April 30, 2014


One of our stated goals in the Wonderland treehouse is to up diverse books.

We've cheered and made a lot of noise about the diverse books we've found and enjoyed, in all genres and we both read a great deal, but... there are serious holes in the diverse book category, across the YA spectrum as a whole. Enter the Internet.

So, diversity. What's it all about? What's it for? Why do we need diverse books? That, friends, is the question the crew at #WeNeedDiverseBooks wants YOU to answer.

Make Noise: On May 1st at 1pm (EST), there will be a public call for action that will spread over 3 days. We’re starting with a visual social media campaign using the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks. We want people to tweet, Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, blog, and post anywhere they can to help make the hashtag go viral.

For the visual part of the campaign:

♦ Take a photo holding a sign that says “We need diverse books because ___________________________.” Fill in the blank with an important, poignant, funny, and/or personal reason why this campaign is important to you.

♦ The photo - family friendly, of course - can be of you, your buds, your stuffed animals, your Barbies, your local library or fave bookstore - and should say clearly WHY you support diversity in kids’ lit. Even a photo of the sign without you will work.

♦ Make Art: There will be a Tumblr at We Need Diverse Books Dot Tumblr Dot Com that will host all of the photos and messages for the campaign. Please submit your visual component by May 1st to weneeddiversebooks@yahoo.com with the subject line “photo” or submit it right on the Tumblr page here and it will be posted throughout the first day.

♦ Starting at 1:00PM (EST) the Tumblr will start posting and it will be our job to reblog, tweet, Facebook, or share wherever we think will help get the word out. (Have you checked it yet? Some good discussion is already going.

♦ From 1pm EST to 3pm EST, there will be a nonstop hashtag party to spread the word. It is hoped that we’ll get enough people to participate to make the hashtag trend and grab the notice of more media outlets. This could be big!

♦ The Tumblr will continue to be active throughout the length of the campaign, and for however long the discussion keeps going, so all are welcome to keep emailing or sending in submissions even after May 1st.

On May 2nd, the second part of the campaign will roll out with a Twitter chat scheduled for 2pm (EST) using the same hashtag. Please use #WeNeedDiverseBooks at 2pm on May 2nd and share your thoughts on the issues with diversity in literature and why diversity matters to you.

On May 3rd, 2pm (EST), the third portion of the campaign will begin. There will be a Diversify Your Shelves initiative to encourage people to put their money where their mouth is and buy diverse books and take photos of them. Diversify Your Shelves is all about actively seeking out diverse literature in bookstores and libraries, and there will be some fantastic giveaways for people who participate in the campaign! More details to come!

Everybody's talking about diversity... but is there anything we can really do about it? Let's find out. Make some noise - so that media outlets will pick it up as a news item. Raise your voice - so that the organizers of BEA and every big conference and festival out there gets the message that diversity is important - and why. We hope you will help spread the word by being a part of this movement.

So, that brings us back to the question...

Why do you need diverse books?

TURNING PAGES: The Oversight, by Charlie Fletcher

Readers familiar with Charlie Fletcher's STONEHEART trilogy will be unsurprised that his new novel, THE OVERSIGHT, is a crossover. Marketed to all general audiences, - i.e., adults - but enjoyable for everyone, this first book in the series has a gorgeous, evocative cover, and finely drawn tension. With plenty of clandestine meetings, worrying witch-hunters, showy tricksters, and terrifying pursuit, this adventure is densely detailed, with a fast-moving, portent-fueled pace and has just the right touch of the smoggy, impenetrable and dangerous backstreets-of-Victorian-London Dickensian feel.

Concerning Character: The Oversight are a Hand - that is, five people. They're all that's left of a vast, international organization whose job it is to support the Lore and the Law, and in whose care the magic of the world has been left. The Oversight are the judge and jury; they are the ones who stand on the line between the worlds of the magical and the ordinary, and make sure that All Is Well.

Or, rather, that is what they used to do.

The Oversight used to have behind it the power of hundreds, and the Hand was once a fist attached to a mighty arm and a vast body -- but, not anymore. The Disaster took them down to only the last five in London -- others are in hiding, and still others are plotting against them. Their leader, Sara Falk, her guardian, Mr. Sharp, Cook, the Tinker, the Smith are all each other has -- holding onto the Treasures to which they've been entrusted - the keys to worlds, which, in the hands of their enemies, would unleash enormous trouble onto the mundane inhabitants of the world. But, there are just five of them -- and their strength has been negligible for far too long. Little things are getting away from them -- little monsters are creeping in, unnoticed, and the citizens of London are paying, and paying and paying... The Oversight are the last to hold the line... but the line is ... strained, and they're at the end of their rope.

But, who's to say when it's over? How can you tell when your day is done, and it's time to pack it in, hide the treasures, and let the war that is coming... come?

When a girl is brought to the Headquarters one evening, Sara, against all advice, decides it's not time to pack their bags just yet. This girl has talent - she might be one of them - and Sara Falk, acting head of the Oversight, is willing to hang everything on that fragile, thinnest of strands. But, her hopes may have been premature -- because, it turns out, the girl was a trap. In spite of all of their hopes, circumstances are out of control, far, far out of control. The end may be coming faster than anyone expected...and, when they fall, so do we all.

Critical Reader Reaction: As previously stated, this book is marketed for adults - but topically, there's nothing in this first book which wouldn't be perfectly appropriate reading for an older teen, say, a mature fifteen, or sixteen. The reason I say "mature" is because the sentence structure in this novel is aimed at readers - those who don't mind the occasional semicolon and who can parse out intent and nuance through context. While I wouldn't at all call the reading difficult, the author refuses to talk down to readers in any way. He indulges his love of language in a way that many British authors do by using whole language - perquisites, instead of "perks," for instance; the French word, horripilant, and words like noisome, and crepuscular -- these I just gathered from two random pages. These word choices cultivate an old-fashioned, 19th century feel which stays true to the novel and which I really appreciate. Bonus, Word Nerds!

Need a little taste? i09 has the first two chapters for you - but, be warned, my lambs, you read at your own peril; you'll be QUITE annoyed not to have the book on hand once you've finished. Better pre-order or get your name on your library's hold's queue.

I received a copy of this book courtesy Orbit Books. After May 6th, you can find THE OVERSIGHT by Charlie Fletcher online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

April 29, 2014

TURNING PAGES: The Cryptid Files #1: THE LOCH NESS MONSTER, by Jean Flitcroft

In 2008, on a dreich and gloomy morning, I went sailing on Loch Ness.

I about DIED of the excitement. We were going to LOCH. FLIPPIN' NESS.

Of course, I wasn't one of the people who BELIEVED in the monster or anything... but as our friend told us of the many, many, many, MANY people - clergymen, policemen, ordinary citizens, men and women, young and old -- who had claimed a sighting of the thing, I became a bit worried... and then incredulous... and then, finally, quietly convinced: something was in the water. Probably not a monster or whatnot, but something.

Which means that when I saw this book, I knew I HAD to read it.

Highlands 2008 353

NOT Nessie.

Highlands 2008 349

Loch Ness: GINORMOUS. And peaty-black and deep.

This book was first published in Ireland in 2010, but this is its first outing in the U.S.. So far, there are THREE explorations in the Cryptid Files series, and I love how the interior pages and chapter headings have this fizzing line connecting them -- it reminds me very much of the line of bomb fuse in the original MISSION: Impossible television show, and give the book the visual weight of mystery.

Of course, there's mystery inside, as well...

Concerning Character: Vanessa Day lost her mother two years ago, and she is NOT getting over it. Everyone else - her two brothers, Luke and Ronan, her Dad, Alan - everyone seems to be progressing through the stages of grief, her father to the point of taking up with a woman called Lee MacDonald, whom Vanessa just hates. When he announces a family holiday away from their Dublin, Ireland home to the Highlands of Scotland -- and that Lee is coming with them -- Vanessa loses it. She shrieks and roars at her father, accusing him of forgetting her mother too soon, wild with furious grief. Though later she's embarrassed and awkward, at least she's headed off something which she feels she could not bear.

Vanessa's mother was special. Unlike any of the other parents in her school circle, her mother was a cryptozoologist, with an Oxford doctorate. She knew all the best stories of ancient civilizations and lost gods. Without her mother, Vanessa feels like she's been drifting for too long, underwater... with nobody to understand her. She dreams of the cryptids her mother wanted to find. Vanessa feels so connected to her memory - to that loss - and to these creatures, that she feels she MUST go on this trip - if only to be sure her brothers are happy, too.

Quietly, her father prepares for the trip - leaving tickets and itinerary around where she and her brothers can find them. Vanessa is thrilled that her outburst hasn't ruined the trip -- but the real thrill will be to get to Inverness, stay in the little B&B they've found near the Loch, explore the village, and hopefully -- with the help of her mother's Cryptid Files -- find out all she can about the Loch Ness monster -- and maybe spot her. If she can do that -- maybe Vanessa can reconnect with the memory of her mother again. Maybe she won't feel so horribly prickly, awkward, frequently angry, weepy, and worst of all -- alone...

Critical Reader Reaction: I thought the U.S. cover was spooky, and clever - with the classic picture of ...something in the murk, the cut-out letters, significant of the holes in all of our theories, and the bright, yellow title - boom, right out there. Love it. The Irish cover, with its terrified/fascinated eye, in shifting colo(u)r, is also riveting. I loved how each chapter had notes from the Cryptid Files at its start; through these I learned - and relearned - tons of facts about the 22-mile-long loch itself, and the theories about the creature within. While there has been spelling changes from the Irish version of the book - we're short the additional 'u' - a bit of the texture of the speech has remained, which is really nice.

While we're never told how old Vanessa is, she mentions attending secondary school "next year," which means she's eleven at least. For the most part, her behavior stays true to that age group, but occasionally the author forgets her audience and narrates from an adult point of view, mentioning Vanessa hugging someone with her "childish arms." No eleven-year-old worth her salt would ever put "childish" anywhere near a description of herself! At times, Vanessa's behavior is hateful and mean - the behavior of someone grieving - but she has a lot of mental conversations with herself where she is beginning to understand why she does what she does. I did find it slightly disappointing that there was a sort of cure-all, panacea for grief in the waters of the Loch, but -- change is sometimes where you find it. Maybe a "douking" will cure us all.

The novel is quick-paced, short, and filled with genuine adventure. I can imagine it being a treat for 9-11 year olds who want to believe, as they say in the X-Files. Meanwhile, the truth is out there...

Highlands 2008 409

Ruins of Castle Urquhart, overlooking Loch Ness.

I received my copy of this ARC, courtesy of the publisher. After May 1, you can find THE CRYPTID FILES #1: LOCH NESS MONSTER by Jean Flitcroft online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

April 28, 2014

Monday Review: DEAD TO YOU by Lisa McMann

I've been catching up lately on Lisa McMann's books. I'd read the Wake, Fade, etc. trilogy some time ago and enjoyed them—quick reads with enough character to anchor the stories but still very spare in many ways. Good ones, I would think, for reluctant readers. So, a few months ago I read Crash and Bang from the Visions trilogy (the third book is due out in June) and I liked those even more—they had the same economical writing style and good characterization as the first trilogy, but I found the premise much more interesting and the story more gripping. (I haven't reviewed those yet. I will probably do a trilogy review after reading the third book.)

Then, I saw there was a standalone novel from McMann that I had missed, with a non-monosyllabic title this time: Dead to You. Again, we've got the suspense and high-stakes tension of her previous books. This time, though, the tension is created not so much by action and paranormal abilities, but by the fact that the narrator—Ethan—does not remember crucial parts of his past. By extension, then, it's just as much of a mystery to the reader. And it's this lack of knowledge—who Ethan is, and who he could be—that drives the plot in many ways.

Ethan has been missing. For ten years now. The last his family saw of him, he was seven years old, playing outside with his little brother Blake, and then he got into a car with two strange men and never came back. But he doesn't remember that anymore. He only remembers his tumultuous life after that: his new mother, Ellen, who eventually tired of him and dropped him off at a group home; and then life on the streets for the past year. When he found a photo of himself on a missing children website, he got in touch with the authorities, and as the book itself begins, we see Ethan's reunion with his family.

But all is not sunshine and roses, because—well, because Ethan doesn't remember his family. He doesn't remember anything from before. But his family is patient. They give him time. He bonds with his new little sister, Gracie, who was born after he disappeared, and his childhood best friend, Cami, who of course is all grown up and hot now. His return to real life is going pretty okay…except for Blake. Blake doesn't believe Ethan is Ethan, and his escalating attempts to "prove" Ethan is an impostor make things more and more tense until it starts coming to a head.

I'm not going to say more—I don't want to detract from the suspense—but this was a fairly riveting read, what with Ethan's difficult adjustment, the learning curve that comes with reintegrating with his previous life and with "regular" society. My only caveat is that I had mixed feelings about the ending. I was left wanting something more, but at the same time, given how the story unfolded, I couldn't imagine how else it could have ended. I'm not even sure how to articulate what I mean. I guess I do need to say SPOILER ALERT and say something more…skip the next paragraph if you don't want to know.

I guess my problem is, after getting to know Ethan (or so we think) throughout the entire book, it felt abrupt and wrenching to just have him up and disappear. Getting to know him, getting to know him, getting to know him…finding out the real story…but then BAM, goodbye. He appears as if by magic, then disappears just as quickly. It WORKS, from a structural perspective, but from an emotional perspective, I'm not sure. Anyway, I still enjoyed it overall. McMann excels at suspense, and this is another strong addition to her catalog.

You can find Dead to You by Lisa McMann online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

April 23, 2014

Support Robison Wells, Author of YA novel, VARIANT with ALTERED PERCEPTIONS

People who follow my personal blog may remember that in 2011 I shared some truths about myself when I posted about YA author Robison Wells, author of VARIANT. (That blog post is reposted below.) He had just shared publicly about his mental illnesses, and losing his day job because of his panic disorder causing an inability to sometimes leave a room, and I was feeling the horrible empathy of a fellow sufferer, having been frozen in myself one time too many.

I have thought of him often since then, thought of his courage in "outing" himself, thought of the raw grit it must take to be an artist trying to create while also trying to be, you know, okay with leaving the house (sometimes, it's not okay, and that's really all there is to it. Trust me on that one). I wanted to say something to him - but could think of nothing which didn't sound completely whacked and stalker-y, so when I read ten minutes ago on Shannon Hale's blog that a group of writers have gotten together an anthology to help support his family in their time of needing help, my immediate thought was, "I'm in."

The authors involved in this project are some of my ALL-TIME favorites, and many of them will be familiar to you for speculative fiction for adults and teens: Seanan McGuire, Shannon Hale, Kierstan White, Dan Wells, Brandon Mull, Aprilynne Pike, Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Lauren Oliver, Sara Zarr, Jessica Day George, and tons more. The Indiegogo Page for this book is right here. Click through and buy an ebook. Buy a hardback. Buy a critique from some of the authors involved. There are all kinds of ways you can help.

This is super-important to me... so, I thought I'd take a moment and share. Thanks.

Finnieston 191

One fine, sunny morning in college, I got lost.

I got lost on the campus of my college, that fine, sunny morning, and as I was one of the vast hordes of Freshers running around that year, maybe it didn't seem that unusual to anyone. That it was months into the school year - nearly May - should have been a telling point, but no one noticed.

I was climbing one of those long flights of stairs and I, mid-step, was lost.

And I couldn't breathe. And my hands were slick, and the sky wheeled in sickening loops around me. And I wanted to get away from it - from beneath it - but it was so huge suddenly, and there was nowhere to escape it. Every surface looked pitiless and hard, every building foreign, and I just knew that awful was three millimeters from happening to me. People walked by, I guess, but I was gripping onto a light post with all of my strength, and trying to stop the world from spinning out of control. And trying to breathe.

It was a profound experience, which is laminated in memory. The flight of stairs from the gym to the building below the library - some technology hub - to the three flights of stairs near the flowering cherry trees was all I could see. Going up those stairs would have put me in line of sight to the asphalt-paved road that led to the parking lot next to the English building, and my dorm. Five hundred feet, and I would have been able to see my way to safety. But, I couldn't move that far. I slid down to the ground gripping the light post, and hyperventilated.

Eventually, I managed to get up. I was going to ask someone if they knew where I was, when suddenly, at the entrance to the library, the landscape snapped into familiarity. I was able to inflate my compressed lungs, and stop panting, straighten up, and walk stiffly - my hair and back soaked from perspiration - to my dorm.

I remember I was so ashamed. So, so mortified. And felt really, really stupid.

Sooo, I never told anyone.

I mean, would you?

Charing Cross 344

It happened again. And again. And it happened at the American Library Association Annual Convention in D.C. in 2010 where I was being honored for MARE'S WAR, and I had to walk out of a room full of authors getting ready to go on and do presentations for this Speed Dating thing. I was soaked with sweat, and trying to breathe, and thinking, "Everyone knows. Everyone here is A Cool Author who Does Stuff and Knows Stuff, and then there's you. Everyone knows, and you are such a fraud."

Sooo, when I read of Robison Wells, Cybil-nominated author of VARIANT, losing his day-job because of a panic attack, and being just unable to do what was required of him, I teared up immediately over his struggles. Been there, done that, have the t-shirt. It's thin and tattered and usually rank with sweat.

Sometimes, I feel so flawed. I think, "Gah! Isn't it enough that I'm introverted and shy? Did I have to be flat-out mental (our Ms. G's word), too? I don't always have an answer for that. I'll be honest: I don't come off as Sunny Suzy after freaking out. It's something I can't control, and I really prefer to, honestly, control everything. But, I do know this: I have seen the world from the point of view of someone broken. When I am at the top of my game, and you are at the bottom of yours, I'll know how it feels. I will understand, and be kind. I will consider the courage of Rob Wells, and when I am wrecked, I will remember, "Yes, but --" and, once the clouds of doom part, go on.

It's a tiny gift, but one I will hold onto, and not let anyone pry from my death-gripping, sweaty hands.

For the thorn, and for the rose. For the grace of courage, and the gift of empathy, I am truly thankful.

Kelvingrove Park 393

TURNING PAGES: CEMETERY GIRL: The Pretenders, by Christopher Golden & Charlaine Harris

Despite the fact that we're big fans of graphics here in the Wonderland treehouse, I generally leave the book-talking of said graphics to Aquafortis. For because: she's an artist. I doodle. I haven't got a clear set of parameters on what makes a graphic novel good - I just like some stuff... and don't like some other stuff. Realizing that's my shtick for all books I read all the time anyway has freed me to talk about this one: CEMETERY GIRL: The Pretenders graphic novel, multiple authors, first in a trilogy.

Concerning Character: Calexa Rose Dunhill has a fancy name, and a complete lack of identity. The first frames of the novel show us that someone a.) tossed her out of a trunk b.) into a cemetery where she c.) rolled downhill and hit her head on a tree, and lay in front of a huge stone with the name "Calexa" on it for awhile. She has borrowed her name, stolen her sustenance, her home, and her clothes. She's a teen - of some age - living in the cemetery, inside a mausoleum. There's a caretaker, mean but ultimately helpful - he tends to be lax on locking up his kitchen - and just up the street is an elderly woman - also conveniently lax about locking her house. Outside the cemetery gates - and sometimes inside are generically Bad Teens - drag racing, partying, and conducting séances - as one does. While the plot has a slight ring of familiarity, its denizens are not quite as jarring as in THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, but then, Calexa's life within this graveyard lacks that insouciant charm. There are no helpful spirits -- the fact that she sees spirits is a little creepy. Then, she sees something worse - a murder. And, now she and the dearly departed are up close and personal...

Critical Reader Reaction: There was a lot to love about this first book in the Cemetery Girl series. Sometimes graphic novels are PERFECT for what they have - rich, deep color palette, glossy pages, lots of detail -- I loved the names and dates on the gravestones; I admit to a little nerdery of actually enjoying cemeteries, so it was like poking around through the Dunhill while concurrently lying down, which equaled Good Times for my post-digging-in-the-garden muscles, of course.

I do have some complaints about this book, however. While I'll allow that this is the first in a trilogy, the plot has some significant holes. I had immediate questions about motivation from the first time The Bad Guys are encountered. They are Bad Guys of the Bwa-hahaha/Stroking Persian cat/Wearing Evil Goth Black clichéd brand of villain. They want to be big - but, bigger than what? Stand big and strong against what? The ringleader seems to want this ineffable power - but it's clear and becomes more clear than within her circle, she is powerful, and her circle itself is well-connected within school and community. So, what do they want? What's all this about?

Also, the murder raised some issues with me - probably because I'm a ghoul - but, bodies are pretty tough. If you're depicting a skinny little Goth stabbing someone in the heart? Newsflash: people have ribs. More force would have needed to be shown, leading to a MUCH bigger mess, and much, much more dismay, as everyone is included via spray. At the time of the murder, neither the dialogue nor the art conveys anyone's real horror -- there's a moment of surprise, an "Oh, noes, you shouldn't have done that!" second, ...and then everyone ...goes home. People aren't that lock-stepped about what color a red light is, so I had a hard time believing cheerful complicity of a group of teens for a murder, especially when from the first time we encounter them, it's CLEAR that we don't know what they're after, or why - only the ringleader seems to know. The rest of them are two-legged muppets with her hand up their, eh, shirts. *cough* I know about peer pressure, but I just don't believe that teens would just... go along with murder to go along. Maybe I don't read enough horror to get a good feel for this.

Also, and this one is a big one? I don't know why the person with THE KEY TO THE WHOLE THING has to make such a big DEAL out of finally getting around to telling anyone the truth. Calexa has the equivalent of ONE LINE here, one line... and she... decides to do some macrame or something before delivering it. I recognize we're supposed to think that the main character is afraid, but seeing her wrestle with this would have been better than telling us... well, anything. If her fear caused her to briefly lose her conscience and her humanity we need to see that. Viscerally. Graphically, as it were.

Because Calexa's story is being told from the single point of narrative that is her disjointed, rambling thoughts, there's very little sense of discovery. YES, she has some sort of traumatic amnesia, so we don't get a sense of her -- but though we spend a lot of time with her, we have less of a sense of her memories, which begin to return during the novel... but which explain nada. And, so the reader is left to ponder frivolous things, like where the heck is she going to the bathroom? Does she steal a hairbrush and a toothbrush? Tampons?! Because the artwork has to do 3/4 of the work in a graphic, there needed to be much, MUCH more detail to help us really see Calexa. In terms of the writers, I found myself wondering why Calexa never went to a library. Did they not have libraries in her neck of the woods? There were so many ways in which she could have helped herself - free, inconspicuous ways which runaways use all the time - but she seemed clueless not just about being who she was, but about how to order her world.

And, yet: she knew that she knew Latin...?

While the artwork was, in some panels, just gorgeous, it's really inconsistent -- especially -- regrettably -- with the murder victim. She appears both Latino and African American - and while she could indeed be rich in culture and be both, at times her appearance really fluctuated. She also looked enough like the Bad Guys as to confuse things. Cemetery Girl is mostly identifiable by her clothing; at times her expressions seem like she's being drawn by more than one person.

While this is a somewhat uneven, ragged start for the trilogy, I think rabid fans of Golden and Harris and newbie spec fic graphic novel fans will be able to take the problems in stride with a grain of salt, and give it a shot. In all likelihood, the next episode will have found its feet a little better. If you've a tendency to want ALLLL the story before you read, wait -- this was a fairly short read, and you'll be cranky waiting for the next installment, as so many are!

I borrowed a library copy of this book. You can find THE PRETENDERS: #1 in the CEMETERY GIRL TRILOGY by Christopher Golden & Charlaine Harris online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

April 22, 2014


This is an unusual YA novel. I'm quite a bit in favor of the cover -- the deeply colored night sky, the swirls of the font -- it's just striking, isn't it? I'll bet the author just happy-danced when she saw it. It says "fantasy" without adding, "for girls" or "for boys." It's fantasy for anyone who loves the night, and creatures of moonlight.

This is a novel for thinkers; the plot begins at a stately walk which, honestly, may seem to some readers more than a tiny bit too slow. There is hard work without details, sweat, or the actual experience of broken fingernails, glossed over with an air of unreality -- which is how work often appears in YA novels. For all of this traditional fantasy nvel surrealism, however, there is in the haunting and beautiful prose, the lasting charm of the real.

This novel contains a sprinkling of moonlight and romance... but just a sprinkling. There are courtiers and gossips... but none of them matter. There are dances and dramas, fine foods, fine clothes and flowers... but only one is what our heroine wants. There are kings and queens; princesses, and men, a Goliath and a David with their wills clashing. (There is a punch in this novel that was so viscerally satisfying that I got prickles over my whole body Honestly? There need to be more girls punching in YA lit. I may need to work on remedying that.)

And, there are trees, in the wood... more trees than ever before. There are trees, and, within the dark of the woods, there is knowledge. And really, that's all a girl needs...

Concerning Character: Marni isn't exactly a farm girl, but she's close enough. She's been in rough, patched homespun, scrabbling to tack up vines and uproot bushes, hoeing and weeding and clipping and fertilizing for as long as she can remember. She and her white-haired Gramps live in a simple cottage in the midst of the most beautiful flowers in their corner of the world. Marni has the knack for making them grow, for cultivating the tallest hollyhocks, the most vibrant and scented roses, the prettiest daisies, and the showiest buttercups. Winding around the porch railings are enormous, purple morning glories, and winding through the garden are the intransigent, blue dragon flowers... which Marni doesn't even try to get rid of anymore. Dragons are allegedly in her heritage, after all. Supposedly, her father is a dragon, though Marni has never seen him, and she's sixteen. All she knows is that is an orphan -- that her mother is dead, and that her mother's brother - the King - her uncle is the man who killed him... and would like to kill her, too. Unwanted, by anyone but her grandfather, Marni is used to being the odd girl out, the misfit in the village -- the girl who can read, and can almost speak as nicely as her grandfather. Marni never wondered what would happen, if the courtiers who still came around to talk to her grandfather someday stopped to talk to her. Marni had no ideas above her station at all. She had her little place in the world -- next to her Gramps, in the simple cottage where they live. And, without giving too much detail, so as to provide spoilers, one day Marni's little place in the world is gone -- and what follows next is a heroine's journey out of her small corner into the world, into the great, wide expanses of possibility -- and back again.

Critical Reader Reaction: I promise not to drag the story forward under bright lights and interrogate it for metaphor, but I do find it intriguing that the Woods is a character in this novel -- almost as much as the Woods as a synonym for the evil unknown is a character in any 17-early 19th century novel. The ordered, settled village fears the disordered, wild wood, and yet, the denizens of the wood see it as a veritable Eden, a garden of all pleasures and beauty. The irony of this novel is that each aspect is explored so thoroughly, and it turns out that the wood? Is none of the above. So like most of the things we cultivate assumptions about in life... This book has a very classic feel to it, and much context and subcontext to dissect and discuss. This would be a fun one to use for an English lit class - a delightful, delicious helping of story, and something more.

I received this ARC courtesy of the publisher. After May 6th, you can find A CREATURE OF MOONLIGHT by Rebecca Hahn online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

April 21, 2014

A Few Random Notes

Some links to book news I found interesting over the past week:
  • Traveling Pants author Ann Brashares has written a...time travel dystopian novel? It's called The Here and Now, and you can read about it...now. On NPR.

  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez isn't the only notable author we lost this month. Perhaps lesser known, if no less important for other reasons, we lost Doris Pilkington Garimara, who wrote the book Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence. The NY Times wrote up a nice tribute and discussed the importance of her writing in the context of aboriginal writing in Australia, as well as the shocking discrimination that mixed-race aboriginal children faced for decades.

  • When we think about Pakistan these days, the first words that come to mind are not necessarily CREATIVITY or PLURALISM or LITERATURE. And that's sad. Luckily, there are determined souls in Pakistan trying to change that--and over 45,000 people turned out as a result, enjoying the intellectual and artistic atmosphere of the Lahore Literary Festival. This quote from historian Ayesha Jalal really struck me:
"If you look at Latin America, you'll see that art has flourished in the most coercive, authoritarian regimes," Jalal says. "And Pakistan is no different. I think collective failure is matched often by personal, individual success, spectacular success. Those are not unusual. ... And in Pakistan I think we've had a collective failure on many scores and there have been individuals who have done work of great brilliance, in the world of art, in the world of literature and music."
I find that incredibly heartening. As someone with Pakistani/Indian heritage on my father's side, I want to feel like the great artistic legacy that has existed in that region in the past is still encouraged, because that's part of my own artistic heritage.
  • Last but not least, the latest issue of UC Santa Barbara's Journal of Critical Mixed Race Studies is available for free online.

April 18, 2014

...yes, it's from 2009. BUT STILL.

Love, love, love, love, LOVE THIS MAN.

Hat tip to Jules.

April 14, 2014

Monday Review: POISON by Bridget Zinn

The first and only time I had the privilege of meeting author Bridget Zinn was during Kidlitcon in Portland a handful of years back. About my age, she was sweet and funny and quiet and one of so many kindred spirits I met that weekend, my first ever Kidlitcon. A fellow writer, a fellow blogger, her untimely death from cancer really hit me—and I'd hardly had a chance to get to know her.

Her posthumously released YA fantasy, Poison, gave me another chance to know her, even if it was just a glimpse. It was such a bittersweet moment to see it on the YA new releases shelf at my library. It was a long time in coming, yet at the same time, too late, and reading it made me want to cry because we've already lost her voice. But it also reminded me: those of us who want to write should write, must write, before we no longer have the option to do so.

Reading Poison made me so sad that we won't be reading more from Bridget, that the world of readers won't have any other opportunities to know her through her writing. Like her, the book was funny and sweet and imaginative. Fans of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, Jasper Fforde's Last Dragonslayer books, or Standard Hero Behavior by John David Anderson should give this one a read. At the beginning, all we know is that Kyra is on the run—she's gone from being one of the kingdom's most lauded potions masters to being on the lam, and all because she tried to kill the princess. Oh, and the princess? Used to be Kyra's best friend. All Kyra's got now is her secret forest hideout, her wits, and her as-yet-unsuccessful vendetta against the princess. And if she doesn't succeed, the entire kingdom is at stake.

This book is a study in how to gradually reveal a backstory full of twists without annoying the reader. There are SO many books out there that feel like the author is manipulating the reader into a feeling of suspense, or a moment of revelation, using a gratuitous info-drop. Zinn did a really good job, on the whole (with just a few exceptions), of timing when to insert critical information about what happened in the past without making me feel like the character (or the author) was hiding something from the reader. We start off not knowing anything about Kyra except her immediate situation; but as she continues to forge stubbornly ahead on her quest, as she gets to know the infuriatingly handsome adventurer Fred and even begins to grow fond of the piglet she's been saddled with (a piglet who, incidentally, is the only one who can help lead her to the princess)—as we get to know her as a character, we are also introduced to how she landed in this mess in the first place. And, of course, much as Kyra tries to ignore her past to fulfill her goals in the present, her success depends on embracing who she is AND where she comes from.

The characters were so real, and so funny—that was my favorite part of the book, though I of course enjoyed the quirky fantasy aspect. The banter between Kyra and Fred, between Kyra and the princess; the growth Kyra shows in her dealings with others; the sometimes-hilarious hot water she lands in—all were satisfying and enjoyable and made me laugh out loud. Ultimately, the very real danger and creepiness of the bad guys, and the sincere, determined efforts of the good guys, made the happy ending well earned.

You can find Poison by Bridget Zinn online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

April 11, 2014


So, I sat down to prep for reviewing a book that I have coming from the library when I realized I'd never reviewed its predecessor... um, wait. How did that happen? As I recall, this book's release date was at a super busy time for both of us here, so it slipped through the cracks. We'll fix that right now!

Concerning Character: This is fantasy -- grand, high fantasy with the historical feel of ancient Korea. At first, in my head I was calling it "historical fantasy" but as we don't call Arthurian tales "historical fantasy," as if anyone believes that Arthur, Merlin et al were part of, say, real English history. *cough* Yes, arguably there may have been people named those names in reality, but the stories are... fantasy, right? So is this novel: high fantasy, set, instead of in an English countryside, in a Korean countryside. The weapons and armor say medieval Korea, and the novel is set during the Gojoseon era which as utterly fictional as the Arthurian era, but sounds as realistic.

We're introduced to our main character as she moves through the city. From the first few scenes there are fantastic and detailed explanationsof food, armor, clothing, people, and housing. We are also introduced to Gojoseon era myths and monsters -- and Kira, as one of its monster-slayers.

For all of Kira's life, there have been plots and counterplots to destroy the royal family, of which she is a member. When she was only a tiny child, Kira saved the crown prince Taejo, her cousin, from a monster. She's been impressive her whole life - impressively strong, impressively fast and fast-healing, and ...impressively weird. She's yellow-eyed, and a known slayer of demons. She can see them -- smell them -- find them like none other seen before, and she has a Tiger Spirit. Kira's different -- too different to easily and successfully fit into the royal family of Hansong or any of the Seven Kingdoms. A toughened soldier, Kira tends to be impatient with the Queen's attempts to drag her into pink, and she is horrified by an upcoming arranged marriage. It's almost a relief when its discovered that there's a traitor in the palace, and the Yamato's invade. It's almost a relief -- but not really. Taejo's bodyguard, Kira has no choice but to concentrate all of her wits on keeping him out of the hands of the enemy, leaving her mother behind and unprotected -- and the other ladies of the palace to certain death.

The loss and the violence of war aren't sugar-coated. The deaths are brutal and the losses pile up, as Kira and Taejo and their small band are go on the run to the safety of a hidden temple. Though they at last reach their objective, as they wait for things to calm in the capitol, they make stupid mistakes and get emotional. Kira can't stop thinking about the safety of his parents, Taejo is dying to know the fate of his mother, and all the temple monks keeps talking about this ...prophesy of Dragon Masado that no one can make sense of. Someone is supposed to be a dragon, and unite the Seven Kingdoms and save everyone. Is it Taejo? Is it Kira's older brother or their mother's older brother, who calls himself the Dragon King? When Kira and Taejo find themselves on a quest to find the things Dragon Masado needs to manifest himself, questions begin to finally be answered -- but the demons are already there.

Critical Reader Reaction: There has been a lot of criticism surrounding this novel, because apparently the ARC copy said something about "It's Graceling meets Eon." Mmm, no, it's not, really, but you certainly can't blame Ellen Oh for that; she writes the novels, not the jacket copy, and furthermore, sometimes PR people scramble when trying to describe something. From me, I'll just say I haven't quite read a book like this one before, and leave it at that.

While I felt the romantic drift was a tiny bit disingenuous - even a tough warrior would know what those fluttery feelings meant around a certain individuals - and I'm not entirely sure I buy that, in the midst of trauma and loss and drama she's feeling the urge for anyone, I enjoyed the pacing and the background of Ellen Oh's debut novel. While this is a really super quick review -- there is a LOT of setting and backstory in place that I didn't touch on, I felt she took the time to set the stage carefully because this is the first book in a trilogy. The history and action made me comfortable handing it to Tech Boy and saying, "Hey, you might like this one," but also with the knowledge that he gets testy if I don't have all three books in hand. He might not be starting it just yet. Still, both of us are fans of historical fiction and tend to gloss over things like fight scenes and that kind of drama, but it doesn't take much to have a lot of love for dragons, Tiger Spirits, and the like. I hope that in the following books, other characters will display special skills or spirits as well, not only so that Kira isn't so alone, but from the sound of the mess about to break out, the girl's going to need a little help, supernatural or otherwise.

I'm glad I got around to actually talking about this book before I get my hands on the sequel - do stay tuned for that review.

My copy came from the library. You can find your copy of PROPHESY by Ellen Oh at an online or independent bookstore near you!

April 08, 2014


"The truth is not always pretty. It can be disturbing, enraging, and enlightening. I found my way out of Hell by choosing Truth, and, regardless of anyone’s opinion, I am committed to telling Truth AND extending Hope, through my stories." - Beth Fehlbaum, "When Story Touches a Nerve," Nerdy Book Club Blog, Author Posts, April 6, 2014

Kirkus, in its starred review of BIG FAT DISASTER, says "The fast pace, lively...dialogue, and timely topic make it a quick and enjoyable read." Honestly, I'm not sure what book Kirkus was reading. Don't get me wrong - the pace is fast, the dialogue is lively, and the topic is deeply timely, but this book is not what you can call enjoyable - it is cathartic, it is authentic, it is painful and incredibly real, raw, and honest. There is even a glimmer of hope, in the end. But I don't think "enjoyable" will be the word for me.

Taken individually, the incidents which take place in the novel are together enough to send a person crashing to their knees. Put together, they are overwhelming, leaving this story of a life unfinished, as unfinished as any life would be in the midst of healing -- which is going to take a long, long time, longer than any novel would ever go on.

This is not a novel about a fat girl who suddenly found the religion of dieting, the god of svelte, and was saved, hallelujah. Nope. This is a bit more... realistic. As I read along I mused, "This book reminds me so much of STAYING FAT FOR SARAH BYRNES," and wouldn't you know it, in the author essay on Nerdy Book Club, Beth Fehbaum mentions Chris Crutcher, and that very same book. Prepare yourself for that level of honesty.

Finally, if you've ever suffered from an eating disorder, weight issues, or seriously considered suicide, prepare yourself...this book is by someone who has been there. She knows. Take seriously the helpline information at the end. Don't forget that this book takes you back to the dark places - but Colby's getting out, and the rest of us can, too.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Concerning Character: Colby is not fond of cameras, eyes on her, and judgement - and her father is running for Senate. Unfortunately, Colby's getting a lot of flak about how much of a detriment to his run. His image doesn't call for an insecure fat girl in the background - his family values platform shows he values family that looks ...good. Unfortunately, things are about to look a lot less good. Colby's just found out something about her father -- something that can't be taken back. It's bad enough that her stupid sister Rachel picked a fight with her when she was trying to get out of singing with the Young Conservatives choir for her father's latest election appearance, Rachel made her spill coffee on her father's desk. It's much worse that in trying to clean up, she accidentally found a picture of him...with his tongue down some woman's throat - some woman not her mother.

It's not the first fracture to hit their picture perfect life, but it's the first one that Colby doesn't feel like she's caused by looking - and weighing - like her father. She's nothing like her mother, and also nothing like her two sisters, who are pretty much mini-Miss Texas clones, which is what her pageant-winning mother was, sometime back in the eighties. Colby's not really ...pageant material. She's a binge-eating, nervous wreck, and now that her father has betrayed her mother, she's a binge-eating, nervous wreck whose mother hates to even look at her. If you thought her life was bad before, it gets worse. The FBI seizes the family's assets, after determining that her father stole from his campaign fund. Now, they have to move into the single-wide trailer behind the house of her Aunt Leah - the family black sheep. A new school, a new place to be humiliated by her father's very public fall from grace -- and a new place for her mother to pressure her about her appearance. Bullied, hounded, and hated, it's no wonder Colby feels like her whole life is a big, fat disaster.

Reading Critically: First, I have to give kudos to the design team for allowing a pair of plump arms to be shown on the cover of a YA novel. This is fairly groundbreaking stuff, and honestly, I don't know that I've ever seen evidence that rounded, full-figured, plus-sized, zaftig, rubenesque or otherwise heavy people exist in YA lit. So, well done, book designers.

This is a novel about a lot of things - adultery, political graft, date rape, bullying, and eating disorders. Because Colby is a classic example of an unreliable narrator -- she believes that "everybody" hates her, and that "all" the kids think this or that. This narrow viewpoint distorts her picture of herself, and her place in the world. While some of what she believes is true, much of it is not. SOme readers may have trouble identifying that Colby is unreliable, and feel overwhelmed or disturbed by her version of truth. I encourage those readers to read on.

Is there a such thing as "too much" truth in a YA novel? It's been "suggested" to me as a writer not to write about certain things in my life because "no one would believe you," and seriously, I get that: some of the over-the-top, Craytown Bus stuff that I've experienced and observed - who would believe that kind of stuff and those kind of people existed - exist, still, even - in real life? But, just because "nobody normal" would believe it... should writers keep silent?

I don't think so. For myself, personally, I don't write some stories because they are filled with, and overlap with stories not my own to tell. I am not yet to a place where I can separate mine from others, and frankly, I think I'm still too emotional about some of the stories to be balanced and impartial, as a good storyteller must be. Other authors make other choices, of course, but I don't believe that there's anything like "too much truth." Nobody "normal" would believe what was being said and done to bullying victims like Hannah Smith, Megan Meier, or Morgan Musson, and, frankly, no one "normal" would be involved, but the bullying happened to them, and they died from it. Writers write from the place where they are, and as Beth Fehlbaum proves, writers choosing to write their own truths should not be silenced. "Find your voice," a character in the novel urges. It's hard to do, but it's vital. Find your voice, find your ears, bear witness, and live your compassion. < /rant >

I received a copy of this book courtesy Merit Press, via NetGalley. You can find BIG FAT DISASTER by Beth Fehlbaum online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

April 07, 2014

Cybils Finalist Review: ROSE UNDER FIRE by Elizabeth Wein

Full disclosure: the author of Cybils finalist Rose Under Fire, Elizabeth Wein, is a blogging/writing friend of ours. Yes, that did make me excited to read this companion book to Code Name Verity (reviewed here by Tanita and here by me), which I greatly enjoyed, but I did my utmost to evaluate the book just as fairly as I did the other finalists.

As with my other Cybils-related reviews, this final one is drawn from my notes during the Round 2 reading and judging process, which took place in January and February.

Though it's a companion book to Code Name Verity, Rose Under Fire definitely stands on its own and doesn't require you to have read Code Name Verity to enjoy it. In fact, it takes place a bit later in the war—World War II—and while there are brief mentions of the characters from Code Name Verity, this story focuses on a new character: Rose Justice, an American transport pilot working in Europe to fly planes from place to place. On one of her jaunts to France and back, she gets in a bit of a fly-off with a Nazi plane or two, and it doesn't end well for her: it ends with her being sent to Ravensbruck, a concentration camp for women.

The story is told through the eyes of Rose as she pens her sometimes haunting, sometimes shocking memories of imprisonment, and she does so from the vantage point of newly acquired freedom: a hotel room in Paris, just after her harrowing ordeal. However, we don't simply get the prose version of things: we also get Rose's poetry, which gives everything a different flavor. If you've ever read the war poems of, say, Randall Jarrell…the raw honesty of a poem can convey so much more, such a different vision of war. That is what Rose's poems do—they lay bare the emotional core of the experience, and I absolutely loved them.

For me, that's huge, because I am not (for whatever reason—I'm not sure) a fan of novels in verse, and I have vastly varying reactions even to novels that contain verse.

In this case, I think it worked well for me not only because of the quality of the poetry itself, but also the strength of Rose as a character—she's a fantastic protagonist, one whom it's easy to root for and rewarding to watch persevere. Because she's so relatable and so vivid, that went a long way toward eliminating the "oh, no, not another concentration camp novel" feeling that this particular jaded reader sometimes has. (Having said that, I do have an interest in novels set during WWII—and my upcoming book involved extensive research into that time period.) It's just that…I think teens tend to be deluged with WWII novels and memoirs as part of curriculum, so I appreciated that Rose Under Fire and Code Name Verity both draw readers into the story, the adventure, the characters, without pounding them over the head with the historical subject matter.

There's a lot to love here besides Rose herself, too. The side characters are distinctive, vivid, and do a lot of unexpected things to further the story and help Rose—and help her grow. And I appreciated that, in many cases, those who appeared weak on the surface were repeatedly proven to be strong. There are a lot of characters who have been physically debilitated by the camp, but they show again and again their force of personality, their inner strength and will. Rose must learn that inner strength for herself, not only to survive, but to do what needs to be done at the end.

Speaking of the end, the section of closure at the Nuremberg Trials was extremely well done. The beginning of the story—it did move a little slowly at first, I thought. The journal format, while it worked really well to move us between past and present as the book progressed and as things got more action-packed, it took me a while to get drawn in. But once I was engaged, I was hooked and couldn't put it down. (As you might be able to tell, this was one of my faves of the finalist bunch!)

You can find Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

April 04, 2014

TURNING PAGES: BLUE GOLD, by Elizabeth Stewart

This is an important book. I'm hesitant to use the word "worthy," because that sounds earnest and a little uncomfortable, but -- that is this book. Earnest. A little uncomfortable. Apt to start conversations which are less than comfortable. Apt to raise consciousness, and awareness. Budding historians and sociologists? This one's for you.

If you know anything about the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formally Zaire), you know that it lacks infrastructure and honest leadership. It is currently the province of Uzi-toting warlords and their murderous bullyboys, and it's a nasty, nasty place to try and make a living as a miner, or to make a safe place for a family. This novel bounces in between a refugee camp, where a Congolese family has fled, after rape and murder, a factory in China, where cell phones are assembled by painstaking, blistered hand, and to a home in Vancouver, where, one night, a phone was misused.

There's a lot of geopolitical territory worked into one novel, and at times the reader may feel a little overwhelmed -- but at the same time, the reality on which it is based is all too true. In the tradition of Cory Doctorow's FOR THE WIN and Paolo Bacigalupi's SHIP BREAKER, as well as Terry Farrish's THE GOOD BRAIDER, there's no traditional "happy" ending to this true-to-life tale -- but everybody survives. And that's just it: it's a novel about survival. But, isn't there supposed to be more to life than that?

Concerning Character: SYLVIE is dutiful, but desperate. At fifteen, she is junior mother to nine-year-old Pascal and six-year-old Lucie, but fourteen year old Olivier will no longer follow her lead. Disappearing for days on end, poaching outside the Tanzanian refugee camp where they live, running errands for the nastiest thug in the camp - a thug who is doing a black market trade in coltan, the mineral for which their father was killed, and their village razed. Olivier is a constant thorn in Sylvie's side, as she hauls water, and spends her days cooking, cleaning, and standing in line for provisions, all the while silently accepting her mother's criticism that no one will marry a sour woman. Sylvie knows what her mother means to say -- no one will marry a scarred woman. And, honestly -- Sylvie's just as glad no man wants her anymore. Until one does...and won't take her "no" for an answer...

LAIPING's cousin Min told her of the wonders of the factory job she had in Shenzhen. High tech jobs, she'd told Laiping proudly, were the best. She could make real money, making cell phones. It was the way to opportunity, and there was a dorm, a theater, and swimming pools for the lucky workers, too. A TV! Phones! Good clothes! Surely, everyone would come out from their poky little farms to work in the city for such luck.

Underaged, but deeply worried for her frail parents, Laiping is determined to make good. Soon, her world narrows to capacitator-solder-place, over and over again. Who knew the little blue-flecked chip of electronics, made from the special African mineral, could be so important? Such a tiny thing - but so important to Mr. Chen, the company owner, Mr. Wu, her supervisor, and to the thousands of workers who listen to the daily exhortations and strive harder to do better -- because those who don't work hard today will have to work hard finding a new job tomorrow. So what if Laiping's neck cramps, and her fingers blister from learning to solder? So what if the dorm room is stacked three high with bunk beds, a factory snoop watches her both at work and in the dorm room... she's living the farm girl's dream, isn't she? But, why are those high rise dormitories surrounded by nets? At least Laiping has a friend, Fen has stuck with her through thick and thin. When there's trouble about her wages, it seems like the boy she met the first day at the factory might have the answers to making this factory job work for her -- or, he might just make it all worse...

FIONA's mother hates it when Fiona's father springs for the latest tech for her, because it is a luxury -- not a necessity. Since he remarried, Fiona's dad is alll about the luxuries, though, and Fiona's good with it. She has a pretty sweet phone, and, okay, it's nice to have the things, all right? Despite her Mom's carping, there's nothing wrong with it, and it's tiresome to hear her mother criticizing Dad's coltan mining company. Fiona would rather not know who has human rights issues, and what trouble is going on in other countries -- she's got enough problems of her own. Yeah, so once she sends an unwise text. But, that doesn't mean she's a bad person. That doesn't mean she's stupid, or that she deserves everything they're saying about her. It's not fair that all of the choices she makes now seem wrong.

In the midst of her own suffering, Fiona gets a glimpse into the suffering of another... Having her heart battered teachers her a little compassion for someone else. But, is compassion enough?

Critical Reader Reaction: There are no easy answers for this, and the afterword goes a long way toward both explaining the author's real world point of view, and informing the reader on where to go to get more information. That will be MOST appreciated, as most readers will come away from this with a "what do I do next!?" kind of feeling, and many will feel both resentful and guilty about their electronics.

This is very much an issue novel, but I appreciate that the author does her best to create a real story, with realistic pacing, slow and fast moments, danger and pain. I felt there were some missed opportunities to make the North American girl more realistic. I felt closest to the African and Chinese characters, as their confusing and horrifying situations were not of their own making. It was harder to feel compassion for Fiona - and hard to believe that the fulcrum on which the lever of changed rested was on her small shoulders - but this made a troubling but satisfying expose into a real situation. Well worth reading as a social studies companion, or for entertainment, and guaranteed to open up real conversation on what to do and how to be in the consumer sense.

I received this copy of the book courtesy of Annick Press, in return for the opportunity for an unbiased review. You can find BLUE GOLD by Elizabeth Stewart online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

April 03, 2014

Toon Thursday: Write, Revise, Repeat

If only putting on a metaphorical hat and necklace was the key to writing success, right? I'm still in the first stage of my next project, and that sorry mess on the left is probably an optimistic visual representation at this point. (To be totally accurate, it should probably be missing a few limbs...maybe an eye...really, it's more like a Mr. Potato Head that hasn't been fully assembled yet...)

April 02, 2014

New Ventures: Inscription Magazine

It started last November with an Indiegogo campaign - raise five grand to produce and fund (for a year - the goal is for it to carry its own weight at some point, I would assume) a free ezine for teens containing diverse speculative fiction stories. A laudable goal, and the campaign raised in excess of its five grand. They had enough to hire illustrators, and web builders, and logo designers -- and authors -- and pay them a professional rate (which, according to the Science Fiction Writers of America guild is at minimum, $.05/word).

If you've been on Tor.com or a few others sites this week, you know that the first story is up! While probably not everything is finished or perfect, this site looks shiny, and has powerful goodwill and hope behind it. Submissions are open, so writers of short stories and readers of awesome will want to hop over.

Want to do more to support the ideals and goals of diverse children's lit than move your mouth and read endless articles in various journals and newspapers? Want to relive the brief kidlit glory days of THE EDGE OF THE FOREST or TBR TALLBOY (I KNOW! Remember them???) Find out how you can be involved. There have been too many "great ideas" and "great starts" in ezines that haven't ever had a chance to find their feet. Read, submit, talk!

P.S. - TALK ABOUT A SMALL, SERENDIPITOUS WORLD: Kelly Herold, editor-in-chief of the currently shuttered EDGE OF THE FOREST... was INSCRIPTION editor-in-chief Rachel Halpern's professor at Grinnell College in Iowa... and together they ran a YA reading group her Senior year. You've gotta love the kidlitosphere, people. ♥

April 01, 2014


Well, you all know I can gush some about a book. REALLY gush. But, the pleasure of happening across a self-published gem like WITCHES BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION was such that I couldn't stop talking about it a couple of years ago.

I'd read the WBI2 sequel over a year ago, and realized this past weekend that I couldn't find the review for it. That's because I never wrote it -- I hadn't even done a short one! My brain fade, my fault, and nothing to do with how good the book was. To make up for it, I'm going to share both the back and front cover of the paperback version of this book, and tell you that it's THE COOLEST MIDDLE GRADE COVER I'VE SEEN TODAY. Yes. Yes, it is. It says, "READ ME!" to both boys and girls.

Along with a great cover, this book has an appealing set of main characters who are accessible and funny but realistic and smart, a bunch of slightly dodgy magical spells, including one for shrinking a Harley; a loving tour of some of Southern California's special places, a group of bumbling, and not-so-bumbling amateur detectives, as well as a rampaging demon - all the elements of a great story for a rainy afternoon. The novel is necessarily more plot-dense than the first, and the plot is complicated enough to require careful reading. The boys and the seniors remain their funny selves, but I found myself rolling my eyes a little at the "kids these days" tone at times; I don't know any sixth grader who doesn't at least know generally what the Underground Railroad is -- nobody would mistake it for an actual train. In spite of the slightly condescending "what are they teaching kids these days" moments (which I think I object to as both a former teacher and a former sixth grader), the novel is engaging and an action-packed read, and only slightly scary. I think this will be a winner for kids about nine years old and up.

Nate tried his father's cell. The same message repeated. The number did not exist. He explained the situation to Herman.
"Nate, something's wrong."
"Something's really wrong," agreed Nate.
"Call Mrs. Weatherby," said Herman.

Concerning Character: Nate and Herman Howe are NOT having a good day. They've been privileged sixth graders for exactly two weeks, and SOMEBODY has pulled a huge prank in the Quad where only sixth graders area allowed, dropping the ginormous globe from the Los Angeles Central Public Library right into the middle of it. Oh, and while they were at it, they gave the maintenance guy, Carl, a new tattoo, too. Nate and Herman know who to call when things get hinky - their mother, who is now working at the LA branch of the WBI, that is, the Witches Bureau of Investigation. After their last adventure, they're not taking any chances.

Too bad no one's answering the phone at the WBI.

Too bad it says the number is "no longer in service." Too bad there doesn't seem to be a such thing as the WBI anymore... and that they're father was touring the LA facility just that day. Too bad nobody's answering Mom's cell, or Dad's...?

More than a little nervous, the twins are awfully glad to find out that the network of retirees, led by Mrs. Weatherby, is still in existence. Unfortunately, THEY don't know what's going on either, not quite. With the help of the intrepid little person and techy-witch, Doris, they figure out pretty quickly that someone has done a nasty spell, to take WBI out of existence. They know it's probably a non-corporeal demon -- actually the ONLY non-corporeal demon with the power to do that, the Zodiac Demon. But, the problem is, he's trying to become corporeal. He's been trying for thousands of years, but it looks like today's the day ... On the surface of things, it looks like there would be no way for this demon to materialize. He'd have to say twelve incantations in twelve different places, all having to do with the Zodiac. Once upon a time, that wouldn't have been such a problem, as The Zodiac symbols weren't things people just had laying around. But, Southern California - being an area devoted to movies and the magic of the screen - has variations on the Zodiac all around that are close enough, from the look of things. This modern version of the demon is making do with what he can get -- as fast as he can. Nate, Hermon, and their band of stalwarts have to not only outsmart the demon, who is doing an incantation an hour, but make him unable to finish his ritual -- the ritual he's been practicing for thousands of years...

There's no way they're going to make it in time to save the world this time. Just no way...

This was an independently published book I got for myself. You can find Witches Bureau of Investigation, 2 by Richard Campbell with Noreen Campell online, or at an independent bookstore near you!