December 31, 2011


Emerging, slitty-eyed and wrinkled into the light of midnight-plus-one, the year stares up at you, astounding in its ...newness. No missed deadlines, no editorial rejections, no misused adverbs or deleted lines marring its pristine wee face.

Can you treat it as carefully as you would an infant?
Can you support its dreams as firmly as you would the wobbly head of a child?
Can you allow it to live and move and grow, and not doubt it, not dither at it with indecision, not allow its inexorable forward momentum to drag you beneath it, and crush you?

In its toddlerhood, the new year might work your nerves. Have some dim sum and a few fireworks, rekindle your relationship at the Lunar celebration, and keep your patience.

In its adolescence, the new year will try your patience. But, June is also the time to celebrate the first soft brush of summer -- and you and the year will have become acquainted enough to know each other's faults and weaknesses. Forgive. Grit your teeth. Start over.

In its mellow adulthood, anything is possible. September will find you recovering from the last gasp of the summer, ready to start again, as everywhere, students give you a good example to follow. You can do this "life" thing. With a newly sharpened pencil and a fresh sheet of paper, anything is possible - the year has shown you this before.

The year will spin 'round again, before you know it. Open your hands, and cup the treasure it brings: hope. Possibility.

The present is, after all, a gift.

Bonne année (Fr),
Feliz año nuevo (Sp),
bliadhna mhath ur (Scots Gaelic),
& Blwyddyn Newydd Dda (kinda Welsh)
from the writer girls in the Wonderland Treehouse.

For Y2

December 29, 2011

Toon Thursday: Throw Out the Old...

...Ring in the new, right? Well, in preparation for a New Year, with a New Agent (WOO!) and hopefully plenty of new writing successes for all of us, here's an old favorite from a Toon Thursday Past (in fact, I think it was the 7th Toon Thursday ever posted). Please to enjoy, and have a truly wonderful new year from me, Tanita, and CitySmartGirl.

I've also updated the Toon Thursday Archive, so if you're still on vacation and want a few writing-related laughs, (insert self-deprecating joke here). Or you could check out more Toons from the Past! Har.

Also, don't forget to check the Cybils website on New Year's Day for the announcement of shortlists! As you've seen, Tanita's Round 1 work is coming to an end, and soon I'll be hard at work on the Round 2 panel for Graphic Novels. I can hardly wait!

December 27, 2011

Bleary Eyed Bloodshed: The Cybils Finalists

Yaaaaaawn. After three and a half hours of argument and six hours of sleep (::my brain switched back on, and woke me up::) I'm back for the YA SFF summation.

The 2011 Cybils in Science Fiction and Fantasy ~ what a long, strange trip it's been. One hundred and seventy-one books - of which I read just over one hundred and thirty -- and all the books on the list were read by at least two readers, huzzah! Some sterling small press and self-pubbed books this year, and with the new rules about having books available by electronic publishing, we all read books on various Devices, which brought the future of publishing and concerns about quality vs. quantity right in the center of things.

Quite a few debut authors were nominated this year - but some familiar faces as well, which is always nice. Several adult crossover authors from paranormal romance circles came through - not all of them were successful imports, but a couple of them have a great future writing for MG readers, if they can get their marketing folk to agree. It's all about finding one's correct audience.

Fewer vampires were nominated this year, but they are still there - though the conventional wisdom (of Secret Agent Man and others) is that after the final Twihard movie, None Shall Pass with editors and publishing houses. We shall see.

There were nominated a lot more angels - gah!!! - and other paranormal abnormalities like witches, but only three books that I recall with werewolves (is that because Team Jacob lost? Aww). We were into ad infinitum with the Greek gods and goddesses - hello Persephone as hot YA romance of the season? - though some truly were special and original - which is well-nigh impossible, given such old, ancient stories and tropes with which to work, so well done to those authors. There were a goodly number of princess novels nominated this year, which was kind of fun, though most of them weren't as hardcore as a real princess would need to be - I mean, hello, girls, never mind the prince. If you're going to be queen someday, your whole purpose is the queendom, no? ::sigh::

As usual, there were tons of book series, which was hard - I'm getting to the point that I don't even like books with sequels anymore, because they just produce annoyance - (Dear Publishing peeps, please don't let your authors/editors talk you into creating an incomplete novel and calling it the first novel in a trilogy. Each novel must. have. a. full. story. arc. Thank you so much.) - and as usual, jumping in on the third in a set of eight means that if the novel often doesn't have a compelling enough plot to stand alone, I don't know where I am in it - but fortunately, most of our nominations were the first or second novel.

2011's most obvious SFF Cybils nomination trend was conception novels. Clearly, there was some Super Seekrit Shindig somewhere, and publishing houses got together and decide the thematic content of popular books. "Hey, let's harp on pregnancy. Endlessly. Let's have novels about locking girls up, and bartering, buying, selling, stealing, and otherwise commodifiying their sexual/marital relationships and their fertility." And everyone else says, "Ooh, let's do! That'd be soooo FUN!

Arguably, not all of these fertility novels are bad - but it still slightly gives me the creeps that they all came out the same year. What else can we blame this on? Surely there's not some zeitgeist that decided, "Hey, great, we all read The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood in grad school. Let's see in just how many ways we can recreate it!" But, maybe there was, and A.F. and I didn't get the Author Mansion Memo... how else could there have been so many novels on essentially the same topic? Off the top of my head, the books I recall were:

Eve, by Anna Carey
Bumped, by Megan McCaffrey
Wither, by Lauren DeStefano
Delirium by Lauren Oliver
Matched, by Ally Condie
Dark Parties, by Sara Grant

...and, to a lesser degree, Across the Universe, by Beth Revis, Glow, by Amy Kathleen Ryan, and Possession, by Elana Johnson, A Long, Long Sleep, by Anna Sheehan.

...there might have been more.

All in all this year, there were a couple of books of actual science in the science fiction field, and we were glad. There were a few more novels with male protagonists and gay protagonists, a few more male authors, and a few more authors of color. Progress - the slow, creaking kind - is being made. We have a list of books of which I think we can be proud, representing ethnic and gender diversity (not as much as we might have liked, but we must choose for the whole book, not for authors or characters alone), a balance between teen voices and various subgenres. It's a strong, solid list.

(And if I'm doing a little happy dance with my big boots because I got a couple of books on that I really wanted, please excuse the stomping.)

As for the SFF YA judging panel itself... it was midnight (7 p.m. Eastern, 5 p.m. Mountain, 4 p.m. Pacific) for me when we started deliberating, and I met my bed after 3:30 a.m. There was some... er, bloodshed, screaming and quiet sobs (Poor Steve) involved in these deliberations. Daulton the cat may or may not have eaten either staggering amounts of turkey, or his drugged owner, who'd been in a minor car accident just before our meeting and was on painkillers, slightly loopier - and quieter - than usual. There were polite pauses and bursts of sarcasm. We fortified ourselves with pie, and found the strength to keep arguing. The word "sequins" was taken in vain, which made me think of jazz hands each time ; one panelist, who'd warned us in advance that she was prepared to "get all hostile" about her shortlisted choice found to her shock that she didn't need to. This year, the judging panel also, pre-discussion, unanimously shortlisted one book, - which has never happened in all the years I've been doing this! I cannot wait for everyone else to find out what that one was!

And now it's A.F.'s turn -- since she's on a final judging panel, and while I kick back and recover - my eyes, my bloodshot EYES!!! - she starts her final judgment part of the job with Graphic Novels. Over to you, Aquafortis!

Thank you, SFF peeps. You're so fun.

Thank you, Sheila, SFF Peeps Organizer. You're so organized, and we appreciate you not getting sick of us messing around.

Thank you, Overlord Anne, for putting in the long days, long nights, and pulling out your luxuriant hair one more year on behalf of the Cybils Awards.

Long may they reign.

2011 Cybils: The False Princess, by Eilis O'Neal

One of the great joys of the Cybs is discovering that rare new book which hasn't gotten on everyone's radar yet. Other than a fab review from the Book Smugglers of Awesome, I haven't heard this one reviewed many places, and that's a real and serious shame. Pick it up, folks! Part princess tale, part superhero adventure, this novel pivots on what a strong young woman can do, once she sets her mind to it, and re-prioritizes romance to something which keeps the heart warm, but which has to be considered after the important things. (Love is important, romance, less so.) A brilliant debut from the author.

Reader Gut Reaction: If you read The Man in the Iron Mask - or, okay, even saw the movie with whatshisname Di Caprio, you know the trope - royals switched at birth, yadda, yadda, yadda. There's a traditional amount of suspense and derring-do and running around that this trope entails. The author took these familiar things, and somehow, made them live and breathe.
Concerning Character: ...the story, for me, started with disappointment. When I could feel Nalia - or Sinda's disappointment that her life wasn't real, her quiet terror, resentment, and deep, deep hurt, then I was well and truly hooked. The characterizations in this tale are sharply done and thorough. They had to be, or the reader would have balked at revisiting the same old story. But, there's not only newness here, there's a twist.

She's never been all that good at the princess gig, but it was her life, and to be hustled out and shoved away -- with only a small chest of simple gowns and a merely adequate bag of gold -- it breaks her. Now Sinda is at a loss - she tried being as common as she had been raised to be, living with her cold, dyer aunt, but she messes up the simplest dyes and she misses her best friend, Kieran, with what's left of her heart. Finding out she has magic revives hope within her. She returns to the city -- but the college of magics won't have her. A stroke of luck brings her to the attention of a woman who can train her -- and things get better.

Or, they should have gotten better. However, nothing is ever that easy. Some people aren't destined to go their own way - and the needs of the world and of the kingdom turn out to be larger than a single person. Sinda responds to the needs around her, though it might cost her not only the home she's managed to carve out, but her life.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Shannon Hale's The Princess Academy, Alexander Dumas' The Man in the Iron Mask, Northlander by Meg Burden, and the magical component reminded me of Nightwalker: The Warlocks of Talverdin, by K.V. Johansen. (The Smugglers note The Decoy Princess, by Kim Harrison, writing as Dawn Cook, but I haven't read it... it is so on my TBR list, though.)

Cover Chatter: I haven't seen umpteen covers for this novel, which is because the one it has, though using The Headless Girl cover trope, actually manages to do its job - not in any brilliant, notable way, but... well enough. The face in the locket around the headless girl's throat stares unhappily out at the viewer, and we know this is probably Sinda. Sadly, there was no locket in the novel. What was in the story was a birthmark which the princesses shared, and a prophesy... which could have been fairly easily depicted. My only conclusion about this Headless Girl cover is that the designers were afraid of giving too much away...?

Authorial Asides: Eilis is pronounced A-lish, and that's a really righteously Irish first name, is it not? Almost as good as Teagan, Sian, and Aisling. We're really collecting these great Irish first names in YA lit! Anyway, Ms. O'Neal was clearly going to write an excellent first novel because she is the managing editor of the Nimrod International Journal for Prose and Poetry at the University of Tulsa.

You can find THE FALSE PRINCESS at an independent bookstore near you!

December 25, 2011

Even if it's not snowing.

May you rediscover wonder, and the joy of family and friends this year.
Happy Holidays, and Joyful New Year.

December 24, 2011

2011 Cybils: The Shattering, by Karen Healey

In my next life, I obviously need to be from Australia or New Zealand, because they clearly have some of the best YA writers in the world there. Penny Russon, Garth Nix, Sonya Hartnett, Melina Marchetta, D.M. Cornish - and that's barely scratching the surface. Karen Healey is a force in her writing style. Achingly realistic characterization, intelligent dialogue, and just the right amount of cultural shading which informs but doesn't overwhelm. Love, love, love her work.

Reader Gut Reaction: I read Karen Healy's Big Idea piece on this novel, which encapsulated the entire plot: the girl who plans for everything cannot plan for her sibling's suicide. But then, she finds out that it wasn't a suicide at all, but murder.

Ooooooooh, I thought. A mystery! And I was in. I figured I knew the whole plot at that point. Boy, was I wrong!

Concerning Character: As a small girl Keri imagined what it would feel like to break her arm to the point that she knew what it'd feel like, and how she'd tell her friend Janna to run and get her mother. She's that type of person - organized, pre-planning, prepared - for everything but her brother's death. Janna, no longer her best friend, now that they've grown up and apart, believes he was murdered... as her brother was. She has proof, in the form of another boy named Sione, who has a dead older brother, too.

This is a novel for mature readers - not necessarily because of underage drinking or out-of-bounds behavior, but because thematically this is about death, anxiety about death, and the painful clarity of realizing that you didn't really know someone who died - and you might not have loved them as well as you should have. Not everyone will "get" this - and this isn't to say that the writing is in any way inaccessible, but you need to know your audience to pass this one on successfully. It's both funny and sad, scary, wry, bittersweet, and realistic.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Oddly enough, Shirley Jackson's The Lottery comes to mind, as well as Holly Black's Tithe.

Themes & Things: I love sibling novels, I really do, and this has some major sibling mojo because it's about dead siblings - that love-hate relationship becomes loved-and-lost. It's completely impossible to know how an individual is even going to deal with that, but the grieving process here is ongoing - even though for each character the time has been different. And what I love is that Healey not only examines love (aggravation) and loss, but goes into how to make friends your family, and explores creating new links and bonds with good people, who can become your new siblings. These three let nothing stop them -- not even sometimes when they all hate each other.

If that's not siblove, I don't know what is.

Cover Chatter: While there was indeed a completely silly cover for this novel (so, so bad), the two official covers I've seen (there may be at least one more) have been fairly good. The UK/AU cover is suitably atmospheric, with the three teens running through a field of sea grass, and the sky looking kind of shatter-y above them. But my true love is the American cover. It's kind of ... mauve? No, burgundy, really - with what looks like a fist-sized break in a pane of glass. Behind it is the most lovely facial profile. Again -- not a big fan, here, of the Traditional YA Girl Head on novels, but she is truly gorgeous and -- if you hold the cover back and squint through the broken glass - a nonwhite model, who might even be a Pacific Islander, like the Samoan and Māori characters depicted.

You can find THE SHATTERING at an independent bookstore near you!

December 23, 2011

2011 Cybils: Misfit, by Jon Skovron

We're getting right down to the wire with our Cybils selection process. The Big Dance for SFF is on the 27th, wherein we stay up all night and argue. Or, in my case, get up ridiculously early and yawn whilst everyone else argues.

The Cybils reviews will continue, even as we finish our selection and the final judges begin their deliberations, because we simply had too many unique and strange books this year to stop talking about them now. So, onward with the books!

Reader Gut Reaction: This is Jon Skovron's second novel, and he brings to it a real skill at characterization. Dry humor, excellent pacing, and realistically flawed and totally "getable" main character - one of the most fun books I've read this year. I gulped it down in a single sitting.

What I love most about this novel, perhaps, is the romance.

Now, wait - don't wander off with the eye-rolling. There is a romance - and we all love our romances, yes - but the plot does not pivot upon the One Dreamy Forbidden Irresistible Boy trope. All right? I love a romance, but I am well sick of that one, and Skovron doesn't do it. Jael's in high school, she has hormones, exercises them, yes. But, that's not even remotely the important part of the story. Read this book for that alone.

Concerning Character: Jael Thompson would really like to stick around, just once -- but she and her father move more than anyone she's ever known. An ex-priest with some kind of issues with the Church, he still makes Jael go to Catholic school - and he teaches there, too. There's kind of no escaping him. It's not that Jael doesn't love him, but it's tiring to have him be all she has, when it's not like he acts like he wants her. What Jael seems to want most is for someone to both know her and like her, all at once. Most people don't know her at all. I mean, she attends Catholic school, and she's not exactly ...angelic. Which causes her some problems, to say the least.

When Jael turns sixteen, her gives her a gift that her mother left for her when she died. It is both history and legacy, and Jael realizes that she doesn't know herself at all, either -- and neither does her Dad. Maybe her father doesn't even know what's best for her. A determined Jael sets out to get in touch with the darker side of her family, and in turn, with the darker side of herself. She's been doing her best to be good, but her mother was a demon - maybe there's just no hope for her anyway...?

This is a coming of age novel in a million hilarious ways -- with real life dramas such as high school and guys getting involved -- but it's also a really intelligent treatise on belief, and the nature of good and evil.

Recommended for Fans Of...: the Dad and Daughter novel thing - Sarwat Chadda's The Devil's Kiss trilogy, Lili St. Crow's Strange Angels series, or Jana G. Oliver's The Demon Trapper's Daughter, & etc.

Cover Chatter: I've thought and thought and thought about this cover. It's straightforward, the red, black, and gray color scheme easily appealing across sexes, and the title is only slightly whimsical, with the tail of the 's' a serpentine curve with a devilish point on the end. The 'i' is dotted with a representation of Jael's locket, a gift she received from her mother at sixteen. What I don't understand is the ...blood on the letters. There's none of that in the book. This isn't gory by any means. Maybe the letters are metal, and it's really runny rust? Ach, well. It makes the title stand out.

You can find MISFIT at an independent bookstore near you!

December 22, 2011

Warm Winter Greetings...

A very happy holiday from me and Tanita and CitySmartGirl! My greetings (at the moment, anyway) come from Monterey, CA, which is spectacularly sunny, if a bit chilly. The husband and I took a couple of days to rest and recuperate and walk along the ocean, and we were rewarded yesterday with a glimpse of a whale spouting and surfacing a few times very near to shore before continuing on its way. (What kind of whale, we're not sure...evidently several types commonly migrate through the area, including blues, grays, and humpbacks...all I can tell you is it was too small to be a blue whale!)

Anyway, I wanted to share some writerly holiday cheer from Bruce Black, who has posted inspiring excerpts from his interviews throughout the year, and urge you to share a bit of holiday cheer yourself by donating to Reading Is Fundamental by Dec. 31--if you donate during that time, the Sisco Family Fund will match your gift. I'll be making a year-end donation with the money earned from my Latte Rebellion swag sales plus a tad bit more on top.

Last but not least, a major milestone from one of our longest-running blog buds--Jen Robinson's Book Page just turned SIX. Congratulations, Jen! We're privileged to have met you and have been so pleased to see your blog carve out a niche in the Kidlitosphere and in the world of children's literature. Hooray and cheers!

Unless I find a few spare moments on Boxing Day, you probably won't hear from me until next Thursday. So, with that in mind, have a very merry whatever-you-celebrate (or, if you celebrate NOTHING, enjoy that, too!).

December 21, 2011

2011 Cybils: The Girl of Fire and Thorns, by Rae Carson

Stories set in various unfamiliar areas - deserts, high mountains, flatland prairies - can be neat things to read, because the weather, animal life, and entire lifestyle is so different. This novel presents a nomadic desert people who remind me a lot of the people with whom the young Alana stayed in Tamora Pierce's Lioness books. The author stays true to a fish-out-of-water character in that setting, and just on that very basic level creates a book which comes across as very real. That's what gets you - there are other very "real" aspects which deal with characterization, sibling relationships, etc., which just made the plot sing. Pick this one up, guys.

Reader Gut Reaction: Elisa is so sure she knows everything in her world, and her place within it. She knows for sure that a.) her sister hates her, b.) she's not meant to be a queen, and c.) in spite of the gift of the Godstone within her, and the reality that she has a mission on earth, she doubts that she can fulfill it.

The novel starts off quietly - with a wobbly, unsure new bride. Briefly, the plot seems to sway toward being a traditional "learning about her Prince Charming" sort of thing, but then, as the first lies are told, there's this sense of "WHAT? This is not how a Grand Romance is supposed to go. Good thing, since that's not quite what the novel turns out to be.

There's an interesting religious component, with a Godstone and ceremonies and things which somewhat mirror a liturgical service, but with its own twist. There are nasty sorcerers and innocent bystanders and those who should have been Defenders, but who are instead defenseless and bewildered. All in all, this is a twisty, surprising novel which kept me reading for one long afternoon.

Concerning Character: Elisa begins her story an unsure and wobbly princess; though she's quite young, she's being sent to marry to unite kingdoms. It's kind of her job - she knows this - but she can't help but think that her sister would be so much better at it. Unfortunately, she thinks her sister believes that as well.

Repeatedly, throughout the first few chapters of the novel, Elisa gives up - and gives in. It's easier to fill her mouth with temporary sweetness and deliciousness than to deal with what's in front of her. A husband. A secret. And people who hate her. She's got to learn who to trust - and she's making mistakes which she can't afford to make.

For anyone who has ever struggled with an eating disorder, the description of Elisa just stuffing down her feelings along with her food might make you need to get up and pace a bit. It's intense and suffocating, and utterly realistic. Overeating helps Elisa cope, but as always, any endorphin high is only temporary, and afterwards, she feels worse than ever.

Elisa has to take hold of her faith in order to take hold of her life. But, no one said it would be easy.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Tamora Pierce, Song of the Lioness and all the Tortall books, also Graceling and other books with strong female characters.

Cover Chatter: I'm pretty sure that when this book came out, it was already highlighted ad nauseum as having a "whitewashed" cover. The novel clearly describes Elisa as being "dark;" at one point, she revisits a childhood memory in which her sister cites that "dark and ugly" thing as the reason her mother breathes her last and dies -- so it's kind of a fairly salient point in Elisa's memory. We might as well be looking at her pale, beautiful sister on the cover of the first novel.

More than the color issue, Elisa is heavy. Not curvy-cute and rounded heavy, but unhealthy, dragging, weary and ill-heavy. While I don't expect them to necessarily picture that Elisa on the cover, the girl with the flashing eyes and dark hair on the ARC cover certainly bears not even a remnant of that person. Unfortunately, a lot of the novel was spent being that person; even when she wasn't the same unhappy person, her body didn't change into a pale size 4 with some magician's wand. Here was an opportunity to depict even a slightly rounded cover model, and it was missed. Unfortunate.

The replacement cover is more traditional than striking - the U.S. cover features a faceted Godstone with a face in the center, with smoky jewel colors and poisonous flowers - which relate directly to the plot. The UK cover has an exoticized perhaps Arabic, perhaps South Asian looking person wearing Traditional Desert Garb - okay, Elisa probably wore something close to this, and the cover model looks queenly here, but the line of camels makes me laugh. The desert folk wish they had that many camels and that no one had to walk!

Authorial Asides: Rae Carson was once a beauty queen. No lie. How this prepared her for writing a desert culture, I can't be sure, but it did give her insights into human nature and some great stories she'll probably never forget.

You can find THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS at an independent bookstore near you!

December 20, 2011

2011 Cybils: MISSING, by Madeline Smoot

Sometimes, reading along in my Cybs books, I find that the paranormal elements are slow to develop within a plot. That's jarring to some people, but when well done, I rather like stories centered in "normal" life in the known universe that then drift into the land of weird. In this novel I was caught up in the crisis and the mystery - and the tweaked attitudes of the people surrounding the case, and then I thought, "Hey, wait!" The paranormal is there - but first, there's some stuff to get through...

Reader Gut Reaction: This novel caught me off guard, and had my eyes welling with tears several times. I hadn't expected that. The emotions and the setting were very real. The mystery isn't exactly mysterious - the situation is set pretty clearly, but it's also unbelievable - thoroughly. And it's set up perfectly that way.

Concerning Character: Liv is actually... a pretty hateful sibling. It's not hard to discredit an older sister who just loathes her brother. As a narrator, Liv is thoroughly unreliable. I mean, she blames her brother for people's deaths in the neighborhood -- "see, we moved here and people died. He's just that abhorrent, obviously. Liv comes across as someone shallow, who is easily distracted by shiny things and boys. A small complaint is that her parents seem slightly one-dimensional, and only continue to fade as the story goes on - but they make the right noises that parents do with squabbling kids: "Stop bothering your brother. Don't make that face at your sister." The mutual distaste continues until one night when Liv and Mort - junior and freshman - end up at the same high school party. How heinous is that!? It's only when her brother doesn't come home that night that Liv's entire life is refocused. Yeah, so they had zero in common and couldn't really stand being in the same room, but... maybe she loved Mort after all.

It's just depressing that she discovers this when it seems to be too late.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Mort, by Terry Pratchett, Meg Cabot's Abandon, or various vampire novels.

Themes & Things: There is in this book a terrifyingly skillful depiction of the stages of grief, and the manifestation of it - very well done, to the point of being a bit stab-in-the-heart painful. However, one of the characters, Liv's good friend, brings up a thought which turns the novel around - sometimes, grief is selfish. Sometimes, we find ourselves trying to turn our lives into an apology that the person we didn't love enough is never going to see. That's not a healthy path.

I don't think I've ever come across a novel - any novel, not even just marketed to young adults - which has brought up that point. It was kind of stunning.

Authorial Asides: ...and the author of the stunning-ness is Madeline Smoot, the publisher of CBAY Books and former Editorial Director of Blooming Tree Press. After bringing the work of other people to print, she is now a debut author herself.

From the title and the way the novel ended, I understand there will be more stories forthcoming about these odd siblings... it will be interesting to see where this one goes.

You can find the ebook, MISSING: A LIV & DEATH NOVEL, at Amazon, B&N and Smashwords.

December 19, 2011

Monday Review: LOST & FOUND by Shaun Tan

This book is a 2011 Cybils nominee for Graphic Novels.

I've been meaning to review this book for quite a while, but I find it difficult to write about Shaun Tan's work. Mainly this is because I have a bit of a professional crush on him, in the sense that every time I read one of his books, I wish I'd done it. And I get floored by the sheer awesomeness of the art and the visual storytelling and then I get all sorry for myself and pathetic-feeling and have to just sit there and remind myself that we can't all be so incredible. So, um, I ended up reading Lost & Found about three times over the course of this year before I felt like I was capable of writing about it.

Reader Gut Reaction: This set of three graphic stories—The Red Tree, The Lost Thing, and The Rabbits (written by John Marsden)--all share Tan's quirky aesthetic, which reminded me inescapably of the books of Edward Gorey as well as the painting of Surrealists like Giorgio di Chirico and Yves Tanguy and the collage work of Nick Bantock and Lynda Barry. That is definitely a compliment, but it's not just the visual style that is so arresting in these stories. Each tale creates an immersive world in itself, with words and art perfectly complementing one another and each story rather wrenching and poignant in its own way, from the pathos of The Lost Thing to the hopeful glow of The Red Tree. The Rabbits, in particular, is worth noting, because it's an allegorical look at the coming of Western settlers to Australia in which the settlers are depicted as the rabbits that they, in fact, brought--and which went on to plague the country and disrupt the ecosystem.

Color is used to great effect, and the large size and format of the book do a lot to make it feel as if the reader is a part of each story's world. And the versatility of Tan's visual style consistently impresses me—from expressive, highly textured and painterly surfaces to intricately detailed scenes populated with fantastical machine-creatures, he seems capable of nearly anything.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Edward Gorey's odd little books, which are collected in the various volumes of Amphigorey, the Griffin and Sabine books by Nick Bantock, and The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, who shares Tan's ability to tell a story entirely through visual means. If you're interested in lushly artistic visual storytelling, this is one not to be missed.

Authorial Asides: Shaun Tan also wrote Tales from Outer Suburbia, reviewed here, and The Arrival, which I read but apparently did not review. He has a darned awesome website, too, where he explains some of his inspiration and thought process for his books.

Review Copy Source: I acquired an advance review copy of this book from the publisher at ALA Midwinter in Jan. 2011.

You can find Lost & Found at an independent bookstore near you!

December 17, 2011

2011 Cybils: My Favorite Band Does Not Exist, by Robert T. Jeschonek

In the category of Cybils Books That Mess With My Head comes the one with the Titanic and freakin' werewolves (FATEFUL, by Claudia Gray), that one with the really horrible adult-free school with gangs hideously reminiscent of Lord of the Flies, except with one REALLY AWFUL TWIST (VARIANT, by Robison Wells), and now, well, this one.

Reader Gut Reaction: All the way through this novel, I wasn't sure if I liked it. I was laughing, annoyed, bewildered, and "WHAT?"-ing most of the way through. I was a little jarred by a continuing spoof on a bad fantasy novel -- I kept thinking, "what does this have to do with anything????" And yet: I couldn't put it down. That's got to say something, right?

Eventually, it all works out.

Concerning Character: Well, there's this guy - his name is Idea Deity. He's... um, a little edgy, a little jumpy. He has some odd beliefs, the main one which brings on his mental skitzes is that he thinks he's trapped in the plot of a novel, and that he will kick it in Chapter 64. This is the kind of thing that can seriously "mess your head 'round" as they say in these parts, and put a bit of a dent in your social life.

He's on the run from a couple of guys who are either a.) trying to kill him, or b.) trying to keep him away from someone, or c.) trying to get him back to his parents, depending on how Idea is feeling. The girl he runs into at a concert, Eunice, decides to help him - and he wonders how soon she'll regret it.

Idea has had such a sucky life with so many rules that he's always felt hemmed in. The internet has been his salvation. He's created an imaginary world online - and in that world, he's part of a really cool rock band...

Meanwhile, Reacher Mirage is the lead singer of a hip - and super seekrit - band called Youforia. They're super seekrit because Reacher - a lovable obsessive perfectionist - just doesn't think they're ready to hit the big time. Pity that someone else believes they're quite ready -- to the point of broadcasting online where they're rehearsing, what they're rehearsing, and background details about band members, love interests, family members... it's all there on the Youforia website. Someone even knows about his relationship to Eurydice, and it's just in its fragile beginning stages.

It's all crazy. Who knows all of this dirt on them!? They haven't even had a performance yet! And yet: the band is crazy famous. Crazy popular. There are rabid, absolutely nutjob fans.

Idea and Reacher have more in common than you might think. They're both reading a fantasy novel called Fireskull's Revenant -- and as the novel goes along, so are you...

Recommended for Fans Of...: Honestly? I can't even say. This book is like nothing I've ever read. If you enjoyed Sarah Rees Brennan's short story, "Undead Is Very Hot Right Now," from The Eternal Kiss, or "Let's Get This Undead Show on the Road" from the anthology Enthralled, you'll get the sense of humor going on in this novel.

If you like wacky metafiction and reading about the power of the internet, this one's for you. Also, readers who enjoy Phillip K. Dick, Jasper Fforde, and Thomas Pynchon might find this enjoyable, as well as those who enjoy band novels which don't take themselves too seriously...

Cover Chatter:The front cover is a stylish black with a silhouetted Youforia singing their wee hearts out. The back cover is what made me laugh out loud: Fireskull's Revenant lives, people. Flaming skull and all. Check out some of artist James Smith's other work.

Authorial Asides: After you read this novel, you'll want to know who the heck this skewed visionary author might be. I looked him up on Wikipedia, and wow - he's a real fictioneer, a copious writer and while I'd heard of him, I hadn't had the pleasure of the ...mental trip of one of his books. I will say unreservedly that you have to respect someone whose nuttiness is both intelligent and disturbing. He has an unique view of the world, and it really showed in this novel. He writes crime, suspense, and science fiction. Plus some other stuff.

You can find MY FAVORITE BAND DOES NOT EXIST at an independent bookstore near you! Read carefully. If you start feeling like you're a character in a novel do not blame me.

December 16, 2011

Cybils 2011: What Happened to Serenity? by P.J. Sarah Collins

O, Canada! Occasionally you bring us the most interesting new authors...

Reader Gut Reaction: This novel is DYSTOPIAN.

(* Occasionally, I feel the need to refresh myself -- and other authors -- on the meaning of the word. A dystopian novel depicts a society with a heavily-involved State (aka "police state"), which feels it is doing its best for people, in a totalitarian and coercive way. The people feel that they are being done for in the best way possible, and keep any complaints on the down-low, or are forcibly chucked from said society, or made to accept that the society is the best, in some vaguely sinister way.

Dystopian novels are not always post-apocalyptic. They most often explore misuses of technology or the natural world.

Much like steampunk, just because someone says something is dystopian doesn't make it so. Please see 1984 by George Orwell for reference. Thank you. *)

::climbs down from soapbox, dusts off jeans::

So, yeah. A dystopia. Real dystopia. And a pleasant surprise...

Concerning Character: So, Katherine's life is pretty proscribed. There's the Father, and he's in charge of the welfare of the Community, which formed in the wake of the Ecological Revolution. There are the Aunts and Uncles, whose memory is respected and revered, for they are the ones who left the Community, and they died trying to find help. There are the families and the parents, and the red light that comes from the Community TV Remote. The light from the screen makes you feel calm and centered.

Technology is what plunged the world into ecological ruin, so the Community is strictly agrarian. Individual greed and selfishness is what plunged the world into chaos, so there are no questions in the Community. There is no color in the community: brown reminds us that we are part of the Earth, and when we seek to be merely a part of the Earth, we don't seek to distinguish ourselves in any other ways. We are only part of the Community...

World-building in dystopian novels is vital, and Collins does it well here. The Community is well thought-out and clearly visible to the reader. Katherine comes across as fairly typical - she's a teen girl who thinks of boys, wonders about her future, and also wonders about the Outside. Things away from the Community aren't meant to exist in their minds, but Katherine questions unavoidably, thus recreating the traditional tension: the suppressing state vs. the wondering individual. When Father can't suppress Katherine's thoughts, he seeks to subvert the direction of her thoughts.

When her best friend's baby sister, Serenity, disappears from their tiny, ordered world, Katherine expects a panicked search. Instead, she's expected to forget Serenity ever existed.

Katherine can't forget, and won't stop looking for answers.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Margaret Haddix Peterson's Running Out of Time -- this is an older YA version of the same novel, almost, except with some intriguing differences.

Cover Chatter: First, I love the irony of the title: "What happened to serenity?!" is as much a question about the peaceful and ordered world of the Community as it is a title. We don't have a clear identity for the character on the cover. Is she meant to be Serenity's sister? Is she meant to be Katherine? We don't know, but we do know by the wildness of her eyes, she is a member of the Community, and that all is not well. I don't usually like faces on covers, but this one is obligingly sepia-toned and evocative.

You can find WHAT HAPPENED TO SERENITY? at an independent bookstore near you!

December 15, 2011

Toon Thursday: Attitude Adjustment

You see, last time I posted a Toon Thursday, I revisited a theme which seems to be a personal obsession--i.e., rejection. In one of the great ironies of the universe, later that day I received a very exciting offer from my publisher. As a result, Tanita challenged me to write a cartoon that was NOT about rejection, but was rather about finally getting that acceptance letter.

All I've got to say now is....Challenge Accepted.

As always, click the cartoon to view it larger. For the Toon Thursday Archive, click here (though it needs some updating).

December 14, 2011

2011 Cybils: FORGOTTEN, by Cat Patrick

I'm a woman of lists, because I swear my brain leaks out of my ears, and I don't have the excuse that it does that in my sleep.

Memory and its loss is kind of an oddly fascinating YA topic. There are a surprising number of novels, good, bad, and indifferent, on the topic. Perhaps that's because the question What should I do? is common at that phase of life -- and it's made more acute by not having all of the facts.

A compelling moral ambiguity is made more complex by a character not knowing which way to turn -- and if they have none of the facts to propel them toward a choice, the conundrum becomes sharply agonizing, comedic, or wildly dramatic, and the reader is drawn. This is a strangely charming little novel -- long on questions, and pretty short on answers. Sometimes in science fiction, an unclear answer to the questions of "What if...?" is a-okay.

Reader Gut Reaction: If we forget things with our conscious minds, does some part of our unconsciousness/heart/soul remember? This is kind of a weird question, yes, but it's in part the premise of this book. What if all we remembered was the future, but the past was instantly forgotten? In a way, it would be kind of freeing - you could live your life without disappointment or embarrassment. On the other hand, people would hate you, perhaps, or be disappointed in you -- and you'd not really understand why.

It's all about comprehending the world around you.

Concerning Character: This is the little about the plot that I can tell you: Each morning at 4:33 a.m., London Lane's memory resets. If her activities, friends, homework assignments, outfits -- all of her personal details -- if they don't show up on her lists, they're utterly lost in the mists of the past.

London has a plan for understanding her world. It involves lists - detailed lists. Notes in the note function of her phone. Alarms. Memory-joggers. She needs that kind of help, but surprisingly, she doesn't come across as scattered or particularly fey or even terribly troubled. This is just Reality for her, and she Deals, end of story.
This strange phenomenon has been plaguing London since she was small - she remembers forwards, and forgets backwards. She has a tangled relationship with her mother - she relies on her heavily, because she has to, but as a growing teen has some tiny feelings of ambivalence shaded with resentment toward her. She has one trusted girlfriend - who makes mistakes London cannot tell her to avoid, because she knows it will damage their relationship -- in fact, it already has. London is a medium sort of student - middle of the road gradewise and popularity wise, and in this way avoids the unpleasantness of becoming too involved in the lives of others -- and then forgetting them, but some things are just unavoidable. For instance, London really wants to know who this boy Luke is, who she doesn't see in any future thoughts, but who keeps... showing up in her present.

The day Luke shows up, something else happens. London has a strange, frightening memory -- a vision -- burst into her consciousness. She's pretty sure it means her father - who left her when she was a small child - is going to die. But, isn't she supposed to do something about that? Can she? And incidentally, where's her Dad been all this time? Suddenly, surviving life and dealing with her unique issue isn't enough. London has questions - and the past - and the future - demands answers, or else she may have nothing left but the forgotten past.

Recommended for Fans Of...:Emily the Strange: The Lost Days, by Jessica Gruner et al, Trigger, by Susan Vaught, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, by Gabrille Zevin, and films like Dark City and The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Cover Chatter: This novel has had a WEALTH and a plethora of covers.

(Props to The Mile Long Bookshelf for lining them up that way.)

Each cover highlights in some way the absence of London - we see part of her face, but not her eyes. We see her shadow, but only the slightest hint of her person. She is seen both waking and sleeping, in color and in black and white. Is she a real person, or a shadow; a waking dream or a player in her own reality?

I find it interesting - and likeable - that none of the covers show a hint of Luke. The romantic elements, while enjoyable, are just not really the point. At all.

You can find FORGOTTEN at an independent bookstore near you!

December 12, 2011

Some Holiday Notes, an Apology, and an Announcement

So, first, the apology...sorry I've been a bit quiet lately, though luckily, Tanita has been more than capably holding down the fort. Aside from the usual excuses about life being hectic and whatnot, I've also been a bit scatterbrained for a much happier reason (here comes the announcement): I'm now officially a client of Jennifer Laughran of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, who is a longtime fellow blogger--yet another reason for feeling extremely lucky and thrilled about this new development.

Anyway, a few links for your Monday perusal: First, a fundraiser that won't take but a moment of your time and will help kids in need of books. Over at Teaching Authors, they're sponsoring a fundraiser in support
of First Book--for every comment they receive on their blog this month (one per person), they'll donate $1 to First Book, up to $225. Every $2.50 donated provides a brand-new book to a child in need. And through
Dec. 31, Disney Publishing Worldwide will match every $1 donated with another new book. So Go! Comment!

Second, if you're like me, you're always interested in end-of-year booklists--here are a couple of intriguing ones:
  • Now through the new year, NPR Books is rolling out a huge series of lists of their favorite books of the year--kids' books and adult books, fiction and nonfiction. There are already a number I've had to put on my wish list, and there are still a lot of lists to go!
  • Goodreads has released the final results of their Goodreads Choice Awards, with 2011 favorites selected by readers in a number of categories.
  • Last but most definitely not least, the Guardian Books blog released their Books of the year 2011 back at the end of November (so glad to see A Monster Calls on that list--and I can't wait to read the new Michael Ondaatje).
What books released this year are at the top of YOUR to-read pile?

    December 09, 2011

    2011 Cybils: Tyger, Tyger, by Kersten Hamilton

    An Irish character named Teagan, which is my favorite Irish name? Check. High fantasy? Check. Strange new worlds? Check. Strong female characters? Check. This novel has in it all the things I love, plus a healthy dose of a happy family and Celtic mythology, and yet, I didn't think I'd like it. I think it was the cover. The tiny print on the cover which assured me that there was a SLJ starred review somewhere about its person gave me an extra nudge to bring it closer to the top of my TBR pile - and I'm very glad that I did.

    This novel is, in part, about Irish travelers, and living in the UK, I know that rarely is there mentioned such a maligned and mistrusted group who aren't brown-skinned. They're nomadic ethnic Irish folk, who tend to keep a separate language and who live in trailers (or caravans, as they're called here) and haven't ever fit into normative British society. They're seen as dirty, feckless, thieving, and bad.

    "I do not ask for a path with no trouble or regret, Mrs. Wylltson began. Teagan spoke the words with her. "I ask instead for a fried who'll walk with me down any path.

    "I do not ask never to feel pain. I ask instead for courage, even when hope can scare shine through.

    "And one more thing I ask: That in every hour of joy or pain, I feel the Creator close by my side. This is my truest prayer for myself and for all I love, now and forever, Amen. -

    (The above is found on pg. 32 of the novel. I'm not sure whether the author made this up, or if it is a genuine traveler prayer, and it is something so beautiful I want to memorize it.)

    Reader Gut Reaction: I laughed a lot, reading the first few pages of this novel. Having read a lot of Irish literature in grad school, there are some truly amusing recurring themes, one of which is Things don't go well for the Irish for long and, It's an Irish story - it won't have a happy ending. As a reader, I then knew: all kinds of crap is going to happen here. However: this is a family who is going to keep trying to pull through.

    Also, there's this gorgeous boy named Finn...

    Concerning Character: Teagan Wylltson's mother paints goblins - she's a popular children's book illustrator, and so they're all around the house. Her father is a librarian, and reads Celtic faeries stories aloud nightly. But, please - they're not real. Only Teagan's best friend, Abby, seems to think the ghouls and ghosties are, and she's forever lighting candles at their local for Teagan and dousing suspicious looking guys with Holy Water, just to make sure. (Teagan's pretty sure that Abby reads too many vampire novels.) Teagan and Abby's friendship is true, and Tea's unbothered by her zany - and far more fashion-forward best friend. She is beloved by her family, and her slightly aggravating, but lovable little brother, and her family life is solid. Her focus is on her life goal - to be a brilliant vet. She even puts up with a job socializing a jealous primate - who smears poop on her favorite sweater. It's all about earning the scholarship to the dream college and getting the career of her dreams. No discussions, no deviations, no drama.

    What's that Yiddish proverb? "Man plans, God laughs..." (Mann traoch, Gott Lauch)

    Recommended for Fans Of...: The Hollow Kingdom series by Clare B. Dunkle, and The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff. Yes, I invoked both the Dunkle and the Brenna. It is that good. Other comparisons have suggested the Lemony Snickett A Series of Unfortunate Events.

    Themes & Things: This is that special brand of high adventure novel which resembles the hero's journey, except that it has more of a group vibe going on. Our fine hero steps out to sacrifice himself for the good of the clan, only ... that's not going to work. Evil is not going to be so easily appeased. It will take the whole village to rescue the hurt, and bring them back to safety. And then ... everything else in the village will change.

    I love that this novel has both ghouls and God. Abby and the Wylltsons are staunch Catholics - one branch Italian, one branch Irish. On the run, the kids cobble together a belief system that's part superstition and part saints, and do their level best. The pacing and the heightened tension, when there's so much at stake, and so much more to lose, really makes the storytelling work for me.

    You'll note I'm not telling you much in terms of details. I just don't want to spoil it.

    Authorial Asides: In 2008, quietly prolific author Kersten Hamilton was interviewed on Cynsations. She has much that is good and intelligent to say to writers who write for the Christian market and the mainstream secular market, which she does. I'm ... impressed, and hoping to read more of her work for teens, and can't wait to read this sequel. Read Electrifying Reviews' interview with the author.

    Cover Chatter: I do not love this cover - the murky colors and the indefinite picture don't speak to me. The book has starred reviews from both Kirkus Reviews and The School Library Journal, but instead of making that proud and large, it's minuscule and I missed the Kirkus one the first time around. I'm not sure I understand what the book designers were up to... but, the story is what's going to sell this, and as others read it, there will be fan art, which will make me feel better!

    Read another review of this novel, and a quick author chat at The Enchanted Inkpot.

    You can find TYGER, TYGER: Book One in The Goblin Wars at an independent bookstore near you!

    December 07, 2011

    2011 Cybils: Awaken, by Katie Kacvinsky

    Reader Gut Reaction: This novel seemed mistitled, at first, and the cover seemed to have nothing to do with the plot. Flowers in a jar? Awakening? The story of a quiet girl living a quiet life seemed not so much of an awakening, but a putting to sleep.

    And then I realized that if you write a novel about awakening, you have to show how people have been asleep. Right.

    Concerning Character: Maddie is a virtual prisoner - in more ways than one. Her father doesn't trust her anymore. She's committed a Great Sin, as far as he's concerned, and he goes so far as to track her movements with a tail on any vehicle she's in, with lie detector tests, and with a lot of heavy sighing and asking of obnoxious questions.

    Maddie's a virtual prisoner in other ways - but then, so are most people. They live in front of their computers - shop for groceries, order books from the library, and even get exercise, all hooked up to a virtual universe. Artwork? Who needs messy charcoal, graphite, and paints when there are notepads and electronic brushes and screens? Music? There are thousands of voice samples, composition programs, and streaming music channels. You needn't expend the effort of going outside and interacting with people, when the whole world is brought to you via your screen...

    Maddie's father is the inventor of the Digital School, and nobody does anything so gauche as go to high school in person anymore.

    Recommended for Fans Of...: Saci Lloyd's Carbon Diaries series, Divergent, by Veronica Roth, and other near future dystopian books presenting a conflicted but eventually strong female protagonist who learns how to fight for her beliefs.

    Themes & Things: The theme of the novel is at first contrasts - Maddie's life is thoughtful, ordered, circumscribed. She takes a gamble and meets Justin, whose life is much more colorful, chaotic, and risky than hers. For much of the novel their lives are simply contrasted, and the reader observes how vastly different their lives seem to be.

    Next, the theme is sort of ecological - not as in "save the Earth," but a subtle push to save humanity - from itself. Readers may be divided about the reality presented in that message, but it provokes some interesting thoughts.

    Cover Chatter: I did mention that the cover seemed very quiet - a pixelated photograph of flowers in a jar - and also somewhat nonsensical -- Um, flowers in a JAR?? But, I think the novel's central theme is depicted clearly in the cover - flowers don't grow and thrive their best in jars, even as human beings would not grow and thrive their best inside. Perhaps the message sounds a little heavy-handed, but it actually sneaks up on the reader with reasonably subtlety. (Or, maybe it was only me who's slow to catch on.)

    You can find AWAKEN at an independent bookstore near you!

    December 06, 2011

    2011 Cybils: Flip, by Martyn Bedford

    We don't have a lot of Cybils books by British authors, but I'm always a bit pleased when we do have them, because for once I can cruise down to the library and get my hands on them before many of my other Cybs teammates! Author Martyn Bedford is actually a fairly well-known British author - for adults. This is his first novel marketed to young adults.

    Reader Gut Reaction: Surprisingly, this novel is a little freakier than Freaky Friday, which I always thought was unrealistically lighthearted. If you woke up in someone else's body... frankly, twin squeals would not get it. Who wants to be their mother? With no idea of how long it'll last, and why it happened, I wouldn't be trying to imagine ways to get my mother to take my calculus test - I'd be frantically trying to get... her... OUT.

    I imagine that it would be even worse if the body in which you awakened wasn't a friend or relative's, but a stranger's...

    (British Cover)
    Concerning Character: I like Alex. He is genuine, a "swotter," a clarinetist, and he's brave. When faced with waking up in a boy named Phillip's body, he's justifiably terrified, but he's canny enough not to fall completely apart -- not at first, at least. His increasingly desperate actions really ratchet up the tension level in the novel as he becomes someone who is at first willing to go along with things, later, willing to try almost anything to be home with his family... and then, finally, willing to try anything at all, with no qualifiers.

    The classmates, girlfriends, and friends Alex meets while inhabiting Phillip's body are ... not as dull as Phillip's sister might think, but not as sharp as they could be, either. Clearly, in Phillip's life, there's been nothing but sports and girls. He is popular and good looking, well-liked and well regarded, despite his dismal grades and underachiever status. Alex struggles to figure out how to be someone like Phillip, first physically, then socially. Eventually, the behavior Alex assumes to be Phillip's comes easier and easier... but is it really Flip he's turning into? Or, a more less version of himself?

    (U.S. Cover)While Alex is casting about for answers, he runs across an older guy who seems to have some... and at first, he's a comfort. Then, Alex wonders what he's gotten himself into.

    I didn't think I'd like this novel - I mean, Freaky Friday as I've said: been there, and they've Disneyfied that. But, this is much deeper... a search for both identity and answers. I'm not surprised that this book is an ALA 2011 Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers. It's a mystery I couldn't put down.

    Recommended for Fans Of...: Well, we've already covered Freaky Friday, by Mary Rodgers, I Will Fear No Evil, by Robert Heinlen, and at least two or three R.L. Stein novels like, The Barking Ghost. This is a true science fiction novel, because the idea of "what if?" is riding right out in front of the plot.

    (Canadian Cover)Themes & Things: Body swapping is a trope because it's based largely on longing to be someone else. All over fiction, in movies and in books and on TV the theme is repeated. Bedford actually explores this really thoroughly in Flip and both the upside of having someone else's body (with some hilarity), face, and wardrobe are explored and the downsides as well. People are like homing pigeons - we know where home is, and the obvious thing to give ourselves comfort, when we're feeling six kinds of crazy from finding ourselves in someone else's body, would be to go home... but, what will the people there think? That you're a crazy person? Or worse?

    Bedford coins the term "psychic evaluation," and I had to Google it to just to make sure it wasn't real - that tells you how disturbing this book is, and how far it goes to capture the imagination, shake it up, and return it to its proper place, a lot more nervous, and a bit shaken. FLIP is a well-paced and tautly written, thoughtful psychological thriller.

    (Italian Cover) Cover Chatter: This is a most successfully covered book, let me tell you. Apparently the imaginations of the design teams were truly captivated. In the hardbound British version I read, even the chapter numbers are backwards, reflecting the flip that has taken place in Alex's life. I like the Canadian cover the very best, because the character of Flip is adorable, and his hair has the look of it might be stylish, with the judicious application of product, which is something that Alex struggled with in the story. The Italian cover is the most unique - both faces are striking on their own, but when put together, there's a Beauty & the Beast moment happening. Even the Dutch illustrated cover depicts a pivotal moment from the text. Recently Bedford announced that there will be a Chinese language edition. I cannot imagine what they'll do!

    You can find FLIP at an independent bookstore near you!

    December 05, 2011

    A Few More Links

    I've been too busy for a lot of my regular bookish activities--including writing reviews or updating Goodreads or anything like that--but I still wanted to tune in and say hello with a few interesting writing- and YA-related links that have crossed my virtual desk recently. Well, I suppose the desk is physical. But the information is virtual.

    First, via my mom and the NCTE newsletter comes a PDF article from author Jennifer Buehler that includes a wealth of advice and resources from YA authors, including a few links that were new to me as well as a few familiar ones.

    Next, did you know that Lee Wind of I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell do I read? has a newsletter now? He does, and it's great--you'll find out what's new on the blog, what speaker visits Lee has been doing lately, and you'll even get an inspirational quote to round it all out. To sign up, just go to his blog and enter your e-mail address in the sign-up box at the top of the left-hand column. One recent post highlighted the Make It Safe Project, which "donates books about sexual orientation and gender expression to schools and youth homeless shelters that lack the resources to keep their teens safe." In addition, they have tons of resources and support for school Gay-Straight Alliances. Kudos, and I hope their efforts are wildly successful! (via Little Willow @ Bildungsroman)

    Can I just note how excited we are that our good friend Colleen of Chasing Ray has a Big Idea post up at John Scalzi's Whatever blog? I'm in awe, especially since I thought about writing in to ask about doing a post but then after reading a bunch of amazing installments of Big Idea I completely chickened out. Colleen's post adds to that amazingness and I hope it brings many more readers to her gripping book about Alaska flying, Map of My Dead Pilots.

    Last but not least, a couple of links from Graphic Novel Reporter--these links really got me excited about my upcoming term as Round 2 Cybils judge for Graphic Novels:  first, a graphic novel holiday gift guide, with suggestions for all ages and tastes, and second, a list of favorite graphic novels of 2011 (which is going to make MY Christmas list much, much longer). I was happy to see a few of the great ones I read this year on the best-of-2011 list, like Anya's Ghost.

    Well, that's it for today. I hope to get my butt in gear enough to do a review for this Thursday, but we'll see!

    December 03, 2011

    A Cybils Check-In

    Yes, you've noticed: we haven't had much to say that isn't specifically book-related around here lately! A.F. and I have been working away at our version of NaNoWriMo, which in our case is National Novel Oh, For Heaven's Sakes Just Finish It Month (NaNoFiMo for short), which, owing to our vast knowledge of ourselves and our general panic level, goes on for two months instead of one.

    I just finished a massive, brain-draining project and some small revisions on something else, and The Race Is On to finish one last thing before the end of the year. Meanwhile, A.F. has received some excellent news about a project of hers, and now has this one last project to go...

    And, then there's the Cybils. Just to keep things interesting.

    Of the 171 books nominated in Fantasy & Science Fiction, of which there are quite a few dystophias - some just randomly grim and filled with mayhem, others thought-provoking and classics-in-the-making; a few funny, mostly a lot of romance, relationships and revenants -- bring on the undead emo! -- I have to admit that I am not quite at the halfway point in my reading.

    Yeah! I know. I'm disappointed in me, too.
    Partially, it's because some of the books haven't arrived, or, won't arrive. Partially, it's because I've been distracted by three other projects, and with a holiday in there, and a Christmas concert after which my train was canceled and I got stuck in Edinburgh on a Sunday afternoon (with no book in my bag!!), I lost my A-game. But, now I am down to one more concert, only finishing one novel(!), and doing One Big Fat Read. I can do this.

    Well, it's a MAYBE on the novel. I'm hopeful I can do that.
    But, I know I can do my Cybils reading.

    That's one of the more fun things about taking part in the judging each year. It's not just the singular joy of discovering fresh, unique storylines that you enjoy that you haven't heard people talking about, and that you can talk up on your blog. It's also a personal challenge, and a feeling of accomplishment, and the fun of wallowing in the riches of stories and not feeling the least bit guilty about all of the people you're ignoring to do so.

    Busy. Reading. Later.

    The real trick is to figure out a way to always live like this.

    That was LITERALLY the DHL guy just now. I have another box of books... and I'm off.

    -- Later.

    December 02, 2011

    2011 Cybils: The Near Witch, by Victoria Schwab

    Reader Gut Reaction: Long, long ago... This novel has so much of the feel of a fairytale that I was pleasantly shocked. It's rare that you get a new fairytale. Retellings are a dime-a-dozen practically, but it takes skill to put together something that feels like it's been simmering in culture and oral tradition for a few hundred years. This novel crosses that hurdle with aplomb. Gothic and dark, but with a lyrical tone, this is a story-within-a-story. It starts with a bedtime tale, a tale told generally to frighten small children, but plunges into the heart of the entire village, and takes every character with it.

    Concerning Character: First of all, the village of Near itself is a character. It is moody and desolate, sparsely peopled with some who have been there for what seems to have been thousands of years. The Moors are a character - mysterious and trackless, and unknowable - forbidden and scary.

    Lexi is her father's daughter - stepping into his heavy, worn boots, strapping his whetted knife around her sturdy waist. She is a Hunter and a tracker, with not much to hunt or track. Her uncle takes care of the family now, and his care is more a shepherding, a driving her in, toward the center of town, toward known things, acceptable boys, and respectability. He has all but promised that if she does not embrace these things, those she loves - her baby sister, Wren, her mother, her home - will be forever taken from her.

    Lexi's mother is a shadow of her former self; as her Uncle becomes more imposing, her mother fades away. Lexi is desperate to find her mother again - and to push back her Uncle's influence on their lives. There needs to be a change - even though no one and nothing much ever changes in the village of Near...

    The change, when it comes, is everything Lexi desires, and nothing anyone would have ever wanted.

    Recommended for Fans Of...: Jane Yolen's Pay the Piper, or Donna Jo Napoli's Breath and other fairytale retellings wherein A Great Wrong is done to a witch, and the whole village has to suffer until they atone.

    Themes & Things: The night Lexi sees the Stranger, things begin to shift irredeemably within. She is unstoppably curious about someone she doesn't know. Who is he? Why has he come? More importantly, why hasn't anyone new ever come along? Why are there no other strangers?

    There's an entire history of secrets and lies and things forgotten which haunt this village. A Hunter can find out the truth -- but only if she's allowed to hunt. Themes of self-reliance and standing up for the truth, and for those who are different give this novel a strong backbone.

    Cover Chatter: From the author's descriptions, you can almost see the village of Near, its low, encircling wall and the desolate moor. It's very atmospheric, infintely moreso than the cover. While Lexi at the window is a common enough scene from the novel, and the overlay of vining flowers is possibly representative of the witch's garden, the female-teen-with-sheer-curtains (Bad Girls Don't Die, Witchlanders) has been done fairly repeatedly. It's not a bad cover by any means, but the novel contained within is certainly better.

    You can find THE NEAR WITCH at an independent bookstore near you!

    December 01, 2011

    Toon Thursday and Random Notes

    Greetings! Today's toon is on a familiar topic...the range of cartoons I can write on the subject of rejection seems inexhaustible somehow. Wonder why that is? Anyway, as always, click to view the cartoon larger.

    On a separate note, some good links have come my way over the past few days. From Doret over at Happy Nappy Bookseller comes a list enumerating MG/YA books published by authors of color during 2011, as an addendum to a post by Zetta Elliott on the topic of books published by African American authors over the past year. Interesting reading (and fodder for TBR piles, too)...the numbers are pretty thought-provoking and I'd love to see someone crunch them in relation to the total number of books published by all authors.

    If you're looking for gift ideas, MotherReader has released her annual list of 150 Ways to Give a Book. There are ideas for all ages--and I especially love that Tanita's A La Carte is on the list.

    Speaking of giving books, there's still some time left for the Guys Lit Wire Ballou Holiday Book Fair--buying even one book would help these kids' school library more than you can imagine.

    Looking for someplace to send your writing? There are a few contests going right now. With a Dec. 15 deadline is the She Writes Young Adult Novel Contest, to benefit Girls Write Now. All you need to do is sign up for She Writes (which is free) and your 2,000-word excerpt could be eligible to win valuable feedback and guidance from writing and publishing pros. And, if you're up to writing an essay, you could win a 50-page critique in a contest from the Book Wish Foundation. Some great authors and agents are involved in both, so get cracking!

    November 30, 2011

    2011 Cybils: Wildefire by Karsten Knight

    I am always intrigued by how tricky it must be for male authors to write a novel with a female protagonist in YA circles. We're pretty female-saturated in the field, both in terms of writers and readers. As writers, we're hard on women who write male characters lacking in testosterone. There are going to be equally difficult challenges for male writers (although, somehow feminine roles are just never as sharply defined as what men are "supposed" to be. Don't even get me started on that soapbox). However, if you don't get tangled up in what you assume gender roles to be, you'll find that men who know women can write multifaceted and realistic characters of any gender. We at Wonderland very much champion the male YA writer, so YAY, Karsten Knight! And yay for the debut salvo in a trilogy promises to be as fast-paced, fresh and intriguing as the first novel.

    Reader Gut Reaction: Though there are a ton of mythical retellings going on in YA fiction, there aren't a whole lot of them which fall outside of the traditional - Greeks. A few Egyptians. Aaaand, back to Greeks. Other cultures have myths and gods and goddesses, and it's intriguing to see the rest of the pantheons finally representing.

    This is a novel which reflects the real world for some young adults - so there's a lot of unapologetic underage drinking and behavior that will be looked on unfavorably by some, but it's hardly the point of the story, and goes beyond that to tell an engaging tale.

    Concerning Character: Ashline Wilde would just like to have ONE good thing going in her life. She's the only Polynesian girl in a pretty Caucasian school, her adoptive Jewish parents love, but don't really get her, her boyfriend - now ex - has turned out to be a complete cheating tool, and now her sister, Eve, who is crazy mean (heavy emphasis on crazy), has just blown back into town -- and has actually managed to make sure that Ash's world is completely, seriously ruined. Knowing she never wants to see her sister again, Ash transfers to Blackwood Academy three thousand miles away to start over again.

    It's not the clean-slate start that she thought, though. Ashline is expected... no, she was summoned to Blackwood, she and five other students. Supposedly, she's some kind of a goddess? And so is Eve.

    Wait, what?

    Ashline is tough, driven, and angry. Her intelligence, which shines forth as the novel progresses, is part of what saves her.

    Recommended for Fans Of...: Anyone who enjoys action and adventure tales of teens with strange abilities. If you enjoy the X-Men, or the Percy Jackson novels, and the novels of Tera Lynn Childs, this one's for you.

    Themes & Things: While there's sisterhood in this novel, it is mainly about finding your own way, in spite of what you've been given, and about looking within and finding out what you've been given. Ashline has been given a lot - her adoptive parents are upper middle class, and they have given she and her sister every advantage - and yet, Eve is still unhappy and leaves, and Ash is still awkward-feeling and making bad choices. It's only when she starts to draw from within herself that she changes and becomes who she's meant to be.

    This is, of course, brought out a lot more subtly than I just said it.

    Cover Chatter: A flower illuminated in a sea of other dark flowers - both matches a scene within the novel, and mirrors Ashline's internal powers. A beautiful, must-stroke-it cover which I think will appeal to tons of readers. Mr. Knight lucked out - I think this cover is gorgeous and will appeal to readers all across the board.

    Even the German language cover has a lot of originality and while its flower is more stylized and not as pretty, it is appealing as well.

    You can find WILDEFIRE at an independent bookstore near you!

    November 29, 2011

    2011 Cybils: Slice of Cherry, Dia Reeves

    Once there were two sisters who were separated from their father. They lost their innocence, but were left with their anger...

    PSA: This book is about sisters. It is about sisterhood. It is about loving, and hating. It is about innocence, and its end. Despite the bland Library of Congress description (Dating? Social customs? African Americans? Really, guys?) it is pretty much a supernatural murder mystery, with more bloodshed -- and more mystery -- than you might be comfortable with at first. To be blunt, the body count is pretty darned high, and the attitudes about scrubbing blood from beneath one's manicure are pretty blasé, so This Might Disturb. I would not presume to list age restrictions, but were this a movie, its rating would take into consideration violence and sexual situations. Definitely better for mature readers, and of course adults (those aren't always the same thing).

    Reader Gut Reaction: Dia Reeves is frankly an intriguing author to me, and so far, it has always paid to follow her down the twisted little path of story through the hedge-mazes of the her bizarre inner universe. She is an excellent writer whose quirky humor is paired with the richly imagined, bloodstained, and haunted parallel worlds of wherever she's writing about, plus the South. There's something parablesque in her novels, and there are, as in all good Southern fictions, stories within stories.

    It's hard to communicate to you the tight turns of phrase ("Cadbury-smooth skin" which gives hints of both color and richness without clubbing you over the head), ironic, sardonic humor (Oh, the letters from the nuts in the community), the subtle nuances of meaning or the true-telling in this clearly fictional novel without spoiling it, so this review will be necessarily lacking in detail. Just read the book.

    Concerning Character: Fancy and Kit Cordelle are sisters who are the children of a notorious serial killer. They're closer than close, practically twins, practically the same person. Even their wishes are the same, or so Fancy thinks.

    Their mother works the graveyard shift at the hospital, so they have uninterrupted - and unsupervised - time together in the warm summers in Portrero. Portreto is a weird town in and of itself, a place of doors where monsters lurk, where green-clad warriors make it their business to patrol the Dark Park, and where transients come and go, and are pretty much universally reviled. Potrero-ites stick together - everyone else can go hang. It takes a little something special to open a door and make a place for yourself in a community like Portreo. Not everybody who visits stays. Not everyone who visits survives...

    While Fancy has been mostly the observer, Kit's favorite hobby used to be animal dissection, but it's lately become more interesting to discover the ins and outs of the human body. Their father had an interest that direction, after all. Prowlers, kidnappers, molesters get a bit more than they bargained for with Kit and Fancy ... these are the children of the notorious Bonesaw Killer, after all.

    Lazy days are spent reading and answering the mail ("What I love about Guthrie Cordell is that not only is he one of the few black serial killers, he is one of the best..."), looking through the doors of Fancy's other world to see what's there, and, well, finding new people to play with (Kit & Fancy's playmates tend to wear out easily). When their mother begins to suspect that Kit and Fancy are not using their summer vacation, er, wisely, she decrees that the girls go to summer school. Fancy balks. What does she need other people for? Kit, on the other hand, thrills with the chance to meet people and air out her hormones. Kit starts to get to know people. She changes. She gets a ... boyfriend.

    And the furiously betrayed Fancy's not having any of that nonsense...

    Beware of the girl who can wield a sharp knife... and open doors into other worlds...

    Recommended for Fans Of...: Well, that's hard to say. If you like horror novels with a strong family theme, this one's for you. Alyxandra Harvey's Hearts at Stake series is the only thing I can think of which might slightly compare because of the tight family bonds. Jack Gantos' The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs because the family that dissects together... um. Yeah. (Flowers in the Attic comes to mind, but Reeves' writing is stellar, and rises far above that of Andrews'.)

    Themes & Things: This novel is, at heart, a Bildungsroman, a the story of growth and development within the context of a defined social order. It is kicked off by deep loss, and is earmarked by the arduous effort of the individual to find a place for themselves within the social order. Of course, the social order is a, disordered in this novel, but the conclusion is still the same - a place is found, and the individual can now see that they belong.

    This story has the flavor of parable, of gossipy urban legend transformed by oral narrative into the wisdom of the elders, tales of warning and woe. Did you ever hear about The Girl Who Stayed Out Too Late? Well, she Met A Bad End. Kit and Fancy have A Bad End prewritten into their story. They live in a powerful world and have strange abilities, abilities which help them fit into the world of monsters they inhabit. Their ancestor, Cherry, was certainly as fey - maybe a witch? Maybe not. They are "slices" of Cherry, and with their father the murderer (and their penchant for slicing people), chips off the ol' block. Theirs was to be an odd tale regardless.

    And yet: they are also an average, albeit freaky, family. They squabble and argue (mainly about whether or not their victims should live or die). They meet boys (and imagine doing great violence to them - in Fancy's case, anyway). They fall in love - and their swains bring them gifts. They ask questions (sometimes with the use of drugs) to find out truths. They grow up - eventually. And they find out that change isn't always as bad as it seems. Sometimes, the best way to enjoy the sundae is to eat the cherry on top.

    Maybe the theme of this novel is that even the freakiest of us are all pretty much the same.

    (Mostly, anyway.)

    Cover Chatter: The beauty of light-limned, fine china, the quirkiness of its polka dots and stripes. The freak factor of streaks and spatters. Oh, yeah. The cover is clean and striking and highlights both the Southern gentility of the girls - tea drinking, as all good Southern girls do, thank you very much - and the creep factor - bodily fluid on the cups - instead of the romance. As the book's jacket flap reads, "Happiness is a bloody knife." The cover goes right along with that, and the only thing they could have done better was have a few crumbs of red velvet cake.

    You can find SLICE OF CHERRY at an independent bookstore near you! Be prepared to shiver, wince, and laugh... and then worry about yourself for laughing.