September 30, 2013

Almost-October Zombie Roundup

Hey, everyone else seems to be putting up Halloween decorations and selling fun-size candy and whatnot, even if it's only September still--so I feel perfectly justified in posting my zombie fiction roundup a little early.

This is actually my first attempt at a new way of blogging about books--not the roundup part, but the fact that I'm going to write about a book I'm currently reading, as well as a few others I recently finished. Ultimately, I envision a recurring "now reading" sort of thing. Maybe. I'm not sure yet. We'll see if I have fun this time. (I definitely had fun finding the clip art.)

So, I'm currently reading Fire and Ash by Jonathan Maberry, which is the fourth and final installment of his Rot & Ruin series. You may remember Book One, Rot & Ruin, was a past Cybils winner for YA Sci-Fi. I was, in fact, a Round 2 judge that year and highly approved of the choice of winner--not because I am so incredibly fond of zombie fiction (actually, I'm not, particularly), but because Maberry wrote a book that was so post-apocalyptic and action-packed and suspenseful and FUN that I couldn't stop reading. The baddies were horrifying, the zombies scary yet pitiable, and the heroes larger-than-life (with their own trading cards! a nice touch)--and, of course, our protagonists were relatable teen characters growing up in a harsh, barely-recognizable world. The primary narrator, Benny Imura, is half Asian, a multicultural touch I appreciated. And girls get to kick some serious zombie ass.

I seem to be nearing the climactic final action of Book Four, and over the course of the series, the baddies have only gotten worse (somehow), the zombies scarier, and even the so-called good guys have a few dark marks on the soul, as it were. Our main characters--Benny, Nix, Lilah, and so on--have meanwhile also grown: grown up, and grown harder, thanks to the screwed-up world they've inherited. I don't want to go into great detail in case of spoilers, but at the same time things are going from bad to worse, there is also greater cause for hope in this fourth volume.

I am the sort of cynical person who fears that, given such a zombified future, we would all be toast. Not because of any failures in our Zombie Apocalypse Preparations, but because humanity, in many irrevocable ways, truly cannot get our heads out of our asses. We suck. Not necessarily individually, but on average. And so I like that Maberry's series has a cautionary aspect, pointing out in no uncertain terms that we are often our own worst enemies, and if we don't get our heads back out into the sunshine, future generations could inherit a big fat mess.

If you are a big fan of zombie fiction, let me also recommend some other titles I enjoyed: recently I finished the last two books in Carrie Ryan's trilogy that began with The Forest of Hands and Teeth: the second book was The Dead-Tossed Waves and the third was The Dark and Hollow Places. Although I wasn't fond of the love triangle in the first book, the action was great and the world Ryan drew was all too believable and frightening. I think I enjoyed Books 2 and 3 more than the first one. A bonus zombie read: I really liked Cherie Priest's Boneshaker--steampunk AND zombies! Whee!

You can find Fire and Ash by Jonathan Maberry, The Dead-Tossed Waves and The Dark and Hollow Places by Carrie Ryan, and Boneshaker (and its sequels, which I haven't read yet) by Cherie Priest online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

September 27, 2013

TURNING PAGES: My Basmati Bat Mitzvah, by Paula J. Freedman

Not gonna lie, when I was a kid, I wanted to be Jewish. At nine years old, my best friend was a twenty-three year old neighborhood yenta-in-training, and I dogged her steps. Raised a vegetarian, I nevertheless craved - and my friend provided - matzo ball soup, and I became a lifelong fan.

And then, there were the books I read and reread - the All of a Kind Family books, by Sydney Taylor, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, by Betty Smith - my identity crisis led me, apparently, to desire umpteen siblings and a life of post-war poverty in early 20th century New York. At the time, it made perfect sense.

And, now I've read a book which makes me wish again that I were Jewish, if only so I could have a Rabbi Aron....

Concerning Character: Tara Feinstein has a lot going on. It's nearly time for her Bat Mitzvah, which she may, or may not go through with. After all, Bat Mitzvahs are for Jewish girls - and the self-righteous snob, Sheila Rosenberg has already said once that Tara's not really a Jew... because her South Asian mother isn't really a Jew, despite the fact that she, hello, converted. Tara's best girlfriend, Rebecca, seems largely unconcerned with the whole thing - sure of her place in the world, even certain that someday, she's marry a Jew. Marriage!? They're in the seventh grade? Tara is less sure of everything than everyone, it seems, and especially less than sure about the whole Bat Mitzvah thing because she's -- shhh! -- not even really all that sure she believes in God. Tara's best boy friend, Ben O., is decidedly Catholic, and preparing for his confirmation figures that probably, if you don't believe in God, you're going to hell... except, the Jews don't really have hell.

And, then, there's the other stuff that's going on. Seventh grade, so far, is ...different. Over the summer, some people got ...figures. Ben O. is acting... really weird, as in, fake seventh-inning-stretch-arm-around-her weird. He's making Tara nervous. And so is another boy in her class, and suddenly, this girl Jenna's involved, and why does everybody think that Ryan likes her??? Tara's flipping out over the whole boy/girl thing. What is wrong with everybody? And how is it that Rebecca could suddenly have lost her mind and become besties with Sheila Awful Rosenberg? Now, Tara is a third wheel in her best girl friend friendship... and out of luck entirely with her best boy friend. Is it any wonder she's getting into fights?

And, on top of everything? Tara still has to work on her Torah portion, and her speech, and the clock is ticking. Don't even ask what else could go wrong.

By turns both wise old soul and catastrophically clueless newbie, Tara's wry take on her very Jewish grandmother - with her preference for the "classy, brown people" of the Sephardim -- her controlling, worrywart mother - forever bickering with Meena Auntie, her pothead cousin, Vijay, her quirky peacemaker father, and her wise and frustratingly answer-a-question-with-a-question Rabbi Aron - together create an utterly charming, comforting, satisfying tapestry of a book which concludes with the best Bat Mitzvah speech, ever. I laughed out loud - frequently - and read passages aloud to the people around me, and we all agree: we want a Rabbi Aron, and a desi mispacha - a mixed up South Asian Jewish family, too.

And the award for Character Most Adored Goes To...: Rabbi Aron. Younger readers may not necessarily agree, but every adult and teacher who reads this book and passes it along will. Why? Because Rabbi Aron takes seriously his charge of preparing his Hebrew school students for their Bat and Bar Mitzvahs. At a crucial point he says to Tara, "Find comfort in your doubts. Only the weak are absolutely sure of everything." This is both disturbing and comforting, confusing and freeing, and I loved the process of Tara working through her beliefs - her hopes - and owning them. While some adults may wonder why the family is portrayed as non-observant, yet send their daughter to Hebrew School... may I answer that with "because?!" People do that sort of thing all the time, to give their child options, and it helps the reader be able to see Tara grapple with things on her own, without the soft certainties of "Mom and Dad and the Torah says so." I wanted to crawl into the book and move in. Seriously, what do I need to do to get my own Rabbi Aron? A girl needs to know.

WARNING: This book embraces philosophy and dialectics, has a super-groovy Rabbi, and makes me long intensely for mango powder, samosas, a bowl of matzo ball soup, and my own Bat Mitzvah. The jacket flap mentions the charm of "Bend It Like Beckham" - not even. Try an updated Are You There, God, It's Me, Margaret, that's what I'm talking about. The Hindi-Hebrew-Yiddish-English glossary (with a soupcon of Punjabi) isn't necessary, but it is hilarious. Polyglot seventh graders, coming soon to a world near you. The fact that the author felt it necessary to include "Billie Jean," by Michael Jackson in the glossary bodes well. The scourge of the eighties is almost over. Do not read while operating heavy machinery. In stereo where available. Gotta love those reminiscent lotuses and Stars of David on the cover. Never mind that the model looks far too good-natured and sure of herself to ever get in a hair-pulling, shoving, screeching, word-sputtering fight, at least some of her ancestry shows in her face. Available from Amulet Books October 1, 2013.

I received my review copy courtesy the pubilsher, Amulet, via NetGalley. After October 1, 2013, you can find your copy of MY BASMATI BAT MITZVAH by Paula J. Freedman online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

September 24, 2013

Indie Spotlight: Light & Shadow, by Moira Katson

This book, released in April of this year, so eligible for The Cybils this year - was a good snag - and reminded me, happily, of some of my faves. Not in a derivative, "readalike" fashion - but in ways that struck chords. This novel is about politics, power, and ...pawns. I thought LIGHT & SHADOW would find a home with fans of Maria B. Snyder's POISON STUDY trilogy, the THRONE OF GLASS series by Sarah J. Maas, THE FALSE PRINCE series by Jennifer Nielsen, THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS series by Rae Carson, to a lesser degree Robin La Fevers' HIS FAIR ASSASSIN series, Kristin Cashore's SEVEN KINGDOMS trilogy, as well as Leigh Bardugo's SHADOW AND BONE series, and to a greater degree, the inimitable and classic ATTOLIA series, by Megan Whalen Turner. Do you love the deep-game political stories told by CJ Cherryh? This is the YA version. For serious.

That's some fairly exalted company for an indie published by Amazon - but it fits. Tightly written, with ambivalently sympathetic characters, some worrying intrigue, disturbing betrayals, unnerving alliances, and genuinely unexpected twists -- this has all the earmarks of those great political kingdom books. Paired with a memorable personal journey of the main character from a simple - yet prophetic - past, and a future so full of potential for -- anything -- that the reader is on the edge of their seat, just wanting to know What Happens Next, this series deserves its place in the pantheon of YA fantasy political thrillers. I am excited to know that the trilogy is finished and available in paperback via Amazon, by way of CreateSpace, or as an ebook via Smashwords, B&N and the usual suspects.

According to her website, the author, Moira Katson, cannot provide anyone with a herd of war elephants, and tenders her apologies.

So, on with the buzz:

Concerning Character: Catwin knows what she is - nothing - and who she is - a nobody. The orphaned daughter of a poor prostitute, she blends in to the Winter Palace that is her home - nearly merging with the dusty bricks and the packed rushes underfoot. She sneaks around, shadowing the palace inhabitants, simply because... she can. After all, there's no better way to gain a few extra bites of food or a little treasure to hold, than to sneak about and get it. Sneaking also helps Catwin to stay out of trouble, and find out what's going on. But, when her sneaking brings her to the attention of the Duke of Voltur's Shadow, Temar... she's not even begun to guess what trouble is.

The Duke of Voltur, once a common soldier, was exalted into the nobility of the Kingdom of Heddred for his actions in wartime. He has, for many years, had his eye on greater things - much greater things. It's not enough to have the ducal seal of approval. No - he wants more. With a sickly young King, whom everyone expected to die, he was the power behind the throne - but his position is now in danger of being eclipsed by the other more powerful and born-to-nobility Dukes and Lords - and suddenly, the King himself is getting well.

The Lady of Voltur, the Duke's sister, married advantageously, and had been in the perfect position to assist the Duke, only she, like a useless woman, acted the whore at court - putting herself forward, becoming a laughingstock, and the Duke lost control of her. During her resultant pregnancy, the Duke had his sister exiled to the Winter Palace, fearing her child did not belong to her noble husband. Fortunately, Miriel is her noble father's very image... and now, the Duke has plans for his fourteen-year-old niece, oh, does he has plans. Miriel will be faultless. Miriel will be poised. Miriel will be perfect - for if she is not, the Duke will throw her away, and find another way to rise.

And he will rise. No other man is so determined. Just ask Miriel's mother, exiled in a freezing, empty castle: he's thrown away people who disappointed him before. And the stakes are higher this time...

Catwin knows what Temar does for the Duke - a Shadow is a pair of unseen eyes, ears and hands. Temar takes care of the "details," and protects the Duke with his life. But, nobody ever asked Catwin if that's what she wanted to do with hers. Now the Duke of Voltur has decided on a Shadow for his hateful, wretched, spiteful and spoiled little niece... and Catwin's it. But, how is she supposed to be the unseen eyes, ears and hands of someone she passionately hates - and who just as passionately hates her? As factions fight, and plots smokescreen the truth, and with the lives of both girls in the hands of a brutally capricious Duke, who can Catwin trust to help her survive - the King? Temar? Miriel?


WARNING: This book will make you long for Attolia. It is full of plots and betrayals, mean girls and scary old dudes. This book is another in the pantheon of Assassin Girls books, but somehow, killing people is portrayed as Not That Easy, which is a welcome change. Plotwise, what you think you know might not be true - and what you know is true might not be good enough. Do not read while operating heavy machinery, or before clearing your afternoon schedule. Produces instant longing for the next book, which, fortunately, is available, with the first book free this week on Amazon for Kindle. Settle in with a fleece throw and a cuppa, and you can whip through all three in one perfectly rainy autumn weekend. Though this book contains no magic, it's still high fantasy - kingdoms and castles and all. Remember, the only true pawns are those who don't know their place in the game.

You can find LIGHT AND SHADOW by Moira Katson online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

September 23, 2013

Writing Daze: Thoughts on the Writing Mythology, Pt. 2

Last Monday I started down this road by talking about the mysteriousness surrounding the actual writing process. What actually got me thinking about writer mythology, though, and doing a post about it, are the sort-of-true, sort-of-inaccurate notions out there about becoming a writer.

Image credit: USF Clipart Etc.
People sometimes ask me, "How long have you been writing?" The answer to that one is pretty easy for most writers who have gotten to a certain point in their careers: The Whole Time. That is true for me, too. I've always enjoyed writing, for almost as long as I've enjoyed drawing. Over the years, that combination resulted in some rather embarrassing projects, such as my pet-oriented fashion magazines entitled Young Cat and Vogue for Doggies, or my decidedly unfunny and rather mean comic strip, Dork the Duck. I wrote poems, I wrote stories. I had one or two novel beginnings that didn't amount to anything (which, believe me, is a very positive thing for the world at large). I wrote articles and drew comics for my college's humor magazine. And, in a slightly different take on the whole idea of writing, I learned how to make handmade books.

But, until about 12 years ago, I don't think I ever ONCE said to myself, "I want to be a writer." I had a plan, and that plan was to be an artist of some sort. The specific sort changed over time, but the artist plan was in place by the time I was 11 or 12. There really was no question in my mind. In many ways there still isn't, although my definition of "artist" has expanded and morphed a bit.

In the larger sense, this doesn't seem all that strange to me. I'm still in a creative career. And people change their careers ALL THE TIME. (Well, not ALL the time. You know.) I haven't even really changed so much as shifted to include another creative activity.

But that's kind of beside the point. The point (yes, I do have one, thank you very much) is that even the idea of how you become a writer is invested with this mystique, with assumptions--often true--about how you decided on such a career. When I talk to other writer friends, I realize that the way I came to a writing career is really not quite like anybody else's path. There seem to be two major trajectories, neither of which fits me comfortably:
  1. There are a vast number of writers for whom writing is their lifelong dream. They have always dreamed of becoming writers; they have pursued it in wee morning hours and lunch breaks and however they can, or they dropped everything one day to follow that dream, or whatever.
  2. Then there seem to be those for whom becoming a writer happened later--not unlike what happened to me--but it was revelatory, like suddenly finding their calling after years of doing something totally unrelated. These are the people (and I've talked to several) who realize that the ongoing story they've been telling their children before bed at night is really their creative magnum opus.
Of course there are other trajectories. There's the uber-annoying "anyone can write a book, so I sat down and wrote one" trajectory. There are people who become obsessed with a thing and with sharing their obsession via the written word.

I guess I have to conclude that it's wrong to assume people actually DO fit neatly into these categories. It's just an illusion. Maybe it's an enduring conspiracy of marketing: like my previous post, maybe it's just easier to give a tidy story rather than boring people with your individual details. I have no answers. (This is generally true of me. I'm better at asking questions.) But it's interesting to think about.

September 20, 2013

TURNING PAGES: Siege and Storm, by Leigh Bardugo

Still somewhat looking forward to the DreamWorks film based on this series, it was good to reserve the second book in The Grisha trilogy, though I must admit that when I got it from the library, I sat and looked at it for a few days.

I had no qualms about reading a middle novel in the series, no, that wasn't it. The story is compelling, but this series is a hard, hard, hard one for me to read. The characters are very real to me, and the conflicts and ambiguities of power and position - and a war-torn country - are tough to think through. Most of the time, when I read a book, I read from the position - exalted, smug - of an outsider. I know what's best for the main character. I know what I'd do to make things right, heal the breach, get the girl/boy, save the nation.

This time, I don't. Granted, a couple of times in the story I found myself grinding my teeth and groaning, "For goodness sakes, just tell him the truth!" But, more often than not, I was clueless. It seems like Alina Starkov - still such an awesome name! - and her people, despite her victories? Seem doomed. And I have no idea of any distance from that, and I actually read - with trepidation and gosh-what-will-happen-next!? dread.

It's entirely awesome.

Reader Gut Reaction: The tagline of the book is, "Darkness never dies," and seriously? That's creepy. And, unfortunately, true. When I read the first book in this series, I was intrigued by the Mysterious Orphan of the tale. She was pale and plain and useless, she felt, and suffering from unrequited love. In time, things reversed, and at the end of the novel, she actually has a choice put before her - who to be, where to go. In this novel, we find that all choices... have consequences.

One of the most implausible plot developments I ever run across is the Love Triangle. I mean, really? EVERYONE in Forks wants to love you and squeeze you, and take you to prom? No. Real life hardly ever goes that way, and the number of times it does in fiction just underscores the fictionesque nature of books. But, in this series, it's not really a love triangle that's happening. It's a battle for power. It's about using people - or being used. And it happens, in this political realm, over and over and over again...

Concerning Character:Alina is a pitiable shadow of her former self, in book two of this series. She's ... back to being paper plain and useless. Mal is wonderful, Mal is strong, Mal is making a way for them to live. Alina is ...bitter. What does Mal see in her? Everyone on earth is better looking, nicer, more positive - and maybe more worthy of him. Alina just holds him back, and, in a way, holds herself back. And, when the Darkling finds them again, even as she's terrified and hurt -- and sickened and scared -- it's almost ...well, it's almost what Alina... wants. At least, as part of his train, she can do something - even if it's nothing but cower and hope. At least, she's somebody valuable again, in a twisted way.

And, yes, that sounds just as ugly as it is: Alina has gotten used to being somebody. And, as much as she fights it, she longs to have more purpose than being the one fought over, courted, and chased to the ends of the earth. The crazy priest - Apparat - with his weird, mildewy smell and his nutsoid ideas, has infected the countryside with the cult of the Sun Summoner. He's making Alina a saint... but aren't saints always martyred? Not even Mal seems to be able to see Alina as she is - as someone he loves and wants to be near. He seems, by turns, afraid and disturbed by her dreams. Only the Darkling seems to understand her, like he always said he would. He's everywhere, it seems. And now, it seems that there's no escape...

The poor, orphaned Alina has always wanted somewhere to belong - with Mal at her side. What if that's never going to be possible? What, then?

Warning: This novel has the gorgeous Slavic feel, contains mysterious orphans, hot trackers, bewildering princes, pirates, sea creatures, and dicey pilgrims with disturbing tastes in finger bones. Betrayals, backstabbing, and grievous harm and near kisses are daily norms. Do not read while operating heavy machinery, or before clearing your afternoon schedule. Produces instant longing for the next book, which does not come out until the 12th of never. In stereo where available, no purchase necessary, does NOT stand alone - you'd be lost instantly if you tried to start with this book. Read the first one first. I think this is an amazing sequel, your mileage may vary.

Until next time we Turn the Pages, cheers!

I snagged my copy at the library. You can find SIEGE AND STORM, Book 2 in the Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

September 19, 2013

Toon Thursday: So It's Come to This.

I was SO CERTAIN that I would have time to draw a new cartoon today. Then, as I tried to get stuff done and the day slipped by, I thought to myself, well, if not a new cartoon, at least a new post of some kind. Then more hours disappeared into the ether and I decided: a links roundup. I can manage that. Then, driving back from yoga class and errands twenty minutes ago, I realized I only have the brain space and time for one of two things: blow off today's post entirely, or post a cartoon rerun.

I'm opting for the latter. Because it has shiny pictures.

September 16, 2013

Writing Daze: Thoughts on the Writer Mythology, Pt. 1

There are so many mythologies around being a writer or an artist. By "mythology" I don't mean to imply a lack of accuracy or truth--just the idea that our culture has built up certain expectations about the way artists think, live, and work that may OR may not be true for everyone. It's always interesting to get a hint of these mythologies when talking to someone about my creative work, or when fielding questions at a reading or a school visit. Whether the setting is formal or informal, similar types of preconceived notions seem to come up.

For instance, one of the major sources of the "writer mythology" (that is also applicable to the "artist mythology") is a certain mysticism about the process. I know that there are artists and writers who actively encourage the idea that there is an almost magical intangible something going on when they create. As someone with a pragmatic streak, I have long thought that this is ridiculous.

Having said that, I have since learned it is quite difficult to actually answer questions about process without either 1) boring your listener to death, 2) confusing them because your process only makes sense to you, or 3) making them look at you askance because you can't explain your process coherently at all. The vast majority of MY writing process consists of staring at my computer screen for hours on end, typing out words or attempting to type out words. And then there's the part where my brain does things, sometimes seemingly on its own in a rather inspiring fashion, but mostly because of me beating it with a metaphorical stick and forcing stuff out regardless of perceived quality. Lastly, there's the part where I ask my friends and family an array of random bizarre questions that make me sound possibly psychotic. Oh, and sometimes I draw charts.

And I haven't even touched on the part that involves stimulating or relaxing beverages, extremely sneaky procrastination, and bribing myself with treats. (Apparently this whole division of labor is something that I'm minorly obsessive about documenting in cartoon form.)

Faced with this WTF-inducing mishmash that does not remotely resemble what most people call an actual job, I am starting to understand why so many writers just get all mysterious about the whole thing when asked what it's like to write a book. It's SO MUCH EASIER to simply tell people it's the "magic of the creative process" or "the mystical forces of the subconscious mind" than talk about how you spent ten minutes surfing the thesaurus for the perfect word that quite possibly does not exist, or how that one sentence still sounds weird even though you rewrote it seven times, or how you're now afraid of being on a terror watch list because you bookmarked so many websites describing how to make napalm (true story).

Maybe that's why I always find it so fascinating to hear about other people's writing processes. The actual ones, not the public versions. It's interesting to me to see that contrast between mythology and reality. And, in a way, it makes those few moments of magic that are there, seem even more magical.

More on writer mythology next Monday...

September 12, 2013

Reading in Tandem: CONJURED by Sarah Beth Durst

Normally, we have a fixed format for our book reviews. We ask ourselves questions about our gut reactions, the character sketches, and how we liked the cover. That covers books pretty well, most of the time, but one of the joys of book talking is actually sharing more - bits of ephemera, a favorite song that popped into your head like a mini-book soundtrack, who you think would be best as the lead if they ever turned it into a movie, your fervent hope that they never, ever, turn it into a movie -- things like that. This is the kind of stuff we talked about at school, the kind of oh-em-gee-you've-gotta-read-this, hot-off-the-press, immediate bookish nerdery that we pass back and forth when we just talk books. This isn't a review, as much as a read between friends.

We won't always agree, or have the same take on things. Sometimes, our views will be more reader-response than writer-wise. While we'll do our best to avoid it, sometimes, we may have spoilers. Sometimes you'll wonder why on earth we wasted our time on a particular book - and sometimes, probably, so will we. Regardless, every once in awhile, we'll get down to it:

Two writers. Two readers.

One book.

Reading in Tandem.

Eve is in danger, in hiding, and in witness protection--but she can't remember why that is, or who is hunting her. All she has are bare wisps of frightening memories: a carnival tent, a sinister magician. And she has strange powers that nobody else has. Little by little, she remembers more about her life before, and clues to the killer who is still hunting her, but will it be too late to save her or the fragile new life she's built?

You can find Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

TS Davis: First off, as a writer, can I just say that Sarah Beth Durst's voice has changed SO MUCH.

Sarah Stevenson: She has really become versatile.
I thought VESSEL was great.
And I love the uniqueness of her fantasy scenarios.

TS Davis: It kind of gives me a good feeling about the potential for any writer whose work has become familiar to you, and you think you know them - and then... presto, chango, they're doing something new. And yes - I think the change started to be most visible with VESSEL. I loved the retelling of EAST OF THE SUN/WEST OF THE MOON, but as she goes further afield from traditional stories, she's just doing this exciting ...thing!

Sarah Stevenson: Oh! Yes, I liked that one too. ICE.
I thought the whole premise of CONJURED was perfect to draw in the reader, too. Who is Eve? Why is she in witness protection?

TS Davis: YES! I was so confused!! It's not every book that is totally confusing, yet keeps you in the loop.
I was... confused, but not lost, if that makes sense.
I was so upset for her, each and every time I didn't know what was going on. Not to add spoilers, but every dream and every moment when her dreams confused her, I felt for her.

Sarah Stevenson: Right! I was impressed that she was able to draw us into Eve's viewpoint but not leave us annoyed by how little Eve knows. It's...part of the story. Part of what we have to wait, on the edge of our seat, to find out.
And yes, I felt for her, too.
I think it would be so easy to feel...manipulated, maybe, when you're toying with viewpoint and reliability and the narrator's level of knowledge. But I didn't feel manipulated here.

TS Davis: I didn't either - which again, I am just not sure how she managed that!
And, I also wasn't at all in the know - about ANYTHING. For once, I didn't guess the ending, or even the middle right. I definitely did NOT figure out anything from the fractured memories, bits of dreams, and present tense of the character. I knew a few things - I thought: carnival people, neutral and/or bad, present day people, good, teens in her friend group, bad. But, the reality threw me for a loop, in a good way.

Sarah Stevenson: Ditto.

TS Davis: When everything went down, I thought, "Okay. Obviously, there's a conclusion here, but is it a happily ever after?"

Sarah Stevenson: The twists and turns of each character were unexpected and kept me guessing. Are they good? Are they bad? It would change from moment to moment.
It made me edgy on her behalf!
Only Library Boy seemed stable and trustworthy.

TS Davis: I was SO unsure of myself, that I wasn't convinced of anyone's anything, until the last page. What a trick of suspense! Library Boy was utterly trustworthy because he was clearly someone she'd met, on her own, who didn't figure in the past or the future, only the present - AND he never lied. He was clearly someone with no brakes in the garrulous department, and that actually made me trust him.
He was so adorkably geeky!

Sarah Stevenson: He WAS adorable! He kept cracking me up.
And then, to know that SOMETIME, in the future, there is going to be this infodump in which she Remembers All and we find out who everyone really is and what they did...just KNOWING that kept me in suspense.

TS Davis: Library Boy was the perfect foil for someone so serious. I mean, if someone walked up to most girls and said that they really were thinking of kissing them instead of chit-chatting and doing all the get-to-know-you stuff, most girls would have come slightly unglued. Imagine who you'd have to be for that level of honesty to be a relief...

I was actually worried, on some levels, about Knowing All. I was concerned that I'd find out everything before I wanted to -- which was before I'd been given a chance to figure it out for myself, but, once again, I was to the end of my rope with I NEED TO KNOW!!! - and the timing, for me, was really good.

Sarah Stevenson: Yes. I thought the pacing really worked well in that respect.

TS Davis: I can imagine teens loving this book who enjoyed stuff like, say THE LOVELY BONES, or something darker and edgier. The level of pain/terror in this novel is not gratitous, but definitely not for the faint of heart, I don't think.

Sarah Stevenson: Yes. Or those who like, maybe, Holly Black.
Fantasy that intersects with the real world, but is fairly dark.

TS Davis: YES. Good old Black Holly. I can see that. And some Carrie Jones, I think - Laini Taylor's newest stuff as well.

Sarah Stevenson: But, at the same time, there is love and whimsy and people who truly care, in this story....

TS Davis: I was relieved to see that. It was hard, sometimes, to identify these people from one time to the next, but really, it gives the reader a sort of start-up sketch of what to look for. Even if your brain totally shuts down on you, THESE THINGS make a good person, and you can trust them.

Sarah Stevenson: ...and then there are the people who don't quite fit the standard black-and-white, good and evil definition.

TS Davis: Yes - I liked that, too. The choices she's faced with, near the end of the book, are on the lines of personal ethics, and not a broadly painted black-and-white view of good/evil. Are you going to be used? Is it okay to take something, if you give something back? Those are really good philosophical points to ponder.

Sarah Stevenson: Even what I'd consider the side characters made me ask those types of questions. Malcolm and Aunt Nicki, for instance.
Each provided a slightly different possible answer to the question.

TS Davis: YES.

Sarah Stevenson: Questions like, what makes you human? What makes you real and true and steadfast? What does friendship mean, and love?

TS Davis: Aunt Nicki: dealing with a mother who never took care of her properly, leaving Nicki the ultimate caretaker. She treats Eve in ways that we, as readers, don't like, and yet -
And yet...

Sarah Stevenson: It's never as though Aunt Nicki dislikes Eve, exactly, either. And Aunt Nicki grows and changes over the course of the story, in response to everything that happens.

TS Davis: Yes.
Even Library Boy, though we tend to trust him from the first, grows and changes - maybe the word I'm looking for is more REVEALS himself, and the reader comes to some conclusions about who makes a good friend, what makes a good person, and what is acceptable in family... what do we put up with, and from what do we walk away. This is really a novel about family of choice, in so many ways.

Sarah Stevenson: Absolutely.

TS Davis: Eve's choices keep tumbling, like clothes in a dryer, and she has to keep choosing.

Sarah Stevenson: There's also something in here about being unable to grow and change making you stagnant, making you...less than you could be.

TS Davis: Eek. Yes. You get dusty if you just sit on a shelf and observe the world. Your joints get creaky, and your humanity shrinks. You have to believe in where the magic lives. THAT was just -- huge for me.

Sarah Stevenson: It was not only huge, it was downright scary.

TS Davis: YES. That was a terrifying scene. I wasn't sure she'd be able to do anything. I wasn't sure if that really was all it took.

I loved that even before Eve knew who she was, she was able to choose who she wanted to be with. It's hard to consciously choose the people who make us fly, when there are other considerations such as acceptability to the group, etc. etc. -- but in the end, it's a simple choice. Just, with all the rest of the noise in Eve's life, for a moment, it looked complicated.
Thus, the choice in the end was simpler than it looked as well, even if it did involve so many people...

Sarah Stevenson: Another thought-provoking and utterly unique read from Sarah. I love that each of her books is different. It gives me hope that I can write something different each time and not have to stick with the expected.

TS Davis: Me, too!

I thought the cover was scarily appropriate!! It reminded me both of one of the Storyteller's horrific tales, but also of a pincushion... and how many people were inadvertently - or purposefully - claiming a piece of Eve's heart by staking their claim - literally staking it/her. That was ugly. And yet... it was still a heart...

Sarah Stevenson: True! It was an eye-catching cover.
That red/gold color scheme was very effective.
Also evocative.

TS Davis: There are a lot of themes I'd like to discuss further in this book. I'm hopeful Sarah Beth can come by and either do a guest post, or we can kind of chit-chat about the nightmares she says started this, what she's trying to say in the larger sense about who we are, and who we can be, and that sort of thing.

Sarah Stevenson: Yes! It's something I'd be very interested in hearing more about--the creative process behind this one.

TS Davis: Well, I think this covers it, don't you?
Twenty minutes of us kind of gushing - but this is a really nuanced, subtle book with a lot of details, and a lot of layers. I'm glad I got a chance to read it and discuss it - and I feel like we've been kind of vague - but I don't want to be too specific, because I'd like to see more people reading this, and talking about it. It's the kind of book you can come back to, and get something new out of it on a re-read.

Sarah Stevenson: Yes--I didn't want to be too spoiler-y, because I'd really like to know what people think of the format of this post, too, the tandem review.
Hopefully we were tantalizing rather than vague. :)

Thanks so much for joining us for the first in our new monthly series of tandem reviews! We hope you had fun reading it--we're excited to be sharing our bookchat with you. Please feel free to join the discussion, too, if you've read Conjured or plan to read it.

September 09, 2013

More Monday Thoughts on Blogging and Kidlit

We had such a fantastic conversation in the comments after my post entitled "Rekindling My Love for Blogging" that I wanted to reproduce some of those comments here, in the hopes of sparking more discussion--because I really think it's an important subject to think about, the whole "why we blog" question. It's informative, for me anyway, to read what others think, and inspiring to find out more about why others gravitated toward blogging and why they are still doing it, and whether their motivations for doing so have changed over the years. Here in the kidlit world, things do tend to change quickly--genres, cover design trends, and so forth. And of course things change in the technology world faster than you can say "Google owns my soul." But as readers and writers ourselves, not to mention being a sort of buffer between the content-creators and the content-consumers, what is our role and how is it changing? How can we keep our enthusiasm going?

I don't have any answers (if you know me, this is no surprise. I am much better at asking questions than answering them) but the responses to my prior post generated some intriguing food for thought, not to mention sparking some new blogging-related ideas. Here are some of those responses:

  • Gail Gauthier said that starting some new features has really helped her regain momentum for blogging. Also, she said: "I have come to think of blogging as short-term nonfiction or flash nonfiction. I'm interested in essay writing, so I feel blogging enhances that aspect of my writing." At the same time, though, she's not sure many of the writers she knows have much interest in blogging--I find that intriguing, since it is such a direct way of connecting with people through informal writing.
  • Melissa Wiley talked about going back to the original roots of why she started blogging in the first place--something that really resonated. Another thing she said that resonated: "One light bulb that went off for me is that I'm most interested in talking about a book WHILE I'M READING IT. Once I'm finished, writing about it can feel like homework, and anyway, I'm already on to the next book. But in the middle of a book, I'm dying for conversation. I realized I'm kind of a social reader in that I long for discussion with other people who are reading or have read the same book." So now I'm thinking about how I can channel my "while I'm reading" enthusiasm to this blog.
  • Adrienne's feelings about the situation really paralleled my own, too: "It got so I couldn't do book reviews anymore, for a lot of the reasons you all have mentioned--feeling overwhelmed and feeling obligated. I also found that publishing a book my own self made it impossible for me to be as critical as I perhaps should be." She also echoed my sentiments about finding it hard sometimes to keep up with all the activity in the kidlitosphere. "I wish I could keep up with everything I want to...but I can't. I've been making an effort to sit a little easier with that knowledge."
That's a really important point, to me--of course, it entails figuring out what I think is a realistic goal for participation and activity in the first place, but also forgiving myself when I deviate from that.

So, back to you: what WERE your original motivations for blogging? Do you think they've changed? Are your feelings about it different now? Let's continue the discussion!

September 06, 2013

Panhandling the Kidlitosphere: It's 5 & Dime Friday!

What a week! There have been new beginnings, a lot of endings, and they finally found the worms from Dune. I knew they were lurking around somewhere...

Did you know Ellen Hopkins was responsible for that whole Miley Cyrus debacle? Who knew!

I really appreciated AF's post the other day about losing the "thrill" of blogging, because it elicited so many responses and so many offline conversations which have struck a chord. There's a lot of conversation going on about the early days of the kidlitosphere community which we enjoyed (remember The Edge of the Forest?), how to up the community, and What It All Means. All good things to talk about, really good things, as some look ahead to getting together in Austin.

A lot of this week's links are writerly - in response to the conversations zinging through our writing group and the blogosphere this week. Some of those beginnings and endings I was mentioning have come from bloggers and writers - some officially throwing in the towel and saying "no more," while others are taking extended hiatuses from cherished books and the dream of being published. I always hate to see that, and yet - autumn's crisping leaves remind us every single year: there's a time for everything.

...including a time for quilts, since I just got a lovely flannel duvet cover, and slept under it happily!! I might've liked this blanket, though. It if came with a storyteller. Via Book Riot's Book Fetish.

If you've spent big time working on a big novel, and it's still not working? it's okay to quit. Really.

The human brain is such a fabulous thing. Give it a little sleep, and all those brain cells your mother yelled at you about killing - and never replacing - might just come back. For your entertainment, here's a little infographic about writing, how it affects the brain, and how the clichés in writing cause our brains to fade out in the paying-attention category. Upshot? Stop using clichés. No, really. It's so very, very, very boring, on multiple levels. Do click to embiggen!

Successful author Julianna Baggot's most excellent invitation on today's Writer Unboxed reminds us that if we've quit... it's also okay to come back and start again.

And, here's a random tech link: if ya wanted it, you probably shouldn't have put a ring on - not if the ring could be stolen, anyway. Nice idea, but probably a leetle ahead of its time?

CBC Diversity announces a little exercise in mirrors and windows, and, starting next Monday will feature Part Four of "It's Complicated", this time pairing a group of writers writing within their cultural perspective with a group of writers writing outside of that. It's going to be a good discussion.

Speaking of diversity, the middle school where author Meg Medina was invited this week has no room for those who use "coarse language, as Meg did, when she wrote YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS. Both painful and frustrating to read, via Diversity in YA

November 30th, Sherman Alexie has invited us all to be booksellers. If you blog books, buzz books, talk about books, this should be easy-peasy. And worth it to support indies.

Speaking of fun discussions, Charlotte brings up a few book peeves which cracked me up. From bringing in the wash at the wrong time of day to "verbing" nouns - some things just drag you out of a story.

You thought that Oyster was just a ticketing system for the greater London Underground? Not anymore - the U.S. version is about ebooks. All you want (for your iPhone, for now) for a flat fee? Oh, Amazon. We fear your days are numbered...

We're reminded that good writing is good writing, anywhere, even on TV. And, YA authors are writing across genres there. Some of these I knew - we all know about Rob Thomas, duh. But, some surprises.

And, in case you needed the requisite Internet Cat Photos, here ya go. Happy Friday.

September 05, 2013

Toon Thursday: Aren't You Glad Writers Don't Have Reality Shows?

...I sure am! Especially since I seem to keep thinking up horrific scenarios in which writers enter into ludicrous competitions for the delectation of a live audience, as if it isn't already enough that our work goes out into the world for judgment and potential scorn, subject to the capricious moods of the readers. So here you go, and consider yourselves lucky, my friends.

September 03, 2013


For awhile now, I've been collecting recent YA books dealing with mental disabilities. It's not that huge of a list, nor is it comprehensive; rather, it started off as a response to think about mental illness in America, and morphed into people dropping by and giving me their suggestions for books not on the list that they thought I should read, think about, or know about. You're always free to add more to the list - I think it's an important personal resource, as well as a shared place to keep our stories in the limelight.

Reader Gut Reaction: SO MANY reactions. First, this novel reminded me of a recent Letters of Note, where a father talks about the inevitable barrier - the wall - that comes between parents and children. The walls between the characters in this were almost visible. Another reaction might well be tears as you read this -- the deftly chosen phrase, just the right words - the right phrases - may make you understand part of the book so fast that tears actually squirt airborne, as you clench your eyes shut in an agony of recognition. Painful - but so perfect. Another reaction you will have will be to the thoughtful truths in Rumi's poem The Guest House; the fact that this novel is both painful and exquisite, like the emotions that come to us in every moment. This is a smoothly written, thoughtful novel that isn't a race-through-it- page-turner, but one which stayed with me, when I wasn't reading it, and to which I'll come back again.

Taking care of people is hard, period. Taking care of a person with a mental illness, when it's not their fault that they do not conform to the corners and shapes of this world, when it's too easy to let pettiness or frustration or rage and despair guide your actions - whoa. It is so hard. And, harder still, if you are the child, and they are the parent, and just once, you'd like it to be about YOU.

Concerning Character: Sophie's life is pretty circumscribed. She goes to school, does her homework while she eats her lunch, goes home, makes dinner, sits with her mother in her tiny storage room art studio, and goes to bed. And some days, it's not a bad life - her mother is sometimes directing invisible symphonies as she paints, and the question of "what are we having for dinner" makes both of them laugh. But, other days -- those other days are what Sophie suffers through, when, one day she finds her mother's studio carelessly unlocked -- and her mother flung across the bed with the force of her depression - and a spatter of emptied pill bottles - those are the days Sophie just can't take anymore of. Not that anyone asks her - she's gotten a lot of stuff just shoved onto her. Her cousin Leila got popular in middle school, and just - went off into popular-land, taking their sidekick and best friend with her. Following her mother's long-ago expressed wishes, she's forced to rely on her Uncle John and Aunt Cynthia - from whom she and her mother have been estranged for five years - for a roof over her head, and food. It's not the life she wants. But then, when has she ever had that life? And, is there a way to get it...?

Recommended for Fans Of...: Ned Vizzini, It’s Kind of a Funny Story; Dia Calhoun, The Phoenix Dance; Christine Fletcher, Tallulah Falls; Bleeding Violet, by Dia Reeves; A Blue So Dark, Holly Schindler; Get Well Soon, Julie Halpern; Your Own, Sylvia, by Stephanie Hemphill, and many more.

Themes & Things: Mental disability or mental illness is a fine and squiggly line in YA lit, because most teens experience some brush with mental illness in some way, and one and five teens in America are classified and categorized as mentally ill. Even if a YA book includes a therapist, a debilitating emotional trauma, a stay in a psych hospital, or intrusive thoughts, it doesn't always signal mental illness. Life just isn't that simple, much less fiction. However we look at the ways our brains work, as we interact with one another, we can at least agree that this book simply comes under the heading of How To Deal. Sophie has a lot to learn about pushing past the normal barrier of her personality, the barriers of silence and secrecy - and most of all, fear - to get what she needs. Without any other reason, that's what makes this book awesome, and a candidate for Erika's List.

Cover Chatter:The sort of funky rainbow colors are a lot less subdued on this novel than they could have been - and I like that. I like that there's a house on the cover, which mirrors both the guest house, and the architectural firm where Sophie interns. I like the field of weeds and the dilapidation, and I can't see where they go with the paperback cover - there's an art project which could lend itself very nicely. I don't, of course, love the floating face of the girl. I don't see Sophie like this at all, and don't think she resembles the model on the cover. Still, I know her undecided expression will hook some readers, and we should all learn to ignore covers either way, right??

Authorial Asides: This is a very strong debut novel, and here's to more from this author.

FCC:This book came to me courtesy of the author and publisher, via NetGalley

As of September 2013, you can find THIS IS HOW I FIND HER by Sara Polsky online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

September 02, 2013

Rekindling My Love for Blogging, Or, Is the Thrill Gone?

Sometime over the past year or two, the whole blog thing became a chore. Posting, commenting, writing book reviews, "maintaining an online presence"--it wasn't so much fun anymore.

I hate to admit that, because I really threw myself into it for a while there. And I truly think blogs offer something of value, not just in general, but to the particular cadre of readers we accumulate over time. Blogs are mini-communities; groups of (formally or informally) interconnected blogs extend that community even farther and bring together people with similar interests, making us all part of a larger discussion.


That only works if you're taking part. As a reader, as a blogger, as someone piping up with a comment now and then. And I really have not been doing that. I haven't even been regularly visiting friends' blogs or the core blogs I've always gravitated to, unless you count the NPR News iPad app. Sure, I've been posting regularly as always, but here's the thing: rather than regular posting being a discipline, a commitment to something I enjoy, it's become onerous. It's become work, not play. The posts are there, but I feel like I'm phoning it in. My reviews of books feel dry and listless. The thought of reading blogs feels overwhelming.

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I was going through a period of ongoing depression and anxiety for a while. This is just a thing that happens to me every so often. So I was having one of those not-so-pleasant spells, and I was thinking, well, maybe my feelings about blogging are just another symptom of that, just another spindly branch on the dead tree that was my apathy.

FOX owns this image, I'm sure. Please don't sue me.
But I've mostly gotten past the bad spell for the time being, and I find myself wondering why I still think of blogging as a chore; why, when I think about having to write a post, I feel like Homer Simpson being told he's supposed to do some household task.

I think what I need to do is find the love. I'm still going to post regularly on Mondays and Thursdays.  know I will still discuss books and literature and writerly stuff here, and random crap over on my personal blog. I'm just not entirely sure what form it's going to take. It may just be freeform for a while, until I figure out what works. So, yeah. Just so you know.