December 29, 2010

The Cybils Panel Book Club

Every year, there's that moment of anxiety as the Cybils SFF nominations come in. You think, "OH, my goodness, I should have read more this year, where did THAT book come from, who nominated that? Are they serious? MORE zombies!?" You fret and mutter and start haunting the library, trying to stay ahead of the curve and do as much reading as you can before the inevitable pressure mounts.

One hundred and forty-seven books. Two months to get through them.

You read like a mad person and swing between those transient moments when you breathe out a happy sigh over a fresh and original premise, and then you read something that makes you want to both shriek and hurl and fling things, and you wonder HOW on GOD'S EARTH some things get published, and you mutter old person sounding direness about the publishing industry, and the state of science fiction and fantasy in general, and your head spins, and you puke pea soup.

And then you read the next awesome thing.

And it's the Cybils. And you remember, through all the stress, why it is you do this thing: because you love the heck out of books.

Last night, we had the science fiction and fantasy "discussion." We missed Gwenda Bond, who has served on the YA team for two years; this year she graced the middle grade group with her fun and snark, and we felt her absence. We tried to squabble on without her, and were fairly successful, but it was much more Book Club than Fight Club. The goofiness came from a.) Leila and I being on any committee together, and b.)starting at 12:30 p.m. a.m., rather, Greenwich Mean Time, because everyone else on the team was on the East Coast, and started at 6:30 p.m., after work.

Normally, we approach the discussion with the feel of mourners going to last rites; we know there will be some of us sitting in the Crying Corner before the night is out, because with as many books as we shortlisted during the first vetting process, there was NO WAY we could all agree on seven books without some minor bloodshed. And there was some bloodshed and a few heartbroken sniffles (♥ Love to Angie & Heather! ♥ You both are intensely awesome.). This year, I realized that I was looking forward to the fact that there were seven crazy people who wanted to talk books with me. And we did talk books - for four and a half hours.

And we also talked Zac Efron -- 'cause some of us NEEDED to,
And we also talked kokopelli -- because Leila needed to help me annoy Josh,
And we also talked plot and theme, explored predestined evil, discussed colonialism, and debated different endings, and what we would have done if we were writing the romantic elements of several novels.

Oh, my word, it was fun.

I went to bed at 5 a.m. this morning.

But, it was the Cybils. And it was good.

Stay tuned for our choices... soon, soon, coming soon! After a nap. Or three.

Thank you, Sheila, for letting me play, and for everyone on the team. It is such a crazy, high-pressure, stressful job, to be a panelist. But I look forward to it every year like yay!, and oh-my-goodness-who-wrote-that. It was good to be part of the team.

December 26, 2010

Need a New Year's Resolution? Shiny Happy Sewing

(WARNING: A blog post completely off the topic of YA lit, but a great idea to pass along to your craftastic readers, if you're a librarian.)

Been thinking, I have.
That's always dangerous.

But, here's the thing: I read. I write. Aquafortis is completely all artsy. And so many bloggers are crafty and artistic and sew-y and embroidery and felt-ish. And... I And write. And occasionally attempt to make paper dolls. Which is cool, seriously, I'm deeply grateful for my literacy, and my ability to cut paper. But you'd think that I could read enough to understand a pattern or embroidery directions or could figure out how to crochet.

Here's a sad and pathetic secret: I read craft blogs. I look at fabric with lust. And I can't figure out how to put thread into a sewing machine.

Enter Wendi Gratz (former children's book industry mogul and wife of Horatio Wilkes mystery-writer Alan. Also mother of the most awesome junior con-costume maker EVER), consummate crafter and owner of a really neat Zibbet Shop called Shiny Happy World. You will be "sew happy" to hear she's teaching your Home Ick flunking (it wasn't my fault! Mrs. Henry hates me!), eighth-grade-apron-non-finishing loserishness how to sew (or embroider) in 2011.

Oh, wait, what? That was only me who didn't finish that apron?
No, I refuse to believe I'm the only loser. SOMEONE ELSE out there has always muttered a little bit about how they wish they COULD sew -- well, now here's your chance. Check out the site. Gather your materials. Sign up for the newsletter. And -- ready set, New Year's Resolution.

I refuse to be the only one breaking needles and wondering what bias tape is for. Plus, Leila can sew. Do you want to be looking bad in front of Leila?

I didn't think so.

I'd say it's going to be fun, but ...this is me, sewing. I may need some moral support here in awhile... or maybe someone else can do it, and I'll watch?

December 23, 2010

Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year!

Warm wishes from Tanita and Aquafortis for a very happy holiday season filled with love, books and MMM COOKIES! (Check out the link for a little holiday cookie fun.)
Photo: Christoph Niemann, New York Times

December 21, 2010

Attn: Attolia Addicts!

Just cruising by to say, if you're a fan of Megan Whelan Turner, don't miss her Five Questions interview with the Horn Book's Martha V. Parravano. It's in the latest newsletter. You can read it online, and you can subscribe to the Horn Book newsletter here.

And, some more nerdtastic stuff: Mystery Science Theater 3K co-creator Trace Beaulieu wrote a children's book! Check out this interview with him on Literary Asylum.

W00T! 826 Valencia Street rides on

Well, here's a little diversion from Chriskwanzukkah/Solstice stuff:

Because of where we went to grad school - in the Bay Area - A.F. and myself have been "in the know" about the flagship 826 Valencia Street project from pretty near its inception in 2002. While at the front, it appears to be a normal (?) San Francisco pirate supply store, in the back it is a free writing center for kids 8-18. It's a neat idea started by the inimitable Dave Eggers and put into practice with his teacher friend Nínive Calegari and many others. The pirate store has been replicated most hilariously in Brooklyn with the Superhero Supplies shop (oh, how I long to shop there. I need a secret identity and a cape), and now author Nick Hornby in London has joined the fun with several other smart folk, in a unique and frighteningly British way, with...

Yes. It's the Hoxton Street Monster Supplies store. (And OH, how I love the word "bespoke," thanks in part to that sexy skeleton, Skulduggery Pleasant.) The storefront is this completely unassuming looking thing, and then inside the door it looks so very... traditional -- shopkeeper with an apron, check, shelves of quietly expensive-looking products in their identical wrappers, check... and then, you look at the labels, and they're just these quietly scary products -- Tinned Fear. Gore. A Vague Sense of Unease...

And other stuff.

In the mood for a bit of maiden hair? How about distressed maiden's hair?
One does wonder what one must do to get it those ratty, thin distressed strands. I mean, how much distress are we talking, here? And are we going with modern maiden's distressed, or sort of a 19th century dame thing?

Important questions, people.

While all of this is fun, in the back is the most beautiful little writing room for the kids. I am beginning to wish I were eight. (And English, apparently.)

The Ministry of Stories is so very British sounding, and the sign makes me want to cry a little. How different a world it would be if every kid from ages 8-18 knew with a certainty that stories were important and that their stories and their respect, courage, and imagination were the most important of all?

Okay. That makes me want to cry a lot.


Do check out We Made This for pictures of the writing room and more of the store, and don't forget to visit The Ministry, which sounds like an absolutely fabulous place for stories, watched over by stern-looking dudes in bad blue suits with muttonchops...

Oh, come on. There was weeping...this is the obvious end result, yes? YES?? And you know you want some.

*Hat tip to mental_floss blog.

December 19, 2010

Star Wars Meets Awesome

You should see the one of Yoda.

Well, no, it's not really a picture book drawn by Seuss, either. I can't remember who brought this one to my attention, but you can find more "Seussified" Star Wars pages at the blog of The Mighty Adam, Seattle-based cartoonist Adam Watson's blog. (He drew this, plus some really awesome playing cards. Why does so much of the cool stuff happen in Seattle?)

And speaking of cool stuff and Star Wars: why set up your nursery with anything less than awesome? A is for Ackbar is the geektastically awesome project of artist Brandon Peat and his wife Emma, who created it while awaiting the birth of their first child. It's the illustrated Star Wars alphabet, and it's REALLY cool.

They're not yet available for purchase as wall decals, but you can buy them as a picture book.

Hat Tip to

Don't forget to check in at this month's story blog, THE DECEMBER LIGHTS PROJECT. There are some truly funny, strange, fey little tales, all with the requisite happy ending we all need during these dark days. Thanks for the love, Patrick Samphire and Stephanie Burgis!

December 17, 2010

Steampunk/Alt History Week: One Last Hurrah

Our final (I think) steampunk/alt history week post is all about linkage. If you're looking for a full roundup of this week's steampunk links, check out the list at Chasing Ray.

As for us, here, today--we wanted to give another shout-out to some of the books and authors that have been discussed this week, here and around the blogosphere, by highlighting various steampunk/alt history-ish posts we've done in the past. So, all in one place for your edification and entertainment, here you go:

Hopefully it'll be useful to you as well as to us to have all of our steampunk-related stuff in one place, the better for fanboys and -girls to be fanboyish and fangirlish. Or something.

Steampunk/Alt History Week: Living in Color

When steampunk hit its recent resurgence, I thought back to my love of The Wild, Wild West reruns with just a bit of nostalgia. Though the whole idea of mad scientists and brass implements, gears, cranks, and alchemical pseudoscience is so much fun, I didn't feel particularly drawn. After all, steampunk is based on Victorian times, the period of 1837-1901. In the West, the Gold Rush was just starting, the Chinese were immigrating, the Civil War was just ending, and the British Empire was forcing imperialism on any country who couldn't escape. Considering that history, I wasn't sure steampunk was entirely accessible to everyone... and by that, I mean, I thought there wasn't anything for people of color to get into. After all, historically during that time, people of color were either slaves or indentured, with their countries being invaded or occupied. They didn't seem to me to be the inventors or the major players in the world.

Despite how history is recorded, we now know that's completely ridiculous.

While the U.S. was second only to Britain in the realm of the Industrial Revolution, there were countries and people who were technologically advancing before the Western world had thought much further than the wheel. The Mayans, Aztecs, China, Africa and the Middle East were busily trading and innovating long before anyone officially "noticed." There were African English people in Victorian England, South Asians, and even in the U.S., where the minority population was repressed during the Victorian Age, there was the steam-inventor's spirit.

Vships ClocksPicture this -- it's the 1870's. An African American pharmacist in knee-breeches and a frock coat has just made a startling invention -- a refrigeration device. Okay, it's an improved model designed for corpses, which makes me wonder what other mad scientist stuff was going on in the background, but Thomas Elkins was a REAL GUY. And totally, thoroughly steampunk.

Granville Woods was an African American inventor who was SUED by Thomas Edison, who tried to claim one of his inventions. Woods eventually won, and Edison continued to stalk woo him, trying to buy his inventions or hire him. Woods declined, and kept his twenty-seven patents to himself, including the one for electric trains.

A mad scientist being stalked by an evil genius. In a frock coat. With a really nifty 'stache and those little wire glasses... = Totally, thoroughly steampunk (and kind of sounds like a Wild, Wild West episode).

And okay, you know all about Elijah McCoy, as in "the real McCoy," the Canadian son of escaped American slaves who patented fifty-seven steam-punky inventions, and Lewis Latimer, who, together with Alexander Graham Bell, invented the telephone.

That's all just reality, of course; this blog deals in fiction.

Glasgow Central 01But, that's where I ran into a problem. Sure, TV has a few representative folks on-screen, and the movies are making sure no one can complain too much, but there are a few minority characters with the alternative history/steampunk bent in fiction of interest to teens. Captain Nemo comes to mind immediately, from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea - a prince, and son of a rajah (he was originally written as Polish. It was only fear of offending political allies that made Nemo more "acceptably" an Indian prince). After some thought, I realized that the Gyptians in the His Dark Materials series are meant to be Roma, (not Egyptians, as they might sound) and the Roma are a people with roots in South Asia -- so, that was good to see, as the Gyptians are part of the good guys. The Miyazaki anime comic book Castle in the Sky (which is, okay, okay, based on the movie -- if we're going with movies, we can also count Steamboy) we can consider as steampunk fiction with an all-Japanese flavor, which makes the floating castle and the sky pirates make perfect sense.

Keeping in mind that I haven't read everything, *that's about all I can think of for a.) steampunk written fiction, b.) specifically marketed to young adults and teens, which c.) incorporates multicultural characters.

That's ...not good.

Lynedoch Crescent D 413There must be more, but the fact remains that there's a dearth -- a big dearth -- in stories and images of people of color in this Big New Thing. And it's not a huge issue, on one hand, since steampunk and alternate history is fairly accessible -- but if we're twisting history around, can't we include everyone in our brave new world, without having them have to put on the trappings of a Victorian world which doesn't maybe fit them?

YES. As Lisa Matchev commented in her interview at Writing & Ruminating, "If it's shiny, invite it to the party!" That, to me, is the proper spirit of steampunk and alternate history -- you can twist it in any way that suits you.

So, I'm throwing down the gauntlet to short story writers, novelists, steampunk enthusiasts, and historians: we need to show the alternate world in as many shades as those within our modern world exist. And to celebrate the varicolored steampunk world, here's a couple of YA-friendly stories. First, from's recent Steampunk Fortnight, it's "Clockwork Fairies" by Cat Rambo, and while it does operate solely within the confines of traditional Victoriana, it has a happy little twist at the end. And here's a hopeful tale from steampunk Malaysia -- from Crossed Genres. It's called "The Last Rickshaw", by Stephanie Lai. Finally, Jaymee Goh imagines a world that never knew the East India Company, or the British Empire (Oh, what a different world that would be) in "Between Islands" from Expanded Horizons. Enjoy the awesome.

More Steampunk/Alt History joy from the round-up links list.

(P.S. - Picture book fans, here's steampunk for you: Flotsam by David Weisner. No words, but cities on sea tortoise backs. Totally, thoroughly steampunk. No, seriously. Look at it again, and you'll agree. The lamps are made out of electric fish!)

* Correct me if I'm wrong, all right? I want to know what more is out there, so leave the books YOU know of in the comments, por favor.

December 16, 2010

Steampunk/Alt History Week: Dress the Part

(l-r) Deacon Boondini, the Great Gatsby and Giovanni James of the James Gang, a neovaudevillean performance troupe, as photographed by Robert Wright for The New York Times, May, 2008

A lot of the fun of steampunk fiction is imagining the outfits. And then wearing them.

I lurk on a blog called Multiculturalism for Steampunk. It's a steamer trunk full of clothes, foods, stories and traditions from different nations and peoples, with added goggles, gears, gun belts, tassels, and cravats.

It is so neat.

If I were a gadzillionaire, and had the means to persuade otherwise busy people to do my bidding, do you know who I'd get to design ALL of my clothes? D.M. Cornish. He was recently interviewed at The Enchanted Inkpot about the awesome that is the Monster Blood Tattoo series (okay, okay, Foundling Trilogy, whatever), and THIS most gorgeous and swashy-buckled outfit came to light -- a sketch he didn't use in book three. I. Want.

Sigh. But alas, not a gadzillionaire, and I really need D.M. to keep writing me more books anyway. So.

If you could put together the most AWESOME steampunk outfit ever, what would it be?
Why aren't you wearing it now??

December 15, 2010

Steampunk/Alt History Week: Imagining Sophie's Edinburgh

Welcome again to Steampunk/Alt History week. It's time to time travel.

"You see, I am an inveterate reader of British school girl stories, and in many ways The Explosionist is heir to one particular sub-genre of these books--the plucky school girl who foils the Enemy Plot. The majority of these books are set in World War I and World War II, and often strain the bounds of credulity (see footnote). The Explosionist, however, takes this story line and in its fantastical, alternate history way, makes it convincing and wonderful." - Charlotte of Charlotte's Library

"Sophie is believably awkward and the intrigue is actually intriguing. The tone is suitably foreboding and the worldbuilding excellent. First in a trilogy, I believe, which makes me happily impatient, if such a thing is possible. (Or should that be impatiently happy?) I’m looking forward to the next book, at any rate." - Trisha, the YaYaYa's

"Despite my reservations, I quite enjoyed it. I’m very much invested in Sophie’s story, and I’m rather dying to know what happens next." - Leila, Bookshelves of Doom

Ah, Sophie, how we love you.

Sophie herself has loads of quirk and charm, but I thought I'd give a brief moment of love to the city in which she lives, and in which we are first introduced to her - Edinburgh.

Edinburgh - Queen's Residence 13

I always love the descriptions of place, when I'm reading a novel with a familiar setting. I think to myself, "Hey, I've been there!" That wasn't quite as easy to do when reading Jenny Davidson's books, mainly because Sophie's center of life was in schools, labs, and séances, none of which is easily found just by wandering the city. (Well, I could find schools and labs, but people are notoriously difficult about letting random strangers in to photograph.) Because the Edinburgh of today is to me a maze of crazy-making narrow streets, hills, long stairwells and places to get lost (it could be just me, but I can get lost in a cul-de-sac), just getting around was kind of a kick. This is city with a lot of charm, and I enjoyed taking a few snapshots of the city with alternative history in mind.

Imagine if Napoleon had won at Waterloo, as he did in Sophie's Edinburgh, as described in Jenny Davidson's 2009 novel The Explosionist and its sequel Invisible Things... would the Queen's city residence have this lovely lion, which is the symbol of English sovereignty? No, it would not, nor would it have the unicorn, which for some odd reason is the symbol of Scotland. It would have on it an eagle and a bee, which were his favored symbols.

Edinburgh 244Of course, things in Sophie's Edinburgh were a bit unstable. Lots of bombings and such, and there was a lot of angst, what with the Institute for the Recruitment of Young Ladies swooping in and redirecting the future of young ladies -- and not at all in any profitable way, I might add! It was not like the calm and staid Edinburgh of today (unless you're a student concerned with your school fees being raised to what international students have to pay -- not so staid on that topic). Still, there were Official People around in Sophie's Edinburgh -- there to stare at you suspiciously, and shoo you out of areas wherein you were not meant to go. Possibly some of them would have rocked this lovely woolen cape, plaid trou and glengarry hat as well.

Edinburgh D 43 HDROf course, Napoleonic trousers would have been white or pale gray, and spared us that tartan plaid. Fortunately.

Sophie's Edinburgh was a place of learning -- science and technology with a sprinkling of spiritualism and séances. Sophie's favorite teacher, Mr. Peterson, would have loved to interest her in the Calton Hill Observatory, for a little star-watching. She would have gone past the old burial ground, but there would be no Martyr's Monument, because I kind of doubt that Napoleon would have allowed the names of those who fought against him to be remembered -- at all. Ever. However, a graveyard is always a great place to wander with a medium! Maybe Sophie would have received a bit less cryptic of a message about her life if she'd come here first!

One thing that wouldn't have changed, though, is Arthur's Seat and the Castle Rock, which has been, is, and always will be the bulwark of the city. Looming over everyone, no matter whose castle was atop it, this old crag would probably be crawling with naturalists wandering around taking flora and fauna samples, it would be being flown-over by dirigibles and possibly being blown full of tunnels, thanks to Mr. Nobel's dynamite, but I think somehow it would still be there.
Edinburgh D 15

Edinburgh would hardly be Edinburgh, in this time, or Alternate 1938, without it.

Stay tuned for more fun Alt History/Steampunk celebrations!

December 13, 2010

Steampunk Week Reviews: Invisible Things and Boneshaker

As part of our contribution to Steampunk/Alternate History Celebration Week, I picked out two books in the genre that I hadn't read before, but have been meaning to read—one newly released, one that's been out for a short while; one YA, one not-strictly-YA but more of a crossover. And it's been a fun journey; the two books couldn't have been more different, despite sharing the same overarching genre.

Invisible Things by Jenny Davidson is a sequel/companion book to The Explosionist. It will be a bit difficult for anyone who hasn't read the first book to get their bearings within the ongoing story events, but if alternate history is your thing, then you'll no doubt want to chase down both books. The story presents readers with an alternate pre-World-War-II, one with a very different set of political alliances but some of the same motivations of aggression, greed and desire for control. It's an intriguing setting that blends the developing nuclear technologies of the time period with neo-Victorian spiritualism, and poses a number of interesting what-if questions about the history and the scientific politics of the era.

After the events of The Explosionist, the main character, fifteen-year-old Sophie Hunter, is living with the Petersens in Copenhagen, Denmark at the Niels Bohr Institute. Although the momentum in the early chapters is a little slow, the story gains speed when Sophie receives the unexpected and shocking news of the death of her great-aunt Tabitha back in Scotland. And then poor Sophie is bombarded with one shocking revelation after another, finding out secrets about her family that shake her identity to its very foundations and have ramifications for international security. Her role in the ultimate resolution of these thorny situations is a little less active than I'd have liked—I wanted her to show a little more grit and determination rather than everything constantly happening TO her—but the depiction of Sophie's unique world, populated with famous-name physicists and political intrigue, will be hard for alternate-history fans to resist.

Oh, and I absolutely adore her cat, Trismegistus, who evidently demanded an ongoing presence in the book. I, too, have an overfed but muscular cat, but she's not nearly as imposing.

Buy Invisible Things from an independent bookstore near you!

Cherie Priest's Boneshaker is not strictly a YA book, but crosses over very, very well. With both a steampunk-alternate history Seattle setting and a plague of ravening Blight zombies, I'm hard pressed to think how this book could be made more tantalizing. As someone who has very little patience for the zombie genre (for various reasons I won't go into here), Priest's convincing explanation for their origin and the fact that they're more a part of the atmosphere or context or circumstances rather than a major part of the story makes them not only tolerable but enjoyable. They create action and suspense by which the main characters—Briar Wilkes and her teenage son Zeke—test and prove their mettle.

And, trust me, there's a lot of mettle-testing to be had in this world. While the States further east are struggling with the depredations of the Civil War, the Pacific Northwest is suffering the aftermath of a horrific incident: a runaway ice-drilling machine that ravaged the center of Seattle. Inventor Leviticus Blue invented the Boneshaker to drill for gold in the frozen Klondike, but when his invention ran amok, it destroyed the city center and released a zombie-producing Blight gas from underground. Years later, Blue's widow, Briar, has been trying to raise and support her son outside the walls of the poisoned city center. But Zeke gets it into his head to try to find out more about who he is and who his father was—and to do that, he starts on a mad journey back into the city center to Leviticus and Briar's old house. Briar wrangles a spot on an illicit pirate airship in order to go after him, and it's nonstop adventure and action from then on; from the very beginning, actually.

Boneshaker has it all—a fully realized, detailed setting; a consistent tone (with only a few tiny anachronisms here and there) that's established down to the tiny details of language; well fleshed-out and relatable main characters; and a rip-roaring good story that's just plain fun. Priest's alternate Seattle is populated with sympathetic side characters, a scary Dr.-Mengele-like villain, and, of course, wandering hordes of the living dead. What more could you want?

Buy Boneshaker from an independent bookstore near you!

December 11, 2010

SFF CYBILS BOOKMARK: The Buzzed About Books

I sat down and hit four real winners in a row the other week -- which was great and gave me a zingy "buzz" feeling. Of course, I've read a lot of other stuff and am just getting to post this days later, but -- this review is going to have been worth the wait. Trust me.

GUARDIAN OF THE DEAD, by Karen Healey, is a thoroughly imaginative New Zealand fantasy featuring the mythology and legends of the Maori -- and a big, tall, island girl waking up to the realization that the thousands of fairytales and the hundreds of stories she's read might hold more truth than she knows.

Ellie's main concerns in life are her buddy, Kevin, and trying to pull herself together in her rather rumpled school uniform and turn things in on time. Boarding school is her option for the year, since her parents are away, and she's just trying to fit in. Of course, the strange boy in her class, Mark, is someone she wishes she could connect with -- but he's gorgeous, and silent.

Ellie doesn't care too much, until she does Kevin a favor and gets involved with a play production put on by his oldest friend. A woman in the cast goes after Kevin with a sort of terrifying single-mindedness -- and Ellie knows Kevin isn't interested. Well, he ...wasn't... Something strange is going on -- and it seems the woman has Kevin under a spell. Ellie isn't about to lose a friend. If the woman wants to play with magic, Ellie is willing to learn.

There's both magic and mayhem in this story - a disturbing killer, a strange mask, a crazy bum who insists Ellie needs his Bible to be safe, and Mark -- who seems to be casting a few spells of his own.

This novel is quite a ride, and a fascinating SFF debut for the author.

Okay, zombies.
I have to admit that they annoy the heck out of me (Note: this does not mean I have any love for the rainbow barfing one-horned horse, either). They're thoroughly unscientific. I apologize for being indelicate, but I've had friends for whom doctors have had to "pull the plug." When the brain quits, the body falls, thus the whole undead-want-brains thing just peeves me. And it's a specious annoyance, at best; it's not like vampires and weres are scientific. I guess we fantasy people just like our specific brand of fantasy, okay?

All this to say, when I picked up ROT & RUIN by Jonathan Maberry, I was not enthused. The cover is striking -- a wide, green eye on an paper-pale face -- but it was obviously zombierific, and I was thinking, "Okay, let me just get through this."

Several hours later, I put the book down. And shook my head.

It was a in-one-sitting kind of big-gulp thing I'd just done. It is that good, people. And, it's about hunger. And job-hunting. And brothers. And expectations. And disappointment. And heroes. Oh -- and it's about zombies, too.

The author steps beyond the tired tropes of storytelling and brings in some fresh things, including a very hot Asian guy. Sorry, but those are few on the ground in YA-land; the Asian male is usually relegated to being dorky-cute and smart. Or, faceless, as in Ninja. Not so here; Rob Sacchetto has designed some really amazing endpaper art. (Okay, Sacchetto's art elsewhere is REALLY weird, but hey. He likes zombies. It's a zombie book. What are ya gonna do?)

Benny Imara has to find a job. He's turning fifteen, and it's just One Of Those Things in the new post-apocalyptic world; you don't work, you don't eat. Rations get cut in half for those who are old enough to be working, but don't, and that's just not enough to get by on in a town where the food has to be brought in by truckload, and there's nothing outside the fence but the great and frightening beyond of Rot & Ruin.

Benny's brother, Tom, has a job. He's offered to mentor and apprentice Benny, multiple times, but Tom is a full-on dork, and Benny's embarrassed by him. DEEPLY embarrassed. And resentful, in his heart of hearts. Before the Fence was up, before everything in the world changed, Benny had had a full-set of family -- parents. And Tom had left them to die.

Benny doesn't want to learn anything from Tom, ever.
But he might not have a choice...


(Just writing this little teaser has me thinking about the book all over again.
I might have to go reread it. Seriously. If you can find another book that has great meaning in the face of gore and monster mayhem, I'd be happy to read it. 'Til then, please read this one. It is that good.)

Last year, I also started Carbon 2015 with a less than enthused feeling. It's British writing. Sometimes it doesn't quite with me? And I know you're all going to boo and hiss or draw away in nonPC-laden despair because I said that out loud, but it just doesn't appeal to me as it does to tons of Anglophiles. It's fine, but there's a certain similarity to much of the fiction that gets reprinted in the U.S., I've noticed. Georgia Nicholson is kind of a junior Bridget Jones; Jess from the series which begins with Girl, 15, Charming But Insane -- though I loved her -- also follows that same sort of breathless, slapdash, quirky female thing who worries incessantly about something unimportant, and eventually Finds Lurve.

All this digression to say, I was not really excited about The Carbon Diaries last year. But the original idea of a girl trying to form a band -- a thing thoroughly important to her -- writing songs against the corruption in the government, while society collapses and everything changes -- it was riveting. I eagerly anticipated THE CARBON DIARIES, 2017 by Saci Lloyd.

While there's still humor in the novel -- the whole idea of people having to spend Carbon Credits is still gobsmackingly original, and watching the Brown family valiantly try to adjust to their new way of living (potato farmers? Really!?) the situation has become much more serious, however, two years later. Ordinary people cut down on their usage -- but there are some people who can utterly avoid having to change their lives at all. The huge divide between the Haves and the Havenots has deepened and while Laura just wants to sing about the truths in her life and in the world around her -- between running to the occasional class at the University -- music is no longer enough. Laura's friends just can't seem to let things be. They're protesting and getting involved, and when Laura loses her apartment, she's drawn into the world of protests and marches, squatting in squalor, and stealing power to get by.

And then after one bad night, there's a warrant out for her arrest...

There's a lot more at stake in Laura's world than ever before. And it might just be time to stop trying to hide behind the music, and stand up for what she believes -- whatever that might be.

I said I was pretty well burned out on vampires -- and for the most part, I am. But every once in awhile, a new story comes along that makes me roll my eyes and I go back on what I just said...

Solace has always been kind of the lonely, weird girl in her house. She doesn't go to school, because the women who run the foster care home in which she lives don't make her go. She's never been adopted out, not even for a night, because ...well, nobody wants her. And she's not ugly or ill-behaved. She's just practically invisible. And a really picky eater -- only meat and a few fruits, and not a lot much else, or it all comes back.

She's just too weird, maybe, for anyone to want her.

Of course, Solace is weirder than even the foster moms know. She can bend steel. And hear too well. And smell things...

And she's turning seventeen. Solace is almost to the point where she's aging out of the system. She can't wait to leave -- her life is boring beyond boring. Until, one day, it's simply terrifying. And Solace takes to the road like she was born to do it. Running until she can't run anymore, she finds shelter with an unlikely group of people, and suddenly the world is larger than ever. For the first time, she has friends, and a place to hang, and kind of a normal teen life.

How long will it last?
Who was the guy without a face who was at the foster home?
Why did no one ever notice or want her?
And why do so many people notice her and want her now?

I really enjoyed this voice in this novel - it's what makes it for me. Plus, the plot -- it's the perfect mysterious set-up for a series, but not only that, it's an adventure. How many middle grade novels do you read where a group of kids goes away, and ends up sleeping in a museum or a mall or a library? Teen "adventures" usually involve cars and much more convention, yet these teens have a true adventure, and it makes for satisfying reading.

Foz Meadows publishes solely in Australia just now, so this book may have limited availability until it comes out in the U.S., but keep an eye out -- it's well worth the wait for the series.

There are books in this world worth buying. You'll find Guardian of the Dead, The Carbon Diaries 2017, Rot & Ruin, and Solace & Grief from an independent bookstore near (or nearish, in the case of the book from Australia) you!

December 10, 2010

Winter Blog Blast Tour: An Interview with Maria V. Snyder

It's been a good tour, this week with the Winter Blog Blast. From the humor of Josh Berk, to the immense talent of Uyen Pham we've been fortunate here on our site. Now stay tuned for our last interview -- one we've been really waiting for!

Maria V. Snyder is an outstanding writer -- who started out as a meteorologist. Honestly, we have tons of blogging and writing friends who started out in law, but meteorology? That's such a huge leap, but happily for us, Maria Snyder made it well, and has happily worked in the realm of fiction since 1995. She's here to talk with us about her fantasy projects for adults and young adults, and her new dystopian YA books, Inside Out and the sequel (can we just say, after the cliffhanger ending of the first book, THANK GOD there's a sequel??), Outside In.

We also ask about book covers, feminist characters, and writing for (::dramatic GASP!::) Harlequin.

Finding Wonderland: First of all: YAY, thank you for getting in touch with us. With your new book out and finishing up the sequel and doing signings and such, we know you are SO BUSY, and we really appreciate your time.

Let's get right to it -- we found it interesting that the Poison Study books have been packaged both as YA books and adult books, while Inside/Out is being marketed as a crossover title. Did you initially approach these projects with the intention of writing for a particular age group? Or was it a publisher/marketing decision to package them that way? Do you see yourself more as a writer of fiction for adults?

Maria V. Snyder: When I wrote Poison Study, I thought it would be a standalone book for adults. However my niece, who was 14 at the time, asked if she could read my book. Since she was an advanced reader, I let her and she read it in two days. She loved it and that was when I thought the book might appeal to young adults as well. LUNA books published it as an adult book, but I kept getting emails from young adults who loved it. Eventually, my publisher started a YA line and they re-released Poison Study with a new YA cover. I don't consider myself an adult or young adult author – I don't change my writing style or voice based on the intended audience. What changes is the story.

Finding Wonderland: That's a great approach, and we agree with it wholeheartedly. But we've still got more questions about Poison Study...namely, we noticed that the book had a mind-boggling SIX different book cover designs. In particular, the cover was changed when it was marketed as a young adult book. What about the cover change do you think might appeal more to teen readers? What's your favorite cover design (from any of your books) and why?

December 09, 2010

Winter Blog Blast Tour: An Interview with LeUyen Pham

Welcome to our second interview of this year's Winter Blog Blast Tour--a bit of a departure for us, as we welcome a special guest who's primarily an illustrator and graphic novelist: the awesomely accomplished and multitalented LeUyen (please say "LeWin") Pham, who's done everything from picture books to chapter books to graphic novels...and she's even foraying into the field of writing.

A few months ago, we reviewed two of her recent projects here on Finding Wonderland, the Prince of Persia graphic novel and Solomon's Thieves, both published by First Second. So we were thrilled to get the chance to ask Uyen about what it was like to work in a comic book format, what her favorite projects have been, and more.

Finding Wonderland: You've worked on a wide range of projects from children's picture books, to book covers, to illustrated chapter books like Alvin Ho, to graphic novels like Prince of Persia. Can you name a few of your personal favorite projects, and tell us a little bit about them?

December 08, 2010

O, Happy Days

Lynedoch Crescent T 126

A bit dark for NOON, dontcha think?

In need of a little light in the dark and cold? (As I write this, it is NINE DEGREES, kids. NINE.) Sick of rain, snow, sleet, or gloom of night? (Or, gloom of morning, as the case may be.) Then, you need the December Lights Project. The December Lights project was started by Northern authors living in Wales, Ireland and the UK where it is dark and c-c-cold, and is a bundle of short stories, each one posted a day in December, each with a happy ending.

That makes me overjoyed.

The stories are FREE, and written by the authors you LOVE, including Tiffany Trent, SHERWOOD SMITH (squee!), Leah Cypress, SARAH PRINEAS (again, squee!) Patrick Samphire, Stephanie Burgis, Karen Healey, and more.

Pass the word, guys. It's a little Solstice, Hannukah, Christmas, Kwaanza gift.

Well, allrighty, then.
Don't miss out on the Winter Blog Blast Tour Stops for today!

Charles Benoit @ A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy,
Susan Campbell Bartoletti@ Chasing Ray,
Sarah MacLean @ Writing & Ruminating
Adele Griffin @ Bildungsroman
Andrea Seigel @ Shaken & Stirred
Allen Zadoff @ Hip Writer Mama

X-posted at Tanita's blog.

December 07, 2010

Winter Blog Blast Tour: An Interview with Josh Berk

Welcome to another Winter Blog Blast Tour! While Tanita is getting truly blasted by winter in Frosty Olde Scotland, and temps in California dip below freezing at night, turning Californians into popsicles (and making the rest of the country laugh at our wimpiness), we're still plugging away to bring you an amazing series of interviews with authors and illustrators. Check out the full schedule at Chasing Ray.

Today, we've invited Josh Berk, author of The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin, to join us, and he's answered our nosy questions in inimitable style. Dark Days is a mystery told from the perspective of a deaf high school student, so naturally we had a lot of questions about issues of character and genre. So without further ado, here we go!

Finding Wonderland: You've given tons of interviews about your novel, but you've not said the 's' word… that'd be sequel. What's the skinny on a double helping of Hamburger Halpin and his crazy ex-girlfriend (who we just loved) and the strange Smiley kid? Do you think you'll revisit this character, and/or stick with the mystery genre? Do you think all your novels will have that element of comedy?

Josh Berk: First of all, I'm so glad you loved Ebony! She wasn't in the first draft at all and totally came to life from my editor's suggestion that we meet some of Will's old friends from his deaf school. So she started just from that little idea and went on to become a pretty well-rounded character. I totally think of her as a real person and if I do a sequel I think it will be more Ebony-focused. I'm picturing a mystery involving high drama at the Deaf school which Will and Devon help crack. But I haven't shared this thought with my publisher and I really have no idea if they'd go for it. I hope so! It's fun to consider, though the next few things I have underway are all not Will & Devon books. So the answer is "maybe" and "not for a long time if at all but thank you thank you thank you for asking!" :)

My next few books are mysteries, but I don't think I will only write mysteries. If I'm lucky enough to keep publishing I would certainly like to try other types of stories. But will all my novels be funny books? That's a good question! And a timely one. Because just yesterday I was going through some old files and I found the opening paragraphs for a completely melodramatic YA novel. I read it to my wife and she was like "I like it. It's really different. It's really good." And I was like "Do you think I could sustain this tone for a whole book?" And she was like "No." Haha. She's probably right.

December 06, 2010

For The Winter Blog Blast Tourist...

Step right up and see the shows!

Today's fine authors and illustrators can be found hosted in these diverse blogging locales:

SFF writer Elizabeth Hand @ Chasing Ray
Maya Gold @ Bildungsroman
L.K. Madigan @ Writing & Ruminating
2010 NBA Finalist Paolo Bacigalupi @ A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Fairy-lovin' R.J. Anderson @ Hip Writer Mama.

Please stop by, read and comment! Support Blog Blast Tourism!

December 04, 2010

Authors, Books, and the Winter of Reading

It's just always a good time to read a book.

It's an especially good time to read a book in the cold, when it's snuggle-down-and-ignore-the-world time of year. Or, when it's dear-heaven-how-many-days-'til-Christmas time of year.

We've got you covered for gift ideas and good reads with the Winter Blog Blast Tour. Join us this next week as we invite a few of our faves in the author/illustrator world to come by. Meet Josh Berk, author of the HILARIOUSLY disturbing The Dark Days of Hamburger Halprin, a book that looks like it might be middle-grade, from the cover, but crosses over really well, the fabulous and insanely talented illustrator Uyen Pham -- who is breaking into the writing field, people, pay attention -- and finally, the Harlequin author Maria V. Snyder, creator of some of the most swoon-worthy male characters ever, and whom we are SO glad to have caught up with in her super-busy, my-book-just-came-out-this-year schedule.

Plus more fun folks on other blogs -- including Paolo Bacigalupi (squee!), L.K. Madigan (more squee!) and many more.

See you Monday!