August 31, 2009

From New York to Italy, From Iraq to India

Before I start this latest roundup of reviews, I want to share a sort of odd conversation I had today with the grocery store checker, a guy I'd estimate to be in his early 20s. Conversation got around to books and reading, because I mentioned I was a writer, and at some point he said that he was lucky if he ran across a book that took him more than a few hours to read. He said he tended to "speed read," to skim long descriptive passages and read mostly for dialogue. I wasn't sure what to think of that. I mean, if you only ever read the dialogue in a book, does that mean you're looking more for the experience of the story, rather than reading to enjoy the writing itself? Speaking for myself, I only skim reading material if I'm zeroing in on facts/main points, or if I don't much care for the writing. But how many people don't even think on the level of the quality (and in this case I mean quality like timbre, perhaps) of the words and how they're put together on the page? Perhaps this explains the baffling popularity of things like The Da Vinci Code. (Sorry, but I really didn't like it.) And on that note, on to the reviews.

The Blood Stone by Jamila Gavin follows the Renaissance-era journey of twelve-year-old Filippo Veroneo, who, in order to save his family from the predation and blackmail of his greedy brother-in-law Bernardo Pagliarin, must undertake a dangerous trek over sea and land to ransom his father from far-off Kabul. Though I had some issues with the pacing of the story, historical fiction fans will greedily devour the details of life in the Italy, Near East, and South Asia of the past, and the magical qualities and sense of adventure will appeal to fantasy fans.

You may laugh if you like, but I couldn't bring myself to read Coe Booth's Tyrell during my usual before-bed reading time—I had to limit it to daytime, because it was so raw, such a punch to the gut, so real, that I found it hard to deal with the extreme amounts of liberal guilt it inspired and then fall peacefully asleep. The story of Tyrell, a teenage boy in the Bronx whose family is living in emergency assistance housing that's full of roaches, who stopped going to school because he feels responsible for taking care of his family while his father is in jail, whose mother has no idea how to support the family on her own or even how to properly care for little Troy—it strikes me as a story that's probably a lot more common than any of us want to admit, a story of citizens, of human beings who are falling through the cracks of a system that doesn't quite know how to deal with them. But it's also a story of a guy trying to make the best of his life despite all that, who's at heart a good guy raised in a difficult environment. Booth doesn't sugarcoat things, but somehow throughout this tough tale, Tyrell—and, by proxy, the reader—maintains the hope of a better future.

I'm a fan of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's adult fiction, so I was eager to read The Conch Bearer, the first in her series of novels for younger readers (I'd call it younger MG). Though I have to admit, having read it, that I prefer her adult books, I truly enjoyed reading an epic-level fantasy quest that took place entirely within an authentically South Asian context. Anand's journey from the Kolkata shack where his family lives to a wondrous haven high in the Himalayan mountains is fraught with danger at every turn, but he has pledged the mysterious old healer Abhaydatta that he will return a sacred and magical object—a conch shell—to its rightful home. There were times when events in the story felt a bit arbitrary to me, but on the other hand, it avoids some of the recycled fantasy tropes that crop up again and again in a lot of books in the genre.

If you want an inside look at the harsh realities of a young soldier in the complex, nuanced, and often confusing wartime situations of today's world, check out Walter Dean Myers's Sunrise Over Fallujah. Robin "Birdy" Perry's father wanted him to go to college, but instead he decided to join the army, and as the story starts, the young Harlem recruit is just about to begin a tour in Iraq with his Civilian Affairs unit. Civilian Affairs has the job that official propaganda refers to as "winning hearts and minds"--they're sent out into the community to interact with the Iraqi people, reassuring them and thereby increasing stability in the region. Though Birdy—and the reader—start off feeling a bit distant from the reality of the situation, over time he comes to realize that the ravages of war aren't just affecting soldiers and civilians in a physical way, they're also affecting everyone inside, including him. Myers is skillful in gradually and subtly developing the different characters in Birdy's life, letting us get to know the other soldiers in his unit as if they were our compatriots, too. It's not a heavy-handed book, but it gets the point across that war is never simple, never easy, and you can be a brave, dutiful, effective, and patriotic member of the armed forces even if you're scared sh*tless and don't always feel good about what you're doing.

August 30, 2009

Wandering Through Cyberspace

I'm sorry to report that I have yet to detail the exciting events of last week in written form, but I'll do so soon on my personal blog, I promise. In the meantime, please to enjoy this selection of links for your reading amusement.

A technical-writer friend pointed out this article telling the truth about writers. Oh noes, now the secret's out! The only thing missing is the gratuitous bathroom and coffee breaks.

We had a great time interviewing Kazu Kibuishi for the Summer Blog Blast Tour a couple of years ago; for a more recent conversation with Kazu, cruise over to When you're done reading that, for a little bonus comics love, check out their list of Top 10 Movies Based on Comics and see if you agree. (My quick take: Kudos on including Persepolis, but I'm curious why Sin City wasn't included--though I haven't seen that yet.)

If your misspent youth is becoming an ever more distant memory (unless you're like me and write YA fiction and spend some excruciating moments reliving it), you may remember the movie Labyrinth. Another friend tipped me off to this interesting feminist interpretation of the movie. I kind of want to watch it again now, though I'm afraid it will have lost some of the luster it had when I first saw it around age 9-ish.

Hey writers! October 20 is the National Day on Writing, and Kidlitosphere folks are invited to contribute their experiences with A Lifetime of Reading to Franki and Mary Lee's gallery. Check out A Year of Reading for more info.

A new (to me, anyway) blog on PW about speculative fiction, called Genreville. Yay!

Reading is Fundamental's Book a Brighter Future project with Macy's is coming to an end tomorrow, August 31, so if you're a shopper, go shop and donate.

Lastly, for a tour around the Kidlitosphere, check out the latest Carnival of Children's Literature over at In Need of Chocolate. And that's it for me for today. More book reviews a-comin' sometime this week.

Wicked Cool Overlooked Books: Sensational Sesyle

You have gone downtown to do some shopping.
You are walking backwards, because sometimes you like to,
and you bump into a crocodile.

What do you say, dear?

Nope, you're not in the wrong place, and yes, I'm very early for the first-Monday-of-the-month Wicked Cool challenge (in which I admit to spotty participation). We don't normally do picture books here, yet today is the birthday of Sesyle Joslin, and since she and I practically share a name (always wondered what that S. was for, didn't you?)I wanted to raise my mug of tea to the quirky, funny, whimsical writer and her nineteen intriguing picture books.

You have gone to a tropical island with your friend, the Pirate, to help him find buried treasure. You spend the entire morning digging for it, but then -- just as you uncover a large treasure chest -- the Pirate's cook rings a bell. "Luncheon is now being served," he says.

What do you do, dear?

What Do You Say, Dear? published in 1958, and What Do You Do, Dear?, 1961, are two of the best known of Sesyle's books (thanks to illustrator Maurice Sendak), wherein children of gentle breeding are put in situations of utmost and increasingly ridiculous peril. Quick thinking is the only thing to help you when polar bears and bandits abound. But what about your manners? When the lady you're forcing to walk the plank drops her handkerchief? What do you do, dear? When the lad who was bitten by a dinosaur thanks you for saving his life after you've given him a Band-Aid? What do you say, dear?

Etiquette isn't always about how to behave in polite situations. At times, there are situations that are downright impolite. However! A charming young gentleman or lady never, ever loses sight of mannerly behavior. Ever.

You are a cowboy riding around the range.
Suddenly Bad Nose Bill comes up behind
you with a gun. He says, "Would you like
me to shoot a hole in your head?"

What do you say, dear?

Honestly, the "No, thank you," on the next page cracks me up every time. That Bad Nose Bill dude just never learns. Granted, these days a gun-to-the-head scenario as Sendak sketched it would NOT play out well in picture book land AT ALL, and I've no doubt that this raised its share of eyebrows, but it was all in good fun back then, when Cowboys & Indians was just an imaginary "harmless" game. Hm.

I think Sesyle's dual language books are also fascinating and priceless. Spaghetti for Breakfast, and Other Useful Phrases In Italian and English gives the intrepid traveler something to say on vacation -- to avoid pasta first thing in the morning. Or, not, as the case may be. Or, how about There is a Bull on my Balcony, "Hay un toro en mi balcón," and Other Useful Phrases in Spanish and English for Young Ladies and Gentlemen Going Abroad or Staying at Home? Doesn't that sound delightful? I love that it's for both gentleman and ladies, for those armchair travelers and those actually boarding planes. The very droll length and wordiness of the titles are guaranteed to give adults a hoot, while providing fun and informative tips for kids.

Need to know just how to begin that letter to your great-uncle? Dear Dragon... and Other Useful Letter Forms for Young Ladies and Gentlemen Engaged in Everyday Correspondence can help you out. Every eventuality is covered, in Sesyle's world. Dragon in your bed? You can tell it to excuse itself in English OR in French. Treasure-hunting before lunch? You and your friend, Pirate, will please wash your hands before you get to the table. A Native person smoking a peace pipe with visiting Cowboys, and you swallow a bit of smoke? Even then, there's a right thing to say. (And it has nothing to do with how non-PC that whole scenario might be.) There's a proper procedure for every occasion, and Ms. Joslin has every occurrence covered.

Sesyle Joslin wrote other picture books that I have yet to run down, which feature baby elephants, peanut sharing, a stolen alphabet, lady spies and muffin men, smugglers, owls, and more. Her piquant sense of the ridiculous makes these classics something I'm eager to find.

I was a bit disappointed that there isn't more information available on Ms. Joslin, who won a Caldecott Honor, and was a two-time Horn Book Fanfare Best Book recipient. My information has her being born in 1929, so she could be alive somewhere, a well-preserved and etiquette-correct dame in her eighties, still knowing exactly what to say at all times. What little information I found on her informs me that in 1950, she married novelist Al Hine (1915-1974), and together they embarked on a series of historical fiction children's books together, under the pseudonym of G.B. Kirtland, and a picture book, Is There A Mouse in the House? under the pseudonym Josephine Gibson.

[Details from Children's Books & Their Creators: An invitation to the feast of twentieth century children's literature, edited by Anita Silvey, Houghton Mifflin, © 1995 p.358]

Her books are still funny, after all these years: Happy Birthday, dear Sesyle.

Despite the Consumer Product Safety people thinking it should be banned -- all that nasty unsafe pre-1985 ink and all -- you can still buy many of Sesyle Joslin's books, including What Do You Say, Dear? and What Do You Do, Dear? from Alibris or other independent bookstores near you!

X-posted at Tanita's blog.

August 27, 2009

Following the W.A.R.

Stirling Castle 192

Okay, teeensy little confession: I don't actually read the School Library Journal. Not teaching at present, not a librarian, so it just doesn't come up under my radar too often, with the hundred and twenty other teens and literature blogs I read on a daily basis. I can't do all the journals regularly too, and get anything done: just can't. Now, I read Bets' blog, because Da Bird is a blog friend, and I "knew" her when she was just an insane shoe-loving librarian and non-journal-affiliated, but I hadn't really wandered past any of the other bloggers.

I've been missing out.

Especially because this summer, SLJ blogger Amy Bowllan, along with Dr. George Edward Stanley and hopefully Attorney General Eric Holder, declared W.A.R..

Writers Against Racism is an ongoing series of blog posts by writers, readers, professors, librarians, booksellers, illustrators and artists who are passionate and articulate about books and equality, humanity and ethnicity. Poet and author Dr. Zetta Elliot came up with the questions and invited the artists to participate, and is herself featured with a *lesson plan.* Those are gold nuggets on the ground around this time of year, so teachers, check it out!

Culzean 015

I'm completely late to the party, and am reading weeks back to the beginning of August -- and commenting. Amy Bowllan is probably wondering who the heck this person is who feels the need to come along two weeks after a post is up and say something -- but I think this is a really neat way of continuing the discussion about race and ethnicity and literature and language. Plus, our friend Laura Atkins, a lecturer at Roehampton University, is interviewed, and talks about growing up Caucasian in multiracial Berkeley. Her recently presented paper, "Reflections on White Privilege in the Publication of Children’s Books" discusses how race impacted her work in publishing at Lee & Low. Some interesting stuff, there.

And though I admit that I'd heard about this project without it settling into my brain, it finally came through when Dr. Elliot emailed me. I'm also honored to have been asked, this past week, to participate, along with several other authors and bloggers in the kidlitosphere, so you can look forward to more interesting and revealing discussion on Bowllan's Blog at the School Library Journal.

X-Posted at Tanita's blog

August 24, 2009

Answering Shannon Hale, while reviewing Lips Touch

"So, I wonder if book evaluation is trumping self-evaluation. I wonder if we get so caught up in gushing or bashing, shining up those stars or taking them away, that the reading experience is weighed too heavily on the side of the book itself and not enough on the reader. After all, reader is more important than book. Reader is the one who changes from reading, not the book. Reader is the one who lives the magic of storytelling."
- Shannon Hale

That Shannon Hale, when she gets to thinking, goes deep. I've been reading her series of posts on How to Be a Reader, and I'm going to both review a book and concurrently evaluate my reader experience in reading Lips Touch: Three Times, by Laini Taylor.

Full discolsure: Laini and I are blogosphere acquaintances, and I received her ARC, unrequested, from her very generous PR people, and thank you, Scholastic and Arthur Levine Books, verry, very much.

And now, on to Ms. Hale's questions:

1. Do you find that the anticipation of reviewing the book has changed your reading experience?I have been waiting to read Lips Touch since I saw a sneak peek of the artwork in the book. I knew it was about kisses, and about longing/yearning, and frankly, I was a little scared to review it. A husband-and-wife dynamo duo writing this? Who am I to say if it was good or not? They have enough of that kind of stuff living in their brains already. I expected to like it, but really didn't expect to want to seriously review it.

2. Are you rating the book even as you read? Or do you wait until the end to sum it all up? Lips Touch is a book you just READ. I wasn't imagining the number of stars or pondering Laini's word choices. I got sucked in immediately.

3. Does knowing you'll be reviewing it (or rating it) publicly affect which books you pick up in the first place? No. Not at all. I am cheered to be returning to my library roots, accepting fewer review copies from editors, since I'm so far away, and it's ...nice to just read what I choose.

4. Does the process of writing the review itself change how you felt about the book? It forces me to be a lot less gushy and/or a lot less snarky. I try to be, you know, coherent? Which isn't as easy as it sounds. I am a dyed-in the wool booknerd, so it's hard not to go on and on about what I like, or what disappoints me. Reviewing forces me to consider what people need from a recommendation.

5. What is your motivation to assign a rating to a book and declare it to the world? My motivation is mainly that I know how hard it is to find really good books. I try and find books that feature ethnically diverse characters, strong female rulebreakers and characters who buck the clichés and stand up for themselves. That in itself is a tough and frustrating job that can leave you in tears, even online. I'd like to make people's book searches easier, especially people who want their kids to read but don't read a lot themselves, and don't know where to start.

6. If you review a book but don't rate, why not? What do you feel is your role as reviewer? I don't rate. I don't do stars or numbers. I hate that on Goodreads; I tend to want to put "Really, really liked it!" on everything; the few times I've put that I didn't like something, I got email telling me a.) I couldn't say I hated something without a full review or b.) just asking me to elaborate. I only use Goodreads to keep track of books I read and to leave a "wishlist" for myself; I review to share what I've read with others. Those seem to me to be two different things.

And onward, to the goods:

Lips Touch was... in a word, cosmic. I didn't expect the level of literary excellence in it that I encountered. Not that Laini's other books aren't literary -- Silksinger and Blackbringer are among our faves around here, but the audience for these stories is not exactly the same as the one for Magpie Windwitch. Lips Touch reminds me of the short fiction to which I was introduced in grad school. Each story is carefully crafted, meticulously balanced between narrative and exposition, each phrase is rendered down to its most deft and spare. Themes of love, belonging, longing and yearning swirl like bewitching incense through tales of fantasy and fact, scavenged from the fiction and folktales of various cultures and histories (Zoroastrian and Hindu religions, and the British Raj, specifically) to create a thoroughly new and intriguing retelling.

Contemporary lives mesh with the past in Goblin Fruit, where the "urgent, unkissed" Kizzy takes a seductive taste of the danger which could be her undoing; silence reigns in Spicy Little Curses Such as These, and who knows if the three little words Anamique longs to utter will complete the castle in the air she and James have built, or pull it all down? The satisfying, if strange world of fourteen-year-old Esme, and her mother, Mab, is shown to be a sham, as their lives are peeled apart by memory, malice, and the changing color of Esme's left eye. There are shivers in these tales, provoked by both desire or dread, which is sometimes impossible to tell apart.

Good and evil are explored -- as are the edges of black and white and gray. Gray wins out, as good seems dismissed as no more than the luck of the draw, instead of divine sheltering, and evil is a fact all too readily apparent. The splash of color in such prosaic lives are the kisses -- a brilliant, soul-searing red, which is echoed in the color choices for the cover.

And the artwork -- *oh.* The ARC only had one set of completed preliminary sketches for the first story, but there are at least three pages set aside per tale for introductory artwork. The sketches for Goblin Fruit were phenomenal. Between the two of them, Laini and her artist-husband, Jim DiBartolo, have created an extraordinary volume of art. It's truly beautiful, the stories will resonate with older YA and adults, and it's coming out in October, so you only have two more months to wait. A perfect October Country read, folks.

So, that's my answers for Shannon, and my thanks to her for making me a more thoughtful reader/reviewer, and that's my enthusiastic review.

Buy Lips Touch: Three Times in October 2009 and beyond, from an independent bookstore near you!

August 21, 2009

Reading Roundup: Jewish Rockers, Scheming Revolutionaries, and Big Island Softball

Today one of my long-awaited library holds finally came in, and I discovered that as a patron I am now responsible for picking up my held items from a new holds shelf, instead of the clerk getting it for me from behind the counter. Iiinteresting. Anyway, I thought it was a good time to share a few of the books I've recently read, before I start on a new binge. (On the to-read-soon list are Nation by Terry Pratchett, Graceling by Kirstin Cashore, and the just-acquired Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim.)

Micol Ostow's So Punk Rock, with accompanying cartoons by David Ostow that complement the story, is a nice addition to the growing oeuvre of "hybrid" novels that are part prose, part comic. The illustrations and comic strips add little extra humorous asides to the written story, which follows Ari Abramson and his dream to form a band...sadly, all he's got for band members are his best friend Jonas, who becomes corrupted by small-time fame; the completely socially inept and Torah-thumping Yossi Gluck on drums; and Yossi's little sister Reena on the mic. As the Tribe gradually learns to play more than "Hava Nagilah" and gets local gigs more high profile than local kids' bar mitzvahs, their new status as the hottest band at Gittleman Jewish Day School brings out sides to their personalities that they never knew existed. Suddenly, Ari finds himself juggling Yossi's religious values, Jonas's ego, his own family life and scholastic future, and a potential romance in this light, funny novel. Steeped in East Coast Jewish culture, it's also sure to appeal to music fans.

The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness is the sequel to The Knife of Never Letting Go, which was dark, dystopian, frightening, and impossible to put down. Truly dangerous foes abound in Todd and Viola's world, and at the beginning of this second book in the Chaos Walking series, both Todd and Viola are prisoners to those foes. Mayor Prentiss, the tyrant of Todd's old village, has taken over the town of Haven and made it into New Prentisstown, and Todd suffers first as a prisoner and then laboring under the watchful eye of Mayor Prentiss and his son Davy. Meanwhile, Viola is sent to a house of healing, where she is treated and then apprenticed as a healer to a woman who clearly has no intention of letting Mayor Prentiss continue his dominion over the population. Is the revolutionary group The Answer really the solution, or are they just as ruthless as the existing regime? What role, if any, will the native humanoids of the planet, the Spackle, play? And what will happen when the rest of the ships arrive from space with their cargo of settlers, not knowing that once they land, they'll be subject to hearing the chaotic mental Noise of everyone around them? This was a fitting follow-up to the first book—intricate plotting, intense suspense, and complex motives abound. Thanks to Paul of Omnivoracious and Guys Lit Wire for sending it my way. It comes out Sept. 8.

The last book in today's roundup is
Name Me Nobody by Lois-Ann Yamanaka. As steeped as So Punk Rock is in Jewish culture, Name Me Nobody plunges the reader into the sometimes-uneasy ethnic mixture of native, Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, and haole (i.e., white) cultures that exists on the Big Island of Hawaii. Emi-Lou Kaya, thirteen years old, is being raised by her grandmother because her mother—who had been a teenage mom—is off in California finding herself. Her one true friend, nearly a sister, is Von. In exchange for Von helping Emi-Lou lose weight, Emi-Lou agrees to keep Von company by joining the local women's softball team with her, the Hilo Astros—even though Emi-Lou is a disaster on the diamond. But as Von starts to find a new identity as an accomplished softball player, and to discover a newly awakening sexuality with a fellow teammate, Emi-Lou gets the short end of the stick—she feels left out, abandoned, jealous, and what's more, is accused of being a lesbian herself, despite having a painful unrequited crush on a guy who's mean to her. This is a torturous story of changing friendships, shifting self-identity, learning who's family, and enduring small-town life on the not-so-Big Island. The island patois of the characters is authentic (at least to a mainlander like me who's spent a little time there), but unfamiliar slang and speech rhythms might throw readers from time to time. If I didn't already know, thanks to friends, the meaning of words like pau, shoots, kine, and shaka, I might have been a little confused. On the other hand, it's a glimpse into an American culture that a lot of mainlanders have very little real clue about—Hawaii, after all, isn't all coconuts, surfing, poi and lying around on the beach having luaus, as we haoles tend to assume.

August 20, 2009


Lynedoch Crescent 41Some good links out in the blog-o-sphere. First, this weekend the Seattle PI did a piece on why all the summer blockbuster movies keep ruining your childhood memories. Oh, yeah, they are. People flocked to see that Transformers thing, but apparently not enough -- the people who produced the film are going bankrupt, and it's gotten "Meh" reviews from those who like plots to make sense.

Why do those silly people want to make a NOVEL version of Where The Wild Things Are? It's really unnecessary!! My one-word answer is "marketing," which is also synonymous with "the root of all evil."

Oh, HECK yeah! Liz reviews The Devil's Kiss at Tea Cozy, and it sounds like a SERIOUS winner. A butt-kicking heroine whose mother's name was Jamila, whose father is British, whose mother was Pakistani, and whose name, Bilqis, she shortens to "Billi." Add in Big Bads like werewolves and vampires, fighters like Templar Knights and Big Goods (maybe) like Archangels, and I know I will love this book. I want it NOW.

What A Girl Wants this month is discussing the Big Bads... the bloodsuckers. What's up with the girl-love on the ghouls? Find out what our brilliant panel of authors have to say. Oh, and you can look forward to a reprise of "What's up with the bimbo'd out superheroes, and why is there only one Wonder Woman?" I'm looking forward to THAT one.

Our favorite Toronto-an, CK, shows off her weekend at Toronto Island, where there's a sign that says, "Please, Walk on the Grass." A gorgeous little photo-essay. *sigh* Sunshine! Such a lovely thing. (It's sleeting here in sunny Glasgow, kids.)

In the realm of the freaky, here's two tidbits -- one, the ICKIEST commercial I've ever seen, via mental_floss. It's about how a kid feels when he's told he's getting a new member of the family. You'll cringe. And laugh. And then cringe some more.

Second little bit of freakiness comes in response to the repackaging of Wuthering Heights as "Bella & Edward's favorite book." Can I just say, "AAAAARRRRRRRRGH!!?!?"

Gotta hand it to them, though. That cover is dead on Twilight.

Man, do the marketing people think we're all such suckers? Srsly?

Oh, my STARS, you have got to run over to the 7-Imps. They're highlighting that gorgeous Michelle Book, Our Children Can Soar. It's a beautiful celebration of civil rights, and has a fabulous new painting of Ruby Bridges. It's lovely.

And on that uplifting note, good day to you!

August 16, 2009

Color Me Brown Book Challenge Update

A few weeks ago, we posted a link to the Color Me Brown Book Challenge at Color Online, and I've definitely had the challenge in my mind ever since. And finally, after getting to the end of a rather long book I'd borrowed from my mother-in-law and had to finish up (Ursula LeGuin's Lavinia--highly recommended), I started thinking about the challenge again.

The first thought that crossed my mind was, Wow, the library hasn't notified me yet about the two books I put on hold, Skunk Girl and 1001 Cranes. It's been at least two weeks. I think this is actually a good thing, if it means more people are reading and demanding books by authors of color (in this case, Asian-American authors) in my area. But even though the books I'd requested weren't in yet, I decided to go to the library anyway and see what I could find in terms of YA books by people of color. (And, yeah, yeah, I had books due!)

I've ended up with a list of one purchased book and five great library books that I'm looking forward very much to reading over the next couple of weeks, not that there's ever a bad time to read fiction by POC here at Finding Wonderland, as you all know. The book I purchased is particularly special, since it happens to be Mare's War by Ms. Tanita S. Davis herself. I'm actually almost done with it already, and as with A La Carte, I'm fascinated by the changes that took place between the draft manuscript when I last saw it and the final product. The other books on my TBR pile are:

  • Tyrell by Coe Booth

  • The Conch Bearer by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

  • Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers

  • The Blood Stone by Jamila Gavin

  • Name Me Nobody by Lois-Ann Yamanaka

A few are new, a few are older; but I'm excited about all of them, and I'm especially happy that there are a few fantasy novels in there to boot. I've not read a lot of what I'm going to call, for lack of a better term that I can think of at the moment, "non-Western fantasy." I'm interested to see what, in that genre, has been considered marketable/publishable so far.

And, to conclude, I just want to put in a little shout-out of thanks to my library for, well, just for being there and being generally awesome with a great YA collection. Woot!

August 12, 2009

One Shot World Tour: Southeast Asia

Nations of Southeast Asia--Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines--are the focus of today's One Shot World Tour. And can we just say how difficult it is to find YA literature that specifically focuses on these regions? Clearly there is a rich area of experience that readers are missing out on--and readers of Southeast Asian heritage aren't seeing their experiences reflected as often as they could be.

One of the few times we've featured a significant Southeast Asian author was our review of Town Boy by well-known Malaysian cartoonist Lat. This 2007 Cybils Graphic Novel nominee is the sequel to Kampung Boy; both are available from First Second Books. "The reader really feels like they're getting a glimpse of what life was like growing up in the Malaysia of the '60s," we wrote in our review. But what about the Thailand of today, or the Philippine-American experience? Resources seem sparse, but we've tried to compile a handful of helpful links that might lead interested readers in the right direction.

So what we've got is: go check out these links. Read books by Lat, Cherry Cheva, and anyone else you can find on any of the booklists above or in the many fabulous posts today for One Shot Southeast Asia. And--don't just read them today, this week, this month. Read them whenever you can.

Might Be ...

...right up your alley.

"We are looking for original works of genre fiction (science fiction/fantasy/mystery/romance) that feature a person of color and/or LGBT as the central character."

...We are especially looking for your best young adult and independent reader submissions. Don't be afraid to be different. It doesn't have to be vampires, werewolves, witches, wizards, or about rich spoiled teens. In fact, we'd prefer it if you avoid those tropes unless you're doing something totally new with them. Don't be afraid to create new tropes or utilize ones that have no European connections. We're doing something totally new here, so don't be afraid to branch out and do something totally new in your writing."

Via Facebook, I heard of this call for YA subs, and I had to check out who was doing the calling. Verb Noire is a labor of love and an e-publishing company that will focus on works by (and about) underrepresented groups in genre fiction. Since "everybody has a story," writers and dreamers Mikki Kendall and Jamie Nesbitt Golden, working on a shoestring budget, have set out to find how those stories begin, and bring them to a larger audience.

In light of a lot of conversations I've been having lately, mainly my plaintive wish that we could do something more than talk about the underrepresented stories in genre fiction, this seems like a very exciting project where people can DO something. Kudos to Stephanie Denise Brown, one of our alums at Mills, for pointing this out.

X-Posted @ tanita's blog

August 11, 2009

July and Early August Reading Roundup

It looks like I'm mostly about the reading roundups lately. It just seems to suit me for now! I think I like to binge on books, moving decadently from one to the next without having to feel obligated to write them up. After all, it really is about the reading for me.

I went to the library, as usual, looking for new YA books that piqued my interest at the moment. I picked up Shift by Jennifer Bradbury, which I'd heard about from several sources, including Guys Lit Wire. The story is told in sections that alternate between present and past--a device that's accomplished fairly well in this debut novel, and successfully increases the tension. In the present, Chris Collins, the narrator, is just starting college after finishing up a cross-country bike trip with his best friend, Win. The story in the past, of course, concerns the bike trip itself—and what happened along the way. All we know is, at some point Chris and Win separated, and Win never came back. It's a mystery story, on one level, but it's also a tale of friendship, what happens when it ebbs, and what's left, as well as a story of how far someone might be willing to go to find themselves.

While at the library, I also wandered over to the new MG and children's literature revolving rack, and ended up checking out Susan Patron's Lucky Breaks, the sequel to The Higher Power of Lucky. Ultimately, I think I ended up being affected a bit more by the first novel, but this was absolutely a fitting sequel in any case. In this volume, Lucky, nearly 11, wishes more than anything that she had a real best friend—not Lincoln, who's a boy and who's obsessed with knot-tying; and not Miles, who may be a newly-recognized genius but is still only five. One day, a girl her own age shows up in remote Hard Pan along with her paleontologist uncle—Paloma. During their adventures together, Lucky learns what it means to have a best well as what it doesn't mean.

If that makes sense.

I also decided to pick up one of my old favorite books from when I was growing up—one that I haven't re-read until now: Joan Aiken's The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, as well as the sequel, Black Hearts in Battersea. Before there were the Baudelaire kids, there was Bonnie and Sylvia, and Simon the goose boy; and before there was Lemony Snicket there was Joan Aiken. If you were ever a fan of The Secret Garden, of tales of unlucky orphans who find themselves in dire and dismal straits but ultimately end up triumphant (unlike the poor Baudelaires), you can't miss these. Plus, there are the fabulous cover illustrations by Edward Gorey—the perfect choice, in my opinion. I'm looking forward to reading more books in the Wolves series, since I only ever read the first one as a child (and read it again, and again...).

Happy reading!

August 07, 2009


Ummm, blogosphere peeps? Will you please promise only to use your powers for good? Please? Kthnx.

Props to Bloomsbury. I mean, yeah, it took a whole lot of intense discussion and a lot of backpedaling, shamefaced foot shuffling, and outright lying to begin with, but they took stock and refocused and made their people work. They came up with a cover that is just as dynamic and compelling as the first -- and since it's not as washed out, I'd say it's possibly twice as compelling. (I haven't yet read the book, but the word "nappy" was used to describe the character's hair, and I understood that she was not pretty, and could pass as a boy... this ...isn't what I see on the cover, but... Okay. I admit again: the book isn't out, I HAVEN'T READ THE BOOK. I've tried all along to reserve judgment. Which, for me, is amusing, I know.) And this book will also be twice as compelling, for many, because it's the name of a safely well-known author on that pretty new cover, and they know she won't let them down. So, all's well that... ends, right?

Anyway. Kudos to Justine Larbalestier, and here's hoping that people everywhere can prove that old publishing excuse, that there won't be any sales with a brown face on the cover, wrong, wrong, wrong.

August 06, 2009

Tasty Summer Treat?

I know I owe a much longer post than this, but I just couldn't resist cruising by to tell you about the possibility of a new library-themed ice-cream flavor from Ben & Jerry's, thanks to a campaign from a New Jersey librarian. Gooey Decimal System, Overdue Fine as Fudge Chunk, and Sh-sh-sherbet are among those being considered.

The library never sounded so...edible.

August 02, 2009

Turning Pages: Modern Ghana

Time for another recap!
It's weird -- it was something like FEBRUARY when my bookbuddy Charlotte mentioned in passing that she'd read a book called Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder, but that was all it took to fix it in my mind that it was a book I wanted to read. Charlotte was re-reading it at that point, and now I know why: It's that good. I ran across an amazing review of it at Em's Bookshelf. Her review is better than mine would be, so definitely read it -- then read the book. Wow. If you liked Kathleen Duey's Skin Hunger, you'll enjoy this -- and I was thrilled to bits to know there are two more in the series. Must. Get. To. Library! Woot!

Colleen raved about Lonely Werewolf Girl and it was just as random and insane and fun as I expected. You've got to love that about a novel. Werewolves. Bands. Strange fey creatures. And clothing designers. It's ...flippin' surreal. A teensy bit too long but sometimes the bizarre just cannot be contained, I'd say.

I also enjoyed -- more painfully -- I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone. I have to admit that I had to put it down a couple of times, because... it hurt, frankly. Living your life looking for the person who was supposed to love you the most -- and then picking yourself up and regrouping, and realizing that you can love the ones your with, for real? Is wrenching, and pretty deep. Read Jocelyn's review.

But one book I've read that no one in my circle has reviewed is Growing Yams in London. Written by British-Ghanaian author Sophia Acheampong, this is a fun and crazy read.

Makeeda -- a typical London teen with drama to spare and mad texting skilz -- is a girl whose family are also her friends. Tanisha, a cousin from America, is visiting before she goes off to Ghana to volunteer and see their grandmother. Tanisha is cool and smart, and Makeeda admires her -- and resents her. Makeeda's mother seems to prefer Tanisha to her own daughters, and sure, it could be because Tanisha's the only child of her baby sister who died, but why can't she like Makeeda and Delphinia, her own daughters, as well? Makeeda doesn't have too much time to ponder that sort of depressing stuff, not when it's her cousin Mel's birthday party, and she's bound to have boys over. Even without her best friends, Bharti and Nick along, Makeeda's hoping to have a good time.

Life after the party goes better than Makeeda could ever have hoped. The DJ, Nelson, is beyond cute, and is actually interested in her, despite the fact that she made a fool of herself every time she opened her mouth. At school, Makeeda's finally figured out an inspirational woman on which to write her history essay -- and she's even Ghanaian! And Tanisha is finally, finally leaving for Ghana, and Makeeda, though she will miss her cousin, will hopefully get her mother back.

Everything would be cool, if it weren't for the fact a.) Makeeda's not supposed to be dating -- but she is... and lying about it, AND b.) Mrs. Hipman, Makeeda's history teacher, disapproved her history essay topic -- and Makeeda decides to write the essay anyway, AND c.) Makeeda's best friend, Bharti, is having some kind of ...issue, just because Makeeda forgot to do her one little favor! Suddenly, Nick is acting weird, and Bharti and Makeeda aren't best friends anymore. It's tough enough being just a regular girl -- but Makeeda's having trouble dealing with the Ghanaian side of her life, too. Why do her parents and Aunties have to be so disapproving that she can't speak Twi? Why does her über-Ghanaian cousin Afua have to be such a... pain?! What's wrong with everyone?!

Despite cultural differences and minor changes in outfits and accents, the drama and hilarity within these pages could happen to anyone from any world. Acheampong has created a fun glimpse into London teen culture, and the quick-paced storyline is colorful and insane. The less breezy bits, about self-worth and self-discovery are seamlessly joined with the whole, making this a really fun read.

You can encounter the fabulous Poison Study, the surrealist and deeply amusing Lonely Werewolf Girl, and the brilliant and fierce I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, and finally Growing Yams in London at an independent bookstore near you!

August 01, 2009

Strange Angels by Lili St. Crow

Let me start off by saying I was pretty sure I wasn't going to like this book. I'm at near-saturation for vampires and werewolves, and I never was that fond of zombies. But when the writing is this clever, the characters this real and likable, and the plot has so much non-stop action, even a premise I don't like can turn into a book that I, in fact, do.

Dru Anderson has spent much of her life moving around, following her father, who is a hunter of...things. Supernatural things with bad intentions. Like vampires and zombies and stuff. Imagine if Buffy was, instead of a perky teenage girl, actually a protective dad with an arsenal that would rival that of a small Central American nation. And then there's Dru, sixteen years old, with a sixth sense that her grandmother called "the touch"--for all the good it's done her, since her mother and grandmother are both dead.

And now, her dad's left for a mission, and hasn't come back. She's stuck in this snowy northern town that's nothing like the Southern states she's used to, and her only friend is a weird goth-y kid named Graves--who, to my delight, was depicted as half-Asian...and then, to my confusion, this fact was harped upon repeatedly, but I have to say, that's my only real complaint about the book. It has a reasonably fresh take on the whole hunter-of-supernatural-evils genre, and presents characters that inspire a lot of sympathy and intrigue. Its hidden strength, too, is that it depicts the process of coping with loneliness and loss with a great deal of sensitivity and depth. I'd say, if you liked Cassandra Clare's City of Bones books, or Holly Black's dark faerie tales, you might enjoy this one. And it's the first in a series.

Buy Strange Angels from an independent bookstore near you!