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I decided to try a new format for my reviews. I hope this is a useful format.
Plot: Everett Singh's dad, a quantum physicist, is kidnapped off the street in view of Everett by three men in a black car. Later that night, Everett gets a message from his father containing a mysterious app, with only the note "For you only, Everett." Turns out that his dad has been working on a scientific project seeking physical proof of parallel universes, and the app is a map of all the known universes, the only one of its kind in existence. Now Everett is on the run from agents of the Plenitude, an alliance of the known universes. They want the map, called the Infundibulum, and will stop at nothing to get it. But Everett has other plans, and he uses the Infundibulum to travel to an alternate London in a daring attempt to rescue his dad.
Everett Singh. Teen boy who is as good at cooking as he is at math, and not afraid to use either in pursuit of his goal. Punjabi, or at least half Punjabi (his dad is Punjabi, but I never figured out if his mom is). Authentic teen male voice.
Sen Sixsmyth. Fearless teen girl with an attitude and a love for "bona" tech. Airship pilot in an alternate London.
Captain Anastasia Sixsmyth. Sen's adoptive mother. No-nonsense airship captain. Strict but compassionate, not afraid of a fight.
Worldbuilding: Excellent! The second half of the book takes place in E3, an alternate universe in which oil-based technology was never developed and modern technology comes out of a coal-based heritage. More advanced than our universe in some ways - carbon nanotubes are used everwhere - but less advanced in some areas, like computing. Very steampunkish feel.
Things I liked:
The worldbuilding and the steampunkish feel to E3, as noted above.
Hard science fiction that doesn't shy away from science and math.
Authentic teen boy voice. A boy who's good at math and soccer and cooking, and isn't afraid to use his culinary skills.
Sen Sixsmyth is just about the best thing about this book. She's a fantastic character. Her adoptive mother Captain Anastasia is pretty awesome, too.
The bond between Everett and his dad. Everett is a typical teen boy, and mentally rolls his eyes at some of the things his dad does, but it's clear that they are close, and Everett literally travels to another universe to rescue his dad.
There's too much detail in the descriptions, and it bogs down the story in some places. In some ways the detail is good, as it contributes to the worldbuilding. It's also authentic to the protagonist, as we learn early on that he notices details and connections. However, in places there's so much detail that it almost seems to be stream of consciousness and it's hard to follow.
I think the cover really does the book a disservice, and probably deters a lot of teens from picking it up. The biggest problem with it is it's too busy. I think the picture of Everett coming through the gate would have made a better cover. Although I have a problem with that image as well, as he looks more like a caucasian with a tan than someone of Indian ancestry.
Recently, AbeBooks posted a list by Richard Davies of 50 Essential Science Fiction Books. It's a pretty good list, and I agree with many of the choices, but there are some changes I would make, and some books that I think should have been included.
There were some constraints placed on the list that affected the books selected. Davies was trying for a diverse mix of subgenres and themes, so in some ways diversity overrode influence in making the selections. He also limited the list to no more than one book from each author, so highly influential authors are woefully underrepresented. (How can you choose only one book to represent the canon of authors such as Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, or Bradbury?)
Working within the constraints as defined, in some cases, I would have chosen a different book to represent some of these authors.
There are some books and authors that I was surprised to find weren't represented on the list. A list that excludes Andre Norton, E.E. Doc Smith, and A.E. van Vogt can't really be considered representative of the greatest works of science fiction.
Andre Norton is probably best known for her Witch World fantasy series, but she was also well known for her adventure science fiction for young adults. Storm Over Warlock was significant as an early science fiction adventure novel with a female protagonist.
E.E. "Doc" Smith's Lensman series is probably the foundation on which all other space opera is based. Although some of the societal aspects of the story are pretty cringeworthy by todays standards (ie., racist and sexist) it's still a shining example of what space opera could be. As a teen I loved the sweeping story that traveled through time, space, and history. Although Triplanetary is listed as the first book in the series, I believe that First Lensman was originally the first book and Triplanetary was added later as a prequel (similar to what John Christopher did with When the Tripods Came).
Slan is another book that was a big influence on my younger self. It's been a long time since I read it, but from what I remember of it, it would have a lot of appeal for today's fans of dystopian literature.
Some of the modern selections seem odd to me. Although I respect that it's sometimes difficult to identify which of the newer books will have lasting value, I disagree with more of his modern selections than the classic ones. I've never been able to get more than a few chapters into a China Miélville book; I just don't enjoy them and don't see the appeal. And while I loved Cory Doctorow's Little Brother, it's very much a product of its time, and I'm not sure it will have the lasting value to be included on a list like this.
What are your thoughts, fellow SFF fans? What science fiction (not fantasy) would you include on a list of essential science fiction books?
I used to think that the job of a book awards committee was to pick the best books of the year. After six years of serving on the Cybils Awards panel choosing the shortlist for science fiction & fantasy, I know differently. The truth is that there are any number of books in any given year good enough to be award winners, and no matter what criteria or metrics a committee works with, in the end, there is a subjective factor that plays a role. Any two different panels of judges will choose two different slates of books. Sure, there may be some overlap, but probably less than you think.
It's often a heartbreaking experience. You read and read and read some more, and you come to the table with your perfect, beautiful choices. These are the best books of the year, you're sure of it. Then, the real work begins. Because your fellow judges will have their perfect, beautiful choices that may or may not be the same as yours. Some of your choices will elicit a "meh" reaction from your fellow judges, and a few may even meet with outright opposition. You argue and you compromise, and you come up with a list that everyone can be satisfied with, but it's almost guaranteed that no one will love all the books on the list.
As painful as the process is, I really believe that we end up with a shortlist that is stronger, more diverse, and overall better than a list created by any one of us would be. Every year there are at least a couple of books on the shortlist that I wouldn't have picked, but taken together I've been very happy with the list for every panel I've served on.
The other painful part of the process is that there are inevitably books that have to be sacrificed to the gods of compromise. Every judge had books that they loved with burning passion, but had to give up because there wasn't enough support from the other panelists. We like to say that after the final discussion, we can all go in a corner and cry for the ones we lost.
Here are my favorite books of the year that didn't make the shortlist:
This was initially placed in the fantasy/sci-fi category, but after reading it we realized that it was more historical fiction, so moved it to the YA Fiction category. Anyone who loves Terry Pratchett's distinctive humor and keen observation of human nature will enjoy this rollicking story of a young man named Dodger who meets everyone from Charlie Dickens and Sweeney Todd to the Queen herself as he seeks to protect a young lady from sinister forces.
Sequel to The Girl of Fire and Thorns, this was another sequel that I thought surpassed its predecessor. As much as I loved The Girl of Fire and Thorns, I thought this second book was even better. I thought that Elisa's character arc had reached a nice resolution by the end of the first book, and I wasn't sure what else Carson could do with her, but Carson surprised me by how much more Elisa's character developed in this book and how much more the plot advanced from the first book. At one point I was ready to give up in disgust when it looked like the book was going to take the easy and obvious way out of a situation, and then Carson surprised me yet again.
Doctorow's books tend to defy the rules about what makes a "good" book -- too much exposition, too political -- and yet they are compelling books with loads of teen appeal. Pirate Cinema is no exception. Doctorow really "gets" the things that are important to teens, and writes about them with respect. Pirate Cinema will appeal to anyone of any gender growing up in the Internet age.
I loved this heartbreakingly beautiful story of a victim of emotional abuse finding herself through her interactions with a shape-changing young man, but sadly I couldn't convince my fellow judges. This is one that sticks with you and keeps you thinking long after you finish reading it.
Shadowfell is a strong, character-driven fantasy about a girl who can see the Fey in a world where any hint of interaction with them is punishable by death -- or worse. The worldbuilding is lush and the Good Folk are real characters, and interesting ones at that. Neryn is a strong character to begin with -- traveling with a gambling addict father, she's the one who has to try to keep them alive -- but as someone who has had to hide her secrets carefully, her character arc is more about learning who, and when, to trust.
I'm excited to announce that, after months of planning, we've launched a Kickstarter project to fund a graphic novel version of Ratha's Creature. My company, Imaginator Press, is the current publisher of the Ratha series, and last year author Clare Bell and I started discussing the possibility of creating a graphic novel version, both as a gift to the loyal fans, and as a way to bring Ratha to a new generation of fans. We put out a call for art submissions and selected a fantastic art team, who have been working to develop characters and create samples. But to make this dream a reality, additional funding is needed, so we turned to Kickstarter.
The Kickstarter project launched yesterday, and significant momentum is building. Already, on the second day, we are 16% funded, and today we were delighted to discover that Kickstarter selected our project as a Staff Pick for the Comics category! Ratha friends and fans have heard the call, and helped to spread the word, on social media, on DeviantArt, and elsewhere around the Interwebs. On Ratha fan, Jessica Alvis (*seasaidh on DeviantArt) issued a challenge to Ratha fans: post a drawing every day the Kickstarter project is running and include a link to the project.
We're off to a great start, but we need all the support we can get if we want to reach our funding goals. (On Kickstarter, projects are only funded if they reach their goal. If the amount pledged by backers falls even a dollar short of the goal, the project creators get nothing.)
I was honored to serve again on the Fantasy/Science Fiction (Young Adult) panel. There were so many good books that choosing only seven finalists was HARD! A big shoutout to my fellow panelists. They're all smart, interesting folks who know their SFF! I loved working with them and will miss our discussions. Go follow their blogs:
A big shoutout also to the terrific Fantasy & Science Fiction (Middle Grade) panelists! This was one of the most active and dedicated panels I've ever worked with. They generated hundreds and hundreds of messages discussing the books over the course of the three months, and had two separate chat sessions during the holidays, lasting several hours each. Their discussions ranged far and wide, and covered everything from middle-grade appeal to internal consistency. If you want to know more about middle-grade fantasy & science fiction, you couldn't do better than to follow these folks:
Happy New Year, everyone! But more importantly, New Years Day is one of the Kidlit world's most important holidays, with the announcement of the Cybils Awards finalists! I was the Fantasy & Science Fiction Chair, and a judge in the Fantasy/Science Fiction: Teen category, as I have been most years. There were 205 books nominated in Fantasy/Science Fiction: Teen and 151 nominated in Fantasy/Science Fiction: Middle/Elementary, and narrowing each of those down to seven finalists was not an easy task. There were so many excellent books this year! But in the end each group selected an outstanding shortlist of finalists, and I can't wait to share them with the world! Tune in tomorrow, January 1, at www.cybils.com for the announcement!
Between reading Cybils nominees and my Cybils administrative tasks, I haven't had much time to post recently. Starting next week, I'm going to start posting about some of the terrific Cybils books I've been reading!
Lately I've been interested in Kickstarter, and I keep finding interesting Kickstarter projects to back. This is my second Kickstarter post recently, and I don't want to turn this into a Kickstarter blog, because that would change the purpose of the blog. So instead, I decided to start a new Tumblr called Kickstarter Addicts to post those projects I find interesting.
To kick things off, I wrote about a really exciting project called The Game of Books. It sounds like a fun game that both kids and adults would enjoy, and I want to play it! The picture above is my game card from the demo of the game. If I remember right, I entered Ratha’s Creature, Dune, Dust & Decay, and The Hobbit. I may also have entered The Hunger Games but I can’t remember for sure.
I remember the old Choose Your Own Adventure -typegamebooks. I always thought they were fun, although usually the story was light and character development almost non-existent. William Fincher has spent ten years creating something new: a gamebook which looks like it will be much richer and more complex than any created previously. I haven't seen it, other than the few samples posted on the Kickstarter page, so I can't vouch for the quality, but it looks intriguing. William claims to have focused on aspects of storytelling including character development, and there are detailed illustrations throughout. You can play as one of three different characters, each with their own strengths and flaws. He even created a Tabletop RPG-like combat system which is incorporated into the story at various points!
The book is almost done, but William is running a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds to get it published, including professional editing, game testing, printing, and digital conversion. The project has reached its initial funding goal of $5000, but it's not too late to become a backer and earn rewards ranging from a copy of the book to signed original art.
There are additional goals and levels of funding, so backing this project could still make a big difference. If it reaches $8000, an app will be created in addition to the book. There are only three days left to become a backer, so don't delay.
Note: I don't know William and am not connected to this project in any way. He emailed me about it through the blog, and I just thought it looked interesting. I backed it at the $28 level to get a print copy of the book and a pin of the cool-looking logo above.
Today is the last day to nominate for the Cybils Awards, the annual award for children's and young adult literature given by the children's book blogging community. You have until 11:59pm PST tonight to get your nominations in. There are ten categories, from Easy Readers to YA, and Book Apps to Poetry.
If you're looking for books to nominate, here's a few suggestions of books I thought looked interesting for the science fiction/fantasy categories. I haven't read any of these, but if you have and think they're nomination worthy, head on over to www.cybils.com and nominate!
The Cybils Awards, given each year by the Kidlit blogging community for the best children's and young adult books of the year, have put out the call for judges. If you haven't heard of the Cybils, we seek to honor books that have both literary merit and kid (or teen) appeal.
Cybils 2012 will be starting soon, and we're seeking a few good people to be judges! There are eleven judging panels over ten categories (Fantasy/Science Fiction has separate panels for young adult and middle grade, due to the number of nominations):
Easy Readers/Short Chapter Books
Fantasy & Science Fiction
Fiction Picture Books
Middle Grade Fiction
Non-Fiction Picture Books
Non-Fiction: Middle Grade & Young Adult
Young Adult Fiction
If you are an active Kidlit/YAlit blogger, have experience and interest in any of these categories, and are willing to give up your life for a couple of months in exchange for a chance to do something fun and meaningful, please consider applying.
I've been involved with the Cybils in one role or another since they were founded in 2006, and have been a judging panelist for most of those years. It's a huge amount of work, but a lot of fun, and one of the most rewarding things I've done. If you're thinking about applying, plan to spend a significant amount of time reading and discussing during your chosen round (October - December for Round 1, and January-February for Round 2).
The deadline to apply is August 31. Here is the information and link to the application form:
Please don't think that you have to be a big, known blogger to apply! We try to choose a variety of bloggers for all the panels.
As Chair of the Fantasy/Science Fiction category, I'll be selecting the two panels for that category, one for young adult and one for middle grade. I'll consider any applications through the deadline of August 31, but I'm especially in need of people who are passionate and knowledgeable about middle grade for the Middle Grade SFF panel. We always get many more applications for YA SFF than for MG SFF, and while many of the YA applicants say that they'll be happy with middle grade, and I appreciate that, I'd love to fill the middle grade panel with judges who love middle grade and put it as their first choice.
I'm also interested in applicants for either panel who have an interest or specialization in books for under-represented groups.
Sequel to Graceling; Companion to Fire
by Kristin Cashore
Bitterblue is that rare sequel that not only lives up to expectations set by the first book, but exceeds them by quite a bit. Each book in this series is better than the previous one, and Bitterblue is an exceptional book: heartbreaking, deep, and beautiful. Kristin Cashore has managed an amazing and unusual feat: she created a genre story whose primary theme is healing, that is as mesmerizing and page-turning as any epic good vs. evil battle.
Because of the nature of this book, I'm going to have to give some spoilers for Graceling and Fire to be able to adequately discuss Bitterblue. If you haven't read those two books, I highly recommend you read them before continuing with this review. Before you stop reading, however, I wanted to take a minute to give a content advisory. Bitterblue contains some highly disturbing elements, and is probably not a good fit for most middle-grade readers. There are references to rape and torture that happened in the past, and although they are not explicitly described, there is enough implied to make them disturbing. Some of the things that were done to characters, or that they were forced to do, are truly horrific. Some of the characters don't deal well with this past: both suicide and cutting happen during the course of the book, for example. These things are handled sensitively and responsibly, but even so, some readers will not be ready for such heavy themes.
Spoilers for Graceling and Fire Below
Bitterblue is now 18 and has taken her place as Queen of Monsea, with the help of four advisors who had served under her father and who were selected to aid her by uncle, King Ror of Lienid. Things are not well in the kingdom of Monsea. Bitterblue's father, King Leck, may be dead, but the shadow of his reign and his atrocities still looms over the kingdom. Essentially, the entire kingdom is suffering from a kind of PTSD.
Somehow, Bitterblue must find a way to heal Monsea and its people. But like everyone else in the kingdom, her memories are fuzzy from Leck's mind manipulations, and she is so busy with paperwork and administrative tasks that she doesn't have time to learn more about the kingdom. Desperate to understand her kingdom and her people, Bitterblue takes to sneaking out of the castle at night, disguised as a man. She discovers that things are even worse than she suspected. The city is falling apart and people are being killed, apparently to suppress the truth about Leck's reign.
Bitterblue is a deeply emotional book that deals with some difficult topics. Leck did things, horrible things, and it's fair to say that, even dead, he is the primary villain of this story. It's rare to see a genre book delve so deeply into the realm of the psyche and the theme of healing; topics such as cutting and suicide are more common in contemporary teen fiction. Kashore handles these themes and topics brilliantly and sensitively.
Bitterblue is a wonderful character. Much of the book is also a journey of self-discovery for her, as she moves out of the shadow of her father, finds herself, and learns how to be a queen.
All of the other characters are equally fascinating and well-developed, from Bitterblue's tormented advisors, who were hurt at least as much as anyone during Leck's reign, to the dashing sailor Sapphire and his printer friend Teddy, whom she meets in the city. My favorite new character has to b
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As a newly-minted Ensign on the Universal Union flagship Intrepid, Andrew Dahl expects to be gopher and coffee-fetcher for his senior co-workers. What he doesn't expect is that being the newest crew member will also make him most likely to die. Something strange is happening on the Intrepid: low-level crew members die at an alarming rate, especially on Away missions, decks six through twelve always take significant damage during space battles, and unexplained alien technology can find a cure for anything, usually in the most dramatic way possible.
With help from a crazed crew member who took to living in the cargo tunnels after his wife died, Dahl and his friends, other crew members newly assigned to the Intrepid, are determined to figure out what's going on. It's worth any risk to stop it, because if they don't, they face certain death anyway.
Redshirts is a fantastic book that manages to be simultaneously a hugely entertaining parody, a deeply philosophical existential exploration, and a rollicking good story. As you might expect from a book like this, it gets pretty meta. I'm not usually a fan of metafiction, because when I read fiction, I like to lose myself in the story, and don't want to be constantly reminded that I'm in a story. However, Scalzi manages the impossible: he incorporates the metafiction in such a way that it doesn't yank you out of the story. In fact, I think we get several layers of meta deep here, making this perhaps the Inception of metafiction.
This is a book which has something for everyone. Science fiction fans will love the parodies of beloved SF tropes, but I don't think you have to be a science fiction fan to enjoy this. I think that even literary fiction readers will enjoy Redshirts, both for its metafiction, and because it gives them an opportunity to laugh at us science fiction geeks (perhaps not realizing how much love of the genre is imbued in Scalzi's gentle parodies).
Redshirts is published as an adult book, but I think that teens will enjoy it as well. There are a few crude slang terms for sexual acts, used in a way that you might expect in any military setting, and some implications of off-screen sex. People die in horrific ways, but that's part of the parody. Most high school age teens will not find it shocking.
FTC required disclosure: Autographed copy received from the publisher at BookExpo America to enable me to write this review. The bookstore links above are affiliate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links. Neither of these things influenced my review.
A recent study by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center seems to indicate that they do. The study found that when parents and children read together, children recall significantly more details when reading print books or regular, non-enhanced ebooks than they do when reading interactive ebooks. In addition, children engage with the content more when reading non-interactive books, with actions such as pointing and talking about the story.
So what does this mean? Are interactive books a dead end? I personally don't think so. We live in an era of options, and while all those options sometimes make it difficult to choose, in the long run this is a good thing, because there is no one right option for everyone and every situation. There are many ways to read and many ways to publish, and we can pick and choose as the situation requires. The key, as with everything, is balance.
The old advice is still the best: read to your child early and often. We started reading to our son the day we brought him home from the hospital, and read to him almost every day after that until he was a teen. Even then, we sometimes read books together as a family, taking turns reading. We spent a glorious weekend reading the last Harry Potter book together the weekend it was released. I don't think it's unrelated that, at age 16, my son just finished his first year of college, living in the dorm, earning excellent grades and fitting in well with the other students. Reading to him was certainly not solely responsible--he's his own person and in large measure responsible for his own success--but it certainly helped.
But interactive books have their place as well. They may not be as good at developing traditional literacy skills, but computer literacy skills are just as important in today's world, and interactive books do help with those. In addition, the study also showed that interactive books have a lot of appeal for children, and can help encourage an interest in books, especially for reluctant readers. And in some cases, interactive eBooks can teach things that are difficult to teach using traditional books, or provide additional experiences and information about a particular topic. So the key, as it always has been, is in providing a variety of experiences for your child: books, ebooks, apps, not to mention "real life" experiences.
For Publishers, Self-Publishers, App Developers, and Authors
Parents will need books in a variety of formats, which is good news for everyone involved in creating books for children. Publishers can choose to provide their content in a variety of formats, or focus on just one or two. Print, Kindle, ePub, iOS, Android, computer: it's all good and all will be needed. Publishers need to keep aware of the changes in the industry and be prepared to act accordingly. Read industry newsletters and learn as much as you can about the different options, so you can make appropriate choices. Print is not dead, and I don't believe it will go away any time soon, but there's no denying that print markets are shrinking, so publishers need to think carefully about what formats to publish in, and run the numbers to see what makes sense and what will be profitable.
Some projects will be ideally suited to interactive ebooks, others will be a good fit with print and traditional ebooks, while still others will make sense to do in both formats. Any absolute statements about what publishers "must" be doing should be viewed with caution and evaluated carefully. There is no one right solution, and thank goodness we live in an exciting time of options.
The Curse Workers, book 3
by Holly Black
Take The Godfather, mix in a little bit of The Sting, and add some magic, and you have a recipe for a great series. That alone would be enough, but Holly Black didn't stop there. The Curse Workers is also a great character driven story, a tightly plotted page turner, and one of the most original fantasies I've read in a long time.
When you read as much fantasy as I do, sometimes it starts to run together. Not so with the Curse Workers series; it's unique and memorable.
Cassel Sharpe comes from a crime family, but with a difference: in this mafia, people have the ability to curse other people with their hands. Curses are like a very specific, very limited magic. Curse workers might be able to cause luck, alter memories, break (or heal) bones, or, in rare cases, kill. Much of the tension in the first book, White Cat, comes from the fact that while Cassel comes from a talented curse worker family, he himself has no curse abilities.
If you haven't read this series, I urge you to stop here and read White Cat, and the second book, Red Glove. You could probably read Black Heart without having read those, but you'll appreciate it much more for having read the whole series. The rest of this review may contain spoilers for the first two books.
There's a reason why there are so many examples of cons in literature and television and movies. There's something fascinating about confidence men. They're smart, charismatic and they have a freedom from the constraints of society that we envy, if we can admit it. But Cassel is not free. He is trapped by the expectations of everyone in his life: his family, the Feds, Zacharov, the Dean of the school, Lila, and even his friends Daneca and Sam. Everyone has expectations, and everyone wants something from him, and there's no way that Cassel can live up to those expectations.
Cassel is such a great character. In spite of his background, or maybe because of it, Cassel tries so hard to be good, but with all these conflicting expectations, how can he possibly figure out what's right? But he is smart and he is charismatic, and you can't help but cheer for him as he navigates the shark-infested waters of his life.
One of the best things about this series is that there are no clear divisions between good and evil. It's hard to even tell who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. Instead, we have complex characters who have conflicting interests and make choices and take action based on those interests. Is it any wonder that Cassel has trouble figuring out the right thing to do?
If you enjoyed the first two books in this series, you won't be disappointed in this one. It's a great story that builds to a surprise (at least to me) climax. I think Holly Black has some talent as a con artist, because even after reading all three books, I d
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Once every generation, God chooses someone to bear the Godstone, a mark which indicates that person is selected to perform an act of service sometime in his or her lifetime. Lucero-Elisa de Riqueza, the younger daughter of the King of Oraville, is the current bearer of the Godstone, but she doesn't feel worthy. She's not thin, beautiful, or adept at court politics like her older sister, and she worries that when the time comes, she won't have the courage to perform her act of service.
When Elisa is wed to Alejandro de Vega, the King of neighboring Joya d'Arena, she is thrust into a world of intrigue and danger. Joya d'Arena is on the verge of war, and the Godstone makes Elisa a target. Between the people who expect her to save them, and those who want to kill her, Elisa isn't sure that she'll even survive long enough to perform her act of service, if she could even figure out what she is supposed to do.
The Girl of Fire and Thorns is a well-built fantasy with a kick-ass heroine, rich worldbuilding and themes, and enough excitement and intrigue to keep the pages turning. I first read it for the 2011 Cybils Awards, then read it again—twice—before reviewing it, and each time I got more out of it.
The worldbuilding is excellent, with a Spanish influence that made a refreshing change from the standard fantasy setting. The major religion is thoughtfully developed, with some superficial resemblance to the Catholic church, but with its own unique beliefs and rituals. In spite of the resemblance, it isn't a Christian religion, but one that fits into the world Carson developed. Religion plays an important role in the story, but not in a dogmatic way. Instead, questions of faith are explored without finding easy answers. The Godstone gives Elisa a connection to God, and she prays often, yet her prayers are not always answered; loved ones die, and Elisa battles doubts about herself and about God. When person after person claims their actions are the will of God, Elisa asks why it is that she seems to be the only one who doesn't know the will of God! Elisa even questions several times whether some bearers of the Godstone could have been selected from among the enemy, something that has never occurred to anyone else. (Not all the bearers are known).
Elisa is a terrific protagonist who ranks right up there with the best literary heroines. She may be overweight and self-doubting, but she kicks ass in every way. Some reviewers objected to the fact that Elisa loses weight as a result of the privations and trauma she experiences. They worry that the book sends the wrong message about weight, that the outward change reflects an inner change from lazy to strong, and that weight is something to be ashamed of. I didn't get that on my first read-through, however the idea troubled me and I paid close attention to it on my second and third read.
I've come to the conclusion that I disagree with this view. First, Elisa is not lazy and self-absorbed, not at the beginning, and not ever. Early in the book, King Alejandro's personal guard observes that she has steel in her, and she does. By the third chapter, she has saved her ladies during a battle, pulling one of them to safety, and killed a man to save someone else. Even as she runs into the battle she feels her stomach and breasts bouncing, but she acts without thinkin
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Charlie Kaufman to adapt The Knife of Never Letting Go
Lionsgate has selected Charlie Kaufman to adapt the first book in Patrick Ness' Chaos Walking trilogy for film. Whenever I hear that a favorite book is being made into a film, I am simultaneously excited for the film, and worried that it won't do the book justice, or worse, will ruin my vision of it.
I'm more worried than usual for this one, because according to the article, Kaufman is known for taking adaptations into "all kinds of imaginative directions not found in the pages of those books."
Now, I'm not a person that believes that movies need to adhere exactly to the book. Rather the opposite: sometimes when a film tries to stick too closely to the book, it ends up stilted. Books and movies are two different media, requiring different storytelling techniques. For example, I was pretty happy with the Hunger Games movie and felt that most of the changes made it a stronger film.
However, when I hear that a screenwriter may take a favorite book in imaginative directions, I have to ask "Why?" Patrick Ness' masterpiece is already imaginative enough. I can't imagine that Kaufman, or anyone else, could improve on it.
On the other hand, Apocalypse Now and Blade Runner are two excellent films that are hugely different from their literary sources. (I studied both of those in a "Books to Film" literature class I took in college). So even a drastically changed story can be good. But when the story is a favorite, as this one is for me, it can be hard to swallow.
Right now, it's hard to say what will happen. Perhaps Kaufman won't make imaginative changes. Or perhaps he will, and they will make a better film. For now, I'll wait and keep an open mind, although I can't help a feeling of dread as well.
In the mean time, if you haven't read this excellent series, I suggest you read it.
A plea to indie authors and publishersI've long been an advocate for indie authors and indie publishers. As a former president and current member of the MidAtlantic Book Publishers Association, I have worked to help improve both the quality of indie publishing and the recognition for those involved. As an organizer of the Cybils awards, (http://www.cybils.com) I argue vehemently each year to continue to allow self-published books to be eligible. There are excellent self-published books, I argue, and we need to continue to allow them to be eligible to find the hidden gems. And indeed books like Angelfall (http://susanee.com/angels/aboutangelfall.html), an excellent self-published ebook which was one of the finalists this year, prove the point.But for every Angelfall, there are a hundred, maybe a thousand, substandard books that opponents of self-publishing can hold up as examples. As a blogger/reviewer I receive submissions of many interesting-sounding indie books, only to be disappointed when I try to read them. I want to like your book. I really do. I'm starting from a perspective of hoping to find good indie books. But I'm disappointed more often than I'm satisfied. This is a plea to all the indie authors and publishers, and those thinking of publishing. With ebooks and POD, it's so easy today to make a book available to the public, but that's not the same thing as publishing. Publishing is hard work and time consuming, and includes the myriad of details necessary to produce a quality book. Before you jump into publishing your book, please consider the following:1. Read, read, read.Have you read widely in the genre you are planning to write & publish in? Each genre has its own requirements and conventions, and you need to understand them. For example, YA books are usually tightly plotted, have strong voice, appeal to teens without talking down to them, and use tightly controlled point of view. In addition to reading widely, it helps to participate in discussion groups (Goodreads is one place to do that) or to start a blog and review books, and read reviews by other bloggers, because you can learn a lot from the comments of other people.I can't tell you how many times I receive a publicity email saying, "So and so wrote this book because there were no good books for children about..." and I think, "What about this book, or that book? Have they read any books in the children's/YA genre at all?"2. Learn the craft.Writing is a craft, and like any craft, it requires training and practice. Most traditionally published writers I know spent years learning their craft before they ever had a book published. On the other hand, I have met many indie authors who decided to write a book and then published it, with little forethought or training. Just because you can string sentences together, doesn't mean you can write a book. At least not yet. I believe that writing is a skill that can be learned, and that most people are capable of becoming good writers, but it takes time and it takes work. This is not an indictment of all indie authors, because I do know some who have put in the time and work. But for anyone who hasn't, please don't skip this important step.Do you understand point of view, how it affects a story and how to control it? Do you know what voice is and how to use it? Do you know how to write believable dialog? Do you understand the "Show, don't tell" rule?Take writing classes if you can, and read books about the craft, particularly as it relates to your chosen genre. Join a critique group and learn both from others critiquing your work, and from the opportunity to critique others. Write many things, and understand that the first book you write may not be publishable. As with anything, you will improve with practice.3. Produce a quality productOnce you have a book that is good enough to be published, it will still need work and money before it is a product ready
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The City of Gold and Lead is the second book in the Tripods series by John Christopher. I'm reposting my reviews in tribute to this great science fiction author who died this week.
Will and his friends have been living with the renegade community in the White Mountains, undergoing training to help in the battle against the Tripods. Now, volunteers are needed for a dangerous mission, and the three friends hope to be chosen. The volunteers will travel to a city in Germany to compete in the yearly athletic tournament. The winners of the tournament get the "honor" of going to the Tripod's city to serve the Tripods. If any of the volunteers win the tournament, they will have an opportunity to gather information from inside the Tripod's city. But this could well be a fatal mission; no one has ever returned from the Tripod's city. If they get into the city, will the heros be able to get back out again alive?
The first part of this book is a little slow but once the story gets going it's pretty exciting. In this book the fight against the Tripods, or the Masters as they are called in this book, becomes much more personal. Whereas in the first book they are a somewhat remote threat, with only a few close encounters, in this book we learn much more about the horrors of the Masters dominion over the Earth. The battle becomes much more real, and much more necessary. There are a couple of scenes in this book that may be too intense for sensitive children.
The Pool of Fire is the third book in the Tripods series by John Christopher. I'm reposting my reviews in tribute to this great science fiction writer who died last week.
The Pool of Fire
by John Christopher
Time is running short, and the final push to overthrow the Tripods has begun. To do his part against the Masters, Will must risk his life and go back inside the city that he hoped never to see again, the city where he was a slave and where he saw so many horrors.
This book is a little more fragmented than the others - it's really several different episodes involving Will and his companions in the battle against the Tripods. But it's an exciting story, and anyone who enjoyed the first two books will enjoy this one. One of the things that makes Will such a likeable character is that he's an ordinary boy. He's not the smartest, or the most disciplined, or even the most heroic, but he still manages to be in the thick of the war, striking blow after blow against the tyrannical rulers of the Earth. Through Will we come to believe that anyone can be a hero.
Gift is an exciting new project being released today, from Andrea J. Buchanan, author of The Daring Book for Girls. Gift is a new multimedia paranormal YA novel which includes music by Fredrik Larsson, as well as art, videos, triggered events, and a graphic novel story. There's even a soundtrack and a playable Minecraft map available for download.Gift is not being promoted specifically as a transmedia project, at least not that I've seen, but with the variety of media included, and the addition of other media like the Minecraft map, it seems to me that it could qualify as one.
The enhanced ebook with the full feature set is only available for iBooks on iOS devices, but the story itself is available for a variety of ebook platforms, including Kindle, Nook, and Google (you may be able to buy the Google book from your local independent bookseller).
I haven't read Gift yet, but plan to. I just wish I had an iPad so that I could have the full experience.
I don't often write about television, but I feel compelled to say something about what I feel is the best new show on television this season. Imagine what the creators of LOST could do if they took on fairy tales. Wait: you don't have to imagine! That's what really happened! Once Upon a Time is based on fairy tales, but it's so much more than just another fairy tale retelling.
The story takes place in two worlds. One is the fairy tale world, populated by the characters we know (or think we know) and love. The other is a town called Storybrooke, Maine, where those same characters are cursed by the evil queen to live ordinary lives in our world, with no memory of their fairy tale existence. The queen herself, played by Lana Parrilla, is the mayor of the town.
The first episode introduces the town and the characters, and shows the fairy tale backstory leading up to the curse. Then, in typical LOST fashion, the entire rest of the season proceeds to deconstruct the backstory, teasing out the "true story" in stunning reveals, episode by episode.
The acting is BRILLIANT, especially Ginnifer Goodwin as Mary Margaret Blanchard/Snow White, Lana Parrilla as Regina/Evil Queen, and Robert Carlyle as Mr. Gold/Rumplestiltskin. Most of the characters are very different in the two worlds, and the actors handle the double characterization beautifully. I can't say enough good things about the entire cast of this show.
I adore Red Riding Hood's cape!
The production values are very high; it's worth watching the show for the costumes alone! From the queen's elaborate costumes to Snow White's forest getup, from Emma Swan's boots to Ruby's cute modern costumes in Storybrooke, the attention to detail is amazing. I particularly love the costumes that give an ironic nod to some of the characters' Disney counterparts, such as Belle's dress in "Skin Deep."
If you haven't been watching this show, you should be. I recommend that you don't jump into the middle, though. As with LOST, you may be a bit confused if you haven't been watching along, and you'll definitely get a lot more enjoyment out of it if you watch from the beginning so that you can follow along with the development of the characters and the reveals. You can watch the episodes on the ABC website, or get them from Amazon Instant Video or iTunes. There is also a DVD of the first five episodes that ABC says is available exclusively from Target.
Walking the Clouds is an anthology of indigenous science fiction. The book sounds fascinating, and I'd love to read it, although I admit to being disappointed to discover that most of the stories are excerpts from longer works, and only a few are self-contained stories. This review contains a short but interesting interview with editor Grace Dillon: "Just as our science is not primitive, our storytelling has always contained the elements of science fiction that are considered forward-thinking, inventive and visionary today." http://bit.ly/HXOr0c Many thanks to +Biology in Science Fiction for sharing this gem.#sciencefiction #sff #tw #fbpi #blog
"...there’s only one book for every 300 kids living in underserved communities in the U.S." RIF has been putting books into the hands of kids for decades. Now, they've teamed up with some top recording artists and actors to create this music video to raise awareness and encourage people to join the cause. After you watch the video, please go to http://www.bookpeopleunite.org/ to learn more about the video and sign the pledge. It doesn't cost you anything.
RIF recently lost its federal funding, which represented 80% of its operating budget. But rather than give up, this loss seems to have infused RIF with new energy, new creativity, and new determination to accomplish their mission. But RIF needs our help. Visit http://www.rif.org/ for information on donating or volunteering in your community.
Books inspire, educate, inform, entertain, but most importantly they open minds to new ideas, new horizons. Imagine how much it benefits us as a society to put books in the hands of kids who don't have them. In the words of Grammy award-winning Hip-Hop band The Roots, who produced the video, ""Narrative is perhaps the most essential aspect of human culture." I would agree with that, and add that narrative is not "just" story; it helps us to make sense of the world around us.
Dmitri, or D for short, never knew his father, so when he loses his mother to cancer, he is put into foster care. His new foster mother, Mrs. Martin, is nice enough, but she has her hands full with a crack -addicted baby and doesn't have much time for D.
One day in the park, D finds a wounded bird, and discovers it can talk. The bird tells him she is there to gather the dead from the African Burial Ground, who have been waiting for years to find peace. The bird, whose name is Nuru, has been held prisoner and prevented from accomplishing her mission, and she needs D's help.
But forces are determined to stop them, and D is in grave danger. Along with his new friends Hakeem and Nyla, D must battle dangers, from a monster made from paving stones, to hostile Revolutionary War ghosts, before he can reach the spirits who need his help.
Ship of Souls is a lovely and touching story. At its heart, it's a story of friendship, and it works best when D, Nyla and Keem are together. The friendship between these unlikely friends works, and even the slight tension between the two guys, both of whom like Nyla, makes the relationship seem genuine. Over the course of the story, Nyla and Keem become D's new family.
One of the things I found refreshing about this book is that most of the people (with the exception of the very angry and racist Revolutionary War ghosts) are really nice people. Often part of the tension in YA novels comes from the unpleasant people surrounding the protagonist, and it ends up giving a very negative view of the world. That wasn't the case here. When Mrs. Martin took D in, I was tense, expecting that she would seem like a nice old lady but turn out to be a nasty child abuser. But no, she really was a nice old lady, who just had more problems than she could deal with. When D was asked to tutor basketball jock Keem in math, I though, "Uh, oh. Keem is going to turn out to be a bully who torments him." But no. In spite of being a basketball star, Keem was really lonely because people tease him about being a Muslim, and after a little bit of initial tension, he and D hit it off almost right away. It made the book an enjoyable read.
The supernatural elements were not as well developed as I felt they could have been, and I ended up with too many unanswered questions about the dead and about Nuru, her role, her realm, and her mission. I just didn't feel that I got a very good picture of how it all fit together.
As with Elliott's first YA novel, A Wish After Midnight, there is a strong sense of place, and Elliott's love for her adopted city of New York, and in particular the Brooklyn borough, shines through. New York history also plays a role.
This would be a great book to read in a classroom setting, with its historic tie-ins and explorations of prejudice and tolerance. Elliott included several pages of discussion and writing topics at the end of the book.