March 20, 2018


Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!

NB: Readers will be glad to know that this is a story with a clear beginning, middle, and end, but be aware that said ending has left a clearly marked door open for a sequel. This is a duology, so weather this battle, and keep your powder dry/your scythes sharp to win the war.

While it can be difficult to present an unbiased review of the work of an acquaintance whose intellect the reader deeply respects, I believe I have achieved it; your opinion may vary.

Synopsis: The Battle of Gettysburg has had a vastly different conclusion than any battle before; the dead have risen and... are eating both friends and foes. Two days later, Jane McKeen is born on the plantation at Rose Hill, as the North and South join forces to combat the newest threat to the States. The Native and Negro Reeducation Act, which forces African American and Native children to enroll and learn to fight, is at the forefront of protecting the world. However, in Baltimore, it is believed that the threat is receding. Jane, who was taken from Rose Hill to be trained to fight zombies at Miss Preston's school, is almost ready to graduate into being an Attendant, but for her sharp tongue and quick temper - and who can blame her, really? Katherine Devereaux is entirely too light-skinned, snotty and pretty for her own good. So, Jane's not so much what you'd call a model student. She's wanted to leave Miss Preston's school pretty much for the moment she arrived. Other than goading Katherine, and wandering around outside at night, there have been...a few other, er, missteps... one of whom is called Jackson Keats.

No matter that Jackson a.) doesn't love Jane and b.) is a low-down, fast-talking, redbone con man, c. and is too pretty by half, Jane remains a loyal and faithful ...frenemy. No matter that her head tells her that the world is harsh and bitter and full of awful people, her heart remains curiously, humanly, tender. When Jack's sister, Lily, vanishes, along with the white family with whom she lives, Jane's curiosity - and loyalty to Lily - urges her to look into some of the oddities at the Mayor's house. Predictably, Jane's prying gets her in trouble - and sent to a shockingly bleak Survialist colony in Kansas called Summerland. Now on essentially the very front lines of the war against the undead, Jane has new obstacles between herself and Rose Hill. She'll have to dodge zombies and Survivalists and all kinds of insanity -- as well as find new allies and combat her own tender heart to see herself back where she belongs.

"It's a cruel, cruel world. And the people are the worst part."

Observations: I grew up with family from near New Orleans, consequently, I grew up with a childhood of tales associated with 'haints, Marie Laveau, and a distorted depiction of "voodoo." Zombie books, for me, are generally a very hard pass -- but the truthful voice and keen gaze of Jane McKeen, and the determination and fury which drives her survival will hook even zombie-averse readers and draw them in for the, um, kill.

The pettiness of shade-ism and class at Jane's school where she's learning to be a zombie-killing Attendant to white ladies is emphasized by the (mostly) well-meaning teachers whose insistence on manners and appearance at a school where they do scythe drills are amusingly reminiscent of the oddly misplaced pride Victorian ladies held for their finishing schools. Readers meet Jane's classmates, and judge her education, manner, bearing, and her teachers, while childhood memories of Rose Hill are revealed. When they finally arrive, the zombies loom large, but after the other monsters which readers encounter, they become almost background characters.

Primarily, DREAD NATION is a Reconstruction-era zombie novel, but merely skim the story's surface, and readers will discover that it is equally about the true costs of and the inhumanity and injustice of racism. The narrative grapples with the idea of who owns the rights to The Good Life, and at what cost we sell each other into the fell dark for a chance to reach it. Significantly, in DREAD NATION, former Confederates twist their poisonous ideology into a new belief system. "Survivalist" beliefs twist older Manifest Destiny ideas with Latter Day Saints theology about black and brown people to create a new horror. In Biblical literature, Noah's son, Ham, was cursed, and 18th century reasoning used this to explain why Africans are dark - because they were "blackened" by their sins, and by distant being relatives of Ham. This sin/salvation framework for race "allows" the Negro and Native peoples the "opportunity" of propitiation for their sins by giving their lives in the service of fighting zombies for their "betters." Readers will shudder at the Preacher, the single most creepy character in the Survivalist's colony for me, as I am well versed in religious ideology, and throughout World History (not to mention American) it is very clear how the devious and morally bankrupt can twist religious ideology and belief to suit their needs.

Conclusion: Star-studded reviews of this book use the word "subversive" to describe it, as well as "suspenseful" and "sinister." This novel is all of that, plus lively storytelling, as well as sharp-edged and clear-sighted critique of inequality and injustice. All of this is folded into a fast-paced, exciting, and (somewhat) fictional package. There are more monsters in this narrative than those shuffling along the Kansas prairies - and readers will be drawn to reevaluate the presence of the monsters lurking in their own society.

The best truths are wrapped in parable - Ireland takes the bitter pill of racist reality and wraps it into a blood-tingingly exciting adventure. It's better than I could have even hoped, and there are cinematic elements lying around all over the place. Dare we hope the novel gets a film treatment? For this reader, hope springs eternal...

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. After April 3 - less than fifteen days! - you can find DREAD NATION by Justina Ireland at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

March 19, 2018


Gateway to the Great Stupa at Sanchi, 1st century CE.
Synopsis: The life (well, lives) of the Buddha are almost naturally suited to graphic storytelling. After all, Buddhist jataka tales and stories of his birth and death have been illustrated in visual form on architectural monuments for centuries...even millennia. They come with their own visual conventions and pictorial traditions, so it is interesting to tackle a depiction of the Buddha's life in a contemporary comics format, taking an ancient visual language and blending it with one that current readers are familiar with.

The graphic novel Buddha: An Enlightened Life by Kieron Moore and Rajesh Nagulakonda covers the story of how the Buddha became the Buddha: how a minor noble named Prince Siddhartha experienced a great spiritual awakening, abandoned his princely life, and wandered as a pauper before reaching enlightenment and establishing one of the world's great religious traditions. This intriguing and educational book was a finalist for Cybils Young Adult Graphic Novels this past year.

Observations: This book does a great job of bringing to life the story of how Prince Siddhartha became the Buddha, animating his various trials and life events with a sense of drama and even adventure. While there is a distinct whiff of the "educational" with this one, and some young readers might simply not be interested in the topic, the story of Buddha is international and timeless, and an important part of world culture as well as the culture of many young readers.

The drawing style is beautiful and the colors ethereal, bringing a visible Asian flair into a traditional, easy-to-read comics layout. I kind of wish it hadn't followed the Victorian-era convention of making everyone fair-skinned, though; fair skin is considered a favorable trait in Indian culture, but it is also a symptom of a pernicious colorism that perpetuates the damaging class divides of the caste system. All that aside, though, the art was really quite lovely, and its delicacy fitting for a story about spiritual enlightenment.

Conclusion: I've been wanting to explore Campfire Graphic Novels for a while now, interested in what might emerge from a homegrown comics publisher in India, and the educational value and overall quality of this one has me eager to read more. I appreciate the effort being made by this Indian imprint to produce high-quality literary titles to be marketed to English-speaking audiences around the world.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher for Cybils 2017. You can find BUDDHA: AN ENLIGHTENED LIFE by Kieron Moore and Rajesh Nagulakonda at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

March 14, 2018

Surveying Stories: Separating Fears and Identifying Heart's Desires in T. Kingfisher's SUMMER IN ORCUS

1. Don't worry about things that you cannot fix. 2. Antelope women are not to be trusted. 3. You cannot change essential nature with magic.

In the stressful days of last summer, Ursula Vernon, through the pen of T. Kingfisher, started a twice-weekly fantasy serial about an eleven-year-old girl. It was not, she informed her Patreons, for middle graders, despite the title character's age.

In time, the series became the highlight of a rather lackluster few months, and patrons hugely supported a Kickstarter to have it printed in hardback with illustrations by Lauren "Luve" Henderson. I chose to wait for the bound book to arrive, instead of finishing the serial, and frequently wondered exactly what in the conclusion of the book would prove it wasn't for middle graders... would it be Baba Yaga, and her scary dual nature as cranky grandmother type and periodic sales person carnivore? Would it be tragic Donkeyskin, or the frog tree? Could it be the deceit of Antelope Women everywhere? Or, the warlike legacy of Zultan Houndbreaker and the Queen-in-Chains? No - as Tech Boy and I read the finished copy, I reconfirmed that these are deliciously scary and delightfully fanciful elements which are a hook, drawing the reader onward.

So, where might the problem lie? In the journey.

As we've discussed before, middle school is an immense time of change and pressure, and in Summer's case, her main adversary in her journey to maturation is not her peers - they barely cause a blip in Summer's mind. It is instead her mother who is her adversary, jealous of her personal thoughts, encroaching on her personal space, and unable to allow her daughter a moment's peace without her smothering hopes and terrors, all in the name of love. Like a too-small pot causing roots to be knotted and unable to take in sufficient nutrients, Summer's mother isn't allowing her to grow.

Very few contemporary middle grade novels tackle the grinding, long-term phenomenon of the parental bullying/emotionally diminishing parent and the caretaker child (maybe the last one I read was by Cynthia Ryland in the 90's). This subject seems limited to YA readership, but for many children fulfilling the complex needs of a damaged parent begins in elementary school and morphs into something burdensome and strange well before high school. Summer's needy, hyperprotective mother and the journey which Summer undertakes into another world to find a similar issue isn't something every middle grader will be able to relate to, but the way the novel is written, with excitement and danger and wry humor, I believe that plenty of tweens will relate well enough not to be bored by Summer's fear, or the lack of major battle scene. SUMMER IN ORCUS is an excellent older middle grade novel with familiar tropes and portal novel elements. Summer's quest was to find her heart's desire... and in her search, we discover the desire of the hearts of most of us. With all that being said,

Let's survey a story!

When the witch Baba Yaga walks her house into the backyard, eleven-year-old Summer enters into a bargain for her heart’s desire. Her search will take her to the strange, surreal world of Orcus, where birds talk, women change their shape, and frogs sometimes grow on trees. But underneath the whimsy of Orcus lies a persistent darkness, and Summer finds herself hunted by the monstrous Houndbreaker, who serves the distant, mysterious Queen-in-Chains…

From the Hugo and Nebula award winning author of "Digger" and "Jackalope Wives" comes a story of adventure, betrayal, and heart's desire. T. Kingfisher, who writes for children as Ursula Vernon, weaves together a story of darkness, whimsy, hope and growing things, for all the adults still looking for a door to someplace else.

Baba Yaga is as ambiguous as she is terrifying. In Slavic folklore, she's almost seen as a trickster, at times being revered as a Crone of great wisdom and insight, and in other moments, an antagonistic threat parents use to frighten their children into submission. Baba Yaga might eat you. She might beat you about the head with her pestle. She might just pat you on the head, and go away. Really, you never know. The day Summer meets Baba Yaga is one of Baba's good days, according to the skull door knocker on her chicken-legged house...which speaks to anyone unwise enough to encounter Baba Yaga's door. Summer wisely checks the lay of the land via the skull - which proves to stand her in good stead later on.

Beginning a portal fantasy with the entrance of Baba Yaga is a clear signal to readers that chancy times are ahead - things could go perfectly well, and the story wind up with a significant HEA, or ... it could all go straight down the loo pretty much immediately, with lots of lumps and bruises from a well-wielded stone mortar. I loved that Baba Yaga both begins and ends this novel, which provides a perfectly satisfying story arc, and informs us that LIFE in the real world is just as chancy as a summer's day in Orcus... Baba Yaga introduces herself to Summer for the sole purpose, she says, of offering Summer her heart's desire. Summer doesn't go looking for this boon, nor does she ask for it, nor does she know what that could possibly be. And yet, when Baba Yaga offers you something... well, if you don't know if she'll suck your marrow or send you on your way, you take it... right? Or don't you? Summer's first lesson is quickly apparent, and repeats itself through the many traveling days, Be careful what you wish for.

Through the machinations of a lit candle and an opened door, Summer is plopped into another world without a map or much of a guide but a weasel in her pocket. Surprisingly, she does have instructions of a sort - three, guiding principles by which she must view life in Orcus... and possibly elsewhere. In the real world, we often encounter guiding principles framed by persons or institutions like churches, and if we're wise, we can understand and apply them. More often, in the high chaos and noise of the world we cannot and they're true things we remember after the fact, or which echo upon reading, but are soon forgotten. Summer mainly holds onto one of the rules, 1. Don't worry about things that you cannot fix. This serves her well both in Orcus and will when she's back home again.

As Summer is ostensibly in Orcus to locate her heart's desire, she is soon confused about why she has been sent to a land which has been once torn by war, and is now not quite healed and in so much need. How is it that human hearts are meant to find their truest voice in a world so filled with other things which are broken and leaking chaos and dying? With the addition of a nattily dressed gent called Reginald (of the Almondsgrove Hoopoes) and a splendid cottage wolf to their party, readers are reminded that the world isn't all bad, and that company along the road can make most things bearable.

The world is still broken, and grows darker - and this is where Kingfisher's novel may speak more to adults. Summer is still, in spite of everything, meant to be finding her heart's desire, as we often are called on to carry on with fixing things while on a personal level we're trying hard to shut out the noise and listen for ourselves. While it might be difficult for a tween to articulate, what we want, and who we want to be is at the beating centers of all of our hearts. The worst thing about having a mother like Summer's is that Summer cannot hear her own heart - she hears her mother's. She feels her mother's worries and frequent weeping fears. She bears her mother's burdens, and her grief. Summer has to deny her own self in favor of her mother, and it is a burden both unfair, unjust, and unwieldy. What Baba Yaga does for Summer in giving her Orcus, more than anything, is give her a time away from everything she has had to carry for so long, and lets her know that it has strengthened her enough to carry a cheese knife for someone else's sake. This resonated strongly with me.

This is where the magic lies -- in T. Kingfisher's book, and in all books which carry us away, in portal fantasy in particular, which allows us to believe that things could be different, if we opened the correct wardrobe, and in Orcus in specific, where Summer finally discovers that she can be all she thought she might be when she isn't bent double under an inheritance of anxiety and depression that isn't hers to own. Summer is, by Baba Yaga's observation, "dangerously ignorant," and it's not just of the world outside of her backgarden gate -- Summer is dangerously ignorant of herself. But, it's not wholly her fault - unless she refuses to do the work of looking within to know herself. This is subtly conveyed throughout the story - Summer makes several mistakes from sheer innocence, and it nearly costs her her life in the end - but after every flub, she learns to listen to herself, to hear, and to act on her own advice. At journey's end, you cannot imagine that Summer is still the same innocent, "sweet summer child," as it were. She Knows Things. She knows herself a little better. And that cannot help but change her, for the better.

In the larger world, family is imperfect - and entangled familial relationships often a burden, to be blunt. Our world is messy, dying, and packed full of the deceitful and unkind. And yet, the journey to find one's heart's desire can still be an adventure worth taking. The act of saving one tiny part of the dying world is still an action worth taking. One frog tree, alive and well, is worth all the bruises and terror, and deceptive antelope women in the world.

Afterward, when all has been said and done, Baba Yaga is there to grant you entrance back into the world from which you came - with its insults and burdens, and deceptions and degenerations. You are home. You may not have your cheese knife, but you can manage the battles in the real world, the battles between someone else's concerns, and the ones which concern you. And knowing that, more than anything, is the summation of any heart's desire, middle grader or adult.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of a Kickstarter purchase. You can find T. Kingfisher's SUMMER IN ORCUS in ebook form on Amazon, possibly in print via Sofawolf Press or as a freebie read on the Red Wombat Studio website. Enjoy.

March 13, 2018

2♦sdays@the treehouse: Challenge the Third: March

Welcome back to our monthly Second Tuesday writing challenge!

From January - June, every second Tuesday of the month, we're going to post an image here on Wonderland of a Creative Commons licensed Flickr picture to which you can respond - with poetic, prose, or whatever kind of writing - and hopefully, you'll share a link in the comments below, so that we can visit your site, read your work and respond. No genre or style limit - just come and join the fun!

Welcome back, it's March, which brings with it, famously, National Irish American Heritage Month (WHO KNEW), Purim, and the National Bubble Week celebration, which, I'm sure, is all the rage where there's still snow and ice crystals to photograph attractively over their surfaces. This month's image comes from Flickr user Philipp Rein of Augsburg, Germany. I'm intrigued by the stories which will come from this image, so without further ado:


I'm not going to bother with Inlinkz this month; just leave your link in the comments below, and we look forward to reveling in your inspiration! Happy writing!

March 12, 2018

Cybils Review: THE BIG BAD FOX by Benjamin Renner

Synopsis: I can't really beat the flap copy for this one, in terms of plot summary, so here you go, fresh from Amazon:

Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Fox? No one, it seems.

The fox dreams of being the terror of the barnyard. But no one is intimidated by him, least of all the hens―when he picks a fight with one, he always ends up on the losing end. Even the wolf, the most fearsome beast of the forest, can’t teach him how to be a proper predator. It looks like the fox will have to spend the rest of his life eating turnips.

But then the wolf comes up with the perfect scheme. If the fox steals some eggs, he could hatch the chicks himself and raise them to be a plump, juicy chicken dinner. Unfortunately, this plan falls apart when three adorable chicks hatch and call the fox Mommy.

Beautifully rendered in watercolor by Benjamin Renner, The Big Bad Fox is a hilarious and surprisingly tender parable about parenthood that's sure to be a hit with new parents (and their kids too).

Observations: Funny cartoon animals and a classic-comic vibe will make this appealing for younger readers with a sense of humor that will appeal to somewhat older readers as well. New and returning fans of classic cartoons will enjoy all the silly visual gags and Looney-Tunes-style cartoon violence. It's a fun take on the Big Bad Wolf and classic animal story tropes, turning them on their head and making kids think twice about who the real bad guy is. The fun simplicity and humor of the cast of characters is appealing, and I enjoyed the lack of panel boundaries—it had a very loose but clear and easy-to-follow style.

click to embiggen

Conclusion: Fans of Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Chicken Run, and Calvin & Hobbes should enjoy this one—the humor is fun for a wide range of ages and types of readers. Another winner from First Second!

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher for the purposes of Cybils judging. You can find THE BIG BAD FOX by Benjamin Renner at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

March 08, 2018

Cybils Review: SPINNING by Tillie Walden

Synopsis: First Second consistently puts out high-quality and varied graphic novels for audiences from kids to adults, and Spinning by Tillie Walden—one of our Cybils finalists for 2017 in Young Adult Graphic Novels—is a standout. It's a graphic memoir, a genre which I always find interesting (oddly enough, I'm not usually that interested in regular memoirs), and it's about (among other things) the world of figure skating, which is awfully topical with the Winter Olympics just past but is not a world I know the ins and outs of.

After reading Spinning, I have a lot better idea of what it's like to train as a competitive figure skater—and I can unequivocally say it would not have been for me. For the young Tillie, who has been a skater for ten years, figure skating is her life, her passion, her talent, and even her refuge. Until, that is, her family moves, and she starts at a new school. Not only is her environment new, she discovers she has new interests, like art. She also falls in love—with another girl. It takes some more time to realize maybe the rigid world of figure skating doesn't mean to her what it once did.

Observations: This book covers issues of growing up as a girl and coming to terms with sexuality across a wide age span, and should be accessible to a range of readers. It's easy to be flip and say it's a story about skating, but it's about so much more than that. It's also very down-to-earth both in writing/art style and in the narrator's way of looking at the world. Readers will recognize and relate to the various small and large dramas of coming of age—of friendship, competition, school, and learning who you are.
Image: Macmillan
Thematically, this one is complex—beneath the veneer of the ice-skating world, the importance of the story is really about Tillie learning who she is and learning to inhabit that self. Yet it remains easy to follow and clearly structured. As mentioned before, the style is down to earth—simple, clear, and effective—and keeps us focused on the story. The limitation to just a few colors lends atmosphere to the simplicity of the drawing.

Conclusion: This was truly deserving of being a Cybils finalist. It's wonderfully well-written, it's an intriguing glimpse into the world of professional ice skating, and it's a heartening story about the rollercoaster of coming to terms with who you are.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of my library. You can find SPINNING by Tillie Walden at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

March 06, 2018

Turning Pages Reads: FUM, by ADAM RAPP

Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!

NB: This is not going to be the average review; I finished this novel despite my better judgment, hoping for some twist in the narrative that I wasn't expecting, to make it work. I picked it up this book because of the title... and the fact that on the cover is a female. In fairytales, all the giants are male, and we have very few newer characterizations of tall girls in young adult literature, though the too-tall girl at the school dance was an ongoing trope for a lot of the earlier years of young adult lit. As this book was listed under fantasy, I thought it would be more of a fairytale. Last warning: It's not.

Synopsis: After a pituitary tumor changes her body at age eleven, Corinthia Bledsoe emerges as 7'4" and 287 pounds. She uses a special desk, and a special toilet, because she's broken two. Her vision of a terrible triumvirate of tornadoes - and her subsequent loud, panicked warning of the entire school - is treated as some kind of violent dysfunction worthy of her being tackled by grown men, one of whom fantasizes as he does so about her bodily strength, and the kind of impact that she'd have on the gridiron. While Corinthia is already famous for her size and special-built desk, and for having a custom-built bathroom on campus, having broken two toilets since freshman year, she becomes terrifyingly infamous when the tornadoes come.

The story spins between Corintha's increasingly disturbing relationship to the school and community to the tale of Billy Ball, who, struggling with gastrointestinal problems and reeling from the death of his father, is enacting unexplained racist cliché "red face" rituals and obsessing on Native Americans. Not fitting in at the same school, he comes up with a list of students and faculty with whom his path has crossed, and seems to be preparing himself for violence. He seems vaguely aware of Corinthia, but they only meet once, and it doesn't propel the narrative in any direction. The third subplot returns to the Bledsoe household, and to a closer focus on Corintha's mother, who believes herself to be somehow tragically martyred for being Corintha's mother, and whose adult desires seem to be more important to her than her children's struggles.

Despite being a junior, Corinthia doesn't seem to have much of a view of the future, something which her ineffectual guidance counselor tries to elicit from her constantly, though her good-natured father seems prepared to accept whatever she'd like to do. Instead of a future, Corintha is mired in the present, as her brother disappears, and her mother goes into crisis. In possibly the oddest story thread in the entire book, Corinthia takes a road trip with one of the workmen fixing the school post-tornado, a man called Lavert. Corinthia's friendship with him, a grown man with a criminal past, and her understanding of his mortality is definitely unexpected, and strains the credulity of the reader past bearing.

Observations: Grotesquerie is a 20th century literary convention which, according to Wikipedia, can be linked with sci-fi and horror. For me, this novel falls squarely under grotesquerie, simply because Adam Rapp seems to be thoroughly disgusted with everyone in the entire book, and in his disgust, renders them... disgusting. From the names of the characters and their ill-fitting, cacophonous names to the description of Corinthia herself beginning from page one - "woodsplitter's hands," and the "great caves of her nostrils." Descriptions of her menstruation and nosebleeds, and comparisons between the two are a lovingly-depicted gross-fest.

The narrative never takes off, as it is heavily weighted with an abundance of cloying description, producing a plodding plot in a claustrophobic storyline which draws in the unsuspecting reader with the idea of a real giantess and instead confronts them with body dysphoria juxtaposed with an awkwardness masquerading as intimacy. No one seems to grow or change; the bizarre incidents simply crowd together, threaded with domino-sized teeth and Together, this creates one of the most unkind and body-averse narratives I've ever read, and an alleged YA book which focuses less on the young adult, her challenges and changes than on her body, and the bodies of everyone around her.

The body-consciousness remains central to the novel. At 287 pounds, Corinthia is said to be pretty, but every other word out of the narrative disregards that, and paints her as disgusting and vile. She's said to be third in her class - but every other description has her acting in bizarre and outlandish ways designed to repel the reader. Finally, Corinthia is alleged to have destroyed two toilets, once emerging covered in toilet water and swamping the girl's restroom...which is ...ludicrous, ignorant, and insulting.

FACT: People heavier than 287 use toilets on the daily. FACT: Nothing happens. Toilets - regular old public restroom toilets, and certainly the floor-mounted, vitreous china sort used in public schools - are rated to bear the weight of a THOUSAND vertical pounds, and yes, I am the big nerd who looked that up, but this jarring falsehood stands out. 287 pounds is just a number, and anyone who weighs that is just - still - a person. These scenes felt like a badly set-up, dehumanizing fat joke rather than a story detail filling in the blanks about who Corinthia is and what she's about. Kids in high school are this weight on a regular basis, and stand to be hurt and insulted by this abhorrent characterization. Reader beware.

Corinthia - her family - her school - basically her entire corner of the State seems very white... yet the teens in the story are obsessed with people of color, to very significant degrees. Billy puts arrows in his hair and paints some racist cliche of warrior marks on his face. As her family dissolves, Corinthia begins to pal around with a grown man who is also a face-tatted, do-rag wearing cliché of a prison-release workman who, early in their relationship, refers to himself as "nigga"... For a novel which, up to that point, had displayed a casual lack of empathy for any of its characters, this white-guy-included racism wasn't entirely surprising, but still reveals very poor taste.

Conclusion: I normally consider it a waste of time to review a novel which I vehemently dislike, but I made an exception for this because I walked into it unaware of its topic, or of any reputation with regard to its author. I won't make the same mistake again. While some will assign this novel as an example of satire, or may find within it deep literary meaning, or even feel that it is merely misplaced in terms of audience, and would crossover well with adults, for me, there is too much left unexplained, and what may have been a brilliant venture does not pan out in its execution. My main thought is that it is disturbing, written with a specific distaste and aversion for the body, doesn't have a discernible story arc, and is not especially respectful of the challenges and changes of adolescents, especially female adolescents. With its comparisons to people as animals and its basic disrespect for the teen body or mind, this novel seems to be an experiment with a broad scope which failed.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. After March 20, you can find FUM by Adam Rapp at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

March 01, 2018

Cybils Review: THE DAM KEEPER by Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi

Synopsis: I found out during Cybils deliberations that The Dam Keeper originated as an Oscar-nominated short animation, which makes me sad that I missed it. While I was growing up, I was a big fan of the Spike and Mike Festival of Animation, which introduced me really early on to faves like Nick Park/Aardman Animation and Pixar, now a household name. I'm guessing The Dam Keeper would've been right at home in that arena—and, in fact, both of the authors have worked for Pixar, so there you go.

Pig, who lives in Sunrise Valley, has a really important job he inherited from his father: he's the Dam Keeper, and he's responsible for keeping back the deadly black fog that threatens from outside the valley's walls. Unfortunately, he's been alone for a while—ever since his father inexplicably left and walked right out into the fog. And now, there's a huge wave of black fog on the horizon, and it's up to Pig, his best friend Fox, and the bully Hippo to figure out how to stop it.

Observations: This story's very cute animal characters will appeal to younger readers, but the touch of darkness to the storyline will broaden its age range—there's a depth of emotion here that doesn't shy away from difficult challenges like the departure of a parent or, I suppose, imminent death by scary black fog. The story and setting is unique and interesting—I love the touch of steampunk-type technology with the dam and its fog-busting fans—and the characters, while young, have plenty of agency as they set off on their quite possibly dangerous adventure.

While the story and characters are fun and strange, they deal with a variety of familiar themes that are of interest to elementary-aged readers: friendship and friendship conflicts; understanding bullies (Hippo is obnoxious, but Fox is there to tamp down his bullying and bring out his better side); who is safe to trust; missing parents. The art (which is digitally done, I think) is really striking, though I'm not necessarily into this particular style of cute animals personally. The artistry in terms of panels and pages was amazing, as was the use of atmosphere in depicting the fog and the darkness.

Conclusion: I can see this appealing to a generation of readers who have grown up with the style of digital art that's everywhere now—but it definitely transcends the mass-market stuff with its sense of artistry and intriguing story.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of my library. You can find THE DAM KEEPER by Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

February 27, 2018


Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!

Synopsis: Women who persist aren't a recent innovation. A history of intolerance, which led to insistent female resistance is not an uniquely American story, but one which nonetheless has heralded seismic shifts within our national history. After the success of A TYRANNY OF PETTICOATS, editor Jessica Spotswood brings together twelve new tales of women who were upstarts and outsiders. From the 1830's through the 1980's, these stories, some based on actual events, others fictionalized accounts of historical periods, regale readers with young women who stood up and out as radically different, and in doing so, changed the way the world related to them. Contributors to this collection include young adult authors Jessica Spotswood, who also edited; Dahlia Adler, Mackenzi Lee, Erin Bowman, Megan Shepherd, Anne-Marie McLemore, Marieke Nijkamp, Dhonielle Clayton, Sarvenaz Tash, Stacey Lee, Meg Medina, and Sara Farizan.

Observations: Claiming an identity -- stepping outside of the role and voice assigned -- can be uncomfortable and awkward, intimidating, to downright dangerous and life-threatening. Without a clear idea of how things will end, each of the young women depicted in these stories sets out on a personal journey -- whether its to use her brown hands in the service of her country, when only paler hands are sought, or to make her escape from abuse, or to take her chances in a traditionally masculine world, playing a man's role. Readers will pause thoughtfully to discover these nuanced angles of history -- taking readers out of the realm of mere nostalgia into the realities of the difficulties and challenges of history through the voices of the traditionally excluded and silenced.

The women's outsider status is significant, as most of these voices are from women in the margins, due to issues of race, religion, sexuality, disability, gender, or professional desire. I appreciated the voices from early in our national history into more recent times. Some of my favorites were the story of the young Jewess, longs to study the Torah, and the Mormon girl who tries to find ties between her new country, and her faith. A Latina drains herself of pigment with the family's magic to bleach herself into the faded shades acceptable for silent films, while brilliant and neurodivergent young woman keenly watches court proceedings to determine the reproductive rights of the mentally unfit. Elsewhere, a half-Japanese girl braves 1950's xenophobia to compete to be the next Miss Sugar, while a young Cuban dons her first pair of go-go boots. The perspectives are fresh, the stories are original, and the anthology is a joy to read.

Conclusion: If you're not a short story aficionado, I think there's still plenty in this novel which will appeal. There's room to read and hop around, and then return to longer stories from time periods which you may not believe will hold your interest. You will be surprised!

In the editor's note, Spotswood outlines the purpose of this collection, and her wish that readers will be able to find themselves within these pages. Even as not a particularly radical individual, I found myself in the bravery and dauntlessness of these heroines, and I believe this book will work well for older middle graders, young adults, and adult readers.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of NetGalley. After March 13, 2018, you'll find THE RADICAL ELEMENT edited by Jessica Spotswood at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

February 23, 2018


Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!

Synopsis: Hungry to inhabit his true self, Bridger Whitt will do anything to find a job to help him finance attending college out of state. He’s desperate enough to take a Craigslist interview with a weird entrance exam... no, a seriously weird entrance exam, as in, "Will you enter the office via the window?" He's determined enough to ignore any… little oddities about his magically-everywhere boss (exactly what was Pavel doing out at Lake Michigan when Bridger was there and just happened to be being drowned... by... Things with sharp teeth and cheerfully malicious expressions?!), and has almost entirely tuned out the disembodied voices he sometimes hears around the office. Despite discovering his boss’s true identity, regardless of learning that his crush, Leo, may actually crush on him right back, despite all signs lining up for a HEA, Bridger still can’t find a reason to stay home. After all, there’s nothing to do, and nowhere to grow in the provincial, conservative small town of Midden, Michigan. You can only discover what's real, if you go away and pursue it. Real life can only be magical elsewhere… right?

Observations: Truly, there's no place like home - and this novel brings that theme fresh life, by examining the presupposition that a.) our high school and college years are The Best Years of Our Lives (TM), and b.) that those Best Years can only happen well away from the familiar, known, and loved. This book talks about coming out and Becoming in a way which allows it to be a process that happens internally, and externally, with constant course corrections and revelations along the way. The romance, while not central to the plot, is just squeezable.

However swoon-worthy the romance is, however, what I most appreciate is how much this is a family story. In the best and most inclusive, expansive of ways, F.T. Lukens reminds us that family CAN mean a long-suffering mother who works her butt off for you, and is hopeful she's making up for you not having a Dad, but also it can additionally mean a tough-as-nails Harriet-the-Spy type who loves you, spies on you, then kicks your butt for keeping secrets - like the sister you never knew you needed, a boss and a mentor who both challenges you to rise up, but holds you as you fall apart, and pixies who cheer for you in tiny, tinny, high-pitched, annoying voices, but come on, at least they're not laughing while unicorns try to kill you this week. Or, whatever.

With endless dry humor and plenty of quirky charm, this book never tries too hard, or goes for the easy laugh. It removes itself from some of the stereotype of YA lit with a tight, loving relationship between teen and parent, and allows older people and younger people the respectful, reliant relationships they sometimes have in real life. And the humor just gives the difficulties and subtleties Bridger has while navigating the real world even more life. There's magic. There's mythos. There's a really cranky Sasquatch. While the novel is YA in spirit, it also crosses over for to be enjoyable for other ages, and could be appropriate for adults through older middle grade. While Bridger is definitely moving along toward adulthood - but this doesn't mean he's making all adult decisions - definitely not in the thriving metropolis that is... Midden(and I can't even tell you how much I love that name).

Conclusion:F.T. Lukens brings a joyfully charming innocence into this endearing adventure of a snarky, fearful boy who thinks he is fleeing toward the big, real world — when THE RULES AND REGULATIONS FOR MEDIATING MYTHS & MAGIC reveal that there is more wonder, magic, love, — and terrifying unicorns — in the known world he knows than he could have ever imagined. While I try to review without bias, this was one of my all-time FAVORITE Cybils books of 2018, I have zero chill discussing it, and I want you to read it, too.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of Duet Books, for the Cybils Awards, for which this book was a finalist. You can find THE RULES AND REGULATIONS FOR MEDIATING MYTHS AND MAGIC by F.T. Lukens at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

February 22, 2018


Synopsis: Reboots seem to be the story fad du jour when it comes to comic franchises, and while there have been some reboots of Superman, I doubt you've seen one like this before. Brought to you by the writing talents of our own local NorCal comics genius Gene Luen Yang, along with illustrator Viktor Bogdanovic, one of this year's Cybils finalists for Young Adult Graphic Novels was New Super-Man Vol. 1: Made in China.

This "DC Universe Rebirth," as DC is calling it, posits a brand-new origin story for your rebooted Superman, one steeped in DC universe lore as well as more recent traditions in Chinese comics. This time, the would-be Superman starts off as a blustering teenage bully from Shanghai named Kong Kenan. After accidentally saving his own bullying victim from a marauding supervillain, Kenan attracts the eye of a super-secret group trying to build a homegrown Chinese Justice League—they need a Superman, and they think Kenan's perfect for the part. Kenan is stoked: he has fancy powers and his new friends include Chinese Wonder Woman. What could possibly go wrong?

Observations: This is a really fun, international/multicultural take on the Superman comic adventures—kudos for diversity and for introducing new characters and storylines to a classic (some might even say old-fashioned) franchise. And, of course, Gene Yang's writing is always stellar, so this one has a good balance of entertainment and deeper themes, such as politics, family, and, naturally, good vs. evil. Readers will catch a glimpse of some ongoing sociopolitical issues in China through the lens of popular culture—both shared pop culture AND some stuff that will be new to readers, such as some homegrown Chinese superheroes that are not too thrilled with this new Justice League homing in on their crime-fighting turf.

click to embiggen

Not every reader is into superheroes, but those who are will surely enjoy this one. Effort has been put into making Kenan a relatable teen character with regular human storylines, while still packing the story with superhero adventure and humor. That extends to the artwork, too, which was well done: solid and not overly exaggerated superhero-style character design, good flow to the layout, and fast, exciting storytelling.

Conclusion: Pushing diversity to the forefront of comics makes some stodgy grouches go a little nuts, but personally, I'd rather read this new take over the old chestnut. Sorry, dudes. More variety in stories is always good. And I think this one is also being marketed in China, which is, I hope, a success.

I received my copy of this book specifically for the Cybils, courtesy of the publisher. You can find NEW SUPER-MAN VOL. 1: MADE IN CHINA by Gene Yang and Viktor Bogdanovic at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

February 19, 2018

Cybils Review: WHERE'S HALMONI? by Julie Kim

Synopsis: Uh-oh, Grandma's gone missing…. In this year's Cybils winner for Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novels, Where's Halmoni? by Julie Kim, Noona and her little brother Joon decide to visit their Halmoni (Grandma in Korean) only to find that she's mysteriously disappeared. Following a set of animal tracks on the floor, they climb through an odd new window and discover a magical forest world peopled with characters from Korean folklore, such as dokkebi (not-so-scary goblins) and various clever and/or greedy animals that help and/or hinder their quest to find Halmoni.

In the process, the kids themselves learn more about Korean culture and language; in fact, some of the creatures they meet speak Korean, and we, like the kid protagonists, have enough context to figure out SOME of it—but never fear; you'll find a really cool visual glossary in the back of the book. It was like a fun little quest of its own to find the corresponding image and Hangul text in the glossary.

Observations: This was an intriguing adventure with lots of action, relatable kid protagonists, and plenty of humor. The characters from Korean folktales, which are explained in the back of the book, make this one feel both traditional and new. For readers unfamiliar with Korean culture, it's a friendly, welcoming opportunity to learn a few new tidbits and also see the similarities between kids across the world. (The little boy's candy stash in his backpack and the epic Rock-Paper-Scissors battle in particular made me smile.)

The images are beautiful, tactile, and present a sort of cross between traditional picture books and graphic novels. Korea, of course, has a strong comics tradition of its own, and this is also a clear influence on the art. The story is simple and in many ways universal, with a folk tale structure, and the author does well in conveying meaning whether in English, Korean, or purely visual form.

Conclusion: Very charming and with many re-read possibilities. It kind of felt like a Korean interpretation of Where the Wild Things Are.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of my library. You can find WHERE'S HALMONI? by Julie Kim at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

February 15, 2018

Thursday Bits and Bobs and Whatnot

...I'll leave you to decide which are the bits, which are the bobs, and which are the whatnot.

Firstly, I don't want anyone to miss the great Kickstarter project that has been launched by our good blogging friend Lee Wind of “I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell Do I Read?” Lee says:
With your help, and the help of our community, the professionally designed, copy-edited, and published book of my young adult novel, “Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill,” will become a reality. 
Together, we’ll donate at least 400 copies to LGBTQ and Allied Teens.

Together, we can change lives, shift the cultural conversation, and empower every teen who reads it to dig deeper, be inspired, and create their own future.
Donate to the Kickstarter and watch the video right here. You can also check out Lee's Facebook Live event coming up: "I’ll be doing a Facebook Live event on Feb 19 at Noon Pacific to demo 'instant antiquing' (what Wyatt is doing in the first chapter of the book) and celebrate the project President’s Day-style."

In case you missed it, don't forget the Cybils Awards have been announced! Check out the winning titles for 2017 over on the Cybils blog, and stay tuned right here on Finding Wonderland for upcoming reviews of nominees and finalists from the Spec Fic and Graphic Novels categories.

Cybils SpecFic Bookmark: THE HEARTS WE SOLD by Emily Lloyd-Jones

The Cybils Speculative Fiction Bookmark:

As a panelist for Cybils YA Speculative Fiction, Round 1, I'm going to be briefly writing up some of the hundreds of book I read as part of the award. As panelist conclusions are not for public consumption, the purpose of these write-ups is to keep track of what I'm reading, and will mostly touch on plot synopsis, with minimal comments on thematic tropes.

Synopsis:Deirdre Moreno would like to just be the kind of girl who does well in school, makes her way in the world, and never looks back, but she can't be. For one thing, anxiety stalks her like a rabid beast. For another thing, she's got reasons for that anxiety; it's been carefully cultivated by her father for years. She's been "damned if you do, damned if you don't" for so long that when her merit scholarship to her boarding school is revoked, it's enough to send her seeking what she never, ever, ever thought she'd be looking to find: a demon, to make a trade. They'll take body parts. You see people with prosthetics all the time, and you wonder if they're happy, if they got what they paid for...

Dee finds the answers to many of her questions, when she meets a bunch of weird kids who call themselves "the heartless," and the daemon who traded for their...hearts. She gets what she needs, to stay in school, but the possibilities for fortune and loss suddenly are much, much bigger than she'd ever imagined. There's another world, just beyond a thin curtain of reality... and it's incursions into this world are a terror Dee's not ready to face. All she can do is hunker down and remember that the choices she made are what have gotten her this far -- and all she has to do is choose to keep going. As things get more and more surreal, it's one of the hardest choices she's ever had to make.

Observations: This is a tricky novel to discuss without presenting spoilers, however, much of the narrative arc is obvious: girl meets demon, girl makes deal with demon, girl realizes she's been a.) duped, b.) got what she didn't think she wanted, c.) fades off into the unfinished lore of folktale history. Most readers have heard the phrase "selling one's soul to the devil," and read for English Lit the requisite cautionary lore from Faust, but this is an unique reimagining of devils, and those deals and exchanges. While most of the story is spent with Dee doing what she's told, fulfilling expectations, the real story begins when she discovers how much one doesn't have to lose, without a heart. How buoyed and lightened one's decisions can be. Once she and her troop of "the heartless" are freed from the normal constraints of humanity, no one - including the daemon - can predict who they'll become... or what they'll do.

Conclusion: Collecting souls, to a demon, one would imagine has some point, but why would anyone want a heart? The answer of what one can do with a heart, that hopeful, deceitful, unpredictable, emotion-centric thing - and what or who we are as humans when we give ours away make for an absorbing narrative that will leave readers thoughtfully considering the state of their own vibrant, living, beating centers - and possibly leave them with an excuse to take up knitting again.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the public library. You can find THE HEARTS WE SOLD by Emily Lloyd-Jones at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

February 14, 2018


Congratulations to all of the winners! We're especially thrilled about...

Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction: THE DRAGON WITH THE CHOCOLATE HEART, by Stephanie Burgis

MG Fiction: REFUGEE, by Alan Gratz

YA Graphic Novels: SPILL ZONE, by Scott Westerfeld

YA Fiction: PIECING ME TOGETHER by Reneé Watson

See the entire list of excellent books with a little plot write-up on the Cybils Award website. And cheers to all those who nominated and participated!

February 13, 2018

2♦days@the treehouse: Challenge February

Welcome back to our monthly Second Tuesday writing challenge!

From January - June, every second Tuesday of the month, we're going to post an image here on Wonderland of a Creative Commons licensed Flickr picture to which you can respond - with poetic, prose, or whatever kind of writing - and hopefully, you'll share a link in the comments below, so that we can visit your site, read your work and respond. No genre or style limit - just come and join the fun!

Welcome back, it's February, which brings with it, famously, Black History Month, Groundhog Day, that Presidential birthday weekend which translates to "Monday off," and, of course, who can forget Valentine's Day... or, less memorably, National Grapefruit Month, and I am here for THAT, despite myself. This month's image comes from Flickr user Left Hand Rotation of Madrid, Spain, presenting us with Los hombres de Musgo de Béjar. I'm intrigued by the stories which will come from this image, so without further ado:

MOSS MEDIA (Acción Urbana)

I'm not going to bother with Inlinkz this month; just leave your link in the comments below, and we look forward to reveling in your inspiration! Happy writing!

February 09, 2018

Cybils Countdown

Pssst! There's just five more days....

Every single year, the Caldecott, Printz, Newberry, and other awards come up with tons of wonderful titles that... most people have already heard of. And, that's not awful. These books are well-read, widely reviewed, and often touted by major reviewing bodies for their literary impact. But, sometimes "literary" doesn't take into account "beloved."

In 2006, the Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards were founded to address that particular issue. The Cybils Awards accepts nominations from hundreds of ordinary people - young adults and kids, librarians, teachers, and parents - so that the year's panel of judges can read and discover books that might not be famous or popular, but which have both literary merit and kid appeal. Over the years, the nominations have expanded to include self-published books, audio books, and book apps, as well as the usual general categories of for younger and older readers.

Though there are still hundreds of books released each year which get lost in the shuffle, there's been a slight decline in the last year in nominations. Is the gap between books awarded and books beloved finally closing? Or, were we all so distracted with politics in the last year that we forgot to read? We at Finding Wonderland are going to do our best to be more vocal about our support for the Cybils Awards, and remind each other to read widely - and wildly - and to recommend books as hard as we can. We want to see new book vloggers and avid book bloggers, readers, audio-book junkies, reader's advisory librarians, and everyone, really come together to keep young adults and children - and the adults who can't get enough of their wondrously literary books - talking books, swapping books, and best of all, reading.

To that end: in just five days, the 2017 Cybils Awards will be revealed. Watch. This. Space!

February 06, 2018

When That Book Won't Do

Yes, hello. We read & talk books here. No, really.

Maybe you've experienced this, too. You pick up a book, read a chapter, put it down. Meh. You pick up another book - that one everyone's been talking about - and after three chapters, you're bored. You pick up the current #1 on the NYT list, the one your very best friend just loves, and it... underwhelms. You're confused - and a little worried. Is it me, or them? How can it be that everybody loves this book... except me?

It happens to me, sometimes, after the Cybils. When I've had someone else (all of you!) choosing my reading influences for three months, I can be a little... slow at picking up books on my own. It happens. You get over it. It's winter, and that's usually prime reading time... but sometimes, a case of the winter blahs means that nothing tastes right, nothing looks right, and nothing IS right - not clothes, not foods, and not stories. For me, it's an outgrowth of my seasonal affective disorder, and I hate, hate, HATE IT when I get like this. I wear out even myself with this attitude of "Everything is just crap, and I'm over it."

The thing is, IRL it often happen that you're "Meh" about books other people are fired up about. Normally our diversity of tastes and interest isn't scary but revealing, providing us with an opportunity to find new things to appreciate that might be out of our usual wheelhouse. However, when we're struggling to appreciate the intensely intellectual book that everyone is talking about, or failing to feel the love for the scorching hot romance of the year, and feeling like we'll never enjoy a book again, it gets really worrying... Still, we promise, swear, and pinky-swear, that this is perfectly normal (& we're talking to ourselves as well as you). Especially referring to that book everyone else loves, don't worry - you'll love it later. Lend it out now. Read it next month. You'll pull out of this book-block thing in time, but until you do, here are a few tips to see you through:

  • Acknowledge that THIS IS TEMPORARY. This, too, shall pass. Really. It's mood-based, and moods change.
  • Try not reading. You're not enjoying it, and isn't it time to catch up on that new Star Trek series? The Ocean's 11 movies? How about that Super Mario?
  • Rekindle your other creative senses. Sew. Paint. Sculpt. Play with squishy sand. Practice the piano that's under four feet of dust. Sing.
  • Try changing the way you read. A comic book, graphic novel, or audio book might find its golden age just now.
  • Try reading only books on paper. Between the laptop, the tablet, the phone, and everything else... you may just need an old-school breather.
  • Try narrative games. Video games which tell a story - Kingdom Hearts, Portal, The Legend of Zelda - might get you back in the game, literally.
  • Reread an old favorite. For many people, reading a book that they have almost memorized helps rekindle their love of the art.
  • Keep lists of books which don't work - and make note of their genre or style. Now, choose something outside of that genre/style.
  • Visit your local library and check out back copies of The Year's Best Fiction. Short stories or magazine articles may be about your speed.
  • Pick up a book you would NEVER read. Horror? High fantasy? Hard science? Non-fiction? Romance? Give it a whirl.
  • Visit your local library, and check out... coffee table books. Non-verbal picture books. Give the word part of your brain a rest.
  • Acknowledge that there is more to life than reading. Granted, we have no idea what that "more" might be, but we've been told this is true...

It's kicked off to be a tough winter, what with yucky politics, yucky weather, and being sick, re-sick, and sick again, all the while trying to hold onto your regular routines and responsibilities. We know! But like Spring follows winter, a reading hunger will follow a reading fast. In the meantime, we hope we've given you some hope. Hang on, friends. Book Blahs don't last forever.

January 29, 2018

Monday Review: IN SOME OTHER LIFE by Jessica Brody

Synopsis: I've finally been able to get back to some pleasure reading after a long stint of Cybils reading (which has now slowed down), and I picked up Jessica Brody's In Some Other Life for a bit of fun escapism—and I was not disappointed. As you might know, I enjoy fiction about parallel universes; this one follows high-achieving Kennedy Rhodes, superstar of the student newspaper at Southwest High. Her life seems great: cute longtime boyfriend, supportive family, ever-loyal best friend, and high hopes for getting into the Columbia journalism program. Her only secret regret is that she didn't attend the prestigious Windsor Academy, which sends 89 percent of its graduates to Ivy League schools.

Then, the disasters start piling up, culminating in one fateful moment: Kennedy takes an accidental fall down the steps and wakes up….in the life of some alternate version of herself: an alternate version that DID end up at Windsor Academy. As you might guess, at first it seems amazing and incredible, but looks can be deceiving…

Observations: This book was, above all, tongue-in-cheek funny. In some ways it felt like something I'd pair with my book The Latte Rebellion in terms of tone and style, as well as underlying theme—a well-meaning, earnest, but flawed main character gets caught up in circumstances beyond her control, and has to own up to her decisions in order to truly make good. While Kennedy isn't perfect, sometimes to the point of being annoying, her imperfections are completely relatable, and are in fact necessary for her overall growth.

I did end up guessing the big story twist relatively early on: the clues were clear and it seemed fairly obvious that alternate-Kennedy was up to something, and so I assume the reader is meant to realize what's going on before the narrator does. That was my only quibble with the story, though. The way everything wraps up was very satisfying, and I enjoyed how the various loose ends are dealt with, leaving things just a bit open-ended. And, as a bonus, the chapter titles were really fun.

Conclusion: This was a highly enjoyable story, with good pacing that kept me wanting to read it even when I probably should have been reading more Cybils finalists. Recommended for fans of paranormal and/or spec fic with a humorous twist.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of my library's ebook collection. You can find IN SOME OTHER LIFE by Jessica Brody at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

January 15, 2018

Happy New Year--and Happy Writing!

Words of wisdom from Lawrence Ferlinghetti's typewriter in the Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., augmented with a few extra for those of us who need them.

May your 2018 be the best writing year yet!

Sarah and Tanita

January 09, 2018

2♦sdays @ our treehouse - 1/18 Challenge!

A few years back, B&N's Teen blog put up a post about which anthologies, in their opinion, had gotten the art of the young adult short story right. Their list included some headlining authors as well as smaller lights in the field. YA collections have always been useful for introducing lesser-known writers, which is why a couple of smart people in the industry, Nova Ren Suma and Emily X. R. Pan, have kicked off FORESHADOW. "FORESHADOW: A Serial YA Anthology is to offer a unique new online venue for young adult short stories, with a commitment to showcasing underrepresented voices, boosting emerging writers, and highlighting the beauty and power of YA fiction." This monthly anthology is the opportunity that many writers have been waiting for.

To that end, our writing group thought it would be fun to do a little exercise of our own. Through the first (technical) half of 2018, January - June, every second Tuesday of the month, we're going to post an image here on Wonderland of a Creative Commons licensed Flickr picture to which you can respond - via short story (potentially something to be polished for subbing to Foreshadow or elsewhere), poem, or just a scene polishing up dialogue, setting, characterization, or anything else you'd like to work on. Maybe you're doing Morning Pages, and writing three pages first thing. You can certainly come up with some thoughts on this image, and even some thoughts which might spur some deeper creativity. For two weeks, you can join the fun by posting a link to share. We'll keep the momentum going the following month by posting another image the second Tuesday of February, the 13th, and so on, until we take a breather for summer. We hope this will be the little kick in the pants you need to get writing, keep writing, or polish up your skills.

And without further ado, this month's image:

Harryhausen Skeletons

Harryhausen Skeletons, by Flickr user Jürgen Fauth of Berlin.

Happy Writing! Please consider sharing your link!