May 30, 2011

Monday Review: EXCLUSIVELY CHLOE by J.A. Yang

Today's review covers another book whose author I got to see speak at the Diversity in YA tour a few weeks ago. (You know we like to promote diversity in YA here at FW!) I checked out a copy of this book from the library.

Reader Gut Reaction: Let me start by saying this book was not necessarily my type of reading, but it IS a book that my junior-high-aged, Sweet-Valley-High-devouring younger self would have enjoyed: it's got a poor little rich girl with a heart of gold, plenty of Hollywood glitz to make you feel like you've got a window onto the rich and fabulous, and a plot packed with friend hijinks, family drama and even romance. And it has a multicultural angle to boot.

My older self has evidently become a tiresome cynic with less patience for improbable plot developments and happily-ever-after endings (which this book also has) but I really thought the premise of this book was appealing—Chloe-Grace Star, the narrator, was adopted as a baby from China by her actress mother and aging rock star dad. Now that she's in high school, she's starting to explore who she really is and wonder where she came from, prompted in no small part by her parents' impending divorce and the subsequent tabloid extravaganza.

Concerning Character: Chloe-Grace is, in many ways, just a regular girl...who just happens to be uber-rich and famous. She attends a high school for the children of privilege, and her friends are similarly fabulous. She takes a lot of this for granted until she finds out (in the worst way possible) that her parents are about to split. The fact that her life is turned upside down does a lot to humanize her, which is important with a character that isn't necessarily one the reader will relate to directly. After all, how many of us can just drop beaucoup bucks on an emerald charm bracelet from Cartier just as a comfort purchase?

Still, Chloe is someone who will definitely generate vicarious enjoyment in a lot of readers, though, and not just because of the wish-fulfillment fantasy of being a wealthy celeb. It's because she IS ultimately relatable. She wants love; she wants to be important in her parents' lives; she really is sincere and tries hard to be a good friend. It was a little less satisfying for me, personally, that solutions to her problems seemed to come relatively easily, and that there was a fairly wide cast of side characters who seemed ready to jump at the chance to help her out. (Hence my comment about improbable plot developments.) But the book is fun, no doubt about that.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Series fiction like Gossip Girl or Sweet Valley High. Stories about what it means to grow up Asian-American. Books about what it's like to be the child of a celebrity when you're trying to figure out who you are as an individual, like Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee.

Themes & Things: The definition of real friendship is a strong theme in this book—as is the idea that you can have different types of friendships with different people. The meaning of family is also important here, as Chloe explores her feelings about her biological versus her adoptive family. She never has doubts that her adoptive parents are her parents, and so she approaches the search for her biological parents with a reasonably healthy attitude, simply wanting to know more about where she comes from. Lastly, a major thrust of the story is figuring out who you are as an individual apart from your family or your friends—and the fact that such an endeavor is healthy and fulfilling.

Authorial Asides: Take a look at our post about the kickoff of the Diversity in YA tour, where J.A. Yang was one of the speakers. Also, don't miss his author website and the story of his unusual journey to becoming a writer—and what I'd call a Latte-Rebellion-worthy author photo.

You can find Exclusively Chloe at an independent bookstore near you!

May 28, 2011

Just A Thought...

"It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat." -- Teddy Roosevelt

...Listen to the never haves,
Then listen close to me:
Anything can happen, child,
Anything can be.
- Shel Silverstein

Cheers to all the "anything" that can happen.
Happy Wednesday WEEKEND.

May 26, 2011

Thursday Review: LEVEL UP by Gene Luen Yang

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher, First Second.

Here at FW, we've been a fan of Gene Yang for a long time, and we've loved reading his graphic novels, both the ones produced solely by him as well as the ones in which he collaborated with fellow writers and artists. In this latest work, artist Thien Pham does the visuals.

Reader Gut Reaction: Level Up is a pensive yet also humorous look at the rather confusing life of Dennis Ouyang, a young man who gives up video games and succumbs to the pressure to become a gastroenterologist. Who's pressuring him? Well, it WAS his father, but his father's passed away. Now, there's this rather pesky quartet of guardian angels ensuring that Dennis sticks to his father's wishes. It's a cute, funny premise, and the driving theme will be familiar to anyone who's ever felt parental pressure to enter a career. I know I got a lot of the be-a-doctor spiel while I was growing up, so I felt for Dennis. Besides the charming story (and a rather thoughtful, unexpected ending), I loved the formatting of this book, too—not just the Gameboy-esque cover, but also the video game screens that preceded each section of the story.

Concerning Character: Dennis is pretty easy to relate to if you grew up as part of a videogame-playing generation. At a certain point, people start to expect you to put aside your childish things and just be a grown-up. (I say THPPT to that, but anyway.) And so it is with Dennis, who adores videogames but also wants to be a good son and please his mother and late father. He's not entirely successful at first, clutching at his games like an addict to a crack pipe (or so I imagine). But then four helpful, terribly cute and unavoidably annoying guardian angels come along and kick his butt back on track.

The side characters are nicely realized here, sketched in quickly and clearly, from Dennis's family members to his friends in medical school. And I'd also like to point out something I particularly liked about the artwork: we know Dennis and his family are Asian, we can assume his friends Takeem and Ipsha are South Asian, and Hector Martinez is Latino—but visually speaking, the art doesn't beat us over the head with that. What I guess I'm trying to say is that the individual characters show differentiation and individuality without ever straying into visual ethnic stereotypes. All of them are rendered in an equally minimal, charming and cartoony style.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Other graphic novels that explore identity issues and discovering who you really are inside, like the work of Hope Larson, Kevin Pyle, Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki, and Jessica Abel. Authors who explore what it means to grow up Asian-American, like Lisa Yee, Justina Chen and Neesha Meminger.

Themes & Things: I like the fact that one of the driving themes of this book is the idea that for some of us, it takes a long time to figure out what you really want to do with your life, as you navigate your own predilections, assumptions and other baggage as well as outside pressures. And it's not always a smooth or direct road.

Authorial Asides: Read our Summer Blog Blast Tour interview with Gene Yang after the publication of American Born Chinese, and check out our recap of the kickoff of the Diversity in YA tour, at which Aquafortis got to meet Mr. Yang and be an awkward fangirl. You can also read our reviews of American Born Chinese, The Eternal Smile, and Prime Baby.

You can find Level Up at an independent bookstore near you!

May 25, 2011

Turning Pages: The Atomic Weight of Secrets

I have to admit that I like titles which are long and involved, and contain the word "or." The full title of today's review is The Atomic Weight of Secrets, or The Arrival of the Mysterious Men in Black by Eden Unger Bowditch, and it's Book 1 in the Young Inventor's Guild series. The title is the first hint that this book isn't the run of the mill middle grade story. The second hint is that it's a story wherein everyone is kidnapped -- or abandoned -- and it's not clear exactly just who has been kidnapped or abandoned. Further, it quickly becomes clear that no one knows why.

Confused yet? The reader isn't confused -- that's the amazing thing. It's clearly spelled out that Some Stuff Is Going On, Who Knows What. What isn't quite so quickly revealed is the answer to any of the above "stuff" questions. The novel ends with some pieces left dangling -- but readers are left with the sense of "and then what happened?" instead of utter frustration, so it's a mild cliffhanger, which will help readers continue to want to read.

Here's the basic storyline: Five children: Jasper Modest, his small sister, Lucy; Wallace Banneker, Faye Vigyanveta and Noah Canto-Sagas -- are all unique, in their interests and skills and places of birth, but all the same, in that they're all brilliant and accomplished children who have had their lives disrupted. Their parents are gone, working hard on... something, and Mysterious Men in Black -- well, maybe men, who can tell from their weird outfits and big hats and glasses? -- have come in their place, and taken their parents away.

Now the five children are largely on their own.

Reader Gut Reaction: A cool premise, yes? Kid vs. World is always awesome. The novel has an old-fashioned feel, as it is set in the early 1900's, and has a sort of steampunk vibe going. It opens slowly, and spends a great deal of time discussing characters, and where each of them have come from. This was necessary, but the placement of the backstory really took away a lot of the novel's momentum for me.

The Mysterious Men in Black are über mysterious -- and oddly powerful for men who dress in bunny costumes and the like. It's difficult to understand why only one child tries to escape from them, and no one rebels against being left behind. They only weep... politely, or become slightly snarky. Though the children are a product of the early 20th century, it's still hard to see that any kid would be so polite!

The children are all the offspring of scientists and engineers, so tinkering and labs are part of what the children recognize as normal, and some of what they enjoy doing for fun. And their exile IS fun -- they have soft beds, yummy food, lovely nannies and a very kind teacher -- but the facts remain: Five children were still taken away from their homes and their parents and put in a boarding school and are not being allowed to see or hear from their parents. Fake letters have been sent, fake crumples have been made in bedclothes. Their parents are not there. The Men in Black ARE there -- and they are patrolling and spying and watching.

It seems that the children are in danger. But from whom? And ... WHY?

Recommended for Fans Of...: Those who appreciate a slow, thoughtful tale with clues and ambiguity will like this series -- think The View from Saturday, which people either really loved, or really hated. It compares well to more straight mystery, like The Mysterious Benedict Society or The Westing Game as well.

So. There you have it. A rich and complex, ambitious and nuanced middle grade mystery novel. It doesn't reach all of its goals in terms of a story arc -- its slow pace in the opening chapters somewhat dragged, and I found myself sometimes desperately wanting a few more concrete answers than I was given in terms of the "mysterious mysteries," -- but opening the book is like entering into another world. This novel transports the reader, which makes the novel perfect for a dreary Sunday afternoon. Who are the Mysterious Men in Black? Who knows... but for now, open the book, and take the first steps on a journey to find out.

Dear FCC: I read this book by invitation of the publisher, Bancroft Press, via NetGalley.

You can find THE ATOMIC WEIGHT OF SECRETS, OR, THE ARRIVAL OF THE MYSTERIOUS MEN IN BLACK at an independent bookstore near you!

May 21, 2011

CDC Silliness

Of course the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta is ready for the Zombie Apocalypse. Did you ever doubt!?

Sadly, a search on the word "unicorn" finds them woefully unprepared for that bloodthirsty equine evil...

May 19, 2011

Random Bits and Pieces, and a Toon From Elsewhere

Quick--just quick--go over to Guys Lit Wire and check out how THRILLED the librarian of Ballou Sr. High School is at the generosity of bloggers and supporters of this year's book fair. You still have today and tomorrow to donate, so if you haven't yet, PLEASE consider doing so. This year can be a sellout, too.

It's still May, and still Mental Health Month. Have you checked out Reach Out Reads yet? Besides their really thoughtful booklist of YA reads addressing various mental health topics, they've still got some great author chats lined up for the next few days, including Michael Northrop and Blake Nelson, in partnership with the Readergirlz. Tanita and I have been working on our own humble contribution to Mental Health Month, too--Erika's List, a small but growing lineup of our favorite YA books that deal with mental illness. The list was compiled in honor of Erika's open letter to the coach of the Waunakee Wisconsin High School cheer squad, and includes links to our reviews of the titles, where available. Immense thanks to all the YA authors and blog readers who suggested titles for the list.

Because I hate to leave you without a toon of some kind on Thursday, go check out Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal from the other day. OK, so it's got little to do with writing per se, but it's funny, particularly if you've ever seen the British comedy The IT Crowd, or have ever had a frustrating experience with tech support. "Please have your man-servant cease cranking the mill, then commence cranking once again." HA! Thanks to Sian Jones for the tip.

May 17, 2011

Book Fair Winds Down--Have You Donated Yet?

The Guys Lit Wire Book Fair for Ballou Sr. High School in Washington, D.C. is winding to a close this week, but there's still time to donate to this fantastic cause. Due to problems with blogger last week, the fair has been extended through Friday, May 20th. So if you've been waiting 'til the last minute, you're not out of luck yet.

The school library had fewer than one book per student. That's unconscionable. Go watch the video if you need more proof. And then go donate. We're hoping to hit 900 books donated by the end of the week--check out the great titles that still haven't been purchased. Even if you can only donate one or two, EVERY little bit helps. And every donor gets props on the Guys Lit Wire site.

Please help spread the word if you can, too. Last year we got the Neil Gaiman Bump on Twitter, but this year we seem to be on our own again, so if you know anyone who might be willing to buy a book, send them over to Guys Lit Wire. Books are purchased via a Powell's Books wishlist, so we're even supporting indie booksellers in the process.

May 16, 2011

Monday Review: BLACK HOLE SUN by David Macinnis Gill

I checked this book out at my library.

Reader Gut Reaction: After the zany ride that was David Macinnis Gill's first novel, Soul Enchilada, I wasn't sure what to expect from Black Hole Sun. But I figured, I'm a fan of the song of the same title, so I was already positively inclined before even reading page one. This time, the author forays into science fiction, namely a sort of dystopian/post-apocalyptic Mars. Narrator Durango leads a mercenary platoon-for-hire, a motley band of misfits with, of course, hearts of gold (and, in Durango's case, an extra AI named Mimi implanted in his brain). The story is action-packed, full of snappy dialogue, and sure to satisfy hard SF fans.

However, a nit-pick, if you'll allow it. I couldn't help noticing that the timestamp on the chapter headings reset to zero at some point and was zeroed out for each chapter thereafter. I don't think that was deliberate. I suppose I only noticed because I like to read that stuff, and to have a sense of the story's timeline as it moves forward.

Concerning Character: Durango is a fun character to follow, as we gradually discover his unusual backstory and the various skeletons in his closet. The author does a nice job of developing the character of the protagonist and revealing more and more about him without skimping on action and forward movement. The side characters are mostly foils for Durango, providing a few obstacles and a liberal dose of humor and comic relief—except for his second-in-command, the dangerously hot Vienne, and his AI implant Mimi, who has a whole backstory of her own.

Recommended for Fans Of...: If you liked the TV series Firefly, you might like the feel of this one—like that show, this book provides a backdrop where anything and everything crazy might happen, out at the frontiers of human space settlement. It may also appeal to fans of other space sci-fi with YA appeal, like John Scalzi's Old Man's War books and Across the Universe by Beth Revis (reviewed here), and fans of humor-infused Mars sci-fi series The Company by Kage Baker.

Themes & Things: Durango's struggle against the pressures of family loyalty versus the need to do what's right and follow the Regulator principles he believes in makes him a layered character, and his internal conflict informs the story throughout. The book also poses the question, are all bets really off, even when you live in a wild and out-of-control society? What about your innermost ethics? We find out what Durango's made of when his limits are tested in a variety of ways, on a foolhardy mission that seems doomed to fail.

Authorial Asides: You can follow David Macinnis Gill on Twitter at His official website is And, hey, one more thing—it sounds suspiciously like his next book, Invisible Sun, might be a sequel (and it echoes ANOTHER great song in its title, thus guaranteeing that I will need to read it).

You can find Black Hole Sun at an independent bookstore near you!

May 13, 2011

Getting My Geek On (Reprise)

CURSE Blogger!Lost my original SCHEDULED post. Grr.

These posters are SO COOL. 40's style and color palette makes them look perfectly legitimate as 40's WPA posters, but the faces - the helmets - and the like just make me laugh. Check out the rest of them. Via The Mary Sue.

Soo, when was the last time you were Hermione Granger? I was Dumbledore just last week...

According to a study out of the University of Buffalo, you are what you read... in fantasy, anyway. "Becoming a Vampire Without Being Bitten: The Narrative Collective Assimilation Hypothesis," published in the current issue journal Psychological Science, presents research supporting the authors' hypothesis that by absorbing narratives, we can psychologically become a member of the group of characters described therein, a process that makes us feel connected to those characters and their social world.

Thus says the article, anyway; the heads-up courtesy of Tasha over at Waking Brain Cells. The jury is still out as to whether or not I've ever been Edward -- but I'm pretty sure the answer there is NO.

OH, my word. Subterranean Press put out a summer YA edition of their magazine. You probably knew that. Gwenda Bond did an awesome editing job, and wrote a witty introduction. You knew that, too. But did you read the freebies online? And that story by Sarah Rees Brennan? IT IS STILL HAUNTING ME. I dreamed about it. My heart got twinges. If you haven't taken a moment to read it, GO.

Also, if you're needing a little hit of Nick and Jamie and the gang, Ms. Brennan put up a short story in the Demon's Lexicon/Covenant world... starting here, and going on to the next day. Peek:

“Pardon me,” Jamie said. “Something happens to make my life miserable and I automatically think of you. It’s like Pavlov’s dog and the bell.”

“Sorry, I don’t know Pavlov,” Tim said. “Is he in, like, the year above?”

“I don’t think so,” said Erica. “I’m pretty sure I’d know him then.”

Bwa-hahahahah! Yes, go read.

May 12, 2011

Toon Thursday: More Writing Life

I apologize for today's Toon Thursday being a rerun, but I am currently away from my desk enjoying a few days in a nice cabin with the Mr. in celebration of our 10-year wedding anniversary. I promise the next installment of TT, two weeks from now, will be shiny and brand new! In the meantime, please to enjoy this old fave which I've dusted off especially for you.

As always, Toon Thursday is © Sarah J. Stevenson and Finding Wonderland. Just in case you forgot. Please no reprints without permission. Except for me. I can reprint it whenever I want, THHHPPPPTT. :P

May 10, 2011

"You Know, I Wish They'd Get Over Me."

XKCD makes me happy. (Click to embiggen the cartoon.)

May 8th was the 100th celebration of International Woman's Day. The Guardian newspaper put out a list of the top 100 women from around the globe, and while Marie Curie would indeed be on that list of science and technology chicks were she alive... she didn't make the cut this year.

Here are some actual folk who SHOULD make the list:

Jacqueline Barton – Born in USA, 1952 -

Jacqueline Barton probes DNA with electrons. The electrons are shot through the DNA and custom built molecules direct the electrical currents. This allows for the location of genes to be determined and to see their arrangement as well as to scan for damage. These techniques have the potential to result in new techniques to diagnose diseases and treat them through direct DNA repair.

She co-founded GeneOhm Sciences in 2001 which became part of Becton, Dickinson and Company in 2006.

Ruth Benerito – Born in USA, 1916

The 1930s and 1940s saw the invention of synthetic fibers like nylon and polyester. Suddenly, clothes no longer needed ironing or pressing. Cotton farmers started to worry. Despite cotton feeling more comfortable and cooler against the skin, people were chasing clothes made from the new low maintenance fabrics.

Ruth Benerito developed a method for creating cotton that was wrinkle resistant. The technique also made the cotton flame resistant and stain resistant.

Ruth Erica Benesch – Born in Paris, 1925-2000

Ruth Erica Benesch together with her husband Reinhold Benesch, (1919-1986) found the mechanism of hemoglobin releasing its oxygen as it travels throughout the body. It turned out that the build up of carbon dioxide signals to a hemoglobin molecule that a cell has used up available oxygen and needs another supply. This ensures that oxygen is released to where it is needed most in the body.

Carolyn Bertozzi – Born in USA, 1966 -

Carolyn Bertozzi has helped design artificial bones that mimic the chemistry of real bones. This reduces the risk of reactions or rejections. She has also helped develop contact lenses which are eyeball friendly as the materials that go into them resemble the surface of the eye.

Hawa Abdi - born in Mogadishu, 1947

Hawa Abdi, one of Somalia's first female gynecologist, in 1983 opened a small clinic for women and children on her family farm. When the country descended into civil war in 1991 she opened the clinic to all and now the camp near Mogadishu is home to around 90,000 people, mostly displaced women and children seeking refuge and treatment for everything from war injuries to malnutrition and disease.

When Islamic militants invaded the camp, they took Abdi hostage for a week, saying women should not be allowed to be in control of such a place. "I may be a woman, but I'm a doctor," she said. "What have you done for society? Glamour Magazine named the good doctor and her two daughters women of the year in 2010, describing the doctor as "equal parts Mother Theresa and Rambo."

Look for more women on the full Guardian list.

It's true that we tend to lean heavily on history, in terms of trying to find heroines in science and math for students. Please, don't make the zombie formerly known as Marie Curie get up yet again... here's to modern women in science and technology.

May 09, 2011

Diversity in YA Kicks Off Tour at SFPL

...and I was there to witness it! If you don't know Diversity in YA, I highly suggest a visit to their website. It's an endeavor that celebrates and spreads the word about diversity in books for young people, founded by authors Malinda Lo and Cindy Pon.

The first tour stop, this past Saturday, included both of the aforementioned ladies of YA, as well as graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang (interviewed by us here some years ago) and author J.A. Yang (Exclusively Chloe). For a few more photos and a short recap of the wonderful sponsors, check out the DIYA website. (Sadly, since I was sitting on the very end of the front row, I am not pictured in the photo of the gratifyingly large audience, but I assure you I was there.)

Here are a few favorite highlights from the panel:
  • After each author introduced their work and read a short passage, the moderator asked the panelists when they first started to think about writing YA with Asian-American characters. This prompted some fascinating replies. Cindy Pon said that for years she didn't think about writing a character like herself because she'd never read any books with characters like herself. John (J.A.) Yang said that when he was young he sought out books as unlike his own experience as possible.

    Malinda Lo said that when she was growing up in Colorado, she was only one of a few Asians at her school. One day a teacher gave her Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior to read, but she couldn't relate to it at all. Nevertheless, it prompted a major realization about the way people viewed her. It wasn't until college that Malinda learned more about what it was like to be Asian American, and Huntress is her first book with deliberate Asian influences.

    Gene Yang said that as a young person, he didn't remember reading any books with Asian protagonists, and it wasn't until college that he started to use Asian-American characters in his comics. Gene went on to describe Superman as a great metaphor for being Asian American, as a character who negotiates two identities (and the extended metaphor was hilarious—down to Superman having two names, one Anglo name and one traditional name, complete with hyphen).

  • There was a fascinating discussion of the idea of authenticity, and feeling authoritative enough to write something about a character very different from oneself. After all, there are many, many facets to the Asian American experience. Malinda said that she felt she could "fudge" things more in fantasy novels. With more seriousness, she went on to point out that "authenticity is situational"--as writers, all we can do is think through our choices the best we can.

  • On coverfail: there was some discussion of the newly recast covers of Cindy Pon's books, which have a decidedly less Asian feel, and about what types of covers sell more books. Cindy was not sure whether the new covers were in fact helping sell more books. The conversation turned a bit more tongue-in-cheek after that, with Malinda pointing out that "abs sell really well" on covers. Gene Yang suggested that perhaps the best-selling cover of all would feature werewolf abs. John concluded that discussion on a more thoughtful note, bringing up the role of bloggers in the cover discussion, and wondering whether this might eventually lead to more minorities featured on book covers.

All in all, it was a wonderful panel, and I wish I could have stayed for the book signing and refreshments afterward. Still, it was great to meet the panelists (I made sure to show up a little early!) and I'm hopeful that they get as fabulous a turnout at their other tour stops.

I wanted to throw one last question out to any writers reading this post—the same question asked of the panelists: If you write stories with protagonists of color, when did you first think about doing that, and why?

For me, identity has always been an important theme in my writing, including the different factors that constitute identity, such as ethnicity. So it wasn't long after I decided to pursue writing that characters of color started to pop up, sometimes as minor characters and other times in starring roles. But the writing I did when I was younger—when it was still a hobby—had a noticeable lack of diversity, and I assume that's because I was trying to emulate the books I loved to read...many of which did not feature characters of color. (Not that that reflects badly on the books I loved—it's simply a fact.) What about you?

May 06, 2011

Support Mental Health: Grab a Book!

It's been ten fab years since book peeps started this fun celebration of all things comic. Enjoy free comics from some of your fave comic book sources, including Dark Horse, Marvel, and DC -- and comic books like Amazing Spider-Man, Captain America, Thor, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Star Wars: Clone Wars, Green Lantern, The Tick, and others. This giveaway is sponsored in part by the San Diego Comic Con (woot!)

Enter your zip code and find out the comic shop giveaway nearest you.

PSST! How's that mental health? Need to get your hands on a few more books?
Come on, you know you do.
This is the perfect excuse to tell everyone to leave you alone, 'cause you're READING!

That's right! It's almost time for The Sixth Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge!

You know the usual weekend drill: Read and blog for any 48-hour period within the Friday-to-Monday-morning window. Start no sooner than 7:00 a.m. on Friday the third and end no later than 7:00 a.m. Monday the sixth. The top three winners will be based only on time commitment, not number of books.

From site organizer Motherreader:

Two years ago we began to connect the 48HBC to charitable causes, and folks were able to connect their personal readathon to a Greater Good of their choice. While you may continue to select your own charity, I’ll suggest supporting book and literacy projects through Donors Choose, a great resource that connects teachers in need of supplies to donors with funds to give. As an incentive to sign out on the official finish line post, I plan to donate $1 per finishing 48HBC participant to this DC school.

Read all the rules and more from the 48 Hour Book Challenge FAQ Page here.

Are you feeling better?

I know I am, every time I read the long list of readers giving to other readers at Guys Lit Wire. The GLW Book Fair Giveaway, which is in support this year of Ballou High School is moving along at a good clip. Check out the wishlist. There are still needs for things like basic reference books - yes, this is a high school lacking basic reference books - and fun things like classic science fiction. Bring on the Asimov!

Guardian Children's Books features an excellent podcast from Patrick Ness, author of the award-winning Chaos Walking trilogy, wherein he reads from his newest novel, and talks to his kid readers. I love what the Guardian is doing these days with their for kids, by kids book content.

If you'd like to listen to more book talk and stories, The Hazardous Players has another episode up. And , don't forget that's ReachOut Reads is having live chat with authors all this month, too. Check 'em out.

Grab a book, and pass one on. Support happy minds!

May 05, 2011

Getting Poetry and Books into Schools

Those of us who blog in the kidlitosphere can accomplish a lot when we pull together. Need proof? Just check out the status of Greg Pincus's Kickstarter project, Poetry: Spread the Word--there are still 5 days to go on the project, and not only is it fully funded, it's OVERFUNDED. As of the writing of this post, he's got $5,870 in pledges, $870 more than his stated goal of $5,000. All the extra funds go towards additional school visits at no cost to schools, helping Greg bring poetry into classrooms and write original work to be made freely available, all over the course of the next year. In this time of dwindling funds for arts education, that's something to celebrate.

If you want to help, there's still time to contribute--or, if you fancy buying a book instead (or in addition!), why not contribute to this year's Guys Lit Wire Book Fair? It's only been going for a few days, but 150 books have already been bought and sent to Ballou Sr. High School in Washington, D.C.--including Tanita's A La Carte and my own The Latte Rebellion, which makes us jump up and down just a little. :) As usual, I'm waiting a bit to make my purchases, but this is such a worthy endeavor, and for the past couple of years GLW has massively augmented some really needy school libraries.

It's efforts like these--and the enthusiasm of people stepping up to get involved--that makes me feel like people truly do still value literature and arts in their children's schools, and are willing to go the extra mile to make sure kids and teens have access to such important aspects of the human experience as poetry, art, and stories. And it reminds me why I love being part of the kidlitosphere.

May 04, 2011

WCOB: Wicked Cool Overlooked Book Wednesday

It's WCOB Wednesday!

Formerly the first Monday of the month, WCOB has moved to Wednesdays to give me a moment to gasp, "WHA!? It's a new month already!?" and do that sort of full-body shuddering thing one does when one has a lot piled on one's plate and fears one will never finish it. You know that shudder.

WCOB on Wednesday also enables me to pull out a WCOB more than once a month, if the mood strikes. Why would I want to do that? 'Cause I've been thinking. I read -- a LOT, but not all the books I read make it to the blog in a timely fashion. Some of them I find disappointing in the last chapter or four, some have a lackluster beginning. I tend to blog about books which get me all squee-y, but there's enjoyment in the other mostly squee-y or somewhat squee-y books I read, too, and sometimes when I've read them for a second time, it ups the squee. And so, from time to time, I will be sharing those books with you, too.

Today's WCOB is TWO MOON PRINCESS, by Carmen Ferriero-Esteban. I ran across this book in 2007, my first year serving on the Cybils judging panel. We had an overwhelming number of good books, but I was reviewing YA Fiction, instead of SFF, and the fantasy books with "princess" in the title got taken by the SFF crew, as was good and correct. Back then, I was geeking on trying to read the ENTIRE Cybils nominees list, so I did get my hands on this one, albeit briefly. When I saw that Tanglewood Press had put out a new edition with a photographic cover I was curious. Had the book fundamentally changed, or was this just a paperback facelift?

Reader Gut Reaction: The novel hasn't changed - Andrea is still a princess; restless, resentful and desperately rejecting the life forced upon her by being the daughter of a king. Comforted by her Tío Ramiro's sympathetic indulgence and his stories of lands where girls choose their fate, she really believes that she can escape the path of her life. When her plans for knighthood fail, she bides her time as the dutiful daughter and lady - and runs away -- for the second time. The first time, her father had to send soldiers to save her from freezing to death. This time, disobeying her Tío and finding a way through a section of beach she's been forbidden to explore, Andrea finds herself in a new world -- on another planet.

The old world setting of the novel is wonderful - Gothia, as a mirror medieval Spanish kingdom, is lovingly depicted. The clothing, family relations, and court intrigues are beautifully detailed.
Concerning Character: Characterizations in this novel are somewhat uneven, and it's easy to be confused about motives and actions. Andrea is deeply and relentlessly immature through much of the first half of the book. Though eventually she makes a sacrifice on behalf of her kingdom, it comes through an accident. Her impatience, naiveté and pouting lead her into many an unnecessarily complicated misunderstanding and trouble. Depending on the reader, this might be something which amuses or annoys.
Themes & Things: War is declared between the kingdom of Gothia, and the neighboring kingdom. Rosa's older sister - as stereotypically beautiful and capricious as Helen of Troy - is the alleged cause of the war, but as voices on either side are raised in the quest for peace, it is clear that some are fighting for the love of war alone.

In the broadest of terms, most people don't fight in wars for the love of killing, but it is clear that the author is making a point that "war is not the answer" regardless of any question.

If You Like...: Princess fiction is fun for most middle grade readers who grew up on fairytales and love the idea of lands far away, tiaras, princes, and possibly the odd fairy godmother. There's a bit of romance in this novel, but there's a bit of action as well. Princesses who have adventures and do things are even more fun! If you enjoy adventure and action with your princesses, you might also enjoy Dealing with Dragons by Patricia Wrede, Princess Academy, by Shannon Hale, The Thirteenth Princess, by Diane Zahler or the absolutely stupendous non-fiction book The Thinking Girl's Treasury of Real Princesses, by Shirin Yim Bridges.

This published book was read via .pdf, courtesy of netGalley and Tanglewood Press.
You can find Two Moon Princess at an independent bookstore near you!

May 03, 2011

"M" is for May... and Mental Health

In 1949 Congress determined that May was Mental Health Month in the U.S. It's during this month we encourage each other to be educated on mental health issues, and to connect with others on this topic. It's time to get healthy!

readergirlz, YALSA and the U.S. site for have gotten together to promote mental health via YA lit, which has some great explorations of mental health through story. I love their tagline: "Fiction to get you through tough times." Starting tonight (5pm PST/8pm EST), they'll be streaming live author chats, hosted by readergirlz diva Melissa Walker. First up, it's Blake Nelson talking about RECOVERY ROAD. Check out the entire lineup for this month. Some really good stuff.

Please support this readergirlz/ project this month. Spread the word, tune in, and help make better mental health a shame-free priority for every teen.

May 02, 2011

Monday Review: WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON by John Green and David Levithan

Source: I checked this book out at my library.

Reader Gut Reaction: What if you met your doppelganger? Someone who looks just like you, just walking around on the street? Will Grayson of Evanston, Illinois doesn't quite meet his doppelganger, but he meets...another Will Grayson, of Naperville, Illinois. They don't look like each other, and really, they aren't much alike at all, even below the surface—but that doesn't mean they won't make a difference in each other's lives. I thought this was a very cool premise, and the dual-author (dueling author?) collaborative nature of the book made each voice distinct and kept me on my toes as a reader, trying to guess how each Will Grayson would ultimately affect the other.

Concerning Character: The two Will Graysons are well-drawn, distinct characters with very different lives and motivations. Will Grayson #1 (I'm calling him that simply because he's the one who kicks off the story) is cool, controlled Alterna-Dude, into indie rock and going to concerts and hanging out as the somewhat drab sidekick to his gay best friend, Tiny Cooper—football player and theater geek extraordinaire. Will Grayson #2 is troubled, angry, depressed, and emotionally stretched almost to the breaking point.

Both Will Graysons, though, are lonely, and have trouble reaching out and having fulfilling friendships, let alone romantic relationships. What's more, Will Grayson #2 is (EXTREMELY MINOR SPOILERS) gay, and has no idea how to deal with it. I really enjoyed reading about both characters' journeys, both separately and after they meet. My only thought was that Will Grayson #2's change of heart seemed to happen so quickly for such a dramatic change...I found him almost painfully unlikeable at the beginning, and so I was a little skeptical when he starting becoming a more empathetic person. Nevertheless, the process of change for both Wills—and their respective opening up to (and acceptance of) the risks and rewards of life—was ultimately satisfying.

Themes & Things: It's interesting to me how many of John Green's books are, in some way, about journeying to meet your destiny: An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns--and this one, too, even if the journey only takes each Will into the heart of Chicago. This story also plays a lot with the idea of coincidence. In particular, it raises the speculation that there's a fine line between coincidence and fate, because of what we make of the seemingly random things that happen to us.

Also, this book portrays the complexity of identity as a gay teenager—and the difficulties, as well as how those difficulties intertwine with the the challenges of coming of age that arise independent of sexual orientation. Both Will Graysons face the sorts of complications that come along with learning to accept yourself—and others—warts and all.

You can find Will Grayson, Will Grayson at an independent bookstore near you!

Have you heard? Today kicks off the 3rd annual Guys Lit Wire Book Fair, this year for Ballou Sr. High School in Washington, D.C. Go check out the video, check out the story, and go buy books for a great cause!