August 27, 2010

The Cybils Wants YOU!

It's that time of year again! The official call for blogger volunteers has been posted to the Cybils blog, so head on over if you want to take part. You can also download nifty 2010 logos for use on your own blog, like the one at right. And stay tuned for a flurry of activity on the blog and off, especially if you're part of one of the judging panels. I myself eagerly await another exciting contest, and feel privileged to be the Cybils blog editor and get an inside look at the goings-on. Yay!

In the meantime, while the judging panels are being put together, if you're looking for something new and interesting around the blogosphere, check out the latest project from YA fantasy/sci-fi writer Alma Alexander (whom we interviewed here for the Summer Blog Blast Tour): an interactive, collaborative online revision of her very first novel in English, written at age 14:

This raw and terrifying prose will then be edited and rewritten - with
the commentary and suggestions of a panel of teen advisors who will
weigh in on the original chapter and all of its flaws as they see

They and I will lick this thing into shape - and then I will be
posting a new and shiny chapter, rewritten and repurposed. We will
continue doing this, chapter by chapter, until the novel is done.
An intriguing idea, not to mention brave. The first chapter's already been posted--go check it out. The author invites you to weigh in in the comments with your own input, too.

August 22, 2010

Book Blurbs of August, Part II: Good Guy Books

I read a couple of good "guy books" this month (yeah, you thought I was talking about "good guy" books, didn't you?). I found both of these sort of randomly at my library, but I have to say that the ultimate reason I picked up Josh Berk's The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin is that he said something so hilariously funny in a tweet that I had to know what a whole book was like coming from such an amusing source.

A book about a deaf teenage guy, FUNNY? Has my sense of humor, you ask, devolved into some kind of netherworld of poor taste? NO! No, it has not! You see, Will Halpin—also known by his IM handle, HamburgerHalpin—has decided on a life course that is deadly serious: he's decided to go mainstream. That is, he has chosen to go to the mainstream high school rather than continue in the more insular environment of the deaf high school, a decision that has cost him most of his deaf friends and also means that he's now somewhat of an anomaly at his new school, despite being a champion lip-reader.

And now, he's also got a mystery to solve. Oh yes, this book is also a rather madcap whodunit. What makes it so funny, though, is Will Halpin's narration. His outlook on life, his pithy comments and humorous observations (because he is, by default, an observer), even his nicknames for people cracked me up. You'll just have to read it to find out who Jimmy Porkrinds is. Though a bit light on backstory, this one makes up for it with a truly distinctive narrative voice, a memorable set of characters, and a good mystery.

Buy The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin from an independent bookstore near you!

I still haven't read Cory Doctorow's Little Brother--it seems like it's on perma-checkout at my library—but I DID fortuitously run across his next book for young adults: a massive (pun intended) online gaming epic titled For The Win.

I liked a lot of things about this book. If you've ever been involved in any kind of role-playing gaming, online or offline, you'll enjoy the familiar gaming lingo. And if you're familiar with classic video and computer games, you'll get the references (I particularly liked the idea of Mushroom Kingdom, an online game set in Nintendo's Mario universe).

I also liked the premise. The setting is not so far into the future, and online gaming has become a enormous corporate venture comparable in scope with any other major industry, with huge portions of the gaming market owned by Coca-Cola (HA!) and all kinds of unscrupulous underworld types dealing in a thriving not-so-black-market of virtual game gold and valuable in-game items. These "gold farmers" employ young kids in sweatshops all over Asia, purportedly paying them to play games all day, roaming the game universes in gangs, highly trained to win the greatest amount of gold possible from in-game quests, which they then re-sell to the highest bidder. But what happens when those sweatshop workers decide their conditions should be just a bit better, when they decide they have rights just like any other worker? At heart this is a book that drives home the value of unions during a time when they seem to be falling out of favor, and because of that alone, it's critically important.

But. There are a couple of things that kept this book from being as awesome as I feel it could have been. Number one is the fact that it is an extremely convoluted story with at least six major point-of-view characters, plus a few more, constantly shifting from subplot to subplot, with the occasional explanatory authorial-voice section thrown in to boot (which drew me out of the action and sometimes confused me further). If you can't sit down and read this all in one incredible mind-blowing binge, it will probably be hard to follow what's going on. I didn't take more than half a day's break between reading sessions and I found myself getting lost. Characters who were point-of-view characters earlier in the book stopped being POV characters and other characters took over; brand-new ones occasionally popped in and added a new strand to the story; and these were all wonderful and compelling characters, don't get me wrong. All of them were important to the EPIC PLOT OF GARGANTUAN COMPLEXITY. And the tone was good, and the writing was good. But there were too many rapidly shifting storylines for my addled brain to handle, apparently.

Buy For The Win from an independent bookstore near you!

For The Win review cross-posted on Guys Lit Wire.

August 19, 2010

Book Blurbs of August, Part I: Fire and Lips Touch

For Part I of Book Blurbs, two books that in some way involve the idea of dangerous yet appealing compulsions. (And two books I know we've posted about before, but they're so good I had to do it again.) Both books came from the Stanislaus County Library.

I think that Kristin Cashore's two novels, Graceling and Fire, are two of my favorite fantasy novels that I've read in recent memory. Fire, as a companion novel set in a different region of the same world, was just as gripping, emotionally intense, and action-packed as Graceling. And it, too, is the story of a strong, intelligent talented female hero whose abilities are a burden as well as a gift. Fire is, well, a monster. Human monsters are like a hyper-amazing version of people, impossibly beautiful, charismatic and compelling. And most of them lack a conscience. However, Fire is only half monster, and her human half is the important one...not that people SEE it when they look at her.

Rather than giving you a jacket blurb, let me just say that Fire's story is also beautiful and compelling, and full of the kind of vibrant writing, complex plotting and intense characterization that I am apparently a sucker for. I was cheering for her the entire time, wanting her to prevail. No wonder this was a Cybils winner.

Buy Fire from an independent bookstore near you!

I also finally read Laini Taylor's Lips Touch: Three Times, which I'd heard so many great things about, which was a Cybils finalist in the same category as Fire. And, man, I'm thinking those poor judges must have had the hardest time—but also, oh, those lucky judges!

And reading Lips Touch is like getting three for the price of one—three equally strong stories, each centered on both the prosaic risks and more fantastical dangers of a simple (or not-so-simple) kiss. The storytelling took cues from my favorite aspects of fairy tales and traditional fantasy, while also possessing a lyrical, sensual rhythm of language unique to the author's voice.

Also unusual were the settings—a contemporary American town infested with goblins, wild fey in the stark mountains of the (I think) Caucasus region, the decadence and turmoil of India during the time of the Raj, brought to life with exactly the right amount of detail for us to picture the scene without losing focus on the characters and their quests, their struggles, their torments and, in some cases, their triumphs. Lovely and unusual dark fantasy, with gorgeous accompanying artwork by Jim DiBartolo prefacing each tale and setting the scene.

Buy Lips Touch: Three Times from an independent bookstore near you!

August 18, 2010

Poetry Wednesday?

The New York Times Artsbeat online had a lovely little piece this morning with a three-year-old reciting Billy Collins' Litany. I'll leave you to discover that one yourselves, knowing how my poetry peeps love them some Collins. (If you aren't familiar with the poem, you'll need to read it -- three year olds can indeed memorize and recite, but their diction leaves something slightly to be desired.)

THIS one is my favorite -- and somehow, this kid reminds me of Alkelda's daughter. Can you not see her as equally brilliant, wiggling and reciting poetry on camera? I can.

P.S. - There are those who are horrified by this -- there's always someone -- and there have been people commenting that this is not a child but an automaton, blah, blah, blah. The fact is that little kids are really good at memorizing things, and just because this child's mother decided that poetry was more worth his time than sixteen verses of There's A Hole In The Bucket or that immortal favorite The Eensy Weency Spider, (quite a worthy song, to my mind) doesn't mean she's hurting him necessarily.* I am amused by the amusement he finds in the silly assertions of Collins' poems - silly to him - anyway, and by the drama he finds in Tennyson. Here's hoping he can remember that one for 8th grade English.

But, if you prefer to think that this kid's parents are damaging him and giving him an unhappy childhood, I'll leave you to it.

August 17, 2010


Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's supposed to be Waiting on Wednesday, and it's only Tuesday, but you know what? I DON'T CARE.

Mockingjay is being released on the 24th of this very month. But is that today? Why, no, it is not.

Monster Blood Tattoo 3, Factorum, is coming out soon. But not today.

I Shall Wear Midnight, the third book in the Tiffany Aching story is out September 2. Which isn't today.

Blameless, the third novel in Gail Carringer's Parasol Protectorate series, is out September 1, and the next book after that is out the following July. I may die before then. I will at least have to reread the entire series. Again.

Why don't publishers just give me all the books I want, right now!??!


Okay, entertain me. For what are you impatient?

August 16, 2010

In My Day, We Actually Read the Books

I'm just cruising by to bring you a link to another artist using recycled/reclaimed books as a sculpting medium (you probably already know how much I love This Into That). Via Kirstin Butler's twitterfeed comes the Jardin de la Connaissance, "a unique outdoor library that features living books sown with several varieties of mushrooms" at the 11th International Garden Festival in M├ętis, Quebec.

Honestly--I'm not sure how I feel about it, especially the open books being used as "cushioned carpets." There's this part of me that's viscerally disturbed at book abuse (which is ironic, since I've used books in art projects myself). But here--judge for yourself:

So, remember that one Facebook/blog meme...

...where you were supposed to submit a chunk of your writing to the Internets and they did some tricky magical comparisons and allegedly told you who you wrote like? So, yeah. I did it. And I apparently write like HP Lovecraft, which is a source of untold confusion, since the piece I submitted was just blog verbiage and not at all related to fantastical science fiction from, like, the era of magical steampunk mystical stuff.

But, now that I've seen this - which is a boiled down take on Lovecraft's The Call of the Cthulhu? I'm thinkin' yeah. I write just like that.

Hat tip to SF Signal for this hilariously concise yet imprecise little snippet, and serious props to The Brothers Grim and Grimy for their love of reading and Pratchett.

August 13, 2010

ALA Red Carpets, WriteCons, and Bits of Random

The other day when Fuse#8 was pointing out that she'd been Frogger-ized by Jim Averbeck, Kristin Clark Venuti & the crew on the ALA Red Carpet Interviews page, I had a brief spasm of memory... Hey! They asked me to play, too! (Hi, Jim!)

You gents will have to excuse that peal of completely disbelieving laughter when Kristin said, "Sensitive men." I do believe they exist. No, seriously: THEY EXIST. Just... Look, I was tired, all right? It was hot, or it was dark or I was full or hungry or sleepy. And wearing heels. Or something.

I'm in Odds & Ends, too, but surely you don't just want to see me --! You've got to look at the fashion section - Ellen Hopkins' husband, John, designed and sewed her dress. What a great retirement project! And of course, Liz Burns was there, looking awesome. And don't forget to take a gander at New Books -- you'll get a chance to see Holly Cupola and hear a bit about Alchemy and Meggy Swan by Karen Cushman, and hear other authors try to describe their new releases in five second soundbytes. There are some great things coming out, too - makes me anxious for September.

Look - you might as well just check out all of them.

Oh, wow - this week my S.A.M. is being highlighted at Casey McCormick's Literary Rambles. If you aren't aware, Ms. Casey is one of the writers responsible for this month's WriteOnCon -- which is a "free, interactive experience, designed to give writers many of the features of a writer’s conference, but in an online environment." It looks like there's a combination of live chat, transcripts and web forums so there's a lot of give and take, discussion and feedback. This is such a cool concept - you might want to keep an ear to the ground, follow their Twittering, and check them out next session.

Things That Make Me Happy This Moment:
The pillowfight that erupted on a Lufthansa flight from Tel Aviv to Frankfurt, dancing bottlenose dolphins -- on a beach in Belgium, and Sylvia's alfajores recipe. Yum.

August 07, 2010

A Few Thoughts on Reading YA

I was reading a post on Beth Kephart's blog about the recent NY Times article explaining the appeal of young adult literature for adult readers. Written by Pamela Paul, it's a very good piece, and thought-provoking. I had started typing out a response to Beth's post and realized I was starting to blather on and should probably make it a full post of my own. So I did. In answer to Beth's question: Why are so many adults reading books that are (at the very least) marketed to teens?

The quotes she pulled from the article held some of the reasons that resonated with me most for reading YA in my adult years: "Y.A. authors aren't writing about middle-aged anomie or disappointed people," says Amanda Foreman. "A lot of contemporary adult literature is characterized by a real distrust of plot. I think young adult fiction is one of the few areas of literature right now where storytelling really thrives," says Lev Grossman.

YA, to me, generally lacks a pretension that is often present in adult literary fiction. Few young adults, in my experience, have the patience for pretension. As adults we are expected to tolerate if not embrace it, because isn't that what it means to be a grownup? Aren't we supposed to have learned something, progressed, gotten "somewhere"?

I like the fact that YA literature, by contrast, embraces the process, the journey, reminds me that I can still learn and grow regardless of age.

I sometimes feel like adult fiction demands more from me than it gives. And in the end I find myself wondering why I read it--was it solely for self-congratulatory reasons, to say that I read it? I also feel that much more self-indulgence, more wandering, more lack of discipline is tolerated in adult literature. There are a lot of gatekeepers in fiction for younger people, and sometimes I think that has an effect on quality, too. I think some of our current era's most exciting, well-considered, high-quality writing--and some of our most enthusiastic reading--is coming out of the YA (and MG) areas. On the other hand, I find a lot of "grown-up" fiction lacking: lacking in storytelling, lacking in consistent quality, lacking in verve.

Stories are NOT just for kids. There; I said it. We all need them. We need good ones, and we need stories that transport us, that help us grow, that neither condescend to us nor insult our intelligence. Retaining a joy in words and in story is not something that should be considered the sole domain of children's literature, something to be savored only until we somehow "graduate" to becoming properly embittered and stultified adults.

A good story is a good story, period. End of soapbox.

Patrick Ness: Why Do You Do This to Me?

When I first read The Knife of Never Letting Go, the first volume of the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness, I was absorbed. I was horrified. I was swept right along. And then I was MAD. Because it ended at possibly the most intense and stressful moment of the story. If you've read it, you know what I'm talking about. I cursed Mr. Ness roundly and then went about my life until such time as one of my fellow GLW contributors sent me a review copy of the second book. Oh, I was thrilled, just as I was thrilled when I got the privilege of reading an advance copy of the last volume recently.

And what can I say? This is one of the most striking series I've read in quite a while, period. It's raw and honest—because, of course, each of the male characters has his "noise," making his thoughts audible to everyone within range. But this series isn't just about what happens when everyone around you can hear what's running through your mind. It's also about deception, and how deep the roots of deception can go. It's about devotion, and how love can be powerful enough to fight back hatred and greed. And it's about redemption, asking the question of how far you can go before you are irredeemable.

August 06, 2010

July Books: Magic and Maps

I had to go back and re-read Kathleen Duey's Skin Hunger because it had been so long since I'd read it, and I have to say, it was just an absorbing a ride the second time through, and led me gleefully and greedily right into the second volume of her Resurrection of Magic trilogy: Sacred Scars. Of course, NOW I'm fiending for the third book so I can follow Sadima's and Hahp's stories to their conclusion--and convergence. Kathleen Duey does an incredibly deft job of layering the two stories despite the challenge of their taking place in disparate times, and as characters and plot elements slowly come together, it really increases the reader's sense of mounting horror and suspense as suspicions are confirmed and surprises are revealed. I can't wait for the final volume to show me not only WHAT happens but how it all came to pass and what it all means. The twisting and conflicting motivations, the sense of seemingly-inevitable doom, the constant wondering WHY keeps me hooked and makes it impossible to put down. I think I would have loved these as a young adult, as big a fantasy fan as I was.

Buy Sacred Scars from an independent bookstore near you!

The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet is one of those books that falls between genres, between age groups, but the best I can do to describe it in my own words is to call it perhaps magical realism, or—even better—a tall tale of the West brought forward into modern times. I mean, it's a story of riding the rails, of a kid on a crazy and nearly unbelievable adventure, of near-escapes, of intrepid ancestors, of explorers and mapmakers defining their times using the best means they have at their disposal, however imperfect. But it's also a tale of child prodigies, of personal tragedy, of scientific examination, of human imperfection—and perhaps most of all, a story of trying to find yourself when you feel like a fish out of water. The storyline starts off with a major miscommunication, after which hilarity (and some disaster) ensues, but it goes much deeper than that. There are the minor miscommunications that seem unimportant but really are at the root of the problem; the difficulties of a family who seem to lack the ability to communicate with one another. Who is Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet (and how did he get that cumbersome moniker)? And how did he end up hopping a train from Montana, hobo-style, on a wild ride to the Smithsonian Institution? You'll have to read it to find out. An incredible genre-buster.

Buy The Selected Works of TS Spivet from an independent bookstore near you!

Other reads this past month, in capsule form: Zenith by Julie Bertagna, the sequel to Exodus – continues the story of Mara and Fox, and adds a third main character to the mix who's an intriguing sort of sea gypsy. I'm still a little taken aback by some of the names in the story (which is odd, since I'm used to reading all kinds of sci-fi and fantasy with all manner of bizarre naming conventions) but there you go. Certain parts of the story whizzed past a little quickly for my taste, but it was still a fun ride in a very immersive world. … Fat Cat by Robin Brande, which I've been meaning to read for ages and I am SO GLAD I finally did. I feel like our blog bud is really a kindred spirit now, and I felt like I should have read this a long time ago because intrepid and brainy Cat reminds me quite a lot of Asha, my narrator in The Latte Rebellion. Plus it's also a story of a crazy scheme in which hilarity (and personal growth) ensues. Yay! … Operation Yes by another blog bud, Sara Lewis Holmes, was also part of my July reading—I'll let Tanita do the talking on that one, so as to minimize repeat reviews. :)

I checked out all of these books at the library.

August 05, 2010

I Know Why The Caged Vampire Sparkles...

Or, possibly, the netted vampire?

They're INSECTS, didja know?

Hat tip to the Smart B's for an incredibly useful, hilarious new piece of blog roll reading -- I Like a Little Science In My Fiction. Kay Holt at Crossed Genres explains it all.

August 03, 2010

They're Just Asking To Be Eaten.

"Because the bottom line is this: the book empowers women yes, but ONLY certain types of girls, not all of them. And I am sick and tired of books that associate girls that are self-confident and beautiful with being shallow and superficial and deserving of bad things happening to them. SICK AND TIRED."

Whoa. Not all is well in fairytale retelling land, which is a big fat massive disappointment. The Book Smuggler's are reviewing Jackson Pearce's Sisters Red. Check it out.

Hat tip to Trisha at the YAYAYA's (who is seriously jonesing for the next book in the Chaos Walking series. I feel like a book dealer, since *I* have it, and it's not out in the U.S. yet. [Nyah-nyah.] Since I'm currently on a writing jag, I haven't yet read it - and in solidarity, perhaps I'll wait 'til September. Perhaps).

August 02, 2010

Wicked Cool Overlooked Books: Beach Read

The first Monday of the month, seven days 'til my older sister's birthday, and time once again for book talking. It's Wicked Cool Overlooked Books!

Charlotte rounded up all manner of
SFF books for MG and older
which are descriptive of COLD and ICE in an attempt to placate her very hot children with reading. While I don't really have a cold book to add to all of that, I do have a beach read, of sorts. In all the time since I've been doing WCOB Mondays, I am shocked to see that I've never written up one of my quirkier L.M. Montgomery books. It's not one of the Avonlea books, actually, and it's not The Blue Castle, although I vow that is a splendid book, outshining even I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith, and if you haven't yet, you should read both, and make a whole cookies-and-tea afternoon of it. (And by tea, I mean Earl Grey, hot. It's pouring buckets here - warm buckets if you're in some parts of the country, but the buckets are fairly tepid here in Glasgow.)

This book is different -- by turns spooky and dark, by others, wistful and romantic. It's a collection of short stories from various women's magazines, and only one of them is written after 1908, which gives the stories sometimes gives the tales a bit of racist/sexist overtone, but also the same feel for time period, manners and dress that the Anne books give. The stories also give a hint of Montgomery's frame of mind -- the final one is written in 1930, and shows a totally different author who writes more cynically and confidently as well. The title of this short story collection is Along the Shore.

When L.M. Montgomery married, she left her home on Prince Edward Island for Ontario, which is why the main body of her work was set there, and why the sense of place you read in the Anne books comes through so clearly. Between 1895 and 1908, Montgomery wrote more than three hundred short stories, a good percentage of which were set in PEI, and at least twenty of which were set in a specific location, on the shore. Lucy Maud loved the sea, and commented to a pen-pal that she missed the sea "heartbreakingly" at times. She returned to it often, in her imagination, and on as many vacations as she could manage.

Those familiar with the inner worlds of L.M. Montgomery well know that not everything will go according to the wishes of the heroes or heroines in any given story. Like the mercurial temperament of the sea which surges and ebbs and trickles and roars on its own schedule, there are twists and turns in many of the stories -- just when you think the wrongdoer will be punished, or that true love will rule out in the end -- it doesn't, and you're left a little taken aback, and a bit thoughtful. The characters in these pieces are the rogues and the righteous, the rich and the poor, the rough-hewn and plain spoken - my favorite is narrated by a wily and resourceful twelve year old. So much of the magic of these tales is bound up in the beautiful - or dark -- descriptions, as place becomes a character in and of itself. I don't want to give anything away, but if you like spooky 19th century ghost stories, complete with Gothic fog and haunting winds -- she's even got a bit of that here.

Sixteen short stories for older MG/YA readers and anyone else who loves a good sea tale. Toss it in your book bag and escape the heat for mistier, cooler shores.

Grab a copy of Buy Along the Shore by L.M. Montgomery from an independent bookstore near you!