November 30, 2011

2011 Cybils: Wildefire by Karsten Knight

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

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

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

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

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

Wait, what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can find WILDEFIRE at an independent bookstore near you!

November 29, 2011

2011 Cybils: Slice of Cherry, Dia Reeves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Mostly, anyway.)

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

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

November 26, 2011

2011 Cybils: Witch Song, by Amber Argyle

In a Cybils crop filled with plenty of dystopia and -- still! -- vampires, this is a fantasy tale in the more traditional vein. It doesn't begin with "once upon a time," but it has the classic fantasy feel which makes it an engaging and satisfying read.

Reader Gut Reaction: This is a Quest novel, and there's a feminine version of the Hero's Journey going on. Senna is raised in ignorance of her heritage, spit into that rarefied world in the midst of it being threatened, and must make her way and take her place within that world, and play the part which only she can play. This is a solid, tried and true plot device, and it works. Through some parts of the novel, the reader might feel mired in mud, as the resolution stalls, but overall, this moves reasonably well. The conclusion leaves room for either one book, or more.

Concerning Character: As is typical for me when I read novels based strongly in the Hero's Journey trope, I have a hard time liking the Hero(ine) at first. They come across as resentful, immature, and blind, often making impetuous decisions that really cost. Senna is blind to an entire world, and when she discovers it, she is both awed and resentful. Anger at her mother eventually gives way to self-blame, and she doubts the guardians who are sent to help her. Senna has a few more leagues to travel on the Journey, because of her own hardheadedness, but in the end

Recommended for Fans Of...: The Crystal Singer series by Anne McCaffrey, The Spellsong War by L.E. Modesitt, Jr., Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, China Miéville's King Rat, and any other fantasy novel which uses music as a powerful force.

Themes & Things: Imperfect, impetuous heroines are a definite must for the Hero(ine)'s Journey. Senna is ignorant, impatient, infuriated and inept by turns. Her success is assured only through her perseverance, which is a main thematic element of the Hero's Journey. A secondary theme is that of strong women -- supported by strong men. Sometimes in novels praising strong women, the men are completely unsung, and it's refreshing to see someone keep the balance right. Well done, Amber Argyle.

Authorial Asides: According to the About the Author section in the back of the book, Amber Argyle has a real face, and is not a pseudonym. (The euphonious-ness of her first and last name together made me think she'd made it up.) Argyle is a Utah writer who has "worked as a short order cook, janitor, and staff member in a mental institution. All of which has given her great insight into the human condition and has made for some unique characters." Indeed.

You can find WITCH SONG at an independent bookstore near you!

November 25, 2011

2011 Cybils: ANGELFALL, by Susan Ee

"I wonder which will get you killed faster -- your loyalty, or your stubbornness?"

Sooo, I've made it plain how much I hate angel fiction, right? Somehow, vampires, unicorns, orcs and all the rest don't bother me, but I've never liked the whole angel thing - from the fat, naked Cupid with wings and a lap blanket to the Michael Landon-Della Reece-tele-extravaganza, to the much more recent novel craze thing. Somehow, angels bug me more because of the element of faith involved, unlike, say, with werewolves. We have faith that they don't exist. (Um, right?) Now, I'm all about making hamburger out of sacred cow, to quote Mark Twain, but the depictions of fictional angels are so random. They run the gamut of saccharine sweet to plain scary... (much like vampires. Hm). No one can agree on any kind of lore.

Well, anyway. I had all of my reasons lined up for why I don't the whole angel thing, but now I have to say, I don't like most angel fiction. I ran across a book that has elements of courage and sacrifice... and dystopia. Which made a good thing better.

Reader Gut Reaction: The familiar Bay Area setting (Mountain View!), Penryn's iron will, and the dire circumstances of "the end of days" came together to make this an eminently readable and memorable book.

Concerning Character: Penryn just wants to keep it together long enough to make everyone safe. Ever since her Dad left, her mother has been off in schizophrenia-land, and returning to lucidity less and less often. Six weeks ago, after the world as Penryn knew it was demolished by these monsters called angels, she lost whatever was left of the girl she'd been. Gangs have taken over the cities, and lawlessness and sprawled bodies are a daily sight. Penryn's main goal is to keep her wheelchair bound little sister, Paige, fed and safe, and get her family to a less populated area.

Their escape was going so well, until the angels landed in the middle of the highway, and began fighting with each other.

And then, they took Paige.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Carrie Vaughn's Voices of Dragons, David Patneaude's Epitaph Road, and other family-centric dystophia.

Themes & Things: It's hard to name a singular theme for this book, but "Appearances are deceiving," would be a good one. Or maybe, "It's not what you think." I could add something about judging books by their covers, but that would be just overkill.

Ironically, these phrases could apply to the character as well. Penryn thought she knew all there was to know about angels; Raffe thought he knew all there was to know about Daughters of Men, and they both thought they understood the world around them, and how it worked.

And both of them were wrong.

Authorial Asides: This is author Susan Ee's first novel, but her short stories can be found in Realms of Fantasy magazine and in other places. She is quoted as saying that she chose to write about angels because of the gamut of story about them - from destroying army to dimpled cherub. "Like unicorns and vampires, they must have an amazing public relations department." Hah!

You can only find this book from Amazon Digital Services for Kindle or Barnes & Noble for Nook - but eventually it will be a paper book, too. Meanwhile, don't forget that if you don't have a reader, both Kindle and Nook have readers for computers.

November 24, 2011

A Writerly Thanksgiving


Here's wishing you all a very happy Thanksgiving, even if you live somewhere where you won't be eating mass quantities or celebrating the mythology of pilgrims and Native Americans feasting together in peace and harmony.

I'm grateful for quite a few writerly things this year, myself. I'm thankful for the wonderful friends and critique partners that comprise our writing group, WritingYA. I'm thankful for the fantastic community of kidlit bloggers, many of whom have become good friends over the years, and who make me feel like I'm not alone or working in a void when I'm sitting at my computer all day. I'm thankful for my wonderful publisher Flux, my superhero editor Brian Farrey, and everyone else there who made my first novel publication such an exciting and enjoyable experience this year. I'm thankful for the support of other authors out there whom I've had the privilege of getting to know a bit better this year, and I'm thankful for the conferences and other circumstances that brought us together. I'm thankful for everyone who has read my book, and for everyone who took the time to comment on it or review it or send me words of kindness and support.

Since this is about writing and all, it shouldn't be surprising that there are a few words people have said that I'm especially grateful for. I'm thankful for the reader at San Francisco's Balboa High School who said "thank you for writing this book." I hold those words close when I'm feeling discouraged and uncertain. I'm thankful for the words of my onetime figure drawing professor, Dewey Crumpler, who said "Do not be afraid to step into the void." I try to remember that when fear is keeping me from my work. And I'm thankful for the words of my co-bloggers, Tanita and CitySmartGirl, both on and off the blog.

Enough gushing. Eat, drink, and be merry! And feel free to leave a comment and let us know what you're thankful for this year.

November 23, 2011

Hail & Farewell, Anne McCaffrey

All The Weyrs of Pern, by Michael Whelan
This was my computer desktop picture for much of the early 90's.

Have a seat. Close your eyes.
Go back in memory to your favorite Anne McCaffrey book.
Does it include dragons?
(Incidentally, were you into dragons about the time you were into horses?)

As you are by now aware, Anne McCaffrey, prolific publisher of science fiction books and short stories has ended her journey around the sun, at age 85.

When I read the news, the first thing I thought was, "and thus ends an era."

For some reason, though I read and loved Menolly and the Dragonriders and the Harper Hall books, and liked the dragons as well as anyone, I never loved them. Not as much as I loved... the ships.

The ships were about freedom - and distance - and adventures. The ships were about lucky breaks, escapes, and the ultimate cooperation between a person and their machine. They were about the romance of the unknown, and the unexplored frontier.

The Ship That Sang was probably the greatest book, ever, and was published in 1961-9, as a series of shorts published in various magazines. The novels that followed it were stories of people trapped, by disability, within their bodies, given the freedom of the stars. These were some of the earliest, "friendly" tales of cyborgs, in which a man-machine hybrid was not some mindless killer, but a complex and alive person, just incorporating differences into their bodies.

For some reason, this hooked into my imagination, and set it spinning.
(That, and the crazy '60's - 80's era paperback covers. Those probably had something to do with my excess of imagination. And, possibly, nightmares.)

There were more dragon books, a unicorn series, and some sea-people stories. There were tons of books marketed to adults, the relationships in which were strongly flavored with the 60's version of the Battle of the Sexes. Later, there were tales of new settlements, twins, ESP, pirates, and yet more dragons. But my stubborn favorite has remained the Brainship books. And oddly enough, those were Anne McCaffrey's favorites, too.

She was the first woman to win a Hugo. She was the first woman to win the Nebula. And though many of her books are looked at kind of sideways by many Serious Science Fiction Aficionados, she was a woman who went, in the late fifties and sixties, into realms traditionally only open to men, and she opened them up - with unique and strange and incisive stories that dealt with the sexual politics of the day, but also which dealt with the reaches of science as it was known then.

You don't have to like all of her books, or any of her books, but you've gotta respect the heck out of that. She opened the doors for the women whose science fiction writing I respect today -- and they're keeping it open for the next generation.

It's always sad to lose someone during the holidays, and we send our hearts out to the McCaffreys at this time. But, we at Wonderland also salute the pioneering imagination of this Grand Dame, and join with her thousands of other fans in saying "thanks for the memories." As long as we keep reading, the magic remains alive.

The Ships are still singing, and now singing her home.

These are the Ship books:
The first Helva compilation novel was followed by a series of team-written novels, including
* PartnerShip (1992) with Margaret Ball. ISBN 0-671-72109-7
* The Ship Who Searched (1992) with Mercedes Lackey. ISBN 0-671-72129-1
* The City Who Fought (1993) with S.M. Stirling. ISBN 0-671-87599-X
* The Ship Who Won (1994) with Jody Lynn Nye. ISBN 0-671-87657-0

Her partner authors wrote two more alone -
The Ship Errant (1996) by Jody Lynn Nye. ISBN 0-671-87854-9
The Ship Avenged (1997) by S.M. Stirling. ISBN 0-671-87861-1

Well-covered in most public libraries, Anne McCaffrey's books are everywhere. If you've never read anything by her before, ask a librarian for their favorite of her books, and start there. Or, start with the ships...

from Wikipedia: The American Library Association in 1999 cited The Ship Who Sang and the two early Pern trilogies (Dragonriders and Harper Hall), when McCaffrey received the annual Margaret A. Edwards Award for her "lifetime contribution in writing for teens."

November 22, 2011

2011 Cybils: Sweet Venom, by Tera Lynn Childs

Reader Gut Reaction:I missed this author's whole mermaid phase, so a mythology novel seems a return to a familiar topic for me, as her BOOTCAMP GODDESS was a Cybil selection a few years ago. Tera Lynn Childs does Greek mythology quite well, and a book with the fun setting of San Francisco, combined with the idea that it does indeed contain strange monsters, made this book lots of fun. Fast paced, light adventure, and ghoulish monsters for all.

Concerning Character: Gretchen would like to have a normal life - well, maybe not really. As nice as it is to live in a great, modern townhouse, and have no curfew and no one to be concerned about her comings and goings, she really wishes her mentor, Ursula, would answer her phone once in awhile. Things are getting really weird in Gretchen's world; there's practically the constant reek of monsters, and she's getting called out all over the city to dispatch them. She's hardly getting to sleep at night, and if she can't pull it together, there are going to be teachers phoning home... only, Ursuala isn't home. And Gretchen will just have to keep on trying to fulfill her destiny ... until she dies trying.

Grace keeps reminding herself that everything is now going to be different. A computer scholarship to a prestigious San Francisco high school means that she has the chance to go on to Stanford - and it's worth it to her to change schools and take a gamble on not only a dream, but changing her own realities. Unfortunately, it's not that easy to be someone bold and daring when you've spent all your time being "boring" and "doormat" before. Grace meets a cute guy who actually seems into her - which of course is why she suddenly starts hallucinating a dude with the head of a bull, and another one that looks like a snake with feathers.

The very best dates are when you smell something so bad you puke a little, right?

Halfway through the book, readers meet Greer... who really would just like to be left alone...

Recommended for Fans Of...: The Percy Jackson series, Meg Abot's Abandon, and Aimee Carter's The Goddess Test. Mythology retellings for $500, Alex!

Themes & Things: Even if you're unfamiliar with the story of the Gorgons, if you enjoy adventures with strong female leads, you'll enjoy this novel. Themes of self-sufficiency and cooperation to overcome obstacles plus a subplot about belonging, and how we can make family will make this a fun series.

Cover Chatter: A clever cover - yes, we've done female backs in YA, but the thick braid, resembling the heavy, arched body of a serpent, and the hair tendrils curling to resemble the forked tongue of a snake made me want to read the book before I even knew what it was about. Plus, Sweet Venom is a pretty good title, too.

You can find SWEET VENOM at an independent bookstore near you!

November 21, 2011

Monday Review: BEHEMOTH by Scott Westerfeld

This book is a 2010 (yep, last year, because I can never quite catch up on the TBR pile) Cybils nominee for teen sci-fi/fantasy.

Reader Gut Reaction: The second installment of the steampunk alternate history trilogy by Scott Westerfeld (the first book was Leviathan) continues the friendship of unlikely shipmates Alek, prince and heir of Austria-Hungary, and the young Scottish midshipman Deryn, who is still managing to keep up her masquerade of being the boy Dylan. In the first book, the outbreak of WWI meant the death of Alek's parents and his flight from a mountain stronghold with a few choice men. They hitched a ride on the British fighting airship the Leviathan, where Deryn/Dylan was serving after joining the forces.

Now, the Leviathan has tangled with a new German weapon and must land in the city of Istanbul, which hasn't quite chosen a side in the war, though German Clanker technology has made inroads. The British, of course, plan retaliation with a new weapon of their own. Alek and Deryn realize that it might be up to the two of them to find a way to keep things from escalating.

I have to be honest--though I quite liked the first book, I wasn't as engaged with it as I turned out to be with this second volume. I really enjoyed this one. And, as before, I love the fact that this is an illustrated book, and Keith Thompson's images are a perfect fit for the story.

Concerning Character: The main characters of Deryn and Alek became more developed and fleshed out in Behemoth and that made them more relatable for me. This was especially true for Alek, who I couldn't relate to as much in Leviathan. He felt like a Draco Malfoy type with an insufferable sense of princely entitlement (testament to the author's writing abilities--it was a very convincing portrayal). But in this volume he gets to prove his mettle and show a humbler and also more mature side to his character. He's also helped along by an appealingly cute and intelligent little creature--newly engineered by the British Darwinist Dr. Barlow--called a perspicacious loris. (If you want to see something amazingly cute, just do a Google image search on lorises.)

Deryn, too, gains complexity in this book, but in her case, the stresses of hiding the fact that she's a girl are starting to weigh on her as she proves to be more and more successful as an officer. Not to mention the fact that she's not sure how she might feel about Alek, and the other fact that Count Volger seems to have more than an inkling of her secret. The author does a skillful job of intertwining the character development with the plot so that they progress in a way that feels natural but never loses its tension and suspense. And can I just say how much I love all the strong, smart female characters in this series?

Recommended for Fans Of...: Steampunk books that incorporate alternate history, like Jenny Davidson's The Explosionist (reviewed here) and Invisible Things (reviewed here), or Cherie Priest's Boneshaker (reviewed here).

Themes & Things: These are very much two hero characters who overcome various high-stakes and adventuresome challenges, and develop a sense of individuality, ethics, and social consciousness along the way. The costs of war have been an idea very much at the forefront of this story from the beginning, with both characters having experienced the human cost of war. The often complex nature of relationships, of course, is brought into high relief as Deryn realizes that she might have feelings for Alek, while he has no idea she is even a girl.

Authorial Asides: Scott Westerfeld has a most excellent blog. You should read it.

Review Copy Source: Borders clearance sale.

You can find Behemoth at an independent bookstore near you!

November 19, 2011

2011 Cybils: Dry Souls, by Denise Geston

Reader Gut Reaction: A surprisingly hopeful dystopia - not exactly a happy ending, as there are some horrific losses and details not tidily tied up, but a solid debut novel, and the first in a realistic dystopian series.

Kira's life has been spent knowing that water isn't something to play with. It isn't something to wash in too often, either. And forget about plants - it's illegal to grow things for personal use, and nobody can grow flowers. Water is just too precious for that, and is rigidly controlled and rationed.

Concerning Character: Kira is difficult, and a loner -- or so she's always been told. It might be because in the girls' home where she lives, she rarely gets space or privacy, and the rumor persists that her mother was a freak. When Kira discovers a tiny wildflower growing outside, she hoards water for its survival, harvesting even her spit to help keep it alive. This discovery is worth the risk of making a friend, but her change in behavior has other girls circling suspiciously.

And then, Kira makes a terrifying discovery... that leads to a betrayal and a change in her life which forces her to question everything she's ever known. The world has lost water - but it wasn't a loss. The water was polluted and ruined. It might be that the world can be made right again -- but is it Kira who can make it right?
Recommended for Fans Of...: Drought, by Pam Bachorez, Water Wars by Cameron Stracher, or Saci Lloyd's The Carbon Diaries series.

Themes & Things: Traditional dystopian motifs abound, including first being seduced by, then later subverting the power of the state. Kira's eventual escape is a happy surprise, and her decision to partner with those who have suffered to benefit the great good reminds me a lot of Tally Youngblood's determination in Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld.

Cover Chatter: The girl's face in cracked earth makes for a great cover - it works, and though it's been done before - generally for lotion commercials - it makes the points needed.

Amusingly, this book is put out by CBAY Books - and the letters stand for Children's Brains Are Yummy. Sadly, there are no zombies in this novel...

You can find DRY SOULS at an independent bookstore near you!

November 18, 2011

2011 Cybils: The Hickey of the Beast, Isabel Kunkle

With a title like that, you knew I'd be dying to read this one, didn't you? Okay, then. On with the review.

Reader Gut Reaction: Here's the recap: Cynical, snarky, fast-talking high school freshman faculty brat who fights evil. That's basically the novel. No Buffy here - but the banter and must-save-the-world thing tells me the author might have watched an episode or two. Lots of love going on for the strong heroine and her unbeatable sidekick friends. Author Isabel Kunkle manages to write a novel which is genuinely like Freshman year - crammed with moments both hilarious and horrible, with a few surprises along the way.

Despite its hilarious name, there are no real hickeys. Sadly. The novel is a little verbose, and slightly predictable, but it's an excellent, original and fresh effort, and I love the way it was first serialized by Candlemark & Gleam. (Also: I LOVE the name of that publishing company!! It just says "spending time by candlelight" to me. Sigh.) This character has verve and energy, and I look forward to reading more from this author & tales of Springden Academy.

Concerning Character: Consuela - Connie - is dreading freshman year. It's not as if the school is new to her - mother has been Head of Springden Academy for years - only now she's in high school, and all of the fun people who came over and hung out with her parents who were just their friends are now her teachers. The school only has three hundred students, and about 85% of them board. There's no privacy, no secrets, and no escape from the gimlet eye of the faculty.

Or Connie's mother.

And yet, it looks like things might not be that bad. She's made a couple of actual friends, and there's a few guys who were sophomores ore juniors last year who now suddenly look fairly decent. Things are going great.

Until the nightmares start, and that one girl goes crazy...

Something is taking out the girls at Connie's school, right and left. It starts off like the nastiest 'flu in the world, and some kids aren't recovering. What's worse, is Connie is somehow... maybe making it happen...

Recommended for Fans Of...: Really? Buffy. Sorry, had to go there. Also recommended for fans of Hermione, fans of Tamora Pierce's Circle of Magic novels, and fans of The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown.

Themes & Things: This is a coming of age novel, yes. It's about a really intelligent main character, dealing with the things, doing what she can to help others, and realizing that sometimes you don't get thanks for it, and you have to take the fall. But it is also clearly a deconstruction of The Hot Brooding Loner trope. I shan't expand on that, or it would lead to spoilers, but it shows some thought on the part of the author.

Cover Chatter: The cover scared me. Clueless looking girl. Stack of books. BIG MASSIVE THING on her neck. I was like, "Eeeeeeeeew!" And to be honest, I pretty much said that in high school whenever I saw hickeys (hickies?) on people. (Looking at you, Tanya H.) CLEARLY, I have no romance within my soul.

The cover gets a reaction. That's exactly what it's supposed to do. It's perfect. Ugh.

You can find THE HICKEY OF THE BEAST at an independent bookstore near you, or in ebook form @ Candlemark & Gleam!

Back To Ballou

I play Free Rice.
I give to various charitable groups, and give again when there's some catastrophic emergency. I donate clothes and old glasses and do all the little things other people do, and I know I can't solve all of the world's problems...

...but I must admit that I'm pretty galled that a school in D.C. is still below the American Library Associations minimum book recommendation. Most American schools, in their school library, have in excess of eleven books per person. Ballou High School, thanks to the efforts of an earlier book drive, are now at four.

Ballou High School is 98% African American.
*It has an 82% attendance rate.
Most of the students there seem to want to get something out of high school.

Here's your chance to help.

Thank you.

Wikipedia stats, by the way. I'm not calling to check in with the registrar or anything.

November 17, 2011

Toon Thursday: More Wheels

I don't know what it is these days, but apparently I'm into the whole wheel/pie chart concept. Two weeks ago was the Query Letter Wheel of Misfortune; this time, something that pretends to be a bit more helpful if you're lacking in inspiration. And if you find that the artwork looks suspiciously similar to the previous toon...uh...all I can say is, uh....Reduce, Reuse, Recycle?

Before I sign off, please go visit Guys Lit Wire and contribute to the Holiday Book Fair, a drive to get 300 more books for the Ballou High School library in D.C. We're trying to make it so their library at least meets, if not exceeds, the ALA recommended minimum number of books per student. They started the year at LESS THAN ONE book per student; thanks to GLW's earlier book fair, they now have four. Help them take it to eleven! Books, that is.

November 16, 2011

One Shot World Tour: City Living - Adventures in Alternate London

Welcome to Book City! (Do you not LUUURRRVE that graphic? Tanita made it! It's awesome, isn't it?)

London is one of those cities that will always be particularly meaningful in my life. It's where my parents met and lived for two years before I was born; it's where my dad first immigrated from Pakistan and made his home for more than fifteen years; it's where I spent a memorable summer working various random jobs between my junior and senior year of college. It's where I learned how to mix a gin and tonic, where I got hit on by a Scottish soccer hooligan, where I ran gleefully through a hedge maze and rode my first subway. It was the first overseas place I ever visited, as a baby and then as a four-year-old toddling around after my parents; again as a sullen thirteen-year-old, with my mother. It's a place where I have friends, where I have extended family, where I feel like I have invisible roots, however tenuous.

London at Night, August 2000
Maybe that's why books set in London always appeal to me, and as a fantasy fan, I'm particularly drawn to books about alternate Londons—past, present, or future. In this post, though, I wanted to focus on present-day alternate Londons, and take a quick look at two books that bring to life the world that lies just beneath or beside the London we know. If you're a fan of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials books and their version of alternate Oxford, then you'll want to take a look at these.

One of them I've reviewed on this blog in the past: Un Lun Dun by China Miéville. In this book for younger YA/older MG audiences, twelve-year-old Zanna and her best friend Deeba accidentally stumble upon a secret entrance to UnLondon, a fantastical alternate version of the city they know and inhabit: "UnLondon is full of quirky magic, sly humor, and engaging, imaginative personages from the outlandish to the silly--reanimated rubbish that has seeped across the barrier from London, giant flies manned by crews of air-pirates, people with pincushions or diving helmets or occupied birdcages for heads." (from my earlier review) And, one of the things that I loved most about this book was not just that one of the main characters, Deeba, is South Asian, but also that she ends up being the sidekick who steals the show and has to save the day. Readers who've grown up with Wonderland and the Phantom Tollbooth, with Roald Dahl's zany scenarios, are sure to enjoy this one.

For older readers comes a book that's not specifically for YA audiences but will definitely appeal: Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, which is actually a novelization of a BBC miniseries from the mid-90s. Having watched the miniseries as well as read the book, my opinion is that the book is superior, although that might be because I read the book first. In any case, this is another tale of a London that exists beside—in this case, beneath—present-day London. But in London Below, as Richard Mayhew discovers, there are new and unbelievable dangers as well as wonders, and if Richard can't navigate his way through and out (helping the mysterious young woman Door in the process) he may never be able to return to his regular life. What I loved most about this one was how Gaiman takes the old and intriguing names of well-known London locations, like Blackfriars, Knightsbridge, Seven Sisters, and Old Bailey, and gives them lives of their own with magical provenance: the Black Friars are actually a group of friars who hold a key that Richard must retrieve; Knightsbridge becomes the harrowing Night's Bridge. It's imaginative and fun, the kind of setting that you end up wishing really existed somehow.

Books like these end up adding another wonderful layer of story to a place that is already alive and bristling with centuries upon centuries of history and tales. For me, they enrich and inform the way I think about London, the way I experience it each time I'm fortunate enough to find myself there.

Bonus Reads:

Fantastical Past Londons: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers, Black Book of Secrets by F.E. Higgins (the first two are written for adult readers, but would be fine for older YA)
Imagined Future Londons: Carbon Diaries by Saci Lloyd, How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

Also, be sure to check out Jackie's post at Interactive Reader on historical London as well as Tanita's post on Terry Pratchett's truly zany city of Ankh-Morpork. The full One Shot schedule is available and updated throughout the day at Chasing Ray.

One Shot World Tour: Book City - Ankh-Morpork

Atlantis. Brigadoon. El Dorado. Camelot.

These cities either sink beneath the waves, remain hidden under shrouds of mystery, or melt into the ether. Lost cities - fabled, fantastical hideaways that people go to war over and lose, then spend blood, sweat and tears trying to find again.

Mordor. Charn. R'lyeh.

Perhaps the loss of these places is deliberate. Perhaps it's safer that they remain unseen. Heere Ther Bee Dragonnes. Cthulhu. Sauron.

The cities are lost, all right? Maybe it's better to leave well enough alone.

Right, then, that's decided. We'll leave those places to sink into darkness and obscurity -- after all, who doesn't love a tale of a lost city that stays safely lost? We shall relish the mystery and obscurity... and turn our attention to the all-too-present city-states of Ankh and Morpork, which are now governed together as Ankh-Morpork.

No mystery there.

Just a strangely sludgy river, completely ridiculous inhabitants, and its own peculiar, stunning stink.

"Poets have tried to describe Ankh-Morpork. They have failed. Perhaps it is the sheer zestful vitality of the place, or maybe it's just that a city with a million inhabitants and no sewers is rather robust for poets, who prefer daffodils and no wonder. So let's just say that Ankh-Morpork is as full of life as an old cheese on a hot day, as loud as a curse in a cathedral, as bright as an oil slick, as colourful as a bruise and as full of activity, industry, bustle and sheer exuberant busyness as a dead dog on a termite mound." MORT, by Sir Terry Pratchett

(The city mottos above and below the hippos are "Merus in pectum et in aquam" [Pure in Heart and Water] and, less straightforwardly,"Quanti canicula ille in fenestra" [How Much is That Doggie in the Window], again proving the theorem that anything said in Latin sounds obscure and intelligent.)

Occasionally known as The Big Wahoonie (A fruit the color of earwax with the reek of sick anteater), the combined city-states of Ankh-Morpork are the home of the mildly tyrannical Patrician (who leads the city in a "one man, one vote" type of democracy, only he's the one man with the vote) the City Watch, Death (and his skeletal rat sidekick), and a cast of characters which have carried readers of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels through eight creative and sharply humorous City Guard episodes. Ankh-Morpork is essentially the hub of a wheel in the Discworld universe -- everyone wants to live there, and everything that happens there has some reverberation throughout the Disc.

What is it about Ankh-Morpork that I love? Well, I love its character. It has a vast opera house, on the swanky Ankh side of town, cobblestones you can feel through the (cheap) soles of your shoes in the Shades; it has rains and mists with their own personalities, and stenches which rise up from the river almost bodily. It has -- is -- character. It practically owns its own lines in any of the novels. It has crazy street names like Treacle Mine Road, where you could once dig up real treacle (something which could only excite people who like it, eg., Brits). The city has strange hippos on its bridges, who allegedly will run away if the city is ever threatened by water (which would be a neat trick, since the river is so muddy it's mostly solid). The City has crazy buildings, like The Tower of Art on the campus of Unseen University, which throws off so much ambient thaumatology (aka magic) that it changes the pigeons roosting on its rooftop into somewhat more than nature intended pigeons to be... and explains the talking dog (any of the region around the tower is called Unreal Estate for a reason). Ankh-Morpork has texture and a certain je ne sais quoi that makes it remarkable and distinctive and home to about a million inhabitants - human, dwarf, troll, vampire, gnome, gnoll, werewolf, and "others," including zombies and the monsters that live under the bed and the Tooth Fairy. And Corporal Nobbs. That's the kind of city which simultaneously makes you feel at home, and makes you wonder how the heck you got there.

I would live there - on the Ankh side, but near the University, I think - in a heartbeat.

Ankh-Morpork is allegedly based on the cities of Tallinn (Estonia) and central Prague, but has elements of 18th century London, 19th century Seattle and modern New York City. Since I've been everywhere but Prague thus far (only in our time period... although, with Tallinn, who can be sure), maybe this is why the place feels so comfortable? Ankh-Morpork is a semi-medieval city that... works. Mostly. Except for incursion by the odd dragon, the City Watch does their job, the Patrician ...votes, and the rest of the rabble falls in line. More or less.

A favorite of the early City Guard novels is Men at Arms which begins with a diversity drive for "Be a MAN in the City Watch! The City watch needs MEN!" the posters blare. Well, "men" may not be the right word, because the city watch has found a.) a troll, b.) a dwarf, c.) a girl, and d.) incidentally, a werewolf. On top of all of that diversity, there's a serial murderer on the loose, the beginnings of a romance, semi-real pork, and a talking dog. Plus, the watch is going to be stood down and put on leave at noon the following day, for a wedding. As usual, things are a hair away from being ruined for good. Fortunately, the city of Ankh-Morpork doesn't breed timid men. Or, timid talking dogs, assassins, fools, or City Watch personnel, either.

If you've never read any of the Discworld novels, and this just sounds like a geek-ramble to you... well, it is. Other than providing you with story lines, almost anything I say about these books will contain spoilers - which is no fun. The Discworld novels are an acquired taste, but the thing is, it's an easily acquired taste, if you're in a slightly punchy mood and have studied philosophy (which describes half of the British people I know). It crosses easily into American readership because in spite of everything, the characters in the novels really love their city, and make you love it, too. There's patriotism and pride, as the Watchmen defend their city, and when trouble lurks (which really, is every other five minutes), the head of the city watch snarls, "Not in my town!"

I love all of the Watch novels, and to prepare myself for this city salute (and, for no really good reason otherwise except I reread these things about once a year), I started reading Men at Arms. It's a book which includes visits from Death, an invention of Leonard da Quirm (who is obviously a parody of Leonardo da Vinci), a scary clown from The Fool's Guild called Dr. Whiteface, and a visit with the head of The Assassin's Guild.

(Ironically, the clown is the scarier one in this scenario. Certainly he's scarier than Death, which tells you something about clowns.)

This book is one of the many which has modern technology stuck into a semi-Renaissance city. Because of this, it is well-received by its audience, and is one of the Watch books which most often gets written into a play (the one with the dragon might be a bit harder to stage). This poster is from a summer festival play in Wellington, New Zealand.

(This still sounds like a geek-ramble, doesn't it? Oh, well. The nice thing about this geek-ramble is that I'm not alone. Author Sir Terry Pratchett, together with a television personage have gotten together to make a City Watch TV Show. Soon, the geekery will spread...)

These novels are especially fun because they're marketed in Britain to adults - and teens. They cross-over perfectly for a people who have a lot of common experiences (like being required to take philosophy), but they cross the pond just as well, and if you enjoy the Tiffany Aching novels, these will crossover well for you, too.

You could start your foray into the Discworld by getting to now this famed city. Start your reading with the City Watch books (Guards! Guards!, Men at Arms, Feet of Clay, Jingo, The Fifth Elephant, Night Watch, Thud! and Snuff) which will give you a feel for the city which is so beloved - and bedeviled - by so many. It will also give you a taste of Death (an anthropomorphic personification who talks in unquoted small caps), zombies, black-ribboner vampires ("Not one drop! Don't be a stupid sucker!") time travel, and C.M.O.T. Dibbler's sausage-inna-bun (which you should spit out immediately, you don't know where that's been). If you begin now, you can read through the Watch series and then get on with The Hogfather by Christmas...

Whatever cover you choose, you'll find in these books a fabulous city with hidden streets, bizarre people, and a fascinating cast. Enjoy! And please enjoy more Book City salutes today!

November 14, 2011

New and Upcoming Releases Shout-Out!

I don't have a review for you today; instead, I wanted to do a quick shout-out to a few longtime blogging and writing friends, perspicacious reviewers all, who have BOOKS OF THEIR OWN getting released in the coming months and whose wonderful writing deserves attention and fame and fortune. :)

First and perhaps foremost to THIS blog is the fact that our very own Tanita has a new book coming out in May of 2012 entitled Happy Families--check out that awesome cover. The book's about a set of fraternal twins, Ysabel and Justin, and the Amazon blurb says "their father has a secret--one that threatens to destroy the twins' happy family and life as they know it." There's already been considerable speculation amongst our blogging friends as to what that secret might be, to which I simply say "NYAH NYAH" because I know what it i-is. But you'll have to read it to find out.

And then, coming out VERY soon--next week, in fact--is a memoir (not YA) by our good friend Colleen Mondor of Chasing Ray entitled The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska. Having just read it, I can definitely tell you that this one is poignant, at times shocking, and always tough to put down. It deserves that Booklist starred review. (Full disclosure: I'm also helping Colleen revamp her website to include info about the book--so I've been extra excited and enthusiastic about it!)

I'm just as excited that our friend Kelly Fineman of Writing and Ruminating has a picture book due out in March of 2012 from Tiger Tales Press called At the Boardwalk. Just look at that adorably wonderful cover illustration--I can hardly wait to force this one on my youngest nephew for his birthday in May. He's got to read SOMETHING that isn't about trucks or trains, after all.

Also coming soon from frequent visitor and kindred blog bud writerjenn--aka Jennifer Hubbard--is a new novel entitled Try Not to Breathe, which sounds dark, difficult, gripping--and important. And, on the topic of not-breathing (uh, kinda) also in January comes the latest from blogging author and kindred spirit Holly Cupala, Don't Breathe a Word. Don't confuse the two, though they promise to be equally important books--the former is about depression, while the latter is about abuse and life on the street. You'll just have to read them both.

November 11, 2011

Get Discovered!

It's time once again for the YA Novel Discovery Competition! From Serendipity:

Young Adult Novel Discovery Competition
Get in Front of Top YA Editors and Agents with
ONLY the First 250 Words of Your YA Novel!

No query? No pitch? No problem!
Serendipity Literary Agency, in collaboration with Gotham Writers' Workshop, is hosting its Third Annual Young Adult Novel Discovery Competition for a chance to win a one-on-one consultation with one of New York's leading YA literary agents!

If you've written a novel for young adults—or have an idea for one that you would like to write—we invite you to enter our contest. Simply submit only an enticing title along with the first 250 words from the opening of your original YA novel. Go here:

The Grand Prize Winner will have the opportunity to submit an entire manuscript to YA literary agent Regina Brooks and receive a free, 10-week writing course, courtesy of Gotham Writers' Workshop, plus a collection of gourmet teas from

The Top Five Entrants (including the Grand Prize winner) will receive a 15-minute, one-on-one pitch session with Regina Brooks, one of New York’s premier literary agents for young adult books. They will also receive commentary on their submissions by editors at Scholastic, Disney, Harlequin Teen, Random House, Viking, Roaring Brook Press, Sourcebooks, and Kimani Tru and receive a one-year subscription to The Writer Magazine.

The First 50 Entrants will receive a copy of Writing Great Books for Young Adults by Regina Brooks.

Enter to win - right here. Here's the kicker: the contest ends November 30, 2011, so if you're doing it, DO IT NOW.

Even though sometimes we find that author contests are somehow deceptive - either with hidden costs inside or hidden scams or something else, this one seems to be the real deal. Regina Brooks is an actual agent and this is a way for her agency to find new authors and enjoy tea and the attention of editors at the same time. In fact, we at Wonderland can honestly endorse this contest because we know someone who placed in the Top 5 last year, and she's really enjoyed having an agent and having her work read and critiqued in preparation for publication. We know that someday soon her very nuanced, detailed, and exciting fantasy will burst onto the scene and find itself many more fans.

Go, Writers!

November 10, 2011

Thursday Review: BLOOD RED ROAD by Moira Young

This book is a 2011 Cybils nominee for teen sci-fi/fantasy.

Reader Gut Reaction: A dystopian adventure with the feel of Mad Max and a girl who kicks butt--what's not to like? Really, there is a lot to like about this book. The narrator, Saba, lives in a harsh, desolate world already, just eking out a living in dried-out, dusty Silverlake (no relation to the one in L.A., from what I can tell, though that did throw me a little). When her father dies and her twin brother Lugh is kidnapped by scary road warrior types on horseback, she sets off with her pet crow Nero to get him back. Her quest leads her through a set of harrowing adventures that made this book difficult to put down: from cage fighting to dust sailing to confronting insane drug lords.

A few things did throw me, though: the most significant was the fact that the book is written in a sort of dialect that reads like rural speech—dropping the "g" at the end of "-ing" words, saying "I says" and "she don't," etc.--and that took some time to get used to reading and might be the kind of thing that gets on some readers' nerves. Generally speaking, it fits the story, but at times I felt like it got in the way. I also had a minor issue with the realism of having a pet crow (according to what I've been told, they're far more ornery and, er, violently protective than depicted here). Overall, though, this is an action-packed story that's hard to put down. Oh, and this may sound like a spoiler, but it's something I was glad for and others will be happy to know: THE CROW DOESN'T DIE. There. I said it. No dead pets. Thank the gods.

Concerning Character: Saba (which, by the way, means "morning" in Urdu--and, of course, Lugh was the Bright One in Irish/Celtic myth) is the kind of character you want to root for all the way--she's a fighter, she's stubborn and won't give in, and even when she's doing the right thing for the wrong reasons and being hardheaded, her inner core of goodness remains unchanged. Sure, she's rough around the edges--everyone is, in this setting—but she'd do anything for her family, even her annoying little sister Emmi. And by "anything"...well, it means she does a lot of horrific things, but none of them as terrible as the things that the mysterious King is supposedly doing. The bad guys in this one are BAD, and that makes for constant tension throughout the story that keeps you turning the pages. Although some of the characters are a bit over the top--much like a Mad Max movie--fans of the gritter, more post-apocalyptic dystopia genre will probably like this one.

Recommended for Fans Of...: House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer; Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban (an adult book, but suitable as a crossover—anyway, I read it as a teen); A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. (reviewed here; also an adult book) and other post-apocalyptic fiction.

Themes & Things: The strength of family bonds is one of the primary themes driving this book--and what forges those bonds to begin with. Lugh, as Saba's twin, never had to work hard for her love, but Emmi, on the other hand, was just the annoying little sister, something which changes over the course of the story. That dovetails nicely with another major theme: opening one's heart to others, in simple friendship and in times of need. Both of these are things Saba has trouble with, much to the consternation of her potential love interest, Jack. Frankly, love isn't something she's had on her mind much at all, obsessed as she is with getting her brother back. Oh, yes, obsession and its benefits as well as its downside--another driving force in this story, and we're not talking just about Saba but also about those whose obsessions send them down an unsavory path. For me, both theme and character were somewhat subordinate to plot and action in this one, and so I'd suggest it for fans of plot-driven stories with a lot of atmosphere and setting detail, like The Hunger Games.

Review Copy Source: Borders clearance sale.

You can find Blood Red Road at an independent bookstore near you!

November 09, 2011

Call for Submission, Scary, Scary Booklists, etc.

Wild Onion Press is offering $500 and publication of a story that fits their mission of Books Starring Kids with Physical Differences. This prize is inspired by Grace Mary McClelland, whose award-winning picture book educates, inspires, entertains and engenders compassion in all readers as it changes perceptions of physical difference.

The Prize Committee is made up of Wild Onion Press editors, illustrators, book designer, educational consultants as well as Grace McClelland and her family who will review the recommended final three.

Manuscripts may be of any length in the genres of picture book, chapter book, middle-grade or young adult memoir or novel. The main character must be in a heroic role in which a physical difference is not a disability but merely an outstanding characteristic. The winning manuscript will be available for sale on the Wild Onion Press website and through online booksellers, including

Deadline January 1, 2012. The winning manuscript will be announced May 1, 2012 with publication following.

Go to for more information and instructions on how to enter.

Hilariously, via the MarySue, a list of books which made the staff, as young readers, absolutely terrified of puberty. Sylvia Plath? Check. Maya Angelou? Check, check, check. I snickered that they included Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman in there, butchaknowwhat? Yeah. It fits. Any book which includes the girl running away to avoid marriage made me kind of cringe-y back in the day. Read the whole list here.

Would you pay $300K for a wee tiny book... if it were written by Charlotte Brontë? Well, someone one. The book, written when Charlotte was just fourteen, is a teensy replicated men's 'zine with hand-cut and lettered pages, made for fun for her sisters to enjoy. It's adorable, tiny, and the 19-page story is suitably nutso, involving, as it does, Mr. Rochester's first wife, Bertha, murder, and insanity. Good fun, that. It's pre-Jane Eyre Brontë. I'm sure somewhere Edward and Bella are bidding madly.

November 08, 2011

Hot Times: Summer in the City

Whether it's the Lost City, the Naked City, the City of Angels or the City that Care Forgot, we're talking city stories here in the kidlitosphere on November 16th, all day. Join us in saluting the cities that form some of the places for our favorite YA and kidlit fictions. This is a great chance to highlight a city at your own blog, and gain a fat and juicy list of some really great books - old, new, and of all genres, and some of which you'll have never heard of before. Colleen @ Chasing Ray will keep an all-day master list, so you'll be easily able to find participating blogs - and you're invited to participate, too!

Join the fun and share your tales of the city on November 16th!

November 07, 2011

Vampires vs. Unicorns: DRINK, SLAY, LOVE by Sarah Beth Durst

This book is a 2011 Cybils nominee for teen sci-fi/fantasy.

Reader Gut Reaction: Full disclosure: I'm just about at full capacity when it comes to books about vampires. (Admittedly, it didn't take very long.) But I've read just about everything that Sarah Beth Durst has written so far, and she has such an engaging and funny writing style that I was willing to give this one a shot. Or a nibble.

You've heard, no doubt, of Zombies vs. Unicorns. Well, it wouldn't be inaccurate to describe Drink, Slay, Love as vampires vs. unicorns. Pearl is a vampire—a young vampire—and her primary concerns are hanging out with her hot vampire boyfriend Jadrien, drinking the scrumptiously ice-cream-flavored blood of the Dairy Hut kid, and preparing for the Fealty Ceremony at which she'll become a full-fledged adult vampire. At least, that was all she cared about until the fateful night she got stabbed in the heart by a unicorn. Too bad nobody believes her. After all, unicorns aren't real...

Concerning Character: Pearl is one of those characters who starts off a little more tongue-in-cheek, a little more humor and flash than substance. Then she grows on you. Not just in terms of general appeal, but also with respect to depth of character. And that fits the story—Pearl is just a vampire to start with, but getting stabbed by a unicorn has unexpected side effects, the most notable of which are that she can now walk around in the daylight and she begins to develop...a conscience. What kind of vampire actually starts to feel bad about her potential victims? This ends up being a major complication when she's sent out into the world by her Family (yes, the vampires are a little like the Mafia) to acquire a feast to remember for the upcoming Fealty Ceremony.

When Pearl enrolls in high school (surely an excellent source of deliciously drinkable humans), it isn't quite as easy as it seems to blend in and fulfill her family's directive. What happens when she (gasp) makes actual friends? I love the funny but also sincere what-if questions that drive this story: What if a vampire really did enroll in a high school and it wasn't glamorized and glittery? What if a vampire showed signs of conscience and didn't have an amazing, understanding family to back her up?

Recommended for Fans Of...: This is a fun look at vampire fiction that should appeal to fans of Kimberly Pauley's Sucks to Be Me (reviewed here), Cynthia Leitch Smith's Tantalize (reviewed here), Life Sucks by Jessica Abel (reviewed here), or anyone who's tired of vampire fiction that takes itself too seriously.

Themes & Things: Friendship. Love. What it means to have those, compared to not having them. Learning that friendship and love come in different flavors, and learning that you can find family that are just as valuable and meaningful as the family you were born into. (That seems to be a common theme in the books I'm reading lately, but honestly, it is an important life lesson.)

Review Copy Source: Author/publisher

You can find Drink, Slay, Love at an independent bookstore near you!

November 03, 2011

Toon Thursday: The Stuff of Nightmares

In honor of Halloween earlier this week (not really, but hey, it works thematically) I present you with some writerly nightmares via this's more of an evil roulette wheel. Enjoy, and pray none of these happen to you. *Cue eeeeevil laughter*

Click the cartoon to view slightly larger in a separate window.

November 01, 2011

2011 Cybils: ABANDON, by Meg Cabot

I had to start this novel twice - about eight months ago, I started Insatiable, thought this one was the same one, and went, "Meh." I blame the covers for confusing me. You know how sometimes you're in a weird place mentally? Totally my fault, not the book. Anyway, the second time, I picked up the book, I thought, "Oh, wait. Did I read about this weird family reunion with the guy from prison and the "did-you-see-a-light?" conversation, and kept going - and then, next thing I knew, the book was over.

Reader Gut Reaction: In a genre saturated to swampiness with shapeshifters, zombies, vampires and angels, this book stands out like a solid place to stand. If you like your fiction with a touch of dark gothic drama, and your romance with a lot of bewilderment and confusion, you'll enjoy this.

No, seriously.

Concerning Character: Pierce's family is really larger than life. There's her father, who sells weapons to the military - and whose company is responsible for oil spills, the death of sea birds, and a lot of other crap. There's her Uncle Chris, who served sixteen years for murder. There's her grandmother, who runs a shop called Knuts for Knitting - and yes, it's as unbearable as it sounds. There's Pierce's mother, who is all about saving the birds - which is why she and Pierce's dad are divorced.

And then there's Pierce: the girl who died and came back to life. The girl who allegedly killed a teacher at her last school. The D-wing girl, whom everyone in her new school thinks is both scholastically challenged and flat-out certifiable.

Her family's a prickly, quirky bunch. Her mother's kind of a hippie at heart, her father is definitely the epitome of Montgomery Burns, from "The Simpsons," but Pierce cares about them fiercely. She cares about her friends. She cares about the sea birds, about drowning animals, about everything alive.

She's been like that since before she died... but it just got a lot more serious.

Recommended for Fans Of...:Keturah and Lord Death, by Martine Leavitt, Robin McKinley's Rose Daughter, The Phantom of the Opera, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, etc. etc.

Themes & Things: Meg Cabot has taken an old, old story cycle and revived it. It's the dark prince longing for the princess of light, in leather-clad bad boy gazing with longing at the fresh-faced girl in the library. Light and dark, stippled into a pleasing pattern; Hades and Persephone all over again. It is an old, well-loved, and in this version, darkly romantic tale.

Cover Chatter: Oh, dead girls. Again. Publishing kids. Can we talk about this? I mean, I'm not trying to read something like "violence against women" into this when the plethora of dead girls obviously means nothing, but can we just stop killing waif-y looking teen girls? Please? I mean, I know Pierce dies in this novel, and all. But...

Okay. Let's just talk about the good things. The paperback cover, ferinstance. It's got all the correct elements: a defenseless looking teen, check. A fairy fluffy dress, check. Also: a girl in a leather jacket. Also: a two-worlds theme going on, above/below, light/dark. Now, that works. Actually has something to do with the story, and all parties pictured are alive. Points for a full torso and head, as well!

But, okay, if you like the hardback cover, the ... arabesque-y floral motif and the font and junk are elegant, too. All right? Fine.

You can find ABANDON - in paperback or hardback, if you insist - at an independent bookstore near you!