October 30, 2010

Now's Your Chance! The Contest, The Challenge, The ...earrings.

via Smart B's, Trashy B's:

Harlequin Publishing is launching an online search for new writing talent called So You Think You Can Write. For the first five days of November (that'd be 1-5, FYI), Harlequin editors and authors will be hosting outreach and educational events on various social media platforms designed to both seek out new writers and instruct folks on what goes into writing a quality romance. Submitted manuscripts from unpublished writers will receive an examination from Harlequin editors, and you can follow the week of events on the Harlequin blog, and on Twitter at hashtag#sytycw. The Rules! The Blog.

Podcasts, blogs, and discussions with expert editors and current authors will make this a valuable experience for writers who've wanted to break into the genre, and for anyone who's ever thought, "Heck, I could write a better romance than that!" -- ? Well, money + mouth. You know the drill.

via Anne's Really Cool Agent™, by way of Tameeka at Serendipity Literary Agency:

With just 250 words, you can have a chance to get your writing read by editors at HarperCollins, Penguin, Harlequin, Random House, and Sourcebooks. In honor of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo.org)—an international event where aspiring novelists are encouraged to write an entire novel in 30 days the YA Discovery Contest is meant to encourage the aspiring YA author (THAT'S YOU!) to get started on that novel by offering an incentive for completing the first 250 words.

HERE’S HOW IT WORKS: The top 20 submissions will all be read by a panel of five judges comprised of top YA editors at MacMillan, Scholastic, Candlewick, Harlequin, Sourcebooks and Penguin. The first 100 will receive free autographed copies of Writing Great Books for Young Adults by Regina Brooks, Anne's Cool Agent™. Of the 20, they will pick the top five submissions and provide each author with commentary. These five winners will also receive a free ONE YEAR subscription to The Writer magazine. ONE Grand Prize Winner will win a full manuscript reading and editorial consultation from Regina Brooks, Anne's Cool Agent™ and a free 10-week writing course courtesy of the Gotham Writer’s Workshop.

Because the really cool agent is Anne's? As in, Anne Boles Levy, freelance novelist and news writer whose book reviews have appeared in the Los Angeles Times? Who is in my writing group, and has an astonishingly brilliant SF novel in process and leads the heck out of the Cybils and kicks kidlitosphere behind? She's throwing in a pair of handmade, original earrings from her Quartz Trail Studio store to the top 20 subs. (If a guy wins, I'm sure she can flex on that, so don't panic, gents. Or, hey: Christmas is in the bag! Early!)

You know you have to enter. Go. Now.

October 29, 2010

Norah McClintock's North-of-the-Border Mysteries

I frequently find myself wishing that there were more good mysteries written for the YA audience. One that I really did enjoy (and which was a Cybils nominee a couple of years ago) was Norah McClintock's Dooley Takes the Fall.

This Canadian author's series of YA hardboiled detective books—the Chloe & Levesque mysteries—are being re-released in paperback by Kane Miller publishing. I missed these before, if they were ever released for a U.S. market, that is. But the folks at Raab Associates unexpectedly (and a bit fortuitously) sent me copies of Book 1: Over the Edge and Book 2: Double Cross.

These mysteries are structured in a traditional detective style, but with a twist—the primary crime-solver is narrator Chloe Yan (a mixed-race protagonist—yay!), a high school student, whose new stepfather, Louis Levesque, is the chief of police in the small town of East Hastings. There are a lot of subtle threads in this series, from Chloe's slow acceptance of her new stepfather, to her difficulty adjusting to life in a new small town after growing up in Montreal. These create a nicely textured backdrop to the mystery action—and, of course, as implied by the title, Chloe and her stepfather end up as reluctant teammates in finding solutions to the crimes that take place.

In Over the Edge, Chloe has to use her nosy school-newspaper skills to sniff out foul play in the suspicious death of a classmate. In Double Cross, Chloe goes to great lengths to help a guy at school—Jonah—try to clear his father of murder, even if that Jonah is...kind of a jerk. Clearly she's someone with principles, and her bulldog-ish persistence and clear sense of right and wrong lead her to try to help address injustices, even when it leads her into real danger. What I like is that it isn't artificial-seeming or wimpy danger—there's genuine tension and suspense. Again, I'm happy to see more of McClintock's work and I'm pleased to see some more good YA mysteries. These are listed by Amazon as suitable for ages 9 – 12, but I'd probably say 11 and up, myself, unless we're talking about mature readers—I'd definitely consider them YA and not MG.

Buy Over the Edge and Double Cross from an independent bookstore near you!

October 28, 2010

CYBILS SFF BOOKMARK: Out of the Ordinary Sibling Stories

Sirens. Sisters. Whisperers. Angelic automaton. A serving of siblings - loving brothers, backstabbing sisters -- all out of the ordinary Cybils nominations, served with a hint of intrigue and a soupçon of darkness. Oh, and a smidgen romance, too.

Siren, by Tricia Rayburn: Cowardly Vanessa hides behind her vivacious, daredevil sister, Justine. Despite being almost finished with high school, Vanessa is afraid of the dark, of heights, and of being alone. Once a water-lover, until a near-drowning accident changed her, Vanessa even fears the sea. Justine doesn't believe in fear, and patiently coaxes her sister into believing that her darkened bedroom is bright as broad daylight, that the Maine cliffs where Justine loves to dive are perfectly safe, and that she, Justine, will never leave her.

None of that is true, of course, and for awhile it's difficult to read a character's inner voice which is so diffident and so insecure. The sisters' unequal relationship continues through to the summer Justine and Vanessa return to the vacation home. Vanessa can add fear of the strangely turbulent seaside weather, her sister's increasingly more dangerous behavior, and her discomfort with the newly gorgeous Simon, from the cabin next door, to her list of fears. Everything is different this year -- and Vanessa doesn't quite understand how it all happened. Justine is crazier this year, and she and Caleb, her on-again, off-again, he's-only-good-to-make-out-with boyfriend, seems to be the true love of her life.

Then, only two days into their summer retreat, Justine takes a risk from which she doesn't return. No one understands. Is it Vanessa's fault, as her mother seems to imply? Or it it something else? And why has Justine's boyfriend, who was devoted to her, vanished -- and been seen hooking up with someone else?

A strange, twisty bit of fiction which from one angle could seem a perfectly normal story of a family's loss -- until the unexpected turns where things stop adding up. The novel ended on a disquieting note that makes me think there will be a sequel. It wasn't entirely successful in creating Vanessa as a likable character, but the novel was, shall we say, darkly intriguing.

Whisper, by Sophie Kitanidis: Who would you be, if you tried to make every single person you knew... happy? Who would they be? Joy and her icky sister with the mocking nickname of "Icka" have a special gift, which enables them to hear the whispers of wishes. Their mother has taught them that it's a gift, and that it enables them to make the world a brighter, better place. For Joy, this has been mostly true -- but not helping wishes come true for her friends is somewhat scary, and actually causes her a pain in her heart. So, she does her best to make the world better for her crew, and in turn she's been made one of the most popular, best-known freshman in her class. She's also prone to anxiety migraines, and is constantly trying to be sure and serve up happiness to everyone on a silver platter.

Jessica, Joy's sister, doesn't agree with their mother's happiness theory. She rants that the world is dark and full of evil people, that most people wish for crap, and that their mother is on a permanent vacation from reality. She calls Joy her mother's Mini Me. The Whispers, Jessica always says, are nothing but a curse, and their mother has lied about all the good things they're supposed to bring. She also tells Joy that if she really knew what her friends wished for, she'd know they weren't really her friends.

When Jessica deliberately destroys the vibe the morning of Joy's fifteenth birthday by reading the wishes of Joy's best friends and manipulating them into believing that Joy is the reason they're unhappy, Joy has had it. She tells Jessica that she wishes she never had to see her, ever again.

But something has happened - Joy's Whispers crackle out and fade once her fifteenth birthday is past, and then -- Jessica vanishes. Waking or sleeping, Joy can't get her sister out of her head -- and it seems like she's trying to tell her something -- that she's in danger.

Is it worth wishing you can find someone you think you hate?

An excellent twist on sister-fiction, this held my attention right to the end. This novel also left room for a sequel.

Clockwork Angel [Infernal Devices, Book 1], by Cassandra Clare: After the death of her aunt and only remaining female relative, Tessa Fell sails from New York to join her brother, Nathan, in England, where he has found employment and promises that he can take care of her. Only, he's not at the docks to meet her ship. Instead, two women, Mrs. Black, and Mrs. Dark, meet her. Troubled, Tessa resists going with them until she reads a note from her brother in his familiar script, full of reassurances. The two women say they'll take her right to him.

They don't.

What follows next for Tessa is a harrowing, terrifying time - she is alone and frightened, imprisoned in a house with only one dress to wear, scratchy, thin, blankets on the bed, and silent -- and very strong -- servants who drag her kicking and screaming to The Dark Sisters, as they like to be called, to be trained to do -- what? What is it that these women want? Why do they expect her to be grateful? Why won't they let her go, leave her alone? What is the Pandemonium Club?

And the most crucial question of all -- where is her brother?

Without giving you any spoilers, I can only say that this is a steampunk mystery with plenty of action and suspense and questions that don't get answered. Look at the cover - even though we're introduced to Tess first - look, Ma: no female face! No face at all, really. Woot! In this book, there are gadgets galore, and a full cast of the best sort of characters - mad inventors, debonair swains, a teensy flying machine -- the works. Since it's Book 1, obviously there's going to be a sequel! This is also the prequel to Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series, and so far, I like this even better than those.

So, there you have it: three sit-down-and-read-it-in-one-gulp sibling stories -- with mystery, murder, and mayhem to spare. And the odd gear.

Sisters Red, an unusual modernization of by Little Red Riding Hood, Jackson Pearce, is more intelligently reviewed at The Book Smugglers.

You can find SIREN, WHISPER (which I still think should have been called "Wishes"), CLOCKWORK ANGEL, and the brooding, SISTERS RED at an independent bookstore near you!

The first novel reviewed in this post received and reviewed courtesy of its publisher.

October 26, 2010

Kidlitcon 2010: The Fun! The Conversation! The Hijinks!

Okay, so there were not really any hijinks that I am personally aware of. (Sorry if that disappoints you.) However, it was truly an amazing weekend. I gleaned useful blog- and writing-related tidbits, got to do a little sightseeing around Minneapolis—but, best of all, I got to meet so many great people that I've only known in virtual form. Henceforth, I present you with:


IMG_3162I love the feeling of community that the Kidlitcon fosters—it's not like any other conference I've ever been to. It's as much about that sense of community, I think, as it is about learning more about blogging, or creating networking opportunities, or getting to listen to knowledgeable speakers. And meeting people who've already met Tanita is always a kick--I can't help wondering if they think we're a strange duo...

Some of the people I saw at this year's conference I've known for a number of years but hadn't met yet, like Liz B. (Tea Cozy), Mary Lee (A Year of Reading), Charlotte (Charlotte's Library), Melissa Wiley (Bonny Glen), Mary Ann Scheuer (Great Kid Books), Laura Salas, and Camille (BookMoot). Others I only just met at the conference but still sort of felt like I'd known them for ages: Alice Pope, Blythe Woolston, Laura Lutz (Pinot & Prose), Elissa Cruz (From the Mixed-Up Files), Kirstin Cronn-Mills, and Toby Speed, just to name a few. (I know I missed some. Please don't hate me.)

I got to see some good friends again whom I'd met in person before: Jen Robinson, Pam @ MotherReader, Maureen Kearney (Bibliovore), and, awesomely, there was a cameo appearance by the legendary Kelly H.! So great to see you, Kelly.

I met the indomitable and amazing Carol Rasco (RIF) and was almost incoherent with awe. I met Susan Taylor Brown, who lives not far from me but yet I hadn't met in person until this weekend. (Same with Mary Ann!)

I'd be remiss if I did not mention the wonderful organizing trifecta of Brian Farrey (Flux), Andrew Karre (Carolrhoda), and Ben Barnhart (Milkweed). Thanks, guys, for such a memorable weekend!

And, lastly, a notable part of going to Minneapolis for me was getting the chance to meet with my acquisitions editor, Brian, and one of the publicists I've been working with at Flux, Steven. We had great conversations, and it's always valuable to be able to put names to faces in a work-related situation.

For pictures of people, check the Kidlitcon Flickr group. For more recaps of the weekend, check here.


IMG_3161The conference was held at Open Book, a literary center located in a building called The Loft in downtown Minneapolis, a short walk from the hotel. I really wish we had a facility like this in my town: the bottom floor has a café, a gallery space and a supremely cool gift shop; the second floor has the Open Book center, complete with a classroom, a large meeting room and a spacious foyer for mingling (and, in our case, that’s where we had lunch); and the third floor was home to Milkweed Editions. So awesome.

I didn't spend my entire time indoors, though—on Friday, I met up with a friend who lives in St. Paul and she showed me around the downtown Minneapolis area. We took a fabulously long walk and I got to see some of the many bridges over the river. And the weather gods were smiling upon us—Friday was gorgeous, and it didn't rain on us until Sunday, and it didn't snow at all (which is good, since I have no snow-suitable duds).


I think I'm going to follow the bullet-point format I'm seeing used so effectively on other recap posts, so this doesn't go on for eons. Here goes:
  • Thursday night, I met Laura Salas, Susan Taylor Brown, Camille Powell, Camille's husband, and a handful of people from the local SCBWI chapter for a kidlit drink night in the hotel lobby. Very friendly company--what a great way to open the weekend!
  • Friday, I did some daytime sightseeing and then returned in time to meet with my publicist, Steven, before the unofficial event kick-off event. Chatted and mingled most enjoyably during the wine and cheese reception.
  • Critique Groups: The panel discussion about critique groups featured the Merry Sisters of Fate. I learned that they do real-time reader responses using instant messaging, which kind of blew my mind. I think I'm glad we don't do that in our writing group. My brain might implode.
  • Keynote Speaker: Maggie Stiefvater was the keynote speaker, and she reminded us all that blog readers are real people and they might even be real WEIRD people who find out your pets' and children's names if you aren't careful.
  • Best of Backlist: Blogging backlist titles enables us to share our passion for our favorite books, give new life to those books, help give your blog a personality, bring in new readers with similar tastes—and it can provide a resource for the greater good. IMG_3167
  • Author Blog Touring: Each panelist talked about a different aspect of blog touring, but my favorite tidbits were these: Bloggers can help authors by asking in-depth questions that involve the reader and prove you've done some research on the author. And, for authors: think about different types of blog posts you can do while "touring" to mix it up a little; remember to be nice; and remember that self-promotion is a necessary evil. Oh, and author Jacqueline Houtman showed off this amazing Periodic Table of Cupcakes (see photo) that was at her book launch.
  • Pro Blogging: Some print review outlets are facing financial challenges, which means increased opportunities in the online market. The voice you establish in your blog reviews may lead to pro blogging opportunities.
  • Book Reviews and Publishers: Publishers want a clear way to contact you and a clear review policy, right up there on the front page of your site. If you're the one initiating contact, they want that same information. Some are also interested in blog stats/traffic.
  • Poetry Friday: A whirlwind tour of Poetry Friday! How to get involved and so forth. You don't have to post an original poem—you can share a favorite poem or even review a book of poetry.
  • School/Library Visits: Technology can help engage young readers, and they can use downloadable media in their school projects. Don't forget to ask whether kids are allowed to have their picture taken, if you want to include a photo of a school visit on your website. Similarly, make it clear if you don't want your picture taken.
  • Cybils/Kidlitosphere: Pam, Liz, Jen and I gave a panel about the Kidlitosphere and Cybils, and it went rather well, if I say so myself. We had a Powerpoint and everything. I was nervous and thought I could have been more coherent. But aside from that, I think it was a good thing.
Thanks again to the organizers! As for me, I've caught up on my sleep, and I'm already looking forward to next year's conference in Seattle. I'll be trying to help out a little from afar, which should be exciting. Will I see you there?

The Kidlitosphere Bloggers: We're Everywhere

"This is why I'm glad my parents are not religious. We would skip the whole God thing and just go. That's the way it should be. You religious people always have to pray first. It takes up valuable running away time."

"It gets worse, doesn't it?" asked Jack.

"Yeah," I said. "It gets worse."

Oh, yeah.

Colleen got a story published in STRANGE HORIZONS which is one of the story 'zines I have delivered to my Reader each and every lovely Monday. I love the weird stories I read there, the reviews and the articles on speculative fiction, and Colleen's October Country-type story included this week makes me both laugh (seriously: we religious types do tend to cut down our running away time. Maybe we should run and pray concurrently? Does prayer on the hoof show a galling lack of faith? Then again, how many haunted house movies have people praying in them at all? Oh, wait. The Exorcist... - I guess there were priests? Obviously, I'm not up on the haunted house/horror film thing...) and sigh in a bittersweet way. A haunted house story with a real-life twist.

You should read the story first (and ooh - there's a place for comments! I never leave comments, but I think I just might), and then read Colleen's backstory.

Did you know that Elaine Magliaro - of Blue Rose Girls and Wild Rose Reader fame - has another blog? Elaine's Political Verses amuse me deeply - I love how she gets irritated and then bursts, not into diatribe, as so many do, but she bursts into poetry. I'm always tickled to read her snarky little takes on names we hear bandied about so often in the news.

(If you've never met Elaine, she's a hoot, and you know her poetry might be an anger outlet, but it's always funny. I had SO much fun meeting her at the ALA Convention in June!) This week, Elaine's been invited to guest blog at a popular law blog! We kidlitosphere peeps, we totally get around.

Tech Boy got notes this week from two poor, sad little boys who said their mother abandoned them this weekend to go to some kind of blogging conference. On behalf of Charlotte's pathetic, beleaguered children, I'm looking forward to Sarah's post on the Kidlitosphere Conference 2010, so I can know their mother's abandonment was not in vain. I'm already crossing my fingers that I can actually a.) be of some use and b.) actually manage to show up, for once, to Kidlitosphere Conference 2011. Hope springs eternal.

Almost November. Just doesn't seem possible, does it? Enjoy your week!

October 23, 2010

The 2011 Cybil's SFF Noms, via The Enchanted Inkpot:

GOOD NEWS! Robin LaFevers has made an excellent new deal!

From Publisher's Marketplace:

THEODOSIA and NATHANIEL FLUDD author R. L. LaFevers' trio of YA romantic historical fantasies focusing on teen girl assassins in 15th century France--starting with DARK MERCY in spring 2012 and followed by DARK JUSTICE and DARK HOPE in spring 2013 and spring 2014--each focusing on a different assassin trained at a convent serving the god of death himself...

And from Publisher's Weekly Bookshelf:

In Dark Mercy, scheduled for spring 2012, Ismae learns she was sired by the god of death, is trained as an assassin, and is sent to court as a spy, where she must choose between serving her dark god and opening her heart to love. Companion novels Dark Justice and Dark Hope, each focusing on a different assassin from the convent, will publish in spring 2013 and spring 2014.

OH, MY WORD. I adore Theodosia, and have often wished that Robin would go back to writing for the YA set (she started out writing YA/older MG books - dig through your library), because she has such a gift for making smart, sympathetic, female characters. And now I get my wish!!! Wheeee!

Also: Girl assassins? Cool. And convents? Almost as good as a school for a story setting!


Click through for our 2008 Summer Blog Blast Tour interview with Robin, and heads up for this year's Winter Blog Blast Tour - coming in December!

October 22, 2010

CYBILS SFF BOOKMARK: Not Entirely Unexpected

Claire de Lune, by Christine Johnson: It's rare in the process of wading through novels about vampires, werewolves, and zombies to find anything unexpected, but I found a sliver of unusual in Christine Johnson's Claire de Lune. Claire turns sixteen on a miserably hot day, and while her pool party is considered a roaring success, and the boy she's liked since forever makes small talk and says he'll call her, nothing can balance the horror of finding out that night that the rash that's been blooming on her arms, hands, and ears is the beginning of her change into a werewolf.

In Johnson's version of the lore, there are no male werewolves (sorry Jacob), which is a totally unexpected twist, and pregnancies which result in male children inevitably spontaneously miscarry. The weres have a matriarchal society, which brings up issues for Claire, since her famous photographer mother is often out of town, and tends to be cryptic, elusive, and cold. There's a lot for Claire to get used to, and the fact that a murdering werewolf is marauding through their county doesn't help.

I wanted to like this book a whole lot more. Claire is a bit shy, uncomfortable with herself, and poignantly vulnerable at her own birthday party, which is filled with strangers sucking up to the rich girl, and then the whole thing is ruined by the announcement of a werewolf sighting nearby, and everyone runs out in a panic. However, while Claire's likability lasts until the end, the unexceptional villain is sadly obvious and easily spotted, and MAN, do I hate spending time in villains heads. It never adds interest to the plot for me. Claire's risk-taking later in the book seems out of character. Readers might find themselves saying the inevitable, "No, don't go into the woods on a dark night, stupid!" sort of thing to her. Claire's eventual romance has a hint of the forbidden in it, which may appeal to some, but the emotion remains elusive. I was especially dismayed at the stilted relationship between Claire and her mother - it felt like there was a lot to make up for there, in terms of her mother both lying to her and ignoring her for years, yet everything was tied up in a convenient bow by the end with lots of hugs and understanding. An interesting concept and a sympathetic character, however, may make up for a lack of surprises.

The Body Finder, by Kimberly Derting: There are some books which lend themselves easily to the phrase "mass market publication." They have a sort of universal supermarket-thriller appeal, and seem like something easily made into a Lifetime Movie of the Week. And yet, they also have this sort of ...attractive and addictive pulp fiction-y goodness. Like, I don't know, roasted pumpkin seeds. The Body Finder is a lot like that. You can easily imagine picking it up at your local grocery store, and paging through it in the check-out line.

The title makes it clear: someone finds bodies. The someone in question is Victoria Ambrose, whose claim to quiet fame, at least in her family, is that she found her human first corpse when she was a wee tiny girl. What's a bit unexpected is that there's no attempt at an explanation for why she feels the draw of the dead -- and why her morbid little habit of digging around in the woods to find dead animals and give them a proper burial didn't freak her parents, aunt and uncle, and best friend, Jay, right out -- but everyone is calm about it. (It's just one of those Victoria things, apparently.) Her uncle is the police chief, and he gladly uses her rather bizarre skill-set to give grieving families peace.

All would be well, except for two things: one, there's a serial killer on the loose, preying on young girls. And two -- well, Jay's gotten kind of hot over the summer.

Hard to line up those two facts, isn't it? And yet, the novel attempts to give them both equal weight. We spend chapters in the killer's mind - always my favorite place to be - and spend pages with her obsessing over Jay, and a third of the way through the novel, it's thoroughly obvious and inevitable that a.) the serial killer will be caught, and b.) Jay Heaton will turn out to be the love of Victoria's life. It seems that's only obvious to the reader though. You may find yourself continuing to read along at a galloping pace, at least until Jay and Victoria figure things out, and until the Evil Guy figures out that he's a goner... which happens conveniently near the very end of the book.

I'm not sure how a sequel is planned for this novel, but there's one in the works. My only hope is that the writer will delve a little more into the WHY of this psychic phenomenon and maybe allow Victoria to figure out a way to let it go so she can live a normal life? Or, not. Whatever.

Spells, by Aprilynne Pike: Previously a flower bloomed on Laurel's back and she discovered that she's a fae, and had a previous life in Avalon, one that she has entirely forgotten. Spells picks up the summer following Wings, as Laurel goes to "summer school" in Avalon to learn the spells and potions which will enable her as a Autumn Faerie to protect her human family and the property she inherited in which lies the gate to Avalon.

In many ways, the narrative is fairly unexceptional -- Laurel has to study hard to remember everything she had to forget so she wouldn't give it away to the humans, she wears flowy, flower faerie clothes, she interacts again with Tam, the Spring Fae boy who has been watching out for her since she was planted within her human family, and she is tugged back and forth between her feelings for him, and her feelings for her human boyfriend, David.

What's unexpected in this is that the rare YA novel that deals with class distinctions! Among the fey, Winter and Autumn faeries are so rare that they are treated with utmost respect, and are essentially the aristocracy. The Summer faeries are the entertainers, and the numerous Springs are the workers - jacks of all trades. They're at the beck and call of Autumn and Winter fae, they walk a half step behind anyone two steps higher up in rank, they don't meet their eyes, they bow... and it's absolutely skeevy to Laurel, as it should be.

The fae see the humans as animals - and refer to them as such, and Laurel is confused by this, and accidentally does harm to her father with something she expected to only harm animals of the four-footed kind. Her girlfriends in the school don't see why Tam comes to visit - and why she bothers speaking to him, since he's a lowly Spring. Laurel is very conscious that something is wrong with all of this, but she seems unable articulate a strong argument of what is wrong with it, and why. Sustained attention to anything seems impossible for her, even the constant reminders to not go out after dark float easily from her mind, and she tangles with trolls again. She seems very young and unformed for her alleged sixteen years.

Readers may be relieved that Laurel finally is called on her selfishness in trying to have two boyfriends at once, and is determined to simply return to the human world. This is where the book ends - but there's a tiny cliffhanger; things are definitely not over.

Other books with not quite unexpected plotlines more ably reviewed elsewhere are:
Mistwood reviewed @ Angieville,
My Soul to Save @ A Journey of Books, and
Wolves of Mercy Falls, 2 @ Katie's Book Blog.

For books that read like familiar tales you've known for years, check out CLAIRE DE LUNE, the Lifetime-a-licious THE BODY FINDER, and SPELLS from an independent bookstore near you!

October 21, 2010

Goodbye Ms. Ibbotson

Obituary: Eva Ibbotson

Oh, no! PW reports that author Eva Ibbotson has died.

In a career that spanned three decades, she wrote more than 20 novels for children and adults. Her first book, The Great Ghost Rescue, was published by Macmillan in the U.K. in 1975; she was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal for 1979’s Which Witch?, and her novels Journey to the River Sea (2001) and The Star of Kazan (2004) received numerous awards and citations (the latter won the Nestlé Children’s Book Prize Silver Award and was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal).

Ibbottson’s latest book, The Ogre of Oglefort, was shortlisted for the 2010 Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and is scheduled to be published in the U.S. by Dutton in summer 2011.

I read Journey to the River Sea only a couple of years ago, and was entranced by the sheer beauty of the writing. I have two more books of hers waiting for my Cybs reading to be done -- and I'll be searching out more and hanging on to them to read and reread them.

Thank you, Ms. Ibbotson.

October 20, 2010

It Will Get Better.

We don't jump on a lot of memes here at Wonderland -- frankly we tend to find our way here and mostly blog about books, and not much else. But we wanted to dress our blog in purple today. Here's why.

We need to have it for every human being, and support young adults in respecting themselves and others so that this kind of stuff will stop happening.
It's a tough world for GLBTQ young adults. Here's to raising the survival rate, and remembering what the words "happy childhood" mean.

Hat tip to Charlotte for passing along the information on this day.

October 17, 2010


The thing I love best about my Cybils reading is that I have an excuse to set aside everything else and just indulge. I love that about the 48 Hour Book Challenge, too. Sorry, can't talk now -- gotta read. Oh, and could you bring me my chocolate covered almonds? Thanks. Now, go away.

Guilty pleasures are the books that I can - and will - read over and over again. Here are two novels I've really enjoyed for their quick pace, mystery and sugar-rush addiction storylines:

Hearts at Stake (The Drake Chronicles Book 1) by Alyxandra Harvey: Solange has loved Lucy, her best-best-best friend since they were wee. Lucy is crazy-fierce, and sticks by her, no matter that at sixteen, Solange is due to, er, die, and become a vampire like her seven older brothers and her parents, Lucy loves Solange to bits, even though she's the only human around the place, and defends Solange's right to live as humanly as possible until it's no longer an option. Solange is squeamish about blood, but she's got no choice about the vampire thing -- in her family, vampirism and change is a blood disorder, and already her body is shutting down, showing the signs of the weakness, fever and illness which presages the change. Solange is scared, but Lucy is terrified. Some vampires don't survive...

Born vampires like the seven Drake kids are rare. Female born vampires? Vanishingly rare, as in, Solange is the only one in some hundreds of years. This makes a lot of people way too interested in her. Crazy Lady Natasha, the queen of the vampire court, is pretty sure that Solange is out to steal the throne. She is, after all, next in line, according to tradition and an ancient prophesy...

As if it's not enough to be a girl of myth -- and on her way to being dead -- the anti-vampire league has published a Field Guide to Vampires for their human agents, who come armed all hours of the day and night, with stakes (one of them is really cute, too. Okay, how weird is it to be attracted to a guy with a stake who thinks your family killed his father?), and Solange is apparently now putting out some kind of pheromone which is attracting whacked-out vampires from all corners of the kingdom to her who must, er, breed with her or die. And all of them are sending gifts -- flowers, jewelery, kitten hearts.

Kitten hearts. Cause nothing says L-O-V-E like dismembered felines for a girl who is squeamish about the whole I-am-a-vampire thing.

Solange is really, really, really grateful for Lucy. As crazy as she is (and what is going on with Lucy and her brother, Nicholas?), the girl is at least normal. Mostly.

Okay, yeah, I said I was done with vampire novels, but I am a huge sucker for well-told family stories. By the time I was done reading this, I wanted seven well-intentioned and annoying brothers, a cellar full of weapons, and a Mom who had a kickin' back handspring and could stake people who got on her nerves. The Drakes are people readers will want to know, and they'll be glad that sequel to this one is out already. I'll have to track it down.

Hex Hall (Hex Hall Book 1), by Rachel Mercer: Okay, so it was maybe somewhat of a mistake in judgment. Sophie Mercer was just trying to help the sniffly, geeky girl who was crying in the next stall. I mean, it was prom. Sophie did just one little spell -- and man, all sorts of chaos was unleashed. Who knew that everyone would blame her?

And just like that -- Sophie's father steps in from whatever dimension he usually occupies while ignoring she and her human-normal mother -- and bam -- he's in charge of her life. His decision? For her little witchery prank, she's sentenced to Hex Hall, which is basically juvenile hall for monsters. The wayward children of the Prodigium all attend there - shapeshifters, faeries, warlocks and witches, none of who can seem to blend in seamlessly with the larger mundane world.

Sophie is both terrified and angry, and when she's assigned a vampire as a roommate, and a werewolf almost bites her within the first five minutes of being there, she knows this is going to be one long, long year.

If there's anything I like just as well as a family story, it's a school story, and this has all the traditional earmarks -- annoying teachers, gross P.E. uniforms, the one male teacher who thinks he's God's gift, and the senior level warlock on whom everyone crushes, even though they a.) know it's hopeless, b.) know he's a unmitigated snob, and c.) knows he's dating the head of the Pretty Committee. Add to that this random ghost that keeps appearing, some highly suspicious deaths, furniture which changes based on one's state of mind, and being drooled on by the werewolf girl down the hall -- and you'll be glad of the novel's fast pace and soon be ready for the next one - which, incidentally, will be out in March.

Other Cybs books read this week, but quite ably reviewed elsewhere: Jekel Loves Hyde, by Beth Fantaskey, reviewed in Leila's own Terrible Team of Something inimitable style, The Dark Divine, by Bree Despain, reviewed at YA Books Central, The Iron King and The Iron Daughter, by Julie Kagawa, reviewed at The Book Nook.

You'll find HEX HALL, HEARTS AT STAKE, and loads of your own guilty pleasures at an independent bookstore near you!

October 14, 2010

Book Blurbs of September, Part III: Geeks and Ghosts

Two more three-sentence reviews today, again courtesy of books from the Stanislaus County Library. I just can't seem to stop myself from grabbing all the library books I can carry and gobbling them down when I should be writing or doing something else productive with my time. Anyone else have that problem?

Firstly, the latest book by one of my personal favorite YA authors, Jaclyn Moriarty, is The Ghosts of Ashbury High, and it's sure to please fans of her ongoing set of characters at Ashbury and Brookfield High Schools. A surprisingly deep and intricate web of stories-within-stories, told in her usual epistolary style from varying points of view (but mainly Em, Lydia, and Toby with the bulk of it), this latest rather hefty volume takes an appropriately Victorian angle to the whole thing. The reader is led merrily along throughout by questions like Is there really a ghost?, Who's the ghost?, Do ghosts truly exist?, and What's a ghost, anyway?, but as always, it's the eminently believable main characters, the amusing and slightly less believable cast of side characters, and the laugh-out-loud sense of humor that make this one another winner for me.

Buy The Ghosts of Ashbury High from an independent bookstore near you!

Now for some geek love! And I did love so many things about Julie Halpern's Into the Wild Nerd Yonder, which was a Cybils finalist last year in YA Fiction—it's got a quirky and endearing main character in Jessie, an adorable older brother who's a surprisingly good friend to his little sis, plus punks, goths, nerds, D&D, and LARPing. Normal people go punk, punks go preppy, the prom queen turns out to be surprisingly deep—there's plenty of self-discovery to go around in this book, but maybe most importantly, Jessie learns that it's quite all right to simply be herself, whether that means sewing her own clothes, playing the drums, or hanging out with nerds because it turns out to be surprisingly fun. It's a hilarious romp, despite being a tiny bit light on backstory, and brought back some good memories of late high school, when I (like Jessie) took up with a group of new gamer friends (except in my case, it was the punk/goths who were doing the gaming).

Buy Into the Wild Nerd Yonder from an independent bookstore near you!

October 13, 2010

CYBILS SFF BOOKMARK: Meanwhile, On Parallel Earths

This year Cybs noms have revealed quite a number of authors who normally write for adults joining the party. Jennifer Lynne Barnes impressed me with her novel, and now Carrie Vaughn is impressing the heck out of me as well. (James Frey I was not so impressed with, but we can't all win.) I'm always pleased to welcome to the genre more people who can tell a good story, so woot!

Voices of Dragons, by Carrie Vaughn: High school junior Kay Wyatt just likes to push her limits -- she isn't out to hurt anyone. So, free-climbing alone, on the outskirts of Silver River, really, really close to the off-limits border of Dragon --? Eh, a little bending of the rules, yeah. It's the only kind of freedom she can get, though. Kay's Dad is the sheriff of Silver River, and once he actually pulled her over for speeding.

Yeah, it's like that. Kay's always got to be an example.

So, when she falls climbing into the famous silvery creek, and is carried away downstream, she's glad to fetch up against something solid, and maybe get out of this whole thing without anyone finding out. Of course, when that "something solid" curls around her and lifts her out of the water, she's not so much glad anymore as blind terrified. She's run smack into a dragon -- and human kind has been at an uneasy peace with them since World War II. Kay knows that her fall has put her in dragon territory, and legally, she could be killed or imprisoned for this. There is to be NO crossing that boundary, no interaction between the two species, and no getting back the territory that humankind ceded to them so long ago.

On the other hand, if the dragon doesn't eat her, this could be so amazing...

Vaughn has created a really likable character who has a lot of questions about herself, about the reasons for the things that she does or doesn't do (she thinks she's the last virgin in her town), and the reason the world the works the way it does -- or, doesn't. She doesn't condescend to her YA readers, as she brings Kay into contact with racism/species-ism, the possibility of eradicating a whole people, and the reasons for and against war. Eventually, Kay has to defy her parents, her friends and her government to do what she feels is right. The character's riveting choices and consequences make for a good, solid read.

Voices of Dragons stands well on its own, but Vaughn has left room for a sequel! A good read even for older MG'ers as well.

Paranormalcy, by Kiersten White: Evie thinks life is pretty routine -- more like borrring, really. I mean, when all you've known since you were eight is an on-call job identifying and collaring paranormals for the International Paranormal Containment Agency, things are bound to be a little dull, even trolling through the Faerie Lanes. Sure, the IPCA is up in arms because someone or something is taking out tons of paranormals, but as usual, nobody's telling Evie anything.

Which pretty well bites.

Evie's life is all in shades of white -- so she wears crazy bright clothes, and insists on a pink hilt for her silver knives, and a pink, sparkly Taser she calls Tasey. She's surrounded by adult paranormals, so she plays up her age -- and her favorite mermaid, Lish, enjoys her silliness, too. But sometimes, none of that is enough. Evie wishes dearly that she could go to school, have a locker, have a boyfriend -- a human one, please, no faeries need apply -- and go to prom. She just wants to meet teens like herself -- instead, she's lonely and bored and her only interaction with high school is on the small screen when she watches her favorite TV show.

Things look like they're going to be terminally dull, until she meets a paranormal who changes... well, constantly. He's never the same -- and after meeting him, neither will Evie ever be.

This is a quick-paced, charming novel which actually deals with some underlying serious issues even as it entertains. Though we could wish for a cover with a bit more of Evie's personality (and a Taser, if anyone's listening), this novel seems to be a solid start of a great series. Evie is all brash moves and big talk, but underneath she's vulnerable, scared and uneasy, which makes her a realistic character, and a likable one. The IPCA is also a completely realistic, ridiculously hidebound organization, lost in paperwork and meetings, and missing the point of so many things. I can't wait to see what happens to all of them next.

Birthmarked, by Caragh O'Brien: Gaia lives fairly happily with her tailor father and her midwife mother in the village of Wharfton in Western Sector Three, near the banks of Unlake Superior. It's been three hundred years since there was water in that lake, since the "cool age," where there was technology and advances for everyone, but there is wealth for some, within the walls of the Enclave. The elite live in seclusion, and a wall separates the villagers of Wharfton from their betters.

Gaia has just delivered her first Western Sector Three baby alone, and is feeling a little bittersweet -- she's proud of her work, but has had to advance the child -- meaning, she's taken him away to be raised inside the Enclave -- and the mother is hysterical and unwilling.

It's awful - but it's the law put into place by the Protectorate: every midwife must give the first three children born each month to the Enclave to be raised -- or else. As the mother weeps and screams, Gaia heads home to commiserate with her mother.

A chance meeting with her mother's assistant leaves Gaia with a mysterious bundle of papers she can't make sense of, and instructions to leave, this very night, and run for her life. But Gaia can't leave - not if what Old Meg says is true -- that her parents have been arrested by the Enclave.

What have they been arrested for?

By the time she arrives at home, an Enclave soldier is waiting. The house has been searched, and her parents truly are gone. The slate-eyed soldier wants to know something about records -- lists -- some kind of notes her mother keeps. And Gaia has no idea. All she knows is that she must get inside those walls of wealth and privilege and rescue her parents -- because she can't trust the Protectorate, and without that trust, her service to the Enclave is a lie.

This book is -- intense. There just aren't a lot of YA novels about midwifery, inbreeding, and hemophilia, but the information is gripping and spot-on (I mean, in terms of making it realistic. I'm not into any of the above, thanks). The post-apocalypse survival narrative is excellent, and as she gets deeper into trouble, Gaia has to make agonizing, hair-trigger decisions based on only what she feels is right. Though she thinks on her feet, and does all the right things, situations just get darker and worse as she goes on, based on the cruelty of the Enclave and the utter selfishness of her society. This is dystophia at its finest - allowing the reader to think and say, "What would I do?" I hope there's a sequel to this one, too.

You'll discover Birthmarked, Paranormalcy and Voices of Dragons on shelves now at an independent bookstore near you!

October 12, 2010

Book Blurbs of September, Part II: Lisa McMann

It's gonna be book review central around here for a while. Tanita's on the job for the Cybils YA Sci-Fi and Fantasy category (having been a round I judge for that, I know what she's going through!). And I'm still trying to get caught up on reviews of books I read last month. Yep.

This time I'll be looking at the first two books in Lisa McMann's Wake/Dream Catcher trilogy—I got both of these at the Stanislaus County Library. I couldn't find Gone--it was checked out—but it's definitely on my to-read list. With no further ado, here are my three-sentence reviews of this suspenseful pair of books.

Wake kicks off the trilogy with a bang—we meet Janie, who has the ability (or curse) of being able to slip into the dreams of nearby sleepers. It's not something she can control, and it's always made her feel very alone, but she finds some unexpected help and friendship in the form of a surprisingly knowledgeable elderly woman in the nursing home where she works, as well as an intriguing classmate, Cabel. While it's a tiny bit light on characterization and backstory in favor of plotting and suspense, this is a quick, fascinating read that pairs a tightly-conceived supernatural ability with a quickly-moving plot and a hint of romance.

Buy Wake from an independent bookstore near you!

This review of Fade contains very minor spoilers, so be warned! In this second installment of the trilogy, Janie and Cabel are now a team—not just a romantic item, but also solving crimes at their school a la 21 Jump Street, with some critical assistance from Janie's dream-catching abilities. But while Janie's dream-catching can truly help individual dreamers as well as enable her to provide valuable insight into crime-solving, it's got a couple of major downsides, not least of which is the difficulties it's causing in her relationship with Cabel. I liked the fact that this volume further explored the complexity—the downside as well as the upside—of Janie's ability, and it added a lot of depth to her relationships with Cabe and the Captain...but in other ways it was a very light read, glossing over her mother almost entirely and leaving the crime-solving aspects a little formulaic.

Buy Fade from an independent bookstore near you!

I'll be very interested to see what the focus is in the third book, Gone.


Please, prepare yourself for fangirl gushing. Thank you.

In spite of the cover, which doesn't speak to the story, to my mind, I am SO in love. And I'm consumed with striking, emerald green envy for author, Kelly Creagh, whose debut novel, Nevermore is so very, very good. It is RARE, so, so, so rare, even with the tons and tons of YA SFF that I read that I'm ever really, truly surprised. I mean - bear with me, my peeps, sometimes it's fun and all, but we're werewolved, vampired, punkish urban elved and zombied/unicorned to death. Publishers and editors seem to get all happy with a hit within the genre, and then we. are. INUNDATED.

Creagh has introduced something new to the party. She now has my undying affection. Not like she cares -- she's probably hard at work on the sequel.

At least she'd better be.

Nevermore, by Kelly Creagh: Isobel is a.) blonde b.) the tiniest, most aerodynamic cheerleader c.) and dating the quarterback of the football team. Cliché, much? Her pinkly-blonde perkiness is brought low by an English assignment when the one teacher she can kind of stand pairs her with the Scary Goth Boy in the class for an assignment. Dyed black hair, boots, ironic leather jacket and smudgy eyeliner: Varen Nethers. Even his name is ridiculously Lord Death.

Isobel, whose flailing grades really need this assignment to pass, is both intimidated by him and terrified of him, and in her heart of hearts, fascinated, like a tiny bird before a green-eyed snake. She wants to poke and prod him, take him apart, figure out what makes him tick. She wants, to her everlasting shock, to know him. Kinda. Maybe. Sorta. If she can take it back when it gets embarrassing or weird.

Veren, for his part, is completely, totally, thoroughly disinterested in her fluffy pink egocentric self. And makes that pretty clear.

Which doesn't explain why he watches her like a hawk.

Neither does it explain Isobel's fury with her über-possessive boyfriend, Brad, for threatening Veren. It was just an English assignment, they got paired up. Why can't everybody let it go? (I mean, what is this, West Side Story?)

Nor does it explain why Isobel's relationship with her usual crew falls apart when they can't stop talking about Veren. Nor does it explain anything about the weird voices in the woods, calling her name, nor about the dreams of a man named Reynolds, and the flash of a figure in the mirror Isobel keeps seeing. Is she awake, or dreaming? What is with the stupid raven watching her house? Why does everything about Veren seem so -- off limits? Even her Dad seems to unreasonably hate him. Isobel's world, which began and ended with her crew, her cheers, and her team seems now utterly pale, washed out, and, as she steps away from the known into the unknown that is Veren's world -- dangerous.

Isobel is a thoroughly likable character, even with her initially unlikable qualities of vapidity, snobbery, shallowness and outright stupidity, which she shares in spades with her gorilla ex-boyfriend, Brad, and her bestie, Nicki. (These characters were almost two-dimensional for me. I was relieved when another dynamic female character was introduced - go, wacky sidekicks!) -- However, Isobel comes alive in cheer squad, and the sheer physicality of her jumps and flips and workouts - the sweat, the euphoria -- rings very true for those who love to use their bodies and push them to their limits.

Veren is a total cipher with the drawing power of iron filings to a magnet -- we don't understand entirely what we see in him, but boy do we want to see more of it. Readers will want to jump into this world and wish very hard for a happy ending for all involved in the restrained and Gothic romance.

Without giving anything away, I must say that what might have come across as a stereotypical Perky Girl Slumming With Eyeliner Boy turns out to be the creepiest, twistiest, spooky Gothic novel I've come across in awhile, where dreams and waking slither sinuously in and out of each other, and nothing, but nothing is at all as it seems.

BE WARNED: -- the end actually made me choke back a terrible little sound of woe. As in "WHAT!??? NOOO!"

As I said: Sequel, Ms. Creagh? Please??? I'm not usually a fan of the Novel With Five Thousand Follow-ups, but this story just begs to be resolved.

Readers who have an appreciation for Gothic plots, Poe, and lost causes: you have got to grab NEVERMORE at an independent bookstore near you!

October 11, 2010

CYBILS SFF BOOKMARK: ...from a galaxy far, far away

It wouldn't be easy to get used to Earth. I mean, the whole gravity-atmosphere-solar star activity aside, there are a bunch of us here, of every nation, kindred, tongue, ethnicity, and taste -- and that's not to mention the animal life. We Earthlings, we're kind of loud. And unusually determined. And we don't take kindly to much of anyone interrupting our ...lives.

Which is kind of why I'm always a little bit amused by science fiction or fantasy which includes tales of fish-out-of-water aliens coming to Earth. Like the aliens in The Men in Black, these are from a galaxy far, far away. They're just trying to blend in and be like us -- fall in love with us, and give up everything for us.

Um, not likely, to my mind. But, whatever - these are a couple I read recently:

I Am Number Four, by Pittacus Lore: Names and places have been changed to protect the six who remain in hiding. Take this as your first warning. Other civilizations do exist. Some of them seek to destroy you. This is the dire and somewhat chilling message given to us on the first page of I Am Number Four, and what follows is the story of a boy, changing identities for the umpteenth time. He and his guardian, Henri, burn anything that carries their names, including faked birth certificates and driver's licenses, pack up their clothes, and spirit themselves away to a new town, and assume new identities. It gets tiresome to the story's main character, who chooses the generic name John Smith on his way to his new life in Ohio. John wishes that his life was as generic and ordinary as his name -- but it's not, and there's no way it could be. John's a Lorien, an alien masquerading as a human, and he's a long way from home. He and his guardian are on the run from another race of aliens who have destroyed the Lorien's planet, in search of its natural resources. For reasons which are never adequately explained to me, these creatures are still after the Legacies, a group of special young Loriens with extraordinary gifts. John's main goal is to stay alive through his teen years in time for his gifts to manifest. With this in mind, he and Henri hole up in a small Ohio town -- where John meets the girl of his dreams, Sarah, a geeky boy named Sam who really does believe in aliens, and a two-dimensional cast of stock characters, including a jock with a posse of bullies, a sports-and-glory nostalgia obsessed principal, various mediocre teachers, and a town with sweetly hokey traditions such as hay rides and a bonfire on Halloween.

A quick read for those not wishing for any surprises, this book will be quickly followed up with a movie full of beautiful people who can't act. No, seriously. Also, the novelist is credited on the film site to be one James Frey, which explains oh, so much...

Halo, by Alexandra Adornetto: Bethany, together with Ivy and Gabriel are angels from the Kingdom of Heaven.

(Just look at the pretty cover? See?)

They've arrived in Venus Cove to make a difference and hope that by their subtle influence they can restore faith to the little community. Or, at least that's what Bethany's told. She'll be posing as a regular high school student at Bryce Hamilton school, and her brother, Gabriel, will be posing as a regular music teacher. Ivy will stay at home and get a toehold into the community, and assist with their mission in any way she can.

It's the simplest thing, really - they're angels, after all. Doing good should come naturally, and it should be easy enough to influence a town - but a rash of deaths and trouble have come through and it seems there's forces actively working against them. Still - they try to fit in and become part of the community. Somehow, though, humanity is awkward - for Ivy and Gabriel. Bethany takes to the world of mankind like an agile fish, swimming comfortably in the waters of parties and guys and climbing down her balcony to sneak out at night. She's found the boy of the dreams she didn't know she should have had -- Xavier the handsome, and her relationship with him is something Ivy and Gabriel fear, as they believe that Bethany is attracted beyond reason, and beyond hope -- and with her focus so shifted, she's in danger of forgetting the mission, and forgetting herself.

Though the reasons for the Dark Forces attacking this village remain incoherent, we're introduced to the people Bethany eventually fights to save -- a cardboard cast of stock characters which includes the beautiful loner, of course, a bad girl with a heart of gold, a mean boy who takes advantage of Bethany, a jealous boy and even Facebook has a role. The novel is a quick skim through the colorful, lively world of high school as contrasted to the colorless, ethereal world of the Kingdom, and reminds us all that high school is better than anything in the universe, and is worth giving up celestial glory. Or something like that.

If you'd like, you can buy Buy I AM NUMBER FOUR and HALO from an independent bookstore near you.

October 10, 2010

CYBILS SFF BOOKMARK: Girl, Out of Control

I'm always amused by the fact that my reading seems to come with patterns and themes. Even choosing books at random within this genre, I can always find a common thread. Today's random choices netted me a couple of really great dystopias and a surprisingly complex and satisfying werewolf novel, all three with female main characters who others strove to control, but who in turn busted out of that control, and challenged or changed the options in front of them. Not all of their impulsive moves paid off. Some of them were outright stupid. Is it always better to jump up and do something if you're sure there's nothing left to lose? These girls voted YES. Intrigued? Do read on...

Mockingjay(Hunger Games 3), by Suzanne Collins was a long-awaited sequel, after last year's Cybils and the rather cliff-hanger ending (this is the UK cover, which is what I got!). Spoilers would be tragic if you haven't yet read this novel, but let's just say that it's the first book in the theme that emerged from today's reading: Katniss is a girl out of control. She's left the Games and is out of the control of the Capitol, out of control in terms of where she's ended up since her massive injuries in book 2, and out of control in that she's being asked - badgered, really - into being a symbol, all over again. Wasn't it enough that she was dolled up and prettified and filmed for the folks back home? Wasn't it enough that her life was a lie broadcast in high-def? No... and it's time for one more big show. Nerve-wracking, pulse-racing tension fills this last of the Hunger Games novels, but there aren't too many surprises. The tension Katniss feels between Gale and Peeta is resolved in a way which may satisfy some readers and exasperate others. All in all, fans of the series will be satisfied that it's over when the last page is turned. (And if that's not the most red-herring, euphemistic, spoiler-free statement I could make, I don't know what is...!) Meanwhile, if you're jonesing for more from the author, don't miss Gregor the Overlander, the MG series which Collins wrote first, and which many of us missed.

Raised by Wolves, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes: Bronwyn knows she's lucky, deep down. She alone was saved at the age of four, when her parents were slaughtered in a brutal werewolf attack. Her "scrappy" demeanor, and an elevated fight/flight reflex sent her deep into hiding, and the timely arrival of a nearby Alpha and his trusted lieutenants meant that the lone killer was dispatched, and Bryn was introduced into the world of the weres. She's the ward of the Alpha, and her foster mother is a human married to a were. Her best friend, Devon, is a were, and the pack is all that she knows. It's also all that annoys. Bryn hardly remembers the attack anymore, except for bits and pieces, but she does know she's human -- and one of a kind. It's not easy being the weakest link, being told when to jump and how high. A little rebellion makes Bryn's life easier -- or, it used to. Right now something's going on -- and everyone is shadowing her, guarding her, and making sure she's insulated from finding out the truth...

Which is that there's another new wolf in the Alpha's cages, making the difficult transition from ravening beast to were human... and he wasn't born. He was bitten.

Now that Bry's found another survivor, she's desperate to talk to him, even against her Alpha's orders. Why is everyone so afraid of letting them connect? What harm could it do?

This smart, complex novel will probably crossover for older readers as well. The things Bryn finds out, and what she does next keep up the fast-paced action and the tension will have werewolf and junior CSI fans alike turning the pages to race to the end.

Inside Out, by Maria V. Snyder: (First can I say how much I love this cover? I like the punching-through-the-wall view, and the girl's face is pugnacious and determined rather than predominantly pretty. If one had to show a face - well done on that.) Trella has a routine -- push through the crowd to the cafeteria line. Shoulder to shoulder with hundreds, eat the bland goop scooped out for workers. Check the tools in her tool belt. Check in to work. Follow her scrubbing machine through the tunnels. Finish work. Push through the crowd of hundreds to escape into the maintenance pipes and find a place to be alone. Fall asleep alone. Waken. Repeat.

Trella is a scrub, one of a million other lower level workers who scrub and polish and fight the rust in the pipes of the Inside, so that the Uppers can have a nice, clean world. Trella is just one small gear in a big machine, and it's hard for her to care about anyone or anything.

There are always prophets in the lower levels, people who talk about Outside, a place where all of those Inside should want to go. Trella knows it's just the regular propaganda crap spewed by the Pop Cops -- the Population Control Officers. She would just blow it off, except that her one friend, Cog, can't stop believing.

Just once, Trell lets him drag her off to listen -- and a microsecond of belief gets her caught up in a revolution just waiting for a leader.

A nostalgic revisit to an underground dystopia which will seem very familiar to fans of The City of Ember, this novel touches on issues of class, community and trust -- and how taking a leap of faith can be the something that changes everything.

You'll find INSIDE OUT, as well as RAISED BY WOLVES and MOCKINGJAY, at an independent bookstore near you!

October 08, 2010

Cybils SFF Bookmark: Curses and Reptiles and Cats, Oh My!

Greetings from another year of Cybils reading! I'm pleased with myself this week because I've managed to rewrite the ending to a novel FOUR TIMES and finally am slightly more satisfied and I managed a bit of reading as well. Hopefully over the weekend I can pick up the slack.

The King Commands (Tales of the Borderlands), by Meg Burden: Healer Ellin is still solely focused on making amends for maiming instead of healing with her telepathic Gift, but only makes matters worse as her choice to assist the man who killed his father forces Alaric, first her friend, and now her King, brings her under suspicion of high treason. Alaric is forced to banish her from the kingdom. Sending with her Gareth, the King's youngest brother, lessens the blow, but Ellin, whose hopeful romantic interest in the King has already left her crushed is now heartbroken and furious.

Ellin would never have tried so hard to heal Lev's mind if it weren't for the strange dreams plaguing her sleep, dreams she is sure he is sending. There's a man in a forest, in a clearing. Why does he seem so familiar? And what, if anything, do the dreams have to do with the tension in the Northlands, and the war between the Guardians and the Southlands?
No longer truly of the Southlands or the North, Ellin is lost in her now hostile homeland, and feeling her fledgling gifts turn strange, as her healing skills fade and the strange prophetic dreams continue. When matters force she and her companions to once again join the True Southlanders, it rapidly becomes clear that the greater threat to both the Northlands and the Southlands is the Guardians, whose devious reach spans almost the whole of the Southlands, and strikes deep into the heart of the North.

They must be stopped -- now. For the cost to the South -- and now to the North – has suddenly become much, much too high.

In a richly imagined addition to the Tales of the Borderlands series, the new novel from Meg Burden titled, The King Commands continues the story of the Southland healer and the Northland princes whose lives have intertwined as they battle against years of prejudice that has divided their lands. Burden's deft characterization and meticulous descriptions immediately plunge the reader into a maelstrom of events. It's a brisk gallop to keep up, but the story flows well in the writer’s capable hands; readers will be eagerly turning pages, and looking for more when they’re through.

Copy courtesy of the author.

White Cat, Black Curse, by Holly Black: Cassel would really like to feel like he fits in somewhere, but it's not easy when his whole life is a pretense. His mother is in jail for playing a con on a rich man with her magic skills, and Cassel and his brothers exist in an uneasy truce, waiting for her to be released. Only, Cassel would like to wait and pretend the others don't exist sometimes. He has done something truly terrible, something awful, but the worst thing is, he doesn't remember how he did it -- and can hardly believe he ever could. So, he's a shadow person at the slick boarding school where he attends, listening and learning to fit into the crowd, to make people laugh, and never trusting anyone for anything. In a world where magic workers rule, Cassel has no magic, and is therefore, to his own mind, nothing.

Cassel's life at boarding school is fine until the morning he finds himself on the roof of the school, with no memory of how he got there, and no way to get down. A worrying nightmare has triggered a major somnambulist episode, and Cassel finds himself haunted and confused. Put on a medical suspension until such time as he's deemed safe to return, Cassel has time to poke around in his own shadowy memories and through the detritus of his family home, trying to find proof for the suspicions suddenly crowding his head.

Holly Black has written a twisted, painful, honest fantasy; an edge-of-your seat account of family dysfunction and suspense which ends with a heart-bruising realization - and leaves the reader eager for the next episode, and filled with hope that things will balance out again. A grim, wry, painful book which will easily crossover for adults.

Library copy

The Reckoning (Darkest Powers, Book 3), by Kelly Armstrong: Following the abduction and incarceration in a "special" school for students with problems with authority (covered in Books 1 & 2), budding necromancer Chloe Saunders is on the run from the Edison Group - power-wielding adults who have no problem with "studying" and using the genetically modified skills of the children they run across. With Simon, Derek and Tori still in an uneasy truce, the group tries to find Simon's father, or Chloe's aunt -- and some kind of safety in a world full of lying adults and tricky, unspoken agendas. In Book 3, they finally find a safe house, and there is time for the group to bond - including Chloe spending time with the gorgeous Simon. However, Chloe fears for her loyal friend Derek, whose werewolf nature is emerging. He's by turns moody and intense and outright scary. And ...just a little possessive? Simon is so much easier to deal with -- and Tori is turning into someone who might just be a friend - if they can all survive the suddenly unsafe safehouse.

The stakes are higher in this book, the pacing is fast, but there's more romance drama than anything else in this one. If you've not read the first two books in this series, Book 3 will make about zero sense, so back up and get the goods on the whole thing!

Library copy.

Toads & Diamonds, by Heather Tomlinson: The ways of the gods are truly beyond us, and the goddess Naghali-ji's gift is more baffling than most. Stepsisters Diribani and Tana are at the end of their rope when they are both blessed and cursed by the goddess for their care for what seems to be a poor, thirsting elderly woman near the well. Diribani chokes on fragrant blossoms and pearls and practically chips her teeth against rubies when she speaks. While she is indeed taken up by the occupying warlord prince of their land, it is not a blessing to be removed from her sister and family, and required to behave as a foreign princess, she who was born a peasant girl and a believer in her goddess. Soon Diribani is embroiled in castle politics, and worries of her own, as religious persecution arises from the prince's rule. Does the interest she sense from the prince stem from her jewels, or her self? Is she really doing the best she can for her village by living in the castle? And where is her sister?

Tana, at her stepmother's urging, seeks the blessing of the goddess as well -- but her gift, though meaningful to her people who have an understanding of their goddess, it is abhorrent and terrifying to the new overlords. Snakes? Toads? Soldiers try to kill all that fall from her lips -- and their true aim is to kill Tana herself and to eradicate the worship of the goddess from their small corner of this imagined India. Tana, whose quiet, orderly life is disrupted, must flee - not only from her mother and village, but from the affection of a quiet merchant man with whom she was only just becoming better acquainted. There is a time to speak, and a time for silence. In a surprising plot twist, Tana risks the displeasure of the goddess and doesn't use her gift for a time - and manages to have a hand in saving them all. While the ending may be a bit sweet for some, this is a retelling of a tale already well told, so "happily ever after" is a guarantee, after all. The realism - the feel of choking on jewels and burping up frogs is both amusing and disturbing; the glimpse of pre-Colonial India is well imagined.

Publisher's copy from ALA Convention, totally stolen from borrowed from Charlotte Taylor.

You'll find White Cat, as well as Toads & Diamonds, the romantic drama of The Reckoning, and The King Commands, all at an independent bookstore near you!

October 05, 2010

Writing as an Act of Translation

I just wanted to share this apt quote from an Op-Ed article by Michael Cunningham in the New York Times, which my mother recently passed along to me. This bit of writerly wisdom really struck me:
Here’s a secret. Many novelists, if they are pressed and if they are being honest, will admit that the finished book is a rather rough translation of the book they’d intended to write. It’s one of the heartbreaks of writing fiction. You have, for months or years, been walking around with the idea of a novel in your mind, and in your mind it’s transcendent, it’s brilliantly comic and howlingly tragic, it contains everything you know, and everything you can imagine, about human life on the planet earth. It is vast and mysterious and awe-inspiring. It is a cathedral made of fire.
But even if the book in question turns out fairly well, it’s never the book that you’d hoped to write. It’s smaller than the book you’d hoped to write. It is an object, a collection of sentences, and it does not remotely resemble a cathedral made of fire.
It feels, in short, like a rather inept translation of a mythical great work.
Click here to read the rest of the article, which is about translation of literature in both the specific and the broad sense. What about you? Do you feel like the written product is an inadequate approximation of what's in your head, or do you generally feel pretty good about what you write? Does the realization get closer to the vision as a writer matures and gains more experience, or is it a perennial struggle?

October 04, 2010

Book Blurbs of September, Part I: Megan Whelan Turner

I swear these are going to be shorter writeups this time. Just this batch and maybe a couple more, until I'm caught up on reviewing library books. I'm short on time lately, so I've decided to set myself a challenge of three sentences per book: two that include my take on what it's about, and one sentence of evaluation. Verdict. Opinion. Whatever. So here goes. All of these books were checked out at the Stanislaus County Library.

The Thief by Megan Whelan Turner is the story of a practiced, boastful thief named Gen, recently released from prison into the custody of the King's Magus and forced to help him steal a treasure from the neighboring kingdom, perhaps right under the very noses of the gods themselves. The imaginary setting calls to mind the ancient Mediterranean, and the backdrop to Gen's story of adventure is one of complex and shifting political intrigue. Though Gen was an unreliable narrator and that was a little off-putting at times, because it created distance between the reader and the story even though it was told in first person, the tradeoff is found in each successive intriguing revelation about the mysterious Gen and his traveling companions.

Buy The Thief from an independent bookstore near you!

The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whelan Turner is the second book in the trilogy following the story of Gen; named for Eugenides, the god of thieves, Gen really comes into his own in this novel with respect to his cunning deceitfulness and political machinations, and his character is developed a bit more deeply. Gen, who is the Queen of Eddis's Thief, embarks on a strategy to prevent war with neighboring Attolia by bringing the two queens together, pitting his loyalty and familial bond with his Queen against his complex feelings of both fear and love for the Attolian Queen. This novel is even more about strategy and political intrigue than the first book, and is sure to appeal to readers who prefer their fantasy to be more realistic than magical.

Buy The Queen of Attolia from an independent bookstore near you!

The King of Attolia by Megan Whelan Turner, the third and final volume of the trilogy, is still the story of Eugenides, but it's told through the eyes of a humble guard in the ranks of the Queen of Attolia's army. Like most of his fellow soldiers and guardsmen in the castle, Costis resents his new King for being an outsider who has stolen the Queen's heart and her kingdom, but he ends up learning a lot more about the King AND the Queen than he bargained for when he ends up in the direct service of the King himself. This was my favorite book of the three—the author did an excellent job of showing Gen through the eyes of another character without compromising the importance or the enjoyment of either character's story.

Buy The King of Attolia from an independent bookstore near you!