December 31, 2009

Is That A Tumbleweed Blowing Past?

Yeah, so we're still recovering from the SFF Cybils deliberations, at this late date. They went late. We started drinking coffee early.

There was reading. There were characters discussed. And dissected. There were concerns about homogeneous shortlists, and conjecture about inclusiveness. There were more discussions. The odd (very) cyborg. An occasional sniffle from The Weeping Corner, as nominations were pried from cold, dead hands. There was not even a small, well-contained bloodbath, which was unexpected. No one died, and we came away with a KICKIN' shortlist for the judges to slave over, which will be announced via the Cybils website on New Year's Day.

And then, it's all on the judges. Poor judges.

We'll be going back to sleep now, waking to turn over and luxuriate in reading something that isn't on anyone's list except our own. Oh, and stay tuned -- more Cybils reviews forthcoming as they get written. Eventually. Sometime after the ball drops...

December 22, 2009

Holiday Library Extravaganza

I happily spent some time at the library today retrieving one of my holds that came in--Need by Carrie Jones--as well as a few other goodies for my holiday enjoyment: Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen, Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah, The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia, and The City & The City by China Miéville. But in order to merit a book binge, I feel like I ought to at least provide briefs of the last library haul. So here goes.

Gilda Joyce: The Dead Drop by Jennifer Allison is the latest installment in the Gilda Joyce psychic detective series. By now, Gilda's nearly fifteen, and she's about to start a summer internship at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. Of course, no Gilda Joyce book would be complete without a mystery, and this time, it's some ghostly museum visitations. I've enjoyed seeing Gilda mature over the course of the series while still retaining her quirky charm, and Allison spins a fun mystery with an appealing supporting cast.

Lost: The Magic Thief Vol. 2 by Sarah Prineas is just as exciting and un-put-down-able as the first volume. I was completely absorbed by the continuing story of budding wizard Conn, apprentice to the wizard Nevery--as a character, he's cerebral and internally focused, stubborn, yet endearing; an unusual combination. However, these characteristics serve him well as he embarks on a quest to save the disappearing magic of the city of Wellmet, regardless of the consequences. I really, really love this series and I adore its narrator.

The Miles Between is by Mary E. Pearson, author of The Adoration of Jenna Fox, which is a fabulous futuristic read. This one takes place in the present, but it, too, has elements of what I'd call magical realism. Destiny Faraday's moved from boarding school to boarding school ever since she was seven years old and hasn't been home since. Now, going on ten years later, she's on a strangely fortuitous road trip with a few of her classmates and for the first time she finds herself opening up, confiding her feelings of abandonment and allowing herself to feel the unfamiliar support of friendship. This is a story with twists and surprises, and much-needed catharsis.

Frances Hardinge, I think, is one of my favorite authors, and The Lost Conspiracy--her latest novel--just confirmed that suspicion. All I can say is, it's such an incredible book that the moment I finished it, I wanted to pick it back up and read it again right away. That almost never happens. Mysterious, distant Arilou is one of the Lost of Gullstruck Island--meaning she has the ability to send her senses out into the world, away from her body. Her caretaker is her younger sister, Hathin. Both are members of the Lace, a tribe reviled by the island's ruling class, who colonized it generations before. This is such an impressively, staggeringly complex and layered novel, from the nuances of how the island's peoples interact, to the traditions and legends of each group, to the indomitable spirit of Hathin, the primary narrator of the story, and how she changes and comes into her own over the course of the novel. For fantasy fans, this is a must-read, in my opinion.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly is a charming historical novel about plucky "Callie Vee," an eleven-year-old girl who, in 1899, doesn't quite fit in with her family or society. Only her grandfather truly appreciates and nurtures her love of science, while her family seems to just want to turn her into a pie-baking, lace-tatting future housewife. The wealth of historical (and scientific) detail really make Callie's world come alive. One caveat, though: you must never tell my dad about the author. As I was reading the jacket bio, it said that she is a practicing physician AND lawyer. Without a doubt, this would only prompt my dad to exclaim "See?? You could have been a doctor AND a lawyer AND still been a bestselling writer!" To which I say fie.

I just finished reading Tantalize today, a novel by the blog goddess Cynthia Leitich Smith. If you like vampires and werewolves, you'll enjoy this book, but even if you're not a huge fan of that genre, this is still a gripping murder mystery with elements of dark fantasy that complement rather than compete with the story. It takes place in a sort of alternate present in which vampires and werewolves are known to society; it reminded me a little of Robin McKinley's Sunshine in that respect. Narrator Quincie Morris is absorbed with the opening of her family's restaurant, the vampire-themed Sanguini's, when they suddenly find themselves in need of a new head chef. While the police investigate the violent death, Quincie's dealing with finding a new chef, putting up with her uncle's increasingly weird behavior and icky wanna-be vampire girlfriend, and trying to hide her feelings for her half-werewolf best friend, Kieren. This is a fast-paced and suspenseful read with a lot of fun gory AND culinary details (if you like that sort of thing!).

December 21, 2009

Turning Pages: 1 Last Princess & Death by Weather

How could I have forgotten Once a Princess by Sherwood Smith, whose strong female character in Crown Duel/Court Duel made her one of my all-time favorite authors?? (And how could I have forgotten the unfortunate cover which looks like it does not say "got books?" but something ... else?)

I just got princess'd out, I guess.

Sasha's parents had a fairytale romance. In the middle of L.A., her flower-child mother, Sun, met a prince from a magic kingdom, and Prince Mathias took her away through a magic portal to his kingdom for several marvelous years, where Sasha was born. Unfortunately, she barely remembers it, or him, anymore. When she was ten, her father sent she and her mother away, with a promise to follow them when it was safe. He never came.

Fighting heartbreak, Sun did what she had to do to make a normal life for her daughter. Normal with... extras. Fencing. Sword training. And a lot of hurried, dark-of-night moves all over the country with name-changes. By the time she's a teen, Sasha is sick of it, and sick of believing that they're hunted. Of course, once she's tricked into going through the portal into the kingdom of Khanarenth, on the planet of Sartorias-deles -- she becomes a believer, fast, and is grateful for the moves she's learned, which keep her alive. Now that she's there, she wants to stand and fight for her father's kingdom, and find loyal subjects to rally for the cause of her birthright, but isn't sure who she can trust. Aren't pirates inherently untrustworthy, and princes trustworthy?

Both Sun and Sasha are fun, strong female characters, and you'll enjoy this "Happily Ever After" read, too.

So, this Cybils has brought up a lot of end-of-the-world novels -- Death by Weather, I call them. Ice, by Sarah Beth Durst had a light touch with the environmental stuff, and the danger wasn't from the weather -- but it's a good example of the right way to talk about the environment -- with a light touch. The Tomorrow Code, which Aquafortis has already ably reviewed, struck me as having a slightly heavier hand, and a few moments of "Eh?" in amongst the other good stuff.

Zenith, by Julie Bertenga is the most recent Death by Weather novel I've read, and it is the sequel to Exodus which I reviewed last year. It wasn't really a stand-alone, but there are plenty of new characters introduced.

Mara has sailed away from the drowned city she came to know, in search of a new world. She has taken the street urchins from New Mungo with her, and together they hope to find Greenland -- and a place to start over. Fox stays behind to fight the corrupt government of New Mungo, and Mara hopes he will join them someday. Yet, the memory of their love fades, when Mara meets Tuck, a thief whose people live on boats. I thought this was pretty fickle of her, but really, it showed her as a flawed but realistic young character -- she loved the one she was with. Together Tuck and Mara weather disasters and battle with the Ilirians, the barbarians who live in stacked cave dwellings. All these troubles bring the New Mungo crew closer together...but Fox's memory will be with Mara always, too. There's a definite open door to a sequel, which was, to say the least, surprising.

My favorite Death by Weather novel of this Cybils cycle is Saci Lloyd's The Carbon Diaries, 2015. Laura Brown's family is a typical UK family -- they drive their own cars, stay in their own rooms, listen to their own music, make calls on their own phones and watch their own TV's. They're just like everybody else, and when the UK government makes a top-down decision to cut energy emissions by 60% and begins to ration energy with Carbon cards -- it hits them as hard as it hits everyone else.

As Laura's diary relates, the things that happen are terrible -- the SmartMonitors which everyone has to install will cut the energy off if you overuse. The Brown's have to sieve out cheese sauce from the hard bits of the macaroni -- because the power shuts down mid-cooking. And the fridge.

Mandatory Carbon Education classes take place at school -- which Laura flunks. She also flunks her finals. And the boy she likes totally ignores her. And her sister is being this total witch -- and selling black market energy credits with the neighborhood bad girl. And her parents... are falling apart.

Life keeps happening, when the environment crashes.

Power outages. Droughts. Floods. The world of 2015 is obviously messed up. And getting worse. Laura and her friends keep waiting, hoping, that things will get back to "normal," and yet chaos is the new normal. Yet, somehow Laura has a funny, funny life, filled with loud, punk rock music, snarky, irreverent observations, and the truth: that we are a energy-guzzling disaster of a culture, that we have no idea how to change, hold back, or diminish our carbon footprint, and that crap is coming down. Soon.

Yet, we are also a people who love each other, who find ways to make life worth living, and when push comes to shove -- and God help us, do we have to be shoved hard -- we figure out a way to fight to keep our heads above water. We are better than we think we are.

This novel reminds us of all of that, and what we owe to ourselves and our world -- all without ridiculously heroic characters, single-dimensional bad guys, and didactic preaching. It's a keeper.

It's the end of the world as we know it. Read all about it in Zenith, the spectacular The Carbon Diaries, 2015, and get your Grrl Power on with Once a Princess, at an independent bookstore near you!

December 20, 2009

Turning Pages: The Happily Ever After Girls

I have fought myself free from the clinging stickiness of pineapple upside-down cake and acres of ice cream and candy canes to bring you this reading report. Yes, I am still reading. I have to hunker down in the corner in the homes of friends and relatives, ignoring everyone, but I will embrace the hardship of finding a quiet place to read, in a houseful of people and squealing toddlers and yapping dogs, for you. Yes, it's all about you. And has nothing to do with the fact that I'd almost rather have dental surgery than be in a roomful of thirty ebullient, holiday-happy people. Nothing to do with that at all.

So, from the floor of the closet in my godparent's house, with my trusty laptop in hand, I observe that the Cybs SFF this year has seen a lot of girls in flounces and frills, a lot of girls in fairytales. Whether the tale was sort of time travel-y and modernesque, as in the lighthearted Prada & Prejudice, or more traditional feel, as in The Amaranth Enchantment, there are plenty of "happily ever after" stories for those who enjoy closing a book with a happy sigh.

Prada & Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard, introduces us to Callie, feeling out of sorts and lonely on her class trip to London. Feeling herself in need of a pick-me-up, she decides to buy some genuine Prada shoes. Of course, she doesn't really wear heels, but that's not the point. Money buys happiness, right? A trip and a sprawl takes our Prada-wearing heroine to a knock on the head -- and back in time -- in her jeans -- to Jane Austen's time. Callie is NOT a good fit for the time -- her inability to be a close-mouthed young maiden of the time ill-suits the matriarch of the family clan where she lands. They think she's an eccentric American cousin, come to be married off. Callie figures it doesn't hurt to play along... for awhile. In the course of her back-to-the-future visit, Callie performs CPR, plays the one song she can -- Heart & Soul -- on the pianoforte, and bravely takes on social convention to preserve a friend from marrying a man thirty years her senior. This novel is kind of predictable, but it's the perfect bathtub read, you can finish it in one setting, and smile.

The Amaranth Enchantment, by Julie Berry is a 19th century version of Cinderlla. Lucinda Chapdelaine was once the precious child of loving, wealthy parents, but when they went to the ball -- all asparkle in jewels and lovely clothes -- they never returned. Lucinda has grown up indebted to her aunt for taking her in, and she slaves for her in her jewelry shop, hoping for a day when things will change. Enter a handsome, mysterious buyer, a street thief, and a striking woman named Beryl. Oh, and a goat. And a dog... Lucinda manages to go on The Magical Mystery Tour of a fairytale, and after many, many, many loops and surprises, it all ends Happily Ever After. There was no chance it would not, in spite of the goat.

There were quite a few elements in this one which I was not sure about -- not to mention the cover with the girl holding an amaryllis flower, which is not an amaranth stalk -- but the cover is a small thing over which to quibble, and completely out of the author's control. I did wish for a simplified storyline with perhaps one fewer fantastical elements and a more straightforward relationship with Beryl as godmother-of-sorts, but even with these shortcomings, this was a new take on the Cinderella story, which is universally recognizable, and not easy to revise. And it does have that happy ending. And a big dress.

Ash, by Malinda Lo, also sets up the typical Cinderella story -- after the loss of her mother, a young girl gains a stepmother and stepsisters, loses her father, and her home. All Ash has left of her mother is stories -- and a favorite book of tales, which lighten the long, dark lonely hours. Fairies are alive and well in Ash's world, though there are those who don't believe in their existence. They are attracted to Ash's emotions -- her longing for her mother, her grief -- her vitality. Ash does indeed have an enchanted dress, and catches the eye of a fairy prince called Sidhean, but her "happily-ever-after" becomes something greater. The King's huntress, Kaisa, also has stories, and her world is firmly bound in the here and now. Ash, reawakening to herself after a long time of being lost in longing and grief, learns to stop chasing fairytales.

The Princess & The Bear by Mette Ivie Harrison is apparently a sequel to the Princess and the Hound, but reads as a stand-alone, which is always good. In it, a bear and a hound live in wordless harmony, once something more than they are, but staying together in an unusual way, sharing a cave. When it appears that the forest in which they live is being endangered by a magic-wielding cat-man, the bear and the hound find their way to a castle at the edge of the wood, where the prince knows the hound's speech and can understand the danger. The bear and the hound are un-enchanted -- the bear becoming the King he once was, and the hound who was once a woman becoming a woman once more. At times, each wishes again for the cloak of enchantment. The hound cannot run and hunt and smell as she had -- and the bear is terrified of making a mistake as a king. Hadn't things been easier when he was just a beast? The subtle love story for me takes precedence over the somewhat heavy-handed environmental message that is woven through, but it all blances in the end nicely.

In Princess of the Midnight Ball, by Jessica Day George, the story of the dancing princesses is revisited. I kind of hate the Grimm Brothers tale, but George reanimates the story in a plausibly satisfying way by introducing another character -- that of Galen, a career soldier who has been in a twelve-year war, and has returned home with only his honor, his ability to knit, and his all-round "hero" ness intact -- he's nice to old ladies and helps out. He becomes a gardener at the castle -- keeping an expensive horticultural legacy alive, while the kingdom wallows in debt and on the brink of disaster -- and there he meets Princess Rose, the eldest of the dancing princesses. To Galen the charge is given to find out how and why the princesses are wearing out their shoes so quickly. It is for Rose's sake that he tries with all his heart. Of course there's a love story there. And flouncy dresses.

Tiger Moon, by Antonia Michaelis, is an unusual type of fairytale, in the tradition of One Thousand and One Arabian Nights. Raka, a South Asian bride of 19th century India, is doomed, and she knows it. Her husband has "acquired" her as a perfect thing of beauty, and she's beautiful enough, but she's not what he thinks she is -- mainly, she's not a virgin, and the penalty for that is pretty much death. He's a busy man -- and with myriad other wives, illness, business concerns, etc., he hasn't yet had time to find out Raka's secret... so, while her life trickles down like sand through an hourglass, she finds companionship in a young servant, Lalit, and tells him the tale of Farhad, a sixteen-year-old thief who was told by the Hindu god, Krishna, to rescue his daughter Safia from being married to the Demon King. Aided by a sacred white tiger, Farhad, in ensuing stories, becomes a brave, capable character who is a hero and Safia a noble princess who is worth any price. Together with Lalit, the reader is transported from Raka's silken prison to Safia's, gifting the reader with lovely, lyrical storytelling that reflects colonial India in a way that Kipling would have envied. A real surprise in the crop of fairytale books -- don't miss the great GLW review by Steve Berman.

My final "fairytale" pick is really atypical, and I'm almost not sure that it fits, except that in the end, young Kipp is no longer an ordinary guy, but a prince among men. And you can have fairytales with princes who don't wear big dresses. Just sayin'.

Stealing Death by Janet Lee Carey begins with death - accidental, stupid deaths, which are the worst kind. Kipp leaves his little brother to watch the stove while he chases a beautiful white stallion, and when he returns, he is left with only a little sister, after his brother and family are consumed in a house fire which could only be his fault. Despite the loss, life must go on, for Kipp's family were indentured to a Zolyan Lord, and there are debts to be paid. He and his baby sister become the lowest servants -- but Kipp has been given a gift. At the height of his grief, the power of his people, the Naqui, has come upon him. He sees things others don't -- including the being who takes his family away -- Gwali, the Stealer of Souls, with his magical sack that sends souls to Kwaja.

Kipp wants that sack, badly. He might not be able to get his brother and parents out and back from Kwaja, but he can darned well make sure that his sister doesn't go into the sack, or the girl he loves, who is the daughter of the Zolyan Lord whom he serves. After all, it only seems fair to take back from death what he's stolen from you.

Of course, nothing is that simple, and once Kipp has the power of the sack... well, things change.

Like Tiger Moon, this novel has a massive scope and lush characters set against the backdrop of loss and the harshness of a land and culture. Another unexpected gem in the fairytale haul, and you'll enjoy this one too.

Books make great Christmas -- or after-Christmas gifts, and you'll be able to find The Amaranth Enchantment, the surreal Prada & Prejudice , and Ash; the very subtle The Princess & the Bear, the traditional Princess of the Midnight Ball, the desirably different Tiger Moon and the not-quite-in-this-category Stealing Death -- all at an independent bookstore near you!

December 17, 2009

Greetings! of Whatever Season...

This picture is from the Library of Congress of course, and what cracks me up the most about it is that oh, a good half of these folks wouldn't be saying Merry Christmas or its equivalent, but it's good fun anyway. Hope your winter holidays are happy, wherever you are, and whatever you're doing! Cheers!

December 13, 2009

Zombies v. Unicorns v. Vampires...

Good news, Team Zombie! Michael Spradlin's It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies, illustrated by Jeff Weigel, is the quintessential Christmas book for the zombie lover. (Does Team Vampire have something this cool? No, Team Vampire does not.)

Now you can hum along to your favorite carols, while fresh brains are roasting on an open fire, and your loved one is nipping at ...your nose. Hm. That one sounds ominous. Anyway, the titles that made me laugh out loud are:

I Saw Mommy Chewing Santa Claus, and Deck the Halls With Parts of Wally.

...honestly, this is so gross it made me giggle; it's the perfect antidote for... well, I'm not sure what. It'll make you laugh, though, and probably most of the 8-year-olds you know, too.

O, bring us a hippocampus, o, bring us a hippocampus, o, bring us a hippocampus and a cup of good cheer...

Good tidings to you. Or something like that.

You can find It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Zombie at an independent bookstore near you! Just, beware of the grayish, slow-moving people in the parking lot...

December 10, 2009

Whole Lotta W00t! and a Bit of Mourning.

There is exciting news from the Readergirlz. Firstly, they deserve heaping congratulations for being awarded the National Book Foundation's first Innovations in Reading prize. (Do NOT miss the photo and coverage of the lovely co-founders accepting the award!) Secondly, this month's featured author is the squee-worthy Tamora Pierce, and her Trickster novels Trickster's Choice and Trickster's Queen--which, incidentally, were the first of her novels that I picked up, and then I was hooked.

Also, did you know that Charlotte's Library has started doing weekly roundups of blog posts about middle-grade fantasy and sci-fi? Go Charlotte! This week's roundup is here, and features reviews of Blackbringer and The Lost Conspiracy (which I'm currently having trouble putting down), a tween mythology book buying guide, and much more. A very worthwhile project.

Meanwhile, we're all reeling, I'm sure, from the news about the demise of Kirkus Reviews (thanks to Yat-Yee for the link). There's already been some interesting Twitter discussion about what the death of traditional reviewing outlets might mean for online and blogging reviewers. I'm still trying to process what I think about it all.

And that's all I've got for now...I still owe you some book reviews, and I promise to catch up eventually...

Multicultural SFF? Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is...

Via SF Signal -- Oh, here's a project that is so close to my heart. Aquafortis mentioned it to our writing group on Tuesday, and I've just gotten around to checking them out. Please, watch the video.

Previously in my life, I wouldn't have thought that there would be a necessity for a publishing house that was strictly for multicultural SFF for young adults and children. I would have thought, the major houses really need to step up. I would have assumed that there weren't a lot of multiethnic SFF writers writing. I would have come up with all kinds of thoughts on the topic, including the worst one, I'm sure there's multicultural SFF for kids and teens out there somewhere. I just haven't found it yet.

Yes, once upon a time, I wouldn't have thought that there would be a necessity for a publishing house that was strictly for multicultural SFF for young adults and children.


I'm on the Cybils SFF committee this year, kids, and with the notable exception of Cindy Pon and Malinda Lo... and, now that I'm looking, Hiromi Goto and Nahoko Uehashi, there's not a lot of ethnic makeup in SFF represented. This is not to say that there aren't characters of color within a novel, but cover representations -- are not "representing." And it makes me wonder. Where are the Latino weredragons? The African American starfighters? The Native wizards and the Asian faeries?

Every kid wants to see themselves represented in a work. Every young adult wants to imagine themselves flying or throwing fireballs or hacking apart vines to save the sleeping... prince. Why can't everyone play?

Et vous? Et tu, multicultural peeps. Tu Publishing. Please, pass the word along.

December 07, 2009

SFF Monday Freebies! Freebies, I Say!

Via Kids Lit Blog: Award-winning science fiction author Will Shetterly (author of the uniquely readable and surreally Southern Dogland) has created a YA novel in the SFF genre that's apparently great. Tons of assistant editors agreed. Too bad the senior editors weren't on board.

You can read Midnight Girl free, this minute, before some enterprising editor scoops it up, at Scribd. Check it out.

Via Galaxy Express: Paranormal Romance fans, take heed: it's the SFR Holiday Blitz. If you like both SFF and romance, there's probably something in here for you. 12 bloggers have teamed up with 17 authors for your chance to win over 30 SFR books, which is just an amazing number. Just click and leave a comment at any or all of the participating blogs -- and you're in like Zen.

Happy Monday!

Wicked Cool Overlooked Books: The Jennifer Adventures

It's the first Monday of the month, and while you're still trying to figure out what happened to November, it's already time for Wicked Cool Overlooked Books!

You're completely over zombies and vampires and the whole werewolf thing, aren't you?
Oh. Well, while you're biting your nails and waiting for the people on your library holds list to READ FASTER ALREADY, check out what I found - a new old books!

Fourteen-year-old Jennifer Scales really resents her mother. She kind of resents her father, too, but he's gone much of the time, on business, and when he's home, he geeks out and lectures her on all kinds of detailed things. She tunes him out, just like she tunes out her Mom. The only thing that really matters to her is soccer, and after executing a mid-air flip and kicking the ball into the goal -- which caused the whole game to stop and everyone to stare at her -- Jennifer's not really sure she's got soccer anymore.

At least her Dad comes home after that.

Her parents try and insist that she stay home for awhile, just to be "safe." But they won't tell her anything really, except that she needs to stay close, and that they'll explain "later."

Right. First they ignore her, then they lock her in her room? Jennifer's not having that, obviously. It's only after she's coughing up blood while her teeth shift around in her mouth and burping out gusts of fire on the sidewalk a block from her house that she realizes she maybe should have tried a little harder to get an explanation.

When she morphs into a half-ton weredragon, complete with wings, fangs, and breath-of-fire, it's a bit late for explanations. Now she knows what she is, knows she's going to need a lot of training to discover and control new skills, and oh - last detail. This morphing thing will happen at the crescent moon -- twice a month, every month, forever. Welcome to the rest of your non-human life.

To say that she's pissed is a major understatement. But, things get better. And then, a lot worse.

Written by fairly well-known author, Mary Janice Davidson, and her husband, Anthony Alongi, the Jennifer Scales series began in 2005 - which means you have a few to read before you're caught up. Jennifer Scales and the Ancient Furnace is the first, followed by Jennifer Scales and the Messenger of Light, Jennifer Scales and the Silver Moon Elm, and the final book in the series thus far is pending: Jennifer Scales and the Seraph of Sorrow which came out in January. Read excerpts here.

Davidson's books generally are quirky romance novels about vampires or mermaids, which have put her on the bestseller list more than once, but I had zero idea she wrote specifically for young adults. I've only read the first book so far, but it really kept my interest -- I mean, seriously, weredragons?! -- and there are Unexpected Twists that kept me guessing right up until Jennifer figured things out. This series is the perfect thing to read while you wait for what new half-human thing is going to come howling out of the woods next door.

Buy Jennifer Scales and the Ancient Furnace and all the other Jennifer Adventures from an independent bookstore near you!

December 01, 2009

Writers: Opportunity Knocks

More good news for the short story contingent in YA fiction!

The other day we hailed the 2010 debut of THE ENCHANTED CONVERSATION. Now today, it's YARN - a nicely evocative title that makes me think of tall tales.

From the site:
Welcome to YARN. Our mission is to publish the highest quality creative writing for young adult readers, ages 14-18, and those in other age groups who enjoy young adult lit. Published quarterly, YARN will feature short fiction and creative essays, poetry, and an author interview. Our interactive sections will allow for discussions about published work, as well as reviews of recent YA books. We seek to discover new teen writers, and publish them alongside established writers of the YA genre.

For those of a more specialized writing theme, ALIMENTUM is seeking fiction and creative nonfiction around the subject of food. Their regular reading submission period is September 1, 2009 to March 1, 2010, and there's still time for you to get familiar with them and submit something. I've just read the most amazing feast poem and a short story about gristle and bone of family life -- stuff I hope to see in print. Check them out.

Happy December! And Stuff.

Today's post is on the order of "random notes and errata" since I still haven't quite managed to sit down and write a few more overdue reviews...but NUMBER ONE on the list of items is something important I forgot to include in my LAST batch of reviews--I meant to include information about where I got each title, in the interests of full disclosure. So: I received Katman at random (but happily) from the publisher. I requested Skulduggery Pleasant: The Faceless Ones from Derek Landy's publicist prior to our WBBT interview. I bought Zoe's Tale at my local B&N. And, last but not least, I borrowed Peeps from my mom.

Now, I know that I don't usually go into much personal detail on this blog, because this is the Not About Me blog (as opposed to the All About Me blog). But I had to include a quick personal digression today because it is, in fact, writing-related. On Sunday, I experienced for the first time the oddness that is being an interview subject--a local college student had an assignment to interview someone in her desired career, which in this case happened to be novel writing. I was quite happy to help, newbie though I might be. But it was such a bizarre experience. I think I blather when I'm nervous. And I sure did blather. Blah blah blah, me me me. It was weird, because I was being asked about myself, my writing, etc., but talking about myself for an hour made me feel really self-obsessed. And I also realized that I CAN in fact spend a fair amount of time on self-blather, and that disturbed me because of its implications for everyday conversation: DO I actually spend more time talking about myself than I realize? Being interviewed made me very conscious of that possibility. As a result, I am now officially whipping out my bud-nippers and nipping this topic in the bud (to misquote Redd Foxx on Sanford & Son).

To conclude: a few links I ran across recently. Ever read The Annotated Alice? Ever wish more books had educational annotations like that? Bookdrum is a site that uses multimedia internet resources to annotate and illuminate various books. And they need reviewers to help add to the site. (Via Donna @ Bites.) Also, there's a new silent auction running for YA writer and librarian Bridget Zinn, to help her offset the costs of cancer treatment. Check out the details at Jone's Deowriter blog, and bid on exciting items including manuscript critiques.

November 30, 2009

Turning Pages - Don't Judge A Book, Part II

You already know how little control most authors have over the covers of their books, so you would think this would steer you to err on the side of mercy. But does it? No, it does not. You are still just as bad as I am. This is why I love you.

Enjoy with me, my opinionated amble through The Covers of Infamy.

The Demon's Lexicon by Irish debut writer Sarah Rees Brennan is a edge-of-your-seat, nervy little debut novel. Nick Ryves does the heavy lifting in his household -- fixing the sink, wielding a sword, protecting his brother from demons -- it's his thing. Since he's the strong, big, dangerous one, the one who isn't good with expressing himself or words, it's okay that he does all the dirty work and gets all the girls, and Alan gets all the brains and persuasive speech -- and does the cooking. Nick's big brother, Alan, is too good, too kind, and would give any old stupid person the shirt off his back, and the talisman that protects against demons from around his neck. He protects their mother, whom Nick could care less about, and keeps the family together through sheer force of will. It's Alan's thing, and no matter how much he scowls or postures or roars, he can't intimidate his big brother the way he can everyone else.


Now two stupid classmates of Nick's have crashed into their lives -- at a really bad time -- with problems of their own. Jamie's managed to get himself demon-marked, which means that he's a demon's gateway into the world. It's a death sentence: Nick can't believe Alan's trying to help them anyway. When he gets demon-marked in the process himself, Nick is furious -- beyond furious. What makes other people so important to his brother? Why does Alan do the things he does? Nick does a little digging -- and what he finds out blows his mind.

And changes everything.

I kept reading along thinking, "Okay, I'm going to put this down." And I did. When I was done. A thorough-going black-eyed beastie for the main character, and I liked him. Yes. I did.

But, why did he have to look like some kind of hottie heartthrob? I mean, seriously? Just this once, it might have been REALLY NICE for Nick to look... mad, bad, and dangerous to know. No, seriously dangerous. Like, someone you'd cross the street for, not Bad Boy Heartthrob With Petulant Lips. Yikes.

The head beneath the curtain pretty much says it all.
Actually, wait -- it doesn't say anything.
The cover of Bad Girls Don't Die, by Katie Alender tells us nothing about the main character, Alexis, whose hobby and escape from her parent's dysfunctional marriage is photography, and whose pictures occasionally show balls of light in them that no one else notices. Nor does it tell us anything about her little sister, Kasey, who used to be halfway normal, and who after the divorce became clingy and whiny, and started collecting... dolls.

It also tells us nothing about the drawers opening and closing in the house, the changing color of Kasey's eyes, and the strangely archaic speech patterns she's picking up.


From the cover, could you even tell this was a ghost story? I couldn't. Fortunately, I read it, and am here to report:

This is a ghost story.
This is a sister story, a friendship story, a story about not making assumptions about people based on their clique in high school, and most of all a story about surviving the things that go down in a family. If you like creepy haunted dollhouse novels, this one is for you.

The first scenes of Academy 7 by Anne Osterlund, takes place in a spaceship, where a starving refugee girl is looking at her father's bloodstains, realizing her emergency beacon and call for help has been answered. Next, we discover who she is, and how she was saved. Instantly, the reader is drawn in to her plight, and understands her terrified silence, her preemptive defensive prickliness, her determination to survive, her fear of failure. The next few chapters introduces us to her reckless, wealthy classmate-to-be, Dane Madousin, and we understand instinctively that they're going to be at war with each other, just by virtue of who they are. In just a few broad strokes, Osterlund has created this intriguing world -- and yet, as I read through the first pages of this book, I had to keep stopping to look at the cover.

I kept trying to figure out who was depicted on the cover. At one point in the novel, Aerin Renning, the refugee girl, and Dane, the rebellious-wealthy-diametrically-opposite-antagonist-romantic-foil-classmate end up socializing together. She wears a red velvet dress that is left out for her, she thinks, by the gracious host of the dinner. This dress is a Big Deal - it is a catalyst that swiftly brings together another series of events that are the highlight of the book.

And yet... the dress on the cover is black... and they look like they're angsting out at her 8th grade dance. I don't know -- I grew up with Star Trek. I want the body suits and the super-synthetic fibers. I want space wear. I want The Future. Somehow, the couple on the cover just doesn't cut it. This is a neat book - a quick read, a bit of glossing over of actual technology, but for those who like their sci-fi light with a bit of drama and romance, this will be a book to enjoy. Unfortunately, the cover doesn't say "science fiction" to me. It says something very generic and even generically romantic, which is kind of a shame.

Still, great books, plagued by mediocre or downright weird covers, are everywhere. The trick for me is not to read jacket flap copy -- editors write that most of the time, and you're not paying to read what they wrote, are you? -- but to sample the first chapter of a book. Writers are told that we have three paragraphs in which to hook a reader -- I'd say, give it a whole three pages, if you've got the time. You might find yourself surprised. And lucky to have in hand a great story.

You can buy The Demon's Lexicon, as well as Bad Girls Don't Die, and Academy 7, all 2009 Cybils YA SFF Nominated Books, from an independent bookstore near you!

Stay Tuned for Umpteen Million Reviews

OH, my lands.
The Devil's Lexicon.
Sarah Rees Brennan rocks.

Many, many books being read. Not so many reviews being written.
Will get back to it... soon.

Meanwhile, Farida's short story will be published in the debut edition of The Enchanted Conversation -- for money. How exciting is that? They're not open to new submissions for their next issue just yet, but keep checking back, writers of fairytales and get your Q&A on with their guidelines!

November 26, 2009

He Has At Least Until Today...

Thanksgiving turkey writer


November 25, 2009

October-November Reading Roundup...and a Funny Story

I'm going to try to keep this short. Know why? Because I cannot seem to motivate myself to sit down and get caught up, no matter how many bizarre ploys I attempt in order to make the job quicker (FAIL, by the way) or the product more interesting (possibly successful if it hadn't made things more complicated). I'm talking here about my ludicrous idea (see my earlier post) to audio-record my thoughts on the books while riding the exercise bike, which has to be one of the weirder types of multitasking I've ever attempted, and then transcribe them, ideally having made my job easier by doing the thinking first. Unfortunately, I evidently forgot about the fact that I really hate transcribing stuff. I also did not relish the idea of listening to myself gasping for breath as I semi-coherently blathered into the recorder.

So, instead I'm just going to limit my thoughts to a few sentences about each title, and call it a day. And I shall valiantly attempt never to descend to quite the same nadir of weirdness as the one which spawned the above wastage of (quite literally) breath. And now we shall never speak of it again.

Zoe's Tale: A later book in the Old Man's War series by John Scalzi, this installment makes a particularly good crossover book because the narrator's a young woman--and Scalzi's pretty darn convincing with his first-person depiction. Zoe, at seventeen, is the adopted daughter of John Perry (the narrator of Old Man's War, and their family's part of a colonization landing party for a brand-new colony world. Unfortunately, their colony, Roanoake (har), is also the center of an intergalactic dispute, and the actual colonists are caught in the middle. Not only that, Zoe's importance to the situation is a tad bit...complicated, as she's sort of...a role model for an entire alien race. Again, good space adventure.

Katman: In this graphic novel about a misfit teenage boy finding his place--and finding friends (both feline and human), Kevin Pyle manages to tell a story that's both edgy and endearing. Kit is fifteen and doesn't feel like he even fits into his family, let alone at school, so he takes to feeding stray cats, which leads him to meet some interesting characters and creates some meaning in his life. The nearly-monochromatic, somewhat jagged illustration style fits the story well, and the subtle use of one or two colors throughout does a lot to enhance the emotion behind the story. AND, there's a crazy cat lady. This one's also a 2009 Cybils graphic novel nominee.

Peeps: This is by no means a NEW book, but that totally never stops us from posting reviews around here. Though I love Scott Westerfeld (his BOOKS, people, his books), I had put this one aside for a while because of my general non-love for vampire books. However, I'm happy to report that it goes into the "good vampire books I actually like" pile. In Westerfeld's scenario, vampirism is a contagious parasite, and Cal Thompson--a carrier--has unwittingly infected a bunch of ex-girlfriends. Now he has to hunt them down before they go all bonkers-crazy-homicidal. Fun (and somewhat gruesome) suspense, including many informative factoids about real-life parasites that you probably never wanted to know. I may even read the sequel.

Skulduggery Pleasant: The Faceless Ones: You may remember our recent interview with Derek Landy, quite bodacious author of the Skulduggery Pleasant series, whom we fawned over most embarrassingly. This third book in the series continues to raise the stakes for both the skeleton detective and his protege, the young Valkyrie Cain (formerly known as Stephanie Edgeley). Some of the ongoing plots continue to thicken in this adventure; meanwhile, Valkyrie and her friends go up against some of the creepiest bad guys yet. Packed with action and humor, it's surely not going to disappoint fans of the series.

Tuning in Momentarily...Yet Again...

Okay, honestly, I have this review post just waiting for me to actually enter it, the only thing stopping me being the fact that I dictated it into a digital voice recorder while I was on the exercise bike, hoping to save time, and am now realizing that perhaps I have made this endeavor take even LONGER. (It is a ludicrous scenario! I know! Do not laugh! Okay, laugh.) Anyway. Sometime in the next couple of days I'm putting up a reviews roundup. For now, please enjoy this audio interlude.

If you've never listened to the podcasts of Bat Segundo (aka Ed of Ed Rants), now's a good time to check it out--the latest installment is an interview with notable kidlit personage Laurel Snyder, author of Any Which Wall and Inside the Slidy Diner. She's got some interesting and highly amusing things to say about, among other things, intrusive authorial narrators and eating spaghetti without a fork. Click on the fabulous adorable bat graphic (sorry, Ed, but I have a bat "thing" and HAD to nab it) to check it out.

November 24, 2009

Turning Pages: Stepford Teens, Gods & Monsters

When I was in high school, I saw a news special on a town in Florida that could have been called... Du Lac (Remember the song? Welcome to Du Lac, such a perfect town/ Here we have some rules, let us lay them down...). That town was Celebration, Florida, built and settled by Disney, a strikingly beautiful, classic Americana town. Beautiful. And, a little spooky, actually, with the HOA from hell and those white picket fences and perfectly paint-coordinated houses, as far as the eye could see, and the 87.3% single-race culture all shiny clean and homogeneous, thanks to the Magic of Disney.

It could have been Du Lac. Or, it could have been Pam Bachoz's Candor.

Candor's citizens are upstanding. Their families are tight, and content to be together. And their teens are amazing.

The founder's son, Oscar Banks, actually works at a model home every Sunday, passing about flyers about his beautiful town -- just to help out his Dad! Never mind that dreams of sleeping in, devouring a stack of pancakes and crispy bacon, and longs for just an hour of unscheduled time. He's a Candor boy, and he knows that academics is the key to success. He also knows that the great are never late, so no matter what he's dreaming about, he'll always be to work on time.

Candor's not just got beautiful homes, it's got a strong community. I'm pretty sure that the words "family values" are used in the beautiful promotional brochure, which gives more details on sensational Candor, Florida.
Wouldn't anyone want to live in a town like that? There's always such great music playing there... sure, you want to go, right?

Smile. Nod.
There's only one right answer.

*run away*

Tera Lynne Childs' Goddess Boot Camp is a quick-paced and surprisingly low saccharine sequel to the Oh. My. Gods, which, like the Percy Jackson series reminds us, makes it clear that it's just not that easy being the children of perfection.

Phoebe's Mom has remarried, and the family now lives in Greece on Serfopoula Island, where the new stepdad, Darrin, is the headmaster of a Phoebe's school. Phoebe now knows she's a minor goddess with a more than mortal family tree, which means her life is a bit unusual - and far from perfect. Though she's finally found some great friends and a boyfriend she mostly trusts, Phoebe has got zero control of her hematheos powers. Routinely, she zones out, imagines things, or her temper gets away from her -- leaving beetles crawling over her stepdad at dinner, minor whirlwinds that float the furniture, and her sister covered in frosting -- when there's no cake anywhere.

As much fun as it is to be annoying to Stella, Phoebe would actually like to have a little control. Scratch that: she'd like a LOT of control. And soon. There's a reason Phoebe's got a stepdad -- her birth father crossed the will of the gods, and used his power when he should not have. Phoebe is rightfully terrified that she could accidentally anger the gods in the same way. She's been training for the Pythian games for weeks -- what would happen if she forgot what she was doing, and suddenly sped up? Or turned her fellow competitors into bugs?

Dynamotheos Boot Camp is her stepdad's answer to Phoebe's problems. While her friends vacation, Phoebe is studying control. It would really help a lot if a.) the other girls at Goddess Boot Camp weren't all 10, b.) if Phoebe's boyfriend wasn't hanging out so much with his ex, and c.) if her step sister weren't the head of the Boot Camp.

Even a goddess can't always get what she wants.

I remember reading author Carrie Jones' comments about how the idea for Need came to her -- seeing someone scary looking/pointing at her and seeing glitter on the ground around him, and being freaked out by the juxtaposition (plus the guy: Creepy.) (And obviously this is not exactly what she said, but what I remember.) Well, I am now officially terrified of glitter.


And pixies.

Zara - whose name means "queen" -- doesn't care about pixies. She doesn't care about much of anything, and she's been sent to Maine to live with her grandmother, Betty, because of it.

The day her father died -- the day they came in from running, and he collapsed on the floor, his heart giving out -- was the first time she thought she saw the man in the window, staring in at them. She thinks her father saw him too. But what Zara mostly sees is that she couldn't save him. That she stood there, and watched it happen, and ...let him go.

Zara would like to save somebody. She writes earnest letters every free moment for Amnesty International. She doesn't care if she dies anymore -- she feels that's probably what she deserves. But she desperately wants someone else to live. Someone good. Someone like her father.

Teen boys are disappearing in her grandma's town, and people are scared. Zara wishes there was something she could do about that, but her grandma says that sometimes kids just run away. It's just one more thing to add to the list of things that are wrong with the world. Nowhere seems safe, not even Betty's small town.

But little by little, life gets lived. Zara becomes curious about things. It is a bit odd that the man she thought she saw outside the house the day her father died is the same man she sees on the road from the airport to her grandma's house. And again, on the side of the road where her car gets stuck in a snowdrift.

It's a bit much that he shows up at her high school, and points at her. And it's just beyond enduring when he arrives in the woods near her house, and she hears him calling her name.

What. The. Heck?

In time, Zara learns that the guy following her is ...a pixie. And pixies = monsters, monsters who have uncontrollable need to feed on human beings. Deprived of his queen, and thus his power, the Pixie King is weak, and the court is growing restless. Somehow, Zara is the key to changing things for him. He's following her. He's calling her. Should she sacrifice herself so no more boys will disappear? Is it right to be controlled by another's need?

There's an allegorical feel to this novel -- a hint of a truth beneath the glittering layers of fiction, about relationships, about the way we control what we think we need, and about choices. Somehow, the glitter hiding bloodshed makes it that much worse.


Fans of the spooky will be thrilled to know that the sequel will be out in January.

Find the very disturbing Candor, the frothy but sweet Goddess Boot Camp, or the doubly disturbing Need at an independent bookstore near you!

November 21, 2009

Turning Pages: Supersweet Superheroes

This is a favorite genre subdivision -- epic heroes and heroines. Not quite as good as X-men, or the MiB, none of these novels have quite the same feel as comic book pages beneath one's fingers... but you've gotta admit, they're pretty darned close.

Warrior priestesses are pretty much superheroes.

Of course, Zira doesn't think of herself as that. She has just as much practice to do as anyone in learning swordplay, and her teacher, Deo, would soon correct any arrogant attitude on her part. She's just one of the other novices, living at the House of God, doing her best to worship in the proper spirit and help train the refugee children at the temple, who are now homeless because of the Sedorne invasion. The Rua royal family has been decimated, and all the Rua people can do is pretend to be harmless and pacifist and in the meantime train, prepare...and survive.

Noirin Surya, the high priestess and keeper of the Flame of God, loves Zira as much as her own mother once must have, before she was killed by the Sedorne so long ago. When Surya takes Zira with her on business to a nearby village, she's glad to help. Their cover as harmless priestesses is blown when Zira saves the life of a Sedornese noble - leaping into the fray, swords flying.

The outlaws were going to burn him alive in his carriage...something which Zira, with her own burn scars, could never have faced in silence. Her impetuousness costs her more than she knows -- and gives her a greater gift than she could have ever found on her own.

This is a satisfying adventure story that never feels hurried, even though it's epic, and sweeping, and there are tons of details. It's very superhero.

(One cover complaint -- although the flame is outstanding, the character has a facial scar. She's not knock-down dead gorgeous. How hard is it to show that on a cover? Oh, wait, what am I saying? LIAR, anyone?)

Lisa Haines poses a very serious question of "what if" in Girl in the Arena. What if bloodsports were legal? What if war wasn't something faceless old men sent young warriors to do, but it was a mano-y-mano, on-screen thing? What if Roman gladiators had never died out?

Lyn's whole life has been GSA -- Gladiator Sport Association. Her mother, one of the first Gladiator Wives, has been married now SEVEN times, and all of Lyn's stepdads have been fighting men. Caesar's, the GSA association company, has rules. The rules say that Allison has married her last warrior. When Tommy, Lyn's seventh stepfather dies, it's going to be all over.

For various reasons, none of them like to think about that.

There's a ceremonial aspect to the gladiator life. There's the reverence for the old Roman warriors, there's attention paid to the right clothes, the proper gladiator footwear with fifteen leather straps and buckles, and the right attitude. And then, there are the bylaws:Always lend ineffable confidence to the gladiator. Remind him constantly of his victories. And most importantly: Never leave the stadium when your father is dying. Lyn isn't hot on Gladiator culture, but she always expected to go to Gladiator Wives College, like the other Glads daughters she knows. Her friendships within the Glads fade and she is fast waking up to the heavy toll that being a gladiator girl has on everyone -- her mother, Allison, her seer brother, Thad, and worst of all, Tommy, and the strapping young lad, Uber, who vanquishes him.

What if violence like this were an everyday part of life?
What would the media do to keep the bloodletting going?
How far would they go... until people said, "Enough"?

Americans are addicted to spectacle. This novel explores the concept of bloodsport as just another reality show. (And though the cover looks not at all like the character, it has a certain sense that reflects the contents of the book. Props to the graphic designers.)

How much do I love Dull Boy by Sarah Cross?
Oh, a whole lot.
Rarely do I pick up a book that makes me laugh all the way through -- even when the characters are in SERIOUS DIRE STRAITS. Even when they're in pain. It's like reading the best comic book/buddy movie/sidekick novel ev-ah. And I do mean that in all the best ways.

Avery Pirzwick is fifteen, and previously, he was okay with life. He was... like his friends, like everyone else in his high school -- dull and content and dead mediocre. Until one day, in an emergency, he lifted a car off a toddler's leg. He got some attention, then, and he was -- cautiously thrilled. It wasn't so bad to stand out, and wow -- he was super strong that day.

Wouldn't super strength be cool?

Avery thinks so, until he breaks a guy's arm on the wrestling team. And the figured out he could bench press his mother's car. And fly.

It makes him want to do something with himself. Something good. Something cool. Something...heroic. Unfortunately, all the pieces of Avery's life are crumbling in his hands -- just like his cell phone.

Instead of using his powers to be a hero, Avery's supergeeking gets him put in an expensive private school for delinquents where he meets the most unusual people. Nicholas. Catherine. Darla. And ...Jacques.

Who are they? What does Jacques' mother, the icy cold Cherchette, want with him?

Tune in next week when our superheroes...

Find Daughter of Flames, the thought-provoking Girl in the Arena, or the hilarious Dull Boy at an independent bookstore near you!

November 20, 2009

Turning Pages - A Wing and a ...Prayer. Sorta

This year's Cybs have popped out an unusual crop in the paranormal teen novel category -- angels. Maybe it's only unusual to me -- I never thought of angels as having lives, romances, disputes, but hey -- science fiction and fantasy is all about "What If," right? We had Starfire Angels who were kind of vaguely sci-fi, Strange Angels wherein no angels actually even appeared and then two books where the angels were a little more... unexpected. Here are the two titles that stuck with me.

Coffeehouse Angel by Suzanne Selfors, is one of my favorites in the angel genre -- and because the first Selfour book I read was about a mermaid in a bathtub, I knew she was good at "what if" scenarios, and she shines with this zany little romantic comedy.

Katrina is just your average working stiff -- trying to help her grandma keep a roof over their heads by working all the hours she can at the Norwegian coffee shop they own. It's a stodgy old place where they only make coffee one way, there's no Wifi, and the sandwiches have sardines and pickled onions. I said Norwegian, right? Unfortunately for Katrina, there's a really hip coffeehouse next door -- and it's about to run her grandma out of business.

There's a lot more bad luck on the way, but Katrina's still got the heart to do a good deed. A homeless guy in the alleyway outside of the shop gets a bag of chocolate covered coffee beans, some day old danishes, and a big cup of coffee, on the house. It's the least she could do for someone who's had to sleep in the cold.

One selfless act.

It's amazing how much trouble that can get you into.

The homeless guy -- when he's awake -- is actually a gorgeous kilted "messenger" named Malcolm. And not particularly easy to get rid of. He just wants to repay Katrina for her kindness -- to give her what her heart desires. That can't be so bad, right?

Hush, Hush, by Becca Fitzpatrick introduces us to Nora Grey, who has no interest in high school romance. Her friend Vee is the one with stars in her eyes, and Nora has no problem turning off the charm, until Patch, the darkly seductive and broody new guy...

...who seems to be sort of everywhere. And for a new guy, he knows an awful lot about her. Now, why is that?

Nora's a little shaken -- granted, Patch is cute, and really intense, but there are weird things that happen around him. Almost accidents, near misses -- Nora's beginning to wonder if Patch isn't out to hurt her. Or, is he there to help?

Secretive, manipulative and obsessive, Patch has a lot of similarities to a.) vampires, and b.) other evil characters who mistake obsession with relationship, but in his case, there's (somewhat of ) a reason for it -- a reason that's been going on for thousands of years. Critical readers might raise a brow at a few of the stock characters and a few "Oh, please, she isn't going to do that is she??" moments, but for those looking for a "spooky dark lover" fix and who aren't turned off by the hype the novel's received, this will go down like candy.

You can find Coffeehouse Angel, and Hush, Hush, as well as Starfire Angels at independent bookstore near you!

Winter Blog Blast Tour: Five Questions for Sheba Karim

- from Macmillan Books:

If Nina Khan were to rate herself on the unofficial Pakistani prestige point system – the one she’s sure all the aunties and uncles use to determine the most attractive marriage prospects for their children – her scoring might go something like this:

+2 points
for getting excellent grades
–3 points for failing to live up to expectations set by genius older sister
+4 points for dutifully obeying parents and never, ever going to parties, no matter how antisocial that makes her seem to everyone at Deer Hook High
–1 point for harboring secret jealousy of her best friends, who are allowed to date like normal teenagers
+2 points for never drinking an alcoholic beverage
–10 points for obsessing about Asher Richelli, who talks to Nina like she’s not a freak at all, even though he knows that she has a disturbing line of hair running down her back.

Funny. Disturbing. Nina.

In our review of Sheba Karim's debut YA novel Skunk Girl, we wrote: "[T]here really isn't much (if any) teen literature out there that deals with the quirks of growing up as a Pakistani girl in America, with Muslim parents who are conservative, even restrictive in some ways, but still close and loving." As a portrayal of the general angst of growing up, the book was equally spot-on, and we were eager to ask the author about her writing process, her favorite reads, and her thoughts on the role of religion and culture in the story of Skunk Girl's main character, Nina.

We had limited time to spend with this busy New York born author, as she is in the process of recovering from an international move. We appreciate the time she took away from her boxes and bags to speak to us!

Finding Wonderland: Many of our readers are writers. Can you talk a bit about your process? What was the original first line of Skunk Girl? Did it change, or stay the same? What are your revisions like? Do you do flowcharts, outlines, or a flurry of Post-It notes?

Sheba Karim: The first line of Skunk Girl remained unchanged. In terms of writing process, I tend to think of structure first, and outline a chapter before I write it, at least the major plot points. It's very hard for me to start writing without having an idea of the direction I'm heading. My revisions for the book were across the board—some chapters I barely changed, while I rewrote the second half of the book entirely.

FW: As a follow up: From your blog we learn you were previously a lawyer before becoming a writer, and you received your MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop, and did a residency at Hedgebrook. How did your family feel about your decision to move from something solid like law, to something chancy like writing? Do you feel that having an MFA made a difference to you as a writer?

SK: I think it was easier for me to switch career tracks because I applied to MFA programs, so rather than quitting my job and heading into some great creative unknown, I was simply transitioning into graduate school, and the fact that I was fully funded helped a lot. My parents still worry about me, as parents are wont to do. It's hard to make a career as a writer, and there's a lot to be said for a stable paycheck, but I haven't once looked back.

FW: We're definitely glad you haven't looked back!

What were your favorite books when you were a child, and who are your favorite writers these days? Any multicultural YA authors we should be on the lookout for?

SK: My absolute favorite book when I was very young was Are You My Mother? followed some years later by the complete Sherlock Holmes and, later, Jane Eyre. I love Margaret Atwood, and two of my all-time favorite books are A Fine Balance and Midnight's Children. In terms of multi-cultural YA writers, I've heard good things about Meja Mwangi, Sharon Flake, and Neesha Meminger.

FW: Neesha is one of our favorites, too!

What was your family's response to Skunk Girl? Knowing that you are a woman with a Muslim background, and that you're familiar with the religion, what was it like to write about Muslim religion from an outsider perspective? Did you feel any pressure to present a particular picture of Islam, or did you simply write what you know?

SK: I didn't feel any pressure to convey a particular picture of Islam, though obviously I didn’t want to demonize it in any way. In my mind, I was writing a novel about one particular Muslim girl’s experience, which would undoubtedly have similarities and differences to the experiences of other Muslim-American girls. My focus was on discussing certain aspects of growing up female and Muslim in the US (as it pertained to Nina) rather than conveying some broader message about the religion itself, though I did try to convey that, like most religions, there's a fluidity to Islam in terms of people’s beliefs and practices.

FW: The choice Nina makes about her relationship with Asher at the end of the book might not be one that every reader can relate to. Can you talk a bit about your decision to end the book with her choosing to stay closer to the dictates of her culture and family than "following her heart," so to speak (something very much lauded in mainstream American culture)? What do you think the ending conveys to readers of Pakistani or Muslim background? To non-Pakistani or non-Muslim readers?

SK: I think the decision Nina makes is more of a practical one. Some readers would have probably preferred that Nina be determined to pursue a relationship with Asher no matter what the cost. I think it's a lot easier to do such things when you're older and more independent. I'm not saying it's not possible, I'm just saying it’s a lot more difficult.

Some Muslim readers might be taken aback at the fact that Nina never questions the morality of dating, while some non-Muslim readers might be upset that Nina seemingly panders to cultural mores by deciding not to date Asher. But I don't want readers to come away thinking Nina's decision is meant to convey some kind of message, because it's not. It's just one character's individual decision in a complicated situation. For Nina, it's more of a timing thing. Of course, who knows, when school starts again, Nina's resolve might not be so strong.

Bonus Question: Will you continue writing in the YA genre? Can you talk a bit about what you're working on now?

SK: I'm currently working on a historical fiction novel set in 13th century Delhi, India, and I just started working on a YA fantasy book. It's quite new, so I won't say much about it, except that it involves djinns.

FW:Thank you so much again for taking time out of your busy schedule for us! We can't wait to read more of your work, and wish you the very best.

Gotta love the djinns, huh? And we're always HEARTILY in favor of multicultural fantasy here at Wonderland, so GO, SHEBA KARIM! If you want to read another fun, quirky interview, check out Sheba's toe-to-toe chat with the Longstockings (Yum, chocolate peanut butter ice cream!), or check out her author essay at Some good reading on women and identity in Islam, which is what Skunk Girl is about in a smaller, less academic fashion.

And, don't forget to check out the rest of today's awesome WBBT author/illustrator interviews:
Lisa Schroeder @ Writing & Ruminating
Alan DeNiro @ Shaken & Stirred,
Joan Holub @ Bildungsroman
The amazing Pam Bachorz @ Mother Reader
R.L. LaFevers @ Hip Writer Mama