September 29, 2011

Kidlitcon 2011: Stuff I Learned

Oh yeah, I learned a lot at Kidlitcon this year. It wasn't all about the fabulous people I met or the fact that Scott Westerfeld is now following me on Twitter. (Although those were both nice perks, to be sure!) I came back bursting with ideas for my own blogs, for Guys Lit Wire, for making my web presence more effective and my blogging more memorable.

Because there was just SO MUCH, I'm going to go bullet-point stylee and hit the highlights again—and, hopefully, some of you who couldn't make it might get a taste of what went on, and benefit from my having taken copious notes (although I would have taken notes anyway, because that's how I roll).

  • In the "Who Are You Online?" panel with authors Denise Jaden, Mindi Scott, Chelsea Campbell, and Karen Kincy, I learned that aggregation tools like Netvibes and iGoogle can help you streamline your social media as an author, so you can manage your Twitter and your Facebook and everything else more easily, and build a more effective, consistent, and professional online persona.
  • In the "Group Blogging" presentation, which featured Elissa Cruz of From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors, as well as Rosanne Parry and Katherine Schlick Noe, I got a great overview of the prerequisites, perils, and logistical concerns of setting up and managing a group blog—many of which sounded very familiar from the early days of Guys Lit Wire. The presenters emphasized the advantages of making your blog easy to share and engaging to your audience, and brought up the very important but often forgotten point that it helps every once in a while to remind everyone of the group's shared vision. AND, I found out about an amazingly and wonderfully pertinent blog for us here on FW, which is called Viva Scriva--a blog about writing critique groups and the critique process!
  • Chris Singer of Book Dads talked about the various ways that you can build a better world with your book blog, whether it's by promoting the work of non-profit organizations, partnering with those organizations to improve the community, or simply by having a book blog and sending out enthusiastic messages about books and reading.
  • Keynote speech

    During Scott Westerfeld's keynote speech, I learned that those fabulous illustrations in the Leviathan books (and there are more than 50 per book!) helped inform the logistics and visual feel of the story, as the illustrator went back and forth with the author on sketches and drawings. I got more inspired than ever to make my current WIP an illustrated novel, which I was already planning on. And I got to see some pretty groovy Leviathan fan art.
  • From Mary Ann Scheuer and Paula Willey, I got to see demos of some really luscious-looking iPad book apps, and from Holly and Shiraz Cupala, I learned that it doesn't necessitate a big publishing house with a huge publicity budget to do effective marketing for your book.
  • From Jen Robinson and Carol Rasco, I learned the not-entirely-surprising fact that many people now find blog posts of interest through Twitter, and I realized that I do that more often myself these days. We can, said Jen and Carol, do more to take our blog content to other audiences via e-mail subscriptions, Twitter, and other social media.
  • Last but not least, from my fellow Blogging Diversity panelists, I got some excellent resources for further study, including a book called Writing the Other and a website called I also got the very valuable reminder from Brent Hartinger that, even if we have a responsibility to be diligent in our portrayals of characters, we're making art, not doing sociology.
Thanks again to all of the presenters who helped me kick my blogging (and my writing) up a notch this year!

September 28, 2011

"It's All Right, Have a Good Time, 'Cause It's All Right..."

Course you needed to start your day with some Huey Lewis from junior high. No, really, you're welcome.

As Banned Books week carries on, it comes to me that it's all about speaking out. So, Wonderland is speaking out today in gratitude to the movers and shakers in the kidlitosphere - who make us a community.

♦ For the unsinkable Colleen Mondor, who puts so much of her time and effort into organizing us for the twice a year Blog Blast Tours as well as the KidlitCon, who oversees the Guys Lit Wire blog and their yearly Book Fairs;

♦ To Pam Coughlin, who whips readers into a fine frenzy for summer reading with the kickoff The 48 Hour Book Challenge;

♦ To all the Poetry Friday people, whose numbers are now legion, and to whomever is organizing them now; I must admit I've lost track;

♦ To Anne Boles Levy, Cybils overlord, who together with Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor Sheila Ruth, Book Babe Jen Robinson, WonderLibrarian Jackie Parker, and others less known to us (well, probably less known to me. After the KidlitCon, A.F. knows freaking everyone) every year heads up the Cybils Awards, including contacting publishers, putting out press releases, and getting people to take us seriously.

Organizing bloggers, scrambling for prizes, talking to recalcitrant publishing personnel and choosing only ten or twelve panelists and judges from the volunteering hundreds must be akin to doing draft picks for the NFL while concurrently herding wet cats; a grueling and thankless chore which requires a lot of reminders, begging, and in the case of the Cybils team, "No, thank you," notes to be sent.

I haven't got a note yet this year, and know that I may not be chosen - but that's why I'm singing Huey Lewis today. It's all right.

Think of it: there are tons of great people discovering their voices on the topic of children’s lit every single year, and each year different ones get a chance to speak and be a part of the greater kidlitosphere community. Wonderland welcomes them to the table to join us in reading books of all kinds, arguing about them, reviewing them, and interviewing their authors and illustrators and editors. One of the tenets on which the Cybils is built is that we're all obsessives together, who just need a place to speak. Or, as they put it with a bit more eloquence, their goal is to:

Foster a sense of community among bloggers who write about children’s and YA literature, highlight our best reviewers (and shamelessly promote their blogs) and provide a forum for the similarly obsessed.

So, to speak out, and speak our gratitude aloud, we acknowledge the work that you do, the stress that you're under, the endless annoyances, emails, and details and Wonderland says, "Thanks."

♦ Thank you, 48HBC, Poetry Friday, W/SBBT, Kidlit Cons, the Cybils team, and the Kidlitosphere as a whole for giving children's and YA bookcrazed folk another place to shine. ♦

September 26, 2011

Highlights from Kidlitcon 2011

This year's Kidlitosphere Conference in Seattle, Sept. 16 – 17, again reminded me why this has become one of my favorite, if not my no-holds-barred favorite, conferences of the year. Meeting blog friends in person is always a treat, whether they're other blogging authors, librarians, teachers, or literacy advocates. And, with the small, intimate size of the conference compared to something like SCBWI or ALA, there's ample opportunity to actually get to talk to people one-on-one or in small groups without feeling overwhelmed. I always leave feeling like I've had a chance to hang with "my people"--people who are both well-read and tech-y, people who would never laugh at someone for reading kids' or YA books, people who relish the chance to talk kids' lit and blogging technique and how to be a good critical reviewer and a million other topics besides.

As you can guess (or maybe you were there!), it's a whirlwind couple of days packed with sessions, but there's also plenty of time to just chat and say "Hey, nice to finally meet you in person!" and compare notes about the panels and presentations. It's that less-structured down time that helps make Kidlitcon the positive experience that it is, at least for me.

I'm not sure what else I can say that others haven't already said in eloquent fashion, so I'll just hit a few personal highlights:
Sheila Ruth, local author Heather Davis,
Katy Manck, and Anne Levy
  • Rooming with Colleen Mondor and Jackie Parker, and staying up WAY too late talking and laughing about all manner of random topics...
  • Getting to see old friends and acquaintances again whom I'd met at previous conferences: Colleen, Jackie, Farida Dowler, Jen Robinson, Pam Coughlan, Holly Cupala, Mary Ann Scheuer, Maureen Kearney, Kelly Jensen, Jaime Temairik, Alice Pope, RIF superstar Carol Rasco, Melissa Fox, Elissa Cruz, Liz Burns, Lee Wind...
  • Meeting online friends and acquaintances that I was way overdue on actually meeting in person: Justina Chen (who wrote a lovely blurb for my book); Cybils bigwig and fellow writing group member Anne Levy; Sheila Ruth, also a bigwig around the Cybils; Els Kushner of (squee!) and Book, Book, Book, who felt like a truly kindred spirit; Paula Willey of Pink Me, another Cybils regular; Chris Singer of Book Dads, fellow soccer fan and Guys Lit Wire supporter...
  • Me with Scott Westerfeld!
  • Getting to meet the personable and brilliant Scott Westerfeld and absorb various tidbits of wisdom from his fantastic keynote speech, and having Anne run by with a sneak attack while I was meeting him and yell "Sarah has a book out, too!" so I would make sure to tell him about it, because she guessed (probably correctly) that I wasn't going to do it on my own...
  • Stepping outside my comfort zone and meeting people whose blogs I wasn't familiar with, but who still felt like old friends by the end of the conference: Katy Manck, Lisa Song, Michelle Ann Dunphy and Allison Tran, Sondra Eklund, and many others...
  • Having the privilege of being on a Blogging Diversity panel with fellow authors MUCH cooler, more experienced, and more articulate than I am: Justina Chen, Brent Hartinger (who posted about it here), and Sara Ryan (who posted about it here); moderated by all-around nice guy and amazing moderator Lee Wind...
  • Having Scott Westerfeld ATTEND OUR PANEL when he hadn't been planning to stick around, because a bunch of us gave him the hard press—or because he's just a nice guy and was interested in our panel. One or the other.
  • Listening to THE Lee Wind exclaim with surprise and glee, "You're aquafortis!!!" having just made the connection, and having him enthuse effusively about our blog and my tweets...
  • Getting to hang with fellow Flux authors Brent Hartinger, Karen Kincy, and Nick James (I hope I didn't forget anyone...) and chat with other fabulous authors like Kirby Larson, Karen Cushman, Martha Brockenbrough, and Sara Ryan...
That's really not all, but those are the major moments off the top of my head. If you still haven't gotten enough, check out the roundup of post-Kidlitcon posts on the Kidlitosphere Central website, and tune back in on Thursday, when I'll post some of the Stuff I Learned.

September 24, 2011

From Every Hammock & Pile of Pillows...

...let "freadom" ring.

Books are a First Amendment Right. For every citizen, no matter how young or how old. It's a hard concept for some people, and Banned/Challenged Books Week supports the people who try to expand their minds and allow others to read and discover. Go Book Peeps!

September 24−October 1, 2011 celebrates the right to read.
Pick up a Book!

September 22, 2011

Toon Thursday: Return of the Pie Chart

C'mon, you know you love the pie charts. Today I'm experimenting with using a font for the text instead of doing the lettering myself. It's probably more readable...and I didn't even use Comic Sans.

 Toon Thursday Archives are here.

Anyway, now that that's out of the way (and don't you want a piece of purple pie now? I know I do), on to something a little more serious. Laurel Snyder's latest book for middle grade readers, out next week, is Bigger than a Bread Box, a book about, among other things, divorce, and what it's like for a kid adjusting to that situation. She's invited bloggers to join her in sharing our own stories about divorce, whether sad, happy, or other. Why? Because this is an important topic, and because grownups can forget what it's like to be a kid experiencing their parents' split. Because it's a complicated topic, and the experience of divorce can't, and shouldn't, be dismissed as either completely tragic or completely positive. Because, even though divorce doesn't have the sense of stigma that it used to, sometimes we're still afraid to talk about it.

I talked about it. My story--a small part of it, anyway--is here, on my personal blog.

Happy Thursday!

September 20, 2011

Turning Pages: TANKBORN by Karen Sandler

When he said nothing, Kayla pressed her point. "Then when?" she asked. "When is the dividing line? When is the DNA surely human? When is it not?"

Time for a truly fabulous entry into the Turning Pages compendium.

Y'know, here at the Wonderland Tree, we are big time supporters of both Lee & Low Multicultural Books, and their fabbity new imprint for multicultural science fiction and fantasy, Tu Books. We were there for the Kickstart, when Tu Books was Tu Publishing, all on its own, and are taking a lot of joy and pride in reading and reviewing their first releases on NetGalley (this is from whence we received our .pdf ARC, FCC, thank you). It's a privilege to read fantasy and science fiction which incorporates characters with brown skin -- and intelligent and complex hard science fiction/dystopia with multicultural characters and intricate worldbuilding? Oh, yes, please. Tankborn is a mesmerizing, gulp-it-in-one-sitting-then-sit-stunned, deftly characterized, multilayered novel which has a lot to say. I imagine that teen readers will savor it.

Reader Gut Reaction: Beautiful cover? Check. Intricate storyline? Check. High stakes, romance, intrigue, and bittersweet ending? Check, check, check. Arresting and nuanced, this novel can easily crossover for adult audiences. The depth of concepts presented in story will provide brain stimulation for the thinky -- plus: romance! While I wasn't as interested in the romance bit -- I was all about the science -- it is well done, and will add just that extra bit of a hook for readers who love that sort of thing.

Look, nothing I say will convince you as fully as reading this that the novel is worthy of your time. So, go on already!

Concerning Character: While the Trueborn paid their way from a hurricane flood ravaged Earth, the lowborn were indentured and worked for their passage on the ships from Earth to Loka. It was only when the Tankborn were removed from their artificial wombs that the lowborn's debts were canceled. They the lowborn choose how to live their lives, who to marry, what to do with their time, and where to work. Yet for the Tankborn there is no such reprieve. They exist in eternal servitude, nurturing the children given to them or remaining childless, going where they are sent, away from nurturing family units and friends.

Under the scrutiny of the Trueborn, Tankborn do what they're told until their bodies give out -- or else. Because, the Tankborn are GENs - genetically modified humans, who have fewer rights and no privacy. With her muddy brown hair and skin and the intricate dermal-interface tattoo adoring the side of her face, it's easily apparent what Kayla is -- and her brother Jal, and her nuturemother, too. They live on the GEN side of the city, rely on both an annexed brain and a "bare" one, and, despite the law of the Humane Edicts, are monitored through their sub-neural circuitry by the Trueborn -- whose children are given land and status, and really, anything they want. Even the lowborn have more than the GENs -- they might be poor and landless, but they're not treated as slaves.

"Work makes you safe," Kayla is taught in the Doctrine (eerily and I'm sure deliberately close to the words on the walls at Auschwitz, "Arbeit macht frei" - work creates freedom). As she awaits receiving the Assignment which will direct her life's path, Kayla hopes that this is true, that faithful service will indeed see her, and her best friend Mishalla, safe in the Infinite's hands. Kayla knows that the Tankborn must know their place, and stick to it. But, what if you feel you're more than the Doctrine tells you that you are? Then where do you belong?

When a Trueborn saves Kayla and Jal from being hassled by another highborn boy, it's only the first time their paths are destined to cross. As she spends more and more time with Devak, she feels a pull toward him that both worries and angers her. He's a privileged, clueless Trueborn -- no tattoo, no monitoring, and anything he wants at his fingertips. He acts as if she should be glad he's around. But, why should she? Indeed, why is she?? It's not in the Infinite's plan for them to have anything to do with each other... is it?

Kayla's liturgy, Doctrine, and understanding of her place in the Infinite's plan stands on shaky ground when she catches a glimpse beyond her eternal servitude, and sees that all is not as she was taught. Something horrible is happening - children of the lowborn are disappearing. The brutality of the Brigade is escalating, and somehow, Devak and his ailing grandfather, Zul, is involved. What happens if Kayla's life is not at all a divine plan... but man-made? What happens if there's truly a choice? Is there a way for love to win?

Themes & Things: Echoing the privations of the British poor, African slaves of the Victorian era, and the lower-caste of South Asia in the early 19th century, written communication between the Tankborn is illegal. The Tankborn can be monitored on the Grid at any time, and if they are outside of their radius or legally allowed territory, they can and will be taken up by the Brigade, and reset -- their minds wiped, and a new sket, or skill set applied to the flesh of the rebellious body, so as not to waste resources. If a GEN dies, the Brigade is also on hand to harvest their organs, muscles and skin into stem cells, useful for the creation of other artificial embryos to be stuck in the tank and grown.

The Tankborn are links in a chain, and part of the vast machinery that fuels the world of the Trueborn on the Svarga Continent -- but not because of the color of their skin, or the region of their birth -- but because their blood is mixed with that of elephants or dolphins or gorillas, which was supposed to make them "better." But maybe it's just because the Trueborn have created these "jiks," with tremendous strength and nurturing and speed and balance -- and have become afraid.

Themes of personal and racial freedoms are HUGE in this book - rights to privacy, data monitoring, and other modern concepts are tumbled in with the older themes of slavery, class, and racial -- the Human race -- identity.

As the story closes, these concepts will echo in your brain:
What is it that makes us human?
What happens when we apply the one-drop rule to genetic modification?
Does someone with a pacemaker still count as fully human, or partially automaton? How many ways will the upper classes use to justify creating a servant class?

And is it already happening?

AVAILABLE NOW: You can find TANKBORN at an independent bookstore near you!

September 19, 2011

Monday Review: THE QUEEN OF EVERYTHING by Deb Caletti

Dear FCC: I bought a copy of this book.

Reader Gut Reaction: This debut novel by Deb Caletti (who has since gone on to write several other novels) is suspenseful, page-turning, and peopled with a wide range of quirky characters. I knew it would be an uncomfortable read in some ways, since the premise is that the narrator's divorced father begins seeing a married woman and starts changing...and not in a good way. And it IS uncomfortable—not just for the narrator, Jordan, but also for everyone around them who can see the person her father is becoming. This is a novel that takes place internally as well as externally, with Jordan's observations revealing just as much about her character and how it's changing as they do about the events happening around her.

Concerning Character: Of course, this book tells Jordan's story, not just her father's—and so we start the story in her head, with her perspective on her boring (uh, but not for long) optometrist father, her hippie mother, her jock boyfriend, her job at the diet clinic. At first, I didn't find Jordan to be an entirely likeable character. She's snarky (though realistically so) and isn't always nice to people...but inside is a different story, and the inner Jordan's voice grows louder and louder over the course of the book. That Jordan is afraid and insecure and lonely, but she's also willing to make mistakes and take a few risks in order to do what's right. The side characters aren't as fleshed out as the narrator, but the author has a knack for making them vivid and clear by showing them in action, in combination with quick but effective sensory descriptions.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Realistic family and friendship stories with a suspenseful plot, but which are also character-focused, like Chasing Alliecat by Rebecca Fjelland Davis (reviewed here), Split by Swati Avasthi (reviewed here), and Leftovers by Laura Wiess (reviewed here).

Themes & Things: Where one's loyalties lie, particularly family loyalties—and how that loyalty is earned—is a major recurring theme in this novel. Jordan struggles with knowing whom to trust, and how to make that judgment, and she struggles with trusting herself to know the right thing to do. That theme was portrayed effectively, as she comes to terms with the fact that she is in a situation where she needs to ask for help and can't let her own insecurities or judgmental tendencies get in the way.

You can find The Queen of Everything at an independent bookstore near you!

September 17, 2011

What Does It All Mean?

I love visual media, and to celebrate National Sewing Month (what? You didn't know it had a month?) I am here to tell you that people who collect thimbles are digitabulists. It's the Word of the Day for Grandmas! More sewing trivia at, our fave infographics and visual media blog.

I also love the dictionary, as most of you know - I am a big geek who started reading the dictionary in grade school, and it just never got old. (Weird, that. I can't reread a lot of books, but the dictionary...) Even fake dictionaries which are mostly zeitgeist-based like the Urban Dictionary are worth looking at, if only for the occasional snickers and rolled eyes. Thus, when I ran across The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, I fell immediately in love with words like:


n. [Brit. wallesia] a condition characterized by scanning faces in a crowd looking for a specific person who would have no reason to be there, which is your brain’s way of checking to see whether they’re still in your life, subconsciously patting its emotional pockets before it leaves for the day.

Somehow, that's so weirdly appropriate.

In grad school we did a round-robin exercise when we giggled at the reviews we read and the big-ticket lines they used like "gripping tale," and "promising new work." We were then informed of what those words really meant, according to the artist in resident who was our instructor that session. He was pretty funny -- but the One-Minute Book Reviews blog has a lot of those same explanations with even worse meanings from members of the publishing establishment. Promise us that you'll never use these on the other members of your writing group....

“classroom-friendly”: “kids won’t read it unless they have to” @LindaWonder, Linda White, book promoter at Wonder Communications

“gritty street tale”: “Black author from the hood. Run.” @DuchessCadbury, graduate student in literature

“continues in the proud tradition of J.R.R. Tolkien”: “this book has a dwarf in it” @jasonpinter Jason Pinter, author of the Zeke Bartholomew series for young readers

More here, and here. (Hat tip to both previous links to the lovely name blog, Fritinancy.)

And speaking of meanings and defining things -- boy, howdy, there's a lot of screaming going on after Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown wrote on PW's Genreville about being asked to make their YA novel less GLBTQ friendly by changing the gender preference of a character. Genreville published a second piece in which it highlighted the replies and rebuttals and ripostes... but Malinda Lo rocked the house by coming up with statistics and facts. Oh, facts, how we really love you best. And thank you, Malinda Lo, for all the hard work.

Do you love getting mail? I do -- and have two dedicated friends who write me actual long-hand letters routinely, plus tons of fun folk who send cards from time to time. Postcrossing is a great way to get even more mail. Part pen pal, part Bookcrossing, your postcards come from all over -- and go anywhere. It's an excellent project - for the young or young at heart, and I could see it being fun to use in a classroom.

Well, back to writing. Meanwhile, enjoy the smell of books.

September 16, 2011

Turning Pages: DEVIANT

It wasn't, for Danny Lopez, the best of towns anyway. He lived in Las Vegas, sure, but he was a loner skater, and he'd never really made friends with the transient kind of lifestyle there anyway. He'd gotten caught stealing at a 7-11, and the cops and his Mom had made it this Whole Big Deal. So, Danny was fine with moving to Colorado Springs, in spite of the weird girl with the spiked hair who just wandered into his house and into his life, in spite of the myriad mega-churches in the area, and the weird new school that had zero art or music, white gloves as part of the uniform, scripted classroom lessons, and silence.

Sure, he got roughed up on the first day of school -- okay, that happens, even in a junior high with just a hundred students. He'd made friends, even though they were intensely geeky. He felt like a lot of things were off, but -- it was okay. Mom had a new job, and was making a lot more money. His stepdad, Walt, had a job it looked like he actually might keep, and all in all was kind of being less of a loser. Maybe things would be all right.

No, Danny Lopez hadn't really minded moving to Colorado Springs. It wasn't until they started finding the dead cats that things really started to bother him...

Reader Gut Reaction: In one word? Unexpected. Yeah, yeah, the title is Deviant, and I admit I initially thought the novel was speculative fiction, or would somehow veer that direction. It doesn't. It's not. It's a thriller. A middle-grade ...mystery thriller.

Concerning Character: Danny is a likable character who mostly seems befuddled through the story. I enjoyed his stubborn refusal to go along with the crowd -- whichever crowd there happened to be -- and while he wanted friends, he definitely was not a sheep. He thought things through and struck out on his own. There aren't enough novels about loner boys. The issue I had with him is that his distance from things sometimes came across as not reacting. He's required to do any number of odd things in his new school, and while he squirms inwardly, he never opens his mouth. Really? Why not? I sometimes felt the author missed chances to explore the reactions of a typical 8th grade boy.

The author uses the omniscient view to dip into the brains of Walt, Danny's stepdad, and occasionally into his Mom, Juanita's head, so we can kind of see reactions and thought processes, but for the most part, seeing the reasons and thought processes of the whole cast of characters, including The Bad Guy, doesn't really help make the mystery pull together any faster. Pets are being killed and the small-town, "nobody locks their doors" atmosphere of Colorado Springs is too much for Danny, who is from Vegas where people get shot and there's always a hustle going on. The isolation of the family is effectively underscored through having had their belongings delayed in reaching them. No cellphones, no laptops, no TV -- just one wicked weird little town and its inhabitants. And their cats.

And how about that school?! How weird is it that students aren't allowed to talk to each other, nor are teachers allowed to talk to each other! How weird is it that every lesson is already scripted out -- what the teachers say, and how the students respond - in unison?? And what is it with the white gloves!?

Recommended for Fans Of...: Christopher Golden, R.L. Stine, and Diane Hoh fans will enjoy this novel. Stephen King fans of his earlier work might also find something to like here. Think: creepy, baffling, and weird.

In Conclusion: Mysteries don't always tie up neatly, and this one, while solving the basic issue and catching The Obvious Criminal catches at the reader's mind, giving them first a few small clues, then a landslide of others so that the final chapter is almost redundant. While the darker thriller aspects of the novel will give older MG readers some shivers and chills, the mystery isn't terribly complex or sophisticated.

More obvious is the author's distaste for the small-town vibe of his (imaginary?) Colorado Springs, and his frequent mention of Focus on the Family, and political-religious commentary on the radio. The Brown-Lopez family seems to be a small dot in surrounded by conflicting crazy forces. In the end, sanity doesn't ever really return - the megachurches are still there, and all the rest.

That's probably more disquieting than anything.

Hi FCC: I received an ARC of this novel in .pdf form via NetGalley, and no money exchanged hands, in case you're interested.

Just in time for Halloween, you can find DEVIANT, by Adrian McKinty, at an independent bookstore near you!

September 15, 2011

Bundle of Nerves

This weekend is Kidlitcon 2011 in Seattle, and I'm really looking forward to seeing old blog friends again and, in many cases, meeting them in person for the very first time. With nearly 90 amazing bloggers, authors, and illustrators expected to be in attendance, I'm pretty sure that, yet again, I'll end the weekend by saying Kidlitcon is my favorite conference of the year. The intimate size makes it much easier for introverts like myself to actually converse with people without freaking out, and the schedule, as always, is dynamite.

I'm also proud (and more than a little intimidated!) to be on a panel of authors--the final session of the conference, in fact--on Blogging Diversity, moderated by uber-nice-guy Lee Wind, and featuring Justina Chen, Brent Hartinger (a fellow Flux author!), and Sara Ryan in addition to myself. I don't want to give away any spoilers, but I can safely say that it is promising to be a fascinating discussion, and will touch on stereotypes in YA lit, coverfail, authenticity, and who is "allowed" to tell whose stories--all topics near and dear to our hearts here at FW. If I can get someone to take one, I'll post a picture and some discussion highlights sometime in the week or two after the Con.

Well, enough of the shameless self-promotion...we now return you to your regularly scheduled programming, meaning I will stop procrastinating and get back to what I was supposed to be doing. Have a great weekend, everyone!

September 14, 2011

I don't normally do "Waiting On Wednesday..."

...but I think it's a great meme over at Breaking the Spine.

Inspired by two of the most beloved works by literary masters, All Men of Genius takes place in an alternate Steampunk Victorian London, where science makes the impossible possible.

Violet Adams wants to attend Illyria College, a widely renowned school for the most brilliant up-and-coming scientific minds, founded by the late Duke Illyria, the greatest scientist of the Victorian Age. The school is run by his son, Ernest, who has held to his father’s policy that the small, exclusive college remain male-only. Violet sees her opportunity when her father departs for America. She disguises herself as her twin brother, Ashton, and gains entry.

But keeping the secret of her sex won’t be easy, not with her friend Jack’s constant habit of pulling pranks, and especially not when the duke’s young ward, Cecily, starts to develop feelings for Violet’s alter ego, “Ashton.” Not to mention blackmail, mysterious killer automata, and the way Violet’s pulse quickens whenever the young duke, Ernest (who has a secret past of his own), speaks to her. She soon realizes that it’s not just keeping her secret until the end of the year faire she has to worry about: it’s surviving that long.
- Barnes & Noble

On the author's website, here are the prologue and the first two chapters... , if you dare.

And has put up chapters 5&6.

I dared to read all of these excerpts and now I want to whine -- oh, mistake, mistake --!! Because. I. Want. This. Book. NOW.

*stands around and looks grumpy*

You can find ALL MEN OF GENIUS at an independent bookstore near you after September 27.

September 12, 2011

Monday MYSTERY Review: COLD CASE by Julia Platt Leonard

Dear FCC: I got a review copy of this book from the publisher.

In my opinion, there is a shortage of good mystery novels for young readers. When I was growing up, I loved mysteries, but once I got tired of kids' mysteries like Nancy Drew and the Bobbsey Twins and so forth, there wasn't much out there until I was ready to read Agatha Christie and adult mystery writers. (I ended up reading a lot of the Nancy Drew Files and the Cat Who books by Lilian Jackson Braun.) So I was happy to get the chance to peruse a new entry into the field of YA/MG mystery fiction, the novel Cold Case by Julia Platt Leonard.

Reader Gut Reaction: I was pleased to see that this book had a believable setup for how a 13-year-old could plausibly discover a murder. Oz Keillor works in his family's Santa Fe restaurant, under the supervision of his older brother Dave. When he goes in to work early one Saturday morning, hoping to get going on his menial cleanup tasks before anyone else has arrived yet, he makes a horrifying discovery—in the walk-in fridge, of course. How did a dead body end up in the kitchen of his parents' restaurant? His brother could never have done it, but why is Dave acting so weird?

The more time Oz spends trying to prove his brother is innocent, the more shocking secrets he stumbles on. I liked the way the plot unfolded, with questions giving rise to more questions as Oz and his best friend Rusty (a girl) put themselves in more and more danger to clear their family name. This was a tight and fast-paced mystery; the pacing and suspense will make this an appealing one for readers who aren't quite ready for adult-level murder mysteries or edgier teen thrillers. I suspect it might also be good for reluctant readers. There isn't a lot of time spent on in-depth character development, and I would have liked a little more sense of the setting, but that brevity might be what makes it a good pick for younger readers who just want a page-turning story.

Concerning Character: Oz is a regular kid, normal and easily to relate to quickly. The author does a good job of plunging the reader right into Oz's head, revealing his character through behavior and how he reacts to stressful situations—like the discovery of a dead body. His best friend Rusty is quirky, smart, and prickly, with a rather handy obsession with television crime dramas. There's just the tiniest bit of boy-girl tension between the two of them—enough to be realistic, not so much that it gets obtrusive. And the cast of minor characters, suspicious parties, and personages of ambiguous motivation is varied enough to keep the reader guessing without being so large as to throw the story off track.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Detective and mystery fiction for YA/MG readers, like Norah McClintock's Chloe & Levesque mysteries (vols. 1 and 2 reviewed here), the Gilda Joyce series by Jennifer Allison (check out The Dead Drop, reviewed here) and the Blue Balliett art mystery novels (check out The Wright 3, reviewed here).

Themes & Things: As a pretty straightforward genre book, the emphasis is more on plot than on theme, but there's a lot here about trust--about family and friendship, about our responsibilities to one another, and when to keep secrets and when to reveal them.

You can find Cold Case at an independent bookstore near you!

September 08, 2011

Toon Thursday: Using Autobiography in Your Fiction

You'll really want to view this one larger. Just click on it to bring it up in a full-sized window. Trust me; it's worth it.

Today's tip brought to you by the letter Z! For zombies. And, obviously, the number 8.

A few tidbits: this October, the U.S. Board on Books for Young People will be holding a Regional Conference at the Arne Nixon Center for the Study of Children's Literature in Fresno, featuring a number of local California writers as well as international authors. I wish I'd known about it earlier!

And, speaking of children's literature events and other book festivals, if you're looking for lists of such things, check this post on Chris Barton's website and this list of book festivals by state.

Lastly, here's a graphic novel I desperately want to read (thanks to GraphicNovelReporter for the tip): it's called Habibi, by Craig Thompson, and the book's website describes it as "a love story of astounding resonance: a parable about our relationship to the natural world, the cultural divide between the first and third worlds, the common heritage of Christianity and Islam, and, most potently, the magic of storytelling."

September 07, 2011


It's Wicked Cool Wednesday already. This book is "overlooked" in that it was released in 2009 - and its sequel released in October of 2010, so I'm way behind the curve. Happily, it's sometimes more fun to catch up this way -- no pauses in between finding the next episode of the story!

Reader Gut Reaction: Y'know, I saw this book, oh, months and months ago, but the US cover had the word "shifter" on it, and I didn't look very closely except to say, "Meh," and go on. Upon more recent and closer inspection, I saw a variety of covers and titles - the UK title is The Pain Merchant. Once I saw the subtitle, "The healing wars," more of my interest piqued. A good thing, I now see - this series gallops forward with lots of action, heart, and though, with crossover potential. I am eager for the next thing from author Janice Hardy.

Concerning Character: Nya from first blush appears to be a typical orphan - ratty clothes, desperate straits, thievery. It soon quickly becomes apparent that those are only the side details -- she's a child of a nation that has been at war for years, and she has a skill that is both strangely valuable and makes her anathema. She is a Taker - she can shift pain from a person, but unlike the League healers, or healers-in-training like her sister, Tali -- Nya's unable to truly heal. She just takes the pain into herself, and passes it to her sister to secretly dispense it into The Slab - a big piece of magically enhanced metallic rock called pynvium. Takers are considered flawed - The Healer's League shuns them, and the Duke wants them hunted down. Between the wars and the poverty and the Ducal edict, no wonder Nya's life is a mess.

On a Very Bad Morning when a theft for food has gone badly awry, Nya discovers that she can quiet her conscience enough to shove Taken pain into someone else, instead of giving it to Tali to give to The Slab. She's in trouble when she does it -- both because she's broken her own internal rules, and also because people talk, but once she's done it... well. What's done is done, right? Nya needs her freedom - and her life. She'll do it again, if she has to...

There are pain merchants in Nya's city who pay people to give them pain, so that they can sell it to the enchanters, who enchant it into the weapons used for war. It's a nasty, unhappy business, and keeps the healers -- and some shadier Takers -- busy. It's necessary, though; people have to put the pain somewhere, and from what Tali tells Nya, there are more and more horrible cases to deal with lately. The healers are being worked off of their feet. Some poorer folk can't afford real healers, and weaken and die, even after pain is gone. And there are whispers that the Takers in the whole city are being used for something darker, something the Duke wants. When Nya's sister Tali disappears, rumors of war abound, and Nya finds that there may be more evil truths in store...

Recommended for Fans Of...: The novels of Tamara Pierce, specifically the Immortals series, and the Circle of Magic books (Briar's book, especially); the Jackaroo novels by Cynthia Voight, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, and The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley -- if you like your novels with strong female leads, and enjoy reading about resourceful people in a time of national conflict, this is your kind of book.

Themes & Things:At first blush, this book is pure fantasy, but there are deeper layers - politics, identity, and the idea of what makes up a family. I loved the camaraderie, trust, and teamwork the principle characters find, and Nya's ethical struggles deepen this beyond just a good story. Can a single individual take on the ever-warring state - so clearly in the wrong - and win? This series aims to find out.

Authorial Asides: Janice Hardy blogs at The Other Side of the Story, and offers up writing advice, amusing commentary on the writing life, and book information, including the fact that the THIRD sequel to this series is coming out October 4, 2011!

You can find THE SHIFTER in its American incarnation or under its British title, THE PAIN MERCHANTS at an independent bookstore near you!

September 05, 2011

Monday Review: NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL by Justina Chen

Dear FCC: I got a copy of this book from my library.

North of Beautiful is another absorbing story of identity—and what truly makes us US, both inside and out—from Justina Chen, author of Nothing but the Truth (and a few white lies) (reviewed here) and Girl Overboard (reviewed here).

Just as a quick aside, I want to mention how much I liked the cover for this one—rather than being a headless figure (you know how I feel about those), we have ONLY A HEAD! More than that, though, I really thought the use of a compass rose overlaying her cheek was an evocative way to depict the character's birthmark without being too literal about it. Kudos!

Reader Gut Reaction: There is a lot of just plain cool stuff in this book: geocaching, a trip to China (which brought back some fun travel memories), heartfelt artwork, and a hot Asian Goth guy. But that doesn't detract from the seriousness of the story itself. Terra Cooper (the narrator) and her brothers Claudius and Mercatur were all rather unfortunately given cartographical monikers by their father, a disgraced mapmaker who rules the family with an iron fist. Terra doesn't want to make waves any more than she has to—she already attracts enough attention with the port-wine birthmark that spreads across her cheek. But when the good-looking Jacob enters her life with a crash—literally—Terra ultimately has to rethink whether attracting attention is a bad thing, or maybe, sometimes, a good thing...

Concerning Character: Each character in this book—and there is a sizable cast of minor characters in addition to the protagonist Terra and her love interest, Jacob—is believable and fully rounded. I was impressed by the realistic portrayal of a wide range of motivations and reactions, particularly within Terra's family, when it comes to her father, mother, and brothers and how they deal with tensions in the family. Each sibling, and even Terra's mother, reacts differently to her father's tyranny over their lives; however, that tyranny itself is not simply gratuitous but is there for a reason, a reaction to his own troubles. Terra's fear, her desire to be normal and to not be equated with her birthmark, rings true for anyone who has ever felt judged by their appearance, and hampered by those judgments.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Stories of self-discovery and opening oneself up to the unknown, like Beth Kephart's Nothing but Ghosts (reviewed here); stories about finding yourself by getting a little lost in unexpected places, like Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee (reviewed here) and Chasing Alliecat by Rebecca Fjelland Davis (reviewed here). Stories about broken families trying to heal, like Split by Swati Avasthi (reviewed here).

Themes & Things: In the end, this story conveys the idea that we can find hope in finding ourselves, and that sometimes you have to be willing to lose yourself—to let go of what you think is YOU—in order to find yourself. Also important is the idea of beauty—inner and outer, and which is truly the most important to making us who we are.

Authorial Asides: Justina Chen keeps a blog, Wordlings, and she's also one of the co-founders of the fabulous Readergirlz project. You can see her (and me!) speak as part of a panel on diversity at this year's Kidlitcon in Seattle, Sept. 16-17.

You can find North of Beautiful at an independent bookstore near you!

September 03, 2011

Imaginary Girls, by Nova Ren Suma

The cover of Imaginary Girls immediately caught my eye. It's gorgeous: A girl in a sheer white nightgown floats just below a rippled watery surface, suspended in bright aqua blue nothingness. Her face obscured, her skin is a ghostly pale almost green color. A red ribbon wound about her wrist streams down into the water like blood. Secrets never stay below the surface, the subhead reads. What secrets? I wondered. Is she dead? Is something else or someone else lurking underneath her? Or is it all pretend?

I enjoyed Nova Ren Suma’s middle grade mystery novel, Dani Noir, so I was eager to see what she’d do with YA suspense. The premise of Imaginary Girls is fantastic. Chloe, 14, goes to a drinking party at the reservoir with her much older, popular sister, Ruby. When Ruby talks her into swimming across the deep and unforgiving reservoir in the dark, Chloe finds a friend from her class, lifeless in a rowboat. Soon thereafter, Chloe is sent away to live with her father, without ever finding out what really happened. And then Ruby shows up suddenly two years later to take her home. But what really happened that night?

That question—and later, was the girl really dead?—kept me reading to the very end.

Reader Gut Reaction: The book is told in a first-person narrative from Chloe’s point of view, and in much of the book, we linger more in Chloe’s head rather witness each scene for ourselves. Chloe tells us what to think about Ruby, how charismatic she is, how loved by everyone. Ruby is her best friend, her savior, the one who cared for her when their damaged, alcoholic mother was drunk at the bar, and the one who later rescued her from an uncaring father. But Chloe isn’t a reliable narrator. And from the glimpses of scene and bits of dialogue Chloe has with Ruby, it’s clear that Ruby is not who Chloe thinks she is. Ruby isn’t a likable person; she’s self-centered and manipulative. As I got further into the book, I wondered if Chloe’s inability to see her sister’s flaws meant something was wrong with Chloe herself. Maybe she was crazy? Maybe she was hallucinating? Maybe Ruby and London didn’t even exist? (Yes, I have read way too many paperback thrillers.) Were there soul-hungry ghosts living under the water? Or is that idea just one of Ruby’s many nonsensical stories? (I’ve also seen one too many B horror flicks.)

I do most of my reading late at night when I should be sleeping. If a book doesn’t grab me, I’m down for the count. At times, moments in Imaginary Girls almost put me to sleep, especially the long passages of inner mind when Chloe goes on and on about how great Ruby is, but the suspense always pulled me back in. I just had to know what happened at the reservoir.

Concerning Character: Chloe begins the story with a recount of the party at the reservoir when she was 14, then cuts straight to when Ruby arrives at her dad’s house two years later to whisk her back to their home town. Ruby is everything Chloe wants to be and feels she’s not: pretty, popular, sexy, stylish, and confident. In Chloe’s eyes, Ruby has boys wrapped around her finger; boys want Ruby so much they answer to her every whim. Young and impressionable, Chloe feels the same way, willing to do anything to please her sister. Her greatest desire is to maintain that tight sisterly bond, the two girls against the world. But when Chloe hooks up with a boy her sister forbid her to see, doubt begins to chip away at her steadfast devotion.

The real Ruby is someone else altogether: the pretty popular girl who peaked in high school. Ruby is the girl who never left home, never went to college, the one who ended up in a dead-end job at a gas station, but still drinks at the reservoir on the weekends. We never find out exactly how old Ruby is, but we know she’s been stuck in the same routine for a long time. Worse, she appears to be pulling Chloe down the same path.

Recommended for Fans Of...:Haunting suspense stories about girls, discovered bodies, and secrets, like The Deadly Sister, by Eliot Schrefer, The Space Between Trees, by Katie Williams (another book with a gorgeous cover—one of the most beautiful book covers I’ve seen.), and to a lesser degree, The Basic Eight, by Daniel Handler (not a YA novel per se, but a super fun cult read with a teen protagonist and a story that fits this genre. I just loved it!)

Themes & Things: This novel is chock full of themes: putting yourself at risk to impress others, the surrealism of teen death, sisterly love, absent parents, self‑destructive parents, alcohol and drug abuse, sex. With some themes, like sisterly love, Suma delves deep, but others like absent parents or especially sex, she glosses the surface. Chloe has sex twice with two different boys (all of which happens off-camera). The first time, she doesn’t want to talk to him again. The second time, both she and the boy awkwardly and painfully avoid each other. She never discusses the situation with anyone, nor does she tell the reader how it made her feel. I closed the book wishing she had.

I found Imaginary Girls to be the kind of book that raises more questions than provides answers. But something in the back of my mind says maybe I missed something. Maybe the story is all there, like the secrets in this small town by the reservoir, if only I look close enough. Maybe I’ll read it again.

You can find Imaginary Girls at an independent bookstore near you!

September 02, 2011

Drumroll, Please...

Finding Wonderland was created with the stated purpose of providing a place for our writing group to booktalk. However, as time went on, the bloggers in the bunch pared down to a team of two -- soon to become three. Stay tuned for our writing group team member and fellow Mills MFA-alum, JMS, blogging as CitySmartGirl, coming soon to a treehouse near you!

September 01, 2011

Thursday Review: THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND... by Catherynne Valente

Dear FCC: I got a review copy of this book from the publisher.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. It's a mouthful of a title, to be sure, but who could resist a title like that? Not me. Nor, apparently, can I resist stories of adventuresome girls who fearlessly set out to sightsee in Fairyland and end up, well, on adventures of their own making (even if I am starting to feel just a wee bit of faerie-book-burnout...).

Reader Gut Reaction: As I've just noted, this book was tough to resist just for reasons of the title alone. And though it had a bit of a rushed start in my opinion—main character September is basically just whisked away from her house in Nebraska without further ado by the Green Wind—I quickly found myself absorbed in this charming, whimsical, offbeat tale peopled with a vast range of quirky and memorable characters, from the humanoid to the animal to the animated-inanimate. There are surprises and adventures at every turn in this book, which is suitable for middle grade audiences (although fans of creatively written fantasy might enjoy this book at any age). Oh, and the illustrations by Ana Juan are pretty nifty—cute and quirky and suited to the story.

Concerning Character: September is inquisitive, determined, and brave—even when she's scared, she tries to do the right thing, and this makes her a very relatable and positive main character. (And, of course, we all like to see strong girls in fiction, making their way in the world.) Upon entering Fairyland, she quickly makes friends with A-Through-L, a wyvern who just might be part library, and who will immediately make readers (well, me, anyway) want a sweet and fiercely loyal wyvern pal of their very own. And that's only the beginning of September's adventures—yet despite the surreal nature of her new friends (and, yes, an enemy or two), they all come across as distinct and believable personalities.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Stories about magical journeys into another world, like Un Lun Dun by China Mieville (reviewed here) and classics of the genre like Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Themes & Things: On one level, this is a rollicking magical adventure with a high new-and-exciting-things-per-page count. On another, though, it deals with themes every good adventure for young people should include: friendship (and enemies), confronting one's fears, growing into who you are as a person. I was even impressed that September's nemesis, the fairy Marquess, was not ultimately just a supervillian Col. Blofeld type but a fully-rounded character with whom one can even sympathize, and who ultimately is a major key to the story.

You can find The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making at an independent bookstore near you!