July 23, 2015

Gone Reading... And Stuff

Greetings from Portland, where I've not so much gone reading (as implied by the photo of this nifty bag I got at ALA) as gone learning Welsh (which, if you know me at all, is in fact quite normal for me). That's the reason for my silence, and Tanita is in Scotland, so we're both basically on summer hols at the moment. Fear not--we will resume our semi-regular schedule soonish.

July 16, 2015

Gallimaufry Thursday

1. I did a few more behind-the-scenes updates to Chasing Ray, which is where I got the idea for this post structure. Now you get to read about Stuff I Done Did, in no particular order, for no particular reason. Whee!

2. I just finished reading an ARC of writing bud Ms. Ashley Hope Perez's upcoming title Out of Darkness and I cried. Watch this space for more info about that.

3. I'm going to be away next week at a conference in Portland, where I sincerely hope to visit Powell's Books and do a lot of wonderful Pacific Northwest hiking, although I'm told it will be in the 90s the day we arrive. *shakes fist* DAMN YOU SUN!

4. I started a Tumblr for primarily cartooning purposes. There's very little on it as of yet, but again, stay tuned.

5. Earlier this summer I quit one of my longest-running freelance jobs. It felt good. Yet somehow I haven't gained back the free time yet. What gives?

July 09, 2015

Thursday Review: LOVE IS THE DRUG by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Summary: I read this a while ago, and I've been terribly neglectful in writing up a review. This was my first experience reading one of Johnson's books, and I had high expectations after what I'd heard about The Summer Prince (reviewed here by Tanita), which I still need to read. Love Is the Drug did not disappoint—it was a political/sci-fi thriller about an all-too-believable virus epidemic, set in Washington D.C. in the world of prep-school teens.

But don't let the fancy schools and uniforms and wealthy parties at the houses of diplomats' children fool you: the story's got plenty of diversity, too, and engages with everyday teen issues and serious sociopolitical issues alike. And, ultimately, it's a page turner, with flashbacks and memory loss adding suspense to protagonist Emily Bird's increasingly urgent attempts to unravel the real story behind the epidemic—all while being harassed by homeland security, who are convinced she knows something because of her parents' scientific and political activities.

Peaks: There are huge peaks here: the suspense, the writing, the characterization, the diversity. Fans of thrillers, especially political ones, will really enjoy the pace and structure, although some reviewers pointed out that they guessed the story's twist earlier on than they would have liked. The scenario is a good one, though, and very timely in its references to current global politics and the ongoing fight against disease. It successfully plays on fears of pandemics and paranoia about government cover-ups to create an exciting premise and an action-packed plot.

The writing, appropriately, is confident and tight, and it provides an intriguing glimpse into the world of our nation's wealthy and powerful, and the privileged lives of their children. However, these are no cardboard cutouts: the characterization is fantastic, and depth and complexity to are added to protagonist Emily Bird's story with the inclusion of issues of race and class. Firstly, she is black at an overwhelmingly white school, and despite being from a family as educated and successful as anyone else's, there is a level of underlying tension, a sense of having something to prove that she and her few African American peers share, even if they share little else. As the plot thickens, Emily begins to gain a sense of her core self that is NOT connected to either her classmates or her parents, and issues of identity are tackled directly in a very interesting way.

Also, the characters with whom she connects the most closely have intriguingly unique stories of their own: Coffee, whose family is not nearly as well off and who is known as the local drug dealer, is far more than what he seems, and Marella, an outsider because of her sexual orientation, ends up becoming a close ally and confidante as Emily's own status drifts away from the inner circle.

Valleys: I'll freely admit that I find it hard to relate to boarding school stories or prep school stories because I did not have that experience growing up; as someone who almost exclusively attended public schools until I went to grad school, I admit to not only having trouble relating to stories about "rich kids' school," but also to having somewhat of a chip on my shoulder about the advantages that so easily come to those with wealth and privilege, those types of teens who are depicted in this story. So this isn't a valley so much as a personal prejudice, I suppose.

As I mentioned earlier, too, there are always risks when you write a story of suspense that is structured in such a way that the reader might possibly guess the outcome too early—and that did seem to happen for some readers.

Conclusion: This was an intense, gripping, fascinating story, both because of its glimpse into the lives of the DC elite and because of the wonderful writing. Highly recommended for suspense fans.


I bought my copy of this book as a Kindle ebook. You can find LOVE IS THE DRUG by Alaya Dawn Johnson at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

July 06, 2015

Monday Review: I'LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Nelson

Summary: This one hadn't been on my immediate radar until I signed up to attend the Printz award ceremony at ALA in San Francisco at the end of June—and then I decided I'd better get going on reading the winner of that prestigious honor if I wanted to get the most out of the author's speech and the experience as a whole. Plus, it would really be a much better thing to have read the book if I somehow ended up talking to the author…which I didn't, but if I had, I'd have told her that her book is amazing and I wish I'd written it.

I'll Give You the Sun is about family and love, art and grief; in short, all of the joys AND tragedies that always seem to happen at the same time. It's about the less visible wounds suffered when we don't communicate our needs or sorrows, and the healing that can happen when we are finally able to express what's inside. Sometimes we just need to talk to the right person, find the right medium to say what we need to say.

Jude and Noah are fraternal twins, both artistic in their own unique ways, and as children they were as close as close can be--until their family started to unravel. Around age 13, we see Noah begin to be bullied by older boys, and his only way out seems to be the hope of admission to the local arts high school, a place where he can be himself among like-minded outsiders. He throws himself into his artwork with a frenzy. Meanwhile, Jude, too, has a creative side, but she feels like nobody notices it, not even their artistic mother, who seems only to have eyes for Noah's work.

Here's where the unraveling starts. Noah doesn't talk about his physical injuries, or the fact that he's in love with the boy next door. Jude doesn't talk about her injured feelings or her jealousy. And so much is still left unsaid when tragedy strikes their family.

Peaks: This story is told in alternating viewpoints—and alternating timelines. It's incredibly deftly woven. We begin with Noah's story, when he's nearly thirteen and the bullying begins in earnest. But when we switch to Jude, it is over three years later. Jude, who felt like the uncreative twin, is the one at the arts high school. Noah, for all intents and purposes, seems like "the normal one." And so what could be a straightforwardly structured "issue book" or a quieter story about coming of age and sexuality and finding one's calling, becomes a page turner because not only is the reader left wondering "how did we get to THIS point?" but also because the story in the present still has somewhere to go. And where it goes is full of surprises.

The message here is one of healing and family, above all—not just the family you're born with but the family whom you choose and who finds you. It's about serendipity and magic in the everyday, and the creative vitality none of us can truly live without. Even the romantic bits are about healing what's broken inside of us. It's also about grief and the terrible sadness that can balloon out from one small mistake left to fester, but the important take-away is that healing is always possible, and often in ways we don't expect.

Valleys: I have to admit: after reading the first chapter, I was not sure I was going to like this story. The opening scene (minor spoilers) depicts an intense confrontation in which a barely-thirteen-year-old Noah is physically bullied by older boys, and yet it's also a scene of sexual awakening and realization. It was very uncomfortable to read, but if I had given in to my initial discomfort I would never have experienced the rest of it. So. If you find yourself a little put off with the strange place where the story begins, give it time.

Conclusion: I haven't gone into too much detail—in part to avoid spoilers, but also because it's simply impossible to encapsulate this story in a brief summary. As an artist, there was a lot here that tugged at my heart and soul: it's vivid and visual and visceral. At times it's very painful, because each and every character hides his or her own private tragedy, and you kind of have to choose to heal in order to set things in motion again. But ultimately the characters (young protagonists and adults alike) felt so very real, and I couldn't help but follow them through thick and thin. Mind-blowing, and not like anything I've read before. The only thing that comes to mind at all is Going Bovine by Libba Bray, another Printz winner, and they're not alike at all, really, except for quality of characterization, depth of story, and other intangibles. Just…read it, I guess.


I purchased my copy of this book as a Kindle ebook. You can find I'LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Nelson at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

July 03, 2015

TURNING PAGES: REBEL MECHANICS by SHAUNNA SWENDSON

Normally I'd gush about this being a great summer read to tuck into your bag for the beach, but I kind of hate the term "beach reads" and the relentless marketing campaigns and lists surrounding them. For me a beach read is a book I can get through quickly and simply be entertained, even while people are running around and screaming and flailing in the water -- but I realized that's more than a little reductive. Here at Wonderland, we feel there's not a thing wrong with a book primarily plot driven, fast-paced and doesn't require you to keep track of too many characters or their motivations. However, since I don't know if that's going to be your experience with this book, I'll call this book a one-long-drink read, describing my experience with it. With an original title and a fun premise, this romp through an alternate history will be, for newbies and fans of the genre be read in one gulp, and enjoyed like a cold lemonade on a hot day.

Summary: Verity Newton, daughter of a Yale professor and more educated than most women of her class and station, and at sixteen is well able to move in society and marry. However, now that her mother has passed away, she opts to leave the chilly halls of learning - and live a little. Adventure comes almost immediately - her train is robbed, and she clobbers the masked bandit she fears will accost her before he can do so much as look at her, she rides in a steam-powered mechanical bus, because a regular horse-drawn cab isn't allowed in the Magister neighborhoods where she's seeking employment, and without even trying she aces an interview to find herself in the biggest house on the best street, employed to chaperone three children, only one of whom is really in need of her. Verity is sitting pretty, for the most part. At almost every turn, she lucks into good friends, an interested beau, and a cause which grips her interest. Verity is in the best of positions to be of help to her new friends -- and her special skills give her an even greater edge, if she ever mentioned them. However, there are risks abounding -- and soon more risks than she could have imagined. It will take some fast moves to maneuver through her new life and allow those dear to her to emerge unscathed.

Peaks: This isn't so much historical as alternate history with a soupçon of steam, studded with gears. The mechanical things in the novel are entertaining, as is the political rivalry between the British and the Americans.

I enjoyed Rollo and Olive and the character of Verity is plucky and daring. She seemed a little unreflective at times, but the action bowls the narrative - and its characters and readers along, and mostly not something there's time to worry about.

Lord Henry is mysterious exactly the right length of time in the book -- which is for about four minutes. Verity has him pegged, and lets her curiosity about him lead her into things -- and then she keeps wondering why she wants to know. I think that really shows the best natural progression of emotion for a curious person. I think subsequent novels in this line could have Verity solving all sorts of little mysteries while just listening, looking, and being underestimated. I loved that part. While I wanted a little more about the magic -- does it take a lot out of you? Does it have any limits? - the magicians seem simply explained enough for this "episode" of the novel, and easily understood.

Oh, and while this "episode" ties up neatly, the author left room for a sequel.

Valleys: I enjoyed the novel, and found the imperfections small. I found the setting a little non-specific; this New York City setting could have been London, for all of the "My Lord"-ing and &tc. Lacking descriptions of the fabulous apartment buildings and neighborhoods of New York, and the bits of the 1880's, which were an intensely interesting time in New York history (there was a massive and memorable blizzard, foppish dandies dressing competitively and teams of pickpockets), I was a tiny bit disappointed. Though a lot of the novel takes place within the house, the city itself is a little stock, and diminished.

Also slightly diminished are some of the secondary characters - there are myriad characters, and quite a few are like the cast of a play you see who have names like Newsboy One. With the crowd in the novel, I could have missed someone, but it seemed there is a single character of color which is a disappointment, since this is an alternate history, and the author could have changed history in any way she wished. A single minority is a failure of imagination in an otherwise richly imagined tale.

There is a romance in this novel, and while some readers see it as a triangle, I think some will be surprised, while others will merely wonder if the lady in question should have questioned emotions and incidents a bit more, as it all happened rather quickly. Not quite insta-love speed, but the actions of several characters are a bit out of keeping for the social mores of the day -- arguably, this is alternate history, of course, and there are class differences, but sometimes things more easily make their presence known by an absence of even a thought about them.

Conclusion: A galloping fast paced book, which leaves out a few things, but will likely catch them up in the sequel(s). It was good fun, for the most part.



I received my copy of this book courtesy of Macmillian publishers. After July 14th, you can find REBEL MECHANICS by Shaunna Swendson at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

June 30, 2015

TURNING PAGES: THE JUMBIES by TRACEY BAPTISTE

This book is one off-the-beaten-track for me. It's definitely a MG chapter book, and skews quite a bit younger than the books we usually review here -- but I'm reviewing it anyway, because I'm excited that I'll have the opportunity to meet the author this fall. Tracey Baptiste is one of our keynote speakers for KidLitCon 2015, which will be held October 9 & 10 at the Hyatt Place Harbor East in Baltimore, Maryland.

I wanted to read this book, too, because I'd not consciously heard of Jumbies... but for some reason, the word set off an echo that said... "haints." Now, a haint is... one of those things my grandfather and great-grandfather were not supposed to tell me about -- my mother protested vociferously about the stories of things that went bump in the night. Honestly, because I was a completely gullible child (bwa-hahahaha! "Was," she says), it was probably better that I didn't hear too many of these stories, but I did hear of them -- and they still fascinate me in every culture. Tracey Baptiste's tale of the Caribbean boogey...people is cool because it has some surprising twists that are unexpectedly deep -- the story ends up being about people taking what doesn't belong to them -- including land -- and it ends with figuring out what you can live with, and what deserves a compromise. And, it has really good oranges...

Summary: Eleven-year-old Corinne La Mer and her father, Pierre, have everything they need in their Caribbean home. Each other -- the sunshine, the sea, the sweet smell of oranges, and Corinne's mother, Nicole's grave nearby. They are happy, and Corinne is brave -- she's not superstitious and jumpy about the mahogany woods next to the house. Everyone says that there are jumbies there -- haunts and haints - but she doesn't let that worry her. Her father has told her that people who believe everything they hear are the only ones who believe in that nonsense. Unfortunately jumbies might be real -- Corinne has seen a pair of bright yellow eyes in the woods, where she's not really supposed to go. Those eyes might have followed her out -- because suddenly there's a new woman in town, a woman who seems to be dead set on being the one-more-thing Corinne's father needs. Corinne isn't in the market for another mother -- and she wants that woman gone. But, as it turns out, that's not going to happen without a lot of faith, a lot of hard work, and banding together with friends she never knew she needed. And in the end, Corinne discovers that the things she thought she needed won't ever be quite as simple as they were before.

Peaks: I love the originality of this novel. There are new animals, new descriptions and new-things-per-page which will enchant a fairytale reader. I like that people are described as sun-baked, wearing saris, with long braids and locks. I was intrigued by the animals and foods I didn't recognize - and there isn't any glossary, so readers will launch into the web and discover images and other links to what is found in one imaginary story - which is always cool, when a fairytale reaches into real life.

As Betsy noted in her review, there is diversity in this village - the author is from Trinidad, so we assume Corinne's island is a like Trinidad where live people of Indo-Caribbean and Afro-Caribbean ancestry as well. It's a nice reminder that monocultures are very nearly non-existent.

I love that there is a discussion of "us" vs. "them" in this novel, and the idea of appropriation and theft and what is owed to the land and who came before us. Though those ideas aren't entirely explored in this short book, I think that these thoughts will plant some seeds and make great jumping-off points for conversations.

Valleys: Some of the things brought up in the novel deserved, I felt, more exploration. This is a tiny valley, but I wondered if this book was in a strange way about accepting new people into a parent's life. If Corinne had accepted that someone wanted her father and her to be her new family, would everything have gone differently? Is the near-destruction of the village really Corinne's fault, because she was house-proud and went to war over the kitchen, and didn't immediately accept someone who was trying to be a substitute mother for her? While I'm sure that isn't the author's intent, it could be read that way.

Those lost in this novel - jumbies and villagers alike - don't come back after their war. It's typical for old school fairy tales - Cinderella's stepsisters' hacked up feet don't regenerate - but for a modern fairytale, it's a little alarming. The village never seems to mourn for those who are lost, except for Dru -- and when she resists the "happily ever after" ending, she's told it's just one of the facts of life, and "hey, look, something good came out of this, at least." That seemed to shift the burden of the jumbies' actions away from themselves and onto their ringleader -- which was kind of a conflicting message to me, since a lot of what the villagers had to learn, in the aftermath of the war, was how to live with the actions that they'd taken and the choices they'd made which had caused the problems in the first place. On the other hand, it may be that I'm reading way too much into a chapter book! I think kids - and adults - who feel a little uneasy about the ending may have some thoughtful conversations about how they would have ended things.

Conclusion: A fast-paced, colorful Caribbean fairytale, this culturally expansive book for boys and girls is only a little spooky and perfect for some tiny chills. Frankly, I found myself trying to imagine and draw the jumbies instead of fearing them (backwards feet? One cow hoof?), which is just the right amount of horror/spook for younger middle graders.

Don't forget: If you're a blogger and want to have a great weekend meeting like-minded librarians, parents and other bloggers who read and discuss children's and young adult lit, c'mon out to Baltimore for KidLitCon this next October and hear the author speak in person! You'll be glad you did.



I received my copy of this book courtesy of Sheila Ruth, KidLitCon 2015 co-organizer. You can find THE JUMBIES by Tracey Baptiste at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

June 29, 2015

Monday Review: GLORY O'BRIEN'S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE by A.S. King

Summary: I don't know why I put off reading this one for so long. I really love A.S. King's writing, and every time I read one of her books I'm pretty much blown away. This one's no exception. Trying to summarize it is only going to make it sound truly bizarre, but it IS bizarre in a most wonderful way, so here goes.

Glory O'Brien has a fairly circumscribed world. She lives with her father—her mother committed suicide when she was four, and it's left a gaping hole in her life as well as making her father lose his own way. Her best friend, Ellie, who is basically her only friend, lives in a commune across the street, but Ellie doesn't quite understand. And what neither girl realizes is the extent of the ties that bind them and the threads of love and loss that reverberate through their lives and those of their families. Things only get more complicated when they (here's the bizarre part) get bored and frustrated one night and decide to drink a desiccated bat for no real reason other than it's there, and they're there, and everything seems topsy turvy anyway.

After that, everything changes. Glory and Ellie both begin to have visions—whenever they meet someone else's eyes, they see that person's past, that person's future. And the future that Glory is beginning to piece together is not a pleasant place. Women are once again second-class citizens, and the New America is an all-too-believable place of war and extremism. What's more, Glory isn't even sure how she herself fits into it, or how she might have even a whisper of a possibility of stopping it. If it's even real in the first place...

Peaks: Like the author's other books, this one strikes that perfect balance between quirky and profound. Quirky might not even be the right word, but what I love about it is it doesn't shy away from the weird, the uncomfortable, the painful, the imaginative—things we as writers are often afraid to put into our writing because the risk seems too great. But they all interweave in this tale, which also manages to not fit neatly into a genre (which I like) but is something of an issue novel, magical realism, and sci-fi all blended into one. The SLJ reviewer mentioned Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, and while the sci-fi aspects are only one part of this book, the comparison as far as genre fluidity is quite apt here.

What's interesting about a book in which the future is sort of foretold is that everything that happens has a sense of inevitability about it, and yet nothing here is predictable; in fact, it's a page-turner because of the real-life parts of the story just as much as, if not more so than the magical aspects.

Another thing I really liked about this book was the fact that the adult characters are not given short shrift; in fact, they're key parts of the complex plot that unfolds, whether they are present in the scene or—in the case of Glory's mother—painfully absent.

Valleys: I don't think anything A.S. King writes has any valleys at all. There, I said it. Insert fan-girl squeal if you must have sound effects.

Conclusion: Just read it. That is all.


I received my copy of this book courtesy of the Stanislaus County Library. You can find GLORY O'BRIEN'S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE by A.S. King at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!