April 29, 2015

Con or Bust 2015

It is Con or Bust auction time again!  The auctions end on Sunday, May 3.

Bid now to win cool stuff and help people of color attend cons.

Some items up for bid that I know y'all will love:

And if you love Tamora Pierce, there is an abundance of riches, not the least of which is a signed and personalized set of the Lioness Quartet.

So get to spending money on a cause!

April 28, 2015

Review: An Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes First in a series
By Sabaa Tahir
Available now from Razorbill (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

AN EMBER IN THE ASHES has been getting a massive push from Penguin Random House.  The book was a pretty easy sell, for me.  I was sold on the Roman Empire-esque setting and the heroine being a spy for the resistance, hiding out as a slave at the school where Martial Empire soldiers are taught.

AN EMBER IN THE ASHES is told between dual points of view.  Laia alternates with Elias, a student soldier who plans on deserting right after graduation.  I actually found myself more drawn to Elias' point of view.  He has a lot going on, because he's been chosen as one of four candidates to be the next emperor.  He also has a complicated relationship with his mother, the Commandant, and his best friend Helene, who is also in the running to become emperor.  Beside his action-packed storyline, Laia's seems somewhat wan.  Her goal is to earn the support she needs to break her brother out of prison.  But she happens to be not much as a spy and mostly alternates between getting in trouble and making friends with a fellow slave.

Love triangle haters should avoid AN EMBER IN THE ASHES.  There are two intersecting triangles: Elias must choose between Helene and Laia, and Laia must choose between Helene and a resistance fighter who barely has enough characterization to be even a faux love interest.  I can see why Laia likes Elias: he's not only handsome, but also surprisingly principled and tries to make her life easier when he can.  Elias' attraction to Laia actually made me like him less, because it doesn't seem to have much of a reason beyond she looks good in a dress.  Given how much of AN EMBER IN THE ASHES hinges on their feelings for each other, I wish Elias had been shown being attracted to Laia for things other than her looks.

I do wish more history of the world had been seeded throughout the book.  For instance, Laia is a Scholar, an underclass made up of a people the Martials conquered.  The name of the people instantly becomes interesting when you learn they're forbidden from learning to read.  Do they have tales of knowledge lost?  Secret oral traditions?  What sort of learning made them famed as Scholars the way Martials are known for fighting with scims?  AN EMBER IN ASHES focuses almost entirely on Martial life, which does make some sense given that it is set in a Martial school.

Sensitive readers will want to note that in addition to violence there are a large number of rape threats in the story.  They make sense in context, but it is very prevalent and a bit wearying how much it gets mentioned.  I did enjoy AN EMBER IN THE ASHES despite its flaws.  It's a very cinematic novel with a compelling hero.  I also really liked Helene, who kind of baffles her friend Elias even though he knows not to underestimate her.  I'm excited to read the sequel and find out what happens next.

April 27, 2015

Review: The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley

The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley By Shaun David Hutchinson
Illustrated by Christine Larsen
Available now from Simon Pulse

Andrew Brawley has a lot of guilt and a big secret.  His parents and sister are dead, and he should've died with them.  But he didn't, and now he's living in the hospital, hiding from the woman he calls Death.  He works in the cafeteria, volunteers the night ER shift, and otherwise hustles to keep people from noticing that he's around all the time.

The something happens to shake him up: a boy named Rusty is admitted.  He was burned badly in a hate crime, because he's gay.

THE FIVE STAGES OF ANDREW BRAWLEY takes on a lot of big topics.  There's death from accident, illness, and suicide - and that's just the beginning. Almost everyone in the hospital has a story, down to the cook that employs Drew in the cafeteria and the woman in a coma he's claimed as his grandmother.  The biggest stories are those of Drew himself, Rusty, and two teenagers with cancer: Zachary and Lexi.   Drew dreams of Zachary and Lexi realizing that they like each other and living the lives they could have, but he's afraid to act on his attraction to Rusty.

Between some chapters are graphic novel excerpts from Drew's story about Patient F.  Christine Larsen's stark black and white artwork, with its brittle lines, is startlingly dark.  It's a tale of people in bodies that don't belong to them, death and torture and repeating it again and again as Patient F travels through time to try to save his family this time.  As a priest who talks to Drew realizes, it reveals a lot about his state of mind and the issues he's trying to work through.

THE FIVE STAGES OF ANDREW BRAWLEY is not a happy book, although it has many humorous moments and a hopeful ending.  It was hard for me to read at times, since it seemed like bad things just kept happening.  I expected the twist involving Rusty, but not the ultimate fate of Zachary and Lexi.  It's definitely a strange book, one that will stick out in my mind as a unique reading experience.

I particularly liked how the stories each character told wove throughout the story.  THE FIVE STAGES OF ANDREW BRAWLEY is a novel about how we see ourselves and how others see us (among other things).  It's a portrait of its enigmatic eponymous hero, but also of the people in his life.

April 24, 2015

Review: Ask the Dark

Ask the Dark By Henry Turner
Available now from Clarion (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Review copy

Henry Turner's debut novel ASK THE DARK is about a boy who encounters a serial killer, but it isn't straight horror.  At the Houston Teen Book Con, Turner said HUCKLEBERRY FINN was a huge influence on this novel, and I can really see that.

Billy Zeets used to be pretty wild, vandalizing people's cars and egging homes and more.  It's earned him a bad reputation even though he's managed to mostly turn himself around.  His mother died and his dad got sober, but an accident left him disabled and unable to work.  It's up to Billy and his sister to get the money to keep their house out of foreclosure, and his sister is really pinning it on Billy. 

The kids in town are on curfew because boys have been disappearing, and the first two to disappear have been found murdered.  But Billy just can't stay inside.  He's always roamed the neighborhood in the dark.  And he's started to realize that he sees things when he roams.  That maybe he has the pieces he needs to find the killer.  He needs proof, however, because no one will trust him.

I really enjoyed ASK THE DARK.  Billy's voice is compelling, the dialect present but not distracting.  As a boys' adventure story gone wrong, it's aces.  I particularly like how much Turner leaves to the imagination.  There's no description of the bodies, nor of exactly what he does to the boys he's taken.  Billy alludes to things, is traumatized by things, but he wants to maintain some privacy.  And imagining what might've happened is both scarier and without the unpleasantness of those authorial descriptions of torture that seem to into it.

Those looking for a horror story or thriller might be disappointed by ASK THE DARK.  But it is a terrific dark coming of age tale, a boy finding his mettle in the worst circumstances possible.  Turner has a very developed sense of character voice for a debut author, and I look forward to his future works.

April 22, 2015

Interview with Bobbie Pyron

Bobbie Pyron is the author of LUCKY STRIKE, which was released last month.  She currently lives in Park City with her husband and her animals (two dogs and two cats).  Fun Fact: she's the great-great-great niece of author Harriet Beecher Stowe.  I asked her five questions about LUCKY STRIKE and her life; her answers are below.

For more, visit other stops on her blog tour.


1. Have you ever been particularly lucky?

Not to sound predictable, but I DO feel I was so very lucky when I met my husband, Todd. I’d been divorced for ten years and had some rather “interesting” relationships during that time. I’d gotten to the point where I’d decided I’d never meet a man that I could enjoy living with as much as I loved living with my dog—and then I did! He’s incredibly funny and supportive; he’s handsome AND handy!

2. You grew up in Florida. Did you use anything from your own childhood to develop the setting?

Oh yes, that was part of the fun in writing this book. Although the town of Paradise Beach is fictional, it’s a mash-up of several different town in the Florida Panhandle I lived in as a child: Okaloosa Island, Ft. Walton Beach, Destin. In Ft. Walton there is, in fact, a miniature golf place called Goofy Golf. We went there to play often when I was a kid. It’s still there, T-Rex and all! In Destin, which used to be a little fishing village, we had the Blessing of The Fleet every year, and in Ft. Walton, we had the annual Billy Bowlegs Festival.

Lucky Strike3. Dogs are one of your passions in life and at the center of your last two books. Did it feel strange to move away from dog stories with LUCKY STRIKE?

That’s a great question. In some ways, it did feel strange, but I have a horror of getting pigeon-holed as a particular type of writer, even if that’s being boxed in as a “dog writer.” I want to surprise myself and my readers, and stretch myself as a writer. However, I’ll always have a dog in my books.

4. Which of the characters is least like yourself?

Oh wow, that’s a hard question! There’s a lot of Nate and Gen in me, and even Chum Bailey. Perhaps the Reverend Beam is least like me. He is so very sure of everything and is a commanding presence. I’m neither of those things. I’m always seeing the gray area, always the observer.

5. Can you share a favorite sentence from LUCKY STRIKE?

Gen looked up from her book on theoretical physics and sighed. “Nathaniel, a toaster cannot have a ‘plan’ because a toaster does not have a brain.” 

Review and Excerpt: Lucky Strike

Lucky Strike By Bobbie Pyron
Available now from Arthur A. Levine (Scholastic)
Review copy

Nate Harlow is the unluckiest boy in town.  His toast is always burnt, and he can never call a coin correctly.  He takes pictures of lost shoes, hoping that one day he can reunite a pair, that maybe that will be good luck.  Then he's struck by lightning on his birthday and everything turns around.

I liked that LUCKY STRIKE was ambiguous about whether there was anything magical happening.  Nate's luck (good and bad) strains credulity, as do other events in the novel, but there is no concrete statement that it is all real or all imaginary.  After all, as Gen's mother points out, much of the changes in Nate's life could come from his increased self-confidence.  There's a nice balance of possibility.

Pre-strike, Nate is best friends with Genesis "Gen" Beam and firm in his solidarity with her as the two biggest losers around.  Post-strike, he is excited by his new opportunities to make friends and lashes out when Gen's lack of social skill makes it harder for him to fit it.  It's hard to see a nice kid succumb to popularity like that, but it is believable that Nate wouldn't know how to handle all of the changes in his life gracefully.  I did find it slightly awkward that LUCKY STRIKE starts switching to Gen's point of view at this point when the beginning is firmly in Nate's point of view.  However, I did like that both friends get their say.

The messages of LUCKY STRIKE are pretty simple: good friends stick with you through thick and thin, and fancy new things aren't always better than what you had.  There's also a good exploration of the kind of jealousy that unwarranted good fortune can engender.  It's not groundbreaking stuff, but it is presented charmingly.  I particularly liked the environmental element of LUCKY STRIKE.  Gen is passionate about protecting the loggerhead turtles that nest on the beach.

Young readers will enjoy Nate's reversal of fortune and discovery that some things are more important than luck.  LUCKY STRIKE is a cute, almost magical realist, read that does hit some deep notes.

Read on for an excerpt from LUCKY STRIKE, and visit later today for an interview with Bobbie.  For more, visit other stops on her blog tour.


When Nate opened his eyes, he saw two things: his grandpa’s worried, sea-weathered face hovering above his, and a complicated-looking machine beside him with flashing lights and zig-zaggity lines.

Grandpa clutched his grandson’s hand and said something Nate couldn’t quite make out: his voice sounded like it was two miles away in the bottom of a wishing well.

“What, Grandpa? I can’t hear you.” He licked his lips and tasted blood.

April 21, 2015

Review: Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own

Spinster By Kate Bolick
Available now from Crown Publishing (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

I'm finding it hard to review SPINSTER: MAKING A LIFE OF ONE'S OWN.  Kate Bolick is a gifted writer.  She weaves together biography and sociology and history in a compelling blend.  I certainly learned things about her five "awakeners" - Maeve Breenan, Neith Boyce, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edith Wharton, and Charlotte Perkins Gilmore that I never knew.

Much of the book is devoted to biography of those five women, discussing how their writing and their unique, vivid lives inspired Bolick and helped her through tough times in her personal and professional life.  Those chapters are absolutely fascinating, both for the literary criticism and the glimpses of feminist history through the past century or so.

However, they don't actually have much to do with spinsterhood, no matter how Bolick tries to spin it.  All five women were married at some point in their life.  They led unconventional lives and made art, both worth celebrating in their own way, but that does not make them unmarried women.  Bolick has good taste in personal heroes, but that doesn't make them on topic.

I do like that Bolick acknowledges both the benefits and disadvantages of single life.  You might get to decorate your apartment entirely as you like (and pick out the one with all the details you want), but you've got to pay for it on one income.  It doesn't mean never dating.  (Although for a book about life on one's own, Bolick writes a great deal about her many long-term relationships.  She might not be married, but she's rarely single, and often seems like she doesn't know how to be.)  She also acknowledges one of SPINSTER's weaknesses - that it can't even begin to approach the way that being permanently single is different for white women than black women, or for other women with less privileges.

SPINSTER is a wonderful story of Bolick's life and of the ways women have struggled to have their own independent, sufficient lives even within the bonds of matrimony and motherhood.  It is not really about single women, as it promises, but it is a fascinating look at the changing ideals of femininity.  I've also made a list of some new books and collected columns that I must read.  I liked the book, but it definitely isn't the book I was sold on based on the covers.

April 20, 2015

Jody Gehrman's Message in a Bottle

The Truth About Jack Jody Gehrman is the author of THE TRUTH ABOUT JACK as well as nine other novels and numerous award-winning plays.  She currently lives in Northern California and is a professor of English and Communication Studies.  Today she dropped by my blog to share her story of the strangest letter she's ever written.

Dakota McCloud, the heroine of THE TRUTH ABOUT JACK, finds love after writing a message in a bottle and throwing it into the ocean.


The strangest letter I’ve ever written also happens to be my favorite message in a bottle story. When I was in the third grade, my family moved from California to Vancouver Island, British Columbia for a year. I made a wonderful friend up there: Kristen Alexander. Kristen, if you’re out there, send me a message! Anyway, my best friend Kristen and I decided to write a letter and launch it in a bottle. I remember my dad helping us throw it really far, to be sure it would catch the currents. My dad was a fisherman, so he knew about these things. The sunset was all violet wisps and burning apricots. I remember watching the bottle get swallowed by the sea, feeling all hopeful and excited.

A few weeks later, we’d all but forgotten about it. We were eight, after all. Out of the blue we got a massive envelope. Inside were like thirty letters, all written from third graders. A teacher from one of the nearby islands had found it, and had her entire class write to us.

It was so magical. I think that’s when I decided to be a writer.

Review: The Truth About Jack

The Truth About Jack By Jody Gehrman
Available now from Entangled Crush
Review copy

Dakota McCloud is on cloud nine when she gets her acceptance to Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).  It's the art school she's always wanted to go to, plus she'll be able to reunite with her boyfriend next year.  But before she can share the good news, her best friend emails her to let her know that she's hooked up with said boyfriend.  To deal with the extreme emotions of the day, Dakota writes it all in a letter which she stuffs into a bottle and throws into the ocean.  A bottle Jack Sauvage picks up, because he wanted to meet Dakota and it came right back in on the next wave.

It's a pretty good setup for a romance, but I felt like yelling "No, no, no!" at the book when Jack decides to write back ... as Alejandro Torres from Barcelona.  He knows Barcelona is the hook since Dakota says she wants to go there in the cafe where he first say her.  And he feels like he can't introduce himself to her as himself because he's been idealizing her like whoa.

Now, I felt for Jack.  He's pretty socially awkward, particularly since he was homeschooled after his best friend ODed.  His last girlfriend dumped him because he didn't spend enough money on her, so he's not all that confident in his looks and personality as an attraction.  But man oh man was I put off by the way he romances Dakota, both as Alejandro and Jack.  He uses things she writes to Alejandro to make himself more appealing as Jack.  Jody Gehrman does a good job of establishing in THE TRUTH ABOUT JACK that Dakota would like Jack without this malarkey, so the borderline stalking really left a bad taste in my mouth.

Dakota is the easier protagonist to like, since she isn't romancing anyone under a false identity.  She's struggling with how to proceed next, and wondering if RISD is really her dream or if there are better ways to become a professional artist.  I love that she's shown working on her art, even going to the landfill for parts.  I also like how Dakota and Jack both reach out to other people in their lives for advice and help with relationships.

I think THE TRUTH ABOUT JACK is a super cute book with very real chemistry between the leads.  But you just have to go with the premise.  It's not something I would ever accept in reality, even though Jack does try to make things right.   I preferred Gehrman's Triple Shot Bettys books, because I did have so much trouble with Jack's actions.

April 17, 2015

Review: Denton Little's Deathdate

Denton Little's Deathdate First in a series (?)
By Lance Rubin
Available now from Knopf BFYR (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

DENTON LITTLE'S DEATHDATE  is one of those stories that switches genre partway through.  It starts out as a black comedy about a teenage boy who knows he's going to die tomorrow and struggling with how he wants to go out and what he wants to do in the limited time before he dies.  Then, it shifts into a paranoid conspiracy thriller.  (Admittedly, this shift is seeded early in DENTON LITTLE'S DEATHDATE.)

I found the world debut author Lance Rubin created fascinating.  He only makes one big change to the world as it is, but he clearly thought through the consequences of that change. Due to future genetic developments, a simple test can find out on what day you're going to die.  There are a small percentage of people who are undateable, including Denton's best friend Millie.  The US is one of the few countries to make deathdate testing mandatory.  There's a pretty elaborate set-up for the whole thing: a funeral the day before, then a Sitting the day of.  (This helps ensure that people who are about to die aren't on a plane, for instance, since that indicates that the plane might crash.) 

These are also all recent changes: Denton's grandfather remembers what life was like before everyone knew their deathday.  (This also helps explain why none of the other technology in the book seems that different.)  I particularly liked the detail, sad as it was, that Denton's best friend Paolo is set to die one month later.  That is the kind of thing kids would bond over.

Denton's voice is extremely appealing.  He's a funny guy, and one who tries to look on the bright side even though he's been dealt a bad hand.  He could be unlikeable, since DENTON LITTLE'S DEATHDATE starts with him cheating on his girlfriend.  But he still worked for me as a sympathetic narrator, because he acknowledges that a) he thought they were broken up and b) he was blackout drunk, but c) that doesn't absolve him of guilt and if he did it while drunk, it was potential lurking in him all along.  Of course, that doesn't mean he immediately wants to fess up and hurt his girlfriend.  Except he may have just given two girls a (fatal) STI.

I'm not entirely sure the shift in genre and tone worked for me.  It comes so late in the book (about the last 1/5) that there isn't really time for the explanation of what's really happening to breathe.  Even though there are solid hints about what's going on beforehand, the change in pace is massive.  It also causes some of the humor of Denton's voice to get overwhelmed by the action.  It also builds to an ending that I'm not sure stands on its own.

DENTON LITTLE'S DEATHDATE is a funny, clever book.  I enjoyed the first part of the book more than the ending, but I still found the whole delightfully weird and fun.  I hope for future adventures with Denton, and I'm sure Rubin has plenty of great books ahead of him.

April 16, 2015

Excerpt: Jesse's Girl

Jesse's Girl If you're like me, you've been reading and loving Miranda Kenneally's Hundred Oaks series.  In fact, I'm going to be hosting her on her next blog tour on June 24th.  There's going to be an interview, so be sure to visit that Wednesday!

The newest book in the series, JESSE'S GIRL, comes out on July 7th.  If you buy it before then, there's a cool pre-order campaign sponsored by the publisher (Sourcebooks Fire):

Everyone who emails teenfire@sourcebooks.com will automatically receive an email of the EXCLUSIVE Jesse’s Girl Playlist, and will be invited to attend a LIVE online author event on July 6, the day before JESSE'S GIRL goes on-sale!

In addition, if you pre-order the book and send your proof of purchase (and mailing address) to teenfire@sourcebooks.com, you’ll not only get the exclusive playlist and event invite, but you’ll also receive a signed/personalized bookplate, a super-cute custom guitar pick, and entered to win a $300 gift card to TicketMaster so you can go to a concert or musical or some other fun event. 

And here's an excerpt to whet your appetites:
As much as I love music, I am generally not a fan of country. I don’t like banjos. I don’t like sappy lyrics about trucks and hauling hay. Dolly Parton is my mortal enemy—my mom plays “Jolene” over and over and over and over, and it makes me want to chop my ears off like van Gogh. Yeah, yeah, I’m from Tennessee, where it’s a crime if you don’t love country, but I like deep, rumbling beats and singing loud and fast and hard. I do not like closing my eyes and crooning to a cow in the pasture. Yet here I am at a Jesse Scott concert, getting ready to meet him and to see if he’ll let me shadow him next Friday.

My school requires every senior to “shadow” a professional for a day. It’s their way of helping us figure out what kind of career we want. Like, if you want to be president when you grow up, you might get to shadow the mayor. Want to be a chef? Have fun kneading dough at the Donut Palace. When I said “I want to be a musician,” I figured they’d send me to work in the electronics section at Walmart.

I certainly never expected to shadow the king of country music.

April 15, 2015

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Brown-Eyed Girl

"Waiting On" Wednesday is hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine.

I love Lisa Kleypas's writing.  Her characters are believable and her romances often leave me breathless.  Her contemporary romances about the Travis family are some of my favorites, especially the epic BLUE-EYED DEVIL.  (And no, it's not just because they're all set partially in Houston.)

Brown-Eyed Girl On August 11 this year, the final book in the Travis series is coming out: BROWN-EYED GIRL.

The blurb (from publisher):

"Now it's my turn to talk." The sound of Joe's voice in my ear was pure sin. "I'm the man who's right for you. I may not be what you're looking for, but I'm what you want."

Ambitious Avery Crosslin has no time for a personal life--she's in charge of planning the biggest wedding Houston society has ever seen, and she doesn't need distractions. After one scorching summer night in the arms of sexy photographer Joe Travis, Avery is stunned by a passion that burns out of control, and she's determined to keep it from happening again.

But Joe is a man who goes after what he wants, and he's determined to have all of Avery. . .including the secrets from a past she would do anything to forget.

Okay, it sounds pretty cliche, but I trust Kleypas to bring it to life.  I can't wait!

Read my reviews:

April 14, 2015

Review: The Second Guard

The Second Guard First in a series
By J.D. Vaughn
Available now from Disney-Hyperion
Review copy

In Tequende, all second-born children join the guard when they turn fifteen.  Some will end up serving out their term as servants if they aren't suited, but Talimendra has always dreamed of becoming a guard, unlike her twin sister.  The training school, however, isn't quite what she expects.  She especially finds herself putting her foot in it when it comes to relating to kids from the other guilds.  (Tali is of the Sun Guild, the merchant guild.)  She still manages to make friends with Zarif (Moon Guild) and Chey (Earth Guild).

J.D. Vaughn is actually two authors: Julia Durango and Tracie Zimmer.  They've created a strong start to a series in THE SECOND GUARD.  Each guild has its own culture, and the clashes between them end up showing Tali how alike all the people are more than how different.  She struggles both to overcome her prejudices and to figure out why the people are kept so segregated.  At the beginning of the novel, Tali is very trusting that her world is just as it appears to be.  But as her world grows bigger, so do her suspicsions.  Tali, Zarif, Chey, and a fourth, servant friend soon realize that an official in the academy is disloyal to the crown, and start spying to figure out who.

THE SECOND GUARD is on the younger side of YA; aside from the length, there's not much separating it from a middle grade novel.  I expect many readers of all ages will be excited by a fantasy that's light on the romance.  (Although Tali does muse about how beauteous one of her instructors is.)  Other readers will be excited that the worldbuilding is influenced by South American history instead of European.

The focus on the mutiny provides THE SECOND GUARD with a strong plot while seeding the ground for future entries in the series.  Tali might stay loyal, but she's beginning to see that much of how the country is ruled needs to change.  The queen's heir might bring that change, but is it enough to rely on her?  Where should change start?  Vaughn makes it clear that they've only started to explore the world of Tequende and the hostile countries that surround it.

If you're looking for an adventure full of culture clashes, surreptitious communication and travel, and a battle for the control of a country, then pick up THE SECOND GUARD.  Even though it is the start to a series, it stands fine on its own.

April 13, 2015

Event Report: The Greater Houston Teen Book Convention

This past Saturday, April 11, the annual Greater Houston Teen Book Con was held at Alief Taylor High School, sponsored by the Alief Education Foundation, Blue Willow Bookshop, Follet Library Resources, Mackin Educational Resources, Escue & Associates, and more.

Ask the Dark One thing I thought this book convention did especially well was their selection of authors.  There was a nice mix of big names, steadily working authors, and newbies.  Debut author Henry Turner's ASK THE DARK even came out the week of the event.  There was also a diverse mix of authors, which is particularly important in Houston, currently the most diverse city in the US.  Our students need to see that someone like them can have a career as an author.  As Ally Carter said in "The Secrets That Bind Us" panel, just knowing S.E. Hinton was a teen girl from Oklahoma opened her mind to the possibility of writing professionally, and every kid deserves that.  The diverse authors included Jason Rynolds, Aisha Saeed (Vice President of We Need Diverse Books), Lydia Kang, David Levithan, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, and Jen Wang.

I noticed a few areas for improvement.  One of the panels I attended was crowded and another was extremely crowded.  I like the idea of teens getting to see as many authors as possible, but I think more smaller panels would help spread people out.  Most of the panels included five authors.  Another was that they stopped selling refreshments before the closing speech, at which point the event was supposed to go on for another two hours.  I know I wanted to buy a bottle of water and just used the vending machines instead.  I think many people could've still used a drink and a small snack at that point.  I do give the event props for having multiple food trucks during the lunch hours.  That was delicious.

The Murder Complex I was a little late getting to the event because I had trouble finding Alief Taylor High School.  (David Levithan assured me that his escort got lost on the way too.)  The first panel I attended was "The Secrets That Bind Us" with Ally Carter, Henry Turner (who has the voice of a late-night DJ), Lindsay Cummings, and Justine Larbalestier.  They briefly introduced their books and then launched into a Q&A.  I was particularly interested in Cummings' story - she was bedridden for three years and did little other than read and write.  She wrote THE MURDER COMPLEX when she was eighteen because MOCKINGJAY made her so angry.  (I read it for this year's Cybils; it's a good book.)  They had a variety of opinions on plot twists.  Turner works his out in revision; Carter likes them best if they surprise even her; and Cummings plans them first because they're her favorite part.  None of them liked rereading their work.  When Carter needs to remember a continuity detail, she likes to ask Twitter and ask her fans to tell her if she's mentioned something before.

April 11, 2015

Texas Teen Book Festival 2015 [press release]

I attended the Texas Teen Book Festival for several years (including its first year), back when it was the Austin Teen Book Festival.  So I'm quite excited to get to share some of the early details with y'all.

Texas Teen Book Festival 2015 date announced: Sept. 26 at St. Edward’s University

4,000-plus YA fans, hot authors anticipate gathering

AUSTIN— YA fans rejoice! The Texas Teen Book Festival will be held Saturday, Sept. 26, at St. Edward’s University.

The Texas Teen Book Festival is one of the largest of its kind in the nation, a highly anticipated annual event in the young adult literature world, drawing some of the most popular authors who write for the age group. More than 4,000 YA enthusiasts attended the Teen Book Festival in 2014 to hear a lineup of 29 authors, the first year that the gathering was held at St. Edward’s University.

The Texas Teen Book Festival is produced and sponsored by the Texas Book Festival and BookPeople, with support from St. Edward’s University and Humanities Texas, and in partnership with the Austin Public Library Friends Foundation. It is free and open to the public, thanks to sponsors and volunteers.

“We are excited to be back on the beautiful campus of St. Edward's University,” says Lois Kim, executive director of the Texas Book Festival. “It was wonderful to see the great turnout last year and so many enthusiastic teens. We anticipate TTBF 2015 being even better!”

A new component for this year’s gathering is the Texas Teen Book Festival Writing Contest, sponsored by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children's Books. Texas residents ages 11-18 are invited to submit an outline plus writing sample, between 20 and 30 pages, by July 1 to vie for in-depth editorial feedback from Delacorte professionals. Submissions will be judged in age groups 11-13 and 14-18, and three overall winners will be selected.

Also this year, the Austin Public Library Friends Foundation’s Badgerdog creative writing program will host their annual reading and celebration at the Fest.

Headlining authors for the Texas Teen Book Festival will be announced later this spring. Follow the Fest on Facebook and Twitter, and check out the website for the latest announcements and news.

About the Texas Teen Book Festival

The Texas Teen Book Festival is a one-day event that celebrates the teen reading experience by inviting fans to visit with some of the most popular and critically acclaimed young adult authors in the country. The Texas Teen Book Festival was born as the Austin Teen Book Festival in 2009, when librarian Heather Schubert partnered with BookPeople to organize a gathering at Westlake High School. Five hundred people and 16 authors attended the first year. The event continued to grow, and in 2011-2013 was sponsored by the Austin Public Library Friends Foundation. In 2014 the Fest became a program of the Texas Book Festival and was renamed the Texas Teen Book Festival. One of the largest gatherings of its kind anywhere, the annual Fest takes place in the fall on the campus of St. Edward’s University. For more information, see texasteenbookfestival.org.

April 10, 2015

Review: Don't Stay Up Late

Don't Stay Up Late A Fear Street Novel
By R.L. Stine
Available now from St. Martin's Griffin
Review copy
Read my review of A Midsummer Night's Scream

I have fond memories of the Fear Street series. I don't remember how many of them I read in elementary and middle school, but it was a lot.  I liked them more than Goosebumps because people actually died (often in rather gruesome ways), and I enjoyed the mythology of the Fear family's curse.  They aren't high brow (or even particularly high quality fiction), but I do get a kick that the series is being restarted for a new generation.  I'm not sure how many I'll personally read, but I'm sure I'll be there for the book starring Brandon Fear.  (He's a senior at Shadyside High, apparently.)

When DON'T STAY UP LATE starts, its connection to the series seems tenuous.  Lisa Brooks does live in Shadyside.  Her family moved there recently, and she's made three good friends: Isaac, Saralynn, and her boyfriend Nate.  But her new life is derailed by a car accident that kills her father and leaves her with horrifying hallucinations.  Fear Street itself comes into the picture when Lisa takes a job babysitting for a family on the street, with a sweet boy named Harry Hart.  The only catch is that she can't let him stay up late.

The disparate plot lines (Lisa's hallucinations, the creepy kid, a serial killer killing teens) take a bit to come together, but in classic Fear Street fashion they do and lead to an ambiguous ending.  All of R.L. Stine's usual tics are on display, including the fake-out cliffhangers.

I do think the treatment of mental illness in DON'T STAY UP LATE could use some updating.  A mental hospital is a horrific place where patients are free to lick visitors before they even make it to the reception desk.  I do find it strange that no one is concerned with leaving a child alone with a teenager whose visual hallucinations are not under control. 

DON'T STAY UP LATE was fun for the nostalgia factor, but even back in the day this wouldn't have been one of the stronger entries in the series.  (Only two deaths?  By evisceration? Pfft.)

April 9, 2015

TV Thursday: Resident Advisors

Today Resident Advisors, a comedy set in a college dorm, premiered on Hulu.  All 10 episodes are now available if you have Hulu Plus.  Only the first two episodes are available for free.  The show is produced by Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games, Pitch Perfect) and one of the writers and creators is Taylor Jenkins Reid, who I've reviewed multiple times.

It stars Ryan Hansen (Bad Judge) and Jamie Chung (Big Hero 6, Once Upon a Time), both of whom I've enjoyed in other shows.  They've got terrific comedic timing, and it is nice to see an Asian woman as a show lead.

I didn't really enjoy the pilot, Movin In Day.  It had some funny jokes (teen guys do wear too much body spray), and a rather nice dorm policy (they respect how students identify their gender).  But none of the characters struck me as people I'd enjoy spending multiple episodes with.  One of the guy's schtick is sexual harassment and the female RA just abandons a dog instead of taking it to a pound.

I'll probably try the second episode, since they're only twenty or so minutes long, but I'm definitely not sold yet.  I've embedded the pilot below if you want to give it a try.

Review: Kissing Ted Callahan (And Other Guys)

Kissing Ted Callahan By Amy Spaulding
Available now from Poppy (Hachette)
Review copy

I've heard lots of great things about Amy Spaulding's first two novels, THE REECE MALCOLM LIST and INK IS THICKER THAN WATER.  When I saw she had a new book coming out, I decided to read it on the strength of that buzz.  Giving KISSING TED CALLAHAN (AND OTHER GUYS) a chance was a good idea.

One thing I absolutely loved about this book is that the discussions of who is cool or not felt real.  There was no automatic the football captain and the head cheerleader are cool.  Instead, different people perceived different things as markers of cool.  Riley, the protagonist, feels like a dork and a weirdo, but her friend Reid points out to her that she's an attractive girl who has a car and is in a band and is totally out of most guys' league.  There's also a nice acknowledgment that confidence can make someone seem cool, even if they play tuba in the marching band.

Why is Riley's coolness and dating league important?  Because she wants to get some experience with guys.  She's in a band Gold Diggers with her friends Nathan, Lucy, and Reid.  They're actually pretty good, with demos circulating and gigs accumulating.  But when Nathan and Lucy turn out to have a secret relationship, Riley and Reid are sent into a tailspin.  They decide they're each going to seek out their own romance, and write down everything about it for each other to read in a notebook.

I liked the initial contrasts between their goals, and that they seemed to have nothing to do with gender.  Riley is really focused on physical goals, but she has a specific guy in mind: Ted Callahan.  Reid dreams of more of a slow-building relationship, but is willing to aim for any girl he thinks will go for him.  The course of love runs interestingly for both of them, but especially Riley, who ends up kind of dating three guys at once.  (She's not technically cheating on any of them, but she isn't being very honest either.)  I got a little frustrated with her dithering, since she's actually pretty clear about what she wants and who she really likes.

Over all, KISSING TED CALLAHAN is a charming teen romance, particularly for fans of modern alternative music.  (I did wonder how Riley affords all of the shows she goes to, especially if she's buying merch.)  It's got a nice hyper-realistic vibe.  Everything is a bit more than it would be in reality, but it's grounded by down-to-earth emotions and social interactions.  Definitely a fun summer read.

April 8, 2015

Review: Black Dove, White Raven

Black Dove, White Raven By Elizabeth Wein
Available now from Disney Hyperion
Review copy
Read my Elizabeth Wein tag

Elizabeth Wein combines the WWII setting of CODE NAME VERITY and ROSE UNDER FIRE with the Ethiopian setting of her last four Lion Hunter novels in a book that is sure to please her fans new and old. 

BLACK DOVE, WHITE RAVEN beings with a letter from Emilia to the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie asking for him to grant her brother Teodoros a passport.  What follows are the diary entries, flight logs, and stories they wrote together, the evidence Em sends to the emperor that Teo deserves his help leaving the country.  This letter is the first of many indications that the idyllic way Em and Teo's story starts is sure not to last.

Em and Teo were raised together by Rhoda (Em's mother) and Delia, two barnstormers, until Delia's tragic death due to a bird strike.  They emigrate to Ethiopia to escape the racism in the US, because it was where Teo's dad was from, and because Delia dreamed of all of them living there together.  For the most part it is a happy life, although Momma refuses to teach them how to fly.  But there are rumors of invasion, that the Italians are going to try to take over the only African country that was never colonized.  Staying in the country becomes ever more dangerous for the half-Italian Em and her mother, and for Teo, who is just old enough to be conscripted.

BLACK DOVE, WHITE RAVEN builds up the intensity slowly.  About halfway through the novel there is an awful, life-changing reveal that kicks everything into a higher gear.  I loved the slow dread of what was to come, the hints of war on the horizon and their mother's careless optimism putting the family in a dangerous situation.  Throughout it all, there's the infallible relationship between Em and Teo, who never regard each other as anything less than siblings no matter how outsiders treat them.

I also liked how deeply Wein delves into the details of the setting.  The first half portrays everyday life, the clothes, the flashy church, the minutiae of learning to fly.  The second disrupts that.  Throughout the novel, good and bad things are shown about both the Ethiopians and the Italians.  For instance, the Ethiopians are still in the process of ending slavery and the Italians commit war crimes such as using mustard gas.  I knew very little about the the setting of BLACK DOVE, WHITE RAVEN before I started reading the novel, and I was horrified by many of the events that really happened.  Wein provides a detailed author's note about the actual history and the liberties that she took for the story.

BLACK DOVE, WHITE RAVEN isn't as brutal of a reading experience as CODE NAME VERITY or ROSE UNDER FIRE, but it is still not for the faint of heart.  It's a wonderful portrayal of how children get caught up in war through no fault of their own.  It's also a wonderful portrayal of family and community and how humans seek out a place for themselves.  I'm definitely still a fan.

Fellow Houstonites and Wein fans, be sure to go out to Houston Teen Book Con to see Wein this Saturday, 4/11!

April 7, 2015

Review: Visions and Revisions

Visions and Revisions By Dale Peck
Available now from Soho Press
Review copy

I'm breaking my "no memoirs" rule again.  At the same idea, I'm obeying my rule to read things outside my usual interests, to shake up my rut.  I was intrigued by the idea of VISIONS AND REVISIONS, a memoir that focuses on "the second half of the first half of the AIDS epidemic," that is, 1989 to 1996.  I'm also familiar with author Dale Peck from SPROUT and a few other novels.

As the back of the book says, VISIONS AND REVISIONS started life as discrete essays and articles which have been rewritten and put together.  That lack of cohesion is felt.  The writing is solid and compelling, but the subject matter often doubles back on itself, sometimes repeating, never going quite as deep as it could if it had a more definitive focus.  It bounces from serial killers targeting gay men to criticism of criticism of PWA narratives to musings on past relationships to the fervor of young activists.

But many of those sections are very good.  Peck's anger and passion are clearly communicated.  He's blisteringly critical of those who defang gay narratives, who only accept them if they've been desexed and idealized.  And as much as he points to the protease inhibitors and combination therapy of 1996 putting an abrupt stop to AIDS as it was, he's critical of those (especially Andrew Sullivan), that it mostly ended the death sentence for gay middle white men who could afford it.  IV drug users, Haitians, African-Americans, and Africans are still dying in massive numbers (especially Africans).

While VISIONS AND REVISIONS sometimes doesn't go into as much depth as I like, Peck touches on many places to go next.  He names essays and plays and books, he names activists and other influential LGBT people worth looking up.  The narratives of the scene are often inseparable from the plague ravaging it.

I'm not sure I could've read a longer work in this style, but VISIONS AND REVISIONS is short enough not to outstay its welcome.  It's definitely of interest for those who enjoy memoirs or books about LGBT history.

April 6, 2015

Review: A Wicked Thing

A Wicked Thing First in a series
By Rhiannon Thomas
Available now from HarperTeen (HarperCollins)
Review copy

Why oh why is this the first in a series?  I was grooving along with A WICKED THING when it just ended with the vaguest of resolutions.  Aurora (that is, Sleeping Beauty) had a wonderful amount of character development, but that was about it.

A WICKED THING takes the Sleeping Beauty tale and focuses on what happens after.  Aurora wakes up a little over a hundred years after she went to sleep.  Everyone she knows is dead, and she's being forced to marry the prince who woke her up to help prop up an unpopular regime (since she's the destined queen to bring magic back to the land).  Aurora thinks he's a nice enough boy, but she chafes at the restrictions placed upon her and thinks the prophecy is bunk, even if she wanted magic back (given that her personal experiences with it are sleeping for one hundred years).

Aurora is an oddly passive heroine, as many characters point out.  She talks a big game, but takes a long time to take any action.  Now, I partially believe it is because she is so disoriented, but debut author Rhiannon Thomas does little to actually show Aurora being a woman out of time.  Aurora mentions the fashions being different (many times) and technology advancing (once).  She appears to have no difficulty to communicating; slang hasn't moved on?  Have the social expectations of women changed?  Just what technology is different?  I couldn't pin down any specifics, which made it little more than a somewhat sad window dressing.

A WICKED THING skips straight over the love triangle to the love rectangle.  I did like that one of the relationships lives and dies a natural death.  Sometimes you do fall fast for someone and then end up breaking up for reasons.  I do wish the prince were more developed, since there are hints that the destined true love is real. 

At the same time, I did quite enjoy A WICKED THING.  Some of it is my passion for fairy-tale retellings, I know.  But I sympathized with Aurora's inability to do anything because she doesn't have good options, nor the resources to evaluate her options and decide which is least bad.  All of them will end up with at least some people dying, which is a tough position to be in.  I think Thomas has Aurora's voice down pat, and I hope the other aspects of the story rise to meet that standard in the sequel.

April 5, 2015

Download a free chapter and help the environment!

Atlantis in Peril Author T.A. Barron (The Adventures of Young Merlin) is working with PlantABillion.org to promote his latest release and restore the world's forest ecosystems at the same time. For every free download of the first chapter (available here), one tree will be planted.

In other words, you get a bit of entertainment and an easy way to help the environment for free.

ATLANTIS IN PERIL comes out May 5, 2015. It is the second book in the Atlantis saga, following ATLANTIS RISING.

April 3, 2015

Interview with Geoff Herbach (with an excerpt and a giveaway)

GABE JOHNSON TAKES OVER Geoff Herbach is the author of GABE JOHNSON TAKES OVER (formerly FAT BOY VS. THE CHEERLEADERS) and the Felton Reinstein series, which starts with STUPID FAST.  His books have won a Cybils Award and the Minnesota Book Award.  He currently teaches creative writing in addition to working on more books.


1. GABE JOHNSON TAKES OVER is your first book starring a narrator other than Felton Reinstein. Was it difficult to leave Felton's voice behind?

It was hard in one way – Felton feels like my kid. I really love him! So, I actually experience sadness, like missing him, when I write sometimes. Gabe’s voice felt pretty natural, though. I didn’t find him rolling into Felton territory, because Gabe just naturally has a more organized mind. I do think Gabe would find Felton hilarious and vice versa, though.  

Fat Boy vs. The Cheerleaders 2. GABE JOHNSON TAKES OVER was published in hardcover with the title FAT BOY VS. THE CHEERLEADERS. How does the new title represent the book better?

That’s a good question, for sure. Fat Boy vs. The Cheerleaders shows up as a newspaper headline near the end of the book. Gabe is both offended by it (because it’s mean and it doesn’t really represent what happened) and okay with it, because he thinks maybe the headline will get lots of people to read the story. In the end, I have to agree with his first response. The book is about him claiming his natural power, sort of re-claiming it after he’s been robbed of his dignity. I think Gabe would approve of new title. Because he does, in fact, take over. And, he wouldn’t want anything to do with dumb name-calling (he has to learn that in the book).  

Stupid Fast Nothing Special I'm With Stupid  

3. Was your high school experience more like Felton's or Gabe's?

I played football and ran track and wasn’t in the band, but I also was in choir and played cello in the orchestra… I think my natural nervous energy matches better to Felton’s, but I was actually more woven into the regular life of the school than Felton, so more like Gabe… I guess a combo! Both those guys make up weird swear words. I was definitely that guy!  

4. You also teach creative writing and speak at schools. Have any students affected the way you approach your writing?

A kid in Lancaster, Wisconsin just told me about this Teen Court he’s a part of. It’s through the county and they actually work with juvenile offenders… I’m really excited about that. I’ve had other kids tell me about their driving habits and their soda machine habits and their Walmart walking habits and all of that stuff has gotten into books, so definitely. There’s nothing in the world as fun as doing creative writing exercises with teens at high schools and middle schools. Great stuff comes out all the time (and, yeah, I sometimes use it – I do ask for permission!).  

5. Any upcoming projects you can talk about?

First, I’ve got this book about a kid named Taco coming. I’m in revisions on it now, and this kid is so relentlessly sunny in the face of relentless trouble…I just love him. He’s super buoyant. He’s totally deluded, but figuring it out. Can’t wait until Taco meets the world!

I’m also co-writing a book (actually three – Strange Times, they’re called) with former Blink 182 front man, Tom DeLonge. The books are going to be pretty great. They’re skater-y and funny and terrifying. Tom is a really, really energetic human and that’s flowing through what we’re doing. So, good stuff coming!

Enter to win a copy, and then click through to finish reading the excerpt!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Gabe Johnson Takes Over Excerpt:

That stupid pop machine. Stupid pop. It all started with that stupid—

Yeah, I hate that machine. For so many reasons.

First things first! That machine made me a junky! A pop junky! I’m not the only one in school either.

Back in May, me, Justin Cornell, and Camille Gardener did this pop study for health class. It was Camille’s idea because she turned into a health nut when her dad started organic farming last year. (Her dad grew like two tomatoes and one giant zucchini. Mr. Gardener’s not the greatest farmer in the world.) Anyway, out of Camille’s concern for health, she got us to study usage of the pop machine, her theory being that unhealthy kids would be the heaviest users.

Big, bad study, sir.

April 2, 2015

Review: The Hurt Patrol

The Hurt Patrol Companion to Beau, Lee, The Bomb, & Me
By Mary McKinley
Available now from Kensington
Review copy

So many of the questions I had when reading THE HURT PATROL where answered when I realized it was a companion novella to a book I hadn't read, set during that book.   I honestly don't know how I manage to select this book for review without knowing that fact, but manage I did.

Even knowing that, I think some aspects could be improved.  The meat of THE HURT PATROL is layered between two frames.  The outermost layer is that Rusty is writing this down as an essay for her teacher.  The next layer is that Beau is telling Rusty this story in the car, on their way to Forks, Washington (AKA Twilight town).  Both of these layers add little to the story.  It neither comes across like someone writing an essay nor someone speaking about their experiences.  I assume Mary McKinley was trying to make it sound like BEAU, LEE, THE BOMB, & ME.  Given that this is a companion novella, however, I think she could've cut to the chase and just put it in Beau's point of view.

THE HURT PATROL is essentially one long, somewhat meandering flashback.  It covers Beau's past during his parents' divorce, figuring out that he's gay, losing his best friends, coming to find confidence in himself with the worst Boy Scout ever, and getting gay bashed.  It's certainly an ambitious novella.  Unfortunately, I can see why it didn't make the main book.  Beau's story is a touch shapeless, particularly when shoved into the frame of a road trip that goes nowhere because it happens in another book.

There are glimmers of greatness.  Beau's dad is a piece of work, admonishing his son not to be a sissy and otherwise berating him and his mother.  Yet, Beau still sides with him in a pivotal fight, unable to keep himself from seeking his father's approval and love.  It's an excellent glimpse of how complicated families can be, and how children can still unconditionally love parents who don't deserve it.

I think fans of BEAU, LEE, THE BOMB, & ME will probably enjoy THE HURT PATROL, especially if Beau is their favorite character and they want to know more about him.  It was a bit hard for me to get into without that knowledge, since it's mostly a character sketch.  It wasn't terrible, but I just kept feeling as I was reading that I was missing something big, something that would explain how this story was structured.  And I guess I was.

April 1, 2015

Review: The Conformity

The Conformity Book three of the Twelve-Fingered Boy trilogy
By John Hornor Jacobs
Available now from Carolrhoda LAB (Lerner)
Review copy
Read my reviews of The Twelve-Fingered Boy and The Shibboleth

The Twelve-Fingered Boy trilogy comes to a conclusion with THE CONFORMITY.  This is one where it is best to read all of the books in order, so it might be best to stop reading now if you haven't read the first two books.

Shreve has survived Mr. Quincrux.  But as terrible as Quincrux was, he had a point.  The Conformity is coming, and Shreve and the other extranatural teens must be prepared to fight it.  It particularly wants Shreve, for his powerful telepathy and mind control.  Shreve is mostly over his stealing-other-people's-memories-to-feel-good thing, but people still don't rest easy around him.  (Which is, admittedly, a smart move.)

THE CONFORMITY really gets back to the horror elements of the first book in the trilogy.  It takes the physical form of people bonded together into a giant, something impossible to fight without harming the innocents that are being sucked into its being.  The stakes are also very high.  For the first time, Shreve shares narrating duties, both because the characters have to split up and Shreve isn't always in state to observe and report what's happening.

In the end, I think the Twelve-Fingered Boy trilogy is a little shaggy, yet a lot of fun.  The plot takes a lot of detours, many of them unnecessary rather than helping to build the story up.  (In this book, several chapters are devoted to one group of characters finding help that gets casually rendered useless shortly after it is acquired.  It's more like reading about the characters doing busy work than actually getting things done.)  Shreve's voice is as compelling as always, hardened by his time in juvie but still vulnerable due to his youth and the extreme danger he's in. 

I think THE CONFORMITY finishes the story aptly.  It might leave any new readers confused, but it works well for the series as a whole.  THE CONFORMITY ends with a rather bold choice, but a fitting one.  I feel like it clearly worked with the themes of the trilogy rather than being thrown in for a cheap shock.


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