August 31, 2007

Pistols & Nazis & French, Oh My! Under Radar Wrap Up

I wish my copy of this book weren't packed and somewhere heading across the Atlantic. The artwork on the 1960's version is full of larger-than-life stereotypes -- a cartoony biplane, a sinister looking man with a big nose and a baguette, and a kid with boots.

My first copy of this book I borrowed from my best friend when I was eleven. My best friend at the time was a twenty-seven year old policeman's wife who was pregnant with her first child, and who apparently was testing her tolerance for children by having around. We are still dear friends, so I know she was at least somewhat amused with me, but she was my best friend then solely because she had books, and let me read them. She'd invite me to sit down amongst the piles and shelves in her cool den, and, with clean hands and promises not to turn back the pages, let me read anything child-friendly that she had, as long as I was in her home.

I have to admit, I seriously considered stealing this book from Auntie Nita. I wanted to read this book over and over again, because the story hooked me from the very start.

Johnny's Dad has been away, fighting in WWII, and Johnny's mother, who is French, has been doing her best to keep up with the ranch in Wyoming without him -- but it's not going so well. There isn't money for the things Johnny wants, like a two-wheeler red bicycle with a high gear and a low gear like his friend Bob's. Johnny really wants that bike, and during a bad winter storm, he does his best to be a man on the ranch and help out -- because he knows that if they get the work done, and the money coming in, maybe they can afford more things. When 12-year-old Johnny fractures his leg trying to help bring in the cattle from the east range, things go from bad to worse. Johnny's break is set multiple times in the next year and a half, but the fact is, he may need an operation. It'll be expensive, tricky, and painful. Now Johnny's leg has been set more than once, and the doctors say he'll need an expensive, painful and tricky operation but without it, the doctor says he will never walk again.

Johnny's not only terrified, but he's angry once his father finally comes home, and breaks the news that he isn't able to stay, and Johnny's going to get dumped in a little village in France with his mother's brother to regain his strength. Who wants to go to some dumb little village where nobody speaks English? Not Johnny, that's for sure. He wants to be with his ranch and his cattle and his father, and he's not taking it well that he isn't getting his way.

There are some pluses he notices once his awe-inspiring tantrum is over. For one thing, Oncle Paul is building an airplane... l'avion. For another thing, Johnny -- or Jean -- has been promised an awesome red bicycle at the end of the summer, if he will make an attempt to walk again.

But there's more. Jean learns that something is downright fishy in the little French village. There are strange people about -- stranger than just the regular old strange French people in the village. And then Jean finds un pistolet... dans une baguette de pain... a gun in a loaf of bread. Soon readers are on the trail de l'aventure... et, oui: they are reading in French.

Quite possibly no other middle grade novel ever ends in this fashion; the last three chapters of The Avion My Uncle Flew are written completely in simple French. Readers will surprise themselves when they find that they can read it!

First published in 1946, immediately following World War II, this book earned a Newbery Honor citation for 1947, and has since been kind of a forgotten classic, but readers will be pleased to know that it was re-released in April of 2004 by Walker & Company.

The Avion My Uncle Flew was written by Cyrus Fisher, the pen name for author Darwin LeOra Teilhet (1904-1964). As a child, Teilhet traveled frequently to France, his family’s ancestral land, and even worked as a juggler in a French circus. Having learned to fly in high school, Darwin Teilhet returned to St. Chamant in 1924 to build a glider. Teilhet served as an intelligence officer in Great Britain and the United States during World War II, and from there got plenty of fodder for this post-war YA adventure novel.

Darwin Teilhet and his wife, Hildergarde Tolman Teilhet wrote more than fifty detective novels during the Golden Age of Mysteries, when the likes of Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers and Ellery Queen were in high demand. Darwin Teilhet taught journalism classes at Stanford and worked as consultant for various film producers. As executive assistant to the President of Dole Pineapple in Hawaii -- what sounds like a relatively staid, 'normal' job, produced for him even more ideas for murder mysteries. One of his most famous is set in Hawaii, and references Dole. Since YA literature wasn't then what it is now, Teilhet only wrote two novels for young people using the pen name of Cyrus Fisher -- two that I could find, anyway. I am hoping that somewhere, someone knows of a few more.

Read the first chapter of this suspenseful and entertaining bilingual mystery. You'll want to take this gem and keep it, too.

It's been an amazing week! I've really enjoyed seeing what book treasures out there I might have missed, and hope you have too! Last recommendations unearthed today at: A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy - The impactive, gritty Vietnam books by Ellen Emerson White,

Big A, little a goes down to The Deep by Helen Dunmore,

Bildungsroman discusses the May Bird Trilogy by Jodi Lynn Anderson, whose other work I've enjoyed, so I know I'll need to check this out,

Not Your Mother's Bookclub takes a look at some recently revised classics,

Fuse Number 8 takes on Stoneflight by George McHarque

At lectitansit's books, Louisiana Styles, with Gentle's Holler and Louisiana Song both by Kerry Madden, a great bppl and a book review I will be posting soon,

Our able leader at Chasing Ray finishes the week with Kipling's Choice by Geert Spillebeen,

Interactive Reader chimes in with a fun sounding book I'm sure I need to read, A Plague of Sorcerers by Mary Frances Zambreno,

The YA YA YAs discuss the spooky sounding Resurrection Men by TK Welsh, whose good with the creepier stories,

Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast finishes out the week sitting pretty with Such a Pretty Face: Short Stories About Beauty edited by Ann Angel

August 30, 2007

Under Radar Toon Hiatus

Well, I'm sorry to say that Toon Thursday is on hiatus this week. Mostly it's due to catching up on lots of other work--including the final looking-over of my YA novel manuscript (woo!) before putting proposals together--but I also wanted to make sure that everybody got a good look at all the fabulous Under Radar Recommendations. Yup, I'm totally selfless.

Of course, if you're jonesing for a toon, you can always check out last week's edition, especially if you missed it at the time. Meanwhile, here's a contest I ran across--Crab Orchard Review has a call for submissions out for an upcoming special issue on The In-Between Age ~ Writers on Adolescence:
CRAB ORCHARD REVIEW is seeking work for our Summer/Fall 2008 issue focusing on writing inspired or informed by the experiences, observations, and/or cultural and historical possibilities of the following topic: "The In-Between Age ~ Writers on Adolescence." We are open to work that covers any of the multitude of ways that the transition from childhood to adulthood in the teenage years defines us and, in turn, defines the world we live in.

All submissions should be original, unpublished poetry, fiction, or literary nonfiction in English or unpublished translations in English (we do run bilingual, facing-page translations whenever possible). Please query before submitting any interview.

I'm honestly not sure if that means they'd welcome YA, but I was thinking of re-tooling a YA short story I have and sending it in. Also, the Zoetrope 11th Annual Short Fiction Contest is now open for submissions, to be judged by Joyce Carol Oates. Go for it, writers!

Giant Shoes to Fill: Under Radar Reccomendations

I first picked up the book because the cover was bizarre. It was white, plain, sort of ...spare. A huge hand, a net, and a massive pair of boots dominated the cover, and the word 'giant' was used.

Sometimes that's all it takes.

What was a whimsical choice in my 'lightning round' at the library turned out to be one of my very favorite books of all time, ever ever.

Big, tall, fifteen-year-old Lucy Otswego's struggle to cast a longer shadow than her father's reputation as a mean fall-down drunk in their town is more than she can take. Lucy's father hardly looks at her or speaks to her, because she looks like her mother -- who left them. Adults who've seen Joe's fast right hook pity Lucy, her classmates mock her, and she's on a first-name basis with every bartender in town...

All of them. Because after Joe's benders, Lucy's the one they call to carry him home.

When Joe's world destroys the one thing Lucy loves, she takes off, sloughing off her past like an unwanted coat. Mistaken for someone much older due to her size, she ends up with what she needs: a place to stay, and a job... but it's a job that's dangerous and rough, and she makes mistakes -- and an enemy -- right away. Things could be so, so good, if only this wasn't just a dream world. Lucy's in way, way, way over her head. But there's no way to stop...

Young readers discussed Lucy the Giant on Book Club of the Air for Young Adults, on LA 36, an Arts & Culture channel. Students in the book club said the book reminded them of a fairytale, correctly identifying the underlying structure of the Hero's Journey in the tale. When author Sherri L. Smith actually drops in on their discussion, the girls eagerly pepper her with their questions on craft and discuss Smith's take on Lucy. "Do you find it hard to be mean to your characters?" one of them asks. (Take a listen: her response will make you laugh.) Smith is genial, open, and funny, making herself a delightful guest.

More important that her wittiness, Sherri Smith is a.) not a giant, b.) not an Alaskan Native [i.e., Inuit, Tlingit, First Nations Alaskan peoples] c.) nor a crabbing expert, which speaks well, again, of the power of imagination. Anyone can tell another's story: the trick is to tell it well, and Sherri L. Smith has that down to a science.

Lucy the Giant was translated into Dutch in 2004, and under the title Lucy XXL, won an honorable mention at De Gouden Zoen, or Golden Kiss Awards, which was a tremendous honor for an American book by a first-time author.

"An awesome first novel," I said when I first reviewed Lucy the Giant back in 2005, impressed at the research and imagination the author used to create an almost tangible Alaska for Lucy's world. It turns out that Sherri L. Smith has also written an awesome second novel set, in part, in pre-Katrina New Orleans, with all of the subtle and specific details in place. The novel is titled Sparrow, published July 2006, and was recently nominated as a Louisiana Young Reader's Choice Award.

Kendall has lived with G'ma for years, ever since her entire family was killed in a freak car accident. Family takes care of family is the golden rule in G'ma's world; but once G'ma's gone, Kendall has only an aunt left, one she doesn't remember, who didn't even come to the funeral. Kendall is seventeen, has ten days to find a guardian to sign the lease on her apartment, and nothing to lose. She heads for New Orleans, and her Aunt Janet, since even if you've never really met them, family's got to take family in... right?

Fans can look forward to another treat when Sherri L. Smith's Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet debuts in February. A multicultural family and one shot at coming together with all ethnicities entwined to make a celebratory meal and impress a boy -- sounds like a foodie novel after my own heart!

Sherri L. Smith's books use a captivating first-person to drop readers right into the emotional center of her novels. Pick one up -- like me, you truly won't be disappointed.

Tomorrow's excellent Under Radar Reads include...

A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy talking over Friends for Life and Life Without Friends, companion books continuing with the author celebration for Ellen Emerson White,

Shaken & Stirred presents: The Changeover and Catalogue of the Universe, both by Margaret Mahy,

Big A, little a shares an interview with Helen Dunmore!

Jen Robinson's Book Page The Treasures of Weatherby by Zilpha Keatley Snyder,

Bildungsroman: Swollen by Melissa Lion;

Miss Erin: Erec Rex: The Dragon's Eye by Kaza Kingsley,

Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast: Billie Standish Was Here by Nancy Crocker,

Fuse Number 8 is getting loud with The Noisy Counting Book by Susan Schade,

Chasing Ray Juniper, Genetian and Rosemary by the uniquely talented Pamela Dean,

lectitans want to know Who Pppplugged Roger Rabbit? by Gary K. Wolf,

And Writing and Ruminating wraps up the day with a novel in poems that broke my heart in a good way, Hugging the Rock, by Susan Taylor Brown.

The party's not yet over. Tune in for one more day!

August 29, 2007

In More News

BFF Robin Brande's upcoming book has its own book trailer!! Now, I've seen book trailers. But this one! Is awesome! YAY! And the Guardian put together something for Aquafortis, because they know she's a secret Anglophile: it's the 10 Ten Dystopian Novels for Teens round up. Dark, broody, and English. Fun!

Bottom Shelf Books: not to be read whilst imbibing iced tea: Minh -- as always full of happy little factoids to amuse -- does an awesome author interview with Kyra Hicks, a lady whom I don't think has gotten quite enough attention. She's practically... Under Radar. Hmm. I'm sensing a theme!

In memory of Robert Mercer, please don't forget to visit Robert's Snow 2007 auctions which will raise money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

Under the Radar Recommendations: The House on Hound Hill

RadarWhen I originally mentioned UK author Maggie Prince's first US-published novel, The House on Hound Hill, on our sister site Readers' Rants, I had no idea that over two years later I would be frantically poring over website after website, page after page of Google search results, only to find next to nothing about this elusive, truly under-the-radar author. She's on booklists all over the place, and has written two other YA novels besides The House on Hound Hill: a historical romance called Raider's Tide, evidently published in Australia, and North Side of the Tree, which seems to be a sequel. She's also got books for younger readers, released in the UK, including Memoirs of a Dangerous Alien, Pulling the Plug on the Universe, and Rachel on the Run. Clearly she's been a working writer for a while now; so why does she remain under the radar?

Obviously that's sort of a rhetorical question, at least for the purposes of this post, since I wasn't able to find an answer anywhere on Google or on publishers' websites. But I'd like for her wonderful book, at least, to get a little more attention. When I first read The House on Hound Hill, it was one of those fortuitous library accidents: I was browsing in the YA section, judging books by their covers as I so frequently and embarrassingly do, and was intrigued by the blurb on the back that read "Something is not right in Emily's new house in the historic London neighborhood of Hound Hill…" According to Prince, "The idea for the plot came when a plague outbreak in India coincided with my son studying A Journal of the Plague Year, by Daniel Defoe, for his A-levels. The thought of things from the past – diseases and who knows what else – not having gone away properly, was riveting" (HarperCollins UK).

Now, I'm a sucker for stories about the past coming alive, sticking around, or otherwise impinging on the present day, and I’m also a bit of an Anglophile, so stories about creepy old London houses are right up my alley. One of my favorite parts of traveling to truly old cities like London is the feeling of history being so tangible. And that's what Emily finds out in Prince's book—only for Emily, history really is not only tangible but dangerous. As I mentioned in my review on Readers' Rants,

In this novel, the main character moves with her mother and brother, post-divorce, to an old house in a very old area of London. She senses something strange about it from the beginning, but isn't able to put her finger on it. As she gradually encounters strange and ghostlike figures in her house and around the neighborhood, and gets to know its unsavory history during the last Great Plague in the 1600s, she finds out just why the area (and her house in particular) seem so creepy to her.

The House on Hound Hill was first published in 1996 as Here Comes a Candle to Light You to Bed, and in some ways that title does a better job of conveying the thrilling suspense and darkness of this novel. And it is dark—there's a greyness to the atmosphere which Prince does a nice job of conveying, and of course the darkness of certain eras in the past is also portrayed well and in vivid detail. For an edgy (as in it makes you edgy), fascinating, and even "edutaining" read, I recommend this one. Add it to your spooky October booklists!

For a small amount of information about Maggie Prince. visit her biography page on the HarperCollins Australia website and an interview on the HarperCollins UK website.

Today's other Radar stops:

A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy: The President's Daughter series by Ellen Emerson White

Big A, little a: The Tide Knot by Helen Dunmore

Jen Robinson's Book Page: The Zilpha Keatley Snyder Green Sky trilogy

Bildungsroman: Innocence by Jane Mendelsohn: A Discussion Part 1

Chasing Ray: Innocence by Jane Mendelsohn: A Discussion Part 2

lectitans: Innocence by Jane Mendelsohn: A Discussion Part 3

Miss Erin: The Reb & Redcoats and Enemy Brothers, both by Constance Savery

Bookshelves of Doom: Harry Sue by Sue Stauffacher

Interactive Reader: Shake Down the Stars by Frances Donnelly

Chicken Spaghetti: Pooja Makhijani guest blogs with Romina's Rangoli

Shaken & Stirred: Elizabeth Knox's Dreamhunter Duet

Writing & Ruminating: Dear Mr. Rosenwald by Carole Weatherford

August 28, 2007

Fun for Your Inner Editor

I found a few interesting links to share with you today. Since I recently took on some new freelance editing work and may end up with some more, I was interested in self-quizzes for the AP Stylebook. I have a copy, and refer to it a lot, but I still need to sit down and actually study it at some point. So I thought some exercises might be helpful, and I ended up finding these and these. I also found a potentially very useful site called, full of exercises in grammar, AP style, and for you Most Egregious Misuse addicts, exercises in easily confusable words.

On a completely different note, don't miss the new site Cuentesitos by fellow graphic novel Cybil-ster Gina of AmoXcalli--it's dedicated to Latino children's and YA lit, but it also happens to have our SCBWI blogging presentation prominently featured at the top. Thanks, Gina, and good luck with the new blog!

A Sliver of Light: Under Radar Reccomendations

"Everything falls to Katherine, and that means everything is falling apart."

It is a powerful and heartfelt book which, for reasons of its authentic voice and timeless truths, cracked my heart when I first read it in 2001. The MFA thesis of author Heather Quarles, this book combines a family story and an exploration of belief to create a book painful in its clarity.

The storyline isn't earth shattering: An alcoholic woman with four kids barely making it isn't particularly original. The eldest child, Katherine, emerging as the caretaker of Douglas, Tracy and Alisa is what Al-Anon says naturally occurs in every family touched by alcoholism. People fall into roles in a family of dysfunction. It's just how they cope, how we might cope in the same circumstances. But into this spiral of destruction, shines a light... from a wardrobe in the middle of nowhere. And that light both eases the darkness, and reveals a way in which they all have so much more to lose than they previously believed possible.

Just... something about the way this particular family is falling apart catches at the heart. As I said when I first reviewed this book for my writing group years ago,
"The truth is found in the writing -- the dialogue breathes life into fear and anger, the chronic feelings of helpless love and suppressed rage the main character feels. The first person narration gives a true immediacy to the piece, and drags readers into the painful places with the family."
At fifteen, most of us wanted to prove that we could run our own lives; these teens have to try, for the sake of staying together; they can't even turn to their father, who is on a second wife and family. Though he might have grudgingly helped them, their youngest sister, Alisa, isn't his child. Surely a parent who shows she can't be trusted to take care of her own has given them the idea that no one else will take care of a child who does not even belong to him. So, the family goes it alone, and their attempt is astounding. But teachers have eyes -- and the act of trying to parent while trying to be a kid is visible. When it all implodes, a desperate gamble to keep her family together drives Katherine to an extreme that may ruin more than she knows.

This book won awards - four of them. This book garnered critical praise. The author, according to the flyleaf of the book, has written short stories and essays. I have never found any, neither can I find an interview nor any additional information on the author except that she graduated from Emerson College. And I wonder: did something happen? Is she still writing? Can I ever tell her how much this book means to me?

An echo of this one book has remained with me for years, prompting me to read more about C.S. Lewis' responses to the children who responded so strongly to him, and to more carefully frame questions of my own in the stories I write, with a heart for the people who may encounter my books, and ask questions of their own, seeking hope while dealing with reality. Such questions are universal, poignant, and haunting:

When faced with silence and despair, are we losing our grip when we find that we want to believe in Narnia? Is there something wrong with trying to find it wherever we are? Aren't we all still looking for A Door Near Here?

Thoughtful, evocative and valuable book-gems found elsewhere. Check out:

A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy and a discussion of author Ellen Emerson White, her general awesomeness, and why she is "under the radar,"

Big A, little a takes on Ingo by Helen Dunmore,

Jen Robinson's Book Page has a discussion on The Changeling and The Velvet Room, both by the super-awesome Zilpha Keatley Snyder,

Over at Bildungsroman, the uniquely titled, The Girl in the Box, by Ouida Sebestyen,

Miss Erin: Girl With a Pen and Princess of Orange, both by Elisabeth Kyle,

Fuse Number 8 with a bit of the mythic: The Winged Girl of Knossos, by Erick Berry,

Bookshelves of Doom shares The Olivia Kidney series, by Ellen Potter,

Chicken Spaghetti writes on the intriguing sounding The Natural History of Uncas Metcalfe, by Betsey Osborne,

Writing and Ruminating has a fun one - Jazz ABC by Wynton Marsalis;

And The YA YA YAs wrap it up with Massive, by Julia Bell.

Not a bad crop of books (AND there are cute mice over at 7-Imps Picture Books Celebration today). Stay tuned for more Under Radar Reporting!

August 27, 2007


Adventure: a week camping with your six best friends in the Australian bush, quiet and remote enough from your families back in town to seem like you're much farther away than you really are. Adventure: a trip down into the wooded and untouched gully called Hell, where few humans have ever gone. So peaceful, even planes flying overhead seem far away.

Adventure: when you return home from your camping trip, your entire country has been invaded, your town occupied, and your families put into a holding camp. Not such a fun adventure any more—not for Ellie, Lee, Fi, Homer, Kevin, Corrie, and Robyn, anyway, the six Aussie teenagers whose world is turned upside down. It's an amazing, riveting, non-stop thriller of an adventure for the reader, though.

Every single book of John Marsden's seven-book series, starting with Tomorrow, When the War Began, is heart-pounding, gritty, and all-too-realistic. If you enjoy dystopian visions of the future, and you like cliffhanger-style adventure, this is a series not to be missed. I made the mistake of checking out only the first two books from my library—just to try them out, I thought—and I ended up having to rush back to the library to get the other five.

Told from Ellie's viewpoint, this is an unforgettable tale of what might happen if any of our complacent, well-off western countries were invaded by a desperate force of colonizing outsiders. However, it's neither excessively political nor primarily cautionary. The focus is on the human side of the story—what would happen, could happen, if a group of ordinary teenagers found that they were some of the only ones left on the outside, free but on the run? How would they survive, find food, find their families, save their world? And, sadly, of course, it's not a question of whether they will survive unscathed, but whether in the end they'll be able to bear everything they've seen and done. I highly recommend this thoughtful, frightening, and mesmerizing series. And I just found out there's a follow-up series, so I guess I'd better take yet another trip to the library...

Thanks to Jen Robinson's One Shot World Tour post for tipping me off to these!

Not a fan of Bratz, but...

Just a quick note: today, Anastasia's got the goods on a new trend over at ye olde Ypulse: Modesty. Now being marketed to a teen near you.

Me: Speechless.

Buckle Your Swash: Under Radar Reccomendations

There was a type of fiction written largely in the forties and fifties -- in the heyday of speculative fiction -- that showed the genre of Adventure Narrative to its fullest and finest advantage. Those were the books you could describe as 'thrilling,' with flinty, taciturn heroes (and virtually invisible heroines), vivid action sequences, bold adventurers, treasure to be had, lives to be saved, battles to be fought, and schemers to outwit. Those edge-of-your-seat stories were often serialized in magazines such as Adventure or Amazing Stories, and were dismissed by many as mere pulp fiction, but in amongst pages of more forgettable fare landed The Curved Saber: The Adventures of Khlit the Cossack, the work of a quiet man named Harold Lamb.

Mr. Lamb was born in 1892 with speech and hearing disabilities which crippled him socially as well. He lived fully, for a time, in his imagination only, delving into the library at Columbia University and reading deeply into a hitherto completely unknown world - the world of Asia. He started writing short stories in college, and wrote for Adventure magazine for twenty years, eventually becoming known as "an American Dumas." His character, Khlit, was first chronicled in those pages, and the response of readers is what secured his place in the pantheon of Cool Character history.

Later in his career Harold Lamb stepped away from academia and became a screenwriter. His writing was part of Samson and Delilah, directed in 1949 by Cecil B. DeMille, and many of his other stories were turned into film, including The Crusades, 1935, The Plainsmen, 1936, The Golden Horde (which was allegedly about the life of Genghis Khan) 1951, and The Buccaneer, 1938. Mr. Lamb even wrote a history book specifically for young adults, with watered down violence and sort of Robinhood-like Mongolian swordsmen, but it was not nearly as popular with young readers as his serial stories. The voice, descriptions and tight pacing in those books contributed to creating a world away that enthralled young adults yearning to ride out boldly toward swashbuckling adventure, and Khlit the Cossack was the Harold Lamb character readers wanted to ride with the most.

Cossack. Just saying the word with its sharp-heeled 'k,'for some conjures up jackboots and bloodthirsty pillaging, red-cloaked Tsarist soldiers and the Napoleonic Wars; for others the word brings to mind entertainment -- those people doing that dance where you squat and cross your arms and kick and shout "ho!" a lot, and wear a furry hat, and maybe have a curved sword at your side...

Part of the reason for the confusion is that the Cossacks were a hugely nomadic tribal group, and they were all over Russia, and Central Asia. Their paths cross Russian history, Mongolia's ancient past, the history of the Ukraine, Chinese history, and more.

Harold Lamb's exploration of the Cossacks takes place on the vast grasslands of the Central Plains, when the old warriors still ruled the steppes. His character Khlit the Cossack was probably the most famous and fabulous depiction of a hard-as-steel, justice-loving, sword fighter. Khlit's mythic status was probably the basis for such depictions of nomadic sword fighters as Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonja, but they are only the most single-dimensional, anemic and paltry of imitations. Khlit was larger-than-life and simply amazing.

Lamb's work introduced the various ethnicities present in that region at that time in a way that was so vivid and interesting that young would-be adventurers were mesmerized. They suddenly saw detail in what had been a piece of history. The people of Genghis Khan weren't just crazed killers. The Cossacks weren't just Russian or Chinese faces in a blur. Unlike other heroes of adventure fiction, Khlit wasn't a womanizer - though he had female friends, and regularly helped damsels in distress. Khlit was simply... better than the usual fare.

The nomadic tribes had no written language. Because of this, their history is largely told by their oppressors, and all we have of them is their descendants, and the critical words of those who studied them from the sidelines. Lamb takes the history of the steppes -- which to us would be a miserable experience - and humanizes it, giving it faces and reasons and subtleties of meaning. WE would hate to sleep in the saddle, and might not enjoy a night in a ger or a yurt. WE might be be grossed out to eat raw horsemeat, warmed and tenderized by the sweat of our horses, from beneath our saddles -- as our hero does. But when he does it, it's just another day on the steppes.


Lamb's intense historical focus came off more like cultural anthropology than sociology. His fiction examined the world of the Cossacks from within the Cossak's sphere, as opposed to looking at it from a strictly scholarly way -- and making an overall judgment from pieces. That kind of fiction writing takes a massive amount of research, a lot of care for one's subjects, and boatloads of talent. Harold Lamb was three for three.

Until recently, Lamb's work was totally out of print, impossible to find, kept in the stacks at libraries, and generally inaccessible. Young people who had grown up in the fifties and sixties loving stories of swordplay and treachery and treasure-hunting with a band of sinewy comrades kept passing the tales along to their sons, and thus Lamb's work has never been thoroughly forgotten. The resurgence of interest has prompted Bison Books at the University of Nebraska Press to offer his Cossack stories again, bound in volume form. Now the fortresses of hidden assassins, the search for the tomb of Genghis Khan (and the subsequent escape from his vengeful ghost), the rides of the Mongol horde and other fantastic adventures are available to everyone. If you enjoy historical fiction, being transported to places in your imagination, and aren't afraid of a little blood and gore, jump in. You'll be glad you did.

Under Radar Recommendations are books that we have read and loved. Period.
They're not necessarily new. They're not necessarily old.
They're books we think you'd love, 'cause we do.

There is, elsewhere, more of the usual awesomeness of the kidlitosphere. Fans of the under-read should also, check out:

Chasing Ray writing on Dorothy of Oz from Illusive Arts Entertainment (the Dorothy comic she says we should all be reading!),

Bildungsroman revisits Christopher Golden's Body of Evidence series,

Interactive Reader, a new convert to the Christopher Golden Body of Evidence fan club, provides more love,

At Not Your Mother's Bookclub: An interview with Robert Sharenow, author of My Mother the Cheerleader,

At lectitans, you'll read about The Angel of the Opera: Sherlock Meets the Phantom of the Opera by Sam Siciliano,

Bookshelves of Doom is all about The God Beneath the Sea, Black Jack & Jack Holburn all by Leon Garfield,

Writing and Ruminating has an interview with Tony Mitton and a review of his book, Plum ,

The YA YA YAs spread the love on I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade by Diane Lee Wilson (And I can attest: awesome book, folks.),

A late inclusion from Semicolon on unbeatable picture books.

And Chicken Spaghetti wraps up Monday with The Illustrator's Notebook by Mohieddin Ellabad.

More Under Radar Goodness All Week Long: Stay tuned!

August 25, 2007

Stop! Hey, What's That Sound?

Static hiss.

"Control, we have received a signal... over..."
"Signal points to this site and is attempting to make book recommendations no one else might be making, over..."

"Details to follow, Monday, August 27th, over... and out...

Static hiss.

August 24, 2007

Poetry Friday: Losses for Literature

One Day I Decided
- by Grace Paley

One day I decided to not grow any older
lots of luck I said to myself

But she did have lots of luck, and we were lucky to have read her work before cancer took her away. You can read this wry poem in its entirety at Persimmontree Magazine, which may require you to a one-time free subscription. ("One Day I Decided,"is from Begin Again: Collected Poems by Grace Paley. Copyright © 2000 by Grace Paley.)

I came to read the work of Grace Paley in graduate school. She wrote about the very young and the elderly, about city people, Jewish people, Poles, Italians and Ukrainians, Irish people and African Americans down on their luck. Suburbanites were a bit shocked that an apparently upper-middle class Caucasian woman wrote knowledgeably about classes and colors not her own. She ignored them, or commented on them drolly, and kept writing anyway.

I am sad that I wasn't at Mills the day she read for us, just as I am sad that Siohban Dowd was taken by cancer before she'd written everything she had to say. Some days I feel like "I have to catch up! All the good stuff is passing!"

What steadies me is that words...are... forever. Even out of print books can be discovered again. And the truth is that fabulous writers are being born anew, daily.

May others of Ms. Dowd and Ms. Paley's caliber be born soon.

Poetry Friday's round-up is hosted by John at The Book Mine Set; Chicken Spaghetti has what has to be my favorite Paley poem for you there. Bon Weekend.

August 23, 2007

Toon Thursday: It's All About the B.I.C.

Man, I got this one up in record time. I may have missed Thursday anywhere that observes Greenwich Mean Time or later, but in the U.S. of A.--contiguous and non-contiguous--I'm still doing great. Then again, I am procrastinating about the revision of my last three YA novel chapters. The main problem is that I think I have to completely gut and rewrite the last chapter. The ending, people!! ARGH!!! The thought of rewriting the ending is seriously making me ill. Not because I so love the current ending, but because of the mental effort involved, and my desire to make it perfect. So I think I'll procrastinate just a little more, and go back to designing a poster for a local production of Pig Farm...Yup, that's the ticket.

But before I do, here's a Most Egregious Misuse I saw yesterday on my way to the post office. In the window of a Perko's diner I saw a sign reading "Ham and Egg's Breakfast $3.99" or some such terrible misuse of an apostrophe. Grr.

August 22, 2007


Leaving on a slow train: in eight days. At least I hope it's slow. I'm in dire need of a nap once we start rolling. Still searching for those plaid shoes, too...

I am ridiculously delighted to have discovered BRAW: Books, Reading and Writing, which is the site of the Network for the Scottish Children's Book. Though the authors names are not familiar to me (and largely the books listed are MG, which might be why), it's nice to see that there are the usual book fests, kidslit-conferences, awesome publishers, really funny YA writers who blog (thanks, Sara!), and the like where I am going. Children's lit is still not quite the industry elsewhere that it seems to be in the U.S., but the YA bookishness, it is here to be discovered... more on that as I find it!

Many, MANY people want to be writers, so many, many people pursue this dream with an admirable single-mindedness, and will do anything to get someone to read their work, anything, like even participating in an open competition. The American-Idol style competition thing at Touchstone, a subsidiary of Simon & Schuster, looks like it went ...okay, since they're planning another for romance writers next time. I still cannot honestly say that I am a fan of competitive publishing, because... well, some of the 'red in tooth and claw' agony of revision, workshops, and the like seem better suited to people who know you, or that you can at least trust to be civil and have constructive criticism. I cannot imagine just tossing my manuscripts into a ring of strangers armed with razors like that. I've never watched American Idol, but everyone by now has heard of Simon Cowell... and it only takes one like him, really. Only one.

More doom and gloom in the 'internet will take over the world, and all the libraries will close, woe is me' box: the Guardian, quoting an AP-Ipsos poll, reports that a quarter of American adults read no books last year. One quarter, or one in four. I'm going to try and find the original poll, but feel a bit of annoyance that children's books aren't listed at all. People seem to want to constantly harp on the fact that the publishing industry is dying, despite a 3% global increase last year over the previous say nothing of what children's literature worldwide is doing. (Maybe they ought to stop just counting Americans?)

Ouch! GalleyCat pulls no punches: some of us really WILL read that OJ book... riiight after we finish The Secret... And, I adore Ferdinand the Bull. Does Bottom Shelf Books think I'm morbid??

And a little squeal for Ying Compestine's new book Revolution is Not a Dinner Party, which is a YA novel being cross-marketed to adults. Go! Read! Enjoy! Yay, Ying!

August 21, 2007

Sharks and Dinosaurs

So, say you don't like someone's book. You review it on your blog - negatively. You're gobsmacked by just how bad it is. You talk about its offensiveness once or twice, and then you move on. And then you get served.

GalleyCat carried this story, which reminded me of the "shield law," which serves to protect journalists and others who write for pay, and which is a hot topic in our state. I am of the opinion that the blogger in question is only being sued because they blog for a firm which has a goodly amount of cash. What about people who don't have the resources to be sued for $15 million in damages? Does this affect your thinking about how you review books at all?

Guardian UK arts blogger Peter Bradshaw longs for the days of gimlet eyed, bloody dinosaurs, while the Telegraph laments what could be the end of a great literary tradition -- because, of course, the smoke ban.

Lots to see and read but Blogger is behaving stupidly today, so I'm off for a bit...

August 20, 2007

Booklists Strike Again.

Conversations with my eleven-year-old sister:

"Don't you have a book on Scotland?"

"Um.... I might. Why?"

"I need one. Four hundred pages."

"Four hundred-- that long? Why?"

"We have to read four hundred pages on travel and culture by September 28th."

"Four hundred pages!?"


"Can you maybe read four books one hundred pages long? Because four hundred pages seems a little long for sixth grade." (I know Mrs. Wallace was hardcore when I had her for third and fourth grade, but four hundred?!)

"Okay, yeah, we can do it that way."

Oh. Good.
I'm pretty sure Mrs. Wallace said they were to do it 'that way' to begin with, but already Some Of Us weren't listening... and the school year is young.

So, the call goes out to the blogosphere: A reluctant reader (Oh, how I loathe that phrase. Shall we say enthused but struggling? Let's try again:)

WANTED: Young Scholar, Struggling But Enthused Seeks Books on Culture and Travel, both nonfiction and fictional acceptable. Prefers Scotland, but open to Cambodia, Thailand and Other Countries.

Big sister thanks you.

P.S. - If you're a rabid movie fan of and love reading about screenwriting, one of my former students is now writing for Creative Screenwriting and hopes you'll check it out!

August 19, 2007

Staggering in With One Last Thought

Post waking-at-five-fifteen-a.m.-suffering-through-baking-hot-Sunday-flea-market, I have few thoughts, much less ORIGINAL thoughts, but I did want to point out the books-into-movies thread on Jen's blog, and the question posed on BookMoot: would YOU use the movie version of The Dark is Rising as part of a 'books-into-movies' series at your school? Would you read the book and suggest kids go see 'Will's Excellent Adventure,' (which is Camille's amusing and all too apt title)? Go, go, talk amongst yourselves.

I MUST find a bath and a bed.

More anon...

A Few Lazy Sunday Notes

I'm sad to have missed entering this year's Bulwer-Lytton Contest, but the winners for worst opening line ever are now available for your reading amusement. Sadly, there isn't a YA category, but the winner in the Children's Literature category penned the following monstrosity:
Danny, the little Grizzly cub, frolicked in the tall grass on this sunny Spring morning, his mother keeping a watchful eye as she chewed on a piece of a hiker they had encountered the day before.

If that doesn't get you to read the rest of the results, nothing will. If you're in the mood for something with a bit more substance, don't forget that the Summer issue of The Edge of the Forest is ready, complete with features about the Nerdfighters, the 48-Hour Book Challenge, and more. There are also a number of interesting posts and pictures about the recent Los Angeles SCBWI conference at the relatively new Children's Writers' and Illustrators' Market Blog, penned by Alice Pope.

Or, if you just want some Sunday schadenfreude, check out the Evil Editor blog (which I found on the aforementioned CWIM blog). According to the FAQ:

Authors with books that they feel are ready for publication prepare query letters, which they plan to send to publishers or literary agents. They get these letters into the best possible condition, and then email them to Evil Editor. Evil Editor prints the letters exactly as they came to him, adding his own comments in a different color. Evil Editor's comments are intended for entertainment purposes only.

Shudder. Not sure whether to be frightened or amused! There are also some other fun items on the Evil Editor's blog, like a "guess-the-title-from-the-Amazon-blurb" quiz. So--whatever your poison, hope you enjoy!

August 17, 2007

Poetry Friday: Unexpected Sweetness

This is a reminder to myself... and maybe to you: not all things can be planned.


A scent of ripeness from over a wall.
And come to leave the routine road
And look for what had made me stall,
There sure enough was an apple tree

That had eased itself of its summer load,
And of all but its trivial foliage free,
Now breathed as light as a lady's fan.
For there had been an apple fall
As complete as the apple had given man.
The ground was one circle of solid red.

May something go always unharvested!
May much stay out of our stated plan,
Apples or something forgotten and left,
So smelling their sweetness would be no theft.

"Unharvested" by Robert Frost from The Poetry of Robert Frost © Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Reprinted with permission.

Poetry Friday round-up is over at Writing & Ruminating. Bon Weekend.

August 16, 2007

Toon Thursday: Mature Artists...Well, You Know

I hope that my sincere apologies (and just-as-sincere admiration) for Sidney Harris will keep me from being sued for copyright infringement. Then again, I'm not sure you can copyright a phrase. Oh well.

Dear Box #5667

Her name's not really Rapunzel, but that doesn't matter.
Everything else about her life and the life of a fairy-tale exile is pretty much the same:
She's stuck - at Homework Club, but it feels like a doorless tower,
She's alone - in her misery, anyway, it's not like her teacher, Mrs. Trey isn't there... making her more miserable.
The person that could save her is under an Evil Spell, unable to speak to her, or to be reached.

Any way you slice it, being a Rapunzel sucks.

And right now, being Cadence sucks, too. Now that her Dad's not home, her Mom's all freaked about about Cadence being home alone, so she's stuck staying after school at Homework Club -- how fun is that?! Cadence has a teacher who is totally irritating, and trying to put her in Super Mutant Smart Kid Classes with stupid Andrew Marchetti, who called her Sugar Buns one day. And Cadence has had it with her mother, who won't really talk about her father -- and it's not like Cadence doesn't know the truth. Sometimes her father is, like, sick. And he has to go away. He's been gone sometimes for two or three days, but this time her mother says it'll be maybe a month or even more. Mom says it's because of his C.D., but Cadence hates hearing that.

No. CD's are what you listen to music on. The words are 'clinical depression.'

Cadence is positive it's an Evil Spell, and if only she could figure out who her father was writing to before he got sick, she would maybe have the tools to help him fight. Maybe a friend of her father's from before his illness could offer another way for him to get well and come home. In fairytales, nobody under the power of an Evil Spell has ever escaped alone, so Cadence knows her Dad needs her help. So, locked up at Homework Club, in the guise of Rapunzel, Cadence writes letters from her heart to the only friend her father has, at Box #5667.

The Evil Spell will only be broken if the owner of the box hears what she needs, and writes back.

Original, funny and a little sad, Letters From Rapunzel gives readers new perspectives on coming to terms with the truth about things we can't control, and learning to rescue ourselves.

Just A Little News

You know, it's REALLY HARD to write a book proposal, a feat every would-be novelist must accomplish before that all-important submission. Though it's a synopsis of a story you know, it is somehow mind-sappingly difficult, and most people I know whinge and groan and fall apart about it. Even people I don't know are whinging and whining and falling apart about it. Somehow, that makes me feel better...

Kim & Jason have ideas for things to do with cardboard boxes. Eisha, take note.

I got a good laugh one day out of author Gail Gauthier over at Original Content wondering if it would be weird if she just walked into a bookstore and started signing her own books. And now we know the answer. Um, no. Via GalleyCat.

Whew! The One Shot Book Tour was officially awesome! I learned so much and have added yet more to a staggeringly long To Be Read booklist. I'm sure you did too! Stay tuned for more from the busy kidlitosphere bloggers, led by the intrepid Colleen - those rockin' Under Radar Reads will debut in just two weeks!

August 15, 2007

Tastebuds at the Ready!

Ready. (Sandwiches made.) Set. (Books poised.) Go!

The One Shot World Tour: Best Read With Vegemite!

Vegemite Jars, Through the Years
(From the Canberra Museum in Australia)

Welcome to Best Read With Vegemite! our admiring tribute to the YA books and writing peeps of the Ozland.

In 1974 writer Penni Russon was born in a suburb of the port city of Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, where there are cool-sounding places like Knocklofty Park and a town called Dynnyme. (Den Me? Denny Me? How does one say that aloud?) Hobart is home to beaches, and bridges, and boats and a really cool Botanical Garden. Miz Russon studied children's literature at Monash University and writing and editing at The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. She claims that she first became a poet first because the length was as much as she could write - but poetry seems to flow from people who have such a way with words. This exquisitely disturbing piece shows just a teensy sliver of her range. Penni now writes poetic novels from Melbourne, and she blogs poetically at the quirkily named Eglantine's Cake. Who or what is eglantine? Eglantine is, according to the encyclopedia, a type of wild rose often called sweetbriar, but it is also often been used as a place or character name in English poetry. Penni Russon's Eglantine is a bit mysterious, a bit unknowable. Says the blogger:
"I think Eglantine is a little girl. The house is quiet. The baby is sleeping. Eglantine's mother is outside somewhere, pegging clothes on the line or weeding the vegetable garden. They have a big sprawling backyard, a hills hoist, some chooks. It's afternoon, hot outside but inside the house is dark and cool. Eglantine has a home haircut, but it's sweet, short with blonde tufts sticking out. She's creeping through the slumbering house, up the hallway - bare feet on floorboards. Tomorrow is Eglantine's birthday. In the kitchen on the bench is a cake, with hard pink sugary icing. Eglantine is peeking through the kitchen door, she's standing stretched up on tiptoes. She wants a taste, just a bite of pink, crystally sugar..."

Eglantine's Cake is a blog full of musings on the everyday, with thoughtful talk on the writing life ("...if a novel was a daily account, a diary, it would be pages and pages of 'nothing to report'. When we look back on our lives we probably see it in this way, episodes of note and in between an aggregate memory of undistinguished days: dinners, breakfasts, showers, sleep."), sprinkles of cuteness from Penni's two very young and gorgeous daughters (One of them calls stewed apples 'stupid apples.' Yet she probably eats them...), and enthused comments on books she likes. The author encourages lurkers to 'delurk' and leave her a comment.

**** ~ **** ~ **** ~ **** ~ ****

Penni Russon's first YA novel, Undine, reveals the intricacies of a complicated family dynamic that includes secrets and lies and manipulation - as well as a reliable friendship, a cute little brother, and an ordinary life. The book was published in Australia to critical reviews in 2004, being named a Notable Book of the Year by the Children's Book Council of Australia.

Quietly bizarre Undine is the last girl you would expect to be "magical." Certainly her best friend, Trout, has paid silent homage to her awesomeness with his undying crush, but pretty much everybody else thinks Undine is just average. Even Undine herself believe that she's nothing special. There are plenty of other girls with little brothers and dead stepfathers; with mothers who are sort of neglectful sometimes and sort of obsessive other times. That's why the day she imagines she hears voices telling her to come home, she begins to worry. The afternoon she imagines rain clouds butting together to create a storm, and one blows up -- centering on her -- she really begins to worry. Because being 'special' means that everything she's shoved down inside about her longing to be different and unique... just might have a chance of happening. And who -- or what -- will she be, then?

Family descriptions come alive in Russon's writing. Relationships and the responsibility a young person has to both listen to those they love and to follow their hearts are the common denominators which draw the Undine trilogy together. After Undine finally crossed hemispheres to land on American bookshelves in 2006, it was followed closely by its sequel, Breathe in 2007.

Breathe is not as easy a book to read as the first in the series. For one thing, you're well assured early on that the happy-after wrap-up from the first novel has lulled you into a false sense of security. The omnipresence of the narrator draws readers from being safely behind Undine's or Trout's perceptions, and pushes them into a broader stream. Trout's fears and feelings, little brother Jasper's impotent frustrations at being too young, Lou's fearful rage that she cannot keep her daughter locked up safe forever are all equally accessible, thus giving an emotional resonance to Undine's struggle for balance. Is she Girl or Magic? Magic or Girl? Is it possible to choose both? Or must it be, as her mother insists, Girl only, or as her father seems to suggest, Magic only, and forget the consequences?

This narrative stance also gives readers a chance to be deceived, as the truth is obscured by the emotional tension of the varying characters. The conclusion to this trilogy isn't yet available, but I will be quite intrigued to see how it all ends.

**** **** **** **** **** **** **** ****

As always, there is a bit of artistic disparity between the covers of a book released in the United States and its overseas counterpart. The U.S. cover of Undine is dark and dramatic, with a blue eye staring out balefully over a stormy sea. Please note the exceptionally placed lightning bolt.

To my mind, this cover doesn't really do the novel justice. Part of Undine's bizarre charm is that she is ...dead ordinary. Really. She fights with her Mom, and thinks she's just a bit weirder than other moms. She had a little brother who sometimes refuses to wear pants. She has a best friend who's heart she breaks by falling for his brother, and she's stubborn yet at times so bewildered by her sudden maturity that she's hilarious. So the lightning? It's there, but it's not so much a part of that Ordinary Life, at least not in the first book in the series. The Australian cover, with the layers of depth beneath water seems to suit the story best.

**** **** **** **** **** **** **** ****

We hope you've enjoyed this rare treat, a splash of underwater sprite, a bite of cake, a bit of Vegemite from the land down under. There are more salty, crunchy bits out there waiting - bundle up in your fleece (remember - it IS winter in the Southern Hemisphere) and don't miss when:
Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast interviews the amazing Margo Lanagan

Kelly Fineman shows some love for Melina Marchetta

Big A, little A discusses Anna Feinberg's "Tashi" series

Jenn at Not Your Mother's Bookclub gleefully interviews Simmone Howell

Chicken Spaghetti reviews Kathy Hoopmann's award winning All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome - which sounds hilarious -

Gwenda at Shaken and Stirred is all about How Sassy Changed My Life, The Red Shoes by Ursula Dubosarsky and more love for Margo Lanagan

Jen Robinson discusses John Marsden's "Tomorrow" series, which is very cool

Finding Wonderland also salutes Jaclyn Moriarty's epistolary novels with a little letter love of our own

Little Willow discusses the sweet and funny Finding Grace by Alyssa Brugman

At A Chair, a Fireplace & a Tea Cozy it is all about Catherine Jinks and her four intensely superlative historical "Pagan" books,

Jackie at Interactive Reader posts about Randa Abdel-Fattah's Does My Head Look Big in This? (a book I am dying to read), as well as John Flanagan's The Icebound Land

Trisha at The Ya Ya Yas interviews Queenie Chan

Fuse Number 8 talks more about John Marsden and also highlights a new Hot Man of Literature: Andy Griffiths

Mother Reader will be posting on Am I Right or Am I Right? by Barry Jonsberg.

Vegemite tour organizer, Colleen from Chasing Ray writes about all the 48 shades of awesome of Nick Earls

And we have guest appearance from blogger Jenny Davidson who has interviewed mystery author Peter Temple.

Enjoy them all, and be a happy little vegemite!

Moriarty Madness for Aussie Day

Dear Readers:

Since our recent interviews at 7-Imp, we here at Finding Wonderland are probably a whole lot less mysterious and exciting. You probably feel like there's not much about us you don't know. Well, here's one thing you probably didn't know: a.fortis has a sister from the land down under, a genuinely Aussie half-sister, not to mention a brother-in-law and an adorable niece and nephew. Therefore we're awfully excited about today's One Shot World Tour: Aussie Day, which highlights an Oz-some array of fantastic Australian authors of children's and young adult literature.

For our part, we at FW will be talking a little bit about two authors whose work we enjoy—Penni Russon (see post above…or below, as the case may be) and, in this post, Jaclyn Moriarty: author of Feeling Sorry for Celia, The Year of Secret Assignments, The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie, and the upcoming Spell Book of Listen Taylor.

The amazing thing about Ms. Moriarty, besides the Ph.D. from Cambridge, is that she is also a practicing media and entertainment lawyer! What an impressive woman. We are floored. We are in awe. We cannot believe that Feeling Sorry for Celia was rejected ten times (according to the wonderful and informative interview on However, in that same interview, we really resonated with Ms. Moriarty's insights into the annoying little voices that appear in writers' heads, telling us all manner of discouraging things. "I have to just keep writing until the voices go away and I start listening to the characters instead," she said, or until her husband tells her to quit doubting and start writing. Sounds all-too-familiar to us.

But now her books are published by the also-fabulously-funny Arthur A. Levine; and if you haven't had a chance to read her work yet, we recommend starting with Feeling Sorry for Celia--though her books don't need to be read in a particular order, there are overlapping characters in all three already-released books, and each successive story takes place during the next consecutive school year. All three take place at Ashbury High, Sydney, Australia (where Moriarty lives part of the year—Sydney, anyway, not Ashbury High), and follow the various troubles and adventures of students whose stories are told via diaries, letters, e-mails, notices, etc. Moriarty does an amazing job of conveying her characters' unique voices and telling suspenseful and fast-paced stories using solely the epistolary form. The first two are riotously funny, while Bindy has a slightly darker tone, offering a bit of a mystery. Her new book, Spell Book of Listen Taylor, is coming out any day now--and we can't wait to read it.

In fact, we enjoy her work so much that we've written this little thank-you note over there on the right. And with that, we'll leave you to read about the rest of the fantastic Aussie authors on the tour.

Yours sincerely,
TadMack and a. fortis
Finding Wonderland: The WritingYA Weblog

August 14, 2007

Regency Fluff

Yes, it's fluffy.
No, it's not my usual read, and just FYI - it's not YA. But many YA girls will find Shannon Hale's innocently fluffy Austenland completely appealing.

Thirtysomething Jane Hayes is single and kind of sick of it -- mainly because she sabotages her relationships herself, by assigning too much meaning to the slightest things, so desperate is she to find meaning and connection. That's typical enough in the Chick-Lit realm, but Jane Hayes has another thing that's a golden plot ticket in Chick Lit -- a benefactor. In this case, a benefactress, her Great-Aunt Carolyn, who dies and leaves her the chance to go to Austenland -- and to get the regrettably fictional Fitzwilliam Darcy out of her system once and for all.

Austenland is an English resort set up in the Regency style, which includes the requisite snobbery about class and manners. The proprietress knows that Jane has inherited her vacation, and looks down on her for it. Jane is kitted out in ridiculous Regency attire, amused and chagrined, and having a hard time taking it all seriously... until she does.

I won't give you any spoilers -- this is Chick Lit after all, and the Happily Ever After is quite built in. But there are a few twists and things to make you smile. Shannon Hale is a good writer, and I certainly prefer her YA lit, but with the plethora of Jane-books coming out this summer, was is a worthy enough candidate for an afternoon at the beach, or to read on the bus.

Sarah Godfrey: Ugly Duckling

Sarah Godfrey is fourteen, and loves her dog Boysie, and her brother, Charlie. She is stuck with most everything else.

Mainly, she's stuck with her Dad. He treats her like she's invisible, and he's always gone. She's also stuck with her Aunt Willie, who's raising her instead of her mother, who has died, and she's stuck with her older sister, Wanda, who is turning into a glamor girl and looks to be heading for a place Sarah will never go. Sarah's stuck with orange tennis shoes as well -- she used to like them, but now she doesn't, and Aunt Willie says they can't afford new ones. Sarah's also stuck with her huge feet, and having the worst summer of her life.

Put upon, resentful at having to watch after Charlie, who has Down's Syndrome, Sarah's summer changes for the better when she and Charlie discover swans at a neighborhood lake. Suddenly Sarah's restless flutterings are a little more calm, and Charlie -- Charlie is entranced, believing that the swans have come especially for him. For both Sarah and Charlie, The Summer of the Swans changes everything.

This novel was my very favorite and very first YA novel, and tells about growing up in a way that is relevant to now. Though firmly set in the 1970's - references to Laugh-In, Jackie Onassis Kennedy and the like make that clear - the story of growing up stays the same.

Breathing Underwater, Part II

Fey, wild, full of half-fearful fancies (she doesn't trust Tuesdays) and wearing one blue and one slightly off-colored blue sock, Undine is the last girl in Hobart you might expect to be ...magical. Exasperating Lou, her mother, worrying her best friend, Trout's mother with her endless bursting into his boy-next-door bedroom, Undine is erratic and attractive but -- typical.

Until the Tuesday she begins hearing voices.

Though Undine is deeply worried that she's more than a little atypical, the worst worry is that she's ...crazy. A bit dangerous, even. Her reliable friendship with Trout, the safe haven of her mother and baby brother, and even her anonymity from the boys at school suddenly all changes in one fell swoop -- too fast. Like an onrushing tide, Undine finds that she has a father, a power, and -- what? What's it all for? What's it all about?

This first book of the Undine trilogy is balances suspense and a distorted, shifting world with an ordinary girl and a life stuffed full of the normal stuff - arguments with her mother, the death of a stepdad, an annoying but cute little brother, and a best friend battling a huge crush. The dialogue moves the plot along at a reasonable pace, and though the conclusion is a bit of a happily-ever-after wrap up, the idea of a sequel means that readers know that Undine's finding the perfect balance of life and magic can't possibly be the very end. What about Max, the anonymous online person Trout told about Undine's secret? What about her father, Prospero? And truly, what about Undine's power?

I'd love to say that "all will be revealed" in the sequel, but that's not exactly true. Both more and less is revealed, and now that the third in the trilogy has been published, I am waiting for its US debut. Undine, and its sequel, Breathe, are stories dealing with relationships and power, its agency to corrupt or change us, and its uses. This has been a multilayered and interesting trilogy, and I'll be interested to see its conclusion.