September 28, 2012

Cybils, GLW Book Fair, and More

Now, I just KNOW you've all been keeping up with the Cybils blog, so this should come as no surprise, but it's almost time for NOMINATIONS!! That means, between Oct. 1 and Oct. 15, you should visit the Cybils site and nominate your favorite book in each category! It means you should be thinking about your favorites published over the past year, and have your finger poised over your mouse-clicky buttons and ready to get those books some love! Can I use any more exclamation points? No! I cannot! (Oh, wait...) Anyway, Monday is the day, so if you have any questions about what types of books belong in which categories, check out the blog for category descriptions, and don't forget to nominate.

Monday's a big day in the Kidlitosphere, as it turns out. Guys Lit Wire will be holding another Book Fair for Ballou HS in Washington, DC. Says Colleen about this latest book fair: "In case you haven't heard, the budgets for DC's libraries were cut earlier this year (many libraries are being completely shut down) and so Melissa Jackson (Ballou's librarian) has even less money then ever to buy books." It will run for two weeks, and you'll have plenty of opportunities to help a needy high school stock its library with books from Powells. Read more about the book fair efforts here, and don't forget to visit GLW in the next couple of weeks and contribute!

One last item of note: Author Shannon Hale put up a recent post about writers, blogging, and self-censorship. She raises a lot of interesting questions about how personal opinions about the author can affect how we experience their writing. It's a topic I've often mulled over, not only with respect to this blog, but also my personal blog, aquafortis. How much do I want people do know about me? How much do they even WANT to know about me? I don't know what the answer is, but Shannon asks:

What are your thoughts? Do you wish authors remained anonymous and you only knew them through the words on the page? (if you're reading an author's blog, then probably not?) Does an author's public persona enhance/diminish your reading? Those of us who are older grew up with books alone, and now social media allows us to feel we know the people behind the books. How has this changed your reading experiences?
There are a great many interesting and thoughtful comments, too, so if you're looking for something to read on this Friday, check out "Should writers just shut the crap up?" (How can you NOT click on that title? Love it.)

September 27, 2012


We've talked about role-playing games, or RPG and now we've segued into chatting about a gamer book by Ned Vizzini. This is a review repost in honor of Mr. Vizzini's blog tour, so enjoy again! And if you're here reading for the first time, welcome!

<====== This is Ned, Being More Chill and stuff.

You know how you get sort of a book hangover because you've finished a novel, but don't want to leave the novel universe? THE OTHER NORMALS gave me that kind of feeling. Funnily enough, parts of his own world gave the main character, Perry, that feeling, too...

Reader Gut Reaction: I went into this book thinking that the word "normal" was going to be about mental health. I would guess that having read IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY and BE MORE CHILL would have given me that misleading assumption. It's not about mental health - well, not in a possibly-you-should-be-institutionalized kind of way. It's about mental health in that it's a maybe-if-I-do-this-I-can-avoid-that sort of way, which is the way a lot of people approach reading or gaming - as an escape. Of course, sometimes with life, there's no escape...

Concerning Character: Perry - or, really, Peregrine - Eckert is kind of a geek. He's a muscle-free, style-less and relatively charm-free braniac who can be counted on to not only say the wrong thing at the wrong time, but to glaze over and stare when wits -- or even just a response -- are required. Partially it's adolescence - hormonal befuddlement happens to everyone - but partially it's because he's kind of living in the Twilight Zone Family - his people are nuts. His brother's constantly loaded, his parents, now divorced, speak solely to each other via their divorce lawyers, and, oh, yeah, they've hooked up with those lawyers. Classy, no? So, issues, ya dig. ISSUES.

As I said, a lot of Perry's geekitude is not his fault, and it's easy to cut him some slack when all he wants to do is disappear into Creatures & Caverns, this super-dorky RPG. However, as much pain as he deals with - bullies at school and brush-offs at home - he makes things worse with his constant escapism. He CAN'T relate to the world anymore - he just doesn't... get it. He's a gamer's gamer, and if it doesn't have sixteen-sided dice and leveling-up and rules, well... Eventually, his parents tune out of their narcissistic haze long enough to send him to realize he should have some fresh air and socialization skills, so off he goes to a camp where he's stripped of his dice and forced to interact with reality.

Good thing escapism is his superpower. There's a bunch of bullies, an attractive girl, and this guy with a tail. He's stumbled into the world of The Other Normals, and suddenly has a lot going on he'd like to avoid...

Recommended for Fans Of...: HEIR APPARENT, by Vivian Vande Velde, DUPLICATE, by Cherry Cheva, DANGEROUS REALITY, by Malorie Blackman and MY FAVORITE BAND DOES NOT EXIST, by Robert T. Jeschonek

Themes & Things: I think the title of this book could be "Dude, Just Deal," because a lot of Perry's problems could have been avoided if he'd tried to relate to real life as... real life. Unfortunately, not everything can be solved by rolling dice and deciding you're a wizard with 9th-level powers. The theme of facing issues and grappling with them actually extends to his parents -- clearly, they've set the tone for avoidance. They avoid the reality of his brother's issues, they avoid each other -- so nobody in Peregrine's family is stripping away pretense and avoidance and facing the truth. Family is flawed, situations are painful, and sometimes, there's no way to turn the other way and ignore it.

The theme of "confront-and-deal" is frequently accessed in the work of Ned Vizzini, but never quite in such a wildly unpredictable, slightly surreal way. I mean, there's a tail. Had I mentioned that? A tail.

Cover Chatter: I've mentioned before how much I love the gaming pieces. The character is as stated - short, dark haired, and skinny. Though Perry doesn't look as geeky to me as he thinks himself to be, he's clearly not your stereotypical ripped, blonde, and partially-exposed (chest, arms, whatever) male YA cover model. Sooo, a question, book designers: if we have a spotty and scrawny looking (only very slightly, but still) title character gracing this cover, why can't we have slightly less than perfect looking girls? Just a thought on objectification there...

DEAR FTC: ARC received from publisher, courtesy of the author. No money exchanged hands; my opinions are my own.

AS OF SEPTEMBER 25, 2012, find THE OTHER NORMALS by Ned Vizzini at online and independent bookstores near you!

September 26, 2012

Be Reading: A More Diverse Universe

In case you missed it, we had a lovely read through THORN this week for our Diverse Universe reading tour post. Other notable bloggers have reviewed LUCRETIA AND THE KROOMS by Victor LaValle, SO LONG BEEN DREAMING, edited by Nalo Hopkinson, THE STEAMPOWERED GLOBE, edited by Rosemary Lim, which features Singaporean writers, and Thomas King's GREEN GRASS, RUNNING WATER. Our very own Charlotte from CHARLOTTE'S LIBRARY (who gave us the heads-up on this whole gig) is posting later today on Virginia Hamilton's 1989 1978 JUSTICE AND HER BROTHERS, which she believes just might be the very first spec fiction novel published in the US with an African American girl as the main character. (I'm a little chagrined that I'd never heard of this book before today!)

There's SO much to read and peruse in the list over at The Booklust Blog. Please don't miss it!

September 24, 2012


While other people rubberneck and drive five miles an hour through autumn-tinted trees, we here in the Wonderland Treehouse are finding our autumn color without the benefit of cars. Behold, it's finally here! A MORE DIVERSE UNIVERSE is organized and facilitated by twentysomething Chicago blogger Aarti. The purpose of A MORE DIVERSE UNIVERSE is to celebrate speculative fiction in color - all colors. Again, hat tip to Charlotte for giving me a heads-up about this tour; I think it's an awesome idea.

I don't necessarily read SFF/spec fic trying to find authors of color -- if I did, it would be awhile between books - but I do enjoy reading speculative fiction with characters who the author takes the time to delineate as real -- people with real cultural backgrounds, real ethnic traditions, foods, folkways, and the whatever other sociological words you can find. It doesn't take a writer of color to do that -- it takes a real writer. A good writer. A writer who embraces the idea that the world of tomorrow will not be all white, male, and hetero.

Reader Gut Reaction: So, here's the thing: I have become a believer in self-publishing. After the critical success of Zetta Elliott, Neesha Meminger, and Cybils award-winner Susan Ee, I began to actually poke around Smashwords and other sites, seeking out self-and-independent published works. After reading THORN, I know who I'm hoping to interview for the next Blog Blast Tour. (People: I call dibs.)

One of the many reasons I chose this book is because of the author's name which is unusual and falls melodically from the tongue. She even gives a pronunciation guide, which we'll get to later. For now... to the story!

Concerning Character: Alyrra isn't in a position of power -- ever. Alyrra is honest to a fault, unsophisticated, and real -- but that's not what's best in a princess. Her mother, the Queen, is scary and cold -- ever focused on the end goal of alliances and power, and not at all above using her daughter to further those ends. The Prince isn't just a typical brother who teases or torments -- no. He's the type who started out "bullying" by pulling the wings off of butterflies. The scenes he's in will raise the hair on your arms.

This is family: those who care for you and want your very best... not. Alyrra would have been in a lot worse shape, if it weren't for a friendly spirit -- or something -- in her corner. Counting on the unseen to help you out of a jam -- well, that makes as much sense as trying to whistle for the wind. Alyrra figures everything would be easier, if she just... didn't go to the huge new court, didn't marry the confusing, scary prince of Menaiya, and didn't try to do the things her mother wants her to do. After all, she didn't ask for the life she has... right? When she's forced into a new role - she runs with it.

But, running never solves anything.

Recommended for Fans Of...:THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS by Rae Carson, THE BLUE SWORD, by Robin McKinley, and more stories of girl power, the likes of which are written by Kristin Cashore.

Themes & Things: Without giving away any spoilers,I think I summed up theme just a few lines ago: running never solves anything. Alyrra ran from her brother, her mother, and then her future. In many ways, she was right to run from her brother -- very right, because sometimes distance is the only sane alternative. But she eventually learns to strike before she runs - and that makes a difference.

Cover Chat: I love the top of this cover. The very top, with the bit of fabulous lace, and the strange eyes peering out of the blue. Love that. I don't also mind the trees and the grasses, but what doesn't work for me is the girl. Not only are there always girls on YA novels, which is not my favorite thing -- this one has blue eyes, fair skin, and brown hair. She could be ... Irish. English. Scottish. Canadian. She could be anyone, really, but a character in this story. She doesn't really look like a princess, even an impoverished one. It's not that she's not pretty enough - she's fine. It's just that there's nothing to say "Princess of of Adania," to me. I'm torn - I love the spooky eyes, but the girl looks a bit too pedestrian for me. I want my royalty to be a bit more ... something.

Authorial Asides: This is shamelessly stolen from the author's bio, but it made me laugh out loud, so I had to share it:

"Over the years, I’ve considered different occupations based on how my name, Intisar, has been mispronounced. There’s “Intistar” (Galactic Space Commander?), “Interstar” (Lowly Space Shuttle Captain?), and “Inastar” (Nuclear Fusion, here I come!), just to list a few. So how is my name really pronounced? Pretty much how it’s written: In-ti-sar Kha-na-ni."

Born in Eau Clare, Wisconsin, this American author embraces her Pakistani heritage and has uses the subtle seasoning of food, tradition, and costume to reflavor an absolutely stunning fairytale of a story. And it is a fairytale - aficionados will realize this is the slightest bit of a spin-off on The Goose Girl.

Also? Because the author is made of awesome, a portion of proceeds from this book go to Heifer International. This is an author to watch, truly, and I'm really looking forward to her next novel. She worked hard on this one - those thirteen drafts really show. Publishers, take note!

A MORE DIVERSE UNIVERSE is a tour that runs all week. See the entire schedule here, and don't forget to check out all of the books that bloggers are suggesting!

FTC:I don't know the author, and purchased my own copy of the book. The review was unsolicited.

You can find THORN by Intisar Khanani at online retailers, or at an independent bookstore near you!

September 20, 2012

Contest Alert, Plus a Little French Humor

First, the CONTEST ALERT! Actually, there are two opportunities for you YA writers out there. Firstly, the diversity-friendly publishing company Lee and Low, who pioneered the New Voices picture book award, are now presenting the New Visions Award for unpublished MG and YA authors! The award is
for a middle grade or young adult fantasy, science fiction, or mystery novel by an author of color. The Award winner will receive a cash grant of $1,000 and our standard publication contract, including our basic advance and royalties for a first time author. The deadline this year to submit manuscripts will be October 30, 2012.
Unpublished authors of color, GET OVER THERE and submit your manuscripts!

The second opportunity is not so much a contest, but it IS a publication, and it's new, and they welcome writing for young readers. Antioch University Los Angeles's MFA program has a new literary magazine, Lunch Ticket, and they're currently accepting submission for their second issue. The call for subs said they're ESPECIALLY on the lookout for good writing for young people, so GO! Submit your short fiction, essays, poetry, etc. And check out the poem by G. Neri in their first issue, posted online. There's also an interview with Francesca Lia Block, for you Weetzie Bat fans. (Hat tip to our occasional co-blogger, Jennifer, for finding this one.)

Lastly, for your amusement, via the Expression Online newsletter comes TERRIFYING FRENCH CHILDREN'S BOOKS. Jenny Colgan has blogged about several of them on Storify and they are something to behold. Evidently the Roald Dahl aesthetic is quite popular go, be entertained and/or disturbed.

September 19, 2012

September 18, 2012

Turning Pages: POLTERGEEKS, by Sean Cummings

Happy Monday! Today I'm in between hurrying and waiting, as one always is during a move. Hurriedly buying beds and picking up that couch from Craigslist; waiting, meanwhile, for the guy from the city to come and turn on the gas and electricity. Good thing I have a LOT of books to read in the meantime...

Reader Gut Reaction: This is a quick book - not a short one, but one which gets moving and doesn't really stop. This is both good and bad - I had to read back sometimes because the narrative sped by me so quickly I said, "Huh, what?" and did a double take. The main character talks a lot, and thinks a lot -- which sometimes doesn't come across as smoothly as was intended.

Because the book has just a shade too much technical detail and description of the action - the witching stuff, in places it moves a little awkwardly. Overall, the pacing is good, an unexpected twist lands in a good spot, and the adventure buckets along to a sweet conclusion - possibly unbelievably sweet for some readers - which definitely leaves room for a sequel -- there's some loose ends left untied.

Concerning Character: Julie Richardson has a pretty normal name, and a pretty normal best friend - and that's about where normal and mundane end with her. She's the daughter of a witch, and is herself a new practitioner - emphasis on the new. When Julie and Marc see an elderly woman flung out of her house and then her cat propelled into the nearest tree by invisible means, they both know that something is up. The difference is that Marc hangs back to observe, while Julie leaps into the fray ... with predictably chaotic results.

Julie knows what her mother's going to say - that she's not fully trained, that she should stay out of the mix until she is. Unfortunately, when Something Bad happens at school, right in front of her, Julie can't avoid getting involved - whether her mother thinks she should, or not. Ultimately, as the level of menace in the poltergeist activity rises, Julie wishes she had listened to her mother...

Recommended for Fans Of...: the HEX HALL series, by Rachel Hawkins, Carolyn McCullogh's ONCE A WITCH duet, Kelly Armstrong's DARKEST POWERS trilogy, Dame DWJ's WITCH WEEK, and Meg Cabot's JINXED. Clearly there need to be more boy-witch books.

Themes & Things: Julie just wants her mother to see she's ready to spread her wings, witch-wise, and so she leaps in where she ought not - with predictably disastrous results. Because she got everyone IN to the mess they currently stand in, she has to get them out - there's a bit about responsibility, and when it's your turn to give up and cry for your Mama, and when it's not.

Another less incidental theme comes from the bit of geek-power in the novel - thus the title. Julie isn't so much a geek as an original - and her super-smart buddy, Marc, is simply that - super smart. Unfortunately, the plot dips briefly into cliché with regard to their high school status. There's a single-dimensional bully for Marc to contend with, and an anti-cheerleader - a super-beautiful Goth who is both Julie's best friend, and, abruptly vying for Marc's attention. Julie and Marc's interactions with these two are solved a bit too neatly for me - but we can probably expect Round 2 with them in future sequels.

Cover Chatter: Though females and faces on covers are not my favorite thing, I find this girl and the cover reasonably witchy! The topsy-turvy furniture brings to mind something by Dame Diana Wynne Jones.

Unsolicited review of a book received via NetGalley.

THIS OCTOBER 2nd, you can find POLTERGEEKS by Sean Cummings online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

September 17, 2012

A Bit More News (Well, News To Me...)

Did you see that piece in Kirkus this week which highlighted SFF to read along with your kids? Did you see that they mentioned OUR OWN BOND GIRL??? WOOT!

Meanwhile, over at - oh, my goodness, the cover of PJ Hoover's new book. She talks inspiration and mentions LOGAN'S RUN. That movie is a Bad SF Nite staple around these parts, so double-yay and GO PJ! Another cheer for those mad women from Texas, and all of those AUSTIN YA AUTHORS - may your tribe increase, guys.

Sheila says we can shout our Cybils newsfrom a mountain now, if we want to... so...:

Along with such fine folks as
HALLIE, returning, from Undusty New Books
KIM, returning, from YA Books Central
KAREN, a newbie from Teen Librarian's Toolbox
AURORA, a newbie from YA SFF Blog
FLANNERY, a newbie from The Readventurer
And, as always, our able leader,
returning to lead us from Wands & Worlds

I'm liking my mountaintop, here. Although, maybe it should be more brownish-gold, as I'm in Cali and not The Land of Eternal Rain and Fifty Shades of Green? (No, not THAT fifty shades of Green. Sheesh.) Anyway, the reading begins NOW - sure, the nomination period is in October, but there are tons of popular SFF novels that are obviously going to be selected - so, readers, start your engines!

Well. Seems like it's not the end of books after all. Who knew.

And may I just say that I don't consider Maria from Sesame Street to be in BACA (Bloggers Against Celebrity Authors) territory? She just wrote a YA novel about a Puerto Rican girl awakened to political activism and to her cultural heritage while living in Spanish Harlem (El Barrio) in 1969. Um, wow. Oh, and her name isn't actually Maria... it's Sonia Manzano.

Ooh, more childhood icons - Sword & Laser podcast - those awesome people who review books @ Geek & Sundry - have LeVAR BURTON ON THEIR SHOW!!! I suppose I should stop humming the Next Gen theme song...


Bookstore and Library events throughout the US to be held October 6, 2012

SAN DIEGO, CA., July 13, 2012 – Lucasfilm and its publishing partners announced today a national Star Wars Reads Day to be held this October 6, 2012. Star Wars Reads Day is a multi-publisher initiative that celebrates reading and Star Wars. On October 6, events will take place at hundreds of bookstores and libraries across the United States. Participating publishing partners include Abrams, Chronicle Books, Dark Horse, Del Rey, DK, Scholastic, Titan Magazines, and Workman.

Officially participating bookstores and libraries will receive a Star Wars event kit (free of charge). The kit includes: an exclusive Star Wars Reads promotional item (25-50 per event); raffle prizes; promotional giveaways; a packet of event ideas, reproducible activity sheets and trivia; and more. The events will have the PR and marketing support of the eight participating publishers and Lucasfilm.

If your store or library would like to participate in Star Wars Reads Day on October 6, please sign up here:

Hat tip to SF Signal, and doesn't this press release have the cutest icon yet???

Happy Monday.

She must have cried when she saw that cover...

You know authors have very little - or no - control over the covers of their books. As the author goes through the publication steps - finishing the novel, exploring the revision notes, wading through the copy-editing - in the back of their minds is the question What will it all look like when it's done? And then their editor maybe shows them a concept, and asks, "What do you think?"

That's a polite question; in some ways rhetorical. Unless the author is prepared to really raise some serious concerns, it's just a "Look! isn't this neat?" sort of query.

Sarah Beth Durst probably had to stop herself from screaming, "w0000000000000000000000t!"

Stay tuned for the review, and hopefully maybe a chat with the author later this winter.

September 13, 2012

Wait. So, is this a GOOD thing?

PW reports that 55% of YA novels are purchased by adults.

In a way? Old news. Who has the list of birthdays and such? Mom and Dad. Who buy you books? Mom and Dad. And Grandma. And your Book Auntie. However, this piece points out that 28% of that 55% were buying for themselves. It's a trend we've seen, but I'm kind of wondering if there are enough adults to actually tip some kind of scales in the YA department. I mean, are the adult readers influencing what kind of lit is written? Gatekeepers already compose such a huge part of how young adult literature is published, and we have an idealized version of teen and young adulthood to contend with from misty, water-colored memories of some of our gatekeepers. Short of having only sixteen-year-olds allowed to pen epics for others of their tribe, is there any way to avoid too much adult cross-pollination?

Just some thinks to think on a Thursday afternoon.

Hat tip to Tash for the linkage.


Reader Gut Reaction: I'm going to assume you've all read Madeleine L'Engle's classic A Wrinkle in Time. WHAT?!? You HAVEN'T?? Well, I would say STOP RIGHT THIS INSTANT AND GO READ IT FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE, except that, wait, what's this I have here? It is a graphic novel version of the venerable fantasy/sci-fi novel, penned by none other than Hope Larson of Mercury fame (reviewed here).

I hadn't read the original in years, but L'Engle was one of my childhood favorites and I read and re-read many of her books until they were ready to fall apart. I remember being in awe, and just a little scared (but in a good way) when I first read A Wrinkle in Time, and Larson does an amazing job of capturing in images that shivery feeling of mystery and oddness and wonder. The artwork in some ways is a bit minimalist, like all of Larson's work; and in certain ways, the simplicity lends itself to this tale. A part of me will always feel like I envisioned it differently, but I suppose that's always going to be the case when a cherished story is put into visual form by someone else.

Concerning Character: Having said what I just said about the artwork, I really loved how Larson brought Meg Murry to life, in particular. I always felt like Meg was a kindred spirit, the one who lamented because all the interesting things happened around her but never to her, the one who never quite fit in either at school or at home. Larson did well bringing out these aspects of her character while also keeping her at the forefront of the story.

At the same time, the other main characters are given their due as well: Charles Wallace (who looks younger than I remember him being in the story), Calvin O'Keefe (who looks endearingly goofy), and the enigmatic Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Whatsit (who look a bit like Pratchett-esque mischievous old ladies). The alien planets are lovely and/or scary (as appropriate). I've always liked the fact that everyone in this book is a fully realized character, including the parents, and Larson has maintained that feeling in her artwork. But never do we forget that it really is Meg who saves the day, simply because of who she is.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Oh, jeez, just go read the darn thing. I don't think one should go through life without having read this book at least once.

Themes & Things: For me, the heart of this book (and I mean "heart" in multiple senses of the word) is the overriding idea that it is our individual uniqueness that makes us US and makes us important and even indispensable to our world. Others' paths are others' paths; our path is ours alone. It may take a while to figure it out, it may be difficult to truly grow into who we are, but even what we see as faults may become hidden strengths. Beyond that, it is not only who we are, but what we do with it, that determines what sort of human being we might be. And it is neither shameful nor a crime to ask for help when help is needed, but some things we have to face on our own.

Review Copy Source: Publisher.

You can find A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle and Hope Larson online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

September 12, 2012


The folks at Strange Chemistry/Angry Robot have good things going for them -- among other things, a really cool name that sounds like a cover band for someone like Oingo Boingo. Obviously, the best thing about Strange Chemistry is there, you know, books... and I just finished a gulp-it-in-one-sitting volume complete with dorky guys, ultra-fat skin-lickers (shudder) and a whole universe based on quantum physics that you can't understand. (Don't worry. I don't understand it, either.)

Reader Gut Reaction: There's a knack to real adventure novels - the sort like Peter Pan or Robinson Crusoe, where you've got a kid with knowledge and know-how who ends up In Dire Peril, and then manages to somehow both save himself and/or society, by the skin of his teeth. The bits of Derring-Do are usually things the reader wouldn't do him or herself, and so there's that edge-of-the-seat thing going on. SHIFT has elements of that. Curran has managed, in her debut novel, to recapture an adventure novel with elements of an old-school, rip-roaring adventure.

Scott, who hates his life, his family, and really, himself, is hanging out with "cool" people one night. In the heat of an embarrassing moment, he is goaded into doing something stupid. Peer pressure pushes him to endanger himself -- he climbs a massive pylon, and then -- falls. Or, he thinks he falls. He wishes he hadn't bothered to climb it, and -- poof. He's lying on his back next to the fence he just fell over. Suddenly, the past has shifted. Or, is that the future?? When an attractive girl named Aubrey arrests him and spouts some nonsense about "shifting," Scott's bewildered - but intrigued. Shifts open up a whole new world... and Scott's just as happy to leave his behind. However, there are things good and bad in any world, and nothing is quite as it seems...

Concerning Character: I like the main character, Scott, because, to put it simply, he isn't stupid. He's an Average Kid who, when in trouble, finds a kind adult and wants to turn things over to him. Every time the other teens around him pull a Nancy Drew and think, "No! We'll investigate it ourselves!" he cringes.

This is DEEPLY realistic.

Recommended for Fans Of...: ...adventure. Think the KIKI STRIKE books, by Kirsten Miller, THE HOMEWARD BOUNDERS, by Diana Wynne Jones, timeslip novels like Edward Ormondroyd's TIME AT THE TOP, the ARTEMIS FOWL books, and those sorts of stories wherein a character takes things into their own hands and takes their own strange abilities in stride. This really does have a lot in common with some of the old-school adventure novels from the 80's.

Themes & Things: At the risk of revealing a little too much of the story, one of the themes is teamwork and trust. Scott's issues begin in a moment of peer pressure, but learning to use and accept his Shift-y powers is a team effort. Most of our teen years are a team effort, as that village of parents/relatives and teachers and friends are there to raise us -- but how many of the "village people" are necessary? And how much decision-making do we really have to do ourselves? This is the first novel I've read that has kind of had a "think about it" subplot going about peer pressure and groups. It's nothing overt, but it's nice.

Cover Chatter: I think we can say that this cover has some male-interest things going for it -- movement, a male cover model, indistinct lighting, and unique colors, none of them pink (Author Kim Curran's name is in orange).

Isn't it amazing how simple it is for a YA novel to be not seen as girly? What's nice is that this action-figure sort of cover is also girl-friendly, too, if a girl is a fan of science fiction and fantasy.

This review unsolicited; no money exchanged hands, and the book came gratis in ebook form from the publisher.

You can find SHIFT by Kim Curran online in the UK or US, and at an independent bookstore near you!

September 07, 2012

In Order To Form A More Perfect Universe

I first heard of this at Charlotte's blog. Then I hustled over to BookLust and snagged a logo button. I am SO in.

Speculative fiction by diverse authors and featuring a diverse cast of characters are on the rise. Every time I see a heads-up about a new book cover, I think, "YAAAAY!" Every time I realize that it's not for a YA book I sigh. I am so pleased that there are people like Tu Publishing and Lee & Low making it their business to provide YA and children's lit with a diverse speculative fiction population. But it's a little depressing that the commitment thus far seems to be so small.

Especially after reading Coe Booth's somewhat depressing post on the Children's Book Council "It's Complicated" discussion about the ghettoization of YA lit, and how "separate and not really equal" is the name of the game, I'm most anxious to look harder for more books with brown-skinned characters. (Some people say "brown and black," but I have a lamentably literal and childlike mind. People of color, to me, are brown; diversity must also include LBGTQ in varishades.) Maybe if enough books are highlighted, they'll move books with brown-skinned people on the covers out of the Black History/Urban Lit area on the back of the shelf, and mix freely with the others in the main part of the bookstore...

Please go and sign up for the A More Diverse Universe Blog Tour, September 23 - 29. And if you need some hints on what books to read, or where to find new ones, or works of short fiction, poke around on the BookLust page. DO IT NOW. The Universe thanks you.

Read diversely, diverse people. Happy Weekend.

September 06, 2012

Thursday Review: DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE by Laini Taylor

Reader Gut Reaction: Laini Taylor always creates such unique and fully realized worlds that manage to contain both darkness and whimsy in equal measure, and Daughter of Smoke and Bone does not disappoint in that regard. The story begins in modern-day Prague, with main character Karou, a mysterious blue-haired art student. Quickly, we learn that her life—not unlike her hair and her odd eye-shaped palm tattoos—is quite atypical. Behind the closed doors of a special portal, she is able to visit her mentor, Brimstone, and her adoptive family, including the snake-woman Issa and the parrot-headed Yasri.

Nope, definitely not your average art-school student, even if she does masquerade as one with her best friend Zuzana and her annoying ex-boyfriend Kaz. And her life's about to become even less normal. During one of her routine errands for Brimstone—who, by the way, sells wishes in exchange for TEETH, and just happens to have horns and a tail—she is attacked by a strange, powerful, beautiful, yet frightening man…with WINGS. As she tries to find out who he is and why he attacked her, it leads her on a journey into the heart of who she is and why she leads such an unusual double life. And the truth? Is much bigger and weirder and more wondrous—and more dangerous—than she ever expected.

Concerning Character: Karou is a fantastic main character. The author does an admirable job of maintaining the aura of mystery around her—even SHE doesn't know who she really is—while also making her a sympathetic character that readers can relate to. This is important in light of later developments in the story, when we do find out who she is. And with all the characters, as in Laini's other books, we are drawn in by their human qualities, their recognizable emotions and behaviors, regardless of whether they have, say, a parrot's head. I shouldn't be too surprised. After all, this is the author who escorted us into the worlds of fairies and jinns, of goblins and other strange creatures, making us believe in them as people. I love that about her writing.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Laini Taylor's other books, of course. Fantasy that combines both the dark and the ethereal, yet manages to keep everything very human and grounded—fans of Robin McKinley, Margo Lanagan, Kristin Cashore, and/or Kathleen Duey would probably enjoy this one, especially if you're into strong, self-sufficient female protagonists.

Themes & Things: The journey to finding out who we are—it can be fraught with unexpected twists and turns, and that's what I see as the main theme in this book. The meaning of family and friendship is a big deal in the story, too, as Karou's bond with Zuzana and with her adoptive family is tested and even strained the more she finds out about herself.

There is also, of course, plenty of hot forbidden supernatural romance in this one. Karou is drawn to the one man she really, really shouldn't be messing around with, and that gets her into ever more escalating trouble. My one quibble is that it felt somehow too quick, too easy, for Karou to fall in love, and equally too easy for her enemy to become her friend. I don't want to give too much away, but it would have been nice to see a bit more resistance, upping the stakes for both parties.

Authorial Asides: For a long time, we enjoyed reading Laini's blog Grow Wings, but for the past year and a half or so she's had a new blog address complete with lovely header art by her talented husband Jim DiBartolo, so go check it out! You can also drool over US and UK covers for the sequel, which is due out in November.

Review Copy Source: Library.

You can find Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

September 05, 2012

WCOB Wednesday: WBI: Witches Bureau of Investigation

Oh, serendipitous books, you give me such joy. This book you might have missed, as it's a quietly self-published book available only on Amazon. It needs a bigger audience.

Reader Gut Reaction: There is NOTHING, and I mean NOTHING like just picking up a random library book or buying a cheap paperback, just to see what it's about, and hitting literary GOLD. From feeling a faint cautious distaste about these books, I am again becoming a BIG BELIEVER in the self-pubbed/indie, if the writer has a writing group, mad revision skills, and can write a story that isn't thinly veiled Mary Sue autobiography in the first place. I will say it clearly: this book is one I'd like to see nominated for the Cybils Award in MG SFF. It will be well able to compete with the others.

You Have Been Told.

Why did I pick this up? I liked the title - the WBI. Kind of like the MIB, only... not. I expected it to be slightly silly - and it is. It's also slightly hilarious, and will be a perfect autumn read for middle grade fantasy enthusiasts, and the older readers who read to them. The only teensy flaw in this book is that it stumbles into the "one twin is The Dumb One and the other is The Smart One" trope. However! Our savvy author ensures that the "dumb" twin saves the day, and more than makes up for his moments of lesser brilliance.

Concerning Character: Really, there are two main characters - Nate and Herman. When our story begins, they're already not doing what they're supposed to, which is not Come Straight Home After School. No, they're in front of a comic book shop. From the coffee shop next door comes a sharply dressed old woman in a heavy coat, balancing her cup of coffee and searching for her car. She's knocked over by a grumpy yuppie on a cellphone. As the boys hurry to help her, what happens next widens their eyes. Could that chair really have moved... and tripped that man, causing him to pour coffee all over himself?

If Mrs. Weatherby can do that, maybe she can do other things...

As it turns out Mrs. Weatherby is both more help and less than the boys envision. Stepping into her world leads the twins into meeting strange people with alter egos - or insects - sleuthing, betrayal, and lots of new vocabulary. Nate and Herman are smart and tech savvy and the technology and the details of this book are smart as well. They don't have Stupid Kiditis, which happens when authors create characters who do dumb things and you have to shout at the book, "NO, DON'T GO IN THERE ALONE!" They know when to duck authority, and when to ask for help -- usually just moments before the situation spirals ENTIRELY out of control.

Inasmuch as the twins are realistically drawn and quite funny, the adults, though funny, avoid caricature. There's a lot of respect given to older ladies in this book, because the post-AARP set kick buns and take names. It's satisfying, and occasionally surprising to the boys - which is as it should be.

Recommended for Fans Of...: adventure stories, stories with strong older women, and fast-paced, funny mysteries. Think Kiki Strike by Kirsten Miller, Artemis Fowl, by Eoin Colfer; Louis Sachar's Holes, The Time Warp Trio, by Jon Szcieska and more.

Cover Chatter: Let's just take a moment to talk about the cover, here. The two main characters are boys who live near Hollywood. The pearl-wearing black cat on the cover is on a shield - a representative symbol of the witches. Does this look like a book marketed toward either boys or girls? The strong colors of red, black, and gray seem reasonably gender-neutral -- and I think either boys or girls would be eager to pick it up.

I admit that the cat gave me a feeling of quirky, funny, and sly humor - and, okay, it is reminiscent of the cat on the cover of Michele Jaffe's BAD KITTY, which is still one of my fave silly books. Pick this one up! It will really amuse you.

You can find WBI: WITCHES BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION by Richard Capwell at Amazon's ebook page. You don't need a Kindle to read it.

September 04, 2012

Be Reading

Here are some quick links to things you should be reading this week:

**Children's Book Council has started up a new discussion on IT'S COMPLICATED - and here's yesterday's piece, and today's. They're covering covers.

**Ursula Vernon, winner of a Hugo for graphic DIGGER, has managed to elbow Neil Gaiman in the chest and bury him in guacamole, in a quest for free nachos. This is the lie they've agreed upon, anyway. Congratulations to all the Hugo peeps, but it still makes us happy that a spotlight has been shined on a middle-grade book!

**Gwenda Bond did a nice write-up over at John Scalzi's "Whatever" blog. She discussesThe Big Idea behind her tale of Roanoke Island.

I have twelve friends who are born this month, so must race out and buy yet another card. Happy September thus far!

September 02, 2012

TURNING PAGES: A Beautiful Lie, by Irfan Master

In the sixty-five years since India was no longer a single entity but because itself and Pakistan, then later Pakistan and Bangladesh, there has been a lot of hostility, a lot of suspicion, and a lot of bloodshed. The causes and consequences are numerous, depending on which historian you ask. Colonialism, British interference, religiosity and greed could be blamed, in a big-picture analysis.

For the little picture -- and the individuals involved -- none of that is the point. The point is, in the Partition, a people lost their families, they lost their friends, and essentially, they lost their country. It's a loss that will perhaps never be assuaged.

Reader Gut Reaction: This was an atmospheric, gradual, and difficult read -- at times, a little too gradual and atmospheric. A potential drawback to knowledgeable readers is that there is only one way this book can end -- but this is also a valuable piece of historical fiction for older teens seeking to get a grip on the circumstances of postwar colonialism.

The individual characters in the village of Gujarat create a great deal of rich texture and interest in this novel, as each of Bilal's friends - a representative sampling of a Hindu, Sikh and a Muslim boy -- are well-drawn. This quirky cast of characters presents an entry point into the novel, while getting further into the history of India...

Concerning Character: Bilal is quick-minded, savvy, and the kind of kid who, given enough time, can ferret out information from adults, figure out ways around them, and get what he wants and needs. He moves easily through interactions with people twice his age, and tries hard to uphold his father's reverence for books, knowledge, and tradition. Bilal's grasp of his community is tested as politics overwhelm the village. Everyone is constantly fighting - first with words, then with real violence. The air of leisurely contemplation, informed debate and studious discussion is at an end, and Bilal's father is aghast and dismayed. His greatest fear is that his beautiful country will be permanently divided by the ideologies which currently separate them. When the village physician, Doctorji, informs Bilal that his father's battle with cancer will soon be lost, a loving son wants nothing more than to create a world for his father that is what he remembers - the way things used to be, when a unified country was a given. What can it hurt, after all, to let his father die in peace? It's a beautiful lie... one that becomes vastly more complicated and impossible to maintain.

Recommended for Fans Of...: richly imagined and deeply felt historical novels such as The Good Braider, by Terry Farrish, Revolution is Not a Dinner Party, by Ying Chang Compestine; The Green Glass Sea and its sequel White Sands, Red Menace, by Ellen Klages and The Wicked and the Just, by J. Anderson Coates. That's kind of a mixed bag of recommendations, but this is, in many ways, a book which covers a lot of ground in terms of history, tolerance, understanding, and justice.

Themes & Things: In some ways, the theme of an historical novel is simply found - and easily understood in that 20/20 hindsight we all have: should people in Pakistan or India have divided? Should religion have kept families apart? Should any intellectual rift conclude in bloodshed? Perhaps not. And yet, much of history is created of subtle details over which only the unwise make snap judgements. There is much more than the obvious conclusions found in this novel. There's an exploration of the boundaries of truth -- how damaging is it to tell a lie for someone's own good? -- prejudice, as Bilal and his friends of varying faiths try to each live out their truths, and really, love -- love of country, yes, but love of family. This novel has crossover potential, as these big concepts will challenge adult and teen readers alike.

Authorial Asides: A BEAUTIFUL LIE was shortlisted for the Waterstone's Children's Book Prize and nominated for the 2011 Branford Boase Award. It was published awhile ago in the UK, obviously. This is the author's novel debut.

You can find A BEAUTIFUL LIE by Irfan Master at an independent bookstore near you!