May 28, 2010

Review: Keeper

Sorry I've been somewhat MIA this week. I am still looking for a job, but I've managed to figure out what laptop I'm buying. (Don't know if I've mentioned it hear, but my laptop has been in death throes for two months. I've been sneaking time on shared computers.)

By Kathi Appelt
Illustrated by August Hall
Available now from Simon & Schuster (Athenum)
Review Copy

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I promised I'd review more middle grade fiction and I'm keeping that promise. I first became aware of Kathi Appelt last year, when THE UNDERNEATH received the Newberry Honor Award. I haven't read it yet, unfortunately, but I did jump at my chance to read KEEPER, a novel about a ten-year-old Texas girl who believes in magic.

It was supposed to be a wonderful day for Keeper, her guardian Signe, and the other residents of Oyster Ridge Road - Dogie and Mr. Beauchamp. But everything went wrong, and now Keeper slips out while everyone is sleeping to find her mermaid mother Meggie Marie with BD (Best Dog) and Captain (a watermelon-loving seagull). KEEPER is postmodern magical realism for kids.

But as an adult, it's a fairly harrowing reading experience. Like the narrator, an adult reader knows the danger of a young girl alone in a boat catching the outgoing tide. Unlike Keeper, the adult reader doesn't believe the mermaids will be waiting. Yet as intense as the sense of danger could be, Appelt keeps everything on a slow boil.

She slips into a variety of POVs - all animal and human characters get their say. She also slips back and forth in time, all the way back to old Mr. Beauchamp's young love in Paris. (Her matter-of-fact treatment of homosexuality is welcome and appropriate to the age group.) Her language is lyrical and lulling, obscuring the dark undercurrent, much like the sea that is integral to KEEPER's story.

I also love the illustrations by August Hall. They're simple and bold. My favorite may be the fist time we see Signe, young and fierce. Hall illustrates a nice mix of dramatic and intimate moments, which contributes to the tone of the novel, which remains calm no matter how badly things go wrong.

Most middle grade books don't end in senseless tragedy, so I wondered how Appelt could reach a satisfying end. But she does, without betraying the characters or the story. If you're looking for action and adventure, KEEPER might not be the best choice. But it's still a good summer read that will make you long for a nice bowl of gumbo.

May 24, 2010

Review: Legacy

By Thomas E. Sniegoski
Available now from Random House (Delacorte)

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I've been on a comic book inspired YA kick. I have HERO by Perry Moore, the Hottie series by Jonathon Bernstein, DULL BOY by Sarah Cross, and I'm probably forgetting a few. (Any suggestions to assauge my craving?) From the above list, LEGACY most closely resembles HERO. There's an emphasis of the father-son relationship and a questioning of superhero idols. Aside from that, they don't have much in common.

Thomas E. Sniegoski started his career in comics, and it shows. He's familiar with the tropes and uses one of my least favorite - the disposable woman. (LEGACY, specifically, is an instance of Doomed Hometown, which is far preferable to Women in Refrigerators. Please not that the Women in Refrigerators site is not appropriate for children as it catalogues "superheroines who have been either depowered, raped, or cut up and stuck in the refrigerator.") Lucas Moore's mom raised him alone, working as a waitress. One day a man shows up at his job, claiming to be his father - billionaire Clayton Hartwell and superhero Raptor. Pretty soon, Raptor's enemies have killed Lucas's mother and neighbors. Lucas is inspired to defeat those responsible for his mother's death, but other than that he shows no signs of grief and barely thinks about her.

But the plot does move quickly, which is essential in a short novel like LEGACY. Lucas encounters a former protege of Raptor and begins to realize that his dying father is concealing dark secrets. Sniegoski develops an entertaining origin for Lucas, and I like his helpers - a teenaged girl and a crippled old man. I'd be enthusiastically recommending it to comic book fans if it weren't for that pesky use of a hated trope.

Sniegoski is also the author of the FALLEN quartet, which is currently being rereleased. (The second omnibus will be available July 20th.) I haven't read these since they were first released in 2003-4, but I remember liking them. Fans of fallen angel books like HUSH, HUSH may enjoy this guy-oriented series.

May 20, 2010

Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

By Seth Grahame-Smith
Available now from Grand Central Publishing; Review copy

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I'm not often this torn about a book.

On one hand, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER has a lot going for it. I enjoy the meta, that a vampire sent Seth Grahame-Smith Lincoln's diaries. I admire how well Grahame-Smith managed to replicate the tone of a history text - somewhat dry, but hints that the author is having lots of fun. (I would, however, be over the moon for footnotes.) Grahame-Smith makes up most of Lincoln's backstory wholesale, but says it quite convincingly. I'll also admit that the bloody mayhem is fairly fun too. On the other hand, Grahame-Smith failed to absorb me into his world.

Perhaps it was because of the academic tone. Perhaps it was the use of history I'm familiar with. Whatever it was, I could not stop reading critically after Lincoln's encounter with a slave market.

The Civil War is a rough time to write about. People still feel strongly about it, especially since racism is alive and well. The depiction of racism in pop culture is important. (See: Racialicious.)

Lincoln is pretty horrified by how the slaves are treated. But he only vows to end slavery once he realizes the slaves help sustain America's vampire population. It made me uncomfortable, especially since human rights' violations convinced the real Lincoln slavery needed to be ended. I disliked that ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER made vampires the tipping point, the impetus for the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil War. I felt like it cheapened many of the real reasons the nation went to war against itself.

I had fun reading ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, mostly. But I'm not looking to be made uncomfortable by my popcorn reading. Although, my medieval lit professor, a classmate, and myself noticed an odd thing about Grahame-Smith's writing: it's enjoyable enough while you're reading, but it doesn't really compel you to pick the book up after you set it down. I ended up reading ABRAHAM LINCOLN, VAMPIRE HUNTER in sporadic chunks.

May 18, 2010

Review: Faithful

By Janet Fox
Available now from Speak (Penguin), Review Copy

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Billed as a romance, there's a lot more going on in FAITHFUL. Sixteen-year-old Maggie Bennet's largest preoccupation is not Tom Rowland, nor her fiance George Greybull. Instead, she is trying to decide the course of her life after her mother's death and her move to Yellowstone. While Yellowstone still has class divisions, it is much less stratified than Newport, where Maggie was raised. She's beginning to realize that she may have more options than she thought.

Historical fiction is not my favorite, but I wanted to read Janet Fox's YA debut since she's frequented my blog. (Two years later and I'm still excited that people actually read this thing.) I do like how Fox uses the setting of 1904 Montana. She does bring in historical society as well as sensory details.

Maggie makes important connections to other women. Her mother never fit into society, and Maggie was partially isolated by the gossip. But now she's working with Mrs. Gale, a widowed photographer, and trying to be friends with Kula, a servant. She's discovering hidden parts of herself that she likes and others that she's less thrilled by.

I enjoyed Maggie's voice. FAITHFUL starts slowly, as Maggie accepts other's words at face value and allows her father to control her life. But it works, as things begin to move faster once Maggie discovers the pleasure in asserting herself. She's a strong female character even if she couldn't win a fistfight.

History and animal lovers will probably enjoy FAITHFUL. Those sold on the romance between Maggie and Tom might be somewhat disappointed by the percentage of the book devoted to the relationship, but should still be satisfied because it is sweet.

Interview with Janet Fox

Fellow Texan Janet Fox's debut young adult novel FAITHFUL arrived in stores this month, although she has previously written children's nonfiction. You might have seen her before, however, as an IBWB commenter. But this is only one stop one her blog tour: you can find her at SLJ Teen tomorrow and Rebecca's Book Blog on Thursday. In addition, you can read my review posted later today.


1. Before writing professionally, you studied oceanography - very different. What drew you to the sea floor? What's the most interesting thing you learned during your time as an oceanographer?

It is very different! But then . . . most people think of science as a left-brain thing and writing as a right-brain thing, but in fact I used a lot of creative energy when I worked in oceanography. The fact that we can’t actually walk around on the sea floor means ocean science requires a lot of imagination. I studied the formation of the crust – volcanism and deformation – and how do we know anything about what really happens inside the earth? It requires a lot of speculation, extrapolation. That fascinates me. I have to tell you about the most interesting thing I experienced, when I was a passenger in the submersible (mini-submarine) ALVIN. We were diving very deep. As the submersible descended, we had the outside lights off to save energy. As we got close to the bottom, I turned on the lights outside my window – and saw a world of fantastic creatures, most very tiny. Spirals, snowflakes, pinwheels – it was like watching a sci fi movie. All these marine animals live at great depths and never make it to the surface (they’d die and deform) and yet there they are, in a silent dark high-pressure world of their own in which we are the aliens.

2. You've also been a teacher. What are your favorite grades to teach, and why?

I taught 8th and 9th grades, and they will always be my favorites. There’s something about that age – it’s like teaching centaurs (half man, half beast) because they are caught in between innocent childhood and knowing adulthood. I feel for them. What a frightening, frustrating, glorious time of life.

And, I’m basically stuck there myself, emotionally. Stuck at about 14.

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3. Before FAITHFUL, you wrote a non-fiction middle grade book: GET ORGANIZED WITHOUT LOSING IT, inspired by your own son's struggles with organization. Do you think you'll publish more non-fiction? Do you prefer writing for a middle grade or a young adult audience?

I do think I’ll write more nonfiction; in fact, there’s an idea in the works. Both fiction and nonfiction require creativity so they’re both satisfying. And I like both middle grade and young adult. I’ve got 4 manuscripts in various stages of development – I like working on multiple projects at a time – and they span the spectrum, from young middle grade to sophisticated young adult. The only thing I think I’m not into is really edgy YA . . . although, I never say never. I do have a couple of picture books, but that’s a genre I struggle with.

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4. FAITHFUL is set in 1904 and takes readers on a journey across the country to Yellowstone. What attracted you to write about this time and place? How did you research it?

I love history at the cusp of change – when things take a huge leap or shift. The Wright brothers flew the first airplane in late 1903. Women’s suffrage was emerging in the early 1900s. This country was in transition, from an agrarian economy to an urban industrial economy fueled by an immigrant workforce. Women were emerging from behind their husbands, to have their own voice. That’s where I wanted to put Maggie – so that she could make the choice: do I want to be the submissive girl I’m supposed to be, or a modern woman thinking for myself? Yellowstone fed that theme, because it was so wild and untamed, and could become a metaphor for Maggie’s discovery of “freedom.”

5. Margaret Bennet, the heroine, worries about what her mother's mental issues mean for her own life, particularly as others gossip how like her mother she is. I found it to be an interesting relationship to explore, since it's very relevant to girls today, not just girls in the early twentieth century. How did you develop the mother's character?

Oh, I love Maggie’s mother, and I’m so glad you do, too. She’s such an interesting person. I felt that she was ahead of her time – artistic and passionate and not really willing to repress her feelings. I developed a whole backstory for her, almost another book in itself. She is torn between what she wants and what she must do. And this, of course, is what Maggie must understand about herself, and decide what kind of choice she will make. Will she be like her mother . . . or make a different choice?

6. What books have influenced your evolution as a writer?

Jane Austen (of course). But I also truly love fantasy. CS Lewis and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings were my favorites as a child – I read them over and over. And then, I also read all of Nancy Drew. I read everything when I was a kid . . . I was a reading maniac. I’m trying to get back to that place, reading as much as I can.

May 17, 2010

I Enjoy Other People's Lists

I am terrible at making lists. I can never decide what I think fits the top (or bottom) arbitrary number under a certain heading. I always second guess myself and fell like the list was heavily influenced by my immediate environment. But other people's lists? I enjoy reading and judging those.

86 Beautiful Book Covers from YouTheDesigner

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These covers are beautiful, even if I only own one of the covers - THE BOAT by Nam Le. Then, I instantly prove myself wrong. I have the paperback (above) and the site praises the hardcover (below). I'll console myself with the fact that my paperback is signed.

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While there is a variety of styles on display, the covers chosen tend toward minimalism and favor literary fiction covers. And no, my personal favorite cover (GOLDEN FOOL by Robin Hobb) doesn't make the list. (Clearly, I am not a graphic designer.)

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The best children's books ever by Lucy Mangan, for The Guardian

I've read at least one of the books in each of the age groups. My best is the 12+, where I've read 8 out of 13. I like that Mangan doesn't just include obvious choices like the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. THE STERKARM HANDSHAKE (and sequel) by Susan Price are out of print, at least in the US, but well worth reading. The time travel is very well done - I loved how Price slowly included more and more of the older version of English, allowing the reader to become accustomed to it and then absorbing him or her into the time.

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Children's stories that can still make you cry by Imogene Russell Williams, for The Guardian's Book Blog Children and Teenagers

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Okay, so this one isn't really a list, but it's still a collection of books that fit under a certain heading. While I try to avoid books that make me cry (even if I do love THE VELVETEEN RABBIT), my sister always adored a good tearjearker. I am unsurprised that one of her favorites, SUMMER OF MY GERMAN SOLDIER by Bette Greene, is mentioned.

May 16, 2010

Unofficial Best Authors You Aren't Reading: Rob Thurman

I'm not sure Rob Thurman counts as obscure. On one hand, she's made the NYT bestseller extended list twice. On the other hand, one of her series just got canceled. This makes me very sad as she's one of the few authors I buy immediately. I would seriously consider buying her books in hardcover, like I do for Tamora Pierce.

How did I come across Rob Thurman? Borders's 3-for-4 sale.

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Back in ye olden days, Borders would let you use their coupons with their regular promotions. This made Livi a happy consumer. Like, I was buying around $50 worth of books a month happy. It was a more innocent time, when I wasn't buying my own food.

So one day I'm at Borders, in Georgia, as I am visiting my grandparents and my entire extended family knows that I enjoy going to bookstores. I've found three books that are known quantities, but I need to find a fourth for maximum savings. Suddenly, this slim volume with pretty cover art catches my eye. NIGHTLIFE. I turn to the blurb, and I'm pretty much caught from the beginning.

There are monsters among us. There always has been and there always will be. I've known that since I can remember, just like I've always known I was one...

...Well, half of one, anyway.

I took it home with me and fell in love. Cal, the narrator, has a deliciously snarky voice. I adore it when authors play with point of view (c'mon, that's part of why Megan Whalen Turner is one of today's most awesome writers). And, well, Rob . . . she pulls off some pretty fun point of view tricks. (TRICK OF THE LIGHT and DEATHWISH, definitely.)

The Cal series also features a strong brotherly relationship. Niko holds his own, for all that he's 100% human in a world full of monsters. The Cal series is also a breath of fresh air in the urban fantasy genre, which tends to be dominated by female protagonists and vampires. (Not that there aren't vampires. They just aren't the focus monster.)

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I'll admit, I was bad for Rob Thurman's ratings and bought MOONSHINE early. Hey, I wasn't quite eighteen and didn't know better. I paid for it with MADHOUSE. I tried ordering it at my closest indie, but they wouldn't since it was a mass marker paperback. Of course, they didn't tell me this until I went back several days later to check. It ended up taking me three stores in two cities to get ahold of it, by which time I was a little rabid. I learned my lesson and bought DEATHWISH and ROADKILL at my ever trusty Borders. (It may be an evil corporation, but it's done good by me. Borders has my more than earned my loyalty.)

(Also, you can read my review of DEATHWISH. For further proof of my love of this series, MADHOUSE made my Best of 2008 list, alongside Maggie Stiefvater and John Green. I first blogged about the series in my second post ever.)

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She's also got a neat werewolf story in the Charlaine Harris headlined anthology, WOLFSBANE AND MISTLETOE. While I wouldn't rec an anthology for one story, most of the stories in this one are winners even if you don't know the authors' other works.

Her other series is the Trickster novels, which do feature a female protagonist. This is the series that got cut.

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TRICK OF THE LIGHT is set in Las Vegas and features what may be the world's most subtle roaring rampage of revenge. It's a fun, gay friendly fantasy with lots of action. What more could a girl want? Well, she could want all of the planned sequels.

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THE GRIMROSE PATH will come out as planned next September, but that will be the end. (That is, unless millions of people buy it, inshallah.) I, for one, will be sad to see the characters go.

I am, however, excited about Thurman's June 1 release:

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Back cover copy:

From Rob Thurman, national bestselling author of the Cal Leandros Novels, comes a sci-fi thriller that questions what makes us human, what makes us unique . . .

. . . And what makes us kill.

Ten years ago, Stefan Korsak's younger brother was kidnapped. No one knew who took Lukas, or why. He was simply gone. But not a day has passed that Stefan hasn't thought about him. As a rising figure in the Russian mafia, he has finally found him.

But when he rescues Lukas, he must confront a terrible truth--his brother is no longer his brother. He is a killer. Trained, brainwashed, and genetically transformed into a flesh-and-blood machine with only one purpose--assassination. Now, those who created him . . . will do anything to reclaim him.

And the closer Stefan grows to his brother, the more he realizes that saving Lukas may be easier than surviving him…

If there's one genre I like better than urban fantasy, it's SF. Especially SF involving genetics. Also, I think I've mentioned my love of assassins on IBWB before. It's like CHIMERA was written to ping my buttons. Plus, I love Rob Thurman and she's proven she can do brothers.

Do you like to burst into laughter every other line? Do you enjoy character driven action? Do you like your protagonists to be just a little bit insane?

Rob Thurman is hands down, one of my favorite authors. I'll be buying CHIMERA on June 1, but you don't have to take my word for it. After all, you have weeks to pick up NIGHTLIFE or TRICK OF THE LIGHT and give her a try. (I made it easy, after all. The cover images will take you to Amazon.)

This has been an unofficial message from IBWB's Best Authors You Aren't Reading.

May 15, 2010

Auctions, Auctions Everwhere

I'm sure most of ya'll are aware of Do the Write Thing for Nashville, supporting The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee. The items up for bid have been going for big bucks, but it's well worth it if you have the money.

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Also, we're in the middle of Neurofibromatosis Awareness Month. Thus, Doodle Day! You can bid on celebrity doodles, some of which are absolute bargains. Book related ones include Liz Tigelaar, author of PRETTY TOUGH, and Jodi Picoult, author of a wide range of books that made you cry.

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So, give and get! The great thing about charitable auctions is you can have your cake and eat it too.

May 12, 2010

Review: The Body Finder

By Kimberly Derting
Available now from HarperTeen (Harper Collins)
Review Copy

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One of the great things about young adult books is the fact that they can use the trappings of almost any genre. Yet romantic suspense is rarely represented. I think part of the problem is the darkness Kimberly Derting said she worried about in my interview with her. Romantic suspense, especially if it involves a serial killer, lives and dies by the serial killer. A lame motive can ruin a good story.

Derting knocks it out of the park with her killer, who narrates scenes between chapters. His passages are chilling not only because of Derting's skill in crafting a killer's consciousness, but also because of how empathetic the victims are. In a few brief pages, Derting makes you sorry that a character is going to die. If you like stories like the classic noir THE KILLER INSIDE ME by Jim Thompson, then you'll love Derting's killer.

As for the romantic elements, Jay and Violet are incredibly cute. They're best friends who are clearly into each other (especially to others), but afraid that the other doesn't see them the same way. I love how her friends - Chelsea, Jules, and Claire - react to Jay and Violet's drama, particularly Chelsea's not-always-helpful snarking. The romance and high school scenes add levity and hope to counter the darkness.

Of course, YA can also blend genres. THE BODY FINDER contains paranormal elements as well. Violet is compelled to find murdered bodies, including small animals who were eaten for dinner. (Truly a case of Blessed with Suck.) She can also sense matching echoes that mark the killer, even if the killer is someone who acted in self-defense like her police chief uncle.

As more teen girls die, Violet decides to use her ability to help the police. As others wisely point out, this puts her in danger of attracting the killer herself - or running into other murderers.

Derting combines an interesting premise, an intriguing mystery, and an absorbing romance to good effect in THE BODY FINDER. This is a powerful debut and I expect good things of the sequel.

"Waiting on" Wednesday

Hosted by: Jill

I am eagerly awaiting LINGER!

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Check out the gorgeous trailer, handmade by the genius Maggie Stiefvater herself:

Plus, by sharing this trailer you can win one of four crazy awesome prizes.

Click on the "maggie stiefvater" tag to learn more about her novels.

May 11, 2010

Interview with Kimberly Derting

Kimberly Derting is the debut author of THE BODY FINDER, which I will review here tomorrow. You might have seen her around the net before, however. She's even been a visitor to IBWB. So read on for the mind behind this excellent new thriller.


1. Myself, and probably many others, are familiar with your blog, The Road to Publication. How do you feel your blog affected your road to publication?

Since I started my blog after my book was already out on submission to publishers, it was a great tool to begin connecting with potential readers, other bloggers, authors, etc. I love meeting people, and my blog has just become another way for me to make new friends, as well as keeping up with what’s going on in the YA community.

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2. Parts of THE BODY FINDER are written through the killer's point of view. What sort of research did you do on serial killers to create such a convincing voice?

Apparently, I’ve unknowingly spent my life studying serial killers because those sections of THE BODY FINDER from the killer’s POV were extremely easy for me to write. I would love to say that I interviewed serial killers from prison, but I didn’t. I just read a lot of books and watched a lot of true crime TV. Plus, the internet is invaluable!

3. In one of your blog posts, you mentioned how your biology degree helped you to be a better writer. Of course, a biology degree implies plans other than becoming an author. What are some other things you're interested in doing with your life?

Wow, very perceptive! You didn’t figure out who the killer was before the end of TBF did you??? I was actually pre-med when I was in school, and had every intention of becoming a doctor. Fortunately, I realized before I actually applied, that I wasn’t the kind of person who wanted to juggle a family and med-school…a realization that saved me a lot of energy and grief. Besides, if I’d been honest with myself way back then, I would have admitted that what I really wanted to do was write!

4. Before selling THE BODY FINDER, you tried to sell a horror novel. Do you think you'll ever rewrite that novel and try again?

Absolutely not! If I have it my way, that book will never, EVER see the light of day again. Let’s just chalk that up to a learning experience about the publishing industry, and more importantly, great practice on what NOT to do!

5. Some parts of THE BODY FINDER are pretty dark. Did you worry about how far you could go in a YA novel? Did you ever have to reel in some of the darkness?

I was actually very worried about that (again, very perceptive!). In fact, when I sent in my first draft, there were far fewer scenes from the killer’s perspective because I really thought that might be too creepy for YA. When my editor came back and said they wanted more, I was thrilled, I LOVED writing the killer’s sections. I know, I know, that just sounds sick and wrong!

6. You knew that you had sold THE BODY FINDER for awhile before you could announce it on the blog. How does it feel to contain such big news? On a semi-related note, anything you can currently share about DESIRES OF THE DEAD without making your editor mad?

It was SOSOSO hard to hold that news in. It was about three months before I could announce it publicly…or what I like to call “forever!” The day I was told I could announce it, I was in New York , but I broke out my laptop and blogged it anyway. It was so great to finally get it out there!!!

As far as Desires, I will tell you that there will definitely be a dead body. Shhh! ;)

May 10, 2010

Daisy's Pick of the Month (2)

This might be the best book trailer I've ever seen! It looks just like a movie trailer and features an appearance from Deepak Chopra. The trailer is for Jessica Brody's THE KARMA CLUB. Here's why I like it. It sets up the story, it showcases the characters and it gives you the conflict. It accomplishes those essentials while being sharp, crisp and well-shot. Check it out!

Watch on YouTube.

--Daisy Whitney is author of the forthcoming teen novel THE MOCKINGBIRDS and is also a new media reporter, producer and podcaster, with an expertise in online video trends.

May 8, 2010

Best Authors You Aren't Reading: Patrice Kindl

Best Authors You Aren't Reading is a new feature for IBWB. In it I will discuss authors who I don't perceive as being popular, but who I truly love.

Patrice Kindl is a former model and secretary who often works with animals. (It shows in her choices of subject matter.) She first appeared on the children's lit scene in 1993, with OWL IN LOVE.

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Fourteen-year-old Owl is a shapeshifter in love with her science teacher. It's a bildungsroman (she grows from schoolgirl crush to true romance) about a misfit, and features paranormal elements before they were in vogue. Owl's voice is charming and absorbing, setting the stage for Kindl's compelling female narrators.

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Her next novel, THE WOMAN IN THE WALL, was the first one I read. Unfortunately, it appears to be out of print. I must say, if you find a used copy, buy it and read it. Shy, crafty Anna retreats into secret passages she built in her family's home when her mother remarries. A love letter, however, might force her out of her retreat. Although Anna is alone for much of the story, Kindl manages to develop a compelling cast. I loved this book, which reads like a modern fairy tale, magical without any actual magic occurring.

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Kindl began the new millennium with GOOSE CHASE, an actual modern fairy tale. As the back of the novel puts it:

An orphaned Goose girl, Alexandria’s troubles begin when she offers some of her precious bread and water to a hungry old woman. The woman just happens to be a witch in disguise, and poof! Alexandria is suddenly heartstoppingly beautiful. When she brushes her hair, gold dust showers to the ground, and her tears turn to diamonds.

She may be heartstoppingly beautiful, but she'd rather people just let her do her job. Alexandria is a fabulous practical heroine, the exact kind of girl you wish starred more often in fairy tales. Lovers of fairy tales will enjoy how familiar stories weave in and out of GOOSE CHASE.

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LOST IN THE LABYRINTH, conversely, will appeal most to those who enjoy mythology. This is a retelling of the Theseus's defeat of the Minotaur . . . from the point of view of the Minotaur's half-sister, Xenodice. Kindl manages to make the story compelling even when the fates of the characters are a foregone conclusion. She also manages to inject real history into the proceedings, which is always a bonus.

Kindl's writing is elegant and captivation. There are many years between her books, but she clearly puts that time to good use. Each of her four works - OWL IN LOVE, THE WOMAN IN THE WALL, GOOSE CHASE, and LOST IN THE LABYRINTH are gems. Fourteen years later, OWL IN LOVE doesn't read as dated, but prescient of the YA genre's evolution. THE WOMAN IN THE WALL is both original and romantic. GOOSE CHASE is hilarious and perfect for fans of Shannon Hale. LOST IN THE LABYRINTH is a haunting historical, showcasing another side of Kindl. I can't wait to see what she'll show her readers next.

But don't take my word for it. Pick up one of her books for yourself.

May 5, 2010

Review: Boy Books

Side note: you can vote on best National Poetry Month Post.

This is a series of mini-reviews I wrote over two months ago. I lost them when my lappie crashed, recovered them along with the rest of the hard drive, but still never posted them.

By Glenn Dakin

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Available now from Egmont USA; Paperback available May 25th
Have face-melting fun here
Review copy

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I am enjoying the current popularity of steampunk, even as it confirms that cyberpunk is truly dead. Likewise, I am enjoying Egmont USA's debut on the scene. Imprints seem to start with an impressive list, and I'm definitely looking forward to what this one will put out in the next year or so based on what I've read. (Check out Egmont USA titles I've read since.)

CANDLE MAN is a nice middle grade/young adult crossover title. It's written for a younger audience, but contains a complexity that will keep adults entertained. Plus, it's good for kids to read books that revel in shades of grey. CANDLE MAN has few characters that are true evil, despite resembling Saturday morning cartoon villains. In addition, the forces of evil speak only of kindness and doing good works. It's a nice introduction for kids to the use of rhetoric to conceal what's really going on. (The adventure story is pretty good too.)

By Josh Lieb
Available now from Razorbill (Penguin); Review copy

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I AM A GENIUS OF UNSPEAKABLE EVIL AND I WANT TO BE YOUR CLASS PRESIDENT is often compared to Family Guy. This comparison is unfair. Both feature an evil child, but I AM A GENIUS OF UNSPEAKABLE EVIL is actually funny. (Better comparison? A cross of THE KID WHO BECAME PRESIDENT and THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO LARRY.) When I began, I wondered if Oliver Watson was actually a genius or deluded by his mother. Then Josh Lieb made it absolutely clear that Oliver is a genius, if somewhat deluded about what he feels for his parents. This book is fast and funny, with fun pictures and footnotes. (Books that use footnotes are ten times as likely to be funny, no lie.) In a world where more and more books are part of a series, I miss reading a good standalone. I AM A GENIUS OF UNSPEAKABLE EVIL scratched that itched.

Check out the cool author video featuring Jon Stewart:

By James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet
Available now from Little, Brown; Review copy

Book Cover

I threw this in with reviews of boy books, but despite the title, this book is more WITCH than WIZARD. Wisteria Allgood gets about 75% of the narration and 90% of the powers. I'm all for girl power, but it seemed like Whit never did anything despite being older and in better shape – perfect for fighting against a totalitarian state. The book's action scenes work, but it is not as fun as the Maximum Ride series by James Patterson. Perhaps it's because I felt the main themes were being beat into me by a sledgehammer. (William Blake did the similar themes better in his poem "The Book of Thel.") There's a good premise here, but the execution is pedestrian.

May 4, 2010

Review: White Cat

By Holly Black
Available now from Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon and Schuster)
Review copy

Book Cover

Clever as the devil and twice as pretty.

I love Holly Black's Modern Tales of Faerie, so I was ridiculously excited when the first book of The Curse Workers showed up at my door. Fortunately, Black delivered a fast and clever story. (She did, however, use the ending to rip out my heart and grind it with a stiletto heel. Why do I not have the second book already to ease the ache in my soul?)

Cassel Sharpe lives in a world where some people - known as curse workers - can use an ability on you if they just touch you with their hands. His grandfather, in fact, can kill you that way. Generally, people don't take their gloves off. While Cassel himself is powerless, he comes from a talented family that uses their abilities to run cons. One night, Cassel wakes up on the roof of his dorm, chasing a white cat. He's removed from the dorm and sent to live with his family, where he quickly realizes his brothers Phillip and Anton are up to something.

For all that the family dynamics are strange - the mother is in jail, Phillip's wife is forgetful, and you can't quite tell whose side Grandad is on, it works. These are the people Cassel grew up with, and it shows in his personality and tactics. It's just part of the tight, coherent tapestry that Black weaves in WHITE CAT.

I love the world Black has created. It's just as dangerous as her interpretation of faerie, and Cassel needs his wits in order to survive in it. I adore the flashbacks to his relationship with Lila - his best friend, whom he killed three years ago. It's extremely sexy, in a kinky sort of way. (Not that I think the younger kids who read WHITE CAT will pick up on that.)

Pretty much, WHITE CAT has it all. A varied cast of interesting characters (including Cassel's school friends), an intriguing world, and a twisted plot that just keeps moving faster and faster until the ridiculously cool denoument. Black took full control of my emotions right up until the aforementioned ending where she ripped out my heart. But, since she's as evil as some of her characters, she made it feel good.

Also, check out the trailer by the talented Vania. The ending of the trailer is less heart-wrenching, but shows that it's criminal they covered up the model's face with the title treatment.

May 3, 2010

Review: Brightly Woven

By Alexandra Bracken
Available now from Egmont USA; Review copy

Book Cover

One of the hardest things to resist when writing fantasy is the tendency to exoticize fantasy. Because, of course, no matter how strange the society you've created is, it's still full of people acting like people. Alexandra Bracken never forgets this.

Sydelle Mirabel lives in a small village famous for its pottery. Unfortunately, there's been a long drought, so there's no mud, so no one can make the pottery and the village is in bad shape. She dreams of leaving to apprentice herself to a master weaver. Then, one day in the mountains, she comes across Wayland North, a wizard wearing a number of colored cloaks.

Soon he's brought rain to the village and he and Sydelle are moving quickly, though he won't tell her what's really going on and why he needs to drink so much. Then they run into his rival, Reuel Dorwan, and Sydelle realizes that she needs to find out what Wayland's goals are because she's part of them.

Despite being narrated by a girl, I think boys can enjoy BRIGHTLY WOVEN. It moves quickly, with more emphasis on the action than Wayland and Sydelle's budding romance. (Their romance is more the bantering-type than the lovey dovey-type anyway.)

I especially enjoyed how Bracken wove the history of Saldorra and Auster, the two countries almost at war, throughout the text. It makes sense that both countries present similar but opposing narratives. The cultural stuff remains low-key and easy to follow, but contains just enough complexity to remain realistic.

BRIGHTLY WOVEN is a nice, brisk fantasy. Bracken's debut is charming enough to overcome the rough points that are found in the work of all first time authors. I liked Sydelle's voice and enjoyed her surprising adventure.

May 1, 2010

I suppose I should wait 'til Wednesday . . .

I am excited about Colin Meloy's deal with HarperCollins: a trilogy, called Wildwood, coming in Fall 2011 and illustrated by his wife Carson Ellis.

The press release says:

"The germ of this series goes back a long way,” Meloy said. “For me, this is the culmination of a long-term collaboration with Carson, matching words and art. I grew up on a steady diet of Lloyd Alexander, Roald Dahl, and Tolkien; this is our humble paean to that grand tradition of epic adventure stories."Ellis commented, “Wildwood is a project very close to my heart - the collaboration that Colin and I have been dreaming about for years.”

I love the Decemberists, Ellis's artwork, Lloyd Alexander, Roald Dahl, and Tolkien. Though there are some naysayers, I think Meloy's work with the Decemberists proves he has a way with words and a grasp of narrative. (Hey, I like them enough to have seen them in concert twice.)

Below is a fan video to "The Mariner's Revenge Song":


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