October 31, 2012

No Party Politics

It's Halloween, and I just interrupted my first-time-in-five-years reunion with candy corn to realize what that means. Tomorrow begins November.

November. Unfreakinbelievable. Elections. Veterans Day. Thanksgiving. That November. Yes. Holy cow.

November. And, here you are. You have found yourself at the blog of perhaps the two least political people in the state. And yet, we're looking forward to a little blog tour called WHY I VOTE.

If you recall, BLOG THE VOTE in 2008 was a kidlitosphere-wide blog-tour/essay tour kind of thing, wherein people talked about what made voting important to them, and how they hoped it would change the world. Launched by Lee Wind, with links rounded up by Colleen Mondor, Gregory K., and @ Chasing Ray. It was all non-partisan and positive, and that's how we like it ( -- we truly did like it. Some of the posts from 2008 were nothing short of soul-lightening, and truly made me glad to share my country with these folk. Take a moment to hit that link and go back). This year, we're going to do it again.

Blog the Vote is back, this year with a more personal slant - Why I Vote. This, too, is intended to be non-partisan, and positive, and to encourage people to get out next Tuesday (argh! Next. Tuesday.), share our poll stories (do you remember going as a little kid?) and express the ideas of community and democracy - what makes our country what it is, and what could make it better.

So: this Friday, November 2, the great Colleen will be collecting the links again, and we hope you'll be there.

October 30, 2012

CYBILS F/SF: THE CURIOSITIES, by the Merry Sisters of Fate

Just before we left for Scotland, I lost my short story writing group. We were the doughty Flickr Fiction Friday writers - able to spin tales of madness from a mere photographic prompt. We were writing without nets, slightly insane, and able to leap small puddles in a single bound -- and then Twitter happened. Most people stopped telling stories or communicating in sentences longer than forty characters. Too wordy for that, I refused to join the revolution, and was left behind.

At a loss, I started lurking at the newly launched The Merry Sisters of Fate blog. And was ...well, envious. Maybe because they started with fewer people, or with more deliberate intent, but these writers had a THING going - cohesive, inventive, and whatever other lyrical superlatives you might offer. They clicked, and their work was clearly going places.

The clever margin notes, doodles on the edges of the pages, and thematic sectioning pull this together in an organized fashion. There is as much here to charm as to kill; stories both dark and deadly are presented for your delight. Pick up a copy, and curl up with the leftover Halloween candy on All Soul's Night.

Reader Gut Reaction: This book is for writers. Be you a fully launched wordsmith or a fledgling chick, the margin notes these three writers have included are full of both in-jokes and teasing, as well as some genuine nuggets of good sense as well about characterization, tone, single-sentence worldbuilding, romance, magical limits, the works. In just a few sentences, they've put together a short How To on fantasy writing. This book is for teen readers. If you're attracted to dark faeries, guyliner, big boots, and mysterious pasts, this one is for you. The stories depicting high school as a dark stage on which vicious acts are wrought are very apt, indeed. This book is for adult readers. The themes are complicated, layered, nuanced -- and a sense of darkness and peril at every turn reflects the actual word and the inner world. There is nothing simple here. Nothing. And, nothing is as it seems...

Concerning Character: More than individual characters with names, these stories played with tropes and types. The Girl Who Was The Heroine/Victim - but turned that right upside down on its head, by out-maneuvering Evil. The Boy Who Was Hero/Victim -- I think especially of the dragon slayer kid (Does he survive his last battle, or not?) -- and how he falls, or stands and walks away from the fight. The Girl Who Invites Danger. The Boys Who Understand Sacrifice -- the minor characters from every fairytale you ever read live here, their lives of unexplored depth until uncovered by these writers.

While not every story was stupendously awesome - I especially wasn't sold on the section of Arthurian tales, simply because not even Marion Zimmer Bradley can make me unequivocally love Arthurian tales - they were all can't-look-away compelling, and especially with flash fiction, which in a collection can be so uneven, it's hard to ask for more.

I might just add that these stories were also brilliantly edited by Andrew Karre - and everyone knows a great editor makes a good thing its very best.

Recommended for Fans Of...: This was an unexpectedly literary collection, so I compare it to books written and edited by Kelly Link, Ellen Datlow, Ellen Kushner, Margo Lanagan, and Delia Sherman. Occasionally, there are some moments of Margaret Atwood in a few stories, and you know that means They Are Good. The words "slipstream fiction" come to mind - so it's not Zombies v. Unicorns, but deeper and broader than that; you get the feeling that these stories could go any direction.

Cover Chatter - and Artwork in General: Everyone knows by now that Maggie Stiefvater was a commercial artist before her writing took off, so the doodles in the book are Quality Doodles - the sort of thing that makes you a little envious of what the pad next to the Stiefvater kitchen phone looks like. The cover is striking -- murkiness with a flash of contrast. It works well for the tone of the book, which is itself kind of mysterious and murky, with flashes of insight - which may hit you differently the second time you read the book.

I'm happy to note that, even as we speak, plans are afoot to reassemble our short story group. We are neither all American women, or women at all, or fantasy writers, so I don't expect our group to resemble this trio of writers - and who would wish for that anyway? We're excited to anticipate new stories - stay tuned for us to throw out a link every once in awhile. Who knows - maybe together we'll weave something as magical as these Fates. We would count ourselves lucky indeed.

FTC: Library book, unsolicted review.

You can find THE CURIOSITIES by Tess Gratton, Maggie Stiefvater, and Brenna Yovanoff at an independent bookstore near you!

October 29, 2012

Monday Review: THE RAFT by S.A. Bodeen

Reader Gut Reaction: What if you were stranded on a raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, no food except a handful of Skittles, and nobody knows you're even gone? That's the premise of S.A. Bodeen's latest page-turner, The Raft. It's a harrowing survival tale, of the kind that (for me, at least) start with those what-ifs that form the basis of late-night campfire conversations about being stranded on a desert island. It's an irresistible setup for a story. But it's deadly serious, too.

Robie and her parents live, of all places, on Midway Island. It's completely remote. They're scientists, and for the duration of their time there, she's getting homeschooled. So she's pretty independent and self-sufficient. Sometimes to a fault…

…like when she's decided to spend some time with her aunt in Honolulu, but then her aunt is called to the mainland on last-minute business. Robie says she'll be fine on her own, but then she decides to head for home after all on the next cargo flight. A doomed flight, as it turns out…

Concerning Character: Self-sufficient as she is, Robie is a very believable character for a survival story. Despite her independence, though, she is also realistically vulnerable to fear, panic, and despair, and all of these emotions (and then some) arise when she's suddenly trapped on the plane's emergency raft in the middle of the ocean with a semi-conscious stranger—the copilot, Max. Then we've got an old-fashioned man-vs-nature conflict--but also man-vs-himself (or herself, in this case) as Robie's survival depends on her inner strength as well as her outer fortitude.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Modern-day survival tales like Gary Paulson's Hatchet books (reviewed here), or even John Marsden's semi-dystopian Tomorrow, When the War Began series (reviewed here). Of course, if you enjoyed Bodeen's earlier dystopian novel The Compound, you'll want to check this one out.

Themes & Things: I'm always a big fan of stories where characters are forced to dig deep to tap heretofore unknown depths of resourcefulness. It makes the suspense and fear particularly rewarding when the protagonist lives to see another day, and it's not all because of luck. Of course, Robie has plenty of luck both good and bad, and also has to live with some of the consequences of her decisions—can she bring herself to eat some of the same animals she's studied and learned to love on Midway? It's a tightly written, quickly plotted tale with a fun twist at the end, and though I had a few quibbles about choices made by Robie, overall I think this one will be appealing for action lovers and perhaps even reluctant readers.

Review Copy Source: Library.

You can find The Raft by S.A. Bodeen online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

October 26, 2012

The Coolest Thing of the Morning

Myriad are the cool things in life on a Friday. But THIS!?!?!? I am drowning in cute. This is ALMOST better than the Trekkie book. Hat tip, the ever-awesome Mary Sue.

October 25, 2012

A Poetry Contest and Other Goodies

I love the idea of a Poem Drive, and YARN (YA Review Net) is hosting one this year for sweet-Halloween-treat-themed poems. Those of you who write poetry (AHEM, Ms. T) should go check out the 3rd Annual Fall Treats Poetry Drive and Contest (now through Oct. 28) and enter to win a $25 Gift Certificate to the local, preferably independent bookstore of your choice. And, of course, YARN is open to all sorts of YA-friendly submissions year-round (and I'm glad they reminded me of that fact...I've got a story I need to work on!)

October's Bullying Awareness Month, too, and Open Road Media has an anti-bullying video to share, including Newbery-winning author Patricia MacLachlan.

Author/illustrator Aaron Zenz's wife is recovering from brain surgery and their family could use your help--the Kidlitosphere's own Julie Danielson of the 7-Imps has helped set up a site where you can donate to the cause.

There are some really awesome interviews on GraphicNovelReporter.com right now, according to their latest newsletter: an interview with Diana Thung about her upcoming August Moon, which looks fantastic; an interview with Ben Hatke, author of 2011 Cybils winner Zita the Spacegirl; and an interview with Raina Telgemeier on her new book, Drama, which was yesterday's featured review on the Cybils blog.

And--AND--just a tiny personal plug--yesterday I officially revealed the cover for my next book, due out in June!! Yahoo! Check it out and let me know what you think.

October 23, 2012

CYBILS F/SF: The Girl With Borrowed Wings, by Rinsai Rosetti

This is a story that I had trouble categorizing. It's horrifically realistic, in so many ways... but, because of its setting in the modern-day realistic world, the little sidesteps it takes into Other made me think of magical realism. This is a quiet novel -- restrained, shall we say -- but it's the depths of emotion and imagination and faith which eventually blow the lid off of things.

Reader Gut Reaction: A lot of people read nineteenth century novels of manners and revel in the precise examinations of custom, values, and social mores. There's a lot of brow-waggling conjecture, for instance, about how repressed the Victorians were, from their expectations for propriety to their dance steps, and this fascinates contemporary readers. This novel delves into some of the same modes of examination, but with more modern subjects, but still brings to mind the worlds of Jane Austen, George Eliot, Charlotte Brontë, and Edith Wharton. As a matter of fact, I looked to see if the novel was a translation, because something of the author's nomadic roots show in her writing style.

There's an element of parable in this novel - and some thematic things about having faith that love can empower, and though the novel is imperfect -- sometimes the voices is a tiny bit too distant, details are not examined to my satisfaction, and the ending is too abrupt a turnaround to be believable -- it's a debut novel, and the author has time for many more great things to come. This is a jagged little multicultural bildungsroman that takes a few leaps of faith, and brings the reader along for the ride.

Concerning Character: Frenenqer Paje is accustomed to not belonging. For most of her seventeen years, she and her parents have lived in Thailand, Japan, Costa Rica, and Costa Rica. Wherever she's gone, she's been a stranger. Her father keeps the family on the move, ostensibly for his work, and now they have settled in Al Ayren, where people live quietly, young ladies cover their hair, and where the locals live in strict adherence to the Islamic faith. At the international school where she now attends, deep within this desert oasis, Frenenqer has a sort of secretary - a girl who tolerates her, and whom she tolerates, who always knows the assignments and what's required. Frenenquer knows they're not really friends, but really... she wouldn't know what to do with a friend, anyway.

Frenenqer means "restraint" in some language or other, and this is all she has been, all of her life: restrained. As a tiny child, her father scolded her mother because she bounced and chattered too much. As an older girl, her titanic struggle with her mother was to be allowed to walk alone at dusk, to the end of the block. The Paje's lives are circumscribed by Tiberio Paje's need for peace, quiet, and order. Doors are to be shut quietly, or Frenenqer has to stand and open and close them over and over again. She isn't to be wild. She isn't to be excitable. She isn't to be too demonstrative, to speak excessively, to read excessively, to eat or sleep too much, to be too... anything. Certainly she is never to commit the exuberance of error which her father merely refers to in a shower of spit as -- "Pfft." She is to only do what her father's lists of commandments tell her to, and not a single thing more. Frenenqer's only escape from the sapless and perfect marble sculpture world he requires of her is books. She reads and dreams that she can fly -- up over the compound wall, away from the oasis, into the desert, and toward freedom.

Frenenqer understands vaguely that her life isn't normal, that through her adherence to perfectionism, she's drowning in loneliness. When she happens to see a filthy cat left for dead at a bazaar, she abruptly veers into rebellion. To her father's wordless rage, and her mother's horror, she insists on bringing it home to heal it or let it die in peace. Instead, the cat turns out to be Frenenqer's salvation. Sangris, a Free Person who lives outside of the rules of Islam, the oasis, and the natural world, can be anything and anyone. He opens the world to Frenenqer, but the world is large - and terrifying. Can she take hold of the opportunity offered to her? Or, does the colorless path her father has carved out for her -- the world of safety and obedience -- already own her soul?

Recommended for Fans Of...: KETURAH AND LORD DEATH by Martine Leavitt, the restrained women's novels of Margaret Atwood, including THE HANDMAID'S TALE - and the works of Jane Austen, George Eliot, Charlotte Brontë, and Edith Wharton.

Authorial Asides: Rinsai Rosetti, the Thai-Italian author pictured above, wrote this novel in college, and was published by age 21. Her extensive globetrekking has led her all over the place, and the last place she lived was the United Arab Emirates, which shows clearly in the setting of this story. Rosetti's many travels show up in her writing style as well - creating a more fluid, almost restful prose style -- something evocative of a long-past era.

Cover Chatter: While I don't love the cover, the fact that it is a drawing and not a photograph gives it points for creativity. The shadow cast on the wall behind Frenenqer's arm is fairly brilliant, and the top of the cover shows misty greens and blues trailing from the edge of a wing. It makes perfect sense.

Frenenqer describes her life taking place in a series of three white boxes - her home, her blocky, white school, and the blocky white car which carries her in between these places. If anything, I believe that the cover of this novel errs on the side of too much color -- Frenenqer's life is so circumscribed, so bound up in lists and rules and beliefs that the first several chapters of the novel come across like drowning in white -- there's the restraint of being bound so that one is unable to breathe. The cover doesn't quite perfectly reflect all of the details of the novel -- so you're going to have to just pick it up, and read it.

FTC: This has been an unsolicited review, based on a library book.

You can find THE GIRL WITH BORROWED WINGS by Rinsai Rosetti at an independent bookstore near you!

October 22, 2012

Monday Review: VESSEL by Sarah Beth Durst

Reader Gut Reaction:I'd been looking forward to reading Sarah Beth Durst's newest. It promised a return to a more traditional type of fantasy structure, and it did not disappoint. It's got quests, deities, adventure, survival, desperate tactics—everything a fantasy fan could want, AND a strong, butt-kicking female protagonist.

Liyana is supposed to be the vessel for her goddess, Bayla. That's what she's been trained to do her entire short life until this point, and today's the day when the goddess will be called down to inhabit her body and do good works to help the clan survive. But when the dancing and ceremonies are over…her goddess doesn't come. Naturally, despite her honored position, this provokes mixed feelings in her. After all, she didn't have to die. That's a good thing, right? But…was she somehow not good enough? Her clan worries that might be the case, and so they shun her, leaving her in the desert and moving on without her.

Before she can do much other than grieve, Korbyn appears. He actually IS a god, contained in his human vessel. And he says the other deities are missing. They set off on a journey around the desert to find the other clans' vessels, and figure out what happened to their gods and goddesses…because without them, their clans won't survive. Problem is, of course…if they succeed, she'll die. And if they don't, her clan will.

Concerning Character: Liyana is a clever and strong-minded protagonist. Because we are immediately plunged into a tense situation in which she is blamed for something not under her control, we easily sympathize with her, and cheer for her every time she is able to gain control over something in her life. After all, she was meant to be a vessel—something that, by definition, is passive and self-annihilating. Instead, she is alive, for now, and she begins to grow into a self NOT defined by her role as vessel. And Korbyn, the god, is changed, too—I liked watching the shifting balance of power between the two of them, the complexity of their need to rely on one another to succeed. And, of course, there is just a bit of romance to make things even more thorny and tangled.

The other vessels were distinctive in personality, too, and it was an enjoyable read to follow their wildly differing reactions to the quandary they all found themselves in. The deities, too, had their personalities, and reminded me a bit of the quarreling, meddlesome Greek gods and goddesses.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Tamora Pierce has a great quote on the back jacket of this one, and I'd agree strongly that if you are a Pierce fan, you'll enjoy this one. It's got a similar setting, with cultures not unlike our own Earth cultures, but different, too; and characters who are clearly from different ethnicities with distinct physical characteristics. If you like Kristin Cashore, Kathleen Duey, Robin McKinley…all authors who are great at writing female protagonists and creating fully-formed worlds…you'll like this one.

Themes & Things: One of the major themes posed even at the beginning of this book is the meaning and value of self-sacrifice, and the idea that even longstanding traditions might need to be questioned and changed once in a while. Sometimes you can get more valuable work done through saving yourself rather than annihilating yourself, through compromise and shared effort rather than giving yourself up entirely to others' demands. This book also, of course, has threads of romance and friendship, of self-discovery, and of persistence in the face of adversity and the unknown.

Cover Chatter: LOVE THE COVER. Enough said. The only thing missing is Liyana's beaded braids.

Review Copy Source: Author/publisher.

You can find THIS BOOK by This Author online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

October 20, 2012

CYBILS F/SF: THE SCORPIO RACES, by Maggie Stiefvater

You know, I am not all that much of a joiner. When a book gets a lot of buzz, I tend to not read or review it, because... there are thirty-million-and-five other people doing an admirable, professional job, and there's no point in joining my voice with the chorus. This isn't to say that I don't often like a book others have buzzed about -- it's just that there's no need to give you a carbon copy of a review you might have read elsewhere.

Reader Gut Reaction: ...None of which explains why I am here reviewing this book. Which everyone else has probably already reviewed. But, the thing is... I couldn't not review it. I read it in one, long drink-of-water sitting, at the dinner table, eating one-handed, open on the counter as I loaded the dishwasher, and in one long push before bed. And I turned the last page and went away utterly satisfied.

Some caveats: No, I was not a "horse girl," so the murderous fae equine angle did not do it for me. No, I do not, like myriad other Americans, have a lifelong crush on the Irish and thus have an appropriation-close relationship with their mythology (having lived in Scotland for five years, I'd feel a little weird about that, anyway). And, most of all, no, I have not been a rabid fan of this author's other novels. Understand, I truly enjoyed her first books, but I am not of the werewolf-love-triangle thing; her later books just weren't me. So, I came to this book with caution, but after the first scenes, I was in, with no looking back.

Thisby is a tiny island on the back of beyond. Either you love it, or you go to the mainland to live. Many have left. The capaill uisce come running every November from the wild sea - bloodthirsty, carnivorous killer horse beasties. And every year, they kill sheep, pets -- and people unlucky enough to catch their notice. They love a chase, so you'd better not run. And don't get anywhere near their teeth.

You'd think people would, you know, avoid the uisce, but there's a certain breed of men who don't. They RIDE THEM. They capture and tame them, using prayers, cold iron, small charms -- and then they race them. For fun, for luck, to prove themselves better, stronger, or more stouthearted than their neighbors. There's plenty of money in the pot, a lot of bets cast -- and a lot of blood shed on the sand. No, really: A LOT OF BLOOD SHED. As in, these equine mutants TEAR OUT THROATS. The Scorpio Races are certainly not for the meek, and Thisby's not for everyone. But, some people call it home, and can imagine living no place else on earth.

Concerning Character: This story is told in two voices - one of 19-year-old Sean Kendrick, whose father died riding Corr, a roan uisce in the Scorpio Races, and whose life has since been consumed with them. He is famous for his wins -- four now, in a row -- and known to be businesslike and private, somewhat humorless and cool, on the surface. Within, he is burdened, weary, resentful, and full of hatred for his boss' son, who has so much, and wastes it by being a doofus. All Sean wants is to own one of the horses he rides to the glory of the stable he works for - just one special one. But, the stables own him. He has one shot at getting his uisce-- one more win -- and he can walk away from this hateful job and the hateful boss's son, forever. He needs to win The Scorpio Races.

Kate "Puck" Connolly's brother, Gabe, is going to leave -- only a short time after her parents have died and done the same. She and her shy, backwards younger brother will be all that's left - with nothing in the world, not even a house or car. Puck is afraid of losing what little is left of the shape of her family. She's afraid of being the only one left who cares what becomes of the Connolly's -- the family who has shrunk so far, and is still diminishing. She needs some luck - and though she wants nothing to do with The Scorpio Races, they're a way to keep her brother close for just one more month. The water horses killed her parents. She'll never ride one. But, she's got her old horse, Dove...

Two compelling voices, a compelling settling -- an unexpected friendship. The characters skew just slightly older, making their struggles and their lives - sans parents and scholastic focus - that much more black/white. Their choices are complicated, but in the end, things are simple, and the novel spools out beautifully to the very last page.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Sheesh, I don't know. Misty of Chincoteague, by Marguerite Henry, and The Hunger Games? It's hard to say with this one. There's a kind of David Almond feel to this. Novels of survival, like Cynthia Voight's Seventeen Against the Dealer or On Fortune's Wheel also come to mind: people up against it, written about elegantly. I don't have a good readalike for this one; suggestions in comments?

Cover Chatter: How do I love these covers? Let me count the ways! Both covers I've seen have a red background with silhouetted or line drawn features. Nothing too detailed - because much of the charm of this story is that most of it takes place in the imagination - in what is not said. The red background is good - because violent? Yes. Nasty beasties. On the UK cover above, you see a fine black horse slightly ruined by a big swirly heart - because apparently the cover designer was a "horse girl." Actually, the heart makes a nice, swirly mane for the creature, so that works. The US cover features a wild-haired girl riding hell-bent for leather down the beach. This cover's lack of hearts is ...helpful. The covers for international readers are compelling as well, with only the Italian one featuring the full YA face thing.

FTC: This was an unsolicited review, based on a library book.

Even if you aren't a joiner, you'll be able to pick up THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater at an independent bookstore near you!

October 19, 2012

TURNING PAGES: Diverse Energies/Two And Twenty Dark Tales

HAPPY WEEKEND! Wishing you time to sleep in, great autumn treats, and good books at your fingertips.

Let's face it: every year, there are a lot of books which should have been on the Cybils list and don't make it. Some are just under the line for time, and will either make it on next year, or others are simply lost in the shuffle of books which get a bigger, earlier buzz. That's one of the reasons we review here - not to just regurgitate jacket copy on the other books people are talking about, but to highlight something you may have missed. Today I'm highlighting two short fiction anthologies which are perfect for a gloomy autumn - for a wind-whistling, shutters banging All Soul's Night, or a foggy-weekend-morning-cup-of-tea-and-nest-of-blankets time.

“No one can doubt that the wave of the future is not the conquest of the world by a single dogmatic creed but the liberation of the diverse energies of free nations and free men. No one can doubt that cooperation in the pursuit of knowledge must lead to freedom of the mind and freedom of the soul.” —President John F. Kennedy, from a speech at University of California, March 23, 1962, emphasis mine

Reader Gut Reaction: DIVERSE ENERGIES is edited by the adorable Joe Monti, and Grenadian adult SF author Tobias Buckell who who lived on a boat when he was a kid. (I have been slightly envious of his life for a long while because of this.) Other contributors of the eleven include URSULA Awesome K. LEGUIN (EARTHSEA, POWERS series), Paolo Bacigalupi (SHIP BREAKER, DROWNED CITIES), and Malinda Lo (ASH, HUNTRESS, ADAPTATION). I expected something good coming to this anthology -- and I wasn't disappointed. Another TU BOOKS success!

Concerning Character(s): Though the quote from which this anthology takes its title is about "the wave of the future" and liberation, the stories aren't about the freewheeling new world of tomorrow. Nope, this is mostly literary dystopia - very polished, very precisely and beautifully worded, and wow, very GRIM sometimes. As always, there are stories I liked better than others, but these worked together as a whole fairly well. I think Daniel H. Wilson's “Freshee’s Frogurt” was the most upsetting of the lot - a robot runs amok, and it's ugly -- the sort of tragedy you might call senseless, except... it changes one man's life a tiny bit. In “Gods of Dimming Light” by Greg van Eekhout, we learn a definition of heroism that defined the entire book for me -- I think a whole novel could be built out of that short. “Uncertainty Principle” is by K. Tempest Bradford, and actually influenced my dreams -- I kept dreaming that everyone was changing, but me. I love weird timeskip stories like this one - and the ending is a bit sad. Every time the time changes, something is lost, after all. Malinda Lo somehow manages to give us bittersweet love amidst the lies and ruins of society with "Good Girl," while Cindy Pon follows with another glimpse of a future Taipei - where even girls who have everything wish for just a day beneath the sky. I also enjoyed “Pattern Recognition” by Ken Liu, because the sort of "kids playing video games" type of life is one of those nightmare scenarios which could really be true to live - and reminded me of a Margaret Haddix Peterson scenario. The final story, “Solitude”, by Dame Ursula, is a reprint from THE BIRTHDAY OF THE WORLD 2002, but it was nice to revisit one of those intensely detailed, slightly worrying Hainish sociology stories - this one about a society which had broken the bonds of community in favor of solitude, and how the child of a sociologist, ignored by her mother, eventually finds her new society's mores more reasonable than her own.

All of the stories in this anthology respect diversity of gender, sex, and ethnicity, which is the usual for TU. Whether set in Western or non-Western society, all of the stories in this anthology are about survival -- either surviving the moment, the situation that the character is in, or survival for the group. This is a very grown-up type of YA anthology - the world is dark, and yet, the human spirit is young, and stubborn, and prevails. The caliber of writing in this anthology suggests it as a great option to refresh high school reading lists.

Reader Gut Reaction: TWO AND TWENTY DARK TALES is contributed to by twenty YA authors, including Karen Mahoney (FALLING TO ASH, IRON WITCH), Lisa Mantchev (EYES LIKE STARS, Théâtre Illuminata series), Heidi R. Kling (SEA), and Francisco Stork (MARCELLO IN THE REAL WORLD, IRISES, etc.), and is edited by Gretchen McBride and Michelle Zink (PROPHESY OF THE SISTERS series). Though set in the darkness of fey and faerylands, many these stories have a grim ring of triumph as the characters outwit death and fate. This anthology takes Mother Goose rhymes and spins whole stories from them -- stories that cleave more closely to dangerous worlds of the old Grimm tales. Many of the rhymes are unfamiliar to most readers, but will still appeal to those who enjoy fairytale retellings.

My favorites were Sarwat Chadda (THE DEVIL'S KISS, DARK GODDESS, ASH MISTRY AND THE SAVAGE FORTRESS)'s “Sing a Song of Sixpence" with its human blackbird, reminiscent of Tamora Pierce's bird shifting characters. The King in his counting house, the maid in the garden - they're all there. “Clockwork," by Leah Cypress begins quietly - and then rolls forward like a snowball. The mouse ran up the clock - and came away changed. A delicious snippet of story with an unbelievably brave conclusion.

A couple of the spookiest are “Wee Willie Winkie” by Leigh Fallon, the story of a girl who lies about her age to get a job in a dead end city filled with oldesters. She gets the job easily - there seem to be no other young people applying for work. Unfortunately, she doesn't realize that having a job isn't the issue - it's lying about her age. All under-sixteens in this small Irish town must be in bed before eight... or receive a visit from their nightmares. In “Boys And Girls Come Out To Play” by Angie Frazier a less familiar rhyme tells the tale of being called out - but by witches. A father tries to protect his daughter, a daughter tries to protect her sister, and in the end... no one is safe.

A reversal of the Beauty and the Beast tale, Karen Mahoney's “One For Sorrow” features another birdman, this time in the guise of a victim - fortunately not for long. Perhaps my very favorite was Lisa Mantchev's “Those Who Whisper.” It's a story of retribution, told with her usual brilliant attention to voice and detail - and includes even more birds.

(What is it with Mother Goose and ...birds. Oh. Forget I asked...)

On balance, TWO AND TWENTY DARK TALES is much more uneven than DIVERSE ENERGIES. There is a lot of creativity in DIVERSE, and each story, though vastly different, seems to fit with each other into a whole. Regrettably, TWO AND TWENTY is a less cohesive mix with some well-spun tales and others comprised strictly of shallow drama and attempts to manipulate the reader with abrupt conclusions and incomprehensible plot twists. Still, both these collections contain their share of gems and are worth a look-see.

You can find DIVERSE ENERGIES edited by Tobias Buckell and Joe Monti and TWO AND TWENTY DARK TALES: Dark Retellings of Mother Goose Rhymes, edited by Georgia McBride, with online retailers, or at a brick and mortar independent bookstore near you!

October 18, 2012

Toon Thursday is Back Again for the Seventh Time!

Yeah, I don't know if it's the seventh. I just made that up. But Toon Thursday is back, and it's...well, it's something, anyway. Hope you enjoy!
This one's in honor of getting to KEEP the original title of my next book, Underneath (due out most likely in June 2013). And no, I've got nothing against dystopias. In fact, I read a lot of them. And boy, are there a lot of them.

Check out the Toon Thursday Archive for more cartoony goodness.

October 17, 2012

CYBILS F/SF: EVERY OTHER DAY, Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Reading speculative fiction for young adults, there are myriad tropes it's easy to exhaust: love triangles between Dark Brooding Bad, Shining Good and hapless human; angels, werewolves, dark fey and vampires in general. It's also easy to exhaust this whole idea of adult paranormal romance novelists writing for young adults. Some have transferable skills in this area, and some simply do not, and should write for the audience that they know best. Jennifer Lynn Barnes has portable skills. Her werewolf series was as reasonably decent as anything else including YA and werewolves, and this novel takes another positive leap away from more familiar and worn paranormal tropes. No werewolves, no dominance fights, nothing quite so typical as all of that. Combining alternative history, paranormal fantasy, urban fantasy and a happy blend of science fiction ...well, we'll just call it speculative fiction. I shan't spoil it for you, though - read and enjoy.

Reader Gut Reaction: I love alternate history sometimes. If it's well done. If it takes actual historical fact, and cleaves closely to it. If it extends the obvious cause-and-effects of said historical facts, instead of just making things up willy-nilly (there is Fiction, after all, and then there are Lies). I was pleasantly surprised to read the first few pages of this novel and realize I was Not In My World. I mean, yeah, when there are werewolves, I'm not in my world, either, but it seems some authors are content to have werebeasts be the only anomaly in an otherwise placid urban or suburban setting. In this case, happily, anomalies abound.

Concerning Character: Kali D'Angelo: normal high school student. Normal appearance. Normal teen relationship with her father, that is, completely full of lies and evasions (okay, a few more lies and evasions than strictly normal, but...). What's not normal is the secrets she keeps - the singing in her blood, the sudden Otherness of her body. The need to be one with the night, and killkillkillkillkill All The Things. Well, all the dark things, anyway. So what if hellhounds are supposed to be endangered species? Kali is here to put the 'danger' in "endangered." She's going to eradicate the suckers from the earth, because she's pretty sure the scientists are playing with what they don't understand. Fortunately, she's Other enough to get it. Or, so she thinks.

Being Other is time-consuming, but only for a given value of time... it's only every other day that Kali becomes Something Else. She's unstoppable, virtually bullet-proof in her other form, and she drinks the blood of her enemies. Or, at least licks it off of her teeth. And nobody knows a thing about it - just her. Which means that life - high school - home - is an unbearably lonely cycle. Good thing her scientist Dad's still arranging playdates for her with the boss's cheerleader daughter. Obviously, they were destined to be "bestest friends." Not.

Recommended for Fans Of...: HEX HALL series, by Rachel Hawkins, Kelly Armstrong's YA series; MIDNIGHT PREDATOR, by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, and of course, Buffy.

Themes & Things: There's a lot about The Other in this novel. It is reiterated ad infinitum that Kali feels her differences - being a girl with an absent mother and a distant father, instead of Like Other Kids who have both parents. Having her life go weird every other day. Having to realize that People Like Her are limited in their emotions, scope, interactions, friends, etc. etc. etc. etc.. Other characters are different as well - The Cheerleader and The Nerd turn out to be not as soul-sucked and stupid as cliché requires them to be, and in a nasty little twist The Love Interest turns out to be not so lovely (unfortunately, not as unlovely as he should have been, for my tastes, but I suspect I need more Chernobyl-style betrayals to be able to let go -- for some reason I wanted All Hope to be Lost, and then plain resurrected instead of leaving a kernel of hope). The characterizations are lacking a tiny bit for this novel to have been truly different, but it does take big steps in distinguishing itself from the herd. Apparently we'll be hearing more from this character.

Cover Chatter: LOVE the hourglass, with its vivid cargo of red fluid. The theme of time and change and the vines in the back remind me very much of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, and I think that's deliberate. Every other day, Kali embraces her beast - and each time, she moves closer to another beast - one she's forgotten about... it's evocative and striking and really works. Yay for another cover sans flawless female face!

You can find EVERY OTHER DAY by Jennifer Lynn Barnes at an independent bookstore near you!

October 16, 2012


Oh, Hard SF, how I always want to understand you. How I wish there was more YA hard SF, for the smart young adults who, from the fiction they read, dream the world into being. How I struggle to comprehend more than basic physics in starship propulsion and all of that space stuff. How awesome is John Barnes for creating in this book the perfect balance between story and science. His "Notes for the Interested?" Brilliant use of infodump sites.

Know someone smart? Pick this up for them. Know someone who doesn't think they "get" hard SF? Pick this up for them. This is a successful crossover and though it has a female narrator, will be greatly enjoyed by the gents, too.

Reader Gut Reaction: This is nine-tenths satire -- there are just too many funny little lines to mention. Earth society, in 2129, is fully stratified. Due to the Permanent Peace and Prosperity laws (PermaPaxPerity), people are divvied up into the Eenies, who are the cream of the crop, both intellectually and socially, the Meenies - or the meanies, who are psychopathic nutjobbers, the Mineys, who are minor players, the middle-class basically allowed to take their shot at becoming an Eenie and be a consumer, and the Moes, who are straight up, faceless losers about whom no one cares much at all. Mineys and Moes always want to be Eenies, who are entertainers and celebrities. However, you have to work hard for that kind of recognition - PotEvals are a lot like some sort of huge SAT thing, and your score is just one part of the work it takes to become an Eenie. The rest is your social networking street cred. Imagining a world where social networking and viral everything is what happens - and even adults have to compete and participate, like it is high school is kind of sick-making. The novel reminded me a lot of FEED at first, and I was thinking, "No, no, no." And then, there came the first of many little twists. This idiotic girl, Susan, and her slightly disturbing friend-with-bennies, Derlock, decide, with their tribe of moes and mineys, to become famous. They're going to hitch a ride on Susan's Aunt Destiny's ship, Virgo, which is doing a fly-by of Mars. They know they won't get into trouble - once discovered, they'll be too popular, too famous to fall. No one will make them go back - if they stow away aboard a shuttle and pop out at the last minute, there's not enough fuel to turn around.

Nine teens on a joy ride into space. What could possibly go wrong?

Concerning Character: Susan, Derlock, Glisters, Stack, F.B., Fleeta, Emerald, Marioschke, and Wychee are complex and unique characters. As with everyone, you see glimpses of good and bad, redemptive and irredeemable behavior from every single person -- things which amuse, and things which hint at the darker corners of our psyches. Susan is our narrator, and so I'll concentrate on her. She comes across, from the first, as a real eejit. She knows her boyfriend is scary - but scary is hot, see, 'cause she figures she'll be known someday because she is the girlfriend of the boy Who Did Something Scary/Huge/Headline-inducing. Her main concern in life is being filmed with That Boy or This One and having pieces of her footage uplinked to various other sites. Her other concern is avoiding Glister, who is freaky and too pink and has a huge head and no muscles and an intensely weird crush on her. The root of Susan's avoidance of things (other than Glister) is Fleeta, her once-best-friend, a one-time genius who took a hit too many of a drug which has ruined her mind. Fleeta is happy... endlessly happy, and unable to have deeper emotions or reactions. Susan feels her losses so deeply that she distances herself from her feeling anything at all, except the need to become famous and Be Something Else. Eventually, it is this distancing ability which serves her will to survive.

Recommended for Fans Of...:FEED, by M.T. Anderson, TUNNEL IN THE SKY and STARSHIP TROOPERS, Robert Heinlen, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, Beth Revis, EARTHSEED, Pamela Seargeant, and soooo many of the more classic, man-against-nature/man-against-man classic SFF novels. This book you'll want to keep and read again.

Themes & Things: I think Tor's review of this novel used just the right words in their title: Dying to be Famous. Though the book is ostensibly set in 2129, there are some obvious parallels, and Barnes really takes a few sharp pokes at the way Western society consumes "infotainment" on celebrity culture. He makes some darker points about the judicial system's leniency toward institutions and the idea of being Too Big To Fail - which leads both reader and novel to a disturbing conclusion or two.

The one thing this novel DOES NOT do is discuss ethnicity or gender inequality. I am assuming the author believed that by 2129 we'd be over issues of gender or ethnicity. While I am glad to see that this future includes brown people, I wonder at the absence the other.

As I've already said, this novel, for me balanced story with science very well, and has received ecstatic reviews from all over, including @ Kirkus, by our Leila. I'm glad I picked it up.

Cover Chatter: Slices of faces on a YA novel cover: Okay. Faces of males AND females of various ethnicities: Better. Faces on a background reminiscent of Pigs in Space: Best Yet. (Okay, maybe only I'm making that leap.) I like that the faces appear to have lines interfering with the clarity of the images is representative of the fact that Mars is a looooong ways from home.

Need to read a little preview to be further convinced you need this book? You're welcome.

You can find LOSERS IN SPACE by John Barnes at an independent bookstore near you!

October 15, 2012

Monday Review: SAILOR TWAIN by Mark Siegel

Reader Gut Reaction: This one is subtitled "The Mermaid in the Hudson," and so if you gravitate towards stories about local legends and rarely-glimpsed semi-mythical creatures, then you'll enjoy the premise: the time is the late 1800s, and a steamboat captain rescues a harpooned mermaid from the river. He can hardly believe it himself, but once one strange thing happens, then it all starts to get VERY weird for him, and soon, the fact that he's hiding a mermaid in his quarters becomes just one of his troubles.

For one thing, his friend Lafayette, the owner of the ship, is almost compulsively womanizing, as if his life depends on it, while at the same time he's developed an obsession with the works of C.G. Beaverton, a secretive author who writes about…of course…local legends. Could Beaverton's newest work, Secrets and Mysteries of the Hudson, hold answers for both Lafayette and Captain Twain?

© Mark Siegel
used with permission of First Second Books
Secrets AND mysteries abound in this graphic novel, which combines a simplified cartoony character style with a more detailed and atmospheric drawing style for the backgrounds. I enjoyed the texture of the pencil drawings, which lent a very expressive and moody feel to the story. It was fitting, particularly with respect to the ever-more-mysterious doings on board Twain's ship, and the rather enigmatic ending (which we had an interesting discussion about over at Guys Lit Wire—I highly recommend reading the review and the comments).

Concerning Character: Siegel really succeeds in conveying the secretive nature of Twain, the main character—he expresses a lot of Twain's reactions through nonverbal, visual means, combined with some minimal narration between panels, and he doesn't rely on the thought bubble to tell us what Twain thinks. However, that's a difficult balance to strike without revealing too much; at times, I felt like the story erred in the opposite direction, and I felt a little lost. Nevertheless, Twain is a fleshed-out character with a tragic backstory of his own, and so is Lafayette the Carousing Frenchman—despite the fact that the two couldn't be more different on the surface, it's what they DO have in common that is the key to the story.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Stories about local lore, like Gwenda Bond's Blackwood or Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey (reviewed here), or older YA/crossover graphic novels where weird and fantastical things happen to supposedly normal people, like Anya's Ghost (reviewed here) or Level Up (reviewed here). Note for parents: As you would expect, mermaids…ahem…do not wear tops.

Themes & Things: Thematically, this book deals in a very evocative way with the idea of PLACE—of myths that can't be separated from their setting, of the past and present intertwining because of the magic of a specific locale. The story also deals with what love truly means, as opposed to mere lust, or obsession, or sympathy, and the trouble that ensues when the lines between love and…other things…begin to blur.

Review Copy Source: Publisher.

You can find Sailor Twain by Mark Siegel online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

October 12, 2012

CYBILS: F/SF: THE FALSE PRINCE, by Jennifer A. Nielsen

This was a happily read, all-in-one-sitting kind of book. I'm not a sucker for castles and princes and fairytale happily-ever-after sorts of things - we get a lot of those, as girls.

I pay more attention when the main character is a boy. A funny little quirk, that. False Princesses are a dime a dozen, apparently. But, a false prince, in a contest with two other false princes, to win the throne of a country not his own...

Reader Gut Reaction: The book opened with orphans - another great trope - and action. You get drifts of Oliver Twist and Disney's Aladdin right off the bat -- thieving young orphan, scrabbling to make a life, and he's taken out of his old life by a Mysterious Man.

Concerning Character:But...here's where our story diverges from the usual. This thief -- Sage -- doesn't wanna go. At all. He's not interested in Mysterious Men or in New Lives. He's okay with stealing roasts, running through the marketplace, wearing crap clothes, and being lice-ridden. He's kind of happy like that. Sage remains true to himself -- and to be honest, sometimes REALLY ANNOYING -- because he is difficult, prickly, smart-mouthed, and... he knows what he wants. It turns out that the Mysterious Man -- Conner -- is a little more forceful than expected -- he's perpetrating a hoax on an entire nation, after all - for its own good, of course, but patriots are zealous and dangerous. Sage learns not to cross Conner for no reason -- but he never stops crossing him. EVER. Even when it costs him blood. Sage is pretty devil-may-care, but after he's had his ribs broken, and he's bleeding, the reader will start wonder a.) what is UP with this guy, and b.) what on earth is worth all of the trouble he's going through?

The answer might just give you a bit of a shock.

Recommended for Fans Of...: THE ATTOLIA BOOKS, by Megan Whalen Turner. Yes. There. I said it. Sage reminds me all too much of Eugenides, and while Sage has not quite grown on me as much yet, this is only book one of the series. Also, for fans of THE LUMATERE CHRONICLES, by Melina Marchetta, THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER, by Mark Twain; and FIRE AND HEMLOCK, by Diana Wynne Jones

Authorial Asides: So, I wondered to myself, "Who is this Nielsen person, and does she have other books?" Well... yes. To my surprise, I discovered that she had a series from Sourcebooks for middle graders, which looks hilarious. While THE FALSE PRINCE is indeed the first of her YA books to see the light of day, there will be more... Nielsen is part of writing A DIFFERENT SERIES in December. It's part of the INFINITY RING series. From the Scholastic press release: "Infinity Ring will launch simultaneously in September 2012 in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, with Book 1: A Mutiny in Time, written by New York Times bestselling author James Dashner, who also outlined the program’s overall story arc. Dashner will be followed by a team of bestselling and acclaimed authors including Carrie Ryan (Book 2; November 2012), Lisa McMann (Book 3; February 2013), Matt de la Pena (Book 4; June 2013), Matthew Kirby (Book 5; September 2013), and Jennifer Nielsen (Book 6; December 2013). The last book in the Infinity Ring series also will be written by James Dashner (Book 7; March 2014)."

Sounds cool, doesn't it??

You can find THE FALSE PRINCE and other books by Jennifer A. Nielsen at an independent bookstore near you!

October 09, 2012

One More Week to Rock the Cybils!

It's Cybils Season, people! I have sixty-four books on hold at the library, and have already taken to ignoring my entire family in favor of books! Have you checked the list? Ascertained that your faves are on it? What about your second faves? Think hard, the clock is tick, tick, ticking...

Need some suggestions?


POW! That's the sound of the starter's gun. Aaaaaand we're off! It's the first Official (there have been unofficial ones, before this month) Cybils book review, and it's... a ... zombie novel?


But, wait! Wait! Everyone knows this reviewer hates zombie novels, don't they??

Yeah, well...

Reader Gut Reaction: Okay, yeah. It's a zombie novel. I read the title and had a nauseated shudder. Yuck. Zombies. Don't like 'em. I was fully prepared to have to exercise my Fifty Pages rights. I opened it. And then, I had a moment of horror. THE NOVEL IS FROM THE ZOMBIE'S POV. WHAAA???? Zombies are the, like, brainless, brain-munching villains of the piece. THEY DON'T GET TO HAVE A POINT OF VIEW. NO! No, no, no! And I read, cranky and opinionated, muttering, and... Started caring what a zombie... thought.

Concerning Character: Well, at least this much made sense right off... our zombie doesn't have a name. It can't remember it. It's ... R. R., probably with three syllables. Maybe. It was maybe some kind of ... young professional... something. It's in a white shirt, gray slacks, and a red tie. A red tie. R's friend M. laughs at this, in a ...voiceless kind of ... unable to really laugh, what with lacking the airflow and mental grasp for a sense of humor kind of way.

Yeah, they're dead. But... R. ... thinks. Each time he eats a brain, the sparks of light - memories - color - life from that victim remain with him. And he craves them -- he needs them. Without them, he's almost a blank slate. Of course, if you keep killing people, there will be no more memories. This is kind of a problem, so he... um... keeps one? And...

And, then things get weird.

That's it. Full stop. That's all I'm telling. Read the flippin' book.

Yeah, yeah. It's a zombie book. Get over it.

Recommended for Fans Of...: GENERATION DEAD, by Daniel Waters, DEARLY DEPARTED, by Lia Habel, ROT AND RUIN, etc., by Jonathan Maberry, THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH, etc., by Carrie Ryan

Cover Chatter: It's stark - asphalt. Gray on gray on gray and white. An amorphous figure, leaking... red... mist. And a red title. It's evocative, and it's stark and it works. Though the figure is, upon close study, male, it's fuzzy enough that you could have it stand in for anyone. Now, a novel about a zombie chick would have her face plastered on here... apparently, guy novels mean guys don't have to look at themselves. I hope someday we figure out that girls don't always need to stare at a face, either.

Of course, there is the point that a zombie guy's face might be pretty... eh, never mind. Read the book.

Authorial Asides: Apparently this is Isaac Marion's first book. He's thirty or thirty-one, from Seattle, and ... that's it. From the bio: "He is not married, has no children, and did not go to college or win any prizes." However, he must have read a lot, and done a lot of thinking, because some parts of this book read like a philosophy paper (well, one of the ones which takes deep thoughts and writes them in basic-you-can-get-this English, anyway). Well done, Mr. Marion. May you have many more excellent and surprising books to your credit.

FTC: This book was a library copy; my opinions are unsolicited.
You can find WARM BODIES by Isaac Marion at an independent bookstore near you!

October 08, 2012

Writing Tips: Revision!

It feels good to know I can get back to a twice-a-week posting schedule again, rather than the sad little once-a-week I had going there for a while. Now I can catch up on reviews (there's one of Sailor Twain that I've had to keep putting off), regale you with random news items, and--perhaps most importantly--RETURN TO TOON THURSDAY. Tune in NEXT week for a brand-new writing-related cartoon.

For today, though, in honor of the fact that I finished and turned in my latest revision to my editor, I wanted to share a few of my favorite revision resources. Whenever I get in a funk, whenever I'm stumped and not sure how to move forward, I'm sure to find some helpful tips or plain old sympathy if I just check out these sites.

Firstly, there's Darcy Pattison's Fiction Notes. She has a plethora of resources in the form of short how-to tips and inspirational posts. She's got a more blog-like format now than I remember her having in the past, so if you click on Novel Revision, you'll get a collection of all her revision-related posts. However, DON'T MISS 30 Days to a Stronger Novel and Shrunken Manuscript for some invaluable helpful hints.

Holly Lisle also has some really exhaustive revision tips in her article, How to Revise a Novel.

I also like to look at inspirational writing- and art-related books when I'm stuck. Art and Fear is a favorite, and I also like Writing Yoga by blog bud Bruce Black and What It Is by Lynda Barry. Cynthia Leitich Smith has a great list with plenty more inspirational books for children's and YA writers.

I'm hoping to share more writing tips on the blog in the future, and perhaps make it a regular thing...I might as well share the bounty if I'm going to procrastinate by surfing the web, right??

October 05, 2012

...just wanted to share...

...this little piece of beauty, which is the last thing Ray Bradbury wrote.

Go off and be a butterfly, swooping on the wind in October Country...


Oh, my GOODNESS, I got sick of Jane. Post-grad school, I packed away anything with a hint of Eyre in its affairs, and turned my back. As an English major and an English and creative writing MFA'er, I'd had SIX years of that woman and her mad attic-dwelling predecessor, and I was OVER HER. DONE. Finito.

Okay, yeah, some of my favorite books had hints of Eyre, and when, a few years ago, there was a big move to recover classic novels, I almost thought, "Yeah, I could almost read that again.

But, no.

And then, last winter, I found myself reading JENNA STARBORN, by Sharon Shinn, and realized I was, yet again, reading JANE EYRE. It was too late to put down by then. It was equally too late by the time I was nearly through IRONSKIN...

Reader Gut Reaction: Well, it didn't FEEL like another Jane book. This girl was HEARTY - no puling orphan types here. Though scarred and orphaned after The Great War, she shouldered her burden - or burdens, plural, and screwed her courage to the sticking point, and every other English-language cliché you can come up with, and she did what she had to do. She went where people might think her odd and deformed, and asked to have a job -- in order to help one who might be more deformed than she herself. Jane didn't get stupid or vain or confused until three quarters of the way through, when there were simply too many choices with potentially bad outcomes. And the outcomes were REALLY bad... sometimes you have to stay OUT of the woods, to keep away from the fey. And other times, you have to go IN to the woods, to save your soul...

Concerning Character: I mentioned no puling, yes? (How I love that word.) Jane is a survivor. She lost her father. She lost her brother. She lost her beauty -- and she knows she is never going to get back her innocence, either. Jane's sister, Helen, plays at innocence in a way both disingenuous and exhausting. Jane's charge, Dorrie, has never had innocence, in spite of her few years on earth. Despite the machinations around her, Jane remains untouched ... even her breathless adoration for her employer is tempered for a very long time with good sense, and, predictably, rage. The rage both defines and defeats her time after time after time... until she accepts it.

She's wry, self-observant, stubborn, scared, and very, very angry. Her name is Jane Eliot, and what you see is what you get. That's kind of what I like about her.

Recommended for Fans Of...: JENNA STARBORN, by Sharon Shinn, THE PECULIARS, by Maureen Doyle McQuerry, JANE_E, FRIENDLESS ORPHAN by Erin McCole-Cupp; JANE, by April Lindner, JANE AIRHEAD, by Kay Woodward, and WIDE SARGASSO SEA, by Jean Rhys

Themes & Things: Revealing no spoilers, I will say that one of the themes of this book is inner and outer worlds, revelations and secrets. Going masked and veiled, Jane attempts to contain herself before the outer world - keeping herself and her emotions under wraps, as it were. The necessity of this -- when so many other people in society are unwrapped, uncontained, and uncensored -- especially Mr. Rochart's clients -- creates a good foil for some other issues. Despite the evidence of her curse from the scars of the Fey Wars, Mr. Rochart wants Jane unveiled -- eventually, this theme of revelation and openness twines together with Jane's eventual discoveries and decisions about her past in the war, and the truth of Mr. Rochart's art and skill. There are even truths - and secrets - revealed about the fey... which change EVERYTHING. (And, which will mean a sequel.)

Cover Chatter: Let's see, let's see, we've got the requisite Gothic pile of stone, check; dark, stabby looking branches, like the bony eldritch fingers of the fey, check; evocative atmospheric mists, check; one iron mask, check, one... sleeveless dress and pair of strappy heels that simply everyone wears in England at night outdoors in the wet? Er... fail, on that one. That girl needs to cover up, it's cold! In all seriousness, except for the fact that she looks like she's vamping, and our Jane is a bastion of humility, self-consciousness and resentful modesty, the cover does go with the story fairly well.

FTC: This ARC e-galley courtesy of NetGalley and Tor; the unsolicited review opinions are my own.

You can find IRONSKIN by Tina Connolly everywhere, including at an independent bookstore near you!

October 04, 2012

Back to Normal

...or what passes for normal, anyway. YES, that means I have officially SENT OFF MY REVISION and can emerge at least partway from my self-imposed hermitude. Of course, now I have to catch up on all the other stuff I've been neglecting (including some book reviews which I desperately owe you) but at least I can check one huge thing off my to-do list.

(Speaking of to-do lists...have you ever done something that wasn't on the list, then gone back and ADDED it to the list, just so you could have the satisfaction of crossing it off? I totally have.)

Anyway, I'm feeling just a tad bit brain-dead at the moment, so I'm just going to leave you with a few links--not to mention an invitation to my virtual "Adios, Revision!" Celebration Party. (Sadly, it will be virtual even for me, until I get a few more things done...and most likely, there will be more edits to come later, but hopefully nothing big.) Cheers and pie! Hooray! *throws confetti*

Okay, those links:
  • In my Goodreads newsletter  was a link to this extremely cool interview with Chris Ware (author/artist of Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid in the World) on his favorite concept books--and he's made an awesome-looking concept book of his own. As someone who makes artist's books, I'm very excited about it!
  • Our longtime fellow blogger Kimberly @ Lectitans has a brand-new blog on spooky reads for spooky kids (and teens): quaint and curious, about which she says: "Spooky kids can feel a bit marginalized, and we sometimes think authors of darkly beautiful and beautifully dark books are the only ones who “get” us. But sometimes it takes us a long time to figure out who those authors are. I created this blog in hopes of making that process go more smoothly." As someone who has always had a spooky side, I wholeheartedly approve. (Oh, and if you didn't read it earlier during the SBBT, don't miss her interview with Vera Brosgol, creator of the graphic novel Anya's Ghost--great stuff.)

October 02, 2012

Sheesh! Wither September...?!

It's like we were just waiting for September to get out of the way, so we could launch:

**The 30th annual Banned Books Week, September 30 - October 6th (and do check out these amazing Hunger Game themed posters, hat tip to Leila),

** Guys Lit Wire's awesome autumn Books for Ballou drive, in support of Ballous Sr. High School,

** It's CYBILS Season! Nominations, October 1 - 15 (with a few new rules for self-pubbed and publishers - do read before you nominate!),

AND!!! It's also the nomination period for the fifth annual 28 Days Later, which runs from Oct. 2 - Nov. 2 (award winners will be celebrated during Black History Month in February). Nominate, and hold up your favorite books.

Post Kidlitcon, which we've heard was all things marvelous, the blogsphere is gearing up for an active, engaged autumn. Roll on, October; let's keep the party going!

October 01, 2012


When I studied the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez in grad school, I heard the word "magical realism" overwhelmingly. We talked a lot about the concept as defined by his work, and by the work of Latin American writers.

We also talked about how magical realism can be a vastly overused catchall category into which many books are crammed.

Let's be specific. Borrowing from John Sayles' definition, magical realism is a writing approach rooted in the ordinary which blends the fantastic and the real, and the mythic with the specific to create something overall new and extraordinary. I'd say SUMMER OF THE MARIPOSAS comes firmly under that definition.

Reader Gut Reaction: There are few examples of YA writing that include true magical realism. It's misconstrued, generally, and people tend to think that any story which begins in the modern world is magical realism. Well, yes, and ...no. You know what the line is for me? That faith and myth are given equal weight. That anything can happen - and does, with fewer rules. That there's an element of the surreal as well as the supernatural. I believe that fairytales were the magical realism of their day - and this novel reads a little like a modern-day fairytale. There's the journey, the quest. There are goddesses and demons. There is justice and mercy. All the elements of a fable - including the lesson at the end - are lined up clearly for us to see.

I read along and kept thinking, "Wait. WAIT. They cannot DO that. But, as it turns out, they could. And as a reader I just had to... let go and let the adventure take me. I admit to being somewhat of an earth-bound reader sometimes. But eventually, I let the mariposas take me...

Concerning Character: Oy, are there characters. The cinco hermanitas are themselves a force, but the individual narrator is the eldest, Odilia. She's a struggling eldest - barely older than the next in line, Juanita, who challenges her leadership at every turn. And then there's Delia and Velia - a tight twin-team who speak with one - snarky - voice. Even the baby throws her weight around. It's not easy leading this band of rag-tag survivors, because mostly they lead themselves, and don't listen to reason. Or anyone. That makes them both funny and painful to watch - they're just like sisters I know.

Let's not talk about the non-central characters - Papa - oy, he's a piece of work - Abuelita, the crazy cast of folk they meet throughout their quest... these are colorful characters, crowding the stage, all waiting for their turn to speak or act. It's The Odyssey, with Mexican-American, female adventurers set against the background of a whole new land.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Louis Sachar’s HOLES, BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE, by Kate DiCamillo and pretty much anything Francesca Lia Block, as she tends to be the queen of YA magical realism. I also think David Levithan's BOY MEETS BOY counts as magical realism. And then there are all of the books by Latin American authors marketed toward adults, etc. etc. etc. It's there. You can find more, if you love this.

Themes & Things: I don't often so clearly see a thematic drift, but boy, is this book about not getting the cart ahead of the horse (or is that not putting too much sour cream in the tacos? I LOVE the funny little cockeyed aphorisms). The girls are confronted at every turn by their mistakes. Sometimes more verbally and specifically than others, they are reminded of the dangers of impetuosity (not that it makes a difference for a long time) and the problems inherent in just jumping on your first idea and running with it, caution be darned. It bites them in the backside over and over and over and OVER again.

Not surprisingly, this book is also about forgiveness. They must first forgive themselves... and then the circle widens. They must practice mercy - first on themselves, and then... on so many others.

Universal themes? Oh, yes. Explored in numinous and oblique ways? Yes, yes again. Because of the nature of magical realism, and the vast age-spread amongst the sisters, this book would work well for older MG and YA as well, I think.

Cover Chatter: Oh, it's rare indeed that a cover meshes so beautifully with EVERYTHING in the entire story, but this is it. Cinco hermanitos, rising, like their own constellation. Long live the Garza girls.

FTC: This book provided, courtesy of Tu Books, by NetGalley. The review was unsolicited, and no money exchanged hands. Thank you.

You can find SUMMER OF THE MARIPOSAS by Guadalupe Garcia McCall at Tu Books, and at chain and independent bookstores near you!