January 31, 2009

The Cost of Blending In: Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith

I don't know what it is about World War II that I find so compelling as a setting for historical fiction. Perhaps it's because so many of us share that history in the form of forefathers and foremothers who were profoundly affected by the conflict--and who took part in defending their country; or perhaps it's because of our current state of seemingly never-ending and very immediate conflict. Whatever the reason, I find myself resonating most deeply with stories of young women coming of age in the 1940s--stories like Sherri L. Smith's latest novel Flygirl.

What makes Flygirl different from so many other WWII stories, though, is its protagonist and her unique circumstances. Ida Mae Jones lives on her family's berry farm in Louisiana, helping her widowed mother, her grandfather, and her younger brother, and working as a house cleaner; but there's still not quite enough money coming in. If Ida Mae had been able to get her pilot's license, she might be able to help by hiring herself out as a crop duster like her father, but because she's a black woman, she's refused a license. She dreams of going to an all-colored pilot school in Chicago, getting out of the countryside and seeing the world.

Then the world comes to her--and to everyone. The Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, and the United States officially enters the war. Her older brother, Tommy, chooses to enlist and is posted in the South Pacific as a field surgeon. It's only right, he says, to try to fight; not just the Japanese, but the Nazis, or else blacks in America--or anywhere--won't stand a chance. As time passes and her brother continues to serve overseas, Ida Mae gets more and more frustrated, and eventually decides that the only way to help her brother, and to help end the fighting, is to get on up and become part of the war effort herself.

Luckily for Ida Mae, there's a new army outfit called the WASP: Women Airforce Service Pilots. There's just one catch--colored women can't join. Because she is fair-complexioned enough, Ida Mae can do the almost unthinkable: she can pass for white, get her pilot's license, and enlist. The tension created by her secret makes her every moment in the army gripping for the reader, as she does her best to not let any telltale slips give her away. And there are positive things about life in the army--for the first time, she makes close friends with white girls her age. But the joy of friendship is counterbalanced by the pain of wondering what they would think if they knew her true identity.

The issue of "passing" is a fascinating one, and makes an intriguing premise for a novel--but it's the story of strong friendships, inner courage, and family loyalty that really binds this story together. Smith's attention to detail brings the time period, settings, and varied cast of characters alive for the reader, and the result is a seamless blend.

This review was based on the Advance Uncorrected Proof.

Buy Flygirl from an independent bookstore near you!

January 30, 2009

A Sweeping Tale of Flight

This book is a 2008 Cybils Finalist for Fantasy and Science Fiction.

From his cloudy beginnings -- Conor was born high in the sky -- to his heroic rescue of a princess, Conor's lucky breaks are the stuff of legend around the kingdom of Great Saltee. He was born in flight, and born to fly. He and his teacher, Victor, are longing to create a flying machine. King Nicholas wants that, too. He encourages their experimentation, buying them rolls of silk, cotton, and balsa wood for gliders and other air transport.

But not everyone is a fan of flight. Victor, Nicholas, Conor, and even Conor's parents are caught up in the web of a madman, whose furious dream is to destroy them all, and take the island kingdom for himself. Just when his life -- his love, his hopes and dreams are about to rise from the ground, a cruel attack sends everything shattering to the ground below.

Through a torturous series of plans, counterplans, terrible pain, and bitter days of waiting, Conor battles for his life, and his dream. If he can only keep his sanity, and put his true identity behind him, there might be a chance... maybe. And then? The only way out is up.

Eoin Colfer surprised many with a complete departure from the Artemis style novel, but 19th century Conor is also a boy genius, and Colfer's flair for description and detail will make this an enjoyable read for aeronautics enthusiasts and fans of a good adventure tale alike. If you enjoyed Kenneth Oppel's Airborne series, this will be a faster-paced next step.

Buy Airman from an independent bookstore near you!

January 29, 2009

Coming Soon to a Blog Near You

--from her New Year's "looking forward to" chat at Bildungsroman

"I am a geek. A science fiction nerd. A fantasy dork. I spent the day after Christmas watching all three Lord of the Rings movies with four guys, a couple of hot dogs, a mug of tea, and a light-up replica of Frodo's sword, Sting. (Wow, that sounds too geeky, even for me.) I have dressed like Uhura (once, for Halloween -- I'm not that nerdy). And now I am writing science-effing-fiction! Well, my version of it anyway. It will still be a coming-of-age story; it will still be about the people. There are no spaceships, no laser beams, no alien hordes. No fairies. But it will be new. A new what-if. How am I supposed to get any sleep when I could be writing that?"

YES! Rampant Geekatude!!!

Is it any WONDER that we're excited about our second visit with author Sherri L. Smith? On February 2, we'll be chatting about her new book, Flygirl, about ethnicity, race, and who we really are.

You are SO invited to join the conversation. Bring your coffee (we'll be wide awake), your chatter, and the truth about your identity.

If Napoleon Never Met His Waterloo...

This book is a 2008 Cybils Finalist for Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Set in an alternate history version of Edinburgh in 1938, Jenny Davison's The Explosionist is a fascinating, absorbing book -- but one that's a little hard to describe. Part science fiction, part fantasy -- maybe we could call it steampunk? -- this book is fast-paced, filled with solid writing and memorable characters.

Sophie's fifteen years have been spent in a world filled with learning, science and technology -- but also with spiritualists and séances. Orphaned by an explosion, and boarding with her taciturn and disapproving Great-Aunt Tabitha, Sophie is exposed to some of the best chemistry and science education that can be had, at school, and to Friday night séances at the home of her great-aunt. Sophie's not a fan of the spirit world, and neither does she believe in all of those ghostly presences her great-aunt cares so much about. Mainly, Sophie longs for her chemistry teacher to notice her, loves her girlfriends, and hopes someday to learn all she can, and go to University.

Unfortunately, the world teeters constantly on the brink of total war. The Brothers of the Northern Liberties -- a group of high country terrorists -- is constantly bombing everything to bits; Sophie's slightly injured in a bomb blast near the school, and her girlfriends -- and then the leads she finds herself -- implicate her beloved chemistry teacher, Mr. Peterson. University seems a far-off dream, as the government moves in to begin educating its young ladies for war. Sophie longs for peace, and feels it's her moral obligation to exonerate her favorite teacher, and to avoid the kind of position her great-aunt wants for her. She engages her trusty friend, Mikael, to help her sort things.

It turns out that people and alliances and politics are all much more complicated -- and much more straightforward -- than Sophie could have dreamed. Sophie is more important to the fate of the nation than she could ever have dreamed.

(This review can't possibly do this novel justice. Go. Read.

Run along now. The open-ended final chapter leaves room for a sequel; you'll want to get started right away. Shoo, now.)

Buy The Explosionist from an independent bookstore near you!

January 28, 2009


Most of us have learned to disagree strenuously with the phrase "write what you know."

Maybe the new advice is "know something before you write."

After all, aren't the best books the ones which have details of other worlds than we know? Worlds where we are percussionists, unwillingly follow the renaissance fair every summer with our parents, live on the outskirts of a reservation in Minnesota, or run away from home to find our fathers in Ireland -- those are worlds we don't inhabit, and stories which catch at our imaginations. Why should we want to linger in worlds as common and as familiar as our last names?
Breathe in the world.
Breathe IN the world.
BREATHE in the world.

"I have been known to tell my writing students: If you are going to stand on the shoulders of giants (as we all do), read what they have read, not just what they have written. Take a course in bird identification, on the proper way to set in a sleeve, how to roast an ox, how to weed a garden. Read a book on shoing horses or stand by someone doing it. Smell the air. Name the clouds. Learn how to read the stars. Taste a clementine with your eyes closed. Go through your house eyes shut and touch as many surfaces as you can. See what grows in the cracks of a city street. Dive into the ocean. Ski down a mountain. Sit on a rock and watch without moving all that moves about you. Breathe in the world."
- Jane Yolen, Journal 12.24.08

January 27, 2009

Award Winners...and Us Mere Mortals

It's been Award Season in the children's literature world, and we were beyond pleased to hear that perennial FW favorite Neil Gaiman won this year's Newbery Award. Since hearing the news yesterday, I've been on a bit of a Neil tear, and have enjoyed his interviews on Talk of the Nation and with Andrea and Mark at Just One More Book. It's always enlightening to hear one of my favorite authors talk, especially when he's so down-to-earth and personable. It's also inspiring, and when you're bogged down mid-revision like I am, you need all the inspiration you can get.

Fortunately, I've had a few little things change in my immediate working environment that have made the revision process a little easier. One critical change was that we finally finished up (mostly) the new office space last month, so I finally have a workspace that fits many of my specifications, instead of having to cram everything willy-nilly into a spare bedroom. The picture at left shows the computer desk side of the room; the door at the back leads into the laundry room and art studio, and on the left side where you can't see it is the sliding glass door to the backyard.

This picture shows the other side of the room, complete with brand-new IKEA bookshelf (there's another smaller shelf you can't see in either photo) and rolltop desk, AKA The Heaviest Desk in the Known Universe. It's been a great place to sit and spread out all my manuscript surgical instruments like notebooks and pens and massively-scribbled-on chapter printouts. The only thing missing is some sort of futon or small couch for reading on, which will go under the window.

However, the best part of my new office by far is this custom-built sculpture (do click on it to see a larger version--it's so cool), which I haven't put on the wall just yet. You might remember an earlier post about a commissioned project--well, part of my payment for that project was in trade, and Jim Rosenau, the clever craftsman behind This Into That Studios, offered to build a custom shelf for me. So, earlier this month, I paid a visit to his studio to pick out some likely books; and over a period of a couple of weeks, he worked his magic and this lovely piece of art arrived in the mail. I can hardly wait to put it up. I feel so spoiled! Not bad for a merely mortal, not-yet-published writer. Good thing I've been putting my new space to good use.

January 26, 2009

And then, because Esme, and Mitali are just going to GET RIGHT INTO IT...

...the question must be asked: what's the point of ethnic based awards anymore, anyway? Are we ready to move away from that?

Mitali wants to know.

Esme just would like to be considered for the Coretta Scott King Award, please and thank you.

What's the purpose of these awards? Have you ever read the criterion for the Coretta Scott King award? Is that criterion filled only in books written by African Americans?

Boy, I can well imagine that this is going to tick some people RIGHT off -- the idea that a Caucasian lady has the gall to question whether or not the King Award group should rethink the parameters of the award, and maybe open it up to non-African American authors -- but it's an interesting question, one which deserves thought instead of knee-jerk rageaholic reaction.

I don't have an answer for it, to be honest.

But the thoughts, they are provoked!

Okay, I'm going to be rude, and I'm JUST GOING TO SAY IT:


Kadir Nelson, for that blindingly spectacular book, We Are the Ship did not receive the Caldecott?

The Coretta Scott King honors for writing and illustration? Awesome.
The Silbert Medal -- way, way cool.

But seriously? No Caldecott?

Once again I really wonder if they work out these awards in tandem, as in "oh, he's already got one of those. Give it to someone else."

If so...

Kung Hey Fat Choi...Gong Hoy Fat Choi...Gong Xi Fa Cai... and Happy Tet!

Graphic courtesy of the Chinese horoscope site.

Welcome to The Year of the Ox!

I still maintain that having two New Year celebrations is the best idea, ever. All of the resolutions that you've already blown through twenty five days ago are over -- so, you can start over while munching on a banh tet trung thu or mooncake, and decide that the Lunar New Year might work better for you!

The perfect book for this two-week celebration of the Year of the Ox is Kao Kalia Yang's The Late Homecomer. Conveying both the horror and the sweetness of a life lived in the midst of war, yet protected by a loving family, Kalia is a voice for the Hmong, a tribal people who lived peacefully in villages in Laos, until the CIA and The Secret War destroyed that way of life.

Kalia's memoir details the story of her family's escape from Laos to the refugee camp in Thailand, where she was born in 1980, to their immigration to St. Paul, Minnesota, when Kalia was about six. She talks about the grandmother who kept alive the traditions and the customs of the Hmong people, many of which were lost, as separate groups of Hmong were thrown together in the refugee camps, and re-educated in American ways. More than just the story of the Yang family or of the Hmong, this is the story of Kalia's grandmother, who named her, enchanted her, educated and loved her, and represented to Kalia the bedrock of everything she had ever known. In 2003 when she died, Kalia realized that her grandmother's life and the life of the Hmong was something everyone should know about, and she wrote it all down.

Kalia is a young writer whose engaging, clear narrative makes her family's history, and our shared Hmong and American history poignant. Her family's struggles and victories become our own, and young people looking for a book on a portion of American history they might not have read before will be able to devour this very readable book in a single afternoon.

Since we don't review non-fiction, at our book site, I sneaked this satisfying memoir in under Non-Fiction Monday status, and in honor of my little sister, whose birth people are Hmong. Happy Tet.

Buy The Late Homecomer from an independent bookstore near you!

January 24, 2009

Holding On To A Dream...

This book is a 2008 Cybils Finalist for Fantasy and Science Fiction.

17-year-old Janie Hannagan's not good with sleepovers.

It's a good thing she and her Mom are dirt poor, 'cause camp would be completely out, even if they could afford it.

She's pretty sure she's never going to sleep with anyone -- or marry -- or have a normal life. If you got dragged into the dreams of others, you'd avoid sleeping in company, too. What's worse is that it can happen when Janie's wide awake.

Study hall after lunch? Bites.

How's she ever going to get through school, get to college, get the hell out of the ratty little house where she lives with her mother, who is perpetually drunk? Why is she such a ...freak? Janie worries constantly that she's going to be hospitalized, in an accident, or somehow taken out of control of her life -- and she's desperate to maintain a tiny bit of control. It's bad enough that dreamers overpower her. She can't lose her job, lose her GPA, or not be there for her mother. She just can't. And so, she deals.

Most of the time, the dreams are stupid, or embarrassing, or sex-related, or just ...sad. For Janie, it's just a part of life she's lived with since she's been eight. But then... she catches a terrifying dream. There's a man, who sets his kid on fire. There are knives and shadows, and screaming.

And Janie's in the dream.
And he sees her.

What fresh hell is this?

Buy WAKE from an independent bookstore near you! And then, check out FADE, the sequel!

January 23, 2009

Odds & Ends


TIME IS RUNNING OUT! This is your last reminder as the days tick down: mental_floss is giving away five $10,000 scholarships for college. Enter to win by saying, in 750 words or less, why you should win your tuition. YOUR DEADLINE IS JANUARY 31st, so DON'T DELAY!

I'm not sure if this is good news or not -- but news it is. Alloy Entertainment, the book packaging company that came up with the idea for The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and the Gossip Girls series is now accepting ...YA manuscripts. Generally, all of their ideas come from in-house sources, but now they're looking for fresh ideas... possibly those not centering on a.) a group of girls b.) who are all having romances, journeys, and dramas. Good luck, writers.

It's the 250th Birthday of Robert Burns this weekend! dress up your Burns dolly and read a poem of his! Then eat some ...sausages, if you can't stomach the idea of haggis, and raise a glass for THE most famous Scottish poet, whose humble beginnings, various carryings-on with women other than his wife, and razor-tongued political commentary still managed to leave him Scotland's favorite son all these years later.

Poetry Friday: Words to Live By

Earlier this week, the words of Rabbi Hillel echoed through my head, as the change of administration in the country took place. "We understand," the gentleman said, "that greatness is never a given."

Do we understand?

Nothing is a given, and never has been. No one is handing out greatness or goodness or change or hope. Everything has to be... taken, hands opened, accepted, reached for, grasped, and achieved.

If we are just for ourselves, then who are we?
If we are not for ourselves, then who will be?
If we don't reach out now, when will we?

Perhaps a strange thing, to place the words of an ancient Jerusalem scholar on the side of a whitewashed Presbyterian church. But I think the wisdom of Rabbi Hillel is transcendent enough to work, and the imagery of a plain and practical church, with its churchyard full of the past, speaks to the generations behind and before us who knew:

Nothing is a given.
What a world, in which we have a chance to make something of ourselves...

Poetry Friday is at Laura's place. And don't miss her fabulous picture of the dungeon at Urquhart Castle, and the "15 Words or More" poems which came from that prompt. Some pretty intense observations.

January 22, 2009

A Simple Spinner, A Tangled Web

This book is a 2008 Cybils Finalist for Fantasy and Science Fiction.
All Charlotte Miller needs is a break -- just one little break which will allow her to get ahead, to put the mistakes of her dreamy father behind her. He's run the mill into the ground, with his wild inventions and inattention to the day to day business of wool buying and spinning, and it's up to the last of his line -- his two daughters, Charlotte and Rosellen -- to see that the village still has its mill, the millwrights still have their jobs, and that they can keep their land, their lives and their livelihood intact.

All Charlotte and Rosie need is a little break... and Jack Spinner gives them one. He's just there... so helpful. So handy with a little piece of straw. But what does he really want, in return for all of that gold thread? Surely not just Charlotte's ring?

It's not just Jack who's willing to help the Miller girls, however. Mr. Mordant, the dyeman, has words of advice -- silly, superstitious stuff -- that he's always dispensing. Biddy Tom, the wise woman, makes terse comments that make Charlotte roll her eyes. Even the banker who came to collect on her loan turned out to be helpful -- a lovely man with lovely eyes who finds he loves Charlotte and wants to help her forever.

So, how come things at Miller & Sons are still so... horrible? Signs fall from posts and smack people in the head, the mill wheel freezes and the axle snaps, workmen fall from ladders, and someone ruins a dye lot, then burns down the wool shed. Is the mill really cursed? And if so, what can anybody do?

Readers who love fairytale re-tellings will be pleased with the author's ability to sketch sinister shadows and create mystery out of a familiar story. If you've ever wondered "what if" or "why" about this particular fairytale, this book might provide answers.

At times the reader may wish that Charlotte would listen to her instincts, take advice or, at the very least, confide in her husband or her sister or the village wise-woman, all of whom make themselves available to her. However, the much-described Miller pride prevents her. Still, as the familiar story also ends with a "happily ever after," once Charlotte is dragged backwards through many a painful and unnecessary place, peace is restored to her life as well.

The gorgeous cover, designed by Alison Klapthor, is the perfect fairytale touch.

Buy A Curse As Dark As Gold from an independent bookstore near you!

January 21, 2009

So THAT'S How It Works.

Just cruising by with a quick video from MacMillanUSA (props to Simon Dyda for the link). Who knew that gigantic faceless publishing houses had a sense of humor? (Just kidding, faceless publishing houses! Just kidding.) Anyway, writers, here's the story of your novel, from the moment of conception to its inevitable chucking out into the wider world.

The Mad Libs Great Gatsby gets me every time...


Theodosia is sitting on the windowsill, waiting for me...

To finish my novel.


Some of us bribe ourselves with chocolate.
Some of us need shoes.

But an author must always bribe herself with books.

Head down and back to work...

(Psst. If you missed our great interview with author R.L. LaFevers, revisit the SBBT here!

January 20, 2009

Sunshine at Noon

It's a beautiful morning, ahhh.
       Think I'll go outside for awhile,
And just smile...
Happy Inauguration Day.

Andi at a wrung sponge has an interesting project for the 44th inaugural ceremony commemoration -- a picture and a post -- forty-four words long. Hers is -- painful. But hopeful. The posts will be rounded up at the Peapods blog.

January 19, 2009

Putting Books into Kids' Hands, and Taking Them Out Again

If you're a member of SCBWI, take a gander at your latest issue of the Bulletin--not only is there a great article from our fabulous interviewee, Elizabeth Wein, but there's also a thought-provoking piece by our blog bud C.K. entitled "What Is YA and Where Should We Put It?" The piece talks about how YA books and movies, especially those which can be considered "crossover," are marketed in stores--and asks the question of whether older teen books should also be stocked in the adult section, or at the very least be placed at a distance from the children's books.

This brought to mind something I noticed in my local B&N--at some point in the past few years, they DID move the teen section to its own area, still near the kids' section but also near some of the biographies and new fiction, and on shelves that made it look like a part of the main store as opposed to an offshoot of the semi-enclosed kids' area. I wonder if sales of teen books have improved as a result?

This is part of a larger discussion, too, of what constitutes YA, and to what extent having a separate label benefits or, conversely, weighs down books. I also think that it does benefit teens to have books that are marketed as adult books--like perhaps The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which C.K. mentions in her article--filed in the teen section in addition to being filed in the adult section. My local library does this to some extent--mostly with "classics."

Anyway. I think another part of the quandary centers on how to get more books into teens' hands, and what role marketing and physical placement play in appealing specifically to older teens. What do you all think, especially those of you who are librarians/booksellers?

On the other side of things, there's still a battle to keep books IN kids' hands--a blogging friend of mine tweeted me with a link to a rather disturbing news story about the soon-to-go-into-effect federal Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. Among other things, the law is meant to protect children from lead in their toys--AND their books. Yes, books. Evidently, it's the ink. According to the article, "The law goes into effect on Feb. 10. After that day, all products for children under 12, including books, games, toys and even clothing, must be tested for lead."

This has the potential of causing countless books to be pulled off shelves, not to mention the expense of testing and the questions about actual feasibility. Let's hope that the Consumer Product Safety Commission is as good as their word, and provides more detailed--and reasonable--guidelines for libraries and bookstores. Here's the ALA's page on the subject, which doesn't make me feel very reassured...

A couple of brief announcements: Our own LW is in the world premiere of the musical Pope Joan! Congrats, Little Willow! And, if you're a teen, you've still got time to nominate a book for the Children's Book Council's 2009 Teen Choice Book Award.

Kill. Or, Be Killed. Reality TV...

This book is a 2008 Cybils Finalist for Fantasy and Science Fiction.

I have to admit that this book whacked me upside the head. The premise isn't really original, but the writing is excellent, the characterization is deft, and the action is non-stop.

The story is straightforward: The Capitol runs the Districts, 1-12. Previously, there was a District 13, but they rebelled, and were utterly destroyed. The Hunger Games are... more punishment for that rebellion, and a reminder that the Capitol sees all, knows all, and could destroy everything and everyone at any time. The creepy panopticon feel really works.

From each district are chosen two children -- one boy, one girl -- as tribute to the Capitol.

They're put into an arena -- maybe in the desert, maybe in the woods, maybe in the snow... and made to fight for their lives. No rules. No mercy.
It's TELEVISED, and viewing is REQUIRED.
Last one standing is the winner of the Hunger Games.

And a murderer, of course.

In District 12, the people are coal miners. Katniss is 16, and from Panem, which is in the Seam -- the lowest, poorest and most desperate area of any district. Katniss' little sister, Prim, and her mother area all she has left. She is the hunter she became when her father was killed in a mine explosion when she was eleven, and her mother had a nervous breakdown and ...mentally abandoned them for a time. Katniss is a survivor. She goes outside the electric fence which rings the district and hunts for game and roots to keep the family alive. She trusts very few and smiles for no one but her precious woodlands and her friend Gale, who is his family's provider as well.

It's just another reaping, which is the name for the annual selection of children for the Hunger Games, but when Prim is chosen -- Prim who is tiny and only twelve -- Katniss jumps in. She volunteers to go in her sister's place.

The boy from her district she's never spoken to, but there's a problem already:
Katniss cannot kill him. She owes him too much. Her very life.

But there can be only one winner.
And the Capitol is watching...

The creepy feel of always being watched, the physical stress of the arena -- comes through to the reader clearly. The UK paperback version allows you to fold the cover so that your favorite character appears on the front. The end of the novel isn't really the end -- be warned! Read slowly and savor the book so you'll be ready for the sequel!

Buy THE HUNGER GAMES from an independent bookstore near you!

You So Mighty

It's an amusing mispronunciation of "Yosemite," and it's the name of the climbing shop where Jordan, 17, spends all of his time when he's not schlepping through a school day or outside doing what he really loves -- climbing. Jordan IS climbing, and he has the perfect, scrawny/muscular body type to help him haul himself up vertical rock faces. He's been doing it since he was a tiny kid, and it's his whole world.

If only everything he needs could be found on the face of a rock!

But, it can't -- and Jordan needs things like an education, an idea of what he wants to do for the rest of his life, and protection from the bullies at his school. For awhile, everything in his life seems perfectly balanced -- he even meets an amazingly athletic climber-GIRL -- but then, one rock tilts --

-- and triggers and avalanche that undoes his whole life.

They say gravity always wins.
How does a guy recover when the world falls apart?

Climbers and athletic types will really enjoy this book. The writing is terse and easy to follow. While the pacing is somewhat uneven, I think that won't matter to climbing enthusiasts and people after a good fast read with tension and drama.

Buy this book in April from an independent bookstore near you!

January 18, 2009

The Magister, the Henchman, the Gutterboy & the Thief

This book is a 2008 Cybils Finalist for Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Oooh, fun, fun, fun. First-time author Sarah Prineas has created a fabulous novel that you can swallow down in one glorious afternoon (and then wish vainly for the sequel! Aaargh!), full of adventure, tension, and a very lovable hero.

Conn is cold. And hungry. And tired of being either one of them. He's a thief -- and a lock-picker, and he's very, very good, but when the Underlord's people have a contract out on you, even stealing what you need to get by is hard -- but Conn's so hungry, he has to try. His light, swift fingers lift the wrong thing from the wrong man -- and it just about costs him his life. The Wizard Nevery finds his locus has been picked from his pocket, but instead of it killing the little thief outright, it attacks him -- yet lets him live.

The Magister Nevery has been exiled from Wellfleet for twenty years -- twenty! And though his brother wizard desperately needs him back to help with the present crisis, Nevery was hurt by being exiled. He's proud and cautious and haughty. He's sure the "crisis" Magister Brumbee has written about is nothing more than the natural fluctuations of magic -- and since he's the greatest wizard in the world, and the rest are bumbling fools, he'll have to fix everything.

Having his pocket picked by a thief was not in the plans.
Having to take him on as a servant -- also not in the plans. And as an apprentice?! NEVER.

But there's something weird about this kid. The Magic Thief doesn't know anything -- how to read or write, how to wear decent clothes. He doesn't even know his age. But what he does know is that being a wizard is his destiny.

Now it's just a matter of convincing everyone else.

Fill your longing for the sequel to this book by playing the runes game online. And don't forget: Buy this FIRST book, The Magic Thief, from an independent bookstore near you!

Sunday Silliness

The prompt today at Sunday Scribblings is "pilgrimage," and that's what I did this weekend.

Those of you who participate in the WBBT/SBBT know that sometimes you JUST LOVE an author, so the format of the Summer/Winter Blog Blast Tour enables you to ask them to talk to you -- about their books, about their lives, what's playing in their iPod, and what authors they're reading. Barring MotherReader's unfortunate restraining order1 for the Mo Willems incident(s), (*!!!*) most of us keep our fangirling and stalkerish tendencies under wraps. *cough* You'll be gratified to hear that I have taken stalking to a whole new level! Wonderland had so much fun interviewing her for WBBT this past November that yesterday I stalked author Elizabeth Wein all the way to her change ringing rehearsal at an ancient cathedral, and then to her house! And she's very, very funny!

Okay, it was supposed to be a short visit -- as in, I'll just hop a train early in the morning and bring her a few goodies from the United States. After all, those of us who live abroad have to keep each other in Hershey's, right? But the short visit turned into two meals and a 12-hour tour of Perthshire, conversing on a whole wealth of topics that continued until literally minutes before the doors on our eight o'clock train closed.

Of course, there were the whole "Liz Is Trying To Kill Me" episodes, which included a dizzying spiral stairwell that was exactly as wide as my shoulders -- and getting more narrow as it rose, a river so high she called it a "death trap" and wet rocks slicked with moss, but I bribed her with 20 pounds of candy to let me live, and so we went home. We will just draw a veil over how dorky I looked crawling up the rocks on my hands and knees. Yes. Drawing a veil. Now.


To conclude: real life authors are lovely people, and should you have a chance to meet one in his or her own home environment, they will often feed you, and let their children take blurry, close-up pictures of you. It's a lot of fun. (Pictures to follow; Flickr is uploading at the speed of a wheezing asthmatic camel in a sand slide.)

Reminder via Children's Writers & Illustrators Market newsletter:

It's the 78th Annual Writer's Digest Writing Competition! Submit your children's or young adult fiction! The reading fee is GRAND PRIZE: $3,000 cash and a trip to New York City to meet with editors or agents. Writer's Digest will fly you and a guest to The Big Apple, where you'll spend three days and two nights in the publishing capital of the world. While you're there, a Writer's Digest editor will escort you to meet and share your work with four editors or agents! Plus, you'll receive a free Diamond Publishing Package from Outskirts Press.

Entry Deadline: May 15, 2009.

The most fun about this contest is that it's open to everyone. Check out the small print at Writer's Digest.

  1. We all know that's a joke, right? RIGHT!?!?

January 17, 2009

My Secret Identity--Eon: Dragoneye Reborn

This review is based on an Advance Uncorrected Copy.

It's rare enough when your life is dependent on keeping a fundamental secret about your identity--a secret that, if anybody knew, your life could be in danger. It's rarer still when someone else's life is also dependent on keeping that secret.

In Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman, Eona's life--and her master's livelihood--depend on her never letting anybody know she is a girl. The boy "Eon," however, is being groomed for possible selection as the next Dragoneye. The council of Dragoneyes advises the Emperor and, through their deep connections with one of twelve energy dragons, they use magic to help keep the empire safe and prosperous. Only men, it is known, have the potential for these special connections with the dragons. If her secret is discovered--if anybody suspects that Eon is actually Eona--all hell could break loose.

This is a unique fantasy novel that combines a coming-of-age story with oodles of political intrigue and danger. It's unusual to see a fantasy placed in a setting that isn't somehow based on European history and mythology, so it was refreshing and interesting to see one that's based on Eastern cultural and mythological traditions. The author also doesn't sugarcoat any of the realities of life in such a setting, and life wasn't always as pretty back in the "olden times" as some fantasy novels make it out to be.

The level of detail--and, clearly, the amount of research--is exhaustive; sometimes a little too much so, perhaps, since I felt the story slowed down at times to make space for lush descriptions. That could simply be a matter of taste, too. The point is moot, since I'm already looking forward to the sequel.

Buy this book from an independent bookstore near you!

January 16, 2009

Poetry Friday: Unnoticed and Necessary

Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite writers of all time. This poem has been passed around and I don't know if it's in one of her books I haven't yet read, but it's one I love.

She wrote another one, Variations on the Word Love which is also quite popular, but it's this one that touches me, somehow. There's such a vulnerability in sleep, and the way the poem draws one and immerses one into deeper and deeper layers reminds me of actually falling asleep, and in that depth, there is a vast intimacy. The final line clinches it for me -- and it also brings up the question of whether or not I really would ever want to be that person -- so necessary and unnoticed -- and selfless enough to be unnoticed.

Could you?

"Variations On The Word 'Sleep'"
I would like to watch you sleeping,
which may not happen.
I would like to watch you,
sleeping. I would like to sleep
with you, to enter
your sleep as its smooth dark wave
slides over my head

and walk with you through that lucent
wavering forest of bluegreen leaves
with its watery sun & three moons
towards the cave where you must descend,
towards your worst fear

I would like to give you the silver
branch, the small white flower, the one
word that will protect you
from the grief at the center
of your dream, from the grief
at the center. I would like to follow
you up the long stairway
again & become
the boat that would row you back
carefully, a flame
in two cupped hands
to where your body lies
beside me, and you enter
it as easily as breathing in

I would like to be the air
that inhabits you for a moment
only. I would like to be that unnoticed
& that necessary.

Poetry Friday today is hosted at The Blog With The Shockingly Clever Title. Keep a good thought for Karen today as she battles plumbing gremlins!

January 14, 2009

The Next Cool Thing for Today

I really love craftastic blogging chicas. Leila's always doing something cool with literary bags, or t-shirts, Farida rocks the sewing and the dolls most awesomely, and everybody knows about Laini's Ladies.

Wendi Gratz, one of the craftastic members of Gratz Industries (the other half of the industry produces some really awesome Horatio Wilkes Mysteries, two of which are IN MY HOUSE, whee!) has come up with THE cutest ...definition dolls. That's really the only way I can describe them.

I have to admit that I want a doll named Vigilante...

January 13, 2009

Back in the U.S.S.... no, wait. UK...

I'm baaaaack!

The most stressful wrangling with the UK embassy is over, and we made it back to Glasgow, just in time for the skies to open and drench us as we went out to get groceries. It was actually funny -- when we landed, the sun was shining.

C'est la vie!

As Glasgow counts down to the 250th birthday of Robbie Burns (January 25th -- it's going to be a humdinger of a party), back home, people are counting down the days 'til the inauguration... and I am beginning to feel for the people in D.C.! According to speculation, it looks like there will be one bathroom for every 10,000 people. Oh, dear.

Via Jen Robinson's Book Page, the International Reading Association reports on an African American Read-In. This is huge news to me, because a.) I'd never heard of any of the above and b.)this is an NCTE thing. To be counted as participants, people are asked to merely select books authored by African Americans; and report their results by submitting the 2009 African American Read-In Report Card. The suggested reading list is not intended to be exhaustive, but has plenty of favorite authors and a few new finds.

In more book news, Atlanta bookseller Doret of the HappyNappyBookseller blog, is guest blogging at White Readers Meet Black Authors about supporting authors of color. Says Doret: "I want people to understand the importance of buying minority authors if they want to continue to see the growth of diversity in children's and teen lit." Doret is planning a book giveaway to publicize this post, drop her a comment if you'd like to donate.

Speaking of donations, via Read, Write, Believe, Reading Is Fundamental is holding a book drive to celebrate the inauguration. Because Reading Is PRESIDENTIAL.

How cool is that?
More Coolness of 2009:
time lapse images of dancing lights in the sky. Check out the auroras! Too gorgeous.
And another "Duh" of 2009: The wife whose husband donated a kidney to her now wants it back, as they divorce... *sigh*

January 12, 2009

Why TadMack Rocks + Son of Most Egregious Misuse

So...it's been a little quiet around here. Funny thing, but it happened to coincide rather neatly with me and TadMack getting together in person to get caught up, reunite with some other grad school friends, and eat pie.

Anyway, there are many reasons why TadMack is awesome, but I wanted to point out that today she managed to A) fly back to Scotland from California; B) make it back in time to attend our online writing group chat; and C) give helpful, encouraging, and cogent commentary on my much-labored-over first chapter, which has now been sent off to Firebrand Literary's query holiday. My revision continues apace, with many handwritten notes and much stress about whether the rest of the novel will live up to the first chapter, now that I've polished it to a blinding shine.

Things that have NOT been polished to a blinding shine: two examples of Stunningly Egregious Misuse that I have to pass along to you so that you may share in my aggravation. Example the first was seen on a license plate frame (where Egregious Misuse tends to abound):
In case of RAPTURE

To me it sounds like some sort of strange insult: Hey! You! Cars yours! Accompanied, of course, by an appropriately rude gesture, or perhaps the painful flinging of a Matchbox car.

Example the second was spotted as I drove past some kind of industrial supply warehouse alongside the freeway. They had a rather large sign posted advertising
Get Nanomasks here

Several things are disturbing here. Firstly, there's the nanomask thing--I don't know what a nanomask is, but it sounds like some scary post-apocalyptic accessory. Secondly, there's that damn apostrophe. So, when I first glanced at this sign, I didn't see the apostrophe, and it wasn't quite as bad. I mean, they could have written "KILLS VIRUS" because they couldn't fit in the final "ES" on the sign, or maybe they were second-language English speakers. But really. This is one of those "greengrocer's apostrophes" that Lynne Truss rants on about. It's enough to make me want to be a good grammar vandal, except it would require a rather large ladder and some trespassing.


January 07, 2009

Keep It All From Shattering

Risa's destiny is straightforward -- she is cazarrina of the Divetri -- the daughter of the noble glass making house of Divetri -- and when the gods choose her, she will go and learn an aspect of the trade to serve the god and bring honor to her house. It's what everyone in the medieval kingdom of Cassaforte does who is part of the Seven and Thirty, the noble houses who serve the king and honor the gods and are the upper echelons of society.

Risa doesn't really think much about being one of the families of the Seven. Her family is in trade, and they work. She looks forward with joy and trepidation to finding her place in the working world, and making her mark -- she dearly wants to be a Divetri who does something different. It's not enough to be the daughter of the premier glassmaker in the city -- she wants to make enchanted glass her way. But it's not to be.

First, the gods don't choose her.
And then -- and then everything else falls apart.

A thoroughly engrossing and surprising narrative, with wonderful descriptions of an imaginary Italian kingdom, this one's a strong contender for next year's Cybils!

Buy The Glass Maker's Daughter from an independent bookstore near you in April, 2009!

Scumbled or Surviving? Strong Girls Have Savvy

This book is a 2008 Cybils Finalist for Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Mississippi "Mibs" Beaumont isn't your average twelve-going-on-thirteen year old. None of the Beaumonts are your average anything -- they've got their savvy to set them apart from everyone. Mibs has amazing brothers -- one has an electric personality, and the other -- well, he's kind of a whirlwind. Seriously. Mibs' siblings can create hurricanes and electrical storms, and if their savvy arrived when they turned thirteen -- it's going to be quite a birthday for Mibs.

But just when Mibs has nothing but great expectations before her, she finds that the one savvy-less member of the family, her precious father, has been involved in a serious car accident. Mibs just knows that everything happens for a reason, and the reason she's having her thirteenth only a day after his horrible accidenet means that she's fated to be the one to wake him from his silent sleep. Mibs' hopes lead her on a desperate dash across the country to be at her father's side -- a dash which includes the pastor's two kids, her silent little brother, Samson, her glowering older brother, Fish, and two of the most hapless and mis-matched adults to ever sneak aboard a bright pink Bible bus.

Mibs find her savvy -- and more than that, she finds a band of firm believers in the power of hope and dreams. Ingrid Law's delightful little book will be a hit with anyone who has a sneaking suspicion that magic really, truly exists in all of us.

Buy Savvy from an independent bookstore near you!

Animatronic Fantastic

This book is a 2008 Cybils Finalist for Middle Grade Fantasy and Science Fiction.
Petra Kronos is not really an ordinary girl... mainly because ordinary people have ordinary families and ordinary pets instead of magical tin spiders, and occasionally ordinary people brush their hair. Petra hasn't had to do a lot of stuff other girls have to do, and she's actually enjoyed that. Even arguing with her bossy housekeeper, Dita, has its amusing moments. But, when her father comes home with his head wrapped in bloody bandages, Petra's world crashes to the ground. Her father was a brilliant wizard, but without his sight, he'll never be able to create again. Everything in their lives depending on her father's wizardry, and the patronage of the prince of Bohemia. And now...

Petra's got to get his sight back.
But, how?

Accompanied only by her scattered wits and her sleepless and wise pet, Petra heads for the city for the adventure of a lifetime.

You will not want to put this book down. SERIOUSLY.

Buy The Cabinet of Wonders: The Kronos Chronicles, Book I. from an independent bookstore near you! And be really grateful there's a sequel!!!

January 06, 2009

In the Swim

2009 has all the earmarks of being a year that will go swimmingly. Here's just a few of the numerous reasons why:

Four Most Awesome
The most hip short thing of the year so far -- Leila's 'zine. Or, TBR Tallboy, as we should really call it. I've often whined about my desire to include some of my short fiction in an anthology -- and how hard it is to get into one of those without an editor being sure of your talent and your saleability -- and how sad it is that there's so little space for YA shorts in the publishing world. And now, there's a place for the stories that I like to read! Check it out.

Four brilliant writers share their ways to shape the new year -- two by encouraging people to actually, write, as with Hip Writer Mama's 30 Day Challenge, and Robin's challenge to aspiring authors -- and the other two with objects. Justina's vision boards, and Sara's gifts which remind her to stay in the moment. All great ideas -- and all sparking new ideas in me.

Also awesome: blowing bubbles in sub-freezing temps. Those frozen bubbles are gorgeous -- and something to cheer up those people living in sleetland at this time. Via mental_floss' morning cuppa.

And now -- because it had to happen --
Harbingers of The Totally Stupid In Our Fair New Year:

Twilight. The fragrance. Via Librarily Blonde, and Burger King's Flame, the cologne of virile males and ...charred meat?

Well, we're an innovative species, if nothing else.

January 02, 2009

Poetry Friday: Finnegan, Begin Again

One of those bizarre phrases my mother used to say to me when I was a kid was "Finnegan, begin again." Generally she said it when I screwed up a math problem and had to start over.

Unfortunately, it's also one of those weird things that welded itself to my own vocabulary, and I found myself saying it awhile ago, and realized I had no idea who Finnegan was, and why he had to begin again.

For this reason, there's Google.

There was an old man named Michael Finnegan
He had whiskers on his chinnegan
They fell out and then grew in again
Poor old Michael Finnegan
Begin again.

Not necessarily the stuff of great poetry, more along the lines of "same song, second verse, a little bit louder, and a little bit worse," but I kind of like the idea of teaching the very small that occasionally everyone has to "begin again." One hopes it won't come as such a bitter surprise later on in life. One hopes.

In honor of the New Year, I have dug out a "begin again" poem from the vaults of the fabulous Wesley McNair. If he's a new poet to you, I beg you -- go, delve. Like Billy Collins, he captures the leaping pulse of Americana and the Western World, and translates it to the page in dry, wry syllables. An older poet, he has a different slant on things that are familiar to us, and often sets the reader at a tilt, thinking.

This one is a little longer than what I usually choose, but is worth clicking through and reading all the way to the end.

The Future

On the afternoon talk shows of America
the guests have suffered life's sorrows
long enough. All they require now
is the opportunity for closure,
to put the whole thing behind them

and get on with their lives. That their lives,
in fact, are getting on with them even
as they announce their requirement
is written on the faces of the younger ones
wrinkling their brows, and the skin
of their elders collecting just under their
set chins. It's not easy to escape the past,
but who wouldn't want to live in a future
where the worst has already happened

and Americans can finally relax after daring
to demand a different way? For the rest of us,
the future, barring variations, turns out
to be not so different from the present
where we have always lived—the same
struggle of wishes and losses, and hope,
that old lieutenant, picking us up
every so often to dust us off and adjust
our helmets. Adjustment, for that matter,

may be the one lesson hope has to give,
serving us best when we begin to find
what we didn't know we wanted in what
the future brings.

Read the last three stanzas here.

"The Future" by Wesley McNair, from Talking in the Dark. © David R. Godine, 1998.

More poetry by Mr. McNair, audio and print, can be found here. More Poetry Friday selections can be found at A Year of Reading.

January 01, 2009

Happy 2009! Woot!

The LIST is out!

Once again, I'm *so glad* we chose last year to divide the Science Fiction/Fantasy nominations for the Cybils into MG and YA books -- it's so much easier that way to narrow down the great stuff. (Okay, maybe "so much easier" was an overly optimistic thing to say. Maybe just "more reasonable" is closer to the truth. Or something.) I offer my sincere and enthused congratulations to all the Cybils nomination teams, but especially the SFF -- it's a hard job, people, but you're the ones who determine my reading choices for the rest of the year! Yay for you!

As a Cybils judge, it's my joy to get to hunker down and do the REALLY tough work -- narrowing down eleven fabulous books to ...one in each category. Just one.


Meanwhile, Charlotte's posted the books she's looking forward to reading in 2009. Re: Sacred Scars, the sequel to Skin Hunger -- oh, MY yes. Cannot WAIT for that.

And speaking of Charlotte, just for commenting one day on her blog, I won a copy of Stowaway! By R.A. Salvatore and Geno Salvatore, The Stowaway: Stone of Tymora, Volume I (Mirrorstone 2008, 287 pp) is a MG adventure fantasy, which I've been looking forward to reading. What a great entrance to 2009! I've won something on the first day. And I used to never win anything.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year from FW!

TadMack and I both wish all of our kidlitosphere buds the very happiest of years, with much peace, love, joy, and reading. :) (Speaking of reading, go check out the lists of 2008 Cybils finalists!!)

As for myself, I was thinking about ideas for a new cartoon today when I was hit with a most excellent New Year's Resolution. Now, I've been sort of waffling about formulating writing-related resolutions (though I posted some regular ones at my personal blog) but I realized that something very important to do for myself--for my writing as well as my well-being--is to give myself space to work.

Not literal space, since I DO have that, thanks to finally setting up our new home office. What I mean is mental space. I'm so good at cluttering up my mental space with real tasks, imaginary tasks, important work, unimportant work, and brand-new, made-up crap to do that I often end up somehow unable to justify spending time on my writing or my art, when really, it ought to be the other way around. Well, okay, the paid work kind of trumps everything else, as does the eating and sleeping and spending time with my husband and cats. But aside from that stuff, I need to make my creative work--specifically, at the moment, my YA novel overhaul--the item at the top of the to-do list. And I need to NOT let myself get sidetracked by less-important things that for some reason I feel like I should be doing because I made them into a big deal in my head.

Like Toon Thursday, for instance. I enjoy it, but often I end up stressed out about it, trying to come up with ideas, drawing them, posting them, all of which takes a fair amount of time. So I've decided to allow myself to take a Toon Thursday break until I'm finished with my novel revision, rather that somehow trying to cram it all in, hoping that some extra waking hours will magically appear in my day. So, I hereby take a temporary break from the tooning, with my return date TBD.

I have some other writing goals that I'm still thinking about, but this is a biggie. If you're interested in other kidlit folks' writing resolutions, I posted a few links over at the Cybils blog, and will likely post a few more on Tuesday.