April 30, 2013

TURNING PAGES: The Planet Thieves, by Dan Krokos

This book is allegedly for MG. Well, my inner fifth grader is all kinds of happy right now, then. And my inner sophomore. And my Alleged Adultness. This is a Cybil potential, all right, straight up. It has heart-pounding adventure, right out of the gate. It has that wish-fulfillment kind of adventure. It has battle, death, and a desperate gamble by two populations for one planet ...

Oh, and a really annoying prank.

Reader Gut Reaction: You totally want to read this.

THIS is the book guaranteed to reach that elusive band of "reluctant readers." As a teacher, I learned that reluctant readers are simply those who haven't yet found what they want to read - once they like what they're reading, they're not reluctant. This book is for them - with illustrations, to further fuel their imaginations.

This book is also for that tribe of voracious readers, who hoover up a book and then moan that there's not a sequel on the bed next to them. So, they write fan fiction for two years, and become better writers, and more eager readers. Rabid Readers, this book is for you.

And, this book is for absolutely EVIL parents or camp counselors to read aloud during rest period, and make everyone WAIT for the next night or afternoon for the following chapters. Mwa-hahahah - *cough* - Ha!

Clearly written characters, with quick pacing, lots of action and technical detail. A little less character development than some might crave, but I found myself enjoying everything. This book is a big shiny E for Everyone.

Concerning Character: 13-year-old Mason Stark isn't really as much of a dork as he comes off at first. It's not actually his fault that what was meant to be The Great Chair Collapse of 2800 - an epic prank which included taking apart his sister's chair on the off-limits-to-cadets bridge of the Starship Egypt - coincides with the morning the world pretty much ends.

Who can predict planet-vanishing in advance? No one, right? So, while Mason looks like a git with all the pranking, and he deserves his stint in the brig, he also deserves to get out. Like most people who pull pranks, Mason is smart. Pranksters make some of the best tacticians, EVER. They figure out how to do a sneaky thing, and they get it done. Mason is awesome, because he's big enough - most of the time - to know when he's beaten, to apologize, like when the Captain's son, Tom, punches him in the face after another of his pranks ten days before. Mason knows when to let someone else take charge -- but he's also charismatic enough - and good enough at hiding his fear - to take charge of others, and to get others to work with him. Which becomes kind of important, when the Egypt, the ship on which he and his fellow cadets are passengers to return to school, is attacked and boarded by the Tremists, terrifying aliens who wear full reflective face masks and who may or may not be vampyres. Or werewolves. Or magicians. No one's ever seen them out of uniform to say for sure what they even look like, but they're the boogeymen to end all boogeymen.

One thing everyone knows for sure is that the Tremists are exterminators, and have taken out far too many of Earth Space Command's forces, including Mason and Lt. Commander Susan Stark's parents, down on the planet's surface years ago, in what history now knows as First Attack. Until Earth, stretched to its limit with a population of eighteen billion had found and began to try and colonize a new planet called Nori-Blue, no one had even ever HEARD of the Tremist. Mason Stark is beginning to wish he hadn't, either... but wishing cuts no dice when you're a Stark. Starks lead. And so, Mason sucks it up and... takes the reader on a memorable adventure that will leave them whining about that sequel.

Recommended for Fans Of...: MOTHERSHIP by Martin Leicht & Isla Neil; INSIGNIA, by S.J. Kincaid; ENDERS GAME, Orson Scott Card; LOSERS IN SPACE, by John Barnes, and AND ALL THE STARS, by Andrea K. Höst and others.

Cover Chatter: Tor explained a lot about the cover, and interviews with book designers are so nice. Read. Enjoy. There are interior illustrations in this book that are also excellent.

After reading the novel, the weird gauntlets Mason is wearing will make SO much more sense. I thought he was ... slightly alien before I read the novel. Now I know he's only... well... just read the book.

Authorial Asides: This isn't Dan Krokos' first book, it's his second. He apparently was a gas station attendant for nine years to put himself through school, and now he's a full-time writer, which is awesome. Here's hoping for more from him, SOON.

On May 21, you can find THE PLANET THIEVES by Dan Krokos online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

April 29, 2013

I Stole This Idea

I got it here.
I was over on Jen Robinson's Book Page and found a great idea for a post: a roundup of Links Shared on Twitter This Week. I'm therefore going to steal it and do my own (although I'm informed that the credit should actually go to Tasha @ Waking Brain Cells - kudos to you both, anyway!). And I did find a few really good ones this week--articles and other interesting finds that I should be posting on here in the first place. :) I didn't tweet a lot this week, so I've gone back a bit further to round up a couple more, but anyway, here's what I was looking at:

Book and Writer-y Stuff:
Other Stuff:

April 26, 2013

TURNING PAGES: Etiquette & Espionage, by Gail Carriger

I frequently complain about the plethora of authors switching tracks from adult books to YA novels, and not bringing their best game.

This is not one of those complaints.

Sophronia took a deep breath. " What, precisely, will I be expected to learn here?"

Lady Linette twirled one curl of blonde hair around the tip of one finger. "Information gathering and object retrieval, of course. But mostly, you should learn how to finish."

"Finish what, exactly?"

"Why, anything or anyone who needs finishing, my dear."

Reader Gut Reaction: This novel is, in a word, a romp. It is a perfect park/beach read: fast-paced, lighthearted, quirky, funny, and bursting with new-things-per-page. These are the elements of a winning piece of fiction. It has steampunk with real and workable mechanicals, sooties, dirigibles, and ...wait, werewolves? VAMPIRES!? Is this actually steampunk? Actually... yes.

Concerning Character: Fourteen-year-old Sophronia Temminick is not much of a lady. She has a rather mechanical mind, and the first thing she always wonders about seeing something is if she can take it apart, and put it back together... and, mostly the answer is, she can't. She also can't courtesy, doesn't watercolor, and arrives with filthy hems to tea. The worst thing is, her mother will tell of her embarrassing child to ANYONE who will listen. Anyone. Even strangers just come to call. Sophronia isn't even Out, but already she's such a shame and a trial to her entire family that, before her older sister makes her bows to society, and it is decided that Sophronia cannot be on hand to cause a problem. On the advice of a particularly LOATHSOME and meddling female neighbor, Mrs. Barnaclegoose, it's off with Sophronia -- to finishing school.

A worse fate cannot be imagined. Soph does NOT want to go to Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality; she's perfectly happy with the finish she has - or, at least the start she's gotten. She's indignant but she's bustled out the door so fast - on the heels of her latest disgrace, which involves India rubber from the dumbwaiter and ripping her skirt entirely off - that she hasn't really got time to protest. Plus, she's a little bit intrigued. A tiny bit. Mademoiselle Geraldine is wearing a wig. And, she seems to Sophronia to be a bit peculiar...

Once on the road in the fancy black coach there are more discoveries - a pair of siblings, one of whom will be greatly useful, the other a dear and trusted friend; a fake and a potential enemy, flyway robbery, the loss of her scanty luggage, and handling a coach for the first time. All this provides a great deal of excitement before Sophronia gets to the school - which turns out to be a gigantic dirigible. When she meets the werewolf porter, the vampire etiquette master, and the fine gang of "sooties" employed to keep the mechanicals and the steam engines fit and running, the real fun begins.

Sophronia's mama only thought her daughter had a genius for trouble. Once she learns the three D's - death, diversion, and deceit - the rudiments of proper lash fluttering, how to use her handkerchief as a distraction, and how to turn a courtesy into a quick forward roll, leaving her hands free to throw a knife - then she'll really know how to make trouble...like a lady: asking questions first, shooting afterward, and flawlessly pouring the tea.

Recommended for Fans Of...: ANY of the Gallagher Girls spy novels, by Ally Carter; ALSO KNOWN AS, by Robin Benway; THE AGENCY novels and sequels by Y.S. Lee; the BAD KITTY novels and sequels by Michelle Jaffe; KIKI STRIKE books and sequels, by Kirsten Miller and THE SQUAD books, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes.

Cover Chatter: There are several things a lady ALWAYS must have with her: her handkerchief. A ribbon. A good pair of scissors. All of them will come in quite, quite handy for garrotting someone, or, merely tying up a hostage, or one's hair. I don't think the scissors have to be quite as large as the pair on the cover, but... well. They do look very useful, don't they?

More than anything else, I like the backdrop against which the cover model stands; aside from the harmonious visual contrast of black and fuchsia, those are airships and cogwheels and gears making up that wallpaper. I like that there are real people doing real experiments with mechanical things, and there are tiny bits of symbolism on uniforms and around the airship that show up in Carriger's later books. It all ties together nicely...

Prequel, Sequel: YA vs. Adult Asides:...speaking of previous Carriger books, some readers have Decided Opinions about this YA branch of the Carriger book tree. I have to say that I found her adult books amusing, but there was a GREAT DEAL crammed into the plots of her adult books, and sometimes the romance seemed to me like Just One Thing More teetering - sometimes less successfully than I wanted - on the top. This novel has zero romance, but a warm friendship/proto-romance, witty dialogue, fast-paced action, and a great deal of fun characters whose dopplegangers (if not their outright selves) pop up twenty-five years hence in SOULLESS, which make it fun for older MG up through teen and adult. It isn't as "Wodehousian" as Carriger's adult novels, but it has plenty of great dialogue, heart and charm; for me, more so than the adult novels do. You can't beat a Carriger book for a beach read, and I look forward to more.

I found my book at the library. You can find ETIQUETTE & ESPIONAGE by GAIL CARRIGER online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

April 25, 2013

Toon Thursday: A Handy Flow Chart

Since I am not the only person in my writing group struggling through a beastly rewrite, I hereby devote this cartoon to the lot of us--and anyone else out there to whom it might pertain.

I suppose it goes without saying that the manuscript you abandon could easily, next time the process repeats itself, be the one that you retrieve later and cuddle back to your chest, convinced you'll never leave it again.

I just now realized this is a cynical chart in that there is no path in which success is achieved. I suppose you could do some psychoanalysis on that...  ;)

April 24, 2013

TURNING PAGES: Moses, Me & Murder: A Barkerville Mystery, by Ann Walsh

In the world of judging a book by its cover, I'll admit, I caved. I was interested in this novel solely because of its cover, and because it was put out by a Canadian press. I find that I enjoy historical fiction from Canada, because it's generally pretty diverse.

You know those Little House books everyone loved when they were kids? I was not a fan. I hate, hate, HATED how Laura and Mary referred to the Native folk in the story. I hated how everyone treated them like wild animals that you could throw food to and back away warily. I hated worse the Little House TV series, with the token brown people - ugh. I know it was somewhat accurately depicting a specific place and time, but it wasn't as accessible as it could have been for me.

Thus, we come back to this cover issue...

Reader Gut Reaction: This is actually fairly straightforward for a "mystery," and is based on an unsolved murder from the summer of 1866. The novel serves as an introduction to the Cariboo Gold Rush. Now, I'm fairly familiar with the one that happened in California (Hello, SF 49ers, so named for the 1849 rush that happened after the 1848 Sutter's Mill discovery - and YES, Mrs. Wallace, I still remember fourth grade social studies. Gold dust miners = 49ers), and though California's was one of the most written about, quite a few places had gold rushes, including British Columbia.

A gold rush was a great place to make money, if you were a.) a store keeper, b.) a launderer, c.) a cook, or d.) a lady of "negotiable affection." If you weren't providing a service to the scores of men who flooded the tent-and-cardboard cities in search of their next claim, you were losing more money than you were making, for the most part. While the gold rush provided the impetus for a mass migration, it was a lot less about gold. It was, sadly, about unscrupulous characters making a ...killing. Which brings us to this murder.

Concerning Character: Theodore Percival MacIntosh - a long name Ted thinks is dumb and hateful - is a regular 12-year-old living in a rather wild-west kind of town. There aren't enough kids to have a school in Barkerville, so Ted takes lessons at home, with his mother's everlasting book list from the Barkerville library. He also takes violin lessons from a former member of the Paris symphony - even in the summer! Life's not all bad, though; Ted has a friend, Moses, a man of color, whose barber shop is just across the road from the stagecoach in town stops. Ted spends many a happy hour watching Moses cut hair, sell his hair tonic, and, between customers, listening to gossip and stories about who's coming and going in Barkerville. When one day the vicious-looking James Barry swaggers in, wearing a gold-nugget pin and making vague threats, Ted knows there's more to the tale than the suddenly terrified Moses will say. And then, the sheriff finds a dead body outside of town...

Recommended for Fans Of...: My Name is America: The Journal of Wong Ming-Chung by Laurence Yep; Blackwater Creek by Deborah Kent; Letters from the Corrugated Castle, by Joan Blos; By the Great Horn Spoon, Sid Fleishman, and an host of other middle-grade Gold Rush novels.

Cover Chatter: As mentioned, I love this cover. An old-timey picture of a person of color, looking tidy, neat, and prosperous is so rare that I can just imagine my fourth-grade self startled and interested, eagerly poring over the book. He even has a proper cane, which Moses has in the book! Detail! It's a beautiful thing. What's also a beautiful thing is that Moses' ethnicity is barely mentioned. He just IS.

The photographic cover is not this novel's first cover; the 1988 original is a bit murkier, showing action and not giving a lot of information -- it's actually quite muddy, as I look at it again. I believe it depicts the "Me" of the title, Ted, and the alleged murderer, James Barry, but that could be someone else... This novel, now in its fourth printing, definitely needed an update, and I appreciate this evocative cover.

Authorial Asides: What I love the most about this book is that it's actually an after-thought. Ann Walsh ran across a tiny piece of history while researching for a whole other novel. The name of Charles Blessing stuck with her, and she followed clues from his story to recreate this fictional account of how he died.

This novel ends... enigmatically, but honestly. I was disquieted by the conclusion, and I suspect young readers will be as well. Good thing there are TWO sequels; THE DOCTOR'S APPRENTICE and BY THE SKIN OF HIS TEETH, both set in the same time period of Gold Rush Barkerville, and both starring young Theodore. A winning social studies triumvirate!

You can find MOSES, ME & MURDER by Ann Walsh, May 25th from Dundurn Press, or at your online independent retailer, or from a Canadian public library.

April 23, 2013

TURNING PAGES: Guys Against the Girls, by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Once we started talking about authors who straddle the line between traditional publishing and ebooks, they seemed to be all over the place! Lauren Baratz-Logsted, author of twenty-three books published through traditional publishers, has now put out nine on her own. The Hat City Middle School series is the first of a new series... and it starts off with a bang. Told in alternating first person chapters - sometimes the guys, sometimes the girls, and then individual voices appear - this book explores stereotype in an atypical way.

Some readers may have trouble feeling that they can get "into" the book, as initially, individual characters don't really stand out. Eventually, Robbie Knightly does - and he becomes the title character of the sequel - but for readers who prefer character driven and stories driven by incidents or themes, it may be hard to find access to the story. I can see this book being read aloud in a classroom setting, and being used in a social science environment to talk about the differences, similarities, strengths and weaknesses of boys and girls.

Reader Gut Reaction: My first reaction was that I couldn't STAND Mrs. C -- C might stand for Crazy, according to the girls. Or, it might stand for Cool, according to the boys. Mrs. C. was the fifth grade math substitute for Hat City Middle School, when Ms. Robinson was gone. Ms. Robinson had left the usual math drills... but Mrs. C didn't want to just do the usual thing. She set the students a math problem of her own. Even though No-H (we have a Sara like that in my writing group) raised her hand with the answer - for long minutes - Mrs. C. ignored her. She called on a boy -- like she'd been doing all morning long. When the boy was right, Mrs. C. said something absolutely unforgivable. She said that boys were much better than girls at math.

A group of older students might have seen this comment as a reason for a real fuss. The girls in math class do argue, but if they were older, they might have demanded facts and statistics, and really pitched a fit. For the most part, Mrs. C.'s statement is met with speechless shock. The outrage comes later -- when Ms. Robinson comes back -- AND SAYS THAT IT MRS. C MIGHT BE RIGHT.

Hurt. Stunned. Furious. Those words describe the girls in Ms. Robinson's class. Smug. Worried. Determined. These words describes the boys, some of who just wish things would get back to normal. It's especially no fun for a set of twins - one a boy, one a girl - to be on opposite sides of an issue. But, what else is there to do? The girls feel like they HAVE to prove their worth. The boys INSIST on not backing down...

There's really nothing for it but to find out the truth for themselves, right? Who's the greatest at Hat City Middle School? The guys and the girls face off - over EVERYTHING. Who eats fastest? Who can make the most money at the car wash? Who's part of the greatest at gender? The answer might surprise readers - or, it might make them nod their heads in recognition.

Recommended for Fans Of...: THE LEMONADE WAR series, by Jacqueline Davies; Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's THE BOYS START THE WAR series; DO THE MATH, by Wendy Licthman, and other middle grade tales.

Cover Chatter: Ebooks don't always have very prepossessing covers, but this one is just right: a school, being split down the middle, spewing math symbols. Both literally and idealistically, that's Hat City Middle School's fifth grade math class, all right.

FTC: The author provided me with a copy of this book; no money exchanged hands, and the opinions shared in this review are mine.

You can find GUYS AGAINST THE GIRLS by Lauren Baratz-Logsted @ Amazon.com.

April 22, 2013

Monday PREview: NOTHING CAN POSSIBLY GO WRONG, by Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks

Reader Gut Reaction: When the cheerleaders and the geeks team up to try to solve a school group funding problem together, WHAT could possibly go wrong? That fabulous title ends up proving itself apt again and again throughout this hilarious and endearing book. I want to HUG this book I enjoyed it so much. Silly high school tropes like meanie cheerleaders and socially awkward geeks end up being turned on their heads when you mix in nice-guy jock Charlie—captain of the basketball team; a cute, smart geek girl; an estranged former best friend; and FIGHTING ROBOTS. Yes, there are battle bots in this book. I could not possibly love it more. I predict it will be a major Cybils contender, like author Faith Erin Hicks' 2012 Cybils winner, Friends With Boys.

Concerning Character: The characters have perfect visual appeal as well as being loveable on their own, each for different reasons. Charlie—kind of the main character—is just an all-around nice guy who doesn't want to get on anyone's bad side. Unfortunately, he's going to be forced to piss SOMEONE off, through no fault of his own. When it turns out the school only has enough money to fund one thing—and that thing is either 1. new cheerleader uniforms, or 2. the cost of a competition for the robotics club—Charlie ends up in the middle. Fortunately for him, he just might have a plan that will satisfy everyone….except the parental units.

All of the characters are funny and distinct. The cheerleaders are not just your stereotypical mean girls, but are sharp in general, and they're willing to do some pretty out-of-character stuff if it means they can get what they want. Nate, Charlie's neighbor and sort-of-friend, is that kind of neurotic, totally singleminded nerd that many of us will recognize. And geek girl Joanna is cute, smart, and, I'm pleased to report, the one who wins the day. It's an entertaining cast that fits the story perfectly, with some funny and surprising bit characters, too.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Of course if you liked Friends With Boys (reviewed here), I highly recommend this one. You'll also want to check it out if you enjoy graphic novel stories about high school life with a good dose of humor…The Plain JANES, for instance, or Americus (reviewed here), or Re-Gifters (reviewed here).

Themes & Things: Cooperation makes strange bedfellows…and sometimes enables unexpected friendships, too. Also, teamwork can accomplish a lot more than enmity, and it's when the geeks and the cheerleaders team up that they really start to get things done. I like it a lot that, while there are some typical high school social strata and clique-related tensions, people are able to push those aside and be genuine, well, people, who can actually work together and communicate and use each person's individual strengths to be a truly formidable force.

Review Copy Source: Publisher.

You can find Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks online, or at an independent bookstore near you, in May 2013!

April 18, 2013

Got a Book? Give a Book! Or Three.

Are you ready to Rock the Drop? Today marks Readergirlz' annual Operation Teen Book Drop, and you can celebrate by stealth-dropping your fave YA books for readers to discover, or by donating books to 826NYC (more details on the Readergirlz site). Don't forget to print out their nifty bookplate!

Another way to rock a teen reader's world: help Guys Lit Wire by participating in their annual Book Fair for Ballou High School in Washington, DC: "Starting in 2011, we have helped Ballou move from a library that had less than one book for each of its 1,185 students to a ratio now of FIVE books per student." But 11 books per student is the recommended minimum, so why not buy a few and help them reach that goal? Check out the GLW post, then go to the Wish List at Powell's Books between now and April 28th to contribute.

Ante up, you guys. Our blog bud Kelly Fineman over at Writing and Ruminating has already pledged to donate 21 books: "One in honor of each of the Sandy Hook kids, who didn't get to go to high school." And, as she points out in her post, Ballou gets ZERO dollars from the public school system to buy books for their library. Zero. Think about it. As someone who attended public school for almost my entire K-12 career (from 4th grade on), I believe strongly in our public schools, and I want to see them succeed, so I'll be contributing again.

April 17, 2013

TURNING PAGES: Scrapbook of My Revolution, by Amy Lynn Spitzley

All hail the cooperative! I know I'm always on my soapbox for the Little Guy, but seriously, many readers never see books that aren't put out by the Big Five publishing houses (it used to be Big Six, before the Random Penguin House thing). Curiosity Quills has an intriguing business model - it's author owned and author produced. The "employees" are other authors, so really and truly, this is a cooperative effort.

This probably has both its positives and its negatives, depending on who you are - I know that in school, I always HATED working with a group, because cooperative learning to me was just another phrase for "letting other people screw you up," but grown-ups are supposed to do better, and be better than that, and this is a business, so I expect they've got guidelines in place to make it better. And, either way you slice it, you can't keep a good author - or a good story down.

Reader Gut Reaction:...you'll find both a good story and a good author in Amy Lynn Spitzley, and SCRAPBOOK. A well-pitched voice, nice pacing, believable characters, and yet another whacked out normalized sci-fi birth mutation in Malians - which comes from the doctor who first called them "the maligned." (Nice, huh?) The situations are believable, the stakes rise well, and the ugly little twists, the character is believably obsessed and flawed, and while some of the nasty twists didn't exactly surprise me, the emotional reverb that affects the rest of the cast of characters rings utterly true. This novel is well-balanced, and I'm thinking yep: another Cybils contender.

Concerning Character: Like Lady Gaga sang way back when, baby, she was born this way. In this case, the births started worldwide only seventeen years ago, as all the planet, humanity suddenly... changed.. Suddenly, there were Malians.
Amber Alexander was born beautiful - blonde hair, golden eyes, golden skin. No: not just deeply tanned, or lightly bronzed. Think shiny. Gold. Yes. Like your Mom's favorite necklace. She's willowy, and with her long hair and great physique, you can bet she's been attracting the guys since puberty. She's a Malian - born of a Regular human couple, but like all Malians, characterized by variously colored skin, and hair, and colored eyes. There are four types of Malians - Sensitives, Camos, Manipulatives, and Athletics. Sensitives have varying mental gifts. Camos can virtually blend in with their surroundings - or disappear. Manipulatives have a relationship with their surroundings, and control things in some way, and Athletics have superhuman athletic ability. The government has instituted a strict policy of Benign Indifference, but laws for the tolerance and protection of the Malian genetic subset are laws, and in spite of them, the rainbow colored Malian children and babies are filling orphanages and shelters, proving it's not working the way the government had hoped. Groups speak out against Malians - and in Amber's neighborhood, it's the Michigan chapter of Regulars Against The Malian Menace (RAMM). They pass out literature that is filled with fear-mongering and hate speech, and suggest using Malians to colonize the Siberia or the moon. This is beyond wildly depressing and scary... but these voices of these edge-of-center nutjobs are becoming par for the course.

Amber has been a partyer. She's over that - people only invited her to see a Malian get trashed. She's been passive, and now she's tired of just ...being. Her teen world is harder than most, because whatever people are feeling, behind their facades and faces, she knows their real feelings - their emotions. Never thoughts - never the "whys" behind it, but emotions come through to her loud and clear. And from feeling the sticky Desire of most boys and some girls directed at her for years, to the Hostility, Anger, Disgust, Hesitation, and Fear that gets thrown at her all day, she's tired. Fear, really, is almost the worst, almost as bad as the constant Desire. Because, she's just herself, just Amber. How can anyone be afraid of her?

It's not the first time fear has interfered in the lives of Malian teens. At a high school a few towns away, kids swapped roles at a high school costume party. Some Malians gave up their colored skin for "skin tint" body paint, and some Regulars used colored body paint. When the riot on campus started, no one could tell who was who - or who started what. One Malian teen, red-skinned Jonny Marino, is expelled - but surely all the blame can't be his, especially when Regular students were rioting, too. Jonny's decision to sue his school and try to reclaim his senior year captures Amber's attention, and her admiration of his guts isn't harmed by his charisma and good looks.

When a stupid new rule at Amber's school prohibiting the use of face or body paint during a Halloween Party stomps on Amber's creative toes, she decides her next role instead of partying or passive is activist. Who cares if she's going to get a week's detention? She isn't going to let people like her principal - who is clearly listening to the RAMM people - stop her. Channeling Jonny's spirit, she dresses as the super sexy Alien Hottie everyone treats her as... and refuses to wash off her paint. But, confronted by her parents, she's left wounded by their Uneasiness and Anger. They have no idea what it's like, to live being suspected of something before you've even done it.

They have no idea what it's like, to have to be so careful to please, all the time. What about the teen years being the best time of your life?

Amber realizes her Malian schoolmates must be feeling the same. Together with her cousin Bree, and a few of their closest friends, they put together LAMM - the Lake Michigan Malian Supporters. Running car washes, recycling days, and passing out information, they make it their goal to portray Malians teens as average, attractive, articulate, and not at all dangerous. The only trouble is, that might not be true...

Recommended for Fans Of...: Mutants Uniting! (Okay, get the X-Men out of your head): Julianna Baggott's PURE; THE EAR, THE EYE, AND THE ARM, by Nancy Farmer; SUMMER PRINCE, by Alaya Dawn Johnson; ELSEWHERE, by Neal Shetterly; FIRE, by Kristin Cashore.

Themes & Things: Here's the thing: if you sit down with my family after a weekend dinner, you'll be part of capital D "discussions." Our family is mixed up - Asian, African American, Caucasian, and blends of said. We talk about religion, politics, and ethnicity, and sometimes those convos get scream-y. The subtext of this novel is subtle, but I could see using this in a classroom, because the discussions are nuanced, and pretty loaded. DO minorities have the responsibility to modify their behavior, so as to assuage the fears of the majority? Believe it or not, THAT topic was up for post-dinner discussion just this last weekend. Especially male minority teens have to ask themselves these types of questions. What should you be prepared to do? How much do you change yourself to fit your environment? How much does fitting in and not worrying people matter? For GLBTQ, ethnic minorities, gender discussions - all of these find a great jumping off point from this novel, and its large body format, scrapbook-type notes, receipts, and doodles make it such an attractive and unique book, too.

Cover Chatter:Book artists will enjoy the rough-edged, ripped and torn pieces put together for the raised paperback cover. I like that the designers concentrated on making an original cover, instead of making it familiar or typical -- no using the Hot Bodied Blonde thing, or taking a page from Bond's Goldfinger -- nope. Just an eye is all you get - a golden eye, glaring out at you? Staring at you? What can you tell from just an eye?

What can you tell just from someone's surface appearance?? That's right. Nothing. Well played, book designers.

You can find SCRAPBOOK OF MY REVOLUTION by Amy Lynn Spitzley at an online bookstore, or in paperback at an independent bookstore near you!

April 15, 2013

Monday Review: UNRAVELING by Elizabeth Norris

Reader Gut Reaction: Janelle Tenner was supposed to be dead. For a few minutes, she WAS. And then…she wasn't. And her life since then is irrevocably different. Before: beach lifeguard, academic powerhouse, popular hot boyfriend, not much to worry about except taking care of her younger brother and staying out of their bipolar mom's way. Then, one day, she's hit by a car while walking on the side of the road. The car comes out of nowhere, and then she died…but she sees school stoner Ben Michaels just before she impossibly wakes up again. Problem is, her story's too unbelievable for words. Even her dad, who works for the FBI, doesn't think there's anything weird about it.

Not at first, anyway. On Dad's side of the story, there's a case of mysterious deaths from radiation poisoning, and the more Janelle snoops into her dad's business, the more she thinks there's a connection. But—of course—they don't have much time to figure any of it out. Because a clock is counting down the days and minutes, and the outcome is surely something terrible. Whose countdown, and to what? And how does it all fit together? I can't say much more without spoilers, but I will say that I'm surprised I hadn't heard anything about this one before. Definitely up my alley, and while there were a few bumps here and there with respect to the writing and why the character made some of the choices she did, I was pleasantly surprised overall.

Concerning Character: Janelle, the protagonist, is mature for her years. And that's no surprise, since her mother's bipolar episodes make her so nonfunctional that Janelle has to be mom to the family. It also raises the stakes quite nicely—after all, her life is currently set in perfect balance, more or less. And when something disrupts that balance, everything else is affected. While she is appealingly wry, mature, and together in many ways, in others she can't help but follow her heart and her instincts, and of course it's all of this in combination that enables her to solve the mystery of her near-death experience and her dad's increasingly strange case.

As for the new man in her life, Ben, he's one of those guys who you never really notice or think about, although he's one of the few in his stoner group who shares a few academic classes with her. He's quiet but surprisingly smart, and of course he's hiding a few secrets of his own. Meet Appealing Mysterious Loner…While there are clear character "types" in this book, Janelle's narrative voice is clear and lively; she's smart enough to bring together in the end what could a bunch of disparate, seemingly unrelated plot threads, and to find her balance again.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Are you a geek for stuff like the X-Files, Heroes, Doctor Who, or basically anything involving a slightly supernatural sci-fi mystery? You might like this one.

Themes & Things: While this one's fairly plot-driven, it does pose some intriguing questions: What's more important, romantic love or love for your family? If you've lost everything you hold dear, what would you sacrifice to get it back? How much danger do you have to be in before you tell someone, and how can you know if they have your best interests at heart?

Review Copy Source: Library copy (3M Cloud Library ebook)

You can find Unraveling by Elizabeth Norris online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

April 12, 2013

Sing a Song of Nickels or Whatev: It's 5 & Dime Friday

It's the end of the week at last, book people, and evenings of reading followed by days of work - removing either dirt, or snow, or dragging your recalcitrant house/partners/homework/pets/offspring into order - await you. It's not D.E.A.R. day for nothin'. What better way to start the weekend than to drop everything and read? But, before you hie off into the great away, here's some stuff to jingle in your pockets:

Robin's talking sense again today at Writer Unboxed. Writers without this resource find themselves less thoughtful - I'm not much for writing books and that sort of thing anymore, but I like the snippets of real life advice and points to ponder found on that site. For instance:

How many times have we all heard that we shouldn’t compare ourselves to other writers? Other careers? And yet, I’ve always wondered how you don’t compare, how can you prevent it when all the numbers and markers and metrics are broadcast everywhere, from deal announcements, to sales numbers, to blog and Twitter followers, bestsellers lists and FB fans. How do you NOT see all that stuff?

And then I realized that Don’t Compare is really shorthand for, Don’t let envy erode your own path to success. That is easier for me to get my arms around. The truth is, if we talk with enough people who are honest about their own situations, it becomes apparent that there isn’t nearly as much to envy as we think there is.

Speaking of writing, the one and only Andrea Pinkney is talking sidekicks at CBC Diversity. The old-school word is "tokenism," when a writer makes sure to throw in "one of each" of whatever minority group, to satisfy some internal (or external) requirement. It doesn't make for good fiction, people. YA and MG writers, beware of it. Andrea offers some good, thoughtful work-arounds.

The AV Club and Leila reported yesterday that a fairly played out "adult" children's book meme is going to film. Okay. Whatever. But, then, I discover that TROLL DOLLS are getting their own movie.

Okay, look, movie-writing people. TRY HARDER. Read more flippin' books. SERIOUSLY. You could even read the Daily Mail. I mean, they have ridiculous stories, but at least this one about the ferrets is true. It has drama. It has action. It has plot potential! It has more going for it than troll dolls. Really.

Good grief, where has the time gone? It's time to ROCK THE DROP again! April 18th (that's next Thursday!), readergirlz will be teaming with Figment, I Heart Daily, Soho Teen, and 826NYC to celebrate YA lit. Since we're biiig fans of readergirlz, Figment and 826 Valencia 'round these parts, we thought we'd offer a heads up!

You'd all heard Gwenda Bond's news, right? We're still so excited, and look forward to both her GIRL ON A WIRE, and watching the balancing act she goes through, working with a new publishing house which has the ability to have an immense reach. Kudos, Bond girl!

Children's ebook sales went up 120% in 2012, but slowed to 41% of the market overall. What does this mean? According to Forbes : don't discount print books. We're all gadget crazy in this country, and there's a new tech gadget to compete for our attention every few minutes. Most kids and teens read on any platform offered - paper, tablet, ebook - so the best business model is to continue to offer books in every way. Because it's not like ebooks are necessarily the most ecological choice, anyway. Who knew!?

Need a random book for your D.E.A.R. drop? Try Seanan McGuire: The October Daye Books. Most EXCELLENT, if I do hoard all the ones from my library myself.

Happy Weekend.

April 11, 2013

Toon Thursday: Celebrity Death Match Returns!

Here's the cartoon I'd been planning to post last time, but just didn't have time to draw. I know, I know; the theme's already a little tired, but I couldn't resist. Apologies to all parties involved, fictional and non. As always, click to view larger.

Also, acknowledgments are due my husband for the line "I'm gonna Hunger Games your ass," which he directed at a mischievous squirrel while we were out hiking one day.

April 10, 2013

Turning Pages: GHOST HAND, by Ripley Patton *(Book One of the PSS Chronicles)

The adventures I have, when I randomly buy, pick up, or otherwise gank books! Once again, I am SUPER EXCITED because I've found another Cybils contender so early in the year. I'm a Luddite at heart, and I have had access to ereaders for years, but I've ... *cough, mumble* ignored them. Until I had to use them for the Cybils. As it ages, self-publishing has gotten better - people are working harder, using their writing groups, and hiring copy editors or using spell-check. E-publishing has emerged as something to be taken seriously, and kudos to the small presses who specialize in helping authors bring their rare gems to light.

Reader Gut Reaction: This book is one of those rare gems. It has adventure. It has humor. It has the most organically developing pre-romance I've seen in a long while. It has a diverse cast of characters. It has heart. It also has Kickstarter backing, which means quite a few more people than me thought that this would be an awesome, kickin' series, and I think they're right.

Concerning Character: First, there's PSS, a character all on its own. It's an acronym standing for "Psyche Sans Soma," a rare birth defect that no one quite understands. Babies born with PSS have bits and pieces missing that are replaced by a mass of ethereal blue energy. During the setting of this novel, that's ...known. Not exactly normal, but it's like going to school with a kid who has a wine-colored birthmark or Heterochromia - people have that, and it's just life.

Olivia Black is a high school senior with PSS, and, with the exception of her awesome bestie, Emma, her life kind of sucks. Not because of the disorder, although it has its annoyances, mainly with people staring-but-pretending-not-to-stare, but because her mother is completely freaked out about it. Ever since her father died of cancer, her relationship with her mother has completely unspooled. Which is fine - Olivia's good with being alone and silent, which she sometimes does even with she's with Emma, because Emma gets her. (And how precious is THAT to the introvert?) Meanwhile, Olivia's psychologist mother interprets her silence and aloofness as all kinds of things. Oh, yeah, she also "interprets" Olivia's black clothing and her enjoyment of climbing around the hills of the cemetery to talk to her Dad. According to her mother, Olivia is "obsessed" with Death, over dramatic, and practicing emotional blackmail. Whether the author meant to make some personal observations about the subjectivity of psychology or foreshadow something about her mother's involvement with the plot, only time will tell - this is Book 1, after all.

The third important character is Marcus, a newly transferred senior at Olivia's school. What you most need to know about him is that he's hot, he's observant, and he keeps his head in a situation. Like, when Olivia's "ghost hand," as she calls it, suddenly flips out and reaches out to the girl in front of her in school... and then, through the girl in front of her at school... and then yanks something out. And, then Marcus practices emotional blackmail. And lying. And attempted kidnapping. Olivia's kind of through with him, despite the fact that she also wants to lick him. He's pushy and he swears he's trying to help her, but clearly? He wants something from her, and she absolutely cannot trust him. Until, a stranger follows her from her best friend, Emma's house, to the cemetery. And then, when she runs home, the house burns down...

This adventure begins with a mild and rapidly ratcheting sense of "Oh no" that keeps the stakes high, and the action quick-paced. I really and truly think I need to figure out a little flag or something to remind myself for later that this is a Cybils contender - first published Nov. 2012 - and I'd love to find more readers for it. AND! Today it's on $.99 sale at Amazon, so hurry if you have an e-reading device - it looks like it's available for multiple platforms.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Superheroes and Dystopia. Clare B. Dunkle's THE SKY INSIDE comes to mind; DULL BOY, by Sarah Cross; Kelley Armstrong's DARKEST POWERS or DARKNESS RISING series trilogies; Neal Shusterman's UNWIND, THE OBERNEWTYN CHRONICLES by Isobelle Carmody.

Themes & Things:

Authorial Asides: Aaaand, yanked from her website: Ripley Patton is an American writer of fiction, and a student and purveyor of myth. She is in love with storytelling in all of its various forms, though with the speculative forms most of all and YA in particular. She has a fascination with such topics and themes as death, sex, gender, female empowerment, magic, science, paganism, and anything that makes her laugh.

Ripley’s short stories have been nominated for awards numerous times and her fantasy story, “Corrigan’s Exchange” won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for best short story 2009.

Ripley also received the Sir Julius Vogel Award 2011 for services to Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror for founding SpecFicNZ, the national association for writers of speculative fiction in and from New Zealand, where she lived for five years. She now lives in Portland, Oregon and writes novels in her head while training to hike the PCT, a 2,650 mile trail that runs from Mexico to Canada.

What they didn't mention: Ripley is a really cool name. And, another book of hers came out in March. Must find.

Cover Chatter: Well, gosh, but I love an informative website. From the author's site:"The cover of Ghost Hand was designed by Kura Carpenter of Kura Carpenter Design. Kura lives in New Zealand, and I hope she will be designing the cover for books 2 and 3 of the series because she is really fun to work with and good at what she does." She is good at what she does. I love the hand. I love the neon-looking letters that make up the title - some filled with ethereal energy, some empty. I love that you can nearly see the zing of electricity, the attraction of one, beguiling eye peeping out of the dark... I also love the tie-in. also There's a piece of artwork in the book which is a lot like the cover - which is the kind of thing I used to love to find in books, something in them that went along with the cover. The designer read the book specs, and designed accordingly. Imagine that.

You can find GHOST HAND by Ripley Patton @ Amazon, so check it out!

Turning Pager: HAMMER OF WITCHES, by Shana Mlawski

ALL RIGHT. I know I say this every time, but I ♥ Tu Books. It's just the kind of publishing company so many people were waiting for - because where else can you tell your crazy YA tales of monsters, the Malleus Maleficarum - the Spanish Inquisition's even less sane younger sibling, Christopher Columbus, golems, and djinns? Where else are you going to find magical realism in the fifteenth century? Nowhere else but Tu, people.

Reader Gut Reaction: My gut reaction this time is only reactions, not so much intelligent discourse. #1 Reaction: this book is smart, plotwise, complex, daring, and leaves me wondering if there's going to be a sequel. It's something I couldn't put down, once I started. It's always so difficult to characterize what's essentially magical realism... I had to wait a few days to review because I feared I didn't have the words to do it justice, to discuss its subtleties and make it sound like something people would want to read - an unexpected, character-driven little piece of historical fiction, with several dashes of magic. Well, I still feel that way, but meh. Here we go:

Concerning Character: Baltasar Infante wears buffoonery like a prickly hair shirt. It keeps the blood loss down, anyway. His parents died for their Judaism in the Inquisition, despite having changed their names and converted to Catholicism, and to save his hide, Baltasar will make fun of anything and anyone to stay out of trouble. Inviting laughter at his own expense is safe - he's dark-skinned and Jewish, and he knows pretty well that in Spain, in The Age of Discovery, which is what historians later called the 15th Century, that different just gets you bullied, enslaved, or dead. Might as well have a sense of humor, no? His uncles jokes and stories are the endless, repetitive and aggravating embroidery on the edges of his day. An indifferent apprentice scribe, Baltasar prefers to escape the house and go to town - and there, trouble finds him again. Even though it makes him bitter and ashamed each time he has to whip out a Jew-joke, Baltasar does it. Unfortunately, sometimes jokes don't save us. When the Malleus Maleficarum come hammering, they raze his whole house to find him. Terrified for his aunt and uncle, in pain and in fear of death, Baltasar is demanded to reveal his name, and the names of his family. His shock - and agony - when he's told he's answered wrongly -- even though he's telling what he knows to be the truth -- is nothing compared to the horror that the vicious priests expect him to reveal the location of a fairytale sorcerer of immense power, Amir al-Katib. But, Amir al-Katib is only a character in one of his uncle's endless tales... isn't he? How can Baltasar be expected to find a fairytale? And really, why are they asking him?

Baltasar soon discovers what his parents and his aunt and uncle knew: that stories form the fabric of reality, and that woven within the fairytale is the truth of the world.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Tales of the fiercely odd and fantastic, including, MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN, by Ransom Riggs; David Almond's SKELLIG; CITY OF BEASTS trilogy, by Isabel Allende; Libba Bray's GEMMA DOYLE trilogy; Jennifer Cervantes, TORTILLA SUN.

Authorial Asides:Mławski is one of those names that you stick into Google and receive so many hits on one name that you pretty much figure any additional names are relatives. It's a Polish name for this New York author who has also, according to her blog, lived in Puerto Rico and Connecticut. This is Shana Mlawski's first book.

Cover Chatter: There's so much going on in this book that a cover could have gone in any number of ways. While this cover is attention-grabbing and quirky - floating burning girl djinn for the win! - it has other good details -- the medieval style candle holder; the top mast of a sailing vessel, as seen through the open window; the wooden shutter, which was typical of Spanish homes at the time; Baltasar's hair and outfit. My friend Nita's Ferdinand and Isabella paper dolls show 15th century Spanish dress as lots of sleeves, shapeless caps, layered skirts for the ladies, and leggings for the men. Some excellent sketches here. Illustrations of Christopher Columbus show him frequently hatted, but when his head is bare, he sports the chopped pageboy bob like everyone else, and so does Baltasar. Poor people didn't often have the thigh boots and sometimes went without the hose, which was tied above the knee. Soo, essentially? It looked like everyone ran around in long, belted shirts. These sorts of minor details aren't book-killers if missed, but good story is in the details, and a lot of care is shown here to make Baltasar and Hammer memorable.

Plus, you know, there's a burning floating djinn girl...

Starting TODAY, you can find HAMMER OF WITCHES by Shana Mlawski online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

April 09, 2013

An Author's Take on Self-Publishing: Interview with Gail Gauthier

It all started two years ago, when the Cybils opened the SFF category to self-published books. Many of them arrived in eboook form. As a first-round judge, I spent a lot of time whining about them, which showed a distinct lack of professionalism, but to justify my whining, it was a lot of work getting through some of the less polished ones. There were major formatting issues, not to mention typos and such. It felt like reading the slush pile. And then, we discovered Susan Ee's ANGELFALL, and realized how editors reading the slushpile must feel - like they've found gold-plated diamonds in mud. We were THAT excited. I remember 2011 as being a nearly IMPOSSIBLE year to narrow down finalists (Hm. Just like this year.) and that we almost all agreed that ANGELFALL was definite Cybils finalist material was exciting. I remember that was the first time I realized that editors and big houses didn't make publishing gold - authors did.

You'd think I would have known that.

Since then, I've been trying to champion self-publishing and professionally produced self-published ebooks, so when I got wind that a blog-buddy was self-publishing SAVING THE PLANET & STUFF as an ebook, I got intrigued. So, in true Wonderland style, we asked a few nosy questions...

  Finding Wonderland: I know that everyone from Forbes to specific writers and/or writing entities (RWA, for instance) has said a lot of positive about ebooks and backlist publishing, but I also recall that it wasn’t all ease and freedom for you. I’d love to hear and talk about how this has worked for you, and how you’re going forward from this point.

Aquafortis (AF): In particular, as someone who has prior experience as an author in the traditional publishing arena, it must have been quite a learning experience.

Gail Gauthier: First off, I just want to say that what I found difficult was the time involved. I often have periods when I’m working part-time, so a great deal of what I did have for work time during the second half of 2012 ended up going into learning what needed to be done to publish an ebook and then actually doing it rather than working on new writing projects. That was frustrating. And I had a publishing partner/computer guy doing the technical aspects of the work, so I wasn’t even doing the really difficult and time consuming part of the job. He converted the text to HTML, which took much longer than we expected, because Saving the Planet & Stuff includes a number of different font types. Every time there was a switch, some coding had to be done. So the whole job seemed to go on and on.

Depending on what you want to do with your publication, there are a variety of different ways you can go with the conversion process and formatting, so ours isn’t necessarily a typical experience.

Tanita: Erg... that sounds grueling. But, I have to say that I’m excited to read now about the many digital imprints designed to get your work into ebook print. However, there are a lot of great places and other not-so-great places, as detailed by Writer Beware and its blog counterpart. Writers, do the work. Research. Don’t just sign any old contract, or you’ll be very sorry.

FW:So, back to your project, Gail. What was the catalyst for self-publishing your ebook?

GG: I had asked for the rights back for Saving the Planet soon after it went out-of-print in 2007, so I’d always thought I would do something with it. The actual catalyst, though, was that I was concerned about a publishing gap in my career. Except for some essays, I hadn’t published anything since 2008 or been able to sell a book since before then. I thought that publishing an ebook would keep me active in the publishing world while I continued to write and submit other work. I planned to make a trailer and work on marketing to show that I was capable of doing those things. It was only after I started reading about self-publishing ebooks that I realized that it was becoming a more common way for traditionally published authors to maintain their own backlists, since publishing companies do less of that now.

I also realized at that point that while all my books were out-of-print in the sense of no longer being available in a paper and ink format, I actually did have books “in print,” because my publisher had published ebook editions of my last three titles. I had been doing nothing to support those books, because I had been thinking in terms of Woe is me, I’m out-of-print. My attitude has totally changed on that point.

April 08, 2013

A Few More Tidbits on a Manic Monday

Manic is the only word to describe my day so far. Overslept; then had to start the day first thing with a work-related phone interview, before I even had coffee (at least I was the one who was asking the questions); then nearly forgot I had scheduled another phone interview after that, so I was finishing up my breakfast and realized, hmm, I really should check if I have that phone interview this afternoon, OH NOES I HAVE TO CALL THE PERSON RIGHT NOW.

On the other hand, I'm getting well practiced at holding the phone to my ear with my shoulder while I frantically type. (I really should get in the habit of using the speaker phone...) Honestly, it beats having to record and then transcribe the interview, which takes ages.

So anyway, I'm already tired (y'all know how I feel about making phone calls), but I do have some links for you that I've been collecting:
  • If you skip past the intermittent plugs for seminars, the Writer's Digest blog has a fun little piece on 3 Ways to Raise the Stakes in Fiction. Their tips aren't just plot-driven, they're also character-focused, which I like. (To me, you can't separate character from plot, anyway...)
  • May 7 and 8 are National Library Legislative Day (NLLD) for librarians, and YALSA is inviting bloggers to participate, too: "During the month of April, we invite bloggers who care about library services to teens to devote a post to NLLD, why teens need libraries, the importance of advocacy for libraries, and why librarians matter in the lives of today’s teens." For more info, and to get your name on the roster, click here.
  • In just a few weeks, L.A.-area folks can attend the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books! It's as star-studded as you expect an LA event to be, but it's also inexpensive and fun. I've never been, but I just might try to go this year...since I'll be in the area that weekend visiting my mom.
  • YA author and friend of this blog Elizabeth Wein gave a talk at the Federation of Children's Book Groups conference, and shared her tips for bringing history to life--the talk is posted on the FCBG website (hat tip to Zoe @ Playing by the Book).
  • It's National Poetry Month, and you can meet the inaugural class of National Student Poets on the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards website--five teenagers who will inspire you in their dedication to serving as ambassadors for poetry in diverse communities around the country. Read more about the award winners here.
Happy Monday! I hope yours is less bonkers than mine.

April 05, 2013

five & dime friday

Hey, guys - it's been a busy, sad, crazy week. Our thoughts and lots of love are with CitySmartGirl, as she's just lost her father. A.F. is trying to concentrate and get her edits in, I'm still recovering from the sinus infection that ate my brain, and so today we've turning out our pockets for all of the small change and lint, in lieu of a real blog post.

Are you following "Girls of Color in YA Dystopia" @ bitch media this week? If not, catch up. Hat tip, CBC Diversity.

I still go almost daily to read new entries in the Race Card Project. It's kind of addicting.

Upcoming next week, A.F. and I talk self-publishing, which is obviously the buzz gaining a lot of ink just now.

The poetry of April rolls on with all the fabbity National Poetry Month activities Jama's keeping up with, even from afar. And, her eye candy picture of e.e. cummings still just makes me shake my head. that guy.

MsLexia's 2013 Women's Novel Competition is ON, chicas. If you've got a half-finished NaNoWriMo in the bottom drawer, now is the time. It's for the unpublished fiction author, you don't have to be a Brit, and it's worth your time. Go!

Free Book Friday has the newest Mary Robinette Kowal book as a giveaway. I just put that on the hold list at my library, and have read her second. If you've not read SHADES OF MILK AND HONEY, don't wait for my review (next week, I swear!) to do so! (These last two snippets courtesy of SF Signal.

We talk a lot in children's lit about reluctant readers, but a lot of the time this is coded language for boys. And what about the hyperactive girls? Other than the manic pixie dream girl, how is she portrayed in YA lit - or is she invisible?

And here's another fascinating topic: feminism in YA fiction - and in romance. Hat tip to Cynsations; this is a thought provoking piece, and the brilliant discussion happens best in the comments.

MICE!! Where have the crafters from Quernus Crafts been all my life? Hat tip, the Mary Sue.

April 04, 2013

Thursday Review: THE UNNATURALISTS by Tiffany Trent

Reader Gut Reaction: I remember reading Tiffany Trent's first Hallowmere book for the Cybils way back when, and I had enjoyed it much more than I'd expected to—I can't say Southern Gothic historical fantasy is my thing, but she crafted a fun and mysterious read that still lingers in my mind. In this latest book, she's playing much more to my personal interests and quirks: imagine an alternate London—a science-worshipping, steampunk alternate London. Then add in a dash of magic here, a sprinkling of supernatural creatures there, and both the most appealing AND the most creepy aspects of Victoriana. Oh yeah, and witches. SECRET witches.

Concerning Character: We start the story from the viewpoint of Vespa Nyx, who works with her father in the Museum of Unnatural History in New London. Yes, that's "unnatural." She helps her father catalog and mount specimens, kind of like a naturalist—only what they're preserving for display are things like Sphinxes, kobolds, and sylphids, which are a bit like tiny fairies. (Pause to envision Brian Froud's slightly twisted Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy Album…) The only bad part about her work is that she has to deal with her father's creepy assistant, Charles. Then she finds out that her father's working on something very secret, something that could endanger them all—or save them. And there's something secret about Vespa herself, too…something even she doesn't know.

Meanwhile, out beyond the confines of the city of New London, a boy named Syrus lives with a band of Tinkers in a disintegrating train yard. The Tinkers embrace the Unnatural as an integral part of the world, unlike the New Londoners, who see the Unnatural creatures as mere curiosities, dumb animals…and the Tinkers themselves as a labor resource to be exploited at will. (Pause to ponder rather depressing sociopolitical/environmental message.) When Syrus' and Vespa's paths cross, events are set in motion, and eventually they realize they need one another's help to save their respective worlds—and the world they share.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Other steampunk-fantasy-ish books set in a reimagined historical time, like the Flora Segunda books by Ysabeau Wilce, Leviathan et al by Scott Westerfeld, Mortal Engines or Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve, even the Monster Blood Tattoo books by DM Cornish.

Themes & Things: This book has a clear environmental message, as I mentioned above. A cautionary one, as Vespa and Syrus' world has already been tainted, is already being inexorably destroyed by the ignorant and greedy behaviors of the comparatively decadent New Londoners—an entire city living in denial and/or complete ignorance of the unsavory details upon which their prosperity has been built, and an elite cabal that wants to keep the masses ignorant and happy so they can go about their dirty business. (Pause to ponder the not-so-eerie similarities.) There's also quite a bit in here about the balance of power…who has it (men; city dwellers; the elite classes) and who doesn't (women; Tinkers; Unnaturals); who wants to keep it at all costs; and the idea that all forms of power are not equal. The two protagonists, of course, start the story in relatively powerless positions, but it turns out they may hold the most and the truest power of all …

Cover Chatter: This cover is just plain nifty. Although the protagonist is supposed to have Tinker blood and the cover model looks more Asian, it's certainly in no way been whitewashed. Plus: fab Victorian outfit, Big Ben's been turned into a factory smokestack, and the title font couldn't be more perfect. Win!

Review Copy Source: Agent (full disclosure: we share the same agent, the redoubtable Literaticat.)

You can find The Unnaturalists by Tiffany Trent online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

April 02, 2013

Cover Reveal! SUNBOLT by Intisar Khanani

I don't often do cover reveals, but I have chatted covers with Intisar Khanani before, and I know how tough getting a good cover can be for a self-published author - thus, we resume our conversation.

Some of you will remember my response when I read Intisar Khanani's Cybil nominated THORN for "A More Diverse Universe" last September. The surprisingly easy-to-get-swept-up-in book was a pleasant surprise. I recently read Khanani's FREE TODAY short story "The Bone Knife," and felt a little sad there was no more to the tale... but. More is COMING. First -- drumroll please -- there's a cover (as always, click to embiggen):

Doesn't that cover WORK? On so many levels, graphic designer (and severe book addict) Jenny Z, aka Supernatural Snark has brought an intriguing cover to life. On a gray background that resembles pounded metal, the fiery Celtic inspired knotwork pops, and are those sort of lotus-flower flames being shadowed/reflected there? What, exactly, is this book about???

Cue the blurb:

The winding streets and narrow alleys of Karolene hide many secrets, and Hitomi is one of them. Orphaned at a young age, Hitomi has learned to hide her magical aptitude and who her parents really were. Most of all, she conceals her role in the Shadow League, an underground movement working to bring down the powerful and corrupt Archmage Wilhelm Blackflame.

When the League gets word that Blackflame intends to detain—and execute—a leading political family, Hitomi volunteers to help the family escape. But there are more secrets at play than Hitomi’s, and much worse fates than execution. When Hitomi finds herself captured along with her charges, it will take everything she has to escape with her life.

Intisar Khanani grew up a nomad and world traveler. Born in Wisconsin, she has lived in five different states as well as in Jeddah on the coast of the Red Sea. She first remembers seeing snow on a wintry street in Zurich, Switzerland, and vaguely recollects having breakfast with the orangutans at the Singapore Zoo when she was five. She currently resides in Cincinnati, Ohio, with her husband and two young daughters. Until recently, Intisar wrote grants and developed projects to address community health with the Cincinnati Health Department, which was as close as she could get to saving the world. Now she focuses her time on her two passions: raising her family and writing fantasy.

Intisar is hard at work on two new projects. The first is a companion trilogy to her debut novel THORN, following the heroine introduced in her free short story "The Bone Knife." The second project, The Sunbolt Chronicles, is a novella series following the efforts of a young mage as she strives to bring down her nemesis, a corrupt and dangerous Archmage who means to bring the Eleven Kingdoms under his control.

If you're interested - and you should be! - there are a Rafflecopter giveaway ...three ebook ARC's of Sunbolt available, to be provided to winners by mid-May.

There's more SUNBOLT on:

Intisar’s Website,
& on Facebook.

Turning Pages: A CORNER OF WHITE by Jaclyn Moriarty

Okay, so, here's the thing.

This isn't the sort of book that you can review. You can only... respond.

Reader Gut Reaction: First of all, if this is your first Jaclyn Moriarty book, I might suggest you start with a different one. NOT because there's anything wrong with this one. But, because you'll get a feel for the author through her 2000 FEELING SORRY FOR CELIA or THE YEAR OF SECRET ASSIGNMENTS (2003), and a different feel for THE BETRAYAL (or, MURDER, if you read the U.S. version) OF BINDY MCKENZIE (2006). You'll get a feel for the Ashbury-Brookfield students she writes about. Then, you'll be able to carry on in this book when you discover a new set of communities.

One of these communities is brand new - and a bit confusing. But, not much.

This book was touted as "genre-bending." It must be a handy phrase the Australian book agents decided upon to Help Out Dim Americans. This book isn't so much genre-bending as literary. Readers are going to have to work a bit to understand what's going on. It's not actually hard, it just requires attention paid. The author is being allowed to write an unusual novel, which, in the American markets, is the kiss of death, unusual is -- it's nothing you can compare to another book! *gasp, clutches pearls*

Well, if that means it's genre-bending, then gee, may we all bend genres someday.

This isn't to say that the novel is perfect - I feel like the main character is just a tiny bit too ephemeral and quirky for me to love her as I should. The things that shaped her life should have left more of their stamp on her, and she's a little too hard to see sometimes emotionally. I also find I want to know more about Elliot and his love'em-and-leave'em ways. However, this is Book 1 of a SERIES, and I can wait. Not happily, but I can.

Concerning Character: Madeleine Tully lives in Cambridge, England, the World, where she, and two other students are homeschooled by a set of eclectic people which includes her mother, who is quite sure that watching quiz shows is the real way to win again -- she's already won once, a sewing machine, on which she makes the living that keeps food on the table and she and Madeleine under a (slightly molding, attic) roof. Once, together with Madeleine's father, they were fabulously wealthy and well-traveled -- once. Now, Madeleine knows the answers to a lot of trivia -- and a disturbing amount about the life of Isaac Newton, and his theory on color. Once, Madeleine wouldn't have cared about such things. But, here they are in Cambridge, part of a tiny community which sometimes Madeleine thinks of as temporary - her infatuation with Jack, her tentative friendship with Bella - all temporary. She's just a placeholder. This isn't her real life. But, like an elephant in the room lurks the question: is that "real" life for real? What's the actual history of Madeleine and her mother -- and her father? Are all of Madeleine's stories true? Or is she living a fantasy that requires a belief in quiz show answers, a belief in an eventual win, a belief in laughing things off, wearing bright Oxfam (Goodwill) outfits, and moving on from uncomfortable truths?

When Madeleine finds a note stuck in a parking meter - a corner of white, saying "Help! I'm being held against my will!" - she has to laugh. In a way, she's being held against her will, in her whole life...

Elliot Baranski makes his home in Bonfire, the Farms, in the Kingdom of Cello, and he is eager -- desperate -- to get on the road again. His uncle was found dead, and his father, as well as his biology teacher disappeared -- in the same day. The Colours had obviously attacked his uncle - probably a high level Purple - but as to the disappearances? No one knows. Elliot is well-loved, a popular, brilliant, gifted son of Bonfire, and his friends and community hate to see him leave for the danger of the Magical North. His plan this time is to find a seeking spell, and rescue his father from the Purple's lair, but in the meantime, he's dodging Red attacks, seasonal fluctuations - four seasons can come and go within a week - and has found what he thought was a myth - the Butterfly Child, who is supposed to bring good luck, good fortune, and an end to drought. Of course, his life being what it is, none of that is happening.

The last time Elliot left town, he back bruised and gaunt and unable to settle. He's breaking hearts all over -- but he can't stop. Because, like an elephant in the room is the question of his father's relationship with the biology teacher, his past history as sort of a fast and faithless character, and Elliot's own mother's belief that maybe he left of his own will, and hasn't been held captive by a Purple... that maybe it's time to let him go, like everyone else.

When Elliot finds a joking note stuck in a sculpture made of a broken television set - a corner of white - he realizes someone else if feeling trapped, and that someone else is contacting him from The World. It's illegal to not report a crack in the worlds, punishable by death, even, but the fact that somewhere else exists gives Elliot both frustration, and faith -- both a little corner of what he needs...

Recommended for Fans Of...: Um, remember that bit about not finding comparable books? Yeah. Maybe it's for fans of other Jaclyn Moriarty books? This book is capital O-Original.

Themes & Things: I don't always indulge my English major passion and talk about thematic shadings in a novel, and I think readers will easily enough see the overlap between Elliot and Madeleine's situations without having it explained. Since the title of the series is The Colours of Madeleine, we can expect Newton's theory on color to get a bit more play.

I find that I like it when an author takes a particular interest that they have, and share it with their readers. I pretty much had zero knowledge about color theory, other than that it ... um, existed? Being reminded that someone patiently held up glass and prisms in the light, and tried to figure out how what we see worked out to be the way we see it - and started in the 1600's - is kind of huge. Newton wasn't entirely correct in his assumptions, and neither are Elliot and Madeleine, but they're putting a lot of theories to the test. Eventually, some of their beliefs will be borne out - and their worlds will change, like Newton's did.

Cover Chatter: Here's a rare win - the American vs. the Australian/UK cover. I have to say that I love the American cover, even though there's a girl on it. With color block becoming a Thing in fashion circles (outside of which my own clothing choices ...triangulate?) it's very now, but more than that, the sheer whimsy of the upside down umbrella, the super-saturated white note in her hand, and the Technicolor leaves in the strangely random wind let the reader know that there is Something Going On in this novel. The AU/UK version of the novel has a very tame rainbow on it, which tells me almost nothing about the novel except that ... well, no. It tells me nothing, since there are no unicorns nor animals in pairs. With such a strange, magical, offbeat, quirky novel, a rainbow just doesn't do enough of the work to tell us about it.

FTC: This book received courtesy of the publisher, no money exchanged hands. Readers, YA BOOK CENTRAL is having a book giveaway. Go. See.. After April 1, you can find A CORNER OF WHITE by Jaclyn Moriarty at an independent bookstore near you!