February 28, 2014

TURNING PAGES: The Violet Hour, by Whitney A. Miller

After a lengthy push to finish up a manuscript, I'm sort of blinking in daylight. Time to dig into a pile of neglected books! First up, a debut from Bay Area writer Whitney A. Miller. I would characterize this one as horror - but though there's gore and a lot of eyeballs, the graphic content is merely phantasm. Mostly. Though the storyline eventually makes sense, you have to stay on the ride to get there, and be warned, if you're a regular horror reader, you might not agree to this. I admit to having had trouble sticking it at first - I had issues with Harlow's relationships, her prescription drug use, her father's incomplete backstory, and more. But, if you're not reading closely, but reading more for Gothic chills and fun, this is Horror Lite, and a somewhere to start for those who want to eventually graduate to Christopher Golden.

Concerning Character: Though she appears to be Asian, she has green eyes, and the lightest dusting of freckles. 17-year-old Harlow Wintergreen is adopted, and her father, whom she calls the General, is the Patriarch of VisionCrest, a religion so successful it claims one-quarter of the world’s population as followers. Did I say "religion?" I meant "cult." Harlow is not a fan, nor is she a believer, and, once upon a time, neither was her guy bestie and maybe-soon-to-be boyfriend, Adam. All this ended when he and his family were kidnapped... when he returned, he is a True Believer, heavily tattooed, and -- treating Harlow as if she did something to him personally. Not just indifferent, but rude, and only hanging with Mercy Mayer, Harlow's archnemesis. What is up with that??? Then there's the VisionCrest Ministry as a whole - why are they hiding the stories of the kidnappings? Who's doing it? What's going on? And, why is Harlow's father suddenly afraid of her?

More than Adam's defection, something else is eating at Harlow - visions. Or, voices. Or, something. I must admit that I wish more time had been spent on the voices Harlow heard. Apparently they had started when she was "knee high," and she'd been immediately put on a series of medications, so that it would be apparent that she had no "defect." Well, I can see that, but I would have liked to have a flashback of memory to when they started, and to see the medication affect her. What the heck is Subdueral? Does it make your mouth all cottony and dry, like other psychosomatics? Or, is it a psychosomatic? How come she can cram them into her mouth at all times, with seemingly no backlash of physical symptoms? What are they supposed to do, and how are they supposed to do it? Much about this drug has to be taken on faith, as does much about Harlow's voices. Though I immediately thought she was schizophrenic, that word never even comes up, nor does mental illness seem to be an option for her. The text never makes clear what will happen IF someone finds out, but there's an inference that Something Will, which is unfortunate. Specificity is always good in a story.

The Violet Hour is a part of the VisionCrest True Believers cant and catechism. It's the hour of night when The General found Harlow in the ruined temple in the jungle - that's what he said, that he found her. It's the hour that's most sacred to the cult, when the veil between the Inner-eye and mortals was thinnest. With enough mediation, True Believers feel that they can go into the depths of mysteries and Know Things, as well as receive everlasting life. Harlow doesn't believe in this, but eventually comes to believe that there's some truth to a little of what on which her father has built his religious corporation. I was disappointed that she wasn't able to delve into that further - she never seemed to wonder why she could do what she could, who her benefactors and enemies truly were, and why people were willing to shed blood - and give up eyes - for it. (Also, WHY EYES?) When the General eventually tells Harlow the truncated story of how she came to be adopted, he reveals information to her about her mother - or her creator - which confuses and troubles her. She has promised him riches and respect, in return for returning her corporeal body to earth. But, how did she come to not be on the earth? What happened to trap her at the temple where she was found? And, other than being on hand after her religion is established, what does she get out of it? These questions are never really answered.

A major issue for me was Harlow's age - she was seventeen, and in Asia, yet seemed to fear her ability to make it in the world. Her entering further into the mysteries of this cult when she didn't believe in it seemed to make sense, at first - she wanted to see what, if anything, her father might share with her, but when it becomes apparent that he's not only disinterested in sharing, but actively has a distaste for her, it makes ZERO sense to me that she stays. Several time the book mentions "severed" children, offspring of Ministry employees who have been kicked out. Everybody even knows where some of them live - together - but Harlow never takes this option, acting like if she goes into that place, she'll ...cease to exist? Despite her age, she seems to be strangely helpless, dependent and immature.

Another issue that stood out for me was Harlow's relationship with her classmates. She names an archnemesis within the first few pages, and throughout the book, while Major Things are going on, she daydreams about boys or fumes about taking revenge on this archnemesis, who dares feel up her boy. Um... so, the black-out visions where everybody dies are second to making sure you get a boyfriend? Why does Harlow even have an archnemesis? I kind of hate it when there's no explanation of female antagonism in a YA novel it's as if the writer assumes that you'll just accept that girls take an arbitrary dislike to each other, because, you know, hormones. Mercy does a lot of stereotypical Mean Girl types of things like tossing her hair and taunting Harlow by kissing Adam and running her hands up under his shirt. Eventually they hook up, and then there's the "No, I love you, no really, it was just sex," sorts of conversations that made me roll my eyes. I think the novel would have been stronger without this, but it motivated Harlow to include Adam in her inner circle.

Things I loved about the story include Dora, the robot-mad, wisecracking daughter of Ministry supporters who is Harlow's sidekick who drags her into health and cheerfulness, even when she feels otherwise. Unfortunately, her personality goes a little two-dimensional when things get tough - at the end, she sort of vanishes. It's interesting that a group of teens from today are so deeply interested in the Sex Pistols and punk rock - that's a bit out of their time period, but, since the book opens on a train headed toward Harajuku in Tokyo, it makes sense for her to be embracing heavy makeup and pretense, as the fashionable teens there do. There's a great Gothic creep-factor from a little girl in a white dress called Mei Mei Wang; she and her mother are some of Harlow's supporters... but they, too, vanish, leaving the reader with too many questions. Likewise, Harlow's old crush appears and vanishes. So many loose ends are left hanging from this novel that at the end, I wrinkled my nose and waded through publication information to see if there was supposed to be a sequel... and to that I can say, "No."**

This was confusing for me - dark, and murky, and some of the loose ends were never tied to my satisfaction. However, readers who appreciate a romantic triangle, heartache, rejection, impending plague, mysterious voices, and Sid & Nancy references will enjoy this uneven, Gothic mystery.

3/9/14 EDITED TO ADD: **I was wrong! Hat tip to intrepid reader/reviewer Nicole Hewitt for pointing me toward this post on the author's site. There WILL be a sequel; ALL SHALL BE REVEALED. Or, something like that.**

I received my book courtesy of the publisher. After March 8, 2014, you can find THE VIOLET HOUR by Whitney A. Miller at Flux, or at an independent bookstore near you!

February 27, 2014

Toon & Temporary Disappearance

With my final deadline looming on my upcoming novel--the one where I get a nifty-looking stack of printed proofs via Fedex, and then have to go over them with a fine-toothed comb for typos and any other remaining errors; with an absolute HEAP of preparation to do for two online classes which HAVE ALREADY STARTED (PANIC PANIC PANIC) and entail much construction of PowerPoints on my part; with an insanity-inducing number of demands on my brain space--I have decided I will need to disappear from the blog for a little while. A few weeks at most.

In a perfect world, I would have done a new cartoon today, but instead, since we're on the subject, I present you with this rather topical old chestnut:

I did this one way back when, in honor of Tanita, well before I would truly understand the meaning of Amazing Juggling Writer for myself. However, I find it no less accurate. Therefore, I'm off to juggle, and will see you soon. If I am lucky or procrastinatory enough, you may see me tune in from time to time on one of my regularly scheduled days...Or perhaps I will repost a few old faves so I'm not totally absent...but original posts will resume in a couple of weeks!

February 24, 2014

Cybils Review: DR. BIRD'S ADVICE FOR SAD POETS by Evan Roskos

Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets (how much do I love that title? Answer: lots) was one of the Cybils Award shortlisted titles in YA Fiction for 2013. Like the Cybils-winning title, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass (reviewed here), this one also manages to deal with serious issues using a lot of humor and a character whose neuroses teen readers (and other readers) will find eminently relatable.

James Whitman, the narrator of this book, is funny. Even when he's anxious, or depressed, which is pretty much always, especially now that his sister has left home and dropped out of school, he is quirky and silly and just manages not to take himself TOO seriously—at least, not inside his own head, where he talks to an imaginary therapist named Dr. Bird. Who is a pigeon. On the other hand, when he's feeling good, when it's a good day, he YAWPs to himself, a la Walt Whitman. And he hugs trees. He does that when he's feeling good OR when he's feeling bad. What the author does really well, though, with James, is keeping all of that from seeming preposterous. It somehow works, and instead of being ridiculous and unbelievable, it just seems ridiculously real.

A brief caveat, though: I had a minor issue with the Whitman. Whitman-comma-Walt, I mean. This may well be because of the fact that Whitman poetry was required reading in my high school English classes, but the inclusion of so much Whitman felt "educational" and even, at times, forced. NOT that I don't like Whitman. And I liked it just fine at the time I was studying it, too, and I read a lot of poetry when I was a teen, both curricular and extracurricular. But I found myself reacting to it here by wondering if it would feel, to teen readers, like a vehicle for teaching Whitman.

Having said that, what makes this a great book is the fact that the story, and how engaging it is, transcended my questions about the poetry and its placement. It has humor, as I mentioned. It has suspense, as we follow James in his quest to find his sister Jorie and find out why she left home. It has friendship—James's developing relationship with Beth was sweet and funny, and reminds us that there are times when a caring friend who's willing to reach out is just as important as a therapist (imaginary or otherwise). It has "issues," not just with respect to James and his mental health, but also the various traumas in his family life—all of which take a back seat to him trying to get his sister back where she belongs. This becomes his obsession, even if it's not the best outcome for everyone involved, even if he knows school and home are a problem. Essentially, he places all of his hopes on having her back and everything going back to normal.

Of course, what is "normal"? As James discovers—as we all do, sooner or later, one hopes—there may be no such thing as normal; maybe, in some cases, what is "normal" is not right or good. Maybe what we need is NOT to be normal. In the long run, that may, in fact, be just fine.

You can find Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

February 21, 2014


Last February 4th, Rosa Parks would have been 100 years old. When they unveiled the new stamp in her honor last year, I got a little joy from seeing the word COURAGE in all-caps next to the blown-up image of her face as painted by Thomas Blackshear II. Courage, indeed. Of the many "faces" of the Civil Rights movement, Rosa Parks - humble, unpolished, and not at all tired, thank you very much, is one of my favorites. Gracious and beautiful, she was often the recipient of letters from children and young adults, and she answered them -- with the seriousness they deserved.

Not only can you win a copy of the book of collected letters, YOU CAN WIN A SIGNED COPY.

Every February, LEE & LOW hosts a giveaway to celebrate Black History Month. This year, we continue to honor Black History Month by offering our biggest giveaway yet: two chances to win a copy of Dear Mrs. Parks: A Dialogue With Today’s Youth, signed by Rosa Parks.

Six more days. Go. Now.

February 20, 2014

Cybils Review: SEX & VIOLENCE by Carrie Mesrobian

Today's review looks at another one of the Cybils Award shortlisted titles in YA Fiction for 2013. Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian—while I'm not a huge fan of the book's title—was nevertheless one of the four books that were kind of tied for my favorite of the bunch. While I may not have picked this one up solely on the basis of the cover or the jacket copy, it actually blew me away for so many reasons, nearly all of which boil down to amazing writing.

Before I get into the writing, I just want to note that this is an amazing "guy book." (And, perhaps, does that explain the title? Who knows?) I highly recommend it to my friends over at Guys Lit Wire—the narrator had a truly authentic teenage male voice, and I would like to stress that I say that with no caveats whatsoever regarding the gender of the author (I don't believe in that business anyway). Evan is a very REAL character, and his coming of age was thus equally convincing and felt true to life in so many ways. Also, the dialogue was fantastic—female and male characters alike—making each and every one of them individual and visible and audible.

At the beginning of the story, we join Evan only briefly for his "life before," during which we find out he is a bit of a player; then he suffers a trauma which I will not detail for fear of spoilers. The pacing in this first part feels strange, as we go from life-is-a-breeze-with-lots-of-sex Evan to life-is-a-dangerous-place-and-I-don't-know-what-to-do-now Evan; from a high-tension boarding-school setting to a rural lakeside cabin where the newly cautious Evan is forced to deal with his dad and with a whole new peer group. The transition goes quickly, and the majority of the book is about his recovery from trauma, his process of learning about himself and about the others around him, about his father and his family. It's more about the aftermath of sex and violence than the acts themselves; the ramifications and the small things that become even bigger things if we don't deal with them. It's about the real bonds of friendship and love, and how those develop, and how they vastly outweigh the purely physical in what they do for us, how they help us heal and grow. And it's probably just reader greed, but I wanted a little more of Evan Before so that contrast of Evan After would seem even more fully realized.

Regardless of that, every other aspect of the story was impressively fleshed out, particularly the adult characters like Evan's dad—far from being ancillary or an afterthought, his father was believable and imperfect, and had some plot complications of his own, many of which made me (and Evan) wonder if the "like father, like son" adage is really true, or if we can transcend our past and our genetics and become better people.

The one caveat I do have regarding this one is that it IS quite gritty and edgy, and has its share of (believable) teen drinking and sex and drug use and swearing and other shenanigans. So that might make it a better one for older teen readers, and perhaps not one to hand to that precocious 11-year-old advanced reader, depending on one's opinion regarding such matters. Still: FANTASTIC book. I loved it so much more than I thought I might. It's like Sarah Dessen for guys, and I mean that in the best possible way (since I like Sarah Dessen's books)—a story about coming of age, about young people growing up fast, about the bonds of friendship, family, and love, and surviving what life throws at you.

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

February 19, 2014

WCOL Wednesday: THE HOUSE ON PARCHMENT STREET, by Patricia A. McKillip

Sometimes I get on a tear and read ALLLLLL The Things from one particular writer. I've been on a McKillip tear, so I have been re-reading all of the old favorites I can find, like THE FORGOTTEN BEASTS OF ELD and THE ALPHABET OF THORN and all of those lovely, ethereal and particularly McKillip-y books, when I ran across one I hadn't seen before. THE HOUSE ON PARCHMENT STREET? I wondered to myself. It had that sort of hideous cover that always says 70's Children's Book to me... and sure enough, that's what it was.

A little research, and I found three covers - one the original lavender library binding, one the original shrieking yellow paperback, and one a paperback re-issue from Aladdin in 1978, which makes the main characters look like they're all about six years old, which is a shame. The earliest covers focus on the historical characters in the novel; on the back cover of the hardback is depicted an elderly woman cleaning a gravestone - taken straight from the text, but a potentially odd choice for the cover of a MG book. However, it was originally published in 1973 - well before we were reading around here - and very much explains the writing style, the prevalence of mustard yellow, and the design choices.

A new-old find, and a particularly toothsome little morsel for Wicked Cool Overlooked Books Wednesday.

CONCERNING CHARACTER:: Honestly, there's just something ABOUT these old-school middle grade novels. There's mystery -- sometimes to the point where the reader is scratching their head, going, "Eh?"

The tale opens with a tall, thin, red-haired girl arriving in a poky English village, on foot. Her hair is a mess, she's barefoot, and she's lugging a suitcase. She stops in front of a large, walled house which is across the road from an old-fashioned cemetery. Abruptly, she is surrounded by catcalling boys on bicycles, circling her, staring insolently, and calling names. When she speaks, it is apparent that she is American, which makes her even more an object of interest.

The tall girl swings her suitcase around and knocks the catcalling boys away (leaving one protesting, and trying to speak) and goes through the gate, into the house - and nearly runs over another boy who is inside, fixing a bike. Still no shoes. Still big hair. Still no real explanation for what's going on.

And, yet, the scene more than sets up the out-of-place, uncomfortable and distasteful emotions in the character. Carol is a California hippie-type who's really not at all sure about this "month abroad to expand your mind" thing she's been sold on. Between the stupid boys, staring at her hair and her height and her thinness - and the glowering boy inside the house, Carol feels like an imbecile. She feels stupider still to realize that she wasn't supposed to pick herself up from the airport - her aunt and uncle are even now searching for her. It's going to be a horrible summer.

Bruce meets his cousin, and is grudgingly sorry for her, mixed together with his annoyance that she's going to be in his way four a month. He suspects he should do a better job of being nice and polite, but as far as he's concerned, once he shows her to her room, he's out. Interestingly, the novel gives us a lot of insight into Bruce's emotional state without giving anything away - but it's clear from his prickly demeanor that something is going on with him - but what?

Bruce is a brat, his friends are imbeciles, and she's not keen on graveyards, even if she is nearly fifteen. Carol would like to go home now, please.

Bruce would like her to go -- or, no, stay. Stay and distract his parents, with her wild red hair and clumsy American awkwardness. His parents right now are driving him nuts anyway - his Dad is harping on his smoking (!) and implies he's a bully, when he's just hanging out with his friends...and bothering people until they sometimes break down and cry (And, this is why to me the image of Bruce on the 1978 cover is ludicrous). However, his friends are driving him nuts, too - following him around, demanding his time, harping on him for not hanging out more. He's fighting with his father, he's fighting with his friends, he's fighting with himself. Everything is annoying, and Bruce hates the house their renting. It's freezing, it's too dark, and his father hasn't listened to anything he's told him about it, at all. And, most of all, Bruce does need someone to listen...

Misadventure seems to follow Carol - she nearly brains her cousin and breaks her elbow messing with an ancient weapon, she breaks things, she stumbles around. After nearly burning down the house the night before - and her bed - Carol finds the English summertime damp and cold - she's left at a loose end, since Bruce seems to be hiding from her,and her aunt and uncle are busy. Glumly, Carol climbs a tree, visits a lady who lives by the graveyard, and wanders the big, cold house behind its gates and high stone wall. It's kind of an adventure - until she sees a man with a sword walk into the wall. Yes, into the wall. She mistook it for a shadow, until it happened again when she was alone... Great. Now, on top of every other misery in trying to fit in with a cousin who doesn't like you, in a country you've never been, Carol is seeing ghosts. Of course, she can't actually tell anyone - it's clear they already think she's crazy...

Both Bruce and Carol feel sure that it's going to be a dreadful summer. As it turns out, on some level, they're both right - and both completely wrong.

This is decidedly no romance in this novel - except the romance of history, and the quiet beginnings of a friendship which maybe-perhaps-someday-a-ways-off could become something else. A quirky, charming tale, this doesn't have the typical McKillip feel quite - but given that it's probably her first or second book ever written for publication, she definitely worked her way into her current style. While I'm not generally that big a fan of the traditional "ghost" story, this is a fairly good one. This book skews younger, and is perfect for younger middle grade - 10 - 12 - who like a dose of old-fashioned mystery in the feel of HARRIET THE SPY. It's a quick read for a cloudy Wednesday afternoon.

My copy is an old library selection. Much to my chagrin, I realized just now that Charlotte reviewed this book last summer. Oh, well! Great minds, and all of that.

You can dig around in old bookstores or your public library and find THE HOUSE ON PARCHMENT STREET by Patricia McKillip. It is otherwise a rare find, and not readily available for purchase. Do check Powell's, Alibris, and Amazon.

February 18, 2014

♥Lovin' The Books♥

Last Friday was Valentine's Day, of course, and such a day stuffed with goodies and hearts and schmears of chocolate on your fingertips. We celebrated here with Aphrodite - who better? - but like all good parties, we don't know when to quit. The celebration continues!

Go, Cybils!

By now, you've heard that the Cybils have roared forth - and this year has been a swell one for us, because we've actually read quite a few of the books which made the final cut! We're not always so on top of things! Two very special books that linger on the palette like the very last pieces of chocolate in a fancy box are THE SUMMER PRINCE, by ALAYA DAWN JOHNSON and YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS, by MEG MEDINA. I first encountered Alaya's work in ZOMBIES v. UNICORNS, which made me immediately think, "Oh, more, more, more!" And you all remember how her book hit me right between the eyes. It was no surprise to me that it was longlisted for the National Book Award, no surprise at all that her book gained strong support without our Cybils first round judges, and wowed the finalist list to surge to the top. W00T! And, after the very painful experience of the author being un-invited from a school visit on the charge of the allegedly "coarse" language she was going to bring to their apparently refined environment, Wonderland has been beaming mistily that the curvaceous Piddy (and Meg - yay, Meg!) won a 2014 Pura Belpré Award this year. The Cybils Award is the chocolate icing on a very rich, satisfying and sweet IT'S AWESOME, WE TOLD YOU SO cake. Ahem.


And, in other bookish news...

I got a kick out of the fact that Stephen Pastis, one of my fave cartoonists, is also writing children's books. His goofy drawing styles and acerbic wit works really well in Pearls Before Swine. I can't imagine him not being that funny in picture book form.

Marilyn Nelson is one of the most impactive historical poets I've read - her stuff just lays me out. Remember A WREATH FOR EMMET TILL? or THE MANUMISSION REQUIEM, the poems she wrote about slaves being freed? "I Am Not My Bones" is one of the pieces from there that still gives me chills. Ms. Nelson takes everything - inanimate objects, times, animals - and weaves their pain, their grace, their point of view and voices into the most beautiful and chilling poetry. I thought to never find another author like her -- but featured on Cynsations this week is Lesléa Newman, whose excerpt from her new book, OCTOBER MOURNING: A SONG FOR MATTHEW SHEPPARD has opened up something inside of me. I wish I could hear her read in Austin next month. If you can, go.

Batty about books? Of course you are. Want to join in a fun online read with Book Riot and Batty About Books? They're reading THE ARCHIVED, by Victoria Schwab, and their schedule is listed on Facebook, Tumblr, and all over. I'm excited to see some of our Cybils judges leading the charge on this -- we judges remarked frequently this year how fun it was to have a group with whom to think about and talk about books together. This sounds like it'll be fun.

YOU CAN WIN A BOOK SIGNED BY ROSA PARKS. OMG. Go here. Or here. Hurry. Also? If you're not popping by THE OPEN BOOK these days, you're missing out.

If you haven't wandered into the village of Echo Harbor, or ever found yourself wondering "what happened to the interns from the Hidden Almanac Test Garden?" (answer: first, zucchini, then snow), then you're missing the treat to be discovered with the Hidden Almanac. Cybils-and Hugo Awarded author Ursula Vernon has created this surreal parallel universe of kingdoms, saints, scientists, squirrel wars, occasionally sentient mayflies, and vaguely disturbing commercials. Three days a week, Reverend Mord gives us a peek into a much stranger world than our own, and an ongoing story in its own right. Visit the Hidden Almanac... be safe, and stay out of trouble.

February 17, 2014


This year's Cybils Award winners were announced this weekend! Have you checked them out? If not, go do it—as always, they're varied, exciting, and have that all-important blend of kid appeal and literary merit that the Cybils folks are looking for. Over on the YA Fiction judging panel, we had a lot of fun discussing what that might mean in relation to the shortlist, and, speaking for myself, it was really tough to decide. In my mind, there was a four-way tie regarding which one was my favorite, because they were all so different, and so very good. Ultimately, though, I was very pleased we selected as our winner Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina. I'd read it last fall, and enjoyed it then, and when I re-read it for Cybils Round 2, I was able to really put my finger on what makes this one a great choice for teen readers.

First, though, a run-down on the story: Piddy Sanchez, the narrator, is trying to do her best, to be a good person and a good student in a working-class environment with a single mom who works long, hard hours, but circumstances just keep arraying themselves against her. First, Piddy's best friend moves away. Then, Piddy's mother decides they're going to have to move to a new apartment mid-school year, which not only means leaving behind their best family friend and honorary auntie Lila, but also means a change of schools. And at Piddy's new school, as if it isn't hard enough just to adjust, she finds out one day—rather randomly—that some girl named Yaqui Delgado wants to kick her ass.

Why? Who knows? (Though we eventually find out it's Piddy's newly developed, righteous curvaceousness—allegedly she walks around shaking her ass.) And who is Yaqui? Piddy has no clue. But this initially random threat sparks off a chain of events that challenges Piddy more and more, forcing her into situations she doesn't want any part of and threatening to make her into someone she hardly recognizes. Meg Medina takes a story about difficult circumstances, about having to work your hardest just to survive, about bullying and about being the new kid—frankly, a story that could easily be categorized an "issue book"—and makes it so much more than that. Serious subjects are handled not just with sensitivity but with humor. I laughed out loud many times during this book, just because Piddy's outlook on life is so hilarious sometimes. She's a very sympathetic narrator, self-sufficient and a good person, which is why it's so wrenching to see her situation change, to see her lose the ability to see the humor around her, as things become all too serious.

As she fights against the fear that threatens to take over—will her best friend forget all about her? Will Yaqui ever leave her alone? Will her mother keep working herself to death?—Piddy's happiness and her school performance start to suffer, understandably. Her dreams take a backseat to day-to-day survival. Luckily, though, she's got allies. She isn't alone, and I appreciated that aspect of this story: the adults are NOT oblivious to Piddy's problems, and Piddy, while she wants to handle things herself, she does have people she can rely on. Those adult characters are well drawn and realistic, three-dimensional people in Piddy's life. Her mother; their friend Lila, who is one of Piddy's staunchest allies in the whole mess. Though she constantly searches for her absent father, the family she does have is plenty enough, and they stand by her.

And then there's Joey Halper, the kid-next-door from their old apartment, who's one of the few people who really understands where Piddy comes from and why it's so important to her to survive this and live to fight another day. Though some of Piddy's peer relationships are not as fleshed out, her alliance with Joey is a believable one, and welcome, as she tries to also navigate the line between friendship, love, and need. There is so much going on in this story that it could easily seem too "busy," too crowded, but to me, it never did. All the threads were deftly handled, and ultimately, Piddy comes out the other side of things more grown up, not entirely unscathed, but with her dreams more or less intact.

Oh, and isn't that a PERFECT cover? Just sayin'.

You can find Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

February 14, 2014

Valentine's Day Blog Tour Lovin': APHRODITE (and more) by George O'Connor

Let me just start by asking you this: How much more awesome could it get than having the privilege of hosting a guest post by George O'Connor--whose latest graphic novel Olympians title is Aphrodite--ON VALENTINE'S DAY? Answer: I don't know, partly because that question was too grammatically convoluted for me to formulate a reply. In any case, it IS awesome, and we are thrilled to present George's musings on Greek mythology and how we still encounter its traces in everyday modern life. He's a proud mythophile, and we are, too--I still have my well, WELL-thumbed copy of D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths from when I was a kid (which my mom helpfully annotated with all the gods' and goddesses' Roman nomenclature, which is an interesting thing to do for a seven-year-old kid, but anyway). George's Olympians series takes a comic-book lens to the classic Greek myths, and those all-too-humanlike deities that bring them to life--and I daresay he may have taken a look at those D'Aulaire illustrations himself. At the very least, his series has the same sort of vivid visual appeal, and I'd recommend it for classroom libraries and for anybody with a love of mythology. Without further ado, some words of wisdom from George O'Connor:

Hello, fellow seekers of Wonderland. My name is George O'Connor, and the gracious Looking Glass people who run this blog have generously allowed my to park my thoughts here today as I continue my blogcrawl of the best book blogs in the biz in support of my new book Aphrodite: Goddess of Love. Aphrodite is the sixth volume of Olympians, my ongoing graphic novel series that retells classic Greek myth in a graphic novel format, one god or goddess at a time.

Tanita, aquafortis and citysmartgirl have also graciously allowed me to choose the topic that I'll be blogging about today, so I figured I'd drone on about the different dialectal approaches to translations inherent in early Grecian mythography and—man, just kidding. Today is Valentine's Day! And I'm on a blog tour promoting a book about Aphrodite! The Goddess of LOVE! Mother of Cupid! Of course that's what I'm going to be writing about.

I'm not going to get too much into the history of St Valentine's day, except to note that one popular theory of how it started has its roots in the martyrdom of a man named Valentinus who was persecuted for performing Christian marriages. It's interesting then that one of the most visible symbols of the holiday today is the image of a pagan deity, the minor godling Eros, or Cupid as we now tend to call him. It's even more interesting to note, for me anyway, that Eros has so thoroughly eclipsed his much more powerful mother Aphrodite as a symbol of love in the modern day. It makes a certain amount of sense, I suppose—Eros is all chubby cheeked and innocuous, a seemingly chaste and innocent version of Love. Aphrodite is a heady concoction of lust and sexuality, a gorgeous sexually mature being. For a creature of Greek myth to have survived through the intervening years of comparatively repressed sexual mores that existed in the Christian era as opposed to ancient Greece, well, the less threatening the better.

In actuality, I think it's pretty darn impressive that any image derived from a Greek deity has survived the millennia to such a populist degree, so many years after the widespread belief in the gods. Off the top of my head I can think of a few more. Old Man Time with his sickle is Kronos, God of Devouring Time and Father of Zeus. He's normally depicted as a weathered, tired old figure, ready to be replaced by a newborn new year, as opposed to the vigorous child-swallowing Titan of olden times, but there's no denying he's the same figure. The Olympics, currently being held in Sochi as type, began in ancient Olympia as part of a ceremony honoring Zeus. Hospitals and medical vehicles the world over still bear the wand of Asclepius, a rod with a snake entwined around it, the symbol of the god of the healing. Many more institutions of healing bear the Caduceus, a winged rod with two snakes entwined, which is actually the symbol of Hermes—a move befitting the trickster god, who millennia later is still playing his tricks, evidently. Speaking of symbols, our universal symbol for man (♂) is the shield and spear of the war god Ares; lest we think she’s been completely eclipsed, the symbol for woman (♀) is the mirror of Aphrodite herself.

 I'll be honest—I'm a complete mythophile. When I discovered the stories of the ancient Greeks as a child a whole world opened up to me—a fascinating wild world filled with monsters and action and sexy stuff. As I grew older, my appreciation of the myths deepened. Not only were they chock full of all kind of cool stuff, but I began to see them as glimpses into a vanished world, a world before our own, but a world which still influences our own, and has served as a blueprint for our whole society. So today, St Valentine's day, I hope that when you send your loved one a bouquet of narcissuses and a card festooned with an image of Cupid, you think back to the original Goddess of Love, Aphrodite, and think how wherever she is, she must appreciate this day.

Thank you to George O'Connor for stopping by and writing up a fantastic post thematically related to what is now Corporate Love Day, and reminding us of the many ways Greek mythology still informs modern-day life; and thanks to Gina Gagliano at First Second/Macmillan for setting this all up. Do go check out the rest of the posts on the blog tour, which includes a couple of our favorite kidlitosphere folks, Charlotte's Library and Dear Teen Me (great posts! go read them! and see a high school picture of George with a righteous mane of hair!) as well as many other blogs.

February 13, 2014

Cover Revealed: DRIFT, by M.K. Hutchins

Most people who know me know that I have nothing but love for Sir Terry Pratchett's Discworld. I will get ALL nerdy going on about Sam Vimes and whether or not Nobby Nobbs is quite...human, and about the snarktastic Granny Weatherwax and Tiffany Aching, and Agnes Nitt... and... um, yeah. I can go on. If you didn't know it, the Discworld is a flat world atop a space turtle called The Great A'tuin. This world is not directly atop the turtle, however - there are elephants involved... suffice it to say that I'm a sucker for populations which live on the backs of turtles, whether they swim through space or seas...

So, obviously, this book has automatic appeal.

From Lee & Low's site:

Tenjat lives on the shores of Hell, an ocean filled with ravenous naga monsters. His island, a massive Turtle, is slowed by the people living on its back. Only those poor enough to need children to support themselves in old age condescend to the shame of marriage. Tenjat is poor as poor gets, but he has a plan.

In the center of the island rises a giant Tree, where the Handlers—those who defend and rule the island—live. Against his sister’s wishes, Tenjat joins the Handlers. He couldn’t have picked a more dangerous time. The Turtle is nearing a coral reef where it desperately needs to feed, but the naga will swarm just before they reach it. Even novices like Tenjat are needed for the battle.

Can Tenjat discover his sister’s secrets in time? Will the possibility of love derail all his plans for a richer, marriage-free life? Long-held secrets will at last be revealed in this breathtaking debut from M. K. Hutchins.


A debut novel
by M.K. Hutchins
Coming Spring 2014

Wait, this island has nagas, those massive cobra-y, snake-y Hindu deities??? - As well as what sounds basically like a Nordic Yggdrasil?? What other traditions can we toss into this island melting pot? Color me intrigued. The title font has great appeal - a vaguely tribal, stylized lettering that makes me think of paths, bones, runes, and maps.

And, of course, there's the turtle. Swimming through what looks both like air, and water... who are Tenjat's people??? Do they have gills???

Inquiring minds...

If you find yourself asking why the name M.K. Hutchins is familiar to you, it's because she's been published in short story form Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. I said a big, "Ohhh," when I read that on her website. Anthologies are often an emerging speculative writer's best friend. Though the website is fairly low-key, the author does reveal that she studied archaeology at BYU - so, another archaeologist-turned-novelist for Charlotte to check out!

Spring 2014 is looking more enticing every day. Thanks, Tu, for inviting Wonderland to play along with your cover reveal this week!

February 11, 2014

Cover Revealed: TANKBORN TRILOGY finale!

"Beautiful cover? Check. Intricate storyline? Check. High stakes, romance, intrigue, and bittersweet ending? Check, check, check. Arresting and nuanced, this novel can easily crossover for adult audiences. The depth of concepts presented in story will provide brain stimulation for the thinky -- plus: romance!"

It doesn't even embarrass me to recall how I both used the (non)word "thinky" and went ON and ON and ON about TANKBORN, the first book in the Tankborn trilogy. I was a big old fan, and not ashamed to own it:

"Themes of personal and racial freedoms are HUGE in this book - rights to privacy, data monitoring, and other modern concepts are tumbled in with the older themes of slavery, class, and racial -- the Human race -- identity. As the story closes, these concepts will echo in your brain: What is it that makes us human? What happens when we apply the one-drop rule to genetic modification? Does someone with a pacemaker still count as fully human, or partially automaton? How many ways will the upper classes use to justify creating a servant class? And is it already happening?"

Apparently I am also, at times, just slightly dramatic. And yet: the concept was so fresh, and the book just vibrated with Big Thoughts for me.

The sequel to TANKBORN, called AWAKENING was a strong link in the chain, but its cliff hanger ending produced more questions than it banished, and introduced more elements to the ensemble:

"We're left not sure how things will end, and with a very clear understanding - there's a new game in town, and it's not about friendship or opening up new avenues of trust between Lowborn and GEN and Trueborn. It's not about Kinship, and who we thought was in charge isn't in charge any longer. There are deaths, which are upsetting - and in some cases, downright gross, but remember, this book has, as its main character, a GEN, a genetically modified human being who was, once upon a time, someone else, until she was changed. That comes up again, and is actually more important than we first realize."

That there are more players in the drama was, at first, difficult to swallow. As much as I said I *wasn't* into the romance of the first book, my recurring question as soon as I got into the second was, "But... but what happened next with that one couple?" Instead of having Reader Greed immediately fed, I had to get to know and like new characters. I was resentful of that - until about halfway through the book when I realized some of those people I was ready to blow off were important - vital, even... And, then there was Scratch, the disease that affects the Modified... its symptoms were just disgusting, in a totally interesting way. More than just the human people in the second novel sprang to life, there were massive planetary details which raised again my early support for Karen Sandler's mad world-building skills.

I ended my review of AWAKENING with some thoughts about the final novel:

"The final new 'character' in this novel is graffiti. The letters FHE stand for Freedom, Humanity, and Equality. Oddly enough, none of those three words are really present in this book... but the letters show up repeatedly. Those words, of course, bring to mind the slogan of the French revolution - "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité ou la mort" - and many will agree that none of those things showed up in the French revolution for a long, long time, either. Is it any wonder that the third book in the trilogy, slated to be published Spring 2014, is titled REVOLUTION? And that it appears that this brave new world has possibly already lost its way? Can't wait to read this saga's conclusion."

Despite the weather of Endless Winter, Spring 2014 is just a little ways off, so now it's time for the FINAL BOOK COVER REVEAL! Of course, the vagaries of publishing mean that REBELLION has had a title change - and likely many other changes along the way. However, stylistically, the cover reveals the same GEN facial tattoo on an attractive brown girl. We can only expect that what's between the covers is just as fantastic - and will provide a solid conclusion to the series. And, then, we'll have an excuse to read the whole thing over, with all the pieces in place.


The final chapter in the TANKBORN saga,
by Karen Sandler

Isn't it gorgeous???

No bluey-green-y background which makes us think of the GEN tanks, no docks scribbled with graffiti, but ...mountains. I think the planet will once again play a role in the novel... because we're looking at "outside." Also, the outsiders, the people who are part of FHE will also show up again, no doubt. I'm dying to find out more!

I will be receiving my copy of this novel courtesy of the author and Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low. After April 2014, you can find your copy online or at a brick-and-mortar indie bookstore near you. It's almost here! Spring is coming!

February 07, 2014

Five & Dime Friday: In Brief

What a week, huh?

February gives us, as always The Brown Bookshelf's 28 Days Later round up in honor of Black History Month - be sure to check in and find new authors you've known nothing about. (Surprise so far this year: Octavia Spenser. Um...wow!) The little bios and backstories are well worth your time.

Meanwhile, the Greens announce incipient re-parenthood, and Barak Obama has now been indisputably proven to have a nerd on his PR team. DFTBA, POTUS! No, dude, really. Don't forget...

It's Polar Vortex: The Sequel, chivalry is NOT dead in Harlem (or something isn't dead. Machismo?) and the West Coast is finally getting rain - just in time for drought austerity rules to come into play. (Not that the rain will fix things without a lot more of it: ♥ Besos, Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, Colorado River, and State of Arizona. ♥ You're still screwed.)

Meanwhile, Bill Gates went back to work at Microsoft, and what a fun experience that was for him! ::sigh:: How I wish the previous story were true instead of satire. Due to file corruption on MY Word document/WIP, I had to rewrite two whole chapters this week, so while I survived (We say in my writing group "the genius is within us." This does not make rewriting something lost ANY EASIER), I think the universe owes Mr. Gates at least a bunch of error messages. Anyway. I'm racing between meetings and knowing my agent is leaving for the Bologna Book Fair and a well-deserved yearly vacay, during which he does not take texts, emails, phone calls, or requests from importunate authors. I am fighting the clock, with TONS left to do, but here I am anyway ...in brief:

Remember when Betsy Bird did that Hot Men of Children's Literature thing about six thousand years ago, give or take a week? Jama's been cracking me up over at Alphabet Soup with her winter teas - in this case hotTEA's and celebriTEA's. I can hear her wry voice asking, "Feeling warmer?" Indeed. Though I note that despite her finding a picture of David Bowie with ridiculous hair, there's no Sean Connery. Surely this is a man who has been photographed with a tea cup at some point in his life. He's SCOTTISH. They do that tea thing. Moving on...

Children's books round-up at the HuffPo, by the very fabulous Minh Le! Nice to see us rightly representing in the big leagues.

"I can't help but feel like, beyond a certain point, over-explanation dissipates the power of that magic. Sort of like, when you try too hard to explain a joke, it isn't funny anymore..." Oh, J.K. Rowling. WHEN are you going to hush up? READ yesterday's post by aquafortis, on Dumbledore, Ron, Hermione, and the Author's inability to decentralize herself from her story. Magic is diluting as she speaks.

We think reader response is critical - every reader brings their own experience to a book. So why would you plug into something that gave you the characters emotions? Don't you have your own?

Cheryl Klein talks complexities, as in she breaks down the challenges that editors face in publishing more diverse books. As always, her straightforward, informational style gives thoughtful stuff a few points to ponder.

RESOURCE ALERT: This month of all months, this site featuring the written narratives of actual African slaves in America is useful to have. Bookmark it.

Black History Month in YA Lit: Book Riot shows you how it's done. Like a timeline-using boss. Thanks, Kelly Jensen!

Meanwhile, Rich in Color just had the usual experience with B&N of not finding a book - nothing too new there. Her book list was full of diverse titles, however, and finding only two on an entire list has ticked her off for the last time. She's doing something about it, and maybe the rest of us should, too, in any of the bookstores we patronize.

Novelist John Scalzi is OVER the Olympics, others of us are in it for the outfits.

Who ISN'T watching for the outfits? We're all too hypnotized not to...

While we're dizzy from the Norwegians, it's helpful to remember where those outfits came from. Remember your WWI history lessons on razzle-dazzle? Oh, sure you do:

THIS is Dazzle, 1918 people.
I can see why they had bathing suits in this pattern in the 20's, too - cute, but ultimately, somewhat hypnotic... and good at hiding torpedoes.

Confusion to your enemies, Norway!

And a happy, wet, cold, and snugged-in-with-books weekend to the rest of us!

February 06, 2014

Ron, Hermione, and True Love...

Quoted in an article on ThinkProgress, J.K. Rowling says, "I wrote the Hermione/Ron relationship as a form of wish fulfillment. That's how it was conceived, really. For reasons that have very little to do with literature and far more to do with me clinging to the plot as I first imagined it, Hermione ended up with Ron."

Alyssa Rosenberg, who wrote the article, goes on to say, "it is interesting to me that Rowling apparently regrets what I see as some of the most sensitively written and emotionally well-realized passages in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as an error of judgement." At the beginning of the article, she says, "It's frustrating, but probably inevitable in this age of voracious fandom, to see authors attempts to tweak, or litigate, or modify their work via interview long after the pages have gone to the printers and the work has wandered out into the world to be read and loved." 

All I can say is, Word. Sometimes I don't need to know every detail of the backstory. Sometimes it's what isn't explicitly stated that creates its own magic in a story; the unconscious resonance created by the layers being woven together, intentionally or unintentionally, and to change that might be to unravel the whole thing.

We talked about this a bit today in our writing group, using a recent Hunger Mountain article by Stephanie Friedman called "Conjuring the Magic of Story" as a point of departure. The idea of resonance as magical really, well, resonated. And I can't help but feel like, beyond a certain point, over-explanation dissipates the power of that magic. Sort of like, when you try too hard to explain a joke, it isn't funny anymore--humor and laughter being a kind of magic, too. The magic is an emergent property, the result of some mysterious, invisible alchemy that occurs between the writer and the words and the reader. And once it's out there, it's out there.

[I suspect that's one reason why sequels are a challenge: the writer has their experience of the story, but the reader's may well be different, and their expectations may not be met by what the writer writes next--and that's not the fault of the writer. It's not a fault situation at all, really. But I digress.]

I acknowledge the fact of Reader Greed. I've been guilty of it myself: there are times when I want to know more, want to read more. There are plenty of times where I just plain don't want to leave the world of a story. But, I guess, what we want isn't always what's good for us, right? Sometimes we eat that extra piece of pie and then feel a little sick...

February 05, 2014

TURNING PAGES: Flying With a Broken Wing, by Laura Best

I read this book in the middle of the Cybils hustle, and thought surely I'd reviewed it before now! Never mind - it's a beautifully clear and crisp winter morning, the perfect time to share a story which was a 2013 Cybils nomination in Young Adult fiction.

I love the cover of this book - the fact that it's a silhouette made of shadow is so evocative of the main character's two-dimensional life - part of the world of Tanner, but not having any agency, or any impact on it. Though her hands make a shadow bird, what human being can really up and fly away from the life they've been given to live? Can Cammie? Will she?


For American readers, this probably brings up a whole slew of imagery - Prohibition, speakeasies, the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, gangsters and molls. Possibly your mind shifts toward your great-uncle Jethro's still. For Cammie Deveau, who lives in Nova Scotia just after WWII, bootlegging is ... hanging around on the edges of the kitchen when the booze-seeking crowd of "company" comes by. The sound of her Aunt Millie's screechy, raucous laughter when one of her "boyfriends" gets her a little tipple. Scrounging for change on the kitchen floor on a Saturday night in Tanner, Nova Scotia, population 206... and the belief that, unless she makes it happen, her life will never, never, ever change.

Cammie was born with bad eyes - so bad, that her Aunt Millie, who is raising her, doesn't bother sending her to school. Cammie is almost eleven, and she can't write, can't read, and though she sometimes plays with buttons to make believe they're change, she knows nothing about math or money -- she's solely reliant on her Aunt Millie, who shows her love in sarcasm and slaps, letting Cammie know just how big a burden she considers raising her to be. Cammie believes it, when Aunt Millie tells her that nobody wanted her around - not her mother, who dumped her with Millie, not her father, who'd managed to get himself killed in the War, and not her grandmother, who lives, rich and righteous, in the middle of Sheppard Square, and hadn't even claimed her. And why would she? Everyone in Tanner and Sheppard's Square have already formed their opinions of the two: Millie Turple, "no better than she should be", and Cammie Deveau, "poor little thing". But Cammie's not one to quietly accept anyone's opinion of her, or to feel too sorry for herself. Her stubborn will pushes her find a way to change her life, and change her luck.

Cammie finds a way to school - where she meets Miss Muise, who finds the funding for Cammie's first pair of glasses, and tells of a school in Halifax for kids just like her. At school, she also encounters the enigmatic Evelyn Merry, a boy whose strange name has taught him to be patient -- patient enough to befriend a girl who is nearly blind. Soon, Evelyn becomes the whole world to Cammie, no matter that Cammie's aunt says, "Stay away from that Merry boy!" With the courage brought on from finding her way in school, Cammie's will sends her to the cold, clean residence of her grandmother -- for answers. In a final bid to change both her life, and Evelyn's life for the better, Cammie's will carries she her farther than she's ever been -- and further than she ever intended to go. Readers are left with questions, as Cammie's story ends, but also with a story of sheer grit and determination, which will echo through them long after the last page.

Though Cammie is ten-eleven, this work of historical fiction will be better read by older middle graders, as Cammie is matter-of-fact about her life and where she's come from, and her Aunt Millie's life and livelihood. Best's detailed descriptions of class and rural life in 1950's Nova Scotia will allow readers to feel that they're right in the moment.

Poking around online for a cover shot, I found a book trailer! Check it out!

You can find FLYING WITH A BROKEN WING by Laura Best online, or at independent bookstores across North America!

February 03, 2014

A Brief Reviewing Hiatus

Yep, you read that right. At the risk of developing another insane backlog, I'm not going to be posting reviews for a couple of weeks so I can get caught up on other work, including a 2-week turnaround on continuity edits for my upcoming novel which has now dwindled to a mere 10 days.

SO. I'm minimizing whatever I can, and sadly, writing reviews is one of those things. My brain is feeling like it's going to leak out of my ears if I don't. However, the good news is, once I've gotten this latest spell of hectic insanity past me, it will be mid-February, which means I'll be freed from my Cybils Round 2 vow of silence and can post reviews of the YA Fiction short list for you.

I'll probably be on a Toon Thursday hiatus, too, but I do promise to post brief updates and random thoughts and such on my scheduled blogging days. And, while I have to keep my lip zipped on the Cybils judging discussion and my opinions and all, YOU are under no such compunction, so if you have picks or pans, let 'em fly and I'll watch benevolently from above.