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!