May 30, 2014

Five & Dime Friday: When the dog bites, when the bee stings...

"We should all know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color." - Maya Angelou

Hey, Guys... it's been a busy, crazy week... There have been losses and wins, in the publishing world this month, and we are diminished with the loss of an elegant lady in Maya Angelou. While the internet takes a moment to mourn, we'll dig in the couch for a little bit of happiness from these past few weeks:

Robison Wells' Indiegogo FULLY FUNDED, with enough left over to donate to someone else in a pinch. Because, occasionally, the universe rocks.

Betsy Bird, blogger extraordinaire for School Library Journal and mother of Wee Oiseau was joined last week by Bitty Bird, and boy, is he a cutie.

It was Leila's birthday - which means the universe rocks at least once a year, and has for the past thirtymumble,

And Reading Rainbow's Kickstarter SUPER-funded in eleven hours. Two million dollars and counting.

It's kind of ridiculous how gobsmacking the whole thing is... the community just comes together, and, BOOM. It just nostalgia? Is it just that we would do anything for LeVar Burton? While this is so amazing, it's also so sad. RIF gets cut, and PBS funding gets cut and shows get cancelled and so we all figure out Plan B. on Kickstarter. Should we have to have had a Plan B.? No. Seems like education and books and stuff should have been organized better to begin with...

But, I was talking about things that made me HAPPY, yes? Moving on:

The potential for 3-D, print makeup. Still amused by how nonplussed the Tech Crunch guys were. "Uh... yeah, but... I don't think tweens can afford that." Um, iPhones, people? How do tweens afford those?

The moment of joy of William H. Foster, III. He made me want to give him a hug. And write him some books to blow his mind some more.

This spindly, insectoid new cover for METAMORPHOSIS is FAB.

Also, this dung-beetle wardrobe. This one doesn't open into Narnia... I'm thinking it jigs along and takes you on a quick visit to someplace quite dry and hot, then onward, to that one snowy spot with the faun and the light post...

Shall we roll on with the bugs? Certainly! Then, SAM RAMSEY and his moth, Shane, make me very happy. Not just because he's gorgeous (that he is, not gonna lie), or that he's written a paper on vampire ladybugs (not only does she need to fly home because her house is on fire, she vill suck your blud), nor simply because he named his ginormous caterpillar for a "him," and it pupated into an egg-laying moth "her" (Shaneia? Shanera?) but because his undergrad teacher said to him, "I never met an African American entomologist," and he didn't let that break his stride. Perhaps he'll be the first one she's ever met. Walk on, Dr. Buggs. (Hat tip Squash Tea)

More happiness can be found when you TRANSPOSE! Hat tip to Leila, for sharing this site that takes novels and makes... music of their moods. Quite possibly the Coolest Thing, Ever.

Today's final happy is this pheasant. This one right here. It is a pheasant of pure craziness. The ones we saw wandering the hills in Scotland were gorgeous, but can you imagine just seeing THIS? I can't imagine who the first person was who thought pheasants were just something to EAT.

Bright weekend to you.

May 27, 2014


We at Wonderland are big fans of SF Signal. They've been a go-to site for all things SpecFic, "Skiffy" and other wise SF/Fantasy for years. They're knowledgeable and have a vast readership -- and for good reason. Their interviews, guest editorials, book reviews and more are great. Their Special Needs in Strange Worlds series, a column focused on celebrating disabilities in SFF, is pure gold. From those books recommended in the column, I have borrowed and purchased quite a few - including today's selection by Sarah Monette, writing for Tor as Katherine Addison. It, too, is pure gold, and I am quietly hopeful that she will write another in the same universe. (Quietly hopeful, because being loudly hopeful is generally considered Poor Manners.)

The novel's cover depicts perfectly that descriptive proverb from Henry IV, "Uneasy lies the head that bears the crown." This head bears a whole kingdom atop his head, and his wide-open eyes seem to be rolling in panic as the walls close in, funneling every problem onto his head. The sepia tones allow for the goblin-gray skin pigments to not seem too weird -- but the ears on the cover "model" and the airship hovering overhead give us an immediate perception of "not human" and "not here." With minimal effort, this Other realm is nicely conveyed. has released the first four chapters of the novel here for preread, but be warned: you'll want to read the whole of the thing, once you've begun, so make sure you have it on hand shortly after!

You'll be glad to know that much of Monette/Addison's short fiction is available online, and if you've never read A COMPANION TO WOLVES, do.

Concerning Character: The Archduke Maia Drazhar is the imposing name of the fourth son of the Elvish emperor, Varenchibel IV. A biracial half-goblin, Maia is cursed with a complexion that is a light gray, thus not of the pure white, austere beauty of the elves, nor the deepest, glossy Goblin black with orange eyes. Elvish features and Goblin coloring, Maia is generally called "moonwitted hobgoblin" instead of his name, and when his cousin, Setheris, who is also his pure-Elvish guardian, is drunk, he is also punched, knocked around, and abused. He's lived in exile all his life -- first, with his mother, until the age of eight, when she the Emperor's fourth and reviled wife, died. Maia wasn't even allowed to put on mourning clothes, but was bundled up, and sent even further away. He's never been to the Unntheleian Court, where the Emperors of Ethuveraz live in brilliant splendor. Maia's clothes are threadbare, there's rarely enough to eat, and what's there isn't his choice -- it's his guardian's. He hates, and in turn is hated in his tiny, oppressive household, made up of two exiled royals and two mostly bored servants. Maia lives a life of endurance. He is never expected to do or be anything, and he has just turned eighteen...

And his father, half brothers, and all his heirs but one have just died in an airship crash.

Suddenly rushed into the spotlight, Maia - that inbred cretin, that moon-witted hobgoblin - is the ruler of all Ethuveraz. He has a sister - whom he's never met. He has an heir, the fourteen year old son of his half brother - another person he's never met. The treaties, expectations, and rulership of a vast, immeasurable land is his, all his. Gods save the Emperor -- no, really. SOMEBODY needs to save him. It's not going to be Setheris, whose heavy hand and chronic fury Maia is only too glad to get away from. It's not going to be his Nohecharai - his bodyguards - one a cleric, and one a soldier. They've explained to him already: they are not his friends. It's not going to be the little girl his father left behind as a widow empress spoiled, scheming and beautiful -- it's not going to be the Lord Chancellor, whose loyalty to his father's memory in the past blinds him to Maia's reality in the present.

There's no one to hide behind. Maia - the Emperor of Ethuveraz - must save himself.

But, first, he needs to figure out who murdered his father and half-brothers. And who will next be coming for him...

Reader Gut Reaction: If you love a detailed mystery, we've got your mystery right here. There are surprises at every turn, and the good sort of crunchy tenacity that investigators have is imbued in most of Maia's dealings. He doesn't make huge mistakes which are obvious to the reader -- there are TONS of breaches of Emperor behavior - it really is hard to continue to speak in the royal "we" when "I" is who you are -- he fails constantly in matters of breeding and politese, which would have been drummed into him, had he grown up in the Emperor's court. However, in matters of character, Maia never fails, and this is what makes him a stand-up character, the type readers adore.

That Maia is "biracial" is not subtle; because of his ancestry, he is the butt of rumor and suspicion. The Barizhan, the Emperor said publicly, were inbred and mad - and so Maia is assumed to be. Their low-slung jaws, bristly black hair, orange-shading-to-red eyes and black skin make them vastly different and Other than the Elves. Maia is surrounded on all sides by pure-blooded elves with a pale and symmetrical beauty, long, fine bones, and white hair. At one point, Maia meets with a room full of goblins at the ambassador of Barizhan's home and the first shock of seeing so many like him makes him want to cry or faint -- the emotional burst of "finally, someone like me" is intense and relatable.

The novel opens in confusion. There is darkness - interrupted sleep. Names. Places. And none of it means anything to the reader. If you're the type of reader who wants to place everyone in their place - keep reading. Don't drop out because you're confused. The breakneck pace and the feeling of being dragged along through dark corridors increases - and echoes the main character's feelings. Give in to the bewilderment. Eventually, there is light, of a sort -- but it is a flickering flame. You hold your breath, hoping the flame will go brighter -- and then you'll realize: you're hooked.

THE GOBLIN EMPEROR has gigantic hooks, the reader is reeled in for a ride, caring deeply for the outcome of one disastrous, confused, woefully unprepared and repeatedly defeated character -- who has to rise to greatness, or be crushed. You will want him to succeed - desperately. The detail and scope of the worldbuilding in this novel is stunning - the imposing and suffocating palace, the internecine political rivalries, the glittering wardrobe, the battle between what is said and what is intended -- all of this cutthroat political maneuvering with an unguarded and virtually naked participant creates an intricate novel with the feel of a thriller with a soupçon of steampunk and fantasy for garnish. Though not marketed to young adults, this story gives a burst of new life to the "orphan prince" trope, and is a delightful crossover for older teens and adults. A sincerely satisfying novel, you really won't want to miss it.

I checked out this book at my local library. You can find THE GOBLIN EMPEROR by KATHERINE ADDISON online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

May 23, 2014

TURNING PAGES: FLIGHT OF THE GRIFFONS, by Kate Inglis, illus., by Sydney Smith

Rarely do I get something as absolutely delightful in the mailbox as the unexpected package I received all the way from Halifax this week. It brought news -- big news:

There are still PIRATES in the backwoods of Nova Scotia. Pirates -- and get this -- they're unionized. They're the T.H.U.G.S. -- the Treasure Hunters & Useful Goods Society.

Treasure isn't all they're salvaging though... some of them are salvaging the world.

"The people will pay with their whole being: physically, mentally, ideologically, spiritually, with their land, their soul. And not just country people. Not just native people. Poison will flow through villages, towns, and cities and not stop. We must rise up. We must disrupt the system. Capitalism is a deception." ~ Rasmus Krook

Reader Gut Reaction: This is an intelligent book, which makes it a big mouthful for middle-grade readers who are thoughtful and crave a challenge. This book is a smaller, more chewy mouthful to crossover adult and older teens, who take its beautiful turns of phrase and concepts of radical environmentalism, and mull them over, taking in hard truths and crunching them into smaller and smaller bits, until they're swallowed, and hopefully they lodge in the heart, and become a part of the reader.

No glossary, but crew lists here. Also, there is Swedish in this novel -- untranslated -- but through context (and the fact that our language loosely parallels its construction) it is perfectly comprehensible. The illustration, by Halifax-based author Sydney Smith, absolutely MAKES this novel. The water-color cover, the end pages, the evocative pen-and-ink interior illustrations -- we should ALL be so lucky to EVER have someone like him illustrate a novel in the States. The book layout, the heft and silken feel of the thing in the hand -- just makes it entire a beautiful and precious treasure, to be smuggled out to the treehouse - or onto the train in a purse - and to be savored. This is NOT a book to get in ebook form. No, no.

Another thing I loved about this novel is the diversity of work culture and gender. Girls are metalsmiths, scientists, or homebodies in this novel (or hopeful pirate captains). Men are both rowdy and loud, and quiet and careful; cooking, cradling babies, collapsing in despair -- the brashest of lunatics or the truest of friends (and good at picking locks). Some are mute, some, like Missy, are nearly deaf. Also, some of them are downright noisy, and burp a lot.

One tiny drawback for some readers will be that there are tons of characters - some may have a hard time keeping them straight, as they are all hardbitten Northerners, covered in plaid and grease. However! This is where the illustrations will save you, and there are also cultural and ethnic diversities depicted in characters as well (though I doubt one, Brock Jones, had a single line throughout the novel).

Loyalty to oneself and ethical ideals are at the heart of this brilliant and surprising novel. Environment, red tape, crime, capitalism, and survival are topics ably fielded alongside of faithful stewardship, friendship, and what makes a family. Though this is a companion novel to Princess-Bride sounding THE DREAD CREW, FLIGHT OF THE GRIFFONS is a standalone.

Despite the fancy name, the T.H.U.G.S. are still operating outside the law (I mean, pirates, duh), but they're carefully organized and wound up in paperwork. They're scavengers, these pirates but instead of pirating ships at sea, they operate land ships, convoys of massive trucks and chopped-up school buses, welded onto old logging trucks. They wear plaid, a lot of time, to blend in with the folks up North, but they're pirates -- salvage pirates, that is, and no one's metal or reusable, recyclable parts are safe, no old mine, railroad, airport or dumpsite will be left for government dismantling crews. Not if they can help it.

Though lawless is as lawless does; not even in the T.H.U.G.S. does everything runs smoothly. Not every lawless pirate wants to be tied up in paperwork, and sometimes there's complaining -- and outright rebellion. Chief B, who is the outfit's bureaucratic bun-haired dictator, puts down rebellions everyday before breakfast. Her spies are everywhere, and if you cross her, she sicc's the Royal Mounted Canadian Police on those who don't walk the straight and narrow. She's had a couple of ships under her beady little eye. Unfortunately, they're both crews known to Missy Bullseye.

Concerning Character: Since she was nine, and climbed into the window of the land-ship owned by The Dread Crew, a pirate -- with a ship of her own -- is all things and everything Missy has ever wanted to be. There are complications - Missy has never been to a traditional school, and is losing her hearing, and has to read lips and put information together as best she can -- but she's used to that. Before he died, her father made sure she could get along in the world on her own. She's fulfilling the regulations for her dream -- paperwork and such -- and Missy has been climbing up steadily through the ranks, serving her workterm on every ship, completing the requirements of her apprenticeship to become Union Certified. If she's to have her own ship, she must be accepted for probationary status as a member of the T.H.U.G.S., and she MUST be approved and certified...but, roadblocks are thrown in her way. Bureaucracy rears its brainless head in the form of paperwork and delays, and Missy fears she'll never see her dream come true. She's already thirteen! Time's a'wastin', if she wants to have that ship before she's old. And so, she agrees with Chief B., the T.H.U.G.S. petty, obsessive dictator, to take on a little job for her... a job that will get her probationary status, guaranteed, but one which doesn't leave her feeling exactly right. It's a job of finding and spying on one blacklisted, wildcat pirate crew called the Griffons.

Nobody's seen the Griffons, for way too long -- and their way of ignoring paperwork, letting their contract expire and dodging Chief B's justice has got her stomach in knots. It's her steely-eyed obsession to bring them in, and bring them down. No one messes with Chief B. -- No one. And, Missy -- ready to do anything for her apprenticeship -- finds herself owned. She wants that certification too much to say no... An able spy, though she's just a tough little string of a girl, Missy actually finds the Griffons, all right -- but she also finds the grasslands, the loudest drums she's ever heard, new friends, and new challenges and a whole new world. Suddenly, Chief B.'s justice doesn't look right, and doesn't seem worth it. Suddenly, Missy's on the wrong side of everything she ever wanted to be. After all, who's to say who is walking the straight and narrow, when it comes down to it? Who's to say what Missy wants is more important than what the whole world...needs?

If you're looking for a thoughtful, fast-paced, mad-cap, entertaining novel which will delight you, pick this up. You will not be disappointed, and you'll come away thinking - which is never a bad thing.

Res upp! Life is GOOD!

I received my copy of this book, courtesy Nimbus Publishing. You can find FLIGHT OF THE GRIFFONS by Kate Inglis online, or at an independent brick-and-mortar bookstore near you!

May 19, 2014

Reading in Tandem: "The Lost," by Sarah Beth Durst

It's bits of ephemera -- a favorite song that popped into your head like a mini-book soundtrack, who you think would be best as the lead if they ever turned it into a movie, your fervent hope that they never, ever, turn it into a movie -- things like that. It's the kind of stuff we talked about at grad school, the kind of oh-em-gosh-you've-gotta-read-this, hot-off-the-press, immediate bookish nerdery that we pass back and forth like narrative cells in our story-loving bloodstreams. This isn't a review, as much as a read between friends.

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

Two writers. Two readers.

One book.

Reading in Tandem.

It was only meant to be a brief detour. But then Lauren finds herself trapped in a town called Lost on the edge of a desert, filled with things abandoned, broken and thrown away. And when she tries to escape, impassible dust storms and something unexplainable lead her back to Lost again and again. The residents she meets there tell her she's going to have to figure out just what she's missing, and what she's running from, before she can leave. So now Lauren's on a new search for a purpose and a destiny. And maybe, just maybe, she'll be found.

Against the backdrop of this desolate and mystical town, Sarah Beth Durst writes an arresting, fantastical novel of one woman's impossible journey and her quest to find her fate.

Tanita: Welcome to another Reading in Tandem... aaaand, it's only taken us a whole year to do this again. Way to go, us! Also, do you realize we did our LAST tandem read on a Sarah Beth Durst book? What is up with that???

Sarah (aquafortis): I don't know what's up with that, other than the fact that she writes intriguing, utterly unique books that we both find incredibly interesting to discuss. (If you want to read our tandem review of Sarah Beth Durst's Conjured, click here.)

Right--on with the show! Tanita...give us a little background on how THE LOST is a bit different from Durst's previous work for young adults.

TSD: Welp, for one thing it's... not for young adults. Not specifically, anyway. Isn't that ironic? A number of popular adult fiction writers have stampeded for the super-lucrative young adult market, but ...leave it to Sarah Beth Durst to decide to start writing for adults. Or, to put it more correctly, she's now being marketed to adults, anyway, and just writing. I think this book is a perfectly reasonable crossover.

AF:  Yes! I wondered that myself--I would love to know whether Sarah Beth Durst set out to write a book for an older or a crossover audience, or not. We'll be asking her in our upcoming interview, and hopefully we'll find out the answer, and a bit more about what it was like writing an adult character vs. a YA character.

TSD: Yeah - I'd like that; I have some Opinions about whether or not I could ever write for adults, so I'll be interested in getting her take. Anyway -- so, I went into THE LOST not quite remembering that it wasn't for young adults, but I was reminded almost immediately. It's clear early on in the first chapter, through the self-description of the protagonist, that she's not just out of high school. She's twenty-seven. A youngish adult -- well out of college, even -- and, well out of everything, from the sound of it. Well out of patience, out of time, out of ...her mind.

Or, is she????

AF: Cue dramatic flourish: Dum-dum-DUUUUUM.

When we join protagonist Lauren Chase at the beginning of the story, she's already disconnected, already feels like a character lacking something critical and tangible. She is feeling...well, that early adulthood lost-ness that affects so many of us from time to time. She feels lost, so she becomes literally lost. She finds Lost. But what is it she's actually found?

TSD: First impressions: this book was not at all what I expected. NOT. AT. ALL.

AF: Me, either!  I don't know what I was expecting, or if I had expectations. I looked back at the jacket copy to see if the issue is that I had been led in a different direction by the blurb, but no--it's perfectly accurate and descriptive and evocative and intriguing. It's just that the book is SO MUCH MORE than can be encapsulated in a quick description.

TSD:I saw that it was a book put out by Harlequin, which, admittedly, gave me a few preconceived notions... because, you know, Harlequin. That Novel in your Mom's/grandma's/best friend bookshelf's when you were twelve. Harlequin is THE NAME for romance, and has been for years and years and years.

But, Harlequin TODAY is not all super-feels, romancey stuff -- INSIDE OUT and OUTSIDE IN, by Maria V. Snyder is published by Harlequin Teen, and it was about space and exploration, not so much the boy/girl/feels thing; Ann Aguire's ENCLAVE series, which is high-concept, post-apocalyptic survivalist-adventure, is published by Harlequin's LUNA imprint, and Julie Kagawa has a few books published by Harlequin's LUNA imprint as well (though hers tend to be fairly dreamy, "romantical" Elf King/Vampire/Hero and Tragic Pretty Girl types). Still, though - my first impression, on seeing the publisher was, "Oh. This is going to be Sarah Beth does romance." To which I can now say, Mmmmm, noooo.... and No. Period. But, I can say, it's "Sarah Beth does love, which isn't always romantic, but which is very dear, and precious, too." It's a fine and important distinction, and it's conceptually important to the book. We love people and things, but we often lose sight of what is of actual importance... if we lost everything that made us ourselves, with what would we be left? Can we find what defines us?

AF: I have to admit, it took me a few chapters to really get engrossed in the story, and I think that's because I wasn't sure what to make of it. For a story with many dramatic family and personal events, and much internal turmoil, as well as strange, inexplicable goings-on, it is remarkably contemplative in its overall feel, particularly in the early chapters. There's a sense of stasis, of stuckness, in Lauren's situation in Lost, which parallels her feelings about her real life. But that feeling changes as the book progresses; slowly, imperceptibly, there's a building sense of worry, of menace, of mistrust and fear, but also of wonder and magic.

TSD:I like the word "stuckness," here. There's just so MUCH in which to be stuck, so many sticking points for our minds to grapple with - the Void, which is the epicenter of this ginormous and horrifying dust storm, the Finder - who we can't tell is good or bad, The Missing Man, who isn't so much missing as... vanished; the howls of feral dogs, the herd/mob mentality of the people... the sense of unmoving air, static, stagnancy... THE LOST is a little terrifying, like feeling someone's pulse has stopped. That's what the town of Lost, Population, Lauren, +/- Others, gave to me. As the first chapters crawled by, I got this horrible feeling of being in the eye of the storm, without having quite ...believed the build-up of the hurricane. A feeling of ...impending... everything. And, you're right; it took awhile for the narrative tension to build. Mainly because, as the book opens, you keep thinking, "Oh, okay. This is Normal. I can relate. It feels horrible to run out of gas while looking for an off-ramp. It feels terrible to be looking for the sign for the next town. It feels dreadful to not want to go home, and deal, it's horrible when it's easier to drive, and then you can't drive anymore." And the reader just keeps thinking it's all normal and relate-able and fine... just difficult, but fine... until It Isn't Fine.

The thing that indicated to me the Real Isn't-ness of the whole Fine thing was that dratted balloon... just ...drifting. ::shudder:: I don't read Stephen King, but it seemed like there ought to have been a Bad Clown somewhere, with that hideous balloon... ugh. The real horror was cemented for me through small things: dog poop on her shoes. Bad smells. Bones. Endless WIND. Grit. The sense of horror and tension is a fine piece of thread, yet, it's so dark, you have to keep feeling along the thread, to hopefully - eventually? - find the light switch... a door?... Something. You just keep hoping for SOMETHING to ground you.

And, I kept asking myself, "Is any of this real?" I think this constant fumbling, this questioning, makes THE LOST an example of modern magical realism.

AF: It's something I associate a bit with fairy tales--there's something archetypal about her journey. But it's also reminiscent of magical realism, where things are magic, not-quite-explainable, with their own rules and mythology and imagery. I have mixed feelings about magical realism, personally; I (feel free to gasp) was kind of indifferent to One Hundred Years of Solitude; on the other hand, I love Salman Rushdie's contributions to the genre. So when a book feels like it fits in with magical realism, I try to give each individual author a fair shake, judge each book on its own merits.

TSD: Apropos of nothing, really, I actually loved parts of ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE, but other parts were like, "meh." It was a really uneven book for me. However, I am all for full-out magical realism and more of it, in YA lit. It just comes in just so many flavors - David Almond's SKELLIG is most certainly magical realism, and I love that book down to its little creepy hollow bird bones. Edward Bloor's TANGERINE, Neil Gaiman's THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, Louis Sachar's HOLES - they all have their own little hackneyed corner of weird. And, of course, we both love A CORNER OF WHITE, by Jaclyn Moriarty, which definitely lays claim to its own reality. Honestly, it IS best to approach each book in this genre on its own merits, because "real" is such a fluid, mercurial thing. Who knows what is "real?" Lauren certainly thought what was going on in THE LOST was real... and by extension, so, eventually, does the reader...

AF:With THE LOST, I felt like the magical, or possibly-magical, aspects of the story contributed to the sense of unease. I was constantly questioning, like Lauren, whether Lost was real or a figment of her imagination, and so we are right there with her on her journey to get BACK to her life no matter what that means--whether it's literal or figurative or something in her mind. We want her to regain what she's lost, so she can be whole again...because that's how it works, right?

TSD: And I LOVE THAT so much - the whole book is about recovery. Recovering from a shock of bad news, recovering from the past, and recovering... the road. The connective points between Here and There; Now and Then. Rediscovering the umbilicus which links her to the world. Once you find what's been lost, you just -Poof!- tap your shoes together, say "There's No Place Like Home," and then You Are There... or, not.

AF: Well, it's not quite that simple, as it turns out. Sometimes what we're looking for isn't what we truly are missing. To quote the Rolling Stones, "You can't always get what you want--but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need." And there are so very many ways to be lost. There are so many ways just ONE PERSON can be lost. And what happens if what you've lost isn't something that can be found again? What if it's something--or someone--that's gone forever? That question that kept popping into my head the entire time I was reading. It's a major point of tension in this book, because Lauren's mother has cancer, and she really could lose her mother forever. So she urgently wants, needs to get back, before it's too late.

TSD: I love the lists of things Lauren finds, which appear as their own little chapters throughout the book. She keeps trying to hard to find something -- ANYTHING -- that will be the Get Out Of Jail Free card, and free her from this spot in her life. It's metaphor and reality, all rolled into one. I didn't watch the TV show "Lost," but I imagine there are similarities of concept. Are WE lost? Or is what's around us the detritus of another existence? Are we less lost if we can pull, from that beached tangle of flotsam, something of value...?

Ooh. I feel so very esoteric just now. ☺

AF: What I loved about this novel was the very idea of the town of Lost, and the imagery used to describe it and populate it. How things get to Lost, and what sorts of things end up there--from the mundane (partly-drunk water bottles, mismatched random dishes, paper clips) to the fantastical (long-lost dreams) to the tragic (missing children, lost love). Entire houses end up there--a random assortment of them. Odds and ends, the detritus of everyday life.

And, of course, that draws an interesting, and sometimes uncomfortable, parallel between the physical sort of loss and the emotional, psychical, intangible kind. Yet embedded in that parallel is also a kind of hope--that if those mismatched socks and loose change end up somewhere, then maybe our lost dreams and lost hopes and lost happiness haven't disappeared after all--maybe those are out there somewhere, too, waiting to be found.

[Is this a conclusion? I dunno...]

TSD: Honestly? Sounds like a conclusion to me. The world gets misfiled sometimes - our thoughts, even, go missing, and we forget things, places, dates. But, it's all there... within... somewhere...

THE LOST ends with a very definite action on Lauren's part - something more brave and real than she's allowed herself to do before. No more drifting - she's choosing. And, there's a sequel to this novel called THE MISSING. I have a feeling that once you start making choices about the things which are lost in your life, it changes both how you see yourself... and how others see you. Is that a good thing? Can't quite tell. This enigmatic first novel about grown-up Peter Pans (the ultimate Lost Boy... somewhat matured?), drifting Wendys and brave, knife-wielding Tinkerbells is the first for adults from Sarah Beth Durst. We'll be looking forward to seeing where she gets to next!

Wonderland received copies of this novel, courtesy of the publisher. After May 27th, you can find THE LOST by Sarah Beth Durst at ebook retailers online, or at a brick-and-mortar indie bookstore near you!

May 16, 2014

Goin' Old Skooool: A Blog Hop!

Man, remember blog hops?

When was the last time you were invited to do something like that???

Okay, not gonna lie: the act of blogging in itself is fairly old school, since the IN THING is to Tumbl(r) or Tweet or Facebook it. But, we're still here, holding down the blogging thing, engaging in the act of communication, in which we think and talk and connect. (Not that you can't do all of those things on Pinterest or whatevs, just... no, actually, you can't. Not with any depth.)

ANYWAY. I've been asked to take part in a blog hop by blogger and author Susan Brody, on whose blog I delurked and commented a few months ago, when she was commenting on my friend Liz Wein. (I have to admit, I'm kind of an internet Liz stalker - I find comments about her and email them to her, assuring her of her greatness. In return, she shares her Weasels, and allows her ginormous cat sit and stare at me. It's some kind of a win-win.) Susan has asked me four questions which she has already answered, and has then tagged me. So, without further ado:

  • What are you working on?
  • I usually try to work on two projects at once, so if I get stuck, I can find something else to do. I'm drafting a new novel about a brother and sister forced for the first time to share the same high school -- the sister is younger, and had been enrolled in a private school better suited to her educational needs, while her brother had been in regular public school. When their mother takes a leave of absence from her job to finish her PhD, to save money, sister mainstreams to brother's school... where sister discovers that brother has never told anyone that he even HAS a sister... especially not one like her... The second project I'm working on is just in the research stages -- I'm reading books, nonfiction and fictional, about the Ottoman Empire. Did you know that Sicily was once an Emirate!? History is kind of amazing. Meanwhile, I have other revision stuff I'm passing back and forth to my editor on a project already underway.

  • How does your work differ from others in its genre?
  • That's a really interesting question... any answer I give feels a little, supercilious? Like, My Writing Is More Specialer Than Yours? Ah, well, I'll answer: It differs, I guess, in that I deliberately seek ways to interject diversity into my stories... something I've tried, with varying success, to do for the last several years. This is not to say that other people don't do this, but after my first couple of fumblings in publishing, I have made a conscious effort to do it every single time - this means writing characters who are Not Me (Fiction writers write fiction: none of the characters are really them... but to a certain extent, there's some of your heart or your marrow or your blood in every character. Writing someone ENTIRELY not you is probably impossible, but it's a good exercise to try. It gets easier as you go along).

  • Why do you write what you do?
  • Honestly, because of the way a leaf falls, because of the dappled bokeh of light-and-leaves at the bottom of a pool, because of expressions on people I see waiting in a crosswalk, because of a conversation I have with my uncle while he's driving home from work... because. That's the way a writer's mind works. Because, just like every tone of the dryer or whine of the fan of the fridge gives the musician a pitch and a rhythm to work with (just try having a drummer over, and having him tap out beats everywhere), writers find a narrative in the way someone squeezes tomatoes in the produce area, the way the postman rings the cowbell at the door, instead of the doorbell, in the way the woman down the street with the wet towel on her head introduces herself. There is a story in everything.

  • How does your writing process work?
  • How does it work? It's magic.

    Okay, maybe not. It works because I work it? (Isn't that from AA?)

    Honestly? I don't know how it works, but I suspect that's not the question really being asked... if the question is "what is your writing process," then the answer is Yolen's Theorem, which is, of course, Butt In Chair. I tend to spend a lot of time downstairs in my "dungeon;" the basement office... and it's generally freezing, even in the summertime, so I'm in wool socks and cardigans, sipping tea... and I have ginormous monitors, because I'm functionally blind, and I ... sit there and think, "No, she wouldn't do that." Write three paragraphs, delete five sentences, rewrite them. Go back a chapter, rewrite the ending, and add another scene. Go forward, back to where I was, suddenly able to write five more scenes. It's two steps forward, a vaulting leap back, a step sideways, do-si-do, and back again. There's never any forward progression that is Only Forward. I write while revising, and while it drives people reading for me insane - reading the same thing moved around and/or experiencing different scenes in the same chapter they just read -- but that's how it works for me. I can't go forward without knitting up the raveled hems behind me. That's just the way my mind works.

Blog hops always invite others to join in the miser -- erm, fun. I'm wracking my brain at the moment to think of writer cohort who are actually still blogging, rather than solely tweeting... ah! Kelly, and Karen and Colleen, and & Lissa are, just off the top of my head. (I could ask Liz, but that would be a tiny bit cruel, since she's generally my go-to person to ask.) These are people whose work I'm just generally nosy about anyway, so writers, you are cordially invited to join, if you'd like.

May 15, 2014

Thursday Review: THE UNDERTAKING OF LILY CHEN by Danica Novgorodoff

This gorgeously painted, quirky, fascinating graphic novel is one I've been meaning to read and review for a while (review copy provided by First Second/Macmillan) but I'm just getting to it. Released at the end of March, The Undertaking of Lily Chen is a story set in modern-day China, in a realm of rural villages where age-old traditions mingle with the contemporary world in sometimes dreamlike fashion.

And can I just say, Holy Jaw-Dropping Artwork, Batman. The combination of ink and watercolor is used in a myriad of ways here—characters are almost comically drawn using jagged ink lines, while backgrounds, atmospheric scenes, landscapes, even dream sequences use these evocative watercolor washes that remind me of traditional Chinese landscape painting in some panels, while others are just plain artsy and undeniably modern. It works so well thematically, because this is a story in which generations-old tradition comes into conflict with the modern sensibilities of a younger generation.

One of those traditions is that of the ghost marriage: a man must have a wife to keep him company in the afterlife. So in some regions, if a man dies unmarried, his family has to find a young dead woman, preferably recently dead, to be buried next to him so he isn't lonely. This can result in grave-robbing and even murder (don't believe it? check out this article from LAST YEAR). In this book, Deshi Li is a young man whose brother Wei—the golden boy of the family—suffered an untimely death. His parents, now left with the underachieving brother, blame him, and he blames himself. Mom and Dad send him on a quest for a corpse bride for his brother's ghost marriage—"Find him a wife. Be back by Sunday." is what they tell him.

While on his quest, Deshi meets the voluble, impulsive, irrepressible Lily Chen, whose family has fallen on hard economic times. After her family starts pressuring her to marry the rich creep who owns their farm's lease, Lily storms out and attaches herself to Deshi, who happens to be passing by at just that moment. And, well—Deshi needs a young woman. One has just happened along. Of course, there's the minor issue that Lily is STILL ALIVE. And she's set on running away to the big city to find a new life, one in which she doesn't have to marry El Creepo just to save her family.

What happens next is a quirky adventure that is by turns comedic, poignant, and suspenseful. One of the strengths of graphic storytelling, done WELL, is that it can combine the tragic and the comic using the subtle tension between word and image, or between different visual styles, to enhance the story. This book does that. It's a good crossover title, too—I suspect it would have appeal for older YA readers as well as "grown-ups."

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

May 13, 2014

TURNING PAGES: A TIME TO DANCE, by Padma Venkatraman

This book pretty well had me at the cover. Like Venkatraman's earlier novel, CLIMBING THE STAIRS (and WOW, the Spanish language cover of that book) this cover was so visually arresting, I wanted to dive into the imagery. Dance is gorgeous and graceful and -- well, the sorts of things I am not. I like the cover more, because it doesn't show the model's face. Is she pretty? Is she hot? Who knows? Who cares! It's not about the dancer -- it's about dance. It's not about yet another airbrushed young adult on the cover of a young adult book - but about placing the reader in that space, allowing them to imagine themselves as dance - as a dancer.

Reading the jacket copy, I learned that this book was about someone who could have been a "former dancer," but chose not to be. If you're looking to be inspired by the human spirit, you'll find that in this novel. But more, and better -- if you're looking for a novel about a real person whose hopes and dreams were nearly impossible to achieve -- who then took, with fumbling hands, all that was inside of her and stretched as far as she could reach, to touch divinity - well, then, you'll find that here, too.

Before I started this book, I didn't know much about Buddhism, nor bharatanatyam dance, nor yoga, which is a practice of Buddhism. Within A TIME TO DANCE is information on both. Often we forget that diversity in young adult literature is not just about ethnicity or gender -- diversity is also about religious faith - or lack of religious faith - too. This is a beautiful, beautiful novel in verse about courage, ability, dance and faith.

'There are as many perfect poses as there are people.'
And Vyasa understood that yoga
is about embracing the uniqueness within.
Shiva sees perfection in every sincere effort.
He loves us despite - or maybe because -
of our differences."

p. 174 of the ARC

Concerning Character: Veda has loved classical dance to the exclusion of all else. She's a student who tries, for her mother's sake, to do well in her maths and sciences, but dance - being present in her lithe and muscular body - is what she truly calls her own. Her Paati and her father delight in her talent, but her mother remains disappointed that her only child will not fulfill her dream of being an engineer. It causes friction -- but eventually, her mother sees that she's trying, and reaches back toward her. Their shaky reconnection is a blessing when a car accident crushes Veda's leg and it is amputated below the knee. Attuned to the music of applause, Veda's world is now flat and tuneless. Everything -- seeing herself as beautiful and capable, getting around on her own, finding her independence -- seems impossible. Not to mention dancing... that will never, ever happen again. Or, will it? In simple, clear poetic phrases, Padma Venkatraman leads readers into an intricate dance of belief and possibility,

Critical Reader Reaction: While this novel explains a lot about a particular faith, it is more a story of lost faith, where faith has the meaning of universal hope, instead of a specific denomination. Veda begin to dance, because she visited a temple as a tiny child which depicted Shiva dancing. She lost her first love - dancing for Shiva - when she learned the heady glories of applause. She lost her faith in her body - its attractiveness - when she lost her grace. When she loses one of her doctors, she loses an infatuation which, from the outside, readers will see is imbalanced. There are a lot of losses in this book -- a LOT. Much of the book is spent on the tiny, painstaking steps it takes Veda to walk back to where she had been -- then walk past that place, to stand somewhere stronger. This is what gives the narrative arc its singular beauty and strength. It is a story of true faith, that what once was lost can, after a time, be found again, because it never leaves us.

I always say that I don't always love novels in verse, but honestly, I need to retire that line. The last several of them I've read are profound, and this one is profoundly moving -- and just truly beautiful. Pick it up -- even if you're not a fan of dance or religion or poetry. The simple, yet sensual language paints castles in the air.

The author makes note that this book is a guru dakshina - which is a Sanskrit word that refers to a thanks, offering, or an acknowledgement to a teacher after lessons have been learned - which is a beautiful thought. This book was inspired by a real-life dancer who danced again after a serious physical injury, which, more than its starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, Voya, and School Library Journal, makes this book a resounding success.

"That's what the best dancers do.
They focus on dance.
They forget their feet, their bodies,
their dancer selves.
They let dance tug their souls upward.
And as they rise,
they lift their audiences closer to heaven, too."

p. 206, ARC

I received this book courtesy of the publisher, and all quotations are from the Advanced Readers Copy. You can find your copy of A TIME TO DANCE by Padma Venkatraman online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

May 12, 2014

Save the Date: Announcing the 8th Annual Kidlitosphere Conference!

*Original post by Jen Robinson on KidLitosphere Central:

The 8th annual Kidlitosphere Conference, aka KidLitCon, will be held October 10th and 11th at the Tsakopoulos Library Galleria in Sacramento, CA!

KidLitCon is a gathering of people who blog about children’s and young adult books, including librarians, authors, teachers, parents, booksellers, publishers, and readers. Attendees share a love of children’s books, as well as a determination to get the right books into young readers’ hands. People attend KidLitCon to talk about issues like the publisher/blogger relationship, the benefits and pitfalls of writing critical reviews, and overcoming blogger burnout. People also attend KidLitCon for the chance to spend time face to face with kindred spirits, other adults who care passionately for children’s and YA literature.

This year’s theme for KidLitCon is: Blogging Diversity in Young Adult and Children’s Lit: What’s Next?

Members of the Kidlitosphere have been talking about the need for more diversity in children’s books for several years now, starting back when Paper Tigers launched with a view of discussing multicultural children’s literature. There was outrage within the community when the cover of Justine Larbalestier’s LIAR was whitewashed, and discussions of other books followed. More recently, children’s and young adult authors have used blogs, Tumblr, and Twitter to make a much louder demand for more diversity in publishing, through the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign. Other bloggers are listening and responding. Pam Coughlan just announced that the focus of this year’s 48-Hour Book Challenge at MotherReader will be on reading diverse books. The Cybils organization has been combing through past shortlists, to come up with lists of diverse titles. The pictures and posts on this topic are too many to count. And that’s a fine thing.

What we would like to do with this year’s KidLitCon (along with our usual goals) is discuss what book bloggers can do to make a meaningful difference in increasing diversity in children’s and young adult literature. This year’s keynote speaker will be Mitali Perkins, an author whose focus has long been on “books between cultures for young readers”. Among other things, Mitali will talk about how bloggers can be agents of change in the conversation about diversity in children’s and young adult literature. Shannon Hale, who has written eloquently on the need for writing non-neutral characters, and who helped launch the Great Green Heist Challenge, is also expected to participate in the conference via Skype.

We will talk about other issues of interest to children’s and YA book bloggers, too. But it is also our hope to make a bit of noise on behalf of diversity in children’s literature. It is past time for that.

The Tsakopoulos Library Galleria is a beautiful meeting space, located in California’s State Capitol. We are finalizing details on a room block at a nearby hotel. Registration information and a call for session proposals will be published soon. While we do not have the final schedule yet, we are planning to have sessions starting mid-morning on Friday and going through Saturday, with evening events Friday and Saturday nights.

We hope that you will mark October 10th and 11th on your calendar, and start thinking about how you would like to contribute to the conversation on children’s and young adult book blogging. Please help us to spread the word. Thank you!  

Tanita Davis and Sarah Stevenson, Finding Wonderland
Jen Robinson, Jen Robinson’s Book Page

Please help by spreading the word! Be a fan on Facebook! Follow us on Twitter!

May 09, 2014

5 & dime friday: the gadfly edition

Happy Friday, Peeps! Man - it's been awhile since we've been cushion-diving for change around here, so today we are going to be ALL over Teh Internets. Lest you feel sad that rummaging through your couch only produces stale chip crumbs, we assure you we've got plenty of chair-change to share - and social change, which is much preferable to the usual stuff found in the couch cushions.

So...pretty much we've all heard of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks Twitter campaign. It trended from the LA Times to The Guardian in the UK to the Huffington Post and points in between. It's gotten people talking:

  • The School Library Journal put together a helpful piece on everyday diversity, which everyone can use,
  • for Latin@s in Kidlit, blogger Patrick Flores-Scott wants wants change to be "an ongoing Movement,,"
  • Author Nicole Brinkley talks about how seeing is believing - in oneself.
  • The Cooperative Children's Book Center questions the idea of "culturally generic" books - ...generic from whose point of view?
  • All Hail Princess Kavya! Don't miss The Good Men Project talking about non-token diversity in kids' storytelling -- and introducing Cake Literary, a book-packaging group I'll be watching with interest...
  • ReedPop and BookCon, who kind of kicked off the whole thing have decided that the world, at least, agrees with us, even if they don't... The World Agrees: #WeNeedDiverseBooks is the name of the Saturday, May 31 from 10-11 a.m panel which includes Ellen Oh (the Prophecy series), Aisha Saeed (Written in the Stars, 2015), Marieke Nijkamp (DiversifYA founder), Lamar Giles (Fake ID), and Mike Jung (Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities), Jacqueline Woodson (Brown Girl Dreaming), Matt de la Peña (The Living), and Grace Lin (Where the Mountain Meets the Moon). The panel will be moderated by 2015 debut author I.W. Gregorio.


That last one was a little surprise.

Teen Librarian Toolbox speaks from the front lines of the "why we need diverse books" battle - Christie's story "will give you a little headache, and hopefully from that, a lot of determination.

The world of children's lit and all other literature continued to overlap for me last week Stephanie Saulter's guest post on SF Signal: Special Needs in Strange Worlds was a stupendous piece, of which my favorite part was this:

"I don’t want my characters to serve as symbols. I want them to feel like people. I want them to feel like you, and your family, and your friends, and your enemies. And I don’t want them to feel real ‘in spite of’ their challenges. I want those challenges to be part of what makes them real.

After all, they’re part of what makes us real.

Here’s the thing about fiction. It’s one of the ways we understand the world. We tell ourselves stories to work out who we are, and to make sense of reality. Stories are incredibly powerful – and incredibly dangerous. By making things up you can tell the truth; or you can create, perpetuate and reinforce a lie. Simplistic, tokenistic ‘uses’ of disability in fiction – as though it’s a thing to be ‘used’ and not an intrinsic facet of the human condition – are a way of not telling the truth. And by not telling ourselves the truth in our stories, we make it easier to avoid the truth in our daily lives.

The truth is, every one of us is differently abled. Every single one."
Click through to read the whole piece.

More overlap: Brain Pickings' ADORABLE vintage kidlit book. Four words: AfAm Female Astronaut. Eric Barker on how story shapes our lives, Rhonda Helms talking about how it was to write FLIRT: The Story of Us from the point of view of a person of color, Lisa Yee's Rambling Rant on Race and Writing" ("I am not an Asian author. I am an author who is Asian. There is a difference.") and Betsy's call for more Spacegirls named Zita. Betsy's piece reminded me that indeed, our "little grey cells," as Poirot called them are gray, not gendered so gender equality in children's books is definitely part of diversity, too.

Yessssssssssssss! Finally, here she is, ladies and gents, the first African American central character in a 3D movie, courtesy of Adam Rex's THE TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY. Tip will be voiced by ...(wince) Rihanna. Well. Anyway, it was an excellent book, and despite my solid belief that movies ruin every children's lit book (with VERY few exceptions), Dreamworks usually does well, and there's potential there.

Proving that a picture book can be written on ANYTHING: Jules' review of Brother Hugo and the Bear at Kirkus made me smile. Lent, monks and picture books! As always, Eerdman’s Books is very original. Oh - and here's a late National Poetry Month link I forgot to share -- did you know that Emily Dickinson has a Twitter account? No? Joining Langston Hughes, ee cummings, Robert Frost, and a whole host of others, here's Twitter giving you a daily dose of poetry all year 'round. Dude, even Shakespeare has Twitter now, proving to me once again that I am SO behind the ball.

There are sixteen days left of the Indiegogo campaign I mentioned a couple of weeks ago for the ALTERED PERCEPTIONS anthology in support of Robison Wells. The YA lit community has raised $56,000 of the $110,000 goal. If you've not ordered a book, there's still time, and there are still a variety of ways to be involved and help. Thanks!

Finally, with a hat tip to BookRiot, this song is a Jama-jam, because it's about Her Man Colin Firth. Kinda. Presenting...The Doubleclicks:

♥Happy Weekend, all!♥

May 05, 2014

Monday Review: THE CRACKS IN THE KINGDOM by Jaclyn Moriarty

I devolve to such a squealing fangirl when it comes to Jaclyn Moriarty. I think everything she does is brilliant and we've made no secret around here of our admiration for her writing (cf. the gushing fan letter we wrote for One Shot World Tour: Aussie Day some years back) and her amazing ability to blend seriousness and humor into a story that touches your heart at the same time you're rolling on the floor laughing.

When A Corner of White (The Colors of Madeleine, Book 1) came out last year, Tanita and I both had to have our say in reviewing it (mainly because I forgot she had already reviewed it, so I posted my own…such things happen, and certainly, we don't have a rule against it; we just try not to repeat each other too terribly often, given the overlap in our reading tastes). Anyway, with A Corner of White, we were both captivated by its originality in depicting the idea of an Alternate Universe Much Like Our Own (but different in critical ways) and in the very literary resonance between the spec fic elements and the stories of the characters themselves.

This unique balance continues in Book 2, The Cracks in the Kingdom, which I was so excited about I had to have it RIGHT AWAY and therefore did that Kindle Buy It Now thing that I try not to abuse because it is just so easy.

So. I don't want to give away too many spoilers, plus it's not a story that lends itself to easy explanation (see Tanita's review)—but The Cracks in the Kingdom brings us back to the intertwining stories of Madeleine, who lives in the World (our world, that is) and Elliot, who lives in the Kingdom of Cello, which exists kind of…sideways to our world. The two communicate through a crack in reality, slipping notes to one another. Now, though, the need is desperate to actually widen that crack into something more. Princess Ko of Cello has discovered the secret behind her missing royal family, and that secret (don't worry, this isn't really a spoiler) is that they have been somehow spirited away into the World, and have forgotten who they truly are.

The Princess gathers Elliot together with a group of other exceptional young citizens of Cello to form the Royal Youth Alliance, ostensibly a means of improving relations between the various parts of the Kingdom, but in fact it is a front for tracking down and finding a way to return the royal family to Cello before all diplomatic hell breaks loose.

Meanwhile, Madeleine continues to try to cope with her conflicting feelings about Cello, and whether it even really exists. Elliot, on his end, has everything at stake in the effort to convince her it's all true—but of course Madeleine, who has her own issues to cope with, begins to wonder if she's simply coming unglued. And the possibility that she ISN'T—that it's all real—is not exactly any less frightening.

This might sound like it's all stress and tension and adventure, but it wouldn't be a Jaclyn Moriarty book if it didn't also crack you up at least once per page, and it does that, too. The characters are each so real, so distinct, so likable and hilarious and multifaceted, and as always with her books, they drive the story, and they make you believe the unbelievable.

You can find The Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

May 01, 2014

Toon Thursday: Wheel of Dystopias!

Hey, kids! Do you want to write a hot debut dystopian novel? Do you long to chronicle the exploits of technologically advanced yet sadly trapped Dome People and the gritty, valiant outsiders who scrabble for existence on the ruined and disease-ridden earth? Then spin the wheel! Soon you'll be writing the next big novel and raking in those movie adaptation dollars! (*Note: Writer's Toolkit does not guarantee any success of any kind! We made it all up!)