October 31, 2013

Toon Thursday: Writer's Toolkit Returns!

Just in time for NaNoWriMo (which I'm going to have to skip in favor of my humongoid rewrite), some story help for you. Remember all those types of conflict you learned about in high school English class? (Just nod and pretend you do.) That is Actual Useful Information. You can trust me. I'm a writer! Just spin the wheel-o-conflict and let the fates do the work for you! (And, for the word "man," you may feel free to substitute your character's specific gender or lack thereof.)

October 29, 2013

CYBILS REVIEW: Battle Magic, by Tamora Pierce

This book is a 2013 Cybils YA Speculative Fiction nominee.

I read Tamora Pierce's MELTING STONES earlier this year, and THE WILL OF THE EMPRESS before that, but hadn't reviewed either yet. MELTING STONES was decidedly MG, with a twelve-year-old protagonist I'd not really met before, and while it was interesting enough, it had a few slightly confusing elements in it - one was a WAR that it talked about, and I thought, "How did I miss a whole war??" The second was the presence of a mountain spirit, Luvo, from... somewhere. Have I just missed that guy in the Winding Circle books before? I wondered. No, I realize now: his genesis is in BATTLE MAGIC, which was just released this year, as is the war... I'm not missing a book or my brain, after all.

There's probably a good deal of flack the author is getting over this book, which was eight years in the making - 1, to choose to just have a character appear with no backstory in a previous book, and 2, to write a novel in which "nothing much" happens but battles, but two things will help you understand that choice: One, something AWFUL happens to one of the characters in BATTLE MAGIC; since you read the sequel first, you know that she recovers. In its own way, that's reassuring. Two, this book is dedicated to veterans... and who hasn't heard the description of war as being a lot of waiting around, and then five minutes of abject terror? I think this book maybe reflects a reality the author has heard from other fans and friends. Nothing much has to happen, when the young character is realizing that she's in a kill or be killed situation - and all of her carefulness, politeness, and ability means nothing when confronted with overpowering greed, ego, and evil. Once the worst happens, she agonizes over it - and the past returns again, and again, and again, and again. That's a little too real for some people, yes, but one of the things we respect Tamora Pierce for is her ability to reweave reality into fantasy and back. War, violence, moral and ethical choices and PTSD is how it rolls for too many veterans; well done for Tamora Pierce getting the painful, boring, agonized bits right.

Concerning Character: While the other members of the Winding Circle temple, and their "students" are doing their own things in Emelan, original street thief, now a full Winding Circle plant mage, Briar, his mentor, fellow plant mage and Living Circle Dedicate Rosethorn, and Briar's new rock mage intern, twelve-year-old Evvy are off to the kingdom of Gyongxe to find out what they can about the origins of Evvy's magic, visit the little God-King of the first Living Circle temple, and, after that, the famed gardens of the imperial palace at Yanjing.

As always, Pierce does not disappoint in description of countries, faiths, temples, and the like. You might not be able to pronounce Gyongxe, but you'll surely want to GO after reading about the high mountains and the spare and majestic scenery and the freakishly close presence of gods of all sorts. If you're a wise traveler to these parts, you'll want to avoid the imperial palace and Yanjing, however - after witnessing the truth of absolute power corrupting, beginning with a warrior the emperor keeps on a leash like a pet, and concluding with him killing all the rose gardeners and trying to destroy a rosebush for having the temerity to get a fungal rot on the day the Dedicate visits, you know the Emperor's not dealing with a full deck... and, while the mages and intern mage are in town, he decides to go after the God-King's lands in Gyongxe, assuming that once he has done so, that he will have, be, and own EVERYTHING.

Obviously, Rosethorn can't let this stand - part of being a Dedicate of the Winding Circle temple is that you put the temple first. She tries to leave Briar and Evvy behind to return to the first temple to warn them - but they're not about to be left. The three mages find themselves using their talents in defending the young God-King's lands, but through misfortune and miscalculation, tragedy strikes. In this novel the greatest of losses - that of innocence - happen, but the greatest gifts - friendship - are given in return.

This is a novel in which moral and political decisions take center stage. A lot of what is done is hard - and really, the thematic question becomes about what we use our "power" for - and what we do with our abilities. These aren't easy questions, and the incidents that take place in this book aren't easy, either. Painfully and eventually, however. things begins to balance out. It is much like life.

WARNING: This book will make you long for travel, warm blankets, and possibly tissues. Do not read while operating heavy machinery. War is hell. No, seriously. Reading will reveal things to you that sometimes you aren't sure you wanted to know. Your mileage may vary. The cover shows, on an earth-toned background, a single dagger and red vining plants, which is probably representative of how the war was fought. Magical cloth bags of seeds are dangerous things. Sometimes, it's a good thing that fantasy isn't real.

I received this book compliments of Scholastic Books and NetGalley. You can find BATTLE MAGIC by Tamora Pierce online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

October 28, 2013

Reading Like a Mofo: Escaping into Fantasy

Yes, as a matter of fact, I do tend to read escapist books when I'm feeling overwhelmed by work, thank you very much.

Uh, and also when I'm not overwhelmed. Which is why I'm still working through my backlog... Today, quick reviews of two fantasy titles I read during the late summer/early fall. Not an exhaustive list (I also read, for instance, The Runaway King, which was already ably reviewed by Tanita, which lets ME off the hook) but two I found worth noting and sharing. Both of them were found at my library this time.

The Madness Underneath (I ADORE that title) is the second book in Maureen Johnson's Shades of London series and sequel to The Name of the Star (reviewed here). This series has lots of things I like reading about: Murder mysteries! Ghosts! London! Secret agencies! Jack the Ripper! Creepy buildings built on top of other creepy buildings! In light of the fact that I just re-watched Ghostbusters a few nights ago, I guess this type of book is right up my alley. Book 2 continues Rory's adventures in the world of ghosts and ghost hunting, with yet another set of mysterious murders for her and her friends to investigate, just as she's recovered from her near-death experiences in the first book. A suspenseful follow-up to the first book, and I look forward to reading more volumes. Just the kind of book to curl up with on a gray, blustery October night...

You can find The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

Whether it's short stories like those in Red Spikes (reviewed here) or novel-length stories like Tender Morsels (reviewed here), Margo Lanagan has a talent, in my opinion, for writing dark, disturbing, gripping tales that would make good crossover adult titles. The Brides of Rollrock Island is no exception. And, as with her other books, the writing is visceral, vivid and exquisite, almost painfully so at times. This one takes the selkie myth--the old British/Celtic folklore about seal-people--and weaves a story that is decidedly NOT a nice fairy tale. On remote Rollrock Island, taking a seal-wife for a bride has become a way of life for generations, and not in a particularly good way. Certainly not for the few remaining human women, not for the seal-wives, who pine for the sea, and not even for the men so charmed by their lovely wives. Yet everyone is caught in a damaging cycle, and all thanks to the witch Misskaella. Yeah, the lesson is don't be a jerk to the witch-lady, but it's more complicated than that; even the witch has her own unhappiness. Difficult to read sometimes because it doesn't seem like it can end well, this book nevertheless does contain hope, because there is always hope, even when it seems like there's no escape.

You can find The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

October 24, 2013

Items of Interest, aka Twitter Roundup--Author News and More Stuff

Before I share some of the articles that grabbed me over the past week or two (and which I shared on Twitter), one thing first: the Guys Lit Wire blog is looking for a few contributors to round out the monthly schedule. If you haven't checked it out, it is a group blog aimed at spotlighting literature of interest to teen guys, and the reviews are varied and always interesting. (To me, anyway, but as the webmaster, I'm biased!)

Anyway, on to some tweets:
  • We love Gene Yang around here, so I was excited to read an NPR interview with him: via : 'Boxers & Saints' & Compassion: Questions For Gene Luen Yang
  • I also love plugging my writer friends, especially Tanita when she isn't looking, so you'll want to check this out: Lovely mention of my co-blogger Tanita & our friend : Lisa’s Book Round-Up on -
  • This post from @LadyGlamis on the difficulties of the creative life really resonated with me, too, and made me feel very fortunate that my loved ones are generally very understanding: When loved ones don't support - or at least understand - your writing or artistic career.
  • We lost Oscar Hijuelos, author of YA novel Dark Dude and numerous other works: Writer Oscar Hijuelos dies at 62
  • Lastly, a thought-provoking piece on mixed race from NPR's Race Card Project--six-word essays on race from listeners. This particular submission: "Norwegian with Nappy Hair Doesn't Fit." via : Holding Onto The Other Half Of 'Mixed-Race'  

October 23, 2013

TURNING PAGES: External Forces, by Deborah Rix

"The Devotees work for the Department of Evolution - everyone just calls it Devo - and they do the work of Creation in partnership with God. The Department of Evolution is under the direction of Secretary Galton. Basically, she's God's voice here on Earth. In the midst of the genetic revolution a hundred year ago, when the Genetic Integrity Act closed America's borders, strict protocols for border biosecurity were instituted to stop genetic contamination. But we were still in danger of being overrun by the Deviants on the other side. Galton took control, ordered the fortification of our borders, and gave the military the authority to do what they needed to do."

The military did what they had to do, all right - they closed the borders, and made sure that they stayedclosed so that the Devos could begin the work of Regenesis: removing unwanted traits and improving and enhancing one's best traits, under the the guidance of God. Physical perfection, mental cleanliness - the highest level of humanity that a being can achieve. Those in Regenesis are as perfect as God - and the Devos - can make them.

If this premise sounds a little familiar - a typical teen dystopia, in the style of THE MAZE RUNNER by James Dasher or DIVERGENT & CO. by Veronica Roth, or even INCARCERON by Catherine Fisher, you're right - and you're wrong. While this does have a familiar feel, there's one big difference: this isn't a game. There's no ploy, no play, and no silver lining. This is life with religious totalitarianism, which for me is just a whole lot scarier than a lot of other post-apocalyptic/dystopia teen novel themes. The military aspect of the novel remind me of BLACK HOLE SUN, by David McInnis Gills, and PARTIALS, by Dan Wells, but reads most to me like Karen Sandler's TANKBORN series, and INHUMAN, by Kat Falls. There's a bit of the familiar, and a bit of the way-out-there.

Concerning Character: Jess has lived with the idea that genetics are everything, her whole life. There are CCTV cameras everywhere, and biometric data is constantly being collected on everyone, to be scanned and evaluated for signs of deviance, which tends to pop up in adolescence. Jess is careful - being Deviant is something that will make the Guardians have to shoot you, or administer a lethal injection as a Traitor to Humanity. She's seen it happen just on the street, or people coming to take her neighbors away. It's important to blend in, keep your head down, and do your best not to be Too Different, especially when you're a teen.

However perfected humanity is becoming, one thing remains the same: the need for love. Jess really just wants to be with someone who loves her. That someone is her best friend, Jay, who has wanted to be a pilot for as long as they've both wanted to kiss their first boy. His dream has defined him, just as Jess' understanding that her mother believes she's Deviant has defined her. It's a super long shot for Jess to think she can qualify for Special Forces, but she figures she could be in intelligence - I mean, she's good with the computer, amazing at zipping through encryption and that kind of thing. She's not so sure about defending her country, but at least she can defend herself - against her mother, who hasn't ever really loved her, and against a too-absent father, and a too-gray world. Nobody bothers the Guardians, and NOBODY looks tangles with Special Forces. Not the Deviants, and not the holier-than-thou, suspicious Devos.

It's a tiny surprise when Jess qualifies for the military. She's stubborn, though, and she's worked super hard, and this is her dream now. Of course she got in. It's a blind shock when she manages to get into -- not Intelligence, but Black Ops. Um, what??? Even Jay is astounded. And yet, it's obviously a fluke: she's horrible at shooting, crap at hand-to-hand defense, unable to sneak, and totally not a professional soldier, not like Jay. And, Jess is completely positive she could NEVER kill anyone, ever. And yet, she's clearly being helped to pass the tests and checks to get her in... for some reason. Is it the hottie who is in charge of the Black Ops group, who is suddenly everywhere she is?? Is it the girl who's suddenly Jess' best friend? What's going on?

...and, more terrifyingly, what's that little brown spot growing on Jess's stomach? And spreading... ?

If there's a way to hide in plain sight, Jess has got to find it - fast. Or, everything she's ever feared is going to happen - for real. Deviance - physical imperfection - mental imbalance - is not tolerated.

WARNING: You only thought you were over dystopian literature. You are not. Do not read while operating heavy machinery. The idea of a female "voice of God on Earth" is somehow freakier than having a male one... maybe because the male one thus far does not have a lab coat. You may only pick one minor god, religion or science. If you pick both, you end up with the hydra-headed Devos. Devos are scary. If you should notice a DNA structure showing up on your back, you may have a problem. Offer void where prohibited. Red hand prints are, in this novel, a political statement, and not the result of finger paint. Reading this book may cause an inescapable increase in heart rate. Your mileage may vary.

This book came to me courtesy of the author, and the Independent Book Publishers Association. You can find EXTERNAL FORCES by Deborah Rix online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

October 22, 2013


"Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence."
- The Desiderata

Two weeks ago, I blogged:

I opened an email and read this line: If you are, at first, lonely be patient. If you’ve not been alone much or if, when you were, you weren’t okay with it then just wait…you’ll find it’s fine to be alone once you’re embracing it. And then I squeed a little to myself, because, I could hear the poet reading the line. Yes. I am one of Those People responsible for making Tanya Davis’s poem, "How to Be Alone" have five million hits on YouTube. I'm at least a million hits all by my lonesome. (Okay, maybe fifty.) Visually jazzed up by artist Andrea Dorfman, this is a little video I have come back to over and over, the past couple of years. And now it's a book, out October 22nd. Am I getting it? AM I RIDICULOUSLY EXCITED? AM I, ONCE AGAIN, TYPING ALL IN CAPS?
How to be Alone 2


I first started kvelling about this particular piece of poetry in 2011, around about the time it was one of those short-lived viral video things. It was everywhere, because it was a poem that had come out recently in a Canadian chapbook called AT FIRST, LONELY, and the author, Halifax poet-spoken word artist, Tanya Davis, set it to music and video by the poet with a filmmaker friend, Andrea Dorfman (who also was part of the team working on the book). Only some of what we pass around the 'net has any staying power, however, and this poem has had that for me. I've come back to it again and again. It is the eclectic imagery of the video, yes, the poet's careful voice, yes, but it is also the words. The words - so lucid, so simple, so heart-full and honest - that speaks to the universal we. I needed to take in that heady balance of perspicacity and intellect over and over again, until it became an intrinsic part of myself.

And, now I can.

How to be Alone 1

I thought I'd give away my copy of the book as a gift to a friend, but this isn't that kind of book. It's the kind of book you get for yourself - but you get two copies. Then, when someone picks up your copy and wants to take it away - which will happen, this is guaranteed - you can be calm enough to say, "Oh, sure, yeah, go ahead." And you let it go - not like a book that's going to be borrowed and returned, but like a book that you'll never seen again, because you won't. It's not that type of book.

What it is, is a bedside table book for introverts, one that you can pick up and reread and realize that you're okay, that, living in your head is okay, and that if you're happy there, or uncomfortable because you're not sure it's what you're supposed to be doing, and it maybe doesn't look like what everybody else is doing... it reassures you that Different isn't fatal.

It's a coffee table lifeline for extroverts, who might find themselves in the unenviable position of being in a place cut off from their old connections, and find themselves adrift and panicky, unable to pull in the old charm that used to work so well. It's an under-the-pillow midnight read for the puffy-eyed, heart-cracked and bleeding newly abandoned and broken; it's a sanity saver for the newly together and commingled - it speaks to all of us who need to find and claim space in our heads - whether it's because we're in a life jam-packed with people, or in a world where we seem to rattle along by ourselves - and within are clear instructions as to how.

I wondered if the video's quirky brilliance would translate smoothly again to the printed page. It helps that the filmmaker is also the illustrator of the novel. The hand-scripted poetic words convey an intimacy, as if this is a journal you've written yourself, filled with brilliance you're ready to share. The illustrations show the journey of a single sock, a single knitter, a single tree-climber, all surviving their original-and-only-one status in a paired off and lined up world, all thriving on their differences. Especially in this world of political, financial and employment stresses we experience, where lockstep conformity is expected and desired by so many, we need to step back and reconnect with both solitude and sanity, and reaffirm our commitment to originality - even if that means going it alone. This book is an antidote for out-of-focus living. Stick a copy in your purse, read it in the waiting room at the doctor's office, or in line at Starbuck's, and regain your mental health.

Happy Book Birthday, Tanya & Andrea! This book is out today, October 22, 2013. I received my early copy courtesy of the publicist, and Harper Collins, for which I'm grateful! You can find your copy of HOW TO BE ALONE by Tanya Davis and Andrea Dorfman online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

October 21, 2013

Reading Like a Mofo: Sci-Fi Extravaganza

This week is quickly slipping out of my control in terms of TOO MUCH STUFF, and yet somehow through all the stuff I keep reading like a mofo, and so I do have reviews to catch up on--or, at the very least, Good Books to Mention. Noteworthy Reads of Recent Days. Whatever you call it, I've got plenty. Here are a few fun sci-fi reads that I enjoyed, dating back (she sheepishly admits) to the summer.

The first two books in Dan Wells's Partials series--Partials and Fragments--I fortuitously found in my library's ebook collection. The series takes place in a sort of post-apocalyptic world, in which a race of genetically engineered and in certain ways physically superior humans called Partials have decimated the plain old human race after a devastating war. Of course, there's always more to the story than Partials Iz Evile, and that's true in this case as well. They may, at first, remind you of Terminators, and certain aspects of this series are indeed Terminator-esque (including the strong female lead, Kira) but both humans and Partials will surprise you at every turn, and the story is plenty action-packed and suspenseful. Really quick, gripping, plot-focused reads. I found myself enjoying these to such an extent that I was telling my husband about how interesting the premise was, when normally I try not to bore him with details of every single book I'm reading. So there you go.

You can find Partials and Fragments by Dan Wells online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

I also found Mila 2.0 by Debra Driza in my library's ebook collection. Apparently it's also the first book in a series, and right off the bat, I'd suggest that if you like books like The Adoration of Jenna Fox, this one comes recommended. It's more of a thriller, though, with narrator Mila being hounded by internal visions on the one hand, and by actual physical dangers on the other, and throughout it all is the underlying force driving her to find out who she really is. Who can she trust, and can she really trust anyone? When a book sets up that question, it always ramps up the tension. I don't want to ruin the plot with spoilers, so I'll leave it there. While I did feel there were a few weaknesses in the writing, it's an enjoyable premise with a ton of potential for the future volumes in the series.

You can find Mila 2.0 by Debra Driza online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

I'd been looking forward to reading Adaptation by Malinda Lo for a long time, ever since she handed me a postcard for it at an author event at Books Inc. in San Francisco. This summer I finally bought the ebook version (yep, I've been reading a lot of ebooks...but not exclusively) and was not disappointed. Fun and suspenseful sci-fi tropes abound: mysterious bird deaths, plane crashes, medical experiments, military quarantines, Area 51, conspiracy theories. If you like X-Files style, supernaturally creepy, suspense/thriller plots, you'll want to pick this one up. There's even a touch of romance, with main character Reese Holloway torn between longtime crush David Li and the strangely compelling Amber Gray. I look forward to reading the sequel, Inheritance, which is, in fact, already out.

You can find Adaptation by Malinda Lo online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

October 18, 2013

Turning Pages: THE 14 FIBS OF GREGORY K, by Greg Pincus

This is sort of a disclosure: while I've not met The Poet, Pincus in person, I frequently lurk at his blog. While this review is as objectively critical as I can make it, I consider Greg a friend of sorts, so take that as...whatever.

I have to admit that math is not my bailiwick. Perhaps the fact that I casually throw around words like "bailiwick" might convince you of this; I'm a word nerd, not a numbers whiz. But... I like haiku and senryu, with its three-five-three or five-seven-five patterns. I like reproduction in poetry and in words, and I like pi (well, yes: π and p-i-e). I have, since I was a kid. For some reason, knowing the answer to circles - and knowing the answer was always going to be the same, right answer.... was magic.

I wasn't deeply involved in the Poetry Friday world years ago when the whole Fibs thing - short poems based on the Fibonacci sequence - began, but I tried writing some - and mine, to be honest, sucked. I read about Fibonacci sequences, and talked about them to Tech Boy, who showed me his nautilus shell, and got all excited (he is a numbers whiz) and said a lot of things I didn't understand. Still, the magic persisted. I was glad to be offered this book for review. It reminded me, in many ways, of Brendan Buckley's Universe and Everything in It, by Sundee Frazier, and Wendy Lichtman's Do the Math: Secrets, Lies & Algebra. I liked the fibs which kicked off each chapter, and I love, love, love the cover, which is crammed with mathematical equations, doodles, and that all important slice of pie.

Concerning Character: Gregory K. has a lot going for him: his first and best friend, the shin-kicking Kelly - whose aim for Gregory's shin usually keeps him out of (most) trouble, his in at The Slice, the coffee shop Kelly's mom owns, where he gets lots of awesome slices of free pie, and his awesome basement room, where his poster of Einstein hides an old furnace compartment that houses his stash of poetry notebooks. If it weren't for math, Gregory would have a pretty good life. Of course, he's ultimately a sympathetic character because of the number of things piled against him. One: Math. It's inanimate and doesn't care if Gregory gets it or not. Love it or hate it, it just... exists. Ugh. Two: Owen. I spent a lot of time in the book wanting to kick Gregory's big brother Owen. And possibly not in the shin. He's a typical annoying brother who needles and pushes and teases and mocks, and the worse Gregory feels about things, the worse the self-named "O" gets. It's not easy not being seen as "the smart one" and Owen is pretty full of his smarts - but he can't dress his way out of a paper bag. (This, though true, isn't the sort of thing that really is much comfort, a sixth grader about to flunk out of math, like, completely repeat-it-next-year flunk-out.)

Three: Gregory's parents. They aren't exactly against him, as they don't mean to stress him out with the math games at the table, and the equations written on the blackboard walls of his bedroom, and the silent assumption that he's telling the truth about his love for math. His father never meant the notebook "for all your math ideas!" to remain intimidating and blank. Still, no matter what they intended... no one in Gregory's family has actually ever asked him what his own hopes and dreams and ideas are. And, to evenly spread around the blame, Gregory has never told them. He thinks about what he wants, about those hopes and dreams, and he knows this for sure: they have nothing to do with math. Gregory K. is a poet -- and he doesn't think he can get out the words to let his father know. He's not going to grow up to be like Owen and Kay. He's not even going to be like his accountant mother. He's going to...

...pretend like heck until another idea comes to him. Of course, Gregory's dumber ideas is why Kelly kicks him so often -- but even she can't save him from volunteering to be part of the city-wide math competition. And, lying to his parents about how much he loves math. And, she can't save him from flunking.

Gregory's in trouble. Worse than that, he's taken a short-cut on the truth with his very best and most precious first friend and it's coming back to kick him in the bum. Gregory needs to come to grips with telling the truth to his Mom and Dad about his math struggles, and his real dreams... but first, he's got to tell it to himself.

WARNING: This book is filled with discussions of higher math, references to polynomials, and the word "mathemagical." This may give you math flashbacks. There is both π and pie in this book. The best pie in the world is fresh blueberry, unless it is lemon cheesecake, key lime, apple with cheddar or French chocolate silk. Or peach. The theme of "finding your way" works for both life and numbers. Do not read while operating heavy machinery. Long division is only meditative if you can solve for zero. You may go away from this book a little sad, but just like numbers are eternal, so is friendship, if you let it be.

You can find THE 14 FIBS OF GREGORY K by Greg Pincus at an independent bookstore near you!

October 17, 2013

Toon Thursday: On Professional Correspondence

This is good advice for querying writers, but there are people in the review-requesting world who might do well to heed this, too...  I guess technically this one could've been a Pet Peeve but it made more visual sense this way (and I got to be snarkier, which is always fun).  Enjoy!

October 16, 2013

KIDLITCON: Where Everybody Knows Your Name (Or, at least the name of your blog)

We have some kidlitosphere news.
This isn't all the news, by any means.
This isn't anything about hotels, or great mojitos, or grab bags, or museums, or the waterfront, or the great shopping or the lovely warm shorts weather, or the breath-stealingly hilarious 1:1 chats you'll have with the good friends you've just met...

...nope, we can't tell you ALL of that - that's the part you have to add. But this news is some of what's going to be going on offer... at the Austin Kidlit Con.

(As always, click to embiggen, and feel free to snag the flyer!)

October 14, 2013

Cybils Nominations Close Tomorrow!

I may not be the Cybils blog editor this year, but as a general Cybils diehard, I would be remiss in not reminding you all that public nominations close tomorrow, October 15th, at midnight PST. That's the end of the day tomorrow, people! If you haven't gotten your nominations in, it's time, and there are PLENTY of worthy titles still left to be nominated. If you need a little help or, like me, need your memory jogged, check out the roundups here and here (Updated: here too!) with lists of books that deserve a nod. I know I tend to be less knowledgeable in non-YA areas, so I rely heavily on these lists every year and give enormous thanks to those hardworking folks who put them together. (Like my co-blogger!)

So: Go! Nominate! I'll be doing so myself a bit later today. And please: Tell your friends!

October 11, 2013

Small Change is the Only Change: 5 & Dime Friday

What a crazy, crazy busy week it has been. I'm a little excited, because I was given a gift this week that was totally unexpected. Actually, FOUR gifts:

One - Book Riot's superb BUY, BORROW, BYPASS post let me know - and Adrienne confirmed - that the one and only Allie Brosh from HYPERBOLE AND A HALF has a book out! It's called Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened and it's out October 29. I had to do a little happy dance. If you've never read the online comic Hyperbole and a Half... well, there's still time.

Two - I opened an email and read this line: If you are, at first, lonely be patient. If you’ve not been alone much or if, when you were, you weren’t okay with it then just wait…you’ll find it’s fine to be along once you’re embracing it. And then I squeed a little to myself, because, I could hear the poet reading the line. Yes. I am one of Those People responsible for making Tanya Davis’s poem, "How to Be Alone" have five million hits on YouTube. I'm at least a million hits all by my lonesome. (Okay, maybe fifty.) Visually jazzed up by artist Andrea Dorfman, this is a little video I have come back to over and over, the past couple of years. And now it's a book, out October 22nd. Am I getting it? AM I RIDICULOUSLY EXCITED? AM I, ONCE AGAIN, TYPING ALL IN CAPS?

Three - I have, in my sweaty little hands, a preview copy of THE FOURTEEN FIBS OF GREGORY K. We don't do a whole lot of MG fiction here, but what we do see is usually stand-above-the-crowd superior in some way. I have heard great things about this book, and am so excited to read it, and to cheer for our fellow blogger and poet and author Gregory K! Since this book is about someone who isn't quite sure about that math thing, I'm all over it.

Seriously, October. Thank you. I am feeling the book-love.

Finally, and this is a super-special Fourth Gift - The Poetry Seven are back and at it again. Laura Purdie Salas hosts the Poetry Friday round-up at her blog today, and there you'll find links to all of our pantoums! It's a real gift to write with these six talented and unique people, and it's just a treat - and a challenge - every time our crazy Pied Piper known as Liz gets us together.

I am so looking forward to the book BAD FOR YOU out from Henry Holt next year. Tor.com did a nifty little piece on the book this week. BAD FOR YOU is about the culture of the eighties and nineties some of us grew up in - when people went around trying to find subliminal messages in music (Check) and burning Harry Potter books (Check) and complaining about the evils of Dungeons & Dragons (Check). While this seems somewhat comedic in some respects, the fact is that people believed strongly in some amorphous and dark societal damage being done, and were merely trying to save the children. No, seriously. Anyway, the excerpts from the book make it look like some interesting historical reading, anyway.

The list of confirmed attendees is growing. Austin sounds like it's going to be a fun place to hang out. Kelly Jensen tells us there's cheap bowling and pizza near one of our venues. Doesn't that sound great? The Kidlit Con! Come for the ARC Book Swap! Stay for the bowling pins!

Pam and Kelly have worked hard on finding venues for a mini-Exhibit Hall Friday afternoon, and reasonably priced hotel accommodations. You should "hear" the discussions about places for Kidlit Drink Night, good things to eat, and all the fun stuff Austin has to offer. If you haven't been sure about going to the Con, and you're afraid there won't be anyone for you to talk to, think again. This is your tribe. Registration is still open.

@ Reading & Writing today, don't miss Alan Gratz!

The Cybils nominations are open until OCTOBER 15. I posted briefly about what hadn't yet been taken - and I, like Charlotte and others, am updating that post. Need some other hints? We've got ya covered.

Ever heard of discovery writing? It's the idea that sometimes you don't know what you think until you see what you say - which is a quote attributed to E.M. Forrester. T's blog acquaintance Richard began a PhD program in 2011 on the idea that writing helps us think. He's just finished - and successfully defended his thesis. Check out the very interesting premise he began with, and congrats to Richard!

Some days, it's all about the illustrations. Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast has the most gorgeous illustrated Torah story this week, titled, WITH A MIGHTY HAND. The artwork is halfway between iconography and ... something. It's lush. I love it when picture books look like coffee table art.

And, the Kidlit News just keeps on coming:

Over the past six years, we have proudly saluted 178 black authors and illustrators through our signature initiative. But there are so many more who deserve to be showcased. That’s where you come in. Help us identify under-the-radar and vanguard African-American children’s book authors and illustrators we should consider profiling. Let us know who we should check out so we can give them the praise they’ve earned.

SEVEN YEARS OLD this year, the 28 Days Later Book Love campaign from THE BROWN BOOKSHELF is rollin' onward. Yep, it's that time again, time to nominate authors and illustrators of color whose contribution might otherwise not reach its intended audience. The winners will be profiled during Black History Month in February. Nominations are open until November 8th, folks!

Shawna Mlawksi is back! @ Forever YA, she talks writing, and how even Caucasian characters could stand to have a little more diversity. Hat tip to Cynsations for the link.

Clashes of myth and history continue, with the yearly "Columbus Day" er, thing. I stopped observing this "holiday" as a fresher in college, taking the day to wear protest T-shirts and canvas sneakers with the word MURDERER on them... I would like to think I've gotten more nuanced in my responses, but not as nuanced as The Oatmeal. Don't need to spread more yuck, thanks - I'll just wish you a Happy Bartolomé Day instead.


October 10, 2013

Links and Thoughts Thursday

Novelists can learn a LOT from screenwriters. Case in point: the blog Cockeyed Caravan by Matt Bird and all its wonderful storytelling advice. A little while ago, via the Writer's Digest newsletter, I found this article called 5 Things Novelists Can Learn From Screenwriters, with a few really key pieces of advice about character, scene-building, and more. And LENGTH. Your book is too long, says Life of Pi screenwriter David Magee.

Via YA author Ashley Hope Perez and some other extremely excellent writers comes a new blog, Latinos/as in Kid Lit, focusing on children's, MG, and YA books by and for Latinos and Latinas. There are already some AMAZING essays about writing coming from their initial series of posts: check out Writing and Reading Latino/a Kid Lit is for Everyone, Not Just Latin@s and Give Kid Lit Readers a Broad Range with Real Characters - both chock full of great writing advice.

Here's some exciting news--the Kidlitosphere's own Lee Wind, master of public appearances (seriously, I'm in awe), now co-hosts a kidlit radio show--KID LIT with Lisa Loeb (yes, THAT Lisa Loeb)--currently listenable online via kidlitradio.org. AND it's got a Diversity Spotlight segment. We're not worthy! Go, Lee!

...And now for the thoughts. I've been thinking a lot about my inner critic, because she's been rearing her negativity-filled head again lately for various reasons. I have major, MAJOR inner critic issues. Today I decided to let her out and let her rant in her own words, while I wrote them down. Boy, does she have an answer for everything. Anyway, I came up with some interesting potential post fodder for an essay about our inner critical voice and the WHY of this whole writing thing, and I may put that up on my personal blog soon. [Speaking of which, HEY, go check out my cover reveal giveaway--post a comment and get entered in the random drawing for Cool Prizes.]

October 08, 2013

"Hasn't _ Been Nominated YET?" A Cybils Post

Greetings, Cybils SpecFic Fans,

Throughout the blogging year, I run across books, hear about books, and see catalogue titles roll by that I think, "Hm, I'll see that again during the Cybils." I'm always surprised when what I read doesn't end up on the list. What, I think to myself, have I been reading all year? Clearly, SpecFic is a deep, wide, and vast category, in which there are lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and LOTS of books. Of all the genre categories under the umbrella of YA lit, science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction are some of the most prolific goers.

I am not as organized and awesome as Charlotte, with her dual list of MG Speculative Fiction books yet to be nominated, but I sat down and tried to think just off the cuff of all the fab books published within the last year which I *expected* to see on the Cybils list. The ones from the Big 6 Publishers, the ones that had a lot of PR money and a lot of buzz behind them, the special indies I'd noted....

And, then I ran my list through the fancy-shiny new Cybils database (it ROCKS, Sheila. Seriously.) and wondered at how few of them were represented on Already Nominated list. Maybe I have some dates wrong - granted, it's a full-time and annoying job to make sure that all nominations fall within the right dates - but there are only eighty books nominated as of today (I'm typing this Monday afternoon), and I find myself a little surprised. Either the speculative fiction category this year has too many fab books from which to choose, or there's been a lot of buzz, and not a lot of belief from the reading public.

What say you?

(Last update 10/15.

Books already nominated show up in BOLD.

The Holders, Julianna Scott, Angry Robot
Zenn Scarlett, Christian Schoon
Etiquette & Espionage, by Gail Carriger
Pantomime, Laura Lam
Battlemagic, Tamora Pierce
The Woken Gods, Gwenda Bond
Killer of Enemies, Joseph Bruchac
The Clockwork Scarab, Colleen Gleason
Princess of the Silver Woods, Jessica Day George
Carrie Jones, ENDURE
Orleans, Sherri L. Smith
Ink, Amanda Sun
The Girl with the Iron Touch, Kady Cross
Scorched, Mari Mancusi
Weather Witch, Shannon Delaney
When We Wake, Karen Healey
The Different Girl, Gordon Dahlquist
A.G. Gaughen, Scarlet
Relativity, by Cristin Bishara - fell beyond date
Hero, Alethea Kontis
Texting the Underworld, Ellen Booraem - Middle Grade!
Inhuman, Kat Falls
Frozen, Melissa de la Cruz
Allegiant, by Vernoica Roth - release date falls after cutoff
Ghost Hand, Ripley Patton
Ironskin, Tina Connolly
Far, Far Away, Tom McNeal
Clockwork Princess, Cassandra Clare
The Shade of the Moon, Susan Beth Pfeffer
Requiem, Lauren Oliver
Inheritance, Malinda Lo
The Lord of Opium, Nancy Farmer
UNTOLD, Sarah Rees Brennan
Prodigy, Marie Lu
Shadowborn, Moira Katson - MG!
Blythewood, Carol Goodman
STUNG, Bethany Wiggins
The Beautiful and the Damned, Jessica Verday
The Elite, Ciera Cass
Scarlet, Marissa Meyer
Siege & Storm, Leigh Bardugo
Dark Triumph, R.L. LaFevers
The Bitter Kingdom, Rae Carson
Antigoddess, Kendare Blake
Horde, Ann Aguire
Crown of Midnight, Sarah J. Mass
Underneath, Sarah J. Stevenson
Invisibility, by Andrea Cremer
Paper Valentine, Brenna Yoanoff YA Genre Fic
The Summer Prince, Alayna Dawn Johnson
School Spirits, Rachel Hawkins
The Color of Rain, Cor McCarthy
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Holly Black
The Runaway King, Jennifer A. Nielsen - MG
The Nightmare Affair, Mindee Arnett
Mila 2.0, by Debra Driza
Prophesy, Ellen Oh
Not A Drop to Drink, Mindy McGinnis
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, April Tucholke
Poison, Bridget Zinn

Edited to Add, from Sheila
Fire & Ash by Jonathan Maberry,
The Final Descent (Monstrumologist) by Rick Yancey
SYLO by D.J. MacHale.

This is not to say that there isn't a NICE grab bag of books already nominated. Especially if you're an Indie Author, check it out. It's okay to nominate yourself or a friend if the book falls between the right dates, and is in the right genre. As for the rest of us, who tend to wait until the last possible moment... I hope this list provides some help and direction? Some memory nudges? SEVEN DAYS until nominations close!

October 07, 2013

Monday Reading Roundup: BROKEN and THE SHADE OF THE MOON

Broken, written by Elizabeth Pulford with illustrations by Angus Gomes, was one of the review copies I was recently offered. It's a book by a New Zealand author, and I'm always interested in  books from other English-language YA markets. In fact, one of my favorite fantasy authors, Karen Healey, is a Kiwi, too. I hadn't ever read anything by Elizabeth Pulford, but I found the premise of this one intriguing. Without giving away too many spoilers, the core idea is that narrator Zara is in a coma, floundering lost in her own mind and trying to fight her way back through a nightmarish world of her own making. Parts of the book take place in a sort of hybrid comic format, which was intriguing and atmospheric--in fact, the whole book is kind of atmospheric, rather than focusing on action, an interesting choice in today's action-and-suspense-saturated YA world. Despite that, there is plenty to keep readers engaged, not the least of which is the gradual revelation of painful truths about Zara, about her childhood, and about her brother, Jem. But she'll have to face those truths if she wants to fight her way back to life. It's a solid read, and a quick one--a good one to hand to reluctant readers, I think, but also a good one for readers who have a taste for the slightly surreal.

You can find Broken by Elizabeth Pulford online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

The Shade of the Moon is the fourth and final book in the Life As We Knew It series by Susan Beth Pfeffer. While I really enjoyed the first book, and thought the second was a pretty strong follow-up, I have to admit being less engaged by the third and fourth books. I thought one of the strengths of the early books in the series was their post-apocalyptic survival emphasis--how a disaster tests you and the ones you love, your mettle and grit in both a physical and mental/emotional sense. It's a combination that makes it very hard to stop reading. (Just one more chapter...just one more chapter...)

By the time we arrive at this fourth book, four years have gone by since the meteor crashed into the moon and threw it off its orbit, throwing the world into chaos. And now that Miranda, Alex, et al. have settled into life near an enclave--a larger settlement that has pulled together in some semblance of social structure--things have a sort of routine. Unfortunately, people being people, it's become more of an Orwellian plebes-and-proles situation, and if you don't have a pass to actually live inside the enclave, you're relegated to being a Grub, living outside the walls in poverty and working for the Clavers in whatever capacity they decide you're good for. Clearly a nod to dystopian fiction, I wasn't entirely sure how believable the situation was, and it seemed so different in tone and content than the earlier books that I was a little disconcerted. Still, it was a gripping read, and I rooted for the characters to succeed in a world in which morality and human decency have gone off the rails along with everything else.

You can find The Shade of the Moon by Susan Beth Pfeffer online, or at an independent bookstore near you, or--like I did--at your local library.

October 04, 2013

Ring Around the Kidlitosphere, Pocket Full of FIVE & DIME FRIDAY

Why, it wouldn't be America, without rancor, chaos, a tantruming government and a complete lack of making sense. Fortunately, there's the world of words and blogs and books, places which always have reliably provided a reasonable escape. Grab a chunk of change, and dive in my friends.

Did y'all miss National Poetry Day? Chicken Spaghetti celebrated.

Meanwhile, at the blog with the clever name, Karen drops some wisdom on writing: "Writing, young writers need to learn, is a process through which you can always take it back, throw it out, or start over... perhaps the single most important thing for young writers to learn is that rough drafts are called "rough" for a reason." Watching the Wee Men (yes, my nephews are related to Nac Mac Feegles; trust me on this) learn to write this past summer, I've realized what a huge difference there is between a child who learned to write with a back button in his hand, and another who only had that awful newsprint paper with the wide lines. We can get really frozen by our mistakes... and yet, writing is a messy business.

If you haven't been following Disability in YA, you missed Lyn Miller-Lachmann's great piece on separating the writer from the character. I had the pleasure of meeting Lyn at the 2010 ALA week, and it was nice to meet someone else who was just about as stunned by the noise and the HUGENESS of everything as I was - and yet, she rocked her presentation on Gringolandia. Here she talks about her new book and now art, in this case, only imitates life slightly.

Everybody's talking about the apocalypse. Either Asimov was right about everything (he wasn't) or it was all down to Orwell. Either way: DOOM, amirite? (Hat tip to Tor.com for the second morning linkage.)

The Speculative Literature Foundation's stated goal is "to promote literary quality in speculative fiction, by encouraging promising new writers, assisting established writers, facilitating the work of quality magazines and small presses in the genre, and developing a greater public appreciation of speculative fiction." This being all good, I'm pleased to report that there are two writerly types who have gotten involved in raising funds to support diversity in science fiction and fantasy. Ellen B. Wright and Faye Bi have kicked off the Diverse Worlds Grant Fundraiser. They're planning on running the New York City Marathon to raise funds, and they need your support. Diversity in YA has the full story.

This past week, DiversifYA hosted Lee & Low's Marketing & Publicity Assistant, Keilin Huang, and their Marketing & Publicity Manager, Hannah Ehrlich for two days of questions, answers, and discussion starters on the kidlit books diversity aspect from the publishing point of view. These folks are thoughtful and their responses will get you thinking.

More diversity in conversation comes from Jennifer Laughran, agent for Andrea Brown and our own A.F.'s super-agent. Jenn talks about what's coming across her desk: "The majority of submissions I get are about kids and teens who are white, comfortably well off, able-bodied, secular, average-sized, cis-gender and straight. Maybe (in fact, probably) their race or economic status or religion or sexual orientation or whatever is never mentioned... but let's get real, if it isn't mentioned in any way EVER, the reader is going to assume and "default normal." As always, publishing can't be the ONLY place to change things if writers are sticking to the status quo...

So, remember those grammar plates I loved from Uncommon Goods? Behold: the mugs. You know you know someone who needs/wants these. Hat Tip, Book Riot's Book Fetish.

By now, we all know that young adult fiction is where it's at in publishing. Even indie publishing is talking about the importance of a strong children's section. YA speculative fiction, specifically, is a leading light for SFF, and has attracted the attention, and the sometimes painful efforts of a great many adult SFF authors, to varying degrees of success. But... do you think adult SFF is, like, OVER? At The Skiffy and Fanty Show (a cute take on SciFi and Fantasy, if you missed it) the words "stagnant, rigid," and "stale" have been used. Don't panic, y'all. Hat tip to SF Signal for the link.

More Malorie Blackman: You know you want to go to the first UK YA Lit Con, in July 2014. You were looking for an excuse to go to London anyway, right?

Ready... Set... Continue! It's Kidlitosphere Days right now, and between the run-up to the Con in Austin, we've sandwiched Cybils Week in all its bookish glory. Overlord Anne, Sheila, Jackie, Charlotte, Karen, and their cohorts have done it again. A spiffy new database, and mounds and mountains of books being nominated. Those of us on reading teams are already looking with disbelief at the pile of books, asking each other, "Had you ever heard of this one??? It's kind of crazy, but that's the beauty and the splendid awesomeness of the Cybils Awards, a chance to get well-loved books read by a smaller population into the larger mainstream. A.F. is a Final Judge in the YA Books category, and I'm with the newly named YA Speculative Fiction.

If you're wondering WUT THE HEY about the "speculative" fiction name instead of the usual SFF, the whole genre label is the subject of much discussion among readers and writers. Isaac Asimov, back in the day, explained that science fiction, given its grounding in science, is possible; fantasy, which has no grounding in reality, is not. Interestingly, Margaret Atwood recently said that speculative fiction has a chance of phasing into reality within our lifetimes, which, if you read her work, should scare the crap right out of you. For the sake of the Cybils, we both discard such those generalized descriptions, and include them. Using the name "speculative" as an umbrella above the whole science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, court intrigue, alternate universes, military SF, cyberpunk, Greek pantheon, witches-vampires-werewolves, etc, etc, thing allows us to cut down on description. Speculative Fiction: we contain multitudes, baby.


EDITED TO ADD: OH, my goodness, GO look at Sarah's spooktastic new cover. Right now.

Okay, I am not a product shill, but I am ALLLLLL for the positivity. Folger's Coffee has started an online community thing called The Best Part (and, you're welcome for putting a coffee jingle in your head for the rest of the flippin' day.) and it has a presence on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. In a world where artist friends of mine who teach art and music are losing students because their parents work for - guess who? - the government, and they can't afford their lessons right now, to stressful worries about underfunded STEM programs, weather, car payments and student loans, right now, we need people who are spreading optimism like yes, and oh, my word. Even if you never drink a drop of Folger's - and don't do so on my account - you can spread words of hope and light in your community. A single sisal fiber doesn't do much on its own, but bound together with its neighbors becomes an amazingly strong rope. As the Kidlitosphere community well knows: we're stronger together. Up the positive, and, have a relaxing, happy weekend.

TURNING PAGES: Inhuman, by Kat Falls

A lot of people say that they are over "dystopia." They might be - but they probably haven't read that much of it to be sure. People often mix up dystopia with post-apocalyptic novels (if you do, I have a flowchart for you), not realizing that a deeply flawed system of government, intended to create a perfect society - that is, a utopia is one of the crucial parts of dystopian literature. I mention this, because government is crucial to this post-apocalyptic novel... government, a misuse of power, and a twisted, twisted little world, in the wake of a nasty environmental disaster, the impact of which is horrifically bad, and getting worse...

This novel reminded me of a whole spate of post-apocalyptic novels, where We live on this side of the wall, safe from Them, including the THE SUMMER PRINCE, by Alayna Dawn Johnson, THE CHAOS, by Nalo Hopkinson; Susan Ee's ANGELFALL, PARTIALS, by Dan Wells, KILLER OF ENEMIES, by Joseph Bruchac, PURE, by Julianna Baggott, BLOOD RED ROAD by Moira Young, and many others.

Concerning Character: As any teen would do anywhere, sixteen-year-old Lane McEvoy pushes the rules. Not as much as some, maybe, but she knows she and her friends aren't supposed to be outside, so close to the Wall, which divides the world that is safe from the world of the Feral Zone, which is anything East of the Mississippi River, where everyone is either infected with the Ferae Naturae virus, or dead. Lane knows the party she and other members of her gang are at for a rare, in-person meeting is completely unsanctioned - germs from laughter, from kissing, from dancing are just flying through the air - but she's there anyway, frequently applying hand sanitizer. Like other teens of the "exodus" generation, Lane has a sentimental name - Delaney Park, which was the place in the long-lost state of Indiana where her parents met, and she's the only child of a super over-protective parent. Unlike a lot of her friends, however, Lane's got an ex-Marine for a housekeeper, and her Dad's job, which requires him to be gone a lot, makes him paranoid about her. Lane's father has been making her take these stupid survivalist classes for years, like he's some kind of bizarre apocalypse hippie. (Which is crazy! He's a lactose intolerant art dealer and wears bifocals, for goodness sakes.) It's only because he remembers so vividly when the plague hit, eighteen years ago. Sure, lots of adults became fearful, but it's not like all of them made their kids into some weird hippies. Lane can live off the land, build a fire, incapacitate an attacker with her bare hands, and find her way anywhere with a compass, or by the stars. In the city, on the safe side of the Titan, the 700-foot-tall wall that extends from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, who even NEEDS that?

When she's singled out by the authorities and dragged off to a handcuffed walk of shame by the Biohazard Defense guys, Lane's horrified - but she knows she hasn't really done anything that wrong. After all, she just went to a party. It's not like she's been anywhere that she could be infected ... nobody with any sense would do that. She's heard all the crazy stories, after all, aside from her father's fairytales - about people mutating into some kind of Ferals, about the checkpoints, where people tried to get into the safe area, through the wall. About how everything East of the Mississippi is just this empty, alien wasteland... the penalty for going to see is death. Her father's stories have made Lane curious enough to send over a recording device on a remote controlled helicopter, but she's not crazy, no matter what her best friend, Anna, says. Sneaking across the Wall is a felony, punishable by death. And, they have no hand sanitizer there so seriously: Lane's not interested.

As it turns out, "crazy" is relative, and the truth is a lot more complex than Lane ever dreamed. The more Lane finds out, the more she realizes that everything - the things she thought her life was about, the facts of the history of her society - it all spins on secrets and more lies. The incursions of the Feral Zone into her world are closer than she thinks, and when she's forced to go - completely unprepared - into a world of dangers she never knew existed, there's no way she can be ready -- everything she knows about the Feral Zone is all rumor and her Dad's made-up fairytales.

Lane's out of choices - and soon, someone she loves will be out of time...

WARNING: Once you've read past the first three chapters of this novel, you will be hit with a major urge for hand sanitizer. At times, the delicious shiver of "Eew" will morph into the shudder of "Ugh," but you will keep reading, because you cannot stop. Be aware that there are two boys in this novel: they are both ridiculously good looking. Do not let this make you fling the book in irritation. Do not read while handling heavy machinery. The word "manimal" should not make you think of the word "manwich," and if it does, wash out your brain with soap this instant. There are no such things as chupacabras. In the apocalypse, spiders will be all that's left. Void where prohibited. Your mileage may vary.

I received my ARC copy courtesy of Scholastic and the author. You can find INHUMAN by Kat Falls online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

October 03, 2013

Toon Thursday and Announcements

Three things before the cartoon is revealed:
  1. Have you registered for Kidlitcon yet? Proposals are still being accepted!
  2. Have you submitted your Cybils nominations yet? You have until Oct. 15!
  3. Check my personal blog tomorrow for the OFFICIAL COVER REVEAL of my next book! And a giveaway!
Right. Now the toon. We appreciate your patience and cooperation.

October 02, 2013

PSSSST. Hey, Texas. We're COMING!!!!

Psst! Registration for the 2013 Kidlit Con is still open! The Con committee is seeking panel proposals from either teams or individuals on various topics of interest to the blogging kidlitosphere - You have until 11:59pm on Friday, October 4, 2013 to submit your proposal, so get on that! The site has all the details and the form. This year's keynote speaker is prolific blogger and author CYNTHIA LEITICH SMITH, who is a warm and personable person, as well as a fab author, and her presentation will be a lot of fun.

Once upon a time, this was an idea - then a potluck - and now for seven years running, a place where many people meet up with Their Tribe. Will you be there?

October 01, 2013

TURNING PAGES: Wake Up Missing, by Kate Messner

Okay, I had the WORST insomnia the other night, and I thought, "Oh, good, I have a couple of books on hand. I'll just turn on my flashlight like a nine-year-old, and pretend I'm camping." Which, if you didn't know, is fairly awesome. I mean, bed-camping. With books and flashlight. The BEST life, yeah?

Well, yeah, but may I suggest that you read a book that won't SCARE THE CRAP OUT OF YOU in the middle of the night??? This book will freak you out at any time.

If you're familiar with One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest this is the same sort of thing (not as gory, though): a book about institutions and inmates, imbalance of power, the human mind - and, strangely, ethics.

Okay, not that there aren't usually ethics in middle grade books, but this book brings up a clear-cut question of "just because I can do this, should I?" which has to be thought through by our protagonist, and answered. The author brings up a troubling question for the present-day, modern world about rebooting the past, and trying to correct the wrongs of the past, in order to stay "on top" of some imaginary heap...

This is smart fiction for smart kids, girls AND boys. I love that I learned the real deal about retroviruses (and you'd better believe I looked it up, like any seventh grader worth their salt is going to), genetics, brain science, and DNA. This is edgy fiction for kids who like thrillers. It has action, a fast pace, an uneasy feel, and a few gut-clenching moments where you scream, "No! Don't go in there! Don't do it!" Which every proper horror movie and thriller novel should have.

Concerning Character: Poor Cat. She was having a fairly awesome life for a twelve-year-old - living on a houseboat in the SF Bay, watching the Bay birds, and sculpting them from clay - but everything changed when she fell out of a birding platform and got a traumatic brain injury. She can't even remember what bird she was after that day - just a moment, a fall - and now everything is a mess. Headaches. Irritability. Nausea. Memory loss. And watching her mother's stress level ratchet up and up and up means that all Cat wants to do is BE NORMAL. Get back on track. Try and make her brain get better so she remembers who and how she was before. So she can go back to her life.

She's got a long way to go, though. Her journey goes West-by-East. Getting back to herself means going for a course of treatment all the way to Florida, to a brain injury center located in the Everglades. Called I- CAN, it's the International Center for Advanced Neurology. And isn't it a pretty, feel-positive name? And yet, there's no responding lift in Cat's demeanor. There's no joy that they take an airboat to the facility -- it's not fun, it's loud. There's no leap of interest at meeting Ben, another patient, and his aunt, or the other two kids, Sara and Quentin, who have been at the center already for two weeks, and Cat feels very little eagerness to meet the final stage kids, Trent and Kylee. There's no joy, that they're all in the Everglades, that the crusty boat operator shows then an alligator, that the facility is top-notch and state-of-the-art, has a gorgeous, Olympic sized pool, and looks much more like a resort than a hospital. Even the ultra-friendly Dr. Ames, the cafeteria with the great food and never any line, because, hey: six patients isn't entirely --

Wait. ...Six patients? With such a huge, shiny facility? What's up with that?

Something's not... right. Cat doesn't feel at all comfortable, or well. We, the readers, feel wrong and unwell right along with her - it's like we have her dis-ease and her headaches too. It's small and subtle, but there's this note of wrongness that sounds from the first moments of the novel, and jangles with louder and louder discordance the longer the novel goes on.

It starts with someone missing. A boy, Trent, whom Sara knew and liked - a lot. He's... odd, when they see him again. Formal. Busy. Distracted. He wasn't like that before, Sara argues. Before, he was fun, goofy. Into her.

Each of the small fractures in the plot is easily dismissed, from the beginning. Hyperactive teen girls are delusional sometimes, right? I mean, so the guy isn't into Sara anymore. She's kind of annoying - she never stops talking. It might be her fault. Is it easier to just accept that, or tell the lie that they've done something to him? It's ridiculous, right?

Isn't it?

Everybody there has a brain injury. How reliable are their memories? How much can Cat believe of a conversation she eavesdrops on, or a phone call she overhears? How much do the suspicions of others matter? She needs to talk to her mother, but... well, she's got to make the phone call from the office, right in front of the doctor, since there's no cell service. And, anyway, who's going to believe that there's anything wrong about doctors?

WARNING: Exacerbates sleeplessness, especially if read in bed with flashlights. May be snatched from middle-grade hands by older siblings, or, worse, their marauding parental units, desperately in search of a good book. Under no circumstances should you operate heavy machinery whilst reading. Your mileage may vary, void where prohibited. Author Kate Messner has written a novel of addictive readability and tautly balanced anxiety, with a gender neutral cover that's E for Everyone. Be aware that books cause thought, and books consumed with caffeinated beverages cause faster thought. Do not imagine that this is purely fiction, and could never happen. Available now on a bookshelf near you.

I received my ARC copy courtesy of the author and NetGalley. You can find WAKE UP MISSING by Kate Messner at an independent bookstore near you!