but the monsters are bigger and the betrayals are heavier this time around. Annie is frantic as her son outgrows her. She knows she should tell him about his father, but... Someone angry has burgledThornyhill, trying to find the Grail - again. And this time, they've been sent - and they know what they're looking for. Inspector Pobjoy returns, cynical and confused as ever; he knows somewhere these people are lying to him. Even Hazel, Nathan's always-faithful friend, isn't what she used to be. Fortunately, Bartlemy is just the same, whipping up treats in the kitchen, and Hoover takes care of the crumbs. Some things have to stay the same. At least they are on the surface...

As usual, getting what you want makes you want more. Can't wait for the end of the trilogy, and an explanation of how it will all wrap up. I'm beginning to suspect a connection between the Grandir and Nathan... but why? And who is Bartlemy really?

June 08, 2006

Marketing the YA Reader

(I should warn you that this is the Web equivalent of drunk-dialing: blogging about writing while in depressing Edit Hell. I apologize in advance for the negative tone.)
I have been thinking I should get a real job.
There's got to be millions to be made in marketing, but I've never been interested in creating consumerism and pandering to corporations. I want to be a writer, and do boring things like connect with people and help YA readers and middle grade kids know that, whatever their home life or school situation is, they're not alone.
How silly of me.

Today I read Kate Brian's Lucky T and realize that a 'real' job is just inches away. I can now engage in my chosen profession AND siphon some of the cash to be had in marketing jobs. Product placement is the key! Kate Brian is living the dream: she's a marketing guru disguised as a YA writer.

I knew it by the time I got to the third chapter of her novel. I stopped, picked up pen and paper, and went back to the beginning of her novel, so I could take notes on her awesome huckster technique. This is what I found:

In the first chapter of her novel, Brian mentioned:
Victoria's Secret, Miss Sixty low-riders, Red Bull, Diet Coke, (Anne of Green Gables, Tolkien, Beauty & the Beast) Hubba Bubba, Hello Kitty & "Micky-D's." Chapter 2 listed the Escape Hybrid, Pizza Hut Express, and McDonalds. Chapter 3: American Eagle, FCUK, BBQ Lays, Proactiv, The Matrix, NBA Blazers, (Pier 39 - a place, so that's iffy) Advil, Cosmo Magazine. Chapter 4 gave me Fudge-Covered Oreos, Snapple, Febreze, Travel Network, DKNY Jeans, Hilton, Discman; Ch. 5 inserted Avon's Skin-So-Soft, Mack trucks, Kill Bill, and Wes Craven, the movie-maker, and led to Chapter 6 with Oral B Brush-ups, J-Crew, Collin Farrell, NCAA College Basketball 2K3 on Xbox and SportCenter. It goes on. By Chapter 9, I had to get another pad of paper. It included: 49ers, BCBG, Abercrombie, (Captain Underpants) Shape Magazine, Power Rangers, Maxim Magazine, Lindsay Lohan, iPod, WNBA, Tom Hanks,( the movie, Castaway) Ch. 12: Kodak, FedEx, Barbie, Pacific Sunwear, Hollister Co., Haagen-Dazs, The Gap, Yoo-Hoo, Birkenstocks, InStyle Magazine, BlackBerry, Starbucks, Polo Sport Cologne.

It's so simple it's blinding. Character-driven fiction isn't what 13-18's want to read, anyway. They simply want to be told what to wear and where to get it. And then they can get on with the rest of their fairytales lives and live happily ever after.
Okay. I know that publishers these days publish some novels to be commercials, books not destined for bookshelves longer than a season, thus okay to be filled with soon-to-be-dated pop culture references and this week's fashion trends. I realize that in many ways publishing is no longer about the book, or, heck, the reader and it's all about the money and how best to make it fastest. That's part of being in a capitalistic culture. And I want to state that I don't think that eliminating all brand names and popular culture references from a novel is necessary. I know that there are some things that are sort of American icons like Disneyland or well-known landmarks like the Eiffel Tower or the names of movies and actors, bands and singers, etc., that can bring a little anchoring to your story, and I'm CERTAINLY all for mentioning the titles of books that the characters are reading or have read. But enough is enough. Am I hoping to sell Proactiv to my acne-scarred reader? Maybe entice them to whine for more allowance to try the newest Starbucks drink or scarf down the flavor of the month at Haagen-Dazs or the newest double cheese burger at Burger King and pack on a few more pounds? If I am... why?

I think my mother kind of created a monster when she used to rip the brand tags off my (secondhand, name brand) jeans and tell me that Mr. Levi-Strauss didn't pay rent to be advertised on my body. (Too bad I didn't appreciate this point of view at the time.) I can't do this pop culture thing. I'm too disbelieving and too cynical and frankly, too slow to keep up with the mercurial ebbs and flows of what's hot and what's not. Trying makes me feel like a junior high geek (that ill-concealed persona which lurks beneath my urbane adult self) and also seems to make me Least Likely To Succeed as a writer. And, finally, it makes me feel dishonest to think of putting so many products in a story, as if I've cheapened the act of creation it is to write a story. I'd feel like a total sell-out. What does Abercrombie & Fitch or Bayer or Tide or Jenny Craig or NyQuil or NoDoze or any other pharmaceutical, cleaning product, food brand or clothing line have to do with telling a good story? And it always begs the question, to me: what's the benefit for the writer? Are these people paying her somehow?

Every teen I know is already so self-conscious that what they have isn't the best thing, the right thing, the things that the leaders of the pack have had for weeks and are about to throw away for the next big thing that they're halfway insane. If you're writing for kids because you love that age group, why would you help make them crazier by writing them ad copy in lieu of a story that can take them out of the noise in their heads, for just a blessed minute?

June 07, 2006

Go Kirkus! Go Kirkus! It's Your Birthday!

From the Kirkus website (and thanks to the SCBWI e-newsletter for the tip):

Kirkus Reviews, the leading pre-publication book-review journal, has officially launched its second year of the annual search for the Next Big Literary Star. "For this project, Kirkus has turned its well-known abilities in the area of literary criticism and analysis to finding a brand-new voice," said Jerome Kramer, Kirkus Reviews Editor-in-Chief. "You might call it American Idol for the book world."

Kirkus is now accepting submissions for the 2006-2007 literary award, with the winning manuscript to be published by a major New York publisher. To enter your completed yet unpublished, full-length (45,000+ words) novel or short-story collection, please follow the submission guidelines for a chance to win a publishing contract.

The early-bird deadline is October 31, and the fee until then is $135. So get cracking! The contest is open to anyone who has NOT yet published a novel or short-story collection. More details here.

Hmmm...I sense a late-October personal deadline for my novel revision...

June 06, 2006

Odds & Ends

There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. -- W. Somerset Maugham

I don't know what they are, either. After another round of edits (and a truly horrendous conversation with *S.A.M., resulting in him actually feeling the need to explain emigrate vs. immigrate, and saying the words "show, don't tell" -- the horror!!) I now officially feel that I know nothing about novels, nothing about writing, nothing about my characters, and all too much about the nature of certain people on the East Coast. That's okay - I know someone else on that side of the world, and she remarked once that she was glad to be back East where she can be rude. This North Bay girl might need to take some lessons from a Jersey Girl and be a little rude...

The Detroit Free Press is following one of their writers through the process of writing and selling a book. Her first installment is a funny piece on readers and writers and that frightening statistic of 80% of Americans who believe they have a book within them (That number comes from Brian Hill and Dee Power, the authors of "The Making of a Bestseller: Success Stories from Authors and the Editors, Agents and Booksellers Behind Them" (Kaplan, $19.95).). Well, we have that in common, I suppose, but it'll be interesting to see if the author perseveres to get it written and actually sold. Anyway, statistics (those lying, twisted things) are always being collected to reveal that there are far more novelists than readers, and writers often have to take a deep breath before committing themselves to the act of creation that is writing. But once you're in for the lunacy of writing, why stop there? Why not believe that you can win tickets to the Dublin Writing Festival, too? It's just one more impossible thing to believe before breakfast.

A really annoying trip to the bookstore with the Littles (younger sibs) proved to me something I'd long suspected: that there really are very few good chapter books for the transitional group from early readers to longer fiction. There aren't as many multicultural books as there should be. There aren't as many great books for middle grade readers as they should be, and there really aren't as many books for reluctant readers as there could be. This is NOT to say that there aren't some marvelous books out, but in the huge chain bookstore where I was (yuck, and I usually patronize independents, but I wasn't near one), I saw huge, thick books that beckoned middle grade readers who were already competent, not interesting books for struggling kids. I saw a lot I didn't like, and it made me want to go home. Funnily enough, an article I ran across in the School Library Journal website came to the same conclusions! I feel vindicated... but now I'm worried, too. What are we writers going to do about this? I hope publishers are listening, too...
*secret agent man, in case you'd forgotten.

A SUMMER READ: Sheep Girl Makes Good

There's nothing like getting into a good fantasy, and since Giannine's cruddy father at least has the decency to have his secretary ask her what she wants for her birthday, she can choose what she wants: a pricey half hour of the Rasmussen Gaming Center's virtual reality game Heir Apparent. It's cloaks, it's daggers, it's castles and wizards; it's dungeons and dragons and strange tastes and weird smells and velvets and brocade more. And, best of all, it's fantasy. It's not thinking about her life - or her horrible parents - for what feels like a three whole days.

When Giannine gets to the gaming center, there's a protest in progress. Citizens to Protect Our Children (CPOC) is up in arms and waving signs, but Giannine doesn't care - she just wants to play. It's a good place to forget that her dad hardly ever sees her, and doesn't seem to care much about her. After all, he chucked her with her grandma, and made her mother get a paternity test to prove she was his when they got divorced. It's better to just ignore reality for awhile, and Heir Apparent seems like a tricky enough game for Giannine to get her wish.

But that's before something goes wrong with a game! There's only one way out -- winning. And Giannine can't figure it out. She's just supposed to get the magic ring, find a treasure, answer a riddle, make up a poem, escape from some ghosts and steal something from a man-eating dragon. I mean, how hard could it be? It's only a game!
But, this time it's more. And Giannine is running out of time...

Remember choose your own adventure novels? This is even cooler!


Phoenix Rising definitely counts as a Summer Read, but not for the usual reasons. It is neither lighthearted fare nor funny (in fact, you may need a tissue), but it is a short novel that stays with you. Karen Hesse wrote this book after seeing a documentary on the 1986 nuclear accident at Chernobyl, and was unable to shake the scenes of devastation from her memory. This book contains the same ache, adding to it the poignance of a friendship coupled with the losses a disaster brings -- mostly a loss of innocence.

Nyle lives with her grandmother on her Vermont sheep ranch. Nyle didn't always live there; once she had both a mother and a father, but her mother was dying, and her father abandoned them both. Once she had a grandfather, too, but illness carried him away, leaving Nyle a terror of the back bedroom where both of them died, and a deep ache. Older now, Nyle is used to living with losses, has gotten used to the rhythm and routine of life with sheep. She loves her best friend, tries hard in school, and isn't interested in learning any other way of life. Nyle is home.

But then 'home' changes. A nuclear accident at a nearby plant plunges the community into dark basements, masks on their faces. Roads are blocked, cattle are slaughtered and fear looms throughout the village. When her grandmother quietly takes in a refugee family, Nyle is afraid that the darkness in that back bedroom will take another life. She is afraid to meet death again, afraid to even look at the faces of the people who have suffered so much, and probably would die. But because it's the right thing to do, she pushes down her fears and looks. What the room holds instead of fear is hope.

June 05, 2006

A SUMMER READ: The Undead Have Class!

It's just not every day that you run across a truly funny vampire book. I thought I wouldn't like Vampire High, by Douglas Rees, but it has an awful lot going for it. For one thing, it's not trying to pretend it's a Certain High School on a Hellmouth. It's in New Sodom, Massachusetts and it's remarkably low on musicals, nights of horror and drained bodies. It's kind of normal. Kind of. There are three high schools - a Catholic school called Our Lady of Perpetual Homework, Cotton Mather High, and ...Vlad Dracul Magnet School.
The locals don't talk about that one, much.
Cody Elliot is determined to flunk every class at Cotton Mather in an attempt to force his father to let him go home. His mother is unhappy, and he hates Massachusetts. He's longing for California something awful. His father, a lawyer finally getting a chance to work his way into partnership at an excellent law firm, is adamant -- they're not going back. Instead, Cody's changing schools.

Vlad Dracul is...weird. Everyone is tall. Mr. Horvath, the principal, must be at least seven feet. And he's got a pet wolf, which seems like it can almost talk. The school is posh - there's marble and gold everywhere. There are kids with chauffeurs and everyone looks rich -- and smart. So many of Cody's classmates sport sunglasses that you'd think their parents had stock in Ray Ban. There's no pushing in the halls, no note passing, no chewing gum -- no, those aren't the rules, the kids just don't do that. Cody wonders what's up with everyone, but he takes it all in stride.
And then one of the pales kids shows Cody his fangs.

Once Cody gets over the obvious, he tries to figure it out -- how does he fit in at Vlad Dracul? Why are there humans around at all? He's making straight A's by doing absolutely nothing? He's got a free ride? Cody's dad is a lawyer... so Cody knows nothing is really for free. He figures there's a catch. So, what is it?
It'll surprise you. And what Cody chooses to do about it will surprise you even more.

Another quick, fun satire that manages to be slyly funny while looking past the surface of human nature and ambition, and what motivates us. It's all about high school -- really.

SUMMER READ - Magic: Use it or lose it

It's time to talk about Summer Reads again!
I know - it's not officially summertime until well into the middle of this month, but I don't care. I'm already giving in to the sapping sunshine, wanting to stretch out, catlike, with a book and let the world roll on without me.

If you're ready to dive into summer in another world, Justine Larbalestier's Magic Or Madness is a book that reaches out and pulls you in. Australia isn't where many fantasy novels are set, but the choice is perfect as the antithesis of the East Village, New York -- it might as well be another universe.

Reason Cansino is trying to escape from her grandmother - a crazy woman who is convinced she's a witch. Her mother has told her stories about The Witch for years - that she killed her cat, that she kidnapped kids -- and Reason knows enough to be wary and scared. Her mother, Sarafina, has taught her all sorts of things in case of emergency: the layout of her grandmother's house, things to do to drive her crazy, since she really believes she's magical -- and things to make her safe. Reason's name as good as locks her into believing in logic and rationality. But when her mother loses it and ends up institutionalized, there's no one left to live with but her grandmother - the witch. And then Reason starts to lose her grip -- the day she steps out of a locked door in her grandmother's house, she finds herself in New York.
Suddenly magic is real.
Why has her mother been lying to her all these years?
Who's the chick who gives her a coat and a hot fire to thaw her out, after she steps into an East Coast snowstorm?
What's going on?

This arresting novel comes with a sequel, which I'm hoping to jump into soon. It's a quick afternoon read, and has that page-turning intensity which would probably make is smarter to read the first one with the sequel right next to you!

June 04, 2006

Summer Fantasy Extravaganza

I've always liked the hyperbole of the word "extravaganza." What is a "vaganza" anyway, that having an extra is a good idea? Anyway. I've been reading up on a lot of fantasy lately, in thinking about writing some fantasy or sci-fi myself, and have caught up with some classic series as well as a few more recent releases—all of them new to me, though—and they're all included here. And, let me tell you, it's been a fun way to stay inside in the air-conditioning now that it's June and north central California is becoming an oven.

What started me on my latest fantasy binge was seeing a new release by Tamora Pierce in a bookstore (in blessedly cool Seattle), reading the dust jacket, and realizing that I had two whole series of her books left to read before I ought to tackle this, the latest in the Circle of Magic and Circle Opens world. So I did. I went to the library and first checked out the Circle of Magic quartet. These series are set in a world similar in feel to the Lioness and related series, though there's a new world map to get to know and a new set of cultures and social structures. All of these are drawn with Pierce's usual attention to detail and knowledge of our own world's history.

In the first of these books, Sandry's Book, we are introduced to all four main characters: Sandry, Tris, and Daja, all girls, and Briar, one boy. All are about ten years old, each is from a very different walk of life, but all have strange, untested, yet powerful forms of magic. Brought together by the respected mage Niko to the temple of Winding Circle, they must get to know one another at the same time that they learn to control their magic. In the process, they form bonds with one another that, while they are magically strong, will be tested in various ways as each one encounters his or her own set of trials. In the first four books, the four learn how to control their magic together at Winding Circle, as pupils of the temple dedicates: Sandry with thread magic, Tris with weather magic, Daja her fire magic, and Briar with green magic.

The story picks up a few years later in the Circle Opens quartet, in which the four travel separately to various reaches of their world with their teachers. Each one must now become a mage-teacher themselves, and learn to help others without the added magical support and friendship of the other members of the quartet. Daja, for instance, must help a community deal with an insidious arsonist while teaching two wayward sisters how to control their burgeoning magical talents. In this quartet, the stories grow increasingly exciting, and the world is drawn in more and more detail, but at the same time, there's a bittersweet feeling, as each of the students must learn to face life without one another.

Here's where the newest book, The Will of the Empress, picks up. Sandry, Briar, Daja, and Tris are brought together once again, as older teenagers, but they've been apart for so long that the bonds of both magic and friendship have suffered. Can they learn to re-forge that bond in time to deal with a scheming Empress's harmful plotting? Yet another exciting tale.

Of course, I read all this a little while ago, in the late spring, actually, before going on vacation for a while. Upon coming back, I started thinking about revising a novel manuscript I've been trying to get published and TadMack recommended a book in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series entitled The Wee Free Men. I hadn't read a Discworld novel in years—since I was in high school, probably. What I remembered about Discworld—or so I thought—was its rampant silliness and satire, so I wasn't sure how that would apply to my particular project, which is decidedly not a satire. But I thought I'd give it a read, because TadMack has excellent taste, and also because it would make a nice break from thinking heavy revision-related thoughts.

It turned out that I was in for a nice surprise. Though Wee Free Men and its sequel, A Hat Full of Sky, are loosely set in Discworld, the heavy satire I remember is largely absent. Although there is a lot of humor, and occasional references to recurring characters, this story could have been set in the bucolic past of our own world. Imagine an England-like countryside where witches exist, but are mistrusted; where the world of faerie pops up to those who have eyes to see.

Now insert young Tiffany Aching, heir to her grandmother's witchy heritage. Instead of happy little fairies with golden wings, insert a tribe of miniature cussing Scottish hooligans. Though this is in many ways a funny story, it's also suspenseful, dealing with the dark side of faerie, and the general stupidity of human nature. I'm still reading the sequel, and, happily, I hear that there's a third book in the works. I can hardly wait, and I'm even thinking about re-reading the other Discworld books. After all, I have a friend who owns all of them, and an entire hot summer ahead of me.