July 31, 2015

Walden Award Winner Announced for 2015--Yay, A.S.!

I was thrilled (as many of you no doubt were as well) to see that A.S. King's latest Glory O'Brien's History of the Future was announced as this year's winner of the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award. There were some pretty amazing finalists, too: Diamond Boy by Michael Williams, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero, The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson, and Revolution (The Sixties Trilogy) by Deborah Wiles. I've actually read three of them, which is pretty amazing for me and award titles, though I only reviewed the winner, apparently:

"Trying to summarize it is only going to make it sound truly bizarre, but it IS bizarre in a most wonderful way..."  Glory O'Brien's History of the Future, reviewed here

However, I also highly recommend Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero and The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson, both of which I thought were pretty incredible. It's been a tough year for me and book reviews, and I wouldn't feel comfortable reviewing them in any detail so long after the fact, but I enjoyed both. Congrats to all!!

July 23, 2015

Gone Reading... And Stuff

Greetings from Portland, where I've not so much gone reading (as implied by the photo of this nifty bag I got at ALA) as gone learning Welsh (which, if you know me at all, is in fact quite normal for me). That's the reason for my silence, and Tanita is in Scotland, so we're both basically on summer hols at the moment. Fear not--we will resume our semi-regular schedule soonish.

July 16, 2015

Gallimaufry Thursday

1. I did a few more behind-the-scenes updates to Chasing Ray, which is where I got the idea for this post structure. Now you get to read about Stuff I Done Did, in no particular order, for no particular reason. Whee!

2. I just finished reading an ARC of writing bud Ms. Ashley Hope Perez's upcoming title Out of Darkness and I cried. Watch this space for more info about that.

3. I'm going to be away next week at a conference in Portland, where I sincerely hope to visit Powell's Books and do a lot of wonderful Pacific Northwest hiking, although I'm told it will be in the 90s the day we arrive. *shakes fist* DAMN YOU SUN!

4. I started a Tumblr for primarily cartooning purposes. There's very little on it as of yet, but again, stay tuned.

5. Earlier this summer I quit one of my longest-running freelance jobs. It felt good. Yet somehow I haven't gained back the free time yet. What gives?

July 09, 2015

Thursday Review: LOVE IS THE DRUG by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Summary: I read this a while ago, and I've been terribly neglectful in writing up a review. This was my first experience reading one of Johnson's books, and I had high expectations after what I'd heard about The Summer Prince (reviewed here by Tanita), which I still need to read. Love Is the Drug did not disappoint—it was a political/sci-fi thriller about an all-too-believable virus epidemic, set in Washington D.C. in the world of prep-school teens.

But don't let the fancy schools and uniforms and wealthy parties at the houses of diplomats' children fool you: the story's got plenty of diversity, too, and engages with everyday teen issues and serious sociopolitical issues alike. And, ultimately, it's a page turner, with flashbacks and memory loss adding suspense to protagonist Emily Bird's increasingly urgent attempts to unravel the real story behind the epidemic—all while being harassed by homeland security, who are convinced she knows something because of her parents' scientific and political activities.

Peaks: There are huge peaks here: the suspense, the writing, the characterization, the diversity. Fans of thrillers, especially political ones, will really enjoy the pace and structure, although some reviewers pointed out that they guessed the story's twist earlier on than they would have liked. The scenario is a good one, though, and very timely in its references to current global politics and the ongoing fight against disease. It successfully plays on fears of pandemics and paranoia about government cover-ups to create an exciting premise and an action-packed plot.

The writing, appropriately, is confident and tight, and it provides an intriguing glimpse into the world of our nation's wealthy and powerful, and the privileged lives of their children. However, these are no cardboard cutouts: the characterization is fantastic, and depth and complexity to are added to protagonist Emily Bird's story with the inclusion of issues of race and class. Firstly, she is black at an overwhelmingly white school, and despite being from a family as educated and successful as anyone else's, there is a level of underlying tension, a sense of having something to prove that she and her few African American peers share, even if they share little else. As the plot thickens, Emily begins to gain a sense of her core self that is NOT connected to either her classmates or her parents, and issues of identity are tackled directly in a very interesting way.

Also, the characters with whom she connects the most closely have intriguingly unique stories of their own: Coffee, whose family is not nearly as well off and who is known as the local drug dealer, is far more than what he seems, and Marella, an outsider because of her sexual orientation, ends up becoming a close ally and confidante as Emily's own status drifts away from the inner circle.

Valleys: I'll freely admit that I find it hard to relate to boarding school stories or prep school stories because I did not have that experience growing up; as someone who almost exclusively attended public schools until I went to grad school, I admit to not only having trouble relating to stories about "rich kids' school," but also to having somewhat of a chip on my shoulder about the advantages that so easily come to those with wealth and privilege, those types of teens who are depicted in this story. So this isn't a valley so much as a personal prejudice, I suppose.

As I mentioned earlier, too, there are always risks when you write a story of suspense that is structured in such a way that the reader might possibly guess the outcome too early—and that did seem to happen for some readers.

Conclusion: This was an intense, gripping, fascinating story, both because of its glimpse into the lives of the DC elite and because of the wonderful writing. Highly recommended for suspense fans.

I bought my copy of this book as a Kindle ebook. You can find LOVE IS THE DRUG by Alaya Dawn Johnson at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

July 06, 2015

Monday Review: I'LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Nelson

Summary: This one hadn't been on my immediate radar until I signed up to attend the Printz award ceremony at ALA in San Francisco at the end of June—and then I decided I'd better get going on reading the winner of that prestigious honor if I wanted to get the most out of the author's speech and the experience as a whole. Plus, it would really be a much better thing to have read the book if I somehow ended up talking to the author…which I didn't, but if I had, I'd have told her that her book is amazing and I wish I'd written it.

I'll Give You the Sun is about family and love, art and grief; in short, all of the joys AND tragedies that always seem to happen at the same time. It's about the less visible wounds suffered when we don't communicate our needs or sorrows, and the healing that can happen when we are finally able to express what's inside. Sometimes we just need to talk to the right person, find the right medium to say what we need to say.

Jude and Noah are fraternal twins, both artistic in their own unique ways, and as children they were as close as close can be--until their family started to unravel. Around age 13, we see Noah begin to be bullied by older boys, and his only way out seems to be the hope of admission to the local arts high school, a place where he can be himself among like-minded outsiders. He throws himself into his artwork with a frenzy. Meanwhile, Jude, too, has a creative side, but she feels like nobody notices it, not even their artistic mother, who seems only to have eyes for Noah's work.

Here's where the unraveling starts. Noah doesn't talk about his physical injuries, or the fact that he's in love with the boy next door. Jude doesn't talk about her injured feelings or her jealousy. And so much is still left unsaid when tragedy strikes their family.

Peaks: This story is told in alternating viewpoints—and alternating timelines. It's incredibly deftly woven. We begin with Noah's story, when he's nearly thirteen and the bullying begins in earnest. But when we switch to Jude, it is over three years later. Jude, who felt like the uncreative twin, is the one at the arts high school. Noah, for all intents and purposes, seems like "the normal one." And so what could be a straightforwardly structured "issue book" or a quieter story about coming of age and sexuality and finding one's calling, becomes a page turner because not only is the reader left wondering "how did we get to THIS point?" but also because the story in the present still has somewhere to go. And where it goes is full of surprises.

The message here is one of healing and family, above all—not just the family you're born with but the family whom you choose and who finds you. It's about serendipity and magic in the everyday, and the creative vitality none of us can truly live without. Even the romantic bits are about healing what's broken inside of us. It's also about grief and the terrible sadness that can balloon out from one small mistake left to fester, but the important take-away is that healing is always possible, and often in ways we don't expect.

Valleys: I have to admit: after reading the first chapter, I was not sure I was going to like this story. The opening scene (minor spoilers) depicts an intense confrontation in which a barely-thirteen-year-old Noah is physically bullied by older boys, and yet it's also a scene of sexual awakening and realization. It was very uncomfortable to read, but if I had given in to my initial discomfort I would never have experienced the rest of it. So. If you find yourself a little put off with the strange place where the story begins, give it time.

Conclusion: I haven't gone into too much detail—in part to avoid spoilers, but also because it's simply impossible to encapsulate this story in a brief summary. As an artist, there was a lot here that tugged at my heart and soul: it's vivid and visual and visceral. At times it's very painful, because each and every character hides his or her own private tragedy, and you kind of have to choose to heal in order to set things in motion again. But ultimately the characters (young protagonists and adults alike) felt so very real, and I couldn't help but follow them through thick and thin. Mind-blowing, and not like anything I've read before. The only thing that comes to mind at all is Going Bovine by Libba Bray, another Printz winner, and they're not alike at all, really, except for quality of characterization, depth of story, and other intangibles. Just…read it, I guess.

I purchased my copy of this book as a Kindle ebook. You can find I'LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Nelson at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

July 03, 2015


Normally I'd gush about this being a great summer read to tuck into your bag for the beach, but I kind of hate the term "beach reads" and the relentless marketing campaigns and lists surrounding them. For me a beach read is a book I can get through quickly and simply be entertained, even while people are running around and screaming and flailing in the water -- but I realized that's more than a little reductive. Here at Wonderland, we feel there's not a thing wrong with a book primarily plot driven, fast-paced and doesn't require you to keep track of too many characters or their motivations. However, since I don't know if that's going to be your experience with this book, I'll call this book a one-long-drink read, describing my experience with it. With an original title and a fun premise, this romp through an alternate history will be, for newbies and fans of the genre be read in one gulp, and enjoyed like a cold lemonade on a hot day.

Summary: Verity Newton, daughter of a Yale professor and more educated than most women of her class and station, and at sixteen is well able to move in society and marry. However, now that her mother has passed away, she opts to leave the chilly halls of learning - and live a little. Adventure comes almost immediately - her train is robbed, and she clobbers the masked bandit she fears will accost her before he can do so much as look at her, she rides in a steam-powered mechanical bus, because a regular horse-drawn cab isn't allowed in the Magister neighborhoods where she's seeking employment, and without even trying she aces an interview to find herself in the biggest house on the best street, employed to chaperone three children, only one of whom is really in need of her. Verity is sitting pretty, for the most part. At almost every turn, she lucks into good friends, an interested beau, and a cause which grips her interest. Verity is in the best of positions to be of help to her new friends -- and her special skills give her an even greater edge, if she ever mentioned them. However, there are risks abounding -- and soon more risks than she could have imagined. It will take some fast moves to maneuver through her new life and allow those dear to her to emerge unscathed.

Peaks: This isn't so much historical as alternate history with a soup├žon of steam, studded with gears. The mechanical things in the novel are entertaining, as is the political rivalry between the British and the Americans.

I enjoyed Rollo and Olive and the character of Verity is plucky and daring. She seemed a little unreflective at times, but the action bowls the narrative - and its characters and readers along, and mostly not something there's time to worry about.

Lord Henry is mysterious exactly the right length of time in the book -- which is for about four minutes. Verity has him pegged, and lets her curiosity about him lead her into things -- and then she keeps wondering why she wants to know. I think that really shows the best natural progression of emotion for a curious person. I think subsequent novels in this line could have Verity solving all sorts of little mysteries while just listening, looking, and being underestimated. I loved that part. While I wanted a little more about the magic -- does it take a lot out of you? Does it have any limits? - the magicians seem simply explained enough for this "episode" of the novel, and easily understood.

Oh, and while this "episode" ties up neatly, the author left room for a sequel.

Valleys: I enjoyed the novel, and found the imperfections small. I found the setting a little non-specific; this New York City setting could have been London, for all of the "My Lord"-ing and &tc. Lacking descriptions of the fabulous apartment buildings and neighborhoods of New York, and the bits of the 1880's, which were an intensely interesting time in New York history (there was a massive and memorable blizzard, foppish dandies dressing competitively and teams of pickpockets), I was a tiny bit disappointed. Though a lot of the novel takes place within the house, the city itself is a little stock, and diminished.

Also slightly diminished are some of the secondary characters - there are myriad characters, and quite a few are like the cast of a play you see who have names like Newsboy One. With the crowd in the novel, I could have missed someone, but it seemed there is a single character of color which is a disappointment, since this is an alternate history, and the author could have changed history in any way she wished. A single minority is a failure of imagination in an otherwise richly imagined tale.

There is a romance in this novel, and while some readers see it as a triangle, I think some will be surprised, while others will merely wonder if the lady in question should have questioned emotions and incidents a bit more, as it all happened rather quickly. Not quite insta-love speed, but the actions of several characters are a bit out of keeping for the social mores of the day -- arguably, this is alternate history, of course, and there are class differences, but sometimes things more easily make their presence known by an absence of even a thought about them.

Conclusion: A galloping fast paced book, which leaves out a few things, but will likely catch them up in the sequel(s). It was good fun, for the most part.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of Macmillian publishers. After July 14th, you can find REBEL MECHANICS by Shaunna Swendson at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!