June 27, 2013

Quick Thursday Book Review: SHADOW ON THE SUN by David Macinnis Gill

As I noted on Monday, this week I'm doing two quicker reviews due to my complete swamptitude. (You like that made-up word? I think I'm going to incorporate it into my everyday vocabulary, since it describes my entire life nowadays.) Anyway, the book I'm reviewing today is a YA sci-fi jam-packed with adventure, action, and AI-related hijinks. Oh, and lots of explosions.

Shadow on the Sun is book 3 of David Macinnis Gill's action sci-fi trilogy set on Mars (Book 1 reviewed here; Book 2 reviewed here)—a future Mars ravaged by corporations, overrun by mercenaries, and ruled by a tyrant who just happens to be the estranged father of the protagonist, Durango. It's a really fun premise, and I'd gravitate towards reading these even if I wasn't a gigantic fan of all three songs referenced by the books' titles. The central overarching conflict in the trilogy is Durango vs. Evil Dad. By this third volume, his father Lyme has a chokehold on what's left of Mars society, and is determined to win his son over to his cause by persuasion or by force. But mostly by force. His father's got an army of loyal stormtroopers to do his bidding, and help him carry out his *mwa-ha-ha* Evil Plan to Conquer All Rebellious Parties. Of course, Durango has plenty of allies himself: Mimi, the loyal AI who lives inside his brain; Vienne, his fellow soldier, who is missing in action but still has his heart (figuratively, not literally); and a motley crew of semi-trustworthy mercenary types who could double-cross him at any time. If he can't stop his father, then who can? This volume wrapped up the trilogy in quite satisfactory fashion, with all the humor and sci-fi action I expected and a few fun twists thrown in.

You can find Shadow on the Sun by David Macinnis Gill online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

June 25, 2013


I don't read a lot of realistic fiction, because reality - meh. Completely overrated. However, fiction well done provides links to reality, and this novel is, indeed, one of those which provides those links.

I'll be straight: it's not for the faint of heart. This is a novel best read by more mature readers - really mature readers - because the level of darkness is well able to drown even the the best night swimmer. This novel takes the present, and follows its underbelly of depravity into the logical future. It is, in some ways, ugly. It is the darkest book I've read all year, and it just kept gobsmacking me, as circumstances got worse, and worse, and worse.


Reader Gut Reaction: Yet, it's also a story that tells the true.

It's a story of hope - the faintest hue of it - because no matter how far you fall, when you don't give up, a survivor can claw her way back - or die trying.

Survivors don't come off well in this novel - they come off as narcissistic, in truth - "me and mine first and foremost" is indeed the way to survive, but it's lacking a certain humanity. Rain goes there, not surprisingly, but her return to a caring humanity happens more than once, and is, at times, slightly less convincing. Sometimes there's an emotional distance to the writing that tells me more about what the character is experiencing than shows me what she's feeling.

This cover blurb reads, "a no-holds barred action thriller." Well.... There is indeed action, but its being nonstop and thrilling seems a bit disingenuous to the unknowing reader, when the novel takes place mainly on a slave ship where young prostitutes are held hostage... not even sure where "action thriller" comes into that, but, I guess those words could double in marketing-speak for "edgy," "gritty" and "realistic." There's a lot of emotional confusion Rain feels for her circumstances throughout that I call Stockholm Syndrome, which others may call something else... romance. Her captor, indeed, is first described as merely mysterious, and "darkly sexy" by the author. It's a little confusing to me that there was additional romance in the novel; I found it unnecessary and kind of squicky, considering the circumstances, but I recognize more Stockholm Syndrome, and providing a hero with which she could ride off into a sunset, for those readers who need a HEA and a rosy sunset. I honestly felt that the novel would have been stronger without. This novel attempts to tackle some huge, huge themes - maybe too many of them to do any of them well. I found myself wondering repeatedly, "But what causes people to be Touched? How come nobody seems to have any answers?" Is this another way to talk about the lack of progress on Alzheimer's research? Is this just about the the spreading stain of human trafficking upon Western society? I really don't know, and the novel provides no clear answers. However, it has its supporters, who cheer on Rain as a indisputable heroine, who think the romance is hot and who read with less complicated, conflicted responses than I do, clearly. If you're a fan of realistic fiction with a repeated betrayals, danger, and horrific losses, all set against the background of deep space, this one is for you.

Concerning Character: Rain White has naturally red hair. She's a bright spot, a rarity, on a gray-and-ash colored, corporation-owned New Earth, where a disease called being Touched is rapidly turning the brains of friends and loved ones to mush, and then the Touched -- disappear. It's against the law to harbor them. There's no medical help - and certainly no time off of work. Rain's mother was taken, when she first showed the signs, and Rain's grief is tinged with rage, because her father did nothing. Only when they came for Jeremy, her brother who was helping to hide the neighbor in the basement, did her father act -- for all the good it did. Rain is now alone in the world, with Walker, her baby brother. Walker, whose hands shake, whose splitting headaches and periods of vagueness and amnesia tell her that the disease is progressing into dangerous stages. He's failing so fast. Soon, there will be nothing left of him. And then he, too, will be gone.

Some say there's hope, out beyond the Rim. The Mec's - mechanized human beings who have learned to better themselves with machine parts - invent, evolve, and survive. Outside of Earth, beyond Mars, Rain believes that there's no better place. She's scrimped and saved, and if she could only get them there, someone would be able to help Walker. Desperation mutes every voice in her head that says, "Go back! Too dangerous!" When approached by a young and handsome man to "bargain" for a place on his ship, Rain jumps at the chance. She vows to sell him her virginity, to be "his girl." There is nothing too dangerous to save her brother. No act too low. No price too high.

But, that was before Rain boarded his ship, the Imreas. Now, every time she thinks she's paid as much as she can - self respect, love, hope - the price climbs higher...

But, now she's met a Mec, and he seems to have all the answers. Rain's a survivor, and she can force herself to handle anything - but, does she have what it takes to save everyone? What price is too high to reach the Rim?

Recommended for Fans Of...: ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, Beth Revis; SOLD, Patricia McCormick; TRAFFICKED, Kim Purcell; THE DEATH CURE, James Dashner; THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX, Mary E. Pearson

Themes & Things: Human trafficking. Prostitution. A seventeen-year-old protagonist? If you object to any of the above, you'll object more to finding out that according to the U.S. Department of Justice, human trafficking has become the second fastest growing criminal industry — just behind drug trafficking — with children accounting for roughly half of all victims. I read an article from January of this year that reports that the 2,515 cases currently under investigation in the U.S. in 2010, more than 1,000 involved children. As I said earlier, McCarthy takes a pernicious, ugly present, and extends it all the way to its horrifyingly realistic conclusion.

Cover Chatter: Though using a female's face, the cover details important features - Rain's hair is properly red, at least, and the sky depicts the darkness of the space she loves, though in a fairly generic way. While I think it does its job adequately, I found nothing of Rain as a character - her core of strength or survival - in the cover, and I kind of hope subsequent printings take a few more chances with the cover.

FTC:I received this book courtesy of the publisher; views are my own.

You can find THE COLOR OF RAIN by Cori McCarthy online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

June 24, 2013

Quick Monday Book Review: QUINTANA OF CHARYN by Melina Marchetta

Because I'm woefully behind on reviews (and EVERYTHING) and frantically scrambling to complete a massive novel rewrite, this week I'm just going to quickly blurb two books I recently checked out from my local library. Both of them provided satisfying endings to SFF trilogies I've quite enjoyed: one by Melina Marchetta, who is one of my absolute favorite Aussie authors, and one by David Macinnis Gill, who's got quite a touch for humorous sci-fi action. Today, I present you with my most recent fantasy fix and a book that I really, really did not want to end:

Quintana of Charyn is the final volume in Melina Marchetta's epic fantasy trilogy The Lumatere Chronicles (Book 1 reviewed here; Book 2 reviewed here), and as a conclusion to the story, it did not disappoint. Froi and Quintana, the star-crossed lovers, are the primary focus, as in Book 2; but of course, the continuation of their story, and their attempts to build a relationship and a family despite the horrors they've seen, is also the story of the shattered kingdom of Charyn trying to rebuild itself. The monarch as metaphor for the nation is not a new idea, but the way Marchetta writes it, it seems like a revelation. Perhaps it's because of her skill in writing fully fleshed-out, believable, individual characters who come to life on the page as people, not simply fantasy tropes. Whether it's Froi and Quintana, the ones around whom the effort to save Charyn revolves; or whether it's Finnikin and Isaboe, the rulers of neighboring Lumatere; or the tortured brothers Arjuro and Gargarin; or troubled Lucien of the Monts, with his Charynite wife Phaedra—it IS an epic, yet each of them is shown as a real person, something Marchetta excels at no matter how different the setting is from our own. Fans of the first two books will be extremely satisfied at this wrap-up, and if I may be allowed just a teeny-tiny spoiler, there IS a relatively happy ending. LOVED this trilogy, and my reaction to finishing was the sudden urge to read all three books over again. Do check out Liz B.'s review of this book on SLJ--it's got spoilers, but it's a much more detailed breakdown and a nicely written writeup all around.

You can find Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

June 21, 2013

British Children's Laureate Talks Sex, Or, Me ♥Heart-ing♥ Malorie Blackman, Part II

So, you know, if you wrote honest sex scenes in YA lit, the whole learn-by-porn-because-this-is-shameful thing would dry right up. Better sex from an earlier age, fewer assaults, an understanding of both pleasure and power and responsibility?

Using fiction? For education?


*sound of minds, blown*

CK's well reasoned thoughts on this are well worth reading.


Reader Gut Reaction: First, let me say only that I've already bought this entire series. Smashwords has it nicely for any ebook platform, and I still hope to see it someday in print. I've been impressed before with the quality of this author's writing - everyone in my Cybils group remembers me fiercely pounding on them to read AND ALL THE STARS, already - and I must admit this is more of a gush than a review.

Is this book - series - perfect? No. From a strictly objective point of view, it's a tiny bit long in spots, and could have been edited to have more action. But from my unobjective place, in the middle of the second book? It's like watching undiscovered episodes of your favorite SFF TV show - Stargate? Firefly? DS9? - and knowing that it will, in detail, hang on with the characters for a good long while. Happiness.

Concerning Character: Cass Devlin: Senior. Average height, average looks. Last day of school, walks home - and never gets there.

Sure, the stuff of nightmares that happens in plenty of stories, but the difference is that Cass walked from Earth through a rift in space to ...Elsewhere. An empty place full of strange, small animals, trees that are unfamiliar, a totally alien moon, and something that sounds like a land-dwelling and massive whale, calling...

The novel is told in the form of a journal, and by virtue of its first person voice, the survival portions are particularly horrifying - and riveting. Cass is sarcastic and dry by turns, and then terrified, and trying hard to hide it. Just the Wheel of Fortune escapades of trying to figure out which unfamiliar foods are good to eat - and the excruciating retelling of the time when she miscalculated - make the reader cringe slightly, and keep turning pages. Eventually, her time alone abruptly bumps into time with people - people from another place, whose language isn't even remotely understandable. And they take her away from the planet, which was once theirs, but abandoned, to their world, to their labs... and things start to get interesting.

The Setari are warriors, who have been fighting an endless battle against an increasingly wily opponent. Monsters - really, the memory of monsters - once came from between worlds into the place where Cass landed. They're still coming, and it seems like maybe, just maybe, Cass can do something about it.

Which means that they might never let her try and find home.

This is a novel of survival - with all that entails - a lot of crying, bleeding, dying, swearing, and living. It will work well for older teens and adults.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Gosh, I can't even find comparison novels. TV shows, more, like the aforementioned STARGATE or LOST IN SPACE. If you loved John Barnes' LOSERS IN SPACE like I did, though, you'll enjoy this. I read a preview review of Amie Kaufman's THESE BROKEN STARS - sounds like it'll be fab, and it's a bit like this. Of course, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, Beth Revis, and GLOW, Amy Kathleen Ryan are also kind of on topic.

Cover Chatter: I like the polish of the photographic ebook cover, but I'm a sucker for a well-drawn book cover that shows that the designer or the artist actually read the book. Cass appears as she did in the book - in her skirt, impractical shoes, with nothing much in her school backpack, since it was the last day of finals, and her school uniform jacket. She looks quizzical, wary, and not too happy, and the non-Australian world of green, non-gum trees and fertile green hills stretches before her, in Where The Hell Am I-ville.

The ebook cover is polished and sharp, but it's pretty much a TV show version of who Cassandra Devlin might be. She's smoothly pretty, doesn't look like she accidentally walked into a random wormhole and nearly died, and seems gently unconcerned about the little spaces she's manipulating. It doesn't exactly reflect the first book, but more the series as a whole. I do like that the bubble... fills as the series progresses. A neat idea, and great detail.

Authorial Asides: You know I'm a big Höst fan - I really did nag my Cybils group about that book. (Forgive me, guys?) I couldn't find out much about her until I serendipitously stumbled upon an interview with her today at Novel Idea. Ta-dah! All you wanted to know about this Swedish-born Australian, her penchant for strong, practical heroines, and her affection for HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE, which automatically makes me happy. (Dame DWJ ftw!) I also found that, happily, readers avoiding iPads or other ereader platforms can find ALL of her books printed in paperback. Joy!

You can find STRAY and its sequels in the Touchstone Trilogy by Andrea K. Höst online, or ordered through an independent bookstore near you!

June 20, 2013

Toon Thursday: What's YOUR Pet Peeve?

Seriously. I'd love to hear your personal writerly pet peeves. I might even use them in a future cartoon. Full credit, of course. This one is dedicated to all those awkward career-related conversations with strangers in social situations...

June 18, 2013


Yes, well, I was all set to review a great book I'm reading, but I had a little moment of SQUEE and thinking about my friend Pancha in grad school who was all things geeky with me, and enjoyed things like replotting THE DARK CRYSTAL and imagining ourselves in a sequel of LABYRINTH and knowing better how to handle an evil hot David Bowie. If I recall correctly, Pancha even had a DARK CRYSTAL t-shirt that she could still wear from grade school, of which I was heartily envious (nothing of mine from grade school fits, and since I dressed like a mini-geriatric, we're all the better for it). So. You can imagine that I dug up her email address today when I saw Galleycat's little notice about THE FREAKIN' DARK CRYSTAL SEQUEL. Oh, hear the squee:

From October 1st, 2013 to December 31st, 2013, The Jim Henson Company and Grosset & Dunlap of the Penguin Young Readers Group will be accepting writing submissions to find the author for a new novel set in the world of Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal. This author search is open to all professional and aspiring professional writers. This new Dark Crystal novel will be a prequel story set at the time of the Gelfling Gathering, between the Second Great Conjunction and the creation of the Wall of Destiny. We will be placing all known lore from this era on DarkCrystal.com, the definitive home of The Dark Crystal. There you will find all the knowledge available for you to shape and build your story—and all we ask is that you share your stories with us.

You know how cynical I am about movies messing things up - but .... but... so many people, like my girl, Pancha, have such BIG love for the series, I can't help but think that this will be the ultimate, ultimate affectionate fan-fic. I couldn't do it justice, I don't think, but I have my fingers crossed she'll take up the gauntlet, and run with it.

June 17, 2013

Happy Book Birthday! SUNBOLT by Intisar Khanani

Reader Gut Reaction: When I got to the end of this one, I found myself feeling like I'd reached it too soon. I wanted MORE. And then I remembered: this latest book by indie author Intisar Khanani is conceived as a serial novella project. At that it succeeds admirably—and at being another absorbing, unique story from the author of Thorn (reviewed here), a book Tanita and I both felt was a self-published gem in an often oversaturated and chaotic domain (i.e., YA fantasy). So, we want to bring some focus to those deserving indie books that we feel ought to have a wider audience, and I'm thrilled that this is another one.

Sunbolt, which is the first book in the Sunbolt Chronicles, takes place in the Eleven Kingdoms, a fantasy setting that is in some respects very traditional high fantasy, but in the details, much more reminiscent of the colorfully varied nations in Tamora Pierce's Tortall books. The kingdom of Karolene, where our main character Hitomi lives, is an island, and in the opening scene we're brought to a thriving bazaar full of fortune-tellers, tea vendors, coconuts for sale, and—unfortunately for Hitomi—soldiers who serve her nemesis, the Arch Mage Blackflame. The action ramps up quickly, the pacing perfect for a story of this length, and soon we find out that Hitomi serves the Shadow League, an underground group devoted to fighting the power-hungry Blackflame. Her activities with the League—in combination with the secrets she herself holds—lead, of course, to trouble, and mayhem, and kidnapping, and betrayal, and scary monsters, both human and not-quite-human.

Concerning Character: Hitomi's immediate appeal for me was that she's a strong heroine, introduced as kind of a misunderstood troublemaker: clever and streetwise, good at heart, but fallen on hard times. But then, living an elusive life on the streets and in dingy shared apartments is better than being discovered for who she really is: the orphan daughter of powerful mages who trained her in secret. She's easy to sympathize with, and her voice is vivid and immediate, so that we're plunged right into her story.

The rest of the cast of characters are also intriguing, and I can't wait to learn more about them in future installments: her shape-shifting friend who turns into a tanuki; the mysterious young leader of the Shadow League; the frightening breath-stealers and fangs and lycans who populate other kingdoms. Together, the different kingdoms' races provide a new and refreshing take on the vampire/werewolf tropes of exceeding popularity nowadays.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Fantasy tales with an original take on the idea of vampires and werewolves, that take place in a world like but not-like our own: Sunshine by Robin McKinley comes to mind (one of my fave books). Also, fans of YA fantasy with strong female protagonists, such as Tamora Pierce's books, or the Graceling trilogy by Kristin Cashore.

Themes & Things: One of the things I love most about fantasy is that a quest to do one thing is really about another thing, and that other thing is usually self-discovery. Hitomi's determination to fight the Arch Mage who killed her parents begins to lead her on a long journey that reveals more about who she really is—and where she comes from—than she ever knew before. Along the way, of course, she is tested sorely, but learns that she is capable of far more than she ever thought possible. The hero's outward journey and inward journey reflect and inform one another, and that's the case in this intriguing first volume, with the hope of both journeys ramping up and getting even more thorny and exciting in future installments.

Cover Chatter: Khanani has some truly excellent book design—Tanita and I both thought the cover of Thorn was well done, and Sunbolt couldn't be more perfect. The complementary color scheme looks great and the patterns and curlicues forming a sun shape are gorgeous. I love how the whole thing seems to GLOW. Plus, I like seeing the occasional cover without teenage humans on it. Kudos to designer Jenny Z.

Review Copy Source: Author e-ARC.

You can find Sunbolt by Intisar Khanani as an ebook on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Kobo.

Some more Linkage:
Add Sunbolt on GoodReads
Connect with Intisar on Facebook
Intisar’s Website
Our review of Thorn

Lastly, check out Intisar's Rafflecopter giveaway of goodies celebrating the book's release!

June 15, 2013

Cover Reveal: Ripley Patton's GHOST HOLD

We don't do a lot of "cover reveals" around here - A.F. and I tend to read, review, and repeat. We've made a few exceptions for book news and the like, for specific reasons - authors whose work we've really enjoyed and feel we can support.

You remember when I reviewed a really solid, indie published book called GHOST HAND, and went on and on about it? Well, the sequel will be out come September. From the blogger PSA:

As many of you know, Ripley Patton's first novel, Ghost Hand, is also the first book in a series known as The PSS Chronicles. While Ghost Hand has been getting rave reviews on Amazon and was recently chosen as the June Book of the Month for a Goodreads Book Club with over 1300 members, Ripley has been hard at work writing the second book, Ghost Hold.

Ghost Hold is in the final stages of publication, which will ultimately be funded through the GHOST HOLD KICKSTARTER PROJECT, just as Ghost Hand was funded last year. The current Ghost Hold Kickstarter project was 41% funded in the first week, and when it reaches the halfway mark of $1250, Ripley is going to release the first chapter of the new book to all backers, with more chapters to come later as funding builds.

So, in order to celebrate, and perhaps entice you to back the project and help make Ghost Hold a reality, Ripley is revealing the cover of Ghost Hold this weekend here and all over the internet.


This compelling cover, featuring main characters from the book, Olivia Black, Marcus Jordan, and Passion Wainwright, was designed by Scarlett Rugers Designs of Australia.

Curious to know what the book is about? Here's the blurb:

Olivia Black is back.

Only this time she's not the one in need of rescue.

Samantha James, rich, popular, and an award-winning composer at age seventeen, is the next target on the CAMFers' list. And in order to convince Samantha to come with them, Olivia and Passion must pose as cousins, blend into the most affluent high school in Indianapolis, and infiltrate a mysterious cult known as The Hold.

Olivia doesn't expect it to be easy, even with the PSS guys backing them up. But what she discovers over the course of the mission will call into question everything she ever believed about herself, her ghost hand, and especially about Marcus, the guy she is undoubtedly falling in love with.

Be sure and visit Ripley's Kickstarter Project and let her know what you think of the cover there, or here in the comments. But don't delay. The project ends July 1st and is the only way to pre-order the book before its September release.

Haven't read the first book, Ghost Hand, yet? Well you're in luck. Ripley's gift to you, June 14, 2013- June 18, 2013, Ghost Hand is FREE for Kindle, so please go grab a copy.

You heard it here first, folks!

June 14, 2013

At last, the penny drops: It's Five & Dime Friday!

Friday, and not a moment too soon. It's a little quiet here at Wonderland Central as A.F. is in the final stages of a revision that's requiring a lot more rewrites than expected, and I'm picking up speed right in the middle of a novel project, where the stakes are getting higher. We're throwing change at you from both pockets today, and then running back to hopefully get some work done.

And, how are YOU? I ask, because I care.

Dig down in your pockets! The Five & Dime Friday Quick Change Edition continues!

The monies haven't been counted yet, but the Octavia E. Butler/Carl Brandon Society fund matching fun has continued - There was a pledge matcher for the first five hundred after John Scalzi's original thousand dollars raised, and then Justine Larbalestier and Scott Westerfeld decided to match the next thousand dollars donated. If you thought you were too late to donate yesterday, even $5 today will go twice as far.

Oh, my goodness!!!!!!! The Ursula Vernon DIGGER OMNIBUS KICKSTARTER!!! DIGGER. This is going to happen. That is all.

Another squee: A Kate Beaton illustrated new YA novel. Oh, 2014, so much to anticipate!

It's just the week for raising money for SFF causes. at the mo, it's the Clarion Write-A-Thon we're talking about. It's just like a walk-a-thon, without the walking. From June 23 - August 3, Clarion writers will WRITE, and instead of making pledges per mile, they're making pledges per word, chapter, or story. Writers get support, encouragement and motivation, and the option of joining a team with a writing mentor! This is a fab gift for a writer you know - maybe make a donation in someone's name? All proceeds go toward the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers' Workshop. Find out more.

From lit-bud Marjorie Ingall: "The Neighborhood School is a public school in New York which last year lost funding for its library. A fundraiser auction of children's book art (http://www.biddingforgood.com/saveourlibrary) is planned to raise part of the $40k to the underfunded, and over-stretched school. ...Research shows that having a school library and librarian is strongly correlated with student achievement, and the less wealthy the school, the stronger that correlation.

Some of the amazing artists who’ve donated original paintings, prints and/or autographed books include Maira Kalman, Sophie Blackall (of the Missed Connections blog and subway posters), Paul O. Zelinsky, Mo Willems, Calef Brown, Betsy Lewin, Jaime Zollars, Javaka Steptoe (whose psychedelic portrait of Jimi Hendrix from Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow will thrill music fans), Betsy Lewin, Beth Krommes, Emily Arnold McCully, David Milgrim, Raina Telgemeier (whose Smile is one of the most popular graphic novels in our library), Dave Roman and many more. We have Caldecott winners and emerging artists, all at great prices."

The auction runs now though June 21, and new items will be added regularly. Tax deductible donations can be made at here.

Via SF Signal: it's Overdone Tropes Week! Thank you, Jim C. Hines, for mentioning love triangles. Can we all be over love triangles??? PLEASE??? More fun authorial peeves there.

The niecelet is discovering "Game of Thrones" this weekend, and comes down every ten minutes to give me a plot update. For some reason, it sounds like a Skyrim game with more dialogue, or is that just me? It looks to be balmy and lovely in my neck of the woods - hope you find equal loveliness in yours. Bon Weekend, friends. ♥

June 13, 2013

PSA for those who support writers of color: THIS. JUST. IN.

Excuse me for preempting your regularly scheduled Thursday Toon or book review, but from now until 11:59 p.m., Pacific Time, SFF author John Scalzi is matching funds for the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship Fund and The Carl Brandon Society.

If you didn't know, Octavia E. Butler was a woman of color, and a fantastic SF writer. To date, I believe that she is the only woman of color who has made a living from her work in the science fiction and fantasy field. I hope I am wrong, and that someone else has finally managed, but who knows. Anyway, at the time of her far too early death, she'd published fourteen novels and many short stories, and claimed a MacArthur, Nebula and Hugo award for her efforts. The scholarship fund created in her honor enables writers of color to attend one of the Clarion writing workshops, where Octavia got her start back in 1970. Everyone knows that conferences and writing courses are not cheap, and to be a Butler scholar is a huge honor - and a leg up.

Carl Brandon was not a real person. He is a fictional fan fiction writer created in the 1950's by two guys writing about science fiction and its future. Today, he represents the lone black guy at the cons that people hope to see joined by other friends. The mission of the Carl Brandon Society is to increase racial and ethnic diversity in the production of and audience for speculative fiction. This society is made up of regular people who band together to raise funds to make inclusiveness more than just something we talk about and fuss about and scream "whitewashing" about. I really admire these people. Both memorial scholarship and society are joining to make it possible for talented newcomers in the field of science fiction and fantasy - writing for Young Adults or Older or Crossover - go get in the door.

It's happening now: ground-level support for SFF writers of color. Please click through to the society's links, comment on your donation at John Scalzi's blog, and he'll match what you give. Thanks!

FOUR DAYS LATER, Edited To Add: So $16,900, people. Not bad, and something of which I'm so proud to have been a part. Yay!

June 11, 2013


"Remember, the only thing guys have that we don't just gets in the way on a bike."

Reader Gut Reaction: This book is not my usual style. Anyone who's met me knows I can trip just walking: so, so, so not a jock. But, I love this book. Flippin' LOVE IT. As for you people who can walk and chew gum at the same time, WHY am I not hearing about this book from you? I know the market is glutted with pink books for girls focusing on ... doing ... romance, but this is a book about doing something that breaks a sweat (technically, doing romance breaks a sweat, but ...eew. Don't distract me), a sport that doesn't come with a nature tie-in, neat boots, or a cute outfit - it's a BMX biking book, and I wanted to cheer at the last page, then go outside and get on a bike. As it took me, like, forever as a kid to figure out that whole balance thing even with a banana seat and backwards pedal braking (and don't look for me on skates anytime soon) we all know this would be disastrous, but the awesome thing is that the book gives you the feeling that falling down is okay - not fatal, and only an interruption in a potentially great ride.

Fast paced, emotionally resonant, and high speed action: this book will play well with guys and girls. The writing is clear and compelling - Josie Peters as a character is clear as day, and her hesitations, hurts, and victories make the text live and breathe.

Seriously, if you have any teen/tween girls around you - put this book into their hands. Read it yourself. It's powerfully motivating and it's about a girl who, through being ignored by her parents in favor of her sports-obsessed brother, ignored by her fellow bikers in favor of girls who will show more skin, or not upstage them, and ignored by professional sponsors in favor of the flashy hot male talent, learns to believe in herself.

Concerning Character: Josie's been a tagalong for a long while now. She tagged along with her older brother, Troy, when he went through his bike phase in junior high. Troy went on to baseball, and Josie stuck with his abandoned bike ramps, practicing on his old skate ramp when he got tired of it. Junior year, Josie scored a boyfriend who was a proficient biker - but who, right before prom, shook her up by just casually dumping her. Josie's kind of stunned - her whole world, that of being Sean's sidekick and having his bike friends be her friends - gone in a flash. And for what? Some girl with a pink bike and blonde hair, who doesn't even know how to ride? Having to start over with the whole friend thing... sucks. Having to find a date to prom at the last minute ...sucks. But, having to step from behind the shadow of being the sidekick to being the girl standing out front on the strength of her own skills... Well. That could suck. Or, it could be the best thing Josie ever did for herself.

In a sport where girls are considered "lucky" to make a trick, expected to wimp out if they fall and get a bruise, or God forbid, bleed, and where no one really cares if they compete - after all, there are the BOYS to have sponsors and competitions and awards - Josie decides that she just wants to get out there, and play. Less-than-subtle sexism, poor sportsmanship, injury, freaked out parents, an intimidated sometimes love interest - none of that, in the end, makes a difference. Through emotional ups and downs, Josie and her friends show how obsession, grit, determination, and a real competitive spirit can take you most of the way, but a network of supportive friends takes you all the way.

Recommended for Fans Of...: STOTANS!, IRON MAN and others by Chris Crutcher; SLAM! by Walter Dean Meyers DEFECT, Will Weaver; JUST ANOTHER HERO, Sharon Draper; tons of other sports novels where characters most of all go head-to-head with themselves.

Themes & Things: The sexism in a "boys" sport is right out there to see. But what's worse is the adults - the sexism in a parent letting a boy get beat up in football or baseball, but let a girl get a bruise? CALL THE AMBULANCE, OH, DEAR LORD, SHE MAY NEVER RECOVER. Because her beauty is damaged. Because her looks... are all she's got. That's the underlying message, even if that's not the message a parent intends to send. She can barely tell her mother she has no prom date, because Josie's mother has gone nuts over prom, and made a big deal out of a dress and all the trappings, as if that's all there is to Josie's life. Josie is treated differently from Troy, her new friends and fellow riders, Lauryn and Alexis called "daredevils," instead of "nice young ladies," as her other boy-obsessed friends are, and when she complains of this difference out loud, Josie's shut down and nearly sent from the table. It takes a lot for her parents to take her seriously as an athlete, and even in the end of the novel, when they're proud of what she's accomplished, the sense is there that they're still happiest with her advocacy work, and volunteering. Meh. You can't have everything. At least, not all at once. I get the feeling Josie goes the distance, and proves herself in the end.

Cover Chatter: It's a BIKE. It's got spokes and sprockets and a lack of pink, headless female torsos, preening male bodies, or anything that definitively puts it in one camp or another in terms of readership. YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This is how you make a book look accessible. Thank you, book design team.

Publisher supplied copy. You can find SHREDDED by Karen Avivi online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

June 10, 2013

Monday Review: PRIMATES by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks

Reader Gut Reaction: We don't really do nonfiction here at FW (not that we don't read it; just that we don't often review it) but I usually make exceptions for graphic novels. And when I was offered the opportunity to review the latest GN by Feynman author Jim Ottaviani—entitled Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas--I was thrilled at the prospect. A., ever since my first exposure as a kid to Cartoon History of the Universe I've really thought the comics format was a fantastic way to talk about science. B., there is NEVER a bad time to laud the accomplishments of women in science. And C., primates are cool.

This book was funny, endearing, and educational, and not only documents these primatologists' major, well-known achievements but also shows us a few entertaining lesser-known facts about spending life in the jungle studying our hairier cousins. I really enjoyed the feeling of having a firsthand glimpse into the nitty-gritty of their professional (and personal) lives, and I learned a lot I hadn't previously known about the formative years of each scientist—how they came to be pioneers in their field.

Concerning Character: The author notes that he took a few creative liberties in telling the three intertwined stories of these admirable and pioneering scientists. If that is true, then what he's done is given the reader a relatable point of entry into the real deal, a way to get at the heart of the story; and the artist (unbelievably, a graphic novel newbie!) provides an all-important visual rendition of the remarkable things each of the women accomplished. And each of the scientists has a very distinct story, even though they share some commonalities (such as professional attachment to the famous Louis Leakey).

Visually, Goodall, Fossey and Galdikas are depicted so that they are easily distinguishable; furthermore, their voices are shown using different type styles, so that even when narration overlaps, we know who is "speaking." Because we get to learn what attracted each one to primatology in the first place, it is easy to become immersed in each scientist's story as they become more and more absorbed—we see what draws them to chimps, gorillas, and orangutans, what they learn, and the surprising things we primates have in common.

Photo: First Second
Recommended for Fans Of...: Nonfiction in graphic novel format, like Ottaviani's previous book, 2011 Cybils finalist Feynman (reviewed here), or Bad Girls by Jane Yolen (reviewed here)—which is also about strong women in history, incidentally.

Themes & Things: What does it mean to be human, and what do we have in common with our primate cousins? Just one of the major takeaways of this book is that our kinship goes beyond surface similarities. Goodall discovers tool use in chimps, for instance, while Fossey makes a connection with gorillas that brings out our common sense of curiosity, and it's moments like this that remind us that we're still a part of the natural world.

Cover Chatter: JUST LOOK AT HOW CUTE THEY ARE! The scientists AND the primates, that is. I absolutely love the parading cast of characters on the front cover of the book, but what really brought a smile to my face was the back cover, with the same characters intrepidly vine-swinging diagonally across the page. As usual, First Second has some first-rate book design.

Review Copy Source: Publisher.

You can find Primates by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks online, or at an independent bookstore near you, starting tomorrow!

June 07, 2013

TURNING PAGES: The Narrowing Path, by David J. Normoyle

I still like to make "random" book selections at the library, from books whose cover I like, or whose title strikes a chord. This book was kind of that book for me, in terms of the title - evocative - and the cover - interesting - and I feel like it's borne fruit in the way those random picks sometimes do.

Reader Gut Reaction: This is a novel of political games. People who enjoy political thrillers, who read George R. R. Martin, or who enjoy chess, Stratego and Risk - these are the people who will get this book immediately. I, as quite possibly the MOST non-strategic person I've ever met (I feel sure I'll never "get" chess, and don't ASK about the Risk games of my adolescence. Painful.) struggled with this one. But, it was the kind of struggling I did when reading stuff for grad school. Not that the writing is at all that dense - it's completely user friendly. It's just that there was Plot. And How. I could not tell what was going to happen next, and it was literally a great big game - and, not being much of a strategy gamer, at first, I didn't fully understand the rules.

Concerning Character: Thirteen-year-old Bowe fully understands the rules of his world, though. Rule 1: he's going to die. Immediately, if not sooner. He's already survived certain death once. His family, the Bellangers, were once great, but as their political power waned, they saw the writing on the wall. They would not be given a place in The Refuge. Their stock had fallen, they'd lost too much money, and so, the entire family, every man, and every woman in the harems, and every child -- made a suicide pact, and ...died. En masse. Except someone forgot an infant in a crib... and, so, Bowe is saved from a house full of corpses, but it is pretty much set in stone that, as the last of his line, he'll never make it. He'll never have friends, only enemies. He'll never be able to make up for the black marks against his name - no political or monetary power, and the sole survivor of what was supposed to be a "good" end to his family name. Nearly everyone says it: though raised at Raine Mansion with the other Greens, he's practically destined to die on the first day of the Path.

The Path, to the ascorim of noble birth, is everything. Trained from childhood to understand political maneuvering, when teens are sent away to prove themselves for the fifty days before the Infernam, most boys are terrified, but determined to be worthy. After all, only escay - the underclass - are fearful and unable to understand the Path - it's because they're poor and stupid, obviously, not that they think it's a dumb, bloodthirsty way to live. The ascormin convince themselves that they are strong, since everyone knows that only the best and the brightest stay on the Path; to step from the Path is death - and many of the lower caste of the noble boys accept this automatically. Every six years, their world swings closer to the sun, in a time called the Infernam, where the surface of the world is unbearably hot - few, if any, survive. Those who are saved must retreat to The Refuge, but there is only so much room in the ocean cooled caves below Arcandis' surface. Only the noble born, the ascorim, are welcome, of course. Those invited to Refuge must prove their worthiness to survive, to be taken into the underground caverns, cooled by the sea, to last out the horrible heat, and then, emerge and take their place in society for the next sexennium.

A culture that comes from living on such a razor's width of resources is brutal and vicious, socially stratified, and constantly competing. Noble-born girls, in many ways, have it the worst: their lives consist of harems, learning to please, and competing for favor of the wealthy lords, knowing that if he takes a new wife, she will be saved - for awhile, at least. Depending upon the year of the Infernam, a girl as young as thirteen must be taken to wife - or die. The boys compete in various ways - by either becoming a favored fighter in the to-the-death ring called The Eye - or to at least earn a "noble" death there, to gain so much in business that the high lords look favorably on them, and invite them in, to scheme and lie and be ruthless enough to survive, and to play a chess-like game called Harmony so well that you give the leader's pause. Somehow, the escay have a different culture - but they are like dirt beneath the ascorim's feet. Bowe has nothing to learn from them, of course.

Six will be chosen. Only six winners, from a hundred boys. In this novel, people die, left right and center. People betray each other to go higher in the ranks on the Path, and get a better chance of being chosen as a Defender. For, yes, there is a chance for ONE of a noble boy's key helpers to join him in the sanctuary of The Refuge - everyone else? Will die. So, to some, it's worth dying for, begging for, betraying for...

Bowe is by turns terrified, unbelievably lucky, unbelievably stupid, and then, heart-breakingly brave. He loses friends he loves - people die for him, and because of him. At times, it's hard to remember he's thirteen years old, with his Spartan-like bravery, but he is one of the youngest and weakest on the Path. And, when you can't kill everyone, or have more money than they have, you'd better have a much, much faster brain. The game is survival, and the winner must gamble with all he has.

Recommended for Fans Of...: THE HUNGER GAMES, Suzanne Collins; MAZE RUNNER series, Graceling, Kristin Cashore; CROWN DUEL/COURT DUEL, Sherwood Smith; the DIVERGENT books by Veronica Roth.

Cover Chatter: Somehow, I just LOOKED at this cover and said, "Yep, SF." There's just something about it! And, actually, this is a really good cover - the artist, Paul Davies, clearly read the book, and knew detail, down to the colors of the clothing of both Bowe and his many, many, many enemies.

Authorial Asides: The author notes, at the end of the novel, that this episode is only the beginning. This is a trilogy, with the following titles THE TREACHEROUS PATH and then, THE COLLAPSING PATH. Plot. Grisly deaths. Plots within plots, and a really bizarre society - you get thrown in on the first page, and have to make your way. Persevere! You might enjoy it.

You can find THE NARROWING PATH by David J. Normoyle online, or order it through an independent bookstore near you!

June 06, 2013

Toon Thursday: Jitters

I guess this cartoon might be a manifestation of my last-minute jitters about my book launch on Saturday...
Please wish me a maximum of luck and a minimum of jeers!!

June 04, 2013


Well... June. Wow. In five months, we'll be knee-deep in CYBILS drama and trying to imagine how many books will be filling our nominee lists. I've been trying to read ahead of that day - as everyone who might be asked to judge does - and I've read a lot of SFF, both debut author, indie published, and mainstream favorites.

As I encounter the loads of new books for this season, I find I'm struggling with some of the main characters. I'm not talking unreliable narrators - a soupçon of red herring sometimes makes a narrative arc - but I'm finding a lot of books in which the main characters are baffling me, emotionally. I don't want to invite spoilers, but...

Reader Gut Reaction: In a word:"why?" That's my gut reaction. There were many baffling actions which didn't match with emotion that maybe should have been in place.

First, I need to say that in this novel, there is SO MUCH to love. It is set in Japan, and has that fabulous "new things per page" thing that keeps the best of adventures going. Settings, traditions, culture, and unexplained Japanese words are scattered on each page. The "unexplained" is something I particularly enjoy; however, some of the words in English didn't have the necessary context padding, and I wondered if people would be curious enough about things like "salarymen" to look it up, or if they would just shrug and let it go.

There are a lot of cultural things the main character in the novel does - she takes classes to learn proper tea ceremony. She copies out pages of kanji, which is Japanese writing, done with a brush and ink. She takes kendo, which is Japanese swordfighting. All of this is sort of included in an offhand way, and I had tiny feelings that the Japanese culture was being used as wallpaper for a novel. As you might expect, readers may have a lot of conflicting feelings about that. I know I do.

The positive is that this novel is partially set in the Shinto (Japanese ancient religion) underworld, has scary, teeth-baring demony things, live ink, and a unique setting. There's a prequel to this book already - SHADOW, and the novel itself is the first in a series. I suspect it will find its audience easily - those who love shows like BLEACH and are fans of Japan and all things manga will love it. The rest might enjoy it, with some reservations.

I always want to see novels succeed, and this series has tons of potential.

Concerning Character: All that being said, there were a few issues.

Katie Greene is an American, has just suffered a personal loss, and has understandable lapses into melancholia. She's at an immersion Japanese school, has been in Japan for eight months, and, we find out nearly immediately that she's not fitting in with the culture - she forgets about the special paper shoes she's required to wear at school, and almost wears them home. There's a lot of painful, confusing, "different-from-home" moments in nearly every breath, some of which I think might have been explored and exploited more. The cover blurb was the whole reason I wanted to review this book - margin doodles glaring at people!?? - so there's a lot of spooky and weird to go on. But, while those many details were good enough to grab my attention, some of the murky character motivation derailed it.

As before, "WHY?" was a big question I had. Mainly it circled around Katie's strangely non-self-reflective attraction for bad-boy and much older schoolmate, Yuu Tomohiro.

The novel clearly sets up the cultural reserve and uniqueness of Japan - students call each other by their last names, except if they are more than friends - which happens a lot more in groups of girls, rather than girls-and-guys. Underclassmen are truly lowly, and don't speak to upperclassmen except if the upperclassmen deign to acknowledge their existence. There's precedent for a clear and realistic division between genders and ages and in a way, classes. Katie is The Awful American, in many ways. She is annoyed by the myriad things she does wrong in Japanese society, is irritated that so much is required of her, and is resentful of her aunt. She wishes she could blend in and fit. And then, when she overhears Yuu in a huge breakup in the halls of the school after hours, despite saying she's not interested, despite observing truly despicable behavior from Yuu, she makes him HER BUSINESS ever after. Yuu, who sees her not-eavesdropping-but-can't-look-away-ing and gets in her face about it, is abruptly and inexplicably like catnip in a school tie. Despite claiming to be afraid of him, and his staring her down in an aggressive and challenging way, and despite his taunting her, the next moment Katie climbs a tree in a short skirt and screams at him. From then on, she's on him like glue.


Katie has myriad, chatty friends at school, friends her aunt is happy to hear about (even though it's obvious Katie fibs), but the reader is left in the dark as much as Katie's aunt. Her friends aren't really fleshed out much, we can only "see" our heroes, Katie and Yuu. I was a bit disappointed at how far into the background the friends receded - they seemed to be a device, a Greek chorus, all to tell her things in unison, and then fade away.

Meanwhile, Yuu. I remember a character just like him in BLEACH. He breathes vibes of a rather amusing bad-boyness, and frequently says, "Stay away from me. I'm not good for you." (Do I hear Edward?) That Katie immediately obsesses over, latches onto, and begins to stalk him (Bella??), the novel seems to imply, is because she sees his goodness, angst and anguish - and because he's "up to something" that she must know about. This is where the Greek chorus of her friends come in, as wide-eyed, they by turns warn her against him, or acquiesce to the idea that it's fated or whatever, and then want to hear all of the details. Don't get me wrong: this is high school, and I can totally see a desperate and ridiculous girl stalking a boy. The trouble is, Katie isn't desperate and ridiculous - at least, not all the time, and yet.... The "why?" of her stalking remains undisclosed. I kept wondering why she cared so much, and, in the end, found the overwhelmingly billowing romance to really overshadow the paranormal and really interesting aspects of the story.

Recommended for Fans Of...: THE INDIGO NOTEBOOK series, Laura Resau; TOADS AND DIAMONDS, Heather Tomlinson; Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle books; and possibly Colleen Houck's THE TIGER'S CURSE, but I've not read this.

Cover Chatter: Both the ARC and the final cover of this novel are very evocative. The watercolor, dripping, reminds us of the live ink - but both the closed eyes on the ARC and languorous head-tilt on the final seem too dreamy and passive instead of determined and somewhat headstrong as Katie has been - she stalks a guy, and follows him into unsafe places, for goodness sakes! To my mind, the book designers missed a trick by not trading on the FULLY SPOOKY aspects of drawings, like, looking at you, and not including some of the architecture of Japan in the background. "Atmospheric," "quiet," and "pretty" are words I'd describe this cover, which is kind of not like the novel. The water color effect works, though - it gives a vagueness and a sort of trailing-off-into-nothingness that goes well. The cherry blossoms on the final cover also look a little less like flowers and a little more like muddied ichor, so my savage nature is soothed.

Authorial Asides: According to brief biographical snippets on the Web, Amanda Sun has lived in Japan - no idea how long or what for, but I believe that really does help the setting just live and breathe in this novel.

AFTER JUNE 25, you can find INK by Amanda Sun online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

Introducing Malorie Blackman, Britian's Children's Book Laureate, and woman of color

I missed seeing this woman in PERSON in Edinburgh by a HAIR two summers ago. I read a lot of Malorie Blackman in the UK, and was glad to see some of her work crossing the pond. She's been a really vocal and tireless children's lit advocate, and that's so very needed everywhere, but especially in the UK, I think, where the weight of the history of capital L "litriture" makes it hard for YA and children's lit to be taken seriously, much less with a positive frame of mind. People tend to think it's all Enid Blyton still, and "How nice that you write those little books, when are you going to write something worthy?" (Although, post JK Rowling, they're kind of re-organizing their idea of "worthy." But not by much.) Lots of cheering going, of course, as the woman herself is a funny, interesting person - and a wholesale Trekkie, which is cool, and, so far, I haven't read of anyone pearl-clutching and gasping over her being laureated laurel-ed er, nominated. Well done, Britain.

June 03, 2013

What'cha Doin' This Saturday?

I know what I'll be doing--I'm excited to report that Saturday, June 8 is my book launch party for Underneath. I'll be reading from the book, answering questions, signing books, and giving away door prizes, and I couldn't be happier that my local library is hosting the event. You should come! (I wish you all could come.)

BUT, if you don't happen to live in the Northern/Central California region, you might in fact be looking for something to do. I have TWO THINGS!! Two compatible things!

First, there's the annual 48-Hour Book Challenge, usually overseen by MotherReader, but this time it's hosted by Ms. Yingling Reads. Why not celebrate the weekend of June 7-9 by dropping everything and reading? Read the latest releases by your favorite authors! Read that pulpy novel your friend lent you six months ago! Read a random book from this summer's UC Berkeley Summer Reading List for incoming college freshmen! And then go forth and blog about it, because you know you want to. (I want to! But my reading time will be severely compromised.)

Additionally and concurrently, on June 8 why not take your reading outside in your backyard or local park? It's Read Beneath a Tree Day, which was established this year by a high school friend of mine in order to remedy our society's severe lack of a Read Beneath a Tree Day.

So! This weekend I charge you to go forth and read, preferably underneath a canopy of foliage of some kind! (Unless you live where I live, which is probably going to be 90-something degrees in the shade on Saturday...)