November 29, 2010

Behold the Infant of Insanity!

Especially since two people I know have given birth in the last two weeks, and a little Bird just mentioned something about fluffing up her nest, this little hat appeals to me! Is it not the single-most adorable baby hat, ever? Behold, the infant Cthulhu! Yes, Baby Cthulhu will make you insane, but you will die happy. People: THERE IS A CROCHET PATTERN FOR THIS ON SALE. And there's an adult pattern...

Other fun bookish SFF gift geekery include Marvel Comics wallets and 20-sided die soap-on-a-rope. Via

Cybils reading is picking up pace -- and I can't wait to share as gifts some of the MOST EXCELLENT books on the YA list. It's going to be a Dystophia Christmas!

Now, back to the books...

November 21, 2010

Conference Alert!

Have you ever heard of Narrate Conferences? I hadn't, but I just learned today about this remarkable nonprofit, which describes their mission as presenting
innovative conferences and events for teens and adults. The mission of our organization is to provide unique opportunities for scholars, students, professionals and readers to discuss books, television, films, other media and popular culture. We aim to challenge and inspire a wide range of individuals, from the seasoned academic to the literary enthusiast, and our events combine aspects of academic conferences, professional retreats and fan conventions.
Their past events include Harry Potter conferences, but perhaps even more exciting is an upcoming conference on the theme Sirens, dedicated to women in fantasy literature. It's an annual event, and this year's topic is "monsters." Guests include Justine Larbalestier, Nnedi Okorafor, and Laini Taylor, and the conference will take place October 6–9, 2011 in Vail, Colorado. Presentation proposals will be accepted until May 7, 2011. It's a pretty reasonably-priced conference, too...ahem, fantasy fans! Hopefully it won't overlap with the Kidlitcon...

I found out about this intriguing event thanks to fellow Cybils Fantasy/Sci-Fi judge Hallie Tibbetts of Undusty New Books--a fun perk of being Cybils blog editor is getting to cruise around the kidlitosphere and get acquainted with new (to me) blogs.

November 20, 2010

They're Back! They're Back! They're Baaaaack!!!!

Coming DECEMBER 1 to a children's book podcasting book blog near you, JUST. ONE. MORE. BOOK~!

You guys, you rock.

November 19, 2010

The Foundling's Tale, Part Three: Factotum...and a Contest

If you're a fan of D.M. Cornish's unique and astoundingly detailed world of the Half Continent, as portrayed in the Monster Blood Tattoo trilogy—now known as The Foundling's Tale—you'll be pleased to know that A) the third book, Factotum, is out THIS MONTH, and B) it's a truly satisfying end to the tale of foundling-turned-lamplighter-turned-monster-fighter's-assistant Rossam√ľnd Bookchild.

One of my favorite aspects of this trilogy is the fact that the world Cornish has created is so rich and so utterly unlike anything else, down to the use of language at the individual word level. It's not just that characters and places are named in an unusual way (like J.K. Rowling, he's got a talent for naming people), but even the terminology for technology and social structures in this semi-industrialized setting is unique to this book. Words are put to use in new and connotative ways, related to the meanings we might already be familiar with, but not quite the same, with a pure enjoyment of the very sounds of the words themselves. The words are decontextualized, but somehow all of this adds to the feeling of atmosphere in these books—and, as an unrepentant word nerd, you'd think that would annoy me, but instead, I'm happy to go along for the ride.

I don't want to give too much away about this book, but the one of the central themes revolves around the definition of what is, in fact, a monster—and whether in fact all monsters are nefarious and to be universally reviled, or if there may be some (as we learned in book 2) that help humankind and coexist peacefully.

November 18, 2010

Three for Mid-November: Skim, Finnikin of the Rock, Faerie Lord

It's the Return of Three-Sentence Reviews! As the holidays creep closer (and I indulge in more escapist binge-reading) I'm forced to limit my time writing reviews so I can get some, er, work done. So here are a few to start with. All three of these books were checked out from the Stanislaus County Library.

Skim, which was the Cybils YA graphic novel winner in 2008, finally appeared in my library at some point—set in Toronto, it's the story of multiracial (I think) Wiccan Kimberly Keiko Cameron, aka Skim, who struggles with fitting in with her classmates and suffers in silence from a crush on her young, charismatic English teacher Ms. Archer. Her crush and her resulting depression cause her to drift apart from her best friend Lisa, and the rift between them only grows as Skim begins to make friends with Katie, a girl at school whose boyfriend committed suicide. This story is surprisingly complex and touching, Skim is an endearing character with a lot of depth and sweetness, and the artwork retains a loose and sketchy hand-drawn feel while also making a subtle nod to traditional Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints—a hybrid blend just like Skim herself.

Buy Skim from an independent bookstore near you!

Finnikin of the Rock, the latest book by Melina Marchetta, will likely appeal to fans of Tamora Pierce for its fully realized world, its well-drawn cultures, its complex and thoughtful characters, and its strong women. Finnikin is the son of the Captain of the Guard of the country of Lumatere—a country that's been cursed and essentially riven in two, with half of its people trapped inside with an impostor king, and the rest wandering exiled throughout the other countries of the continent. I was thoroughly absorbed by Finnikin's story, which is really also the story of the mysterious young woman Evanjalin, who guides him on a harrowing journey to bring their people back to their homeland. Extra Bonus Fourth Sentence: I loved this book, and fans of Marchetta's Jellicoe Road will recognize and revel in the feeling of mysteries unfolding and surprises revealed.

Buy Finnikin of the Rock from an independent bookstore near you!

Faerie Lord is the fourth book in Herbie Brennan's Faerie Wars series, and is sure to be a satisfying conclusion for series enthusiasts. As with the other books, I enjoyed the humor and the quirky world that Brennan has created in which the Faerie Realm is really just a parallel world to our own, and Faeries an awful lot like humans—the technologies (and magic) may differ, but they don't flit about on gauzy wings, and they suffer from political strife and power struggles just as the human world does. Henry's fourth adventure brings him back to the Faerie World to help Queen Blue—whom he sadly jilted at the end of the last book, so there's THAT awkwardness to contend with—address a rapidly-worsening plague of mysterious origin and no known cure.

Buy Faerie Lord from an independent bookstore near you!

November 15, 2010

Adjust Your Goggles and Fire Up Those Steam Engines...

You. Us. That is, anybody who enjoys reading steampunk fiction and other forms of alternate history.

The week of December 13th.

A blog near you. Like this one.

Alt History/Steampunk Celebration Week!

Many of us around the kidlitosphere and beyond will take some time that week to celebrate and discuss great books--especially YA and crossover titles--with steampunk and alternate history themes. Here at FW we'll post a review or two, take a look back at some past posts featuring steampunk books and authors, and we may even raise a few questions about the writing craft.

Oh, yeah--there's also a CONTEST! You can read all the details at Bookshelves of Doom, but essentially this is a CREATE-YOUR-OWN-STEAMPUNK-BOOK-COVER contest. Cruise on over to Leila's blog, select one of the eligible titles, and try your hand at hooking the audience. Deadline's December 15th. And there are PRIZES! Namely books! And approximately 15 minutes of internet fame.

Tune in here on Friday for another teaser, and of course join us here, at Bookshelves of Doom, Chasing Ray, and MANY OTHER PLACES for Alt History/Steampunk Week.


There's a good chance that I'm one of the few people in my cohort of Cybils SFF judges who reads books with an eye toward whether or not they'd be good in a classroom setting. You can take the chick out of the classroom, apparently, but there's not so much chance of removing the classroom from the chick. I don't know if I'll ever get over the idea that teaching should be made up of moments of brilliant discussion with students - it's a nice dream, isn't it? But mostly I spent time trying to a.) get people to read their assignments, b.) taking away cell phones, and, c.) trying to get people to read their assignments.

If I'd had books like these, I think the whole "Do Your Reading!" rant would have happened a whole lot less often...

Epitaph Road, by David Patneaude: It's the future, 2097, and a calm future it is -- no poverty. No war. No crime. It's a future with a paucity of options, however, at least for men. They're the smallest portion of the population, and their unimportance is reinforced -- by having them travel with minders, by keeping them out of certain fields of work, and by treating mothers so that they only bear a limited amount of boy babies.

Elisha's Bear is the disease which wiped out the population of men, 'til they were only 2% of the population, and since the world was so, so, so bad, due to the mismanagement of the planet by men, the women took over. And remain in power. Probably forever. Every time men gather in large numbers, the disease reawakens. There may never be large groups of men, men in families, men in business and the public life, ever again.

The men who have bucked the trend move into the woods and the mountains. Kellen's Dad, Charlie, is one of these, and lives on his fishing boat near the malecentric community of Afterlight. Kellen really wishes he could too, but he's living with his mother, who has expectations for him. In a household of women and their children, Kellen is the only boy.

When his mother's boss, a highly placed member in the government, shows up at the house, Kellen's eavesdropping reveals a shocking piece of information that convinces him that he needs to go to Afterlight, immediately.

This dystopian novel may very well be as popular in schools as The Giver. It is absolutely gripping - and covers a lot of ground. Themes of gender and group identity, history, community, matriarchy, feminism, and genocide could start some great classroom discussions.

You might also need tissue. Just, FYI.

Cloaked in Red, by Vivian Vande Velde: Normally I don't bother reading forewords or author's introductions to a novel until I'm finished with said novel. (Sorry, authors who write them, but we readers are difficult beasties.) I made an exception for this slim Vande Velde volume, because the novel itself was so short. It was a good call. The foreword was hilarious. The rest of the short pieces were not necessarily as funny or straightforward, but I still think this would be a great book to introduce a unit on writing fractured fairytales for an English lit or creative fiction class. Eight short stories which seam-rip and resew Little Red Riding Hood's traditional tale into something that makes more -- or less, depending on the story -- sense than the one we know.

My favorite of the eight short stories was Why Willy and His Brothers Won't Ever Amount to Anything. Strange, imaginative, obnoxious Willy, always coming up with the wrong end of the stick. What else is the boy to do but become a writer?

A quick, very quick read. This one was a bit short for me, but it not only works well for younger readers, it's the perfect size to be stuffed into a stocking, for those already on the move for holiday books.

Draw the Dark, by Ilsa J. Bick: Before I get into what I actually liked about this story, let's have a word about the cover. It's somewhat horrendous. Yes, the barn is germane to the story. Yes, a sort of low-grade spooky is a good thing. However, I tend not to gravitate toward blood and gore and the drippy title font didn't make me feel very confident as I embarked on my relationship with the story. The cover doesn't match the book, to my mind. I was prepared for Saw II, and fortunately, this isn't it.

Winter, Wisconsin is a strange town anyway -- it's small, so everyone knows everyone. It's nosy, so everyone knows everyone's business. And it's secretive -- it's a town that keeps them. And one big secret is that a murder happened way back when. A routine house remodel is the scene of the grisly discovery, and it's enough to unsettle quite a few of the old-timers.

It's not all that calming to the younger residents of Winter, either. Christian Cage lives with his uncle, the sheriff, because his father disappeared, and then his mother vanished, too. He's looked upon with a mixture of pity and fear, since his second grade teacher attempted suicide, and named him in her goodbye note. Christian has been dreaming of terrible, terrible things, and he's started drawing his sleep. He's drawn something awful and insulting on a barn outside of town. And Christian is now afraid that what he draws, dies...

You might not see this one as a classroom novel, and admittedly, low-grade horror would be a stretch for some. However, this novel is based on historical fact: that many small towns in the U.S. were places where German prisoners of war were sent after they were captured during WWII. They lived and worked peacefully in these small towns, and in some cases, stayed on after amnesty.

That's not quite what happened in Winter, however. Not quite...

An intriguing novel which would open up discussion on art, psychology, reality, dreams, WWII history, prisoners of war, and the dynamics of small towns. It would really liven up an English class, for sure!

Other fine Cybils nominees which could find good homes on a suggested reading list include Chelsea M. Campbell's THE RISE OF RENEGADE X, at The Book Smugglers, THE REPLACEMENT, by Brenna Yovanoff, reviewed by Liz at the School Library Journal Tea Cozy, and BRIGHTLY WOVEN, by Alexandra Bracken, ably reviewed at The Story Siren.

You'll find EPITAPH ROAD , as well as CLOAKED IN RED, and the spooky-but-not-too-gory DRAW THE DARK at an independent bookstore near you!

All three novels received and reviewed courtesy of their respective publishers.

November 10, 2010

Save the Contemporary, Part II

If Contemporary YA quietly disappeared tomorrow would teens even notice?

That, friends, is the question at fomagrams.

Sometimes as a writer, I'm a little scared that the books I think of have no point, as in, "There's no point in writing this because there's no werewolf in this."

Worse, sometimes I'm scared that the fantasy and science fiction books that I want to write are buying into a hype that's already existing. No, I'm not going to write steampunk. Or werewolves. Or Animorphs, although that was a really fun series. I really want to write original content, but there's none of that left, really.

All writing is rewriting another story - and these days, it's another story with vampires.

Is there a point to continuing to try?

P'raps Mr. E. will provoke some thought.

November 09, 2010

Love At First Sight: Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst

Source: Was offered a review copy by the author and received it from the publisher.

This book is a 2010 Cybils Fantasy and Sci-Fi nominee.

Love at first sight. Nope, I'm not talking about falling in love with some compelling and handsome member of the opposite sex, although there are not one, but TWO lust-inspiring love interests in Sarah Beth Durst's latest novel, Enchanted Ivy. I'm talking about that experience of visiting colleges when you're a teenager, when you find yourself at that one school you just know in your bones is the place where you want to spend the next four years of your life.

According to the insert that the author included with the review copy, she herself felt that way about her alma mater, Princeton (where the book is set). I definitely related to that feeling. I felt that way about Berkeley, maybe because my mom graduated from there, too, and we often went back to visit. It's a similar situation with Lily Carter, the main character of Enchanted Ivy, only it's been multiple generations of her family that have attended Princeton. And it's HER dream, too.

So, obviously, Lily's overjoyed to attend Reunion weekend with her grandfather, and amazed that she's been offered an opportunity to take the Legacy Test—a top-secret test that, if she passes, will guarantee her admission to the school. But her assigned quest—to find the Ivy Key—leads her to discover a wondrous, magical Princeton coexisting with the ordinary one she already knows. There, the gargoyles aren't just whimsical historical statuary—they're real. And other, less charming creatures are real besides. Her quest ends up being a lot more dangerous than she bargained for, with two love interests on opposite sides of the conflict competing for her attention, her own family at risk, and out-and-out war between the magical and the mundane becoming increasingly likely.

What could have been a somewhat indulgent and nostalgic exploration of the excitement of preparing for college is, in fact, an adventuresome and charming story that catches the reader up in the sense of anticipation that anything could happen when you leave for college. ANYTHING--up to and including magical battles and handsome were-tiger boys. There's a little bit of everything in this story: adventure, romance, family drama, magic...and the more ordinary magic of discovering who you are and how many possibilities lie ahead.

Buy Enchanted Ivy from an independent bookstore near you!

November 07, 2010

CYBS SFF BOOKMARK: Putting the speculation in SpecFic

People, I love to be surprised. (Really, I don't, but that was a good first line for a post, no?) Let me specify: I love to be surprised by book plots. I like unusual science fiction and fantasy, as speculative fiction is supposed to be all about the speculation. I like writers who think from new angles, and bring out more than one shade of "what if?"

Occasionally, I'm startled by some of the angles, though. This week, it was STORKS. Storks. As in, teh birds what brings teh 'lil beebees. Yeah. those storks.

And Demons. Aliens. Freaky Friday, redux. It's speculative fiction, Cybil's style.

The Demon's Covenant, by Sarah Rees Brennan: this is actually a book I looked forward to with a great deal of ...well, trepidation. I adored The Demon's Lexicon last year, despite Nicky's soulful lips (!) on the cover, but sequels are tricky things. If you've had the least bit of concern, you'll be pleased to note that Brennan's done it again. I'll only offer a brief recap on this because there is just too much to give away. Some things haven't changed: Jamie and his sister, Mae, are still annoying Nicky's, er, soul. Jamie's lame weak cringe-y-ness and Mae's crush bugs him like a burr under a saddle, but he's trying to be better. Mostly. When he's not calling down lightning by losing his temper and stuff. I mean, after all, Nick's not human. He knows it now. Why even bother trying?

Mae's finally got it figured out: Nick is unable to totally throw off doing what his brother wants, even though something has happened between them which has totally and completely changed the way the brothers relate. No matter how much she's into her new boyfriend, Mae's still all over Nick like a bad rash. As it turns out, that might be a good thing. Alex, for once, might not actually be looking out for Nick. He might finally see him as the demon he is, and be totally ready to betray him...

It took a moment or two for me to get into this novel, but then I wanted to throw things and weep because I didn't have the sequel right on hand when I finished. Cliff. Hang. Er. Be warned. Also: new cover artists. Normal lips! Yay.

Alien Invasion and Other Inconveniences, by Brian Yansky: Between one breath and the next, Earth is ...lost. Jesse looks around his history class, and he's the only one awake -- and alive. Running through the hallways, the neighborhoods and the town show the same chilling fact: he's only one of millions left alive. Even the squirrels are dead.

What. The. Heck. Happened?

Invasion's what's happened, and Jesse's now an able-bodied piece of "product," set to working for the overlords. He's not particularly uncomfortable physically, but he's scared, grieving, and lonely. Despite a tentative friendship with a NFL hopeful - no more NFL, so Mr. Hopeful's pretty bitter -- he's facing a life sentence as a worker for essentially the little green men. There's got to be more to life than this. But, there isn't. For anyone.

With his father's imaginary voice echoing in his head, and real voices starting to inhabit his hours waking and sleeping, Jesse realizes something has to change. Is it worth it to save your life and live carefully? Or is the human spirit all about risk?

A short, quick-paced novel with an almost cinematic conclusion (you'll hear the theme to Big Valley, I swear).

Also, I can't say enough good things about the COVER of this one. Clean and straightforward with the little iconic alien vessel: it just works.

Stork, by Wendy Delsol: A snarky teen moves from California to Minnesota. Cracking-wise about the cheeseheads ensues, right? Unfortunately, yeah, there's a lot of snark and attitude from Katla, and a stereotypical blonde-brainless-Cali-girl attitude (the author grew up in Detroit, and as a Californian, I take serious exception to her stereotyping), but she's got her reasons, she thinks. For one thing, moving from Southern California to Minnesota means subtract beaches, add snow. Katla hates being cold. For another thing, there's something plain weird about, well, everyone. Forget Minnesota nice - her whole high school seems to hate her. A cadre of old ladies seem to be the only people interested in making friends with Kat at all -- and to be honest, they're not all that friendly. They're some ancient sorority and they swear Katla is part of them. It's a bit of a ...head-scratcher, for sure.

Soon the former California fashionista is layering on the parkas and trying to make sense of crazy dreams about crying babies, the gorgeous Jack's total antipathy toward her, and the creepy advances of Wade, a guy she should never have messed around with in the first place. It's starting to look like Minnesota is more of an interesting place than Katla could have ever dreamed...

Despite the fact that we only ever see eagles or ravens, this bird-centric title is fast-paced enough to catch and hold a reader's interest. A sequel is already in the works for September 2011.

Girl Parts, by John Cusick: David Sun considers himself a typical "one of the guys" kind of guys. He has his crew, his girl(s), and his computer. He's just one of thousands of guys who watch a girl from his school commit suicide online. Of course, he's running two other monitors while he watches, but you've got to admit -- even death is not that interesting.

David's parents are shocked, and adults in the entire community are equally horrified. How could their teens be so callous? They have dissociative disorder, is the official school psychologist diagnosis. They need to learn how to have balanced human interactions again. They need Companions.

Companions are realistic, flesh-covered... androids. Programmed to relate solely to their boys, they want to do nothing more than please them, and help them relate... to a certain extend. Relating a little too much too soon will give said boy a nasty electric shock.

Self-centered David loves relating to Rose. Just holding her hand and staring at her isn't enough, though. David wants it all. He's willing to wait, though. Isn't that what having a Companion is all about? Waiting until the elusive "right time?"

This book had a lot of dark, subtle humor, which I appreciated, but there are myriad subplots which I wish could have been explored. First, the Companions were only female. Why? Especially since the person who committed suicide was female, wouldn't it also stand to reason that the girls in this community were disassociated? Second, Rose "patiently" waits through David's partying - and while she's fully equipped with a nasty electrical component, doesn't shock him for underage drinking or being an annoying lush; instead the writer characterizes her as waiting for him. Wouldn't she simply shut down when not in use? I found it hard to believe that an android would become emotional sans programming. How did that happen? That a major company was involved with psychologists had interesting ethical applications which weren't discussed. There's a lot yet to tease out of this novel, and a close reading may result in some interesting discussion.

So many books, so little time...

DARKLIGHT (Wondrous Strange, Bk 2), by Lesley Livingston was ably reviewed at the Sarah Laurence Blog. The breathless Brit novel SWAPPED BY A KISS is reviewed at Bookalicious. YA Books Central has SHADOW HILLS covered.

You can also find THE DEMON'S COVENANT, ALIEN INVASIONS AND OTHER INCONVENIENCES, STORK, and GIRL PARTS at an independent bookstore near you!

The final three books reviewed in this post received and reviewed courtesy of their respective publishers.

November 06, 2010

A really bad shot taken with the phone's camera...

Around Glasgow 525

...but you can't make this kind of stuff up.

You want painful lives? Check out celebrities.

But, seriously. I have ZERO clue who is going to walk up and WANT to read about painful lives. And since B&N is now dividing the YA section into genres... are we going to have this now?? Because what is YA lit if it isn't sometimes... painful?

Weird. Weird, weird, weird.

November 05, 2010

Via The Carl Brandon Society

The Carl Brandon Society, an organization dedicated to racial and ethnic diversity in speculative fiction, will hold a prize drawing of five eReaders to benefit the Butler Scholarship, a fund that sends two emerging writers of color to the Clarion writers workshops annually.

::wait, hold up::

Did YOU know there was an organization dedicated to racial and ethnic diversity in speculative fiction??? Me neither! Color me thrilled! Carl Brandon was imaginary, a pretend African American speculative fan-fiction writer a couple of Caucasian authors made up in the 1950's. A pretend voice, so that African Americans would eventually have a voice in the field. As made-up as James Tiptree (who was really a woman), and just as important, the Carl Brandon Society exists to make sure that the future we imagine is one that is multicultural.

Established in 2006 after the author’s passing, the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship provides funds to writers of color accepted to the Clarion and Clarion West writers workshops.

Read the rules and find out where to buy tickets for the eReader drawing. Support ethnic diversity in steampunk, science fiction, fantasy, and all speculative fiction! Remember the awesome that was Octavia Butler, and go read one of her books.

Happy Weekend.

November 02, 2010

Two Middle-Grade Gems

More catching up from me today: two quick reviews of middle-grade titles that crossed my desk over the past few months. There's sort of a gem or jewel theme to both of these, hence the post title. Source: I received Darius Bell and the Glitter Pool from a book publicist, and I bought a copy of The Diamond of Darkhold at an SCBWI conference.

The Diamond of Darkhold, which I actually read months ago and forgot to review (Bad Aquafortis! Bad!), is the fourth book in Jeanne DuPrau's Ember series. I'm definitely a fan of this series, and the fact that the author is local to the San Francisco Bay Area and created a setting suggesting a dystopian California only makes it more enjoyable for me. In this volume, we rejoin our heroes Lina and Doon as they continue to their new and hardscrabble lives aboveground in the town of Sparks.

Life in Sparks seems dire, until Doon finds a clue to a device that Ember's builders may have left behind—a device that could make all of their lives better. Unfortunately, they may have to return to Ember to find it...and, as it turns out, they're not the only ones searching the remains of the underground city. This volume reprises the tense adventure feel of the first book, in which Lina and Doon escape Ember—and it reminds us once more that a creative spirit, an open mind and an open heart are as important to our survival as stubbornness and grit. Fans of the series will no doubt be happy about another adventure in this unique and compelling setting—I definitely was.

Buy The Diamond of Darkhold from an independent bookstore near you!

Darius Bell and the Glitter Pool by Odo Hirsch isn't exactly a fantasy novel, but it does have a whimsical feel to it. In fact, the setting is reasonably realistic and modern-day, but fictitious, with a sort of fairy-tale, "once-upon-a-time" feel. In this story, the Bell family was once wealthy and powerful, living on a grand estate, gentlefolk benefiting from the riches showered upon them by the townspeople. In return—according to an ancient agreement, the Bell Grant—the Bells would give a grandiose gift to the town every 25 years: a statue, or a belltower, or something equally impressive.

Now, though, the Bell family's running out of money. Everyone knows it, but nobody's talking about it. The grounds are in decline, and the time's almost up for Darius's dad to give his gift to the town—but how can they afford anything at all? Darius, though, has an ingenious idea, and he enlists the help of several friends, a curious archeologist, and even his annoying, know-it-all older brother to try to make it a reality. I hadn't ever read anything by Odo Hirsch before, but I enjoyed this one. What could have been simply a fairy-tale-like story of the youngest son embarking on a quest and redeeming his family ended up a very endearing, down-to-earth, funny story about finding a creative way out of a dilemma and growing closer to family and friends in the process. Darius is determined, smart and likeable, and the remaining cast of characters are quirky but also believable. This also strikes me as a fun one for parents to read together with younger kids.

Buy Darius Bell and the Glitter Pool from an independent bookstore near you!

November 01, 2010

A New ALA Award -!

This just in: according to the San Francisco Chronicle and followed up with a piece on the ALA website, there's a new award in town. Actually, it's not new -- the ALA's been giving this award out since 1971, but this year they've decided that to add onto it. From the site:

The Stonewall Book Awards are given annually to English-language books of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered experience.

This year for the first time the Committee is giving an award for children’s and young adult literature. From a very strong pool of finalists that included picture books, young adult literature and non-fiction, the Committee has selected "The Vast Fields of Ordinary" by Nick Burd, published by the Penguin Group, to receive the first children’s and young adult literature award.

Congratulations, Nick Burd. I'm happy to see this new award, but know that there will be those with questions. Like those who struggle with the idea of the Coretta Scott King Award, it troubles some folks to think that we need awards for specific races and now gender orientation. Like the man I met at the YALSA speed-dating gig who said brusquely, "Well, I've never won that one," when I told him why I was there, I may never win this one -- although, unlike the Coretta Scott King Award, you don't have to be of gay or lesbian preference to win this one, unless there's fine print I haven't found.

-- but either way, not the point. I'm just a little startled and pleased -- according to national statistics, about 14 million children have a gay or lesbian parent. The need is there, and now the writers will be further recognized. Well done, ALA.

Pirates! Murder! And Light Romance! The Bird of the River by Kage Baker

I hadn't heard of fantasy author Kage Baker until a friend mentioned her latest book to me, The Bird of the River. I borrowed it, and liked it—a lot more than I expected to. It's one of those books that kind of grows on you after you've put it down and thought about it a while.

Which makes it a cryin' shame that the author died this year. On a more positive note, she's written quite a few books, including a few I've even heard of (by title if not by author's name)--The Anvil of the World, The Empress of Mars. I, for one, will be looking for more of her work.

The Bird of the River was, I believe, released posthumously. It was her newest fantasy work, set in the same universe as The Anvil of the World. As this was my first entry into that universe, I wasn't sure if I'd be at a disadvantage for not having read the other books. However, I didn't feel lost at all; the book works well as a stand-alone. Baker provides a measured introduction to the world through the eyes of its characters, specifically the main protagonist, the teenaged Eliss.

We start with Eliss and her family—her mother, Falena, and her half-brother, Alder—in an unfortunate situation: Falena is a drug addict, and she's using again. Hoping to help her mother get clean, Eliss finds Falena a job as a diver on a river cleanup barge, the Bird of the River.

In this universe, only women become trained divers. The crew of divers on the Bird of the River are responsible for clearing debris from the river as the ponderous craft wends its way upstream and then back down. But when Falena dies (don't worry, that's not really a spoiler; nothing you won't find on the dust jacket copy), Eliss must fend for both herself and her brother. She goes to work in the crow's nest, spotting river obstacles and...a few other not-so-routine things.

There are a lot of subtle themes at work in this piece. Eliss's younger brother Alder is half Yendri, a different race. Issues of mixed race and of fitting in, of dealing with prejudice, are woven throughout the story. There are some very interesting questions of social class brought up, too. Eliss, now an orphan with nothing but her job and her life on the boat, befriends a young man who comes aboard: Krelan, who moves in highborn circles. He's a member of a family that is sort of like...butlers combined with the Mob. His family is born in servitude to one of the noble families, meaning they are sworn allies and bodyguards, and also carry out the family's dirty work. And he's on a quest to carry out some of that dirty work right now...

...which brings me to my next point: there's plenty of action, too. A mysterious murder, a disappearance, pirates, demons, demon pirates, raiding and pillaging, sneaking around in disguises—there's plenty here to please readers who enjoy the adventure aspect of fantasy. At the same time, one of the things I enjoyed most about The Bird of the River is the overall feel of the book—the story has a flowing calm rhythm, even with all the action. It's very fitting--a perfect way to tell the tale of Eliss's life on the barge meandering upstream, city by city, following the curves of the river and slowly coming into her own as a capable, compelling person. I really enjoyed this one. Though it doesn't seem specifically marketed as a YA book, it definitely fits for both teen and adult audiences, and it's encouraged me to look for the author's other work.

This review cross-posted at Guys Lit Wire.

Buy The Bird of the River from an independent bookstore near you!