March 31, 2011

Toon Thursday: Special Tax Time Edition

That's right, I spent inordinate amounts of time this year fussing with our home office deduction, not to mention figuring out how to deduct the art studio for the 3/4 of the year that Rob used it for his sabbatical workspace. So I hereby bring you A Day in the Writing Life 6: Your Home Office. (Click cartoon to view larger.)

For earlier installments of  A Day in the Writing Life, check out the Toon Thursday Archives.

In other news, are you ready for National Poetry Month? Who cares about taxes? Let's get poetic. Lots of kidlitosphere folks are participating, including blog buds like Liz Garton Scanlon, Gregory K., Jama Rattigan, Andromeda Jazmon, Mary Lee Hahn, and many many more. Original poems, classic poems--you'll find plenty of both. Stay tuned for an update of the full schedule on the Kidlitosphere Central site.  (As of this writing, the list still referred to last year's schedule.)

March 30, 2011

Wednesday Breather

A friend reported buying a new bike, only to see the "umptymillioneth" snowfall in the midwest, so she, like you, may be in need of a little cheer. While taking a little break from my revision, these are some things around the web which have made me smile today:

That handlebar 'stache thing -- Dan vs. Ward, over at Jules' blog. I haven't been able to think of a good cartoon caption, but I giggled reading the ones already there.

The guy who built his own Muppet Theater -- from scratch!! Because, yes, I am just a big enough dork to fully geek out over the awesome of that.

Yesterday Leila highlighted the awesome that is Jillian Tamaki's artwork for Penguin, today the Guardian features The Materialistics and their take on classic art. It's flat out amazing. I'm excited to learn that in December 2011, they're doing a show depicting children's books! Yay!

Message in a bottle - it actually showed up! The bottle was launched when the boy was five; now he's 29, and it's been found by a thirteen-year-old boy in another country. They plan to be pen pals, which is the coolest thing, ever.

Twin babies chatting. Yes, ABC is totally late on that one, as the video came out in February (and may I take the opportunity here to say how much I despise the word "viral" in the whole video craze thing?) but as a nation, we're so stressed out that Twin Babies Doing Anything Cute is a happy place to be. Imagine Shannon Hale's world just now. Her double-trouble duo are too cute.

Since the Bronx Zoo Reptile House is closed at present, mental_floss did a handy list of all other great animal escapes. People are strange: we go to the zoo to see captive animals, but paradoxically, people tend to cheer for escaped animals. Remember Freedom? (That cow is a whole picture book by herself.)

This made me guffaw in a rather unkind way... there's a new company starting up called Cloud Girlfriend... they provide... fake... girlfriends... for Facebook. No, really.

As usual, the world is stranger - and funnier - than we imagined.
Happy Wednesday.

Kelvingrove Park 352

March 28, 2011

Monday Sci-Fi Bytes: ACROSS THE UNIVERSE by Beth Revis

I acquired an Advance Review Copy of this book from the publisher at ALA in January. This review is based on that version.

Reader Gut Reaction: This one's been getting quite a lot of buzz on the blogs, from what I've seen, and I'd been excited to read it, too—I mean, a romantic dystopian sci-fi mystery in space? Bring it on! And I'm happy to say that it didn't disappoint. The plot moved quickly, and I enjoyed the fact that this one took some risks in going into less-frequently-explored territory (there aren't as many hard-SF books for teens as we—that is to say, me and T—would like to see around) and giving the idea of a dystopian future a unique twist by conceiving it as a murder mystery in space.

Concerning Character: The story's told in the alternating viewpoints of Amy, who wakes up mysteriously early from her cryogenic sleep and realizes that it was not an accident, and Elder, who is the leader-in-training for the society that has evolved aboard the ship Godspeed. Their contrasting perspectives on the situation were nicely done, and I loved seeing the ship through Amy's eyes, as she strikes me as being a stand-in for the reader in some ways, providing a familiar viewpoint on an unfamiliar world. I would have liked the side characters to feel a little more fleshed out—Eldest, for instance, and Orion, who were both critical to the story and intriguing enough for me to want to know more. I suppose there's always room for that in a sequel...

Recommended for Fans Of...: Maria V. Snyder's Inside/Out, a suspenseful read which also takes place in the far future in a rather regimented society (reviewed here). Ally Condie's Matched, which explores the idea of love in a future where everything seems to be determined for you (reviewed here).

Themes & Things: I had a good discussion with Jennifer, another member of our writing group, about the fact that the society depicted on Godspeed has interbred to the point of near-complete racial uniformity, so Amy's appearance—and her shocking red hair and fair skin—create quite a contrast and a stir. That, and the other genetic aspects of the story, like population control and minimizing the effects of inbreeding in a population of limited size, are particularly interesting to ponder. And, of course, Elder must learn what it means to be a leader and how he can grow into that position as an individual, rather than as the obedient and unquestioning scion that the ruling Eldest expects him to be.

Authorial Asides: All I can say is, what an awesome debut novel. I'm fantastically envious in a "wish I'd written it" sort of way. The author has a very nifty personal site here, and blogs about dystopian lit here,. Plus I think she has the same agent as Neil Gaiman. Talk about wow! (Says the girl who, at this point, is basically jealous of ANYONE with an agent.)

You can find Across the Universe at an independent bookstore near you!

March 26, 2011

Thank you, Dame Diana...

...for all the good times.

Your devoted fans, forever,
T & A.F.


March 24, 2011

Thursday Bits and Pieces

Since it's my birthday today (and thank you, Tanita, for the lovely birthday message below), I'm simply going to present a few links for your enjoyment, and wait until Monday for my next batch of reviews:

The Kidlit 4 Japan auction started up this past Monday. There are some great items to bid on, including signed ARCs, manuscript critiques, a poetry critique from our own Kelly F., and (to be posted in a future batch of auction items) a copy of The Latte Rebellion, signed by yours truly, plus bookmarks. Donation proceeds will go to the UNICEF U.S. Fund. Also, YA author Heidi Kling is hosting a Doctors Without Borders fundraiser on her blog.

Don't forget to hit save! Check out Robert Lee Brewer's tips for avoiding computer-related writing disaster on his blog My Name Is Not Bob.

Via the SCBWI Expression newsletter, a BoingBoing post on what it's like on the inside of James Frey's YA novel assembly line. Plus, an article about series books and the YA-oriented book packaging industry. Very revealing. And makes me so glad I'm not working in marketing any more.

Get this... Martin Scorsese's next film is...wait for it...The Invention of Hugo Cabret. We love that book here at FW, and all we can say is, he'd better do it justice. Yeah, Jude Law, you heard me. You too, Ben Kingsley and Sacha Baron Cohen. (Jeez, is there anybody NOT in this movie? Besides Charlie Sheen?)

This week on Guys Lit Wire: flying men and Floating Islands; Tim Powers blends beer, Arthurian lore, and magic; and flaming guitars a la Chris Barton.

Lastly, Patricia McKillip!! How much do I wish I could go to Norwescon next month? Unfortunately, I have plans already that weekend, plus my conference budget for this year is already spoken for, but maybe some other year...

Enjoy the weekend!

(It's AF's day to post, but I'm stealing her spot. Briefly.)

Earlier this year, I had a post all ready to go for when AF's book was published. I had quotes. I had balloons. I had confetti. I also had the publishing world, which never seems to stick to a hard/fast date for publication. People were squealing about their bookstore copies before she'd even had her official book launch.

I couldn't figure out when to make a fuss then, but heck, I always know when it's her birthday!

Many happy returns of the day, chick!

I kind of couldn't resist this little .jpg - I mean, how often does one have a birthday girl, leaning her chin on her hands, who could also double as a floating head coming out of the table with a pillow or something behind her? Gotta love it.

March 21, 2011

Monday Review: Matched by Ally Condie

I borrowed a copy of this book from my mom.

Reader Gut Reaction: Though it took a few chapters for this one to catch my interest, once narrator Cassia was presented with her dilemma, it got a lot more riveting. The setting was immediately intriguing to me—sometime in the far future, in a so-called ideal Society that neither acknowledges nor tolerates any independent thought, and leaves no room for nonconformity to its rules. In this Society, young people are Matched with future mates according to genetics and other factors, and Cassia's been matched with her childhood friend Xander...or has she? It's a rather sinister take on the idea of computer-matched dating profiles, made all the more sinister when you find out just how much control the Society has over its citizens.

Concerning Character: At first, Cassia is a character who lives life very much on the surface—just like every other good citizen, she doesn't question anything the Society tells her is right. As such, it was a bit of a challenge to identify with her enough to lose myself in the story, at least in the beginning. However, the author imbues her with relatable feelings of excitement, of attraction, of caring for her family and friends, and that gives the reader something to hold onto. As the book progresses, of course, Cassia begins to question what she's always been told, and her character deepens in a very satisfying way. Though we don't get to know her family very deeply, they are important foils for Cassia's character development, and the two love interests, Xander and Ky, are both appealing enough to give the Peeta-vs.-Gale conundrum a run for its money.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Dystopian fiction about breaking out of an all-seeing, all-controlling system, like Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, the Shadow Children series by Margaret Peterson Haddix, and 1984 by George Orwell.

Themes & Things: Besides the obvious dystopian-connected themes like learning to think for oneself in a society that is constantly telling you what to think, what to eat, how to live, who to marry, and when to die, this book is also a romance that highlights the differences between family love, friendly love and romantic love.

Authorial Asides: This is the first book I've read by Ally Condie, and I was very glad to see that the sequel will be out this November. Besides the MATCHED trilogy, she's written a handful of books for an LDS imprint (including the Yearbook trilogy). Check out the FAQ on her website for the story behind the story, or the author Q&A on the book's Amazon page.

You can find Matched at an independent bookstore near you!

March 20, 2011

Coming Soon to a Cover Near You

"...but with a much more beautiful and white lead character." Um, yeah.
I have no idea where my friend Alex gets these things, but this cracked me up.

March 17, 2011

Toon Thursday: Writer's Trading Cards #2

Before I present you with today's toon, I wanted to let you know about another kidlitosphere effort to help Japan in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami: author Greg Fishbone (whose current book is being published by the fabulous Tu Books) has set up a donation form for those who wish to donate a bookish item for auction.

Yes, that toon means what you probably think it means: more rejection letters in the aquafortis household. It's the writer's recurring tribulation. But hey, I try to channel my aggravation into something at least mildly productive. For more toons, be sure to check the Toon Thursday Archives (and there are plenty more on rejection, let me tell you).

Still, I try to remind myself why I'm doing this, and sometimes that's easier than I think--on Tuesday, during a visit to Balboa High School in San Francisco, a student told me, "Thank you for writing this book." She said it really spoke to her and felt real, and it's moments like that that make everything worth it. EVERYTHING.

March 14, 2011

Cybils Fantasy/Sci-Fi Finalist Roundup, Part II

Welcome to Part II of my roundup of Cybils finalists for teen Fantasy and Sci-Fi. Some of these books were library copies; others were review copies provided by the publishers for judging purposes.

For the official blurb about the winning title, Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry, click here. To read the Round I panel's blurbs about the finalists, click here.

Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry

I am not a huge fan of zombie stories—let me just get that off my chest right now. I've read a few that I've enjoyed, sure, but as a premise, it's not my favorite. Now, I had heard good things about Rot & Ruin ahead of reading it, but still, it's a zombie book, and as such, I wasn't expecting to like it as much as I did. But I did like it. Sure, it was over the top in some ways—really twisted bad guys, a fairly obvious moral message, and a zombie-hunting older brother who's just a little too awesome to be true. But for the most part, the over-the-top-ness worked for the book and gave it a cinematic, "Kill Bill" sort of feel. It was violent and gory in a way that I thought was lurid and dramatic, but not so disgusting as to turn readers off. (Mostly. I can't speak for everyone.)

Although at times it seemed a little forced, I enjoyed watching Benny transition from a more simplistic, black-and-white view of the world to a dawning sense of the complexities of reality. The setting had a rollicking Wild West feel that I ended up enjoying quite a lot. The action and suspense was non-stop, and my heart was literally pounding during the climactic scene. And I loved the diversity aspects, too, namely the fact that Benny and his brother Tom have Japanese heritage. It's nicely done without hitting the reader over the head.

You can find Rot & Ruin at an independent bookstore near you!

Brain Jack by Brian Falkner

I enjoyed Falkner's first book, The Tomorrow Code, so I was excited to read this one and glad it was a finalist. Like his first book, it's very plot-driven, with lots of action and intrigue, though this one's more of a cyberthriller. It's going to be hard to talk about without giving too much away, but let's just say that conspiracies are fun, and the whodunit aspect kept things mysterious. It was a little slow to get started, in my opinion, but the action was very gripping from about the point Sam escapes from juvie onward. And who doesn't love a story about a brilliant teenage hacker getting the opportunity to save the world? (There's definitely a "WarGames" sort of feel to this one, if you've ever seen that movie.) I had a few minor issues with the way it was written—I wished it had been a little more character-driven rather than purely plot-driven, for one, and there was a little too much tech-speak for me (I kept getting distracted thinking more closely about it and wondering how accurate it was)—but it's definitely got a lot of appeal for fans of the spy novel/cyberpunk/action thriller genre. This is another author I'm eager to see more from.

You can find Brain Jack at an independent bookstore near you!

POD by Stephen Wallenfels

This one had some aspects I really loved, and that I think teen readers would love--the alien invasion premise is a lot of fun, and the action and tension are high throughout. We get two very distinct perspectives on the situation between Josh and Megs, learning a lot about both characters as well as the overall invasion while also showing the drastic contrast in their individual situations. They face very different sets of ethical dilemmas in trying to survive, and I'm a sucker for a good, exciting survival story. I also loved watching Megs problem-solve her way out of some VERY scary and dangerous situations, although the bad guys she faced were pretty cheesy, cookie-cutter baddies with a penchant for sounding like 1920s gangsters. One thing I really didn't enjoy (and this is probably just a matter of personal taste) was the use of animals—in both storylines—to manipulate reader emotions. However, like Brain Jack, I think that readers who prefer their books to be action- and plot-driven will enjoy this one. It's a quick read with a very classic sci-fi premise (War of the Worlds, anyone?).

You can find POD at an independent bookstore near you!

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Dystopia fans will not want to miss this one. It's the story of Nailer, a young worker whose job consists of stripping wires out of old, rusting tanker ships beached along the Gulf Coast, and how his life changes forever when he makes an unexpected discovery one day. The setting is compelling, all burned-out husks of ships and drowned buildings. Yet it's conveyed without deluging the reader in too much detail, an aspect of the writing that really impressed me. In fact, the story started off with action, which grabbed me right away. And the tension remained high throughout, which kept me reading. There was a philosophical angle to the story, but it didn't talk down to readers or insult their intelligence by being too "teach-y." The characters were three-dimensional with realistically messy motivations and desires, even the villains, for the most part. It was easy to root for Nailer and get caught up in his saga, and the changes in his character over the course of the story were very satisfying. I also really liked the multicultural (and, indeed, multi-genetic) aspects of the world setting in this one. There were a few common, recognizable fantasy tropes at work, which might make the plot predictable for some, but I didn't find them bothersome—in fact, for me, they tied everything together very tightly and gave Nailer's story a sort of quest-like inevitability. I very much hope to read a sequel.

You can find Ship Breaker at an independent bookstore near you!

March 12, 2011

Dear Writer, With love from 1992

Stuff Arrives 3When you move, do you end up moving boxes that you never unpacked? I do - but only very small ones. I have a box that contains postcards from a friend who spent his gap year in New Zealand the year he recovered from cancer; I have boxes that contain my journals from high school -- not something I have the intestinal fortitude to read too often. Most of my life is organized and at least attempts to be tidy, but there are dusty little boxes which contain who I was, once upon a time, and they're an amusing -- and occasionally horrifying -- time capsule to open.

This morning, I found a note I'd written to someone in college, and never gave them... it's TYPED, double spaced. On a TYPEWRITER (I hated dot matrix printers from their inception, and so loved the print function on my typewriter, that I kept it). It's so ...full of sound and fury and earnestness and meaning(lessness) that I have to share it with you. Remember the YA novel about calling your past self to give yourself advice? This is me contacting my future self with a letter instead.

I'm not sure I achieved what I set out to say -- and, forgive the hyperbole and the dramatic cynicism -- my college years did lend themselves to these things, after all.

It is a struggle to be an artist in a dying world.

It's true, you know; the world is dying by degrees, slowly draining its vital resources into a quagmire of futility. We are going absolutely nowhere fast. How does the artist, he or she who is attuned to beauty and peace and eschews the crude, vulgar, or ugly -- how does one cope in a slowly fading, slightly drooping, silently sliding, swiftly tilting planet?

The answer, I believe, lies in the will to produce. Most artists have a keen drive to leave their mark on the world. In making a place for oneself, one need only to observe, digest, and divulge. Writewritewritewritewrite. Regardless of the fact(s) that upon occasion what one writes is silly drivel, fully useless and quite unreadable; regardless of the fact(s) that the world is an ecologically unsound, biologically unstable and horrendously evil, look. Look at it. Look at it and live... not because of it, certainly not through it...merely live.

I wish I could teach you to feel. At time it appears that there is too much to feel, too many swirling emotions that envelop one like a fog. We are taught not to feel, not to give in to the madness. But,

if you let it take you, if you let yourself go and ride the avalanche, will learn to gently break your fall. Yes, you'll cry a lot, yes you will be enraged at the apparent callousness and stupidity of the world at large...

but you will feel. and you will write.

i promise.

The artist, I have since learned, does not, in fact, eschew the "the crude, vulgar, or ugly," because those things, too, are a part of life, like it or not. But, there is some truth there... I was fumbling my way towards some major epiphanies. (Emphasis on fumbling.)

What's a relic from your young adulthood that you've run across lately?

March 11, 2011

Writers and Bloggers Are Stepping Up help those affected by the recent earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan.

Via Galleycat, author Maureen Johnson has launched an online fundraiser with Shelterbox to help out earthquake victims in Japan, similar to the one that she organized for New Zealand. Check out the details here on Maureen's blog.

Zoe Toft of the Playing by the Book blog, and Bronwyn of the fabulously-named blog Day 1 Every Pen In The House Ran Out Of Ink have organized an effort to personally help families in Christchurch in need of books in the wake of the earthquake there. Click here to find out how you can help.

March 10, 2011

Cybils Fantasy/Sci-Fi Finalist Roundup, Part I

Without getting too detailed, I wanted to give my rather belated impressions of the Cybils finalists for teen Fantasy and Sci-Fi this year, now that we Round II panelists have been released from our vow of silence. Some of these books were library copies; others were review copies provided by the publishers for judging purposes. Tune in Monday for Part II.

For the official blurb about the winning title, Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry, click here. To read the Round I panel's blurbs about the finalists, click here.

Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey

Of all the finalists, I think this was the one my teenage self would have enjoyed the most. It's a story that includes traditional mythological figures from the Maori of New Zealand and brings them literally alive in the modern world. And they're not just beautiful, these faery-like creatures—they're dangerous. As a teen reader, I loved books about mythological or legendary beings actually being alive in our world—I was a huge Charles De Lint fan, to name just one example. I also like learning about new traditions that I don't know much about.

The main character Ellie was very relatable and normal, but also someone who came into her own strengths over the course of the story. From time to time, her tallness/size felt a little overemphasized to me, as if the author was working hard to make sure Ellie wasn't superhuman by focusing on the things that make her insecure. On the other hand, her insecurity did strike me as realistic, and I really did like that the message was that you don't have to fit what society says is beautiful in order to be attractive. It's a message that could have come across as heavy-handed, but it didn't here. All in all, I really enjoyed this one.

You can find Guardian of the Dead at an independent bookstore near you!

The Wager by Donna Jo Napoli

This one is a retelling of a little-known but fascinating Sicilian folktale, and you all know I loves me some fairy tale and folktale retellings. Plus, it's a story about making a deal with the devil. How fun is that? However, despite the engaging premise, I found this one a little slow to get going. Once the plot picked up, though, the pace was more satisfying and I was more absorbed by the quest of Don Giovanni to get his old life back. There are plenty of gory details about living in destitution in the wilderness, and his treatment by those he formerly looked down upon was appropriately nasty and very much in the tradition of classic folktales. In the process of satisfying the terms of the devil's wager, he deepens as a person and as a character, and there's a rather delightful twist at the end in which he discovers that not everything is as it seems. Nevertheless, I found Don Giovanni to be more of an allegorical type rather than a fully-realized character, and that kept me at more of a distance than I usually like.

You can find The Wager at an independent bookstore near you!

Plain Kate by Erin Bow

I want to start off with this one by saying that I loved the writing in this book. It was absolutely beautiful in places--simple and profound. This story, too, has many of the characteristics of a retold fairy tale—the orphaned Kate must go forth into the world to discover her extraordinary destiny beyond simply being a talented wood carver. However, the fact that the book also defies some expectations, while still remaining firmly in the fantasy tradition in other ways, was something I enjoyed. For instance, Kate's story is more about survival and endurance than "adventure." It's not a straightforward quest, though she does ultimately end up with a very important task to fulfill. Fortunately, she's not alone—she has the companionship of Taggle, a talking cat who ends up being a very appealing and well-rounded character in his own right with an important role in the story.

I'm not afraid to say that the ending of the book is gut-wrenching and made me cry, although I wish it had resolved a few more threads than it did. I also wish Kate had been a bit less passive--a lot happens TO her, and she's constantly at the mercy of other, more powerful forces. However, it does fit with the grimness of the tale and of the setting. I look forward to reading more from this author.

You can find Plain Kate at an independent bookstore near you!

March 08, 2011

Just South of Narnia, and Northeast of Where The Wild Things Are...

Artist Dan Meth, he of the Pop Cultural Charts that occasionally show up all over "teh interwebs" has put Wonderland on the map -- literally!

Check us out:

You'll want to click through and be amused by the other Pop Cultural Charts -- I like the fictional movie timeline, myself.

Happy Tuesday!

Via or mental_floss, can't remember which.

@ the Reading Tub for Share a Story, Shape a Future

Usually I'm really bad about being part of blog carnivals and the like, but I've really loved the idea of Share a Story, Shape a Future, despite it seeming to be more for the wee readers than YA. Well, I was asked, by Terry Doherty of The Reading Tub to be more than a lurker this year, and took part in a round table discussion with Terry, author Mitali Perkins, and Hannah Ehrlich of Lee and Low Books. Mitali always speaks so passionately and convincingly about issues for children of different cultures, but it was a real joy to get to chat with Hannah -- she has a new word for us to replace the shopworn "multicultural" -- diverse. Yeah, it seems an OBVIOUS one, but seriously, it works.

"To me the word diverse is just a little more inclusive: it encompasses race, culture, religion, class, etc. And I think it has a less academic tinge to it. Sometimes I see the word multicultural turning people off because the word implies that a book is an issues book, or that it should be used during Black History Month or something instead of when you’re just curled up on the couch reading for fun."

This paralleled in my brain with the latest piece on Diversity in YA -- author Cris Beam pitched I am J to her editor and had the editor complain that the transgender character had too many "issues." Being Puerto Rican was one of the issues.

Oh, dear God, may we someday get to the place where all of who we are is NOT SEEN ONLY AS A PROBLEM FOR SOMEONE ELSE.

/ranty prayer


Please do come by and see what we're chatting about, read my longwinded responses (thank you, Terry, for editing me), and add your voice @ The Reading Tub.

March 07, 2011

Monday Madness: The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith

I checked out a copy of this book from the library.

Reader Gut Reaction: Gripping, nonstop suspense and action—that would be my initial characterization of the book. At the same time, it's about what happens inside one's mind as well as out "in the world"--or, in this case, in two worlds. It's at once a story about post-traumatic stress and an action-packed fantasy/sci-fi adventure. I envy the author's ability to weave these two elements together without neglecting either one.

Concerning Character: It's more than easy to get drawn into the story of Jack, the narrator, since the story begins with his kidnapping. You'd think things couldn't really get worse, but somehow, they do, when he's given access to the world of Marbury thanks to a pair of strange glasses. When he looks through them, suddenly he's in a different place. A dubious gift, to say the least, since Marbury is not a nice place. Good things happen to Jack, too, like meeting Nickie, but the complexity and weirdness of his situation puts his existing friendships and his potential romance at risk. It's a very well-rounded story—the author doesn't miss a detail (that I could tell) when it comes to exploring Jack's increasingly bizarre world.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Books that plumb the dark depths of human nature and deal with the testing of physical and mental limits, like Patrick Ness's Chaos Walking trilogy. Books about alternate worlds that might or not be real, like Libba Bray's Going Bovine.

Themes & Things: As I just mentioned, this book does not shy away from difficult subjects. Kidnapping. Abuse. The various ways that the human body and mind can be tested to its desperate limits, whether through mental trauma or physical strain. The meaning of friendship, and how far you can stretch that bond until it breaks. What makes a man into a monster, both literally and symbolically. It's a very scary book, but not just because of the visceral horrific details—it's also frightening because of the way it makes the reader question whether we'd do just as Jack did if we were in the same situation.

Authorial Asides: A few miscellanea: I love the hardcover art—it's very steampunk, even if the book itself isn't. I am also a sucker for books that weave fantasy and reality and make you question what might be real—especially if, like in this book, there are hints to connect the two and make you try to guess just how the two worlds relate. Lastly, I believe that there is room for a sequel...which would make me very happy.

You can visit Andrew Smith online at his blog, Ghost Medicine, or follow him on Twitter.

You can find The Marbury Lens at an independent bookstore near you!

March 05, 2011

Cowboy UP! Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri

Reader Gut Reaction: Once Upon a Time (and I have told you this story before, yes) I was kind of a cowgirl. I worked at a summer camp from the time I was sixteen, for six awesome years. I had the boots. I had the curry comb. I had the hoof pick, -- and the shovel. I knew how to use them all. I bucked hay bales. I had that squinty-eyed look you get from not wearing sunglasses, but wearing a hat to shade your eyes. I smelled like horse for part of each summer, eleven weeks a year.

It wasn't enough. I started working weekends and winters at the camp when it was more of a dude ranch and convention center. I didn't get to ride much, but I got to be there while others did. I hung with the boys and chewed on wooden matchsticks.

No, seriously: I did. For years that was part of my 'tude. (Oh, stop laughing. I thought seriously about going Goth right after that.)

But, then, I started to feel slightly silly about it. I mean, come on. I'm an African American. I don't even really think I like Charlie Pride. And, there's no such things as black cowgirl and cowboys... right?

Well, wrong. Once upon a time? That's about all there were...

Gut reaction? G. Neri makes me want to get out my kickers, cowgirl up, and ride.

Concerning Character: Coltrane is quote possibly the BEST boy's name, ever, and though he is indeed a little punk when the story begins, he's mostly a scared punk who knows he's finally screwed up so badly his Mom is through with him. That's a terrifying feeling, and in his fear and insecurity, he kind of grows on you - and turns out to be lovable, with a smart mouth. Harper, the horse-loving father he ends up with, is also in a bad spot -- pissed off and scared of dealing with his kid, yeah, but there's other stuff going on, too, stuff that threatens to end the way of life he loves. But, he deals. That's the Cowboy Way.

Recommended for Fans Of...: You know what? There's about NOTHING that compares to this book - because it's a modern story pairing black people with horses, and we just don't get those! (PLEASE, if you can think of a book or two, speak!) However, two other middle grade novels come to mind - The Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones, by Helen Hemphill, and of course, the CSK Award winner in 2010, Vaunda Micheaux Nelson's Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal. (Photo credit: Author G. Neri with ARC of his book, from his blog.)

Themes & Things: I very much love G.Neri’s dedication in this novel- Rise Up,and Ride On. Seriously, In rodeo parlance, that’s what this novel is about: cowboy up and ride, don’t lie there and bleed. Rising above the crap in a life – be that poverty and a bad school experience, a run-down, gangster-ridden neighborhood, divorced parents, or whatever –and riding on, getting above the whole experience, and knowing that the higher you are, the further you can see, and that there’s more to life -- that’s the theme. The Cowboy Way is to get up and deal, and to move on.

And all of that profoundness is wrapped in a funny, sad, tragic, wry, and very real story.

Authorial Asides: One of the BEST surprise of the book for me were the illustrations -- Jesse Joshua Watson (illustrator also of G. Neri's Chess Rumble and the breathtaking I and I, by Tony Medina) really makes the imagination sing. Also, the Life Magazine cover photograph at the conclusion brought me joy. There ARE real black cowboys, and G. Neri got to hang with them and ask questions.

That is just too cool.
Get your boots on, boys and girls, and be who you think you are.

And now here's the part where you'll want to slap me: I read this book as an ARC on NetGalley, with an invitation from Candlewick Press... aaaand, it's not going to be out until August 9th. BUT! that's just in time for a back-to-school giftie, right? Don't cry, now, please?? It's coming. In August, you'll find GHETTO COWBOY at an independent bookstore near you!

March 03, 2011

Toon Thursday: The Return of Celebrity Death Match

Of course, it's the return of CHILDREN'S BOOK Celebrity Death Match. As such, I present to you the following extra-special PSEUDONYM EDITION:

 Mwahahaha. My money's on Mr. Snicket.

March 02, 2011

Rarest of the rare...

Don't miss YA speculative fiction author Dia Reeves' comments on Diversity in YA Fiction -- to wit:
The reason I think there are so few of us is because, for black authors, if you want to be taken seriously, you gotta write issue novels. If you write a story about slavery or civil rights or being oppressed in the ghetto or (if you’re really daring) being oppressed in the suburbs, then people will love you and give you prestigious awards and breakdance when you walk down the street.

You know you want to go and read the rest.

If you missed Reeves' interview on The Brown Bookshelf this month, the archives still stand. Check her out.

O, happy thought! The Half Continent remains. From the Monster-Blood blog:"there has been A LOT of good work going on for the next Half-Continent story (rather than the much anticipated Harlequin romance set in outback Australia... sorry about that folks, I know you were all longing for it so :) - a synopsis written, various passages penned and muchas muchas muchas research and invention going on."

Okay, actually? I wanna hear more about that Harlequin...

Meanwhile, UK author Malorie Blackman reads an excerpt from Boys Don't Cry,, her latest, and answers young readers' questions. The podcast is fifteen minutes long, but it flies past - I love her reading voice.