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Fantasy and science fiction for children and teens.
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1. Book Review: Rebel Heart

Rebel Heart
Dust Lands Book 2
by Moira Young

Warning: this review may contain spoilers for the first book, Blood Red Road. If you haven't read Blood Red Road, I highly recommend it! It's about an incredibly tough heroine on a quest to save her brother in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. 

In Blood Red Road, Saba had one goal: find and save her twin brother Lugh from the people who took him. Saba knew that once she found Lugh, everything would be all right. But everything is most definitely not all right. Lugh and Saba have both been changed by the traumatic things they experienced, and the bond that connected them their whole lives seems to be broken and unrepairable.

Saba and Lugh, along with younger sister Emmi and another young man, Tommo, are on their way west to start a new life. Jack, whom Saba recently discovered is her heart's desire, separated from them to take a hard journey to deliver bad news, but he promised to meet them in the west. Saba is desperate to go west and find Jack again, but the group is stuck in the Waste, waiting for an injured horse to heal.

Then word comes that the Tonton, so recently defeated by Saba and her friends, have a new leader, who is cleansing the land of everyone except his own followers, killing or driving out the weak and the old, and taking the young and healthy. What's worse, Jack has been seen with the Tonton and may be one of them. Saba can't believe that Jack would be a part of such horrors, and she's determined to go back and find the truth, and help if she can.

Like Blood Red Road, Rebel Heart is a roller coaster of a story that grabs you and won't let go. Saba is one of the best YA heroines I've ever read. She's tough, oh yes, she's tough, but she also has heart and depth and an unshakeable resolve. Saba is a flawed heroine. She makes mistakes, she's not always kind, and she sometimes lets her single mindedness blind her. But Saba is a person who cares deeply, and would do anything for her family and her friends.

As with the first book, Rebel Heart is told in first person in Saba's distinctive voice and dialect, which is a little difficult to read at first, but it doesn't take long to seem natural, and it's such an integral part of the book that it's hard to imagine this book without it. The entire book is also written without quotation marks. All dialog is simply written out as part of the text with nothing to set it off. This also seems odd at first, but you get used to it and don't notice it. The biggest effect, to me, is that with the breakneck pace of the novel, the lack of quotation marks to slow the eye down contributes to a feeling of going downhill without brakes.

Overall, Rebel Heart and its predecessor, Blood Red Road, are excellent books that will have strong appeal to anyone who enjoys dystopian YA literature. Although more post-apocalyptic than dystopian, there are some dystopian elements in the Tonton society ruled by their new charismatic leader, the Pathfinder, and the book has a dystopian feel to it.

Rebel Heart ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, and the third book, Raging Star, is due out May 13. I can't wait to read it!

Who would like this book:

Anyone who enjoys young adult dystopian books and who doesn't mind the unusual punctuation and dialect.

Rebel Heart is a 2013 Cybils Awards Nominee. The first book, Blood Red Road, was the 2011 Cybils winner for YA Science Fiction & Fantasy.

Get it from:

Rebel Heart is available as an audiobook from Audible.com. I haven't yet listened to the audiobook, but I did listen to the audiobook for Blood Red Road and thought it was very well done. Narrator Heather Lind did an excellent job. There appears to also be a version narrated by Moira Young, but Audible tells me it isn't available in my area, so I suspect it's the Canadian version. The links below are to the Heather Lind narrated version.
FTC required disclosure: Reviewed from purchased copy. 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.

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2. Thoughts on BookExpo America and BookCon

So, yesterday I read this article in PW about Reed Exhibitions' plans for the new BookCon on the last day of BookExpo America (BEA). I posted an off-hand comment on Twitter and Facebook that I was thought the new plan was great. Apparently, my comments weren't clear, and some people are confused and upset by the new plan. "Why is excluding the public a good thing?" I was asked, and that wasn't what I meant at all, and I don't think it's what BEA intended. In fact rather the opposite. BEA is working to include the public and craft a positive experience for them. Since it's difficult to clarify my thoughts in 140 characters, I thought I'd write a blog post.

First, some history: BookExpo America is the largest U.S. conference for the book industry. It started in 1901 as the American Booksellers Association convention, and eventually grew to encompass much more. But it has always been a conference exclusively for the book industry. To attend, you had to be a bookseller, librarian, publisher, publishing service provider, or someone else working in the industry. Attending wasn't cheap, either. Badges can run several hundred dollars, depending on your role. That wasn't not intended to be exclusionary. It was always a conference oriented around the business side of books.

However, since books and authors are a big part of the conference, I think increasingly so in recent years, BEA recognizes that it would also be of interest to passionate book lovers, and in turn, those are people whom publishers exhibiting at BEA would like to reach. So for the last year or two, they've been experimenting with opening the conference to the public.

Last year, that took the form of "Power Reader" day, which provided tickets giving power readers access to the show floor on the last day. I think that Power Reader Day both was and wasn't a success. I think the idea was great, and some publishers took advantage of the opportunity to interact with readers and have special events and giveaways just for the public. For the readers, it provided a chance to meet authors and get autographed books, as well as a peek behind the curtain to see books in advance of publication.

However, the problem was that the BEA show floor is very large, and many exhibitors are not of interest to the public, nor are they interested in interacting with the public. So I saw many power readers wandering around booths with remainders dealers, printers, distributors, app developers, book display manufacturers, and publishing service providers of various types. In addition, some publishers publish books not intended for a general audience, and even some of the ones that do publish general interest books didn't seem interested in interacting with the public. Many exhibitors break down early on the last day, and walking the floor and hearing the tape guns, some starting as early as 11-12:00, I couldn't help but think that if I were a Power Reader, I would have been disappointed to see what looked like a conference winding down, on the only day I could be there.

Thankfully, Reed Exhibitions also recognized this problem, and they made some changes to address it. This year, if I understand correctly, a part of the BEA show floor will be sectioned off as the area for BookCon (replacing Power Readers) attendees. Exhibitors are given a choice whether they want to be in the BookCon area or not. The ones that choose not to be in this area are ones that wouldn't be offering anything to the public anyway: the business to business service providers, the specialized publishers, and those general trade publishers who, for whatever reason, aren't interested in taking part.

So if you attended Power Reader day last year and are worried about the changes, you won't be losing anything! (Disclaimer: I'm not associated with BEA in any way, other than as an attendee for the last 10 years, so I'm just going by what I read in the press and on their website). You'll still have access to a feast of books and authors; it's just that it will all be consolidated into one area, so that you don't have to hunt through aisles and aisles of irrelevant (to you) booths to find the things that interest you.

I think that what's confusing people is on the ticket page it says, "BookCon Tickets do not provide access to BookExpo America (BEA). BEA is a trade only event (not open to the public) and BookCon Tickets do not provide entry into BEA." What I think this means - and again, this is just me interpreting - is that you don't have access to the first two days of BEA, which Power Readers didn't have last year, either, and you don't have access to the area of BEA which is primarily for business to business exhibitors (which most of the public wouldn't be interested in anyway).

This BookCon FAQ addresses a lot of the questions and concerns.

If you haven't attended before and you're within an easy drive of New York City, this is a great opportunity to find out about new books, meet authors, and maybe pick up some freebies. Tickets to the one day BookCon event are only $30 for adults (and teens, apparently) and $5 for children. Ticket information is here.

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3. Book Review: Underneath


by Sarah Jamila Stevenson

Sunny Pryce-Shah is devastated when her cousin Shiri commits suicide. How could Shiri do it? Shiri always seemed so confident, and Sunny looked up to her older cousin. Then Sunny starts to hear thoughts, and from cryptic comments in Shiri's journal, she suspects that Shiri may have had the same problem. Hearing thoughts is more of a curse than a power. It can be painful to know what people really think of you, for example, and Sunny can't control it or stop it from happening. Sunny is already dealing with so much, but she knows that she has to get the ability under some kind of control before it pulls her apart like it did her cousin.

Underneath is a contemporary YA novel with a speculative twist. The underhearing is just one of the conflicts Sunny has to deal with. In addition to grief over her cousin and dealing with her unusual problem, Sunny also has to navigate the treacherous waters of the high school social scene, and her family is dealing with the possible spousal abuse of her aunt. The relationships, including family, friend, and romantic interest, feel authentic, and I like that the book portrays how complex such relationships are. Fights happen, and sometimes no one is right or wrong and you just have to find a way to work things out. But sometimes one person's behavior is wrong, and it's not always easy to tell the difference.

The book also portrays grief in a way that seems authentic. Grief doesn't just go away because a certain amount of time has passed, and one of the difficult things for someone bereaved is when people start to feel that they should be over it. Grief also takes different forms, and different people grieve in different ways at different times.

I also like that romance isn't a major focus of the story. There are romantic interests, and even a couple of love triangles, but in the end it's not important who ends up paired with whom, and the story is really much more about friendship (and family) than romance.

From a diversity perspective, Sunny is half Pakistani. Although she is pretty much a regular American teenager, there are some bits of Pakistani culture that come from her grandparents, for example when they send over Pakistani food, or request an imam at the funeral. It's handled very naturally as a part of the normal American experience and not at all an issue.

In the end, it's character and voice that make this a compelling novel. Sunny is such an interesting character with a distinctive voice, and we feel her pain and her struggles.

The underhearing itself is never explained, and this may bother some readers. However, not understanding it is a part of the story conflict, and in real life there isn't always a neat explanation that ties things up with a bow.  I do love the word "underhearing" - it's a perfect word for what is, in essence, mental overhearing.

Who would like this book:

Teens who enjoy contemporary fiction with a paranormal twist.

Underneath is a 2013 Cybils Awards Nominee

Get it from:
FTC required disclosure: Reviewed from library copy. The author is an online friend that I've met several times at conferences. 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.

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4. The Infinite Sea Cover Reveal

The cover for The Infinite Sea, sequel to Rick Yancey's The 5th Wave, has been revealed. You can see a larger image of it over at USA Today, along with an interesting interview with Rick Yancey. (Note: Although Yancey tries to be careful not to spoil anything, I think it does give some clues about the second book).

The 5th Wave was an excellent book about the aftermath of an alien invasion, although one of the themes of the book is that this alien invasion is not a anything like what you would expect from movies and TV. ("...not-your-grandma's alien invasion," as Yancey says in the interview). You can read my review of The 5th Wave here.

I'm really looking forward to reading The Infinite Sea, which will be published September 16. I'm particularly excited that Yancey mentions in the interview that there are still some plot twists, as one of the things I loved about the first book was the layers of surprising reveals.

Also, Yancey talks about the 5th Wave movie in the interview, and it sounds like that's making progress.

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5. Light of the White Bear Kickstarter Project

David Clement-Davies, author of The Sight, Fell, and Fire Bringer, is running a Kickstarter project to bring his newest book, Light of the White Bear, to the United States. I've read several of his books and really enjoyed them. If you like books about wild animals, with deep social and spiritual themes, you'll enjoy his books.

If you'd like to support an author fighting for autonomy over his books, or if you just like his books (or think you might!) please consider backing this Kickstarter.

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6. Petition to Stop Gender-labeling Books

The UK based organization Let Toys Be Toys has started a petition on Change.org to ask publishers to stop gender-labeling books. The image above shows how such labeling can send a powerful message to kids about what's important: beauty for girls and intelligence for boys in this case. Granted, this image is an extreme example, probably selected for its provocative nature. But any gender labeling, even less provocative examples, limits children's choices and perpetuates gender stereotypes. Please take a few minutes and sign this petition.

Here's a great article about gender labeling on the Let Toys Be Toys website.

As a child, I always preferred books with robots, aliens, and adventure over cupcakes, flowers, and handbags. Books should expand children's horizons, not limit them.

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7. Book Review: The Summer Prince

The Summer Prince
by Alaya Dawn Johnson

June and her best friend Gil are thrilled to wrangle an invite to the official celebration of the newly elected Summer King, Enki. But they never anticipate that Gil and Enki will fall in love, or how much Enki will affect both of their lives. Although the Summer King has no real power, Enki, who comes from the lowest level of society, is determined to use what influence he has to help his people. June and Enki begin to collaborate on a big art installation, one that they hope will both send a message to the city, and win June the Queen's Award. But none of the three can forget that at the end of the summer, Enki will die. Because the real purpose of the Summer King is sacrifice in service of the city.

The Summer Prince is a brilliant book on so many levels. To start, it's an achingly immersive story set in a future Brazil. Added to that are elements from the Sumerian myth The Epic of Gilgamesh. Going deeper, there are the themes: power and sacrifice, choices and consequences, privilege and class, order and change. Finally, there is the writing: Alaya Dawn Johnson has created a beautiful tapestry so intricately woven that the patterns aren't always obvious on the first read-through. Even on my second read I'm not sure if I saw everything.

Palmares Tres is a gem of a city where past culture and future culture merge. It's a city where people still Samba and eat Vatapá stew, where grafeteiros create masterpieces and street gangs fight with capoeira. And yet it's a city with deep class divisions, where class hierarchy is literally expressed in the city tiers: the higher classes live on the upper levels and the lowest class lives on the bottom tier, where the the stink of the algae vats is ever present. This physical expression of class hierarchy is not a new idea in science fiction, but it's well done here. That stink, known as the Catinga, becomes a powerful symbol in the story, and in fact the higher tiers call the lowest tier "The Catinga."

Palmeres Tres is a city ruled by a matriarchy: a Queen and a council of women called Aunties. Many of them have forgotten the purpose of power, and while they, in their own way, seem to love the city, often their machinations seem designed to protect their own power rather than benefit the city. Most residents of the city live 200 years or more, setting up a situation where anyone under 30 is considered a juvenile, and not to be trusted to make good decisions. So we have class conflict, gender conflict, and age conflict, and with his election as Summer King, Enki becomes the touchstone at the center of all these conflicts.

I've seen this book described as dystopian, but I don't think that it quite falls into that classification. The traditional definition of a dystopia is one that seems utopian on the surface, but is later revealed to be oppressive and deeply flawed. I think that in some ways The Summer Prince turns that around: the flaws are fairly obvious early on, but as you continue to read it becomes clear how much the citizens of Palmeros Tres love their city with a genuine love, even in spite of the flaws. However, The Summer Prince is similar enough to dystopian literature that I think it will appeal to teens who enjoy dystopian books.

It's not necessary to be familiar with The Epic of Gilgamesh or to even recognize those elements are there to enjoy the story, but if you are familiar with the Epic it's a sheer joy to discover the iconic story of Enkidu and Gilgamesh wrestling in the streets transformed into a heart-stopping Samba when Gil and Enki first meet. The Summer Prince is not really a retelling of the myth, but there are some interesting parallels.

June is an imperfect character who struggles throughout the book to make the right choices. Her dream is to be recognized as a great artist, and when that dream comes into conflict with her awakening social awareness, she doesn't always choose the right thing. She blames her mother for her father's death, and because of that she's mean to her mother. All these things make her a believable, realistic character whom the reader can identify with as she grows through her association with Enki.

The Summer Prince does a great job of representing people who are underrepresented in YA lit. All the residents of Palmeros Tres have skin of varying shades of color, and Enki himself is described as being exceptionally charismatic and with very dark skin. Sexual relationships, both same-sex and opposite-sex, are depicted in a natural, unfettered way that's totally a non-issue. In Palmeros Tres it doesn't seem to matter whom you love.

The Brazilian setting is a refreshing change from books set in European-based settings. I personally loved that the book represented a culture and people that you don't often see in American YA Fiction, but I'd be remiss if I didn't point out this review of The Summer Prince by a native Brazilian, Ana of The Book Smugglers. I'd encourage you to read the review, but in short, Ana is concerned that the Brazilian cultural elements are not always used accurately, and don't go any deeper than those elements that outsiders identify with Brazil, such as samba, Carnival, and capoeira. To Ana, it feels like a stereotype.

I've been thinking a lot about Ana's review over the last few days. Does the book stereotype Brazilians? Maybe - it's hard for me to know since I'm not Brazilian. Should a writer be able to write about a culture as an outsider to that culture? This, I think, is the crux of the controversy, and I've seen good arguments on both sides. I personally think writers stretching to write about things outside their personal experience is a good thing, because it helps to bring those ideas and cultures to other people who are not familiar with them, but the outsider has to work harder to get it right. I found an interview with Johnson where she says about her research, "I read a lot of books, particularly about the history of the African diaspora in Brazil. Also got advice from my sister, who studied in Brazil and knew many sources. And sent it to Brazilian writers for help."

I totally understand Ana's frustration and annoyance with the book. It's not quite the same thing, but I studied a martial art for 18 years, and I get really annoyed when I read a fiction book that gets the martial arts details wrong. So I get how frustrating it would be to have your culture portrayed inaccurately. But it does sound like Johnson did try get the details right, and I hope that maybe it will at least it will inspire young people to want to learn more about Brazil and read up on it, as I did after finishing the book. In balance, I think that a book like this that encourages young people to think outside their comfort zone and learn about new ideas and new cultures is a good thing. There are no easy answers, but I think it's important that we keep having these conversations as we try to get it right.

The Summer Prince is the 2013 Cybils Awards winner for the YA Speculative Fiction category.

Who would like this book:

Science fiction and dystopian readers, as well as teens who like reading about other cultures.

Get it from:
FTC required disclosure: Review copy sent by the publisher for the purpose of Cybils Awards judging. 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.

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8. Book Review: The Archived

The Archived
by Victoria Schwab

It hasn't even been a year since Ben died, and Mackenzie Bishop is already forgetting what her brother looked like. Her mother copes with the grief by throwing herself with artificial cheerfulness into projects, while her father copes by retreating into himself.

Mac knows something her parents don't: that all the memories of the dead are archived as Histories, which look and act like the living person in every way. Histories usually sleep, but sometimes one awakens and tries to get out; occasionally they're even violent. Mac is a Keeper, tasked with guarding the Narrows that border the Archive and returning any of the Histories who escape. It's a role that she inherited from her grandfather, and one that she must keep absolutely secret, even from her parents. Knowing that Ben's History is in the Archive should be a comfort to Mac, but even a Keeper can't see the Histories, and Mac fears that she is losing her memories of Ben.

When Mac's family moves into the Coronado, an old hotel converted to an apartment building, Mackenzie gets a new territory in the Narrows to patrol. But something is not right — the Histories here are restless, and Mac is busier than ever trying to return them all. What's more, it appears that a murder was committed decades ago at the Coronado, a murder that someone went to a great deal of trouble to cover up. Mac is determined to find out the truth, even if it means putting her life at risk.

The Archived is a moving exploration of life, death, and grief wrapped up in an intriguing, character-driven mystery. Mac is tough — she has to be, to deal with the sometimes violent Histories — and she has the scars to prove it. But even her toughness doesn't make her immune to grief, and like everyone else she'll need to find a way to deal with it and move towards acceptance.

The story has a strong sense of place, and the various locations are lovingly described: the elegant, library-like atmosphere of the Archives, the creepy hallways of the Narrows, and the faded glory of the Coronado, which really becomes a character in its own right. The characters are likewise vividly brought to life. Besides Mac, there is a teen boy, Wes, that she meets in the Coronado. Wes hides a surprising depth and empathy behind a façade of good-natured humor. Mac's relationship with her grandfather is developed through flashbacks. Other minor characters, such as the Librarians in the Archives, are less fully-fleshed-out, but still distinctively characterized.

The setup with the Archives is intriguing and pleasingly unique. The internal logic is pretty consistent and well-developed, with one exception that bothered me. What is the purpose of keeping the Archives in the first place? There doesn't seem to be any reason for it. Loved ones can't visit the Histories, and no one seems to read the Histories except for the occasional Librarian seeking relief from boredom, and even that seems to be discouraged. It seems like an elaborate setup requiring considerable secrecy and no small amount of risk, for no purpose. If you can suspend that disbelief, then The Archived is a pretty enjoyable book.

The Archived is a 2013 Cybils Awards Nominee

Who would like this book:

Although the setup is not strictly supernatural — Histories aren't really ghosts — it should appeal strongly to fans of supernatural fiction. Teens who enjoy mysteries or character-driven fiction may also enjoy this.

Get it from:
FTC required disclosure: Reviewed from library copy. 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.

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9. Book Review: Shadows


by Robin McKinley

It's not just that Maggie misses her father, or understandably resents her new stepfather, Val. No, it goes beyond that: Val has too many shadows. Whenever Maggie looks at him, she sees him surrounded by wiggly shadow shapes with too many appendages. It can't be magic, because there is no magic in Newworld. Anyone with the potential for magic must have a procedure to snip the gene before they reach puberty, and even though Val is an immigrant, he wouldn't have been allowed in if he had any magic.

Maggie tries not to think about it, and avoids Val as much as possible by throwing herself into her work at the local shelter, which isn't hard, since Maggie loves animals anyway. Then a cobey — a "coherence break" in the universe — opens nearby, and with one revelation after another, Maggie begins to discover that the world — and Newworld specifically — is full of surprises, among them that Val is not such a bad guy. When the situation goes from bad to worse, Maggie and her friends set out to set things right, accompanied by five very large dogs, a cantankerous Maine Coone cat, a friendly shadow named Hix, and one stubborn algebra book.

Shadows is a fun book with loads of teen appeal. Maggie's voice as the narrator is authentic and entertaining, if a bit rambly in parts, and there's gentle humor woven throughout the book. The pacing is excellent, perfectly balancing character development, excitement, humor, and reveals. All of the characters are interesting and well-developed, including animals, shadows, and semi-animate objects. Even the dogs each have distinctive personalities. Although Maggie finds she has some unusual abilities, she can't do it alone - it takes the combined efforts and abilities of everyone to succeed. There is romance, but it's not overdone and I like the direction that McKinley went with the it.

There are dystopian elements, such as soldiers in the streets with scanners, roadblocks, and forced genetic manipulation, but I wouldn't call this a dystopian book. The focus is not on fighting against a dystopian government, although there is certainly some of that. Instead, it's more about finding yourself and discovering that the world is a different place than you thought.

Shadows is a 2013 Cybils Awards Finalist in the YA Speculative Fiction category.

Who would like this book:

Readers of both traditional fantasy and dystopian stories will enjoy this, as it has elements of both. Dog lovers, cat lovers, and origami artists will also find a lot to appreciate.

Get it from:
FTC required disclosure: Reviewed from library copy. 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.

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10. Cybils 2013 Finalists

For the last three months, my life has been consumed by the Cybils Awards, an award for the best children's and young adult books of the year, as selected by the children's book blogging community.  I've been involved with the Cybils since they were founded in 2006, and I wear a number of different hats. But my favorite part of the Cybils is being a judge, reading and discussing the books with a fabulous panel of judges and selecting the best books of the year. This year I was a judge (and category chair) for the Young Adult Speculative Fiction category, (formerly called Fantasy & Science Fiction) as I have been every year except one since the beginning.

I'm so excited to share with you the seven fantastic books that my fellow judges and I selected as the finalists! A hat tip to my smart, fun, and wonderful fellow judges: Leila Roy, Tanita Davis, Patrice Caldwell, Sarah Mulhern Gross, Hallie Tibbets, and Karen Jensen. Also be sure to check out the Cybils finalists in all the other categories! 

Here are the 2013 Finalists for Speculative Fiction: Young Adult!

Sarah Beth Durst
Walker Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Leila Roy
Conjured is a multiverse fantasy about a magician, a dark carnival of horrors and delights, a group of snarky, teenaged magic users, and a protagonist who is hugely powerful but also hugely vulnerable. It's a cop story about a girl in witness protection. It's a story about friendship and first love, about discovering one's self, about finding a safe haven in a library, and about what it means to be human.
Our narrator is Eve, a girl who doesn't entirely know who she is; who isn't sure who or what, exactly, she's being protected from; whose memory is so fragmented that she sometimes loses entire weeks of her life. By turns, it is frightening, funny, romantic, and heartwarming, and it is, from beginning to end, completely mesmerizing. As Eve unravels the mysteries that surround her, it becomes more and more clear just how layered, complex, beautifully realized, and wholly original her voice--and Durst's vision--is. Upon finishing the book, readers will want to immediately turn back to the beginning to read it again with a completely new perspective.
— Leila Roy, Bookshelves of Doom 

Robin LaFevers
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Nominated by: Laurie Ann Thompson
In late fifteenth-century Brittany, Sybella is sent from the convent of Saint Mortain to her ancestral home, where her faith will guide her in the assassination of her father, the horrible Count d’Albret. She is ready withcrossbow, garrote, even poison—but she cannot see the marque of death that allows her murder to be sanctioned by her god, and cannot decide whether or how to act. Throughout Dark Triumph, the sequel to Grave Mercy that can be read as a standalone, Sybella struggles with dissonance: mercy and justice, fate and free will, betrayal and loyalty, vengeance and forgiveness, family and freedom, faith and skepticism. And there’s no time to delay, no time to consider, because France could invade at any moment. Dark Triumph is a grim but hopeful fantasy that blends intrigue, danger, and a little romance into a real historical setting.
— Hallie Tibbets, Undusty New Books 

Laura Lam
Strange Chemistry
Nominated by: Liviania
When sixteen-year-old Micah Grey is caught eavesdropping on the grounds of the R.H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic, a potentially terrifying incident evolves into an impromptu audition. Micah is hired as an aerialist and begins training to replace a soon-to-retire flyer. But the circus is full of secrets, including Micah's, and nothing is as it seems.
Magical, atmospheric and spellbinding, Pantomime is more than just a story about a circus. With complex worldbuilding, full of culture, mythology, and magic, Lam manages to weave a story full of intrigue and emotion. Lam's characters are fully realized and three-dimensional and the way Lam presents Micah's struggle with gender identity and sexuality is handled deftly and without being didactic. Pantomime is a touching, complex, and fantastic story of a teen struggling to find a place in the world; a timeless theme. 
— Sarah Mulhern Gross, TheReadingZone 

Robin McKinley
Nancy Paulsen Books
Nominated by: Stephanie Burgis
Maggie's mother marrying a backwards, Oldworld geek with a thick accent and a lamentable fashion sense isn't the worst of it. It's abruptly seeing what no one else seems to see - shadows. Newworld belongs to science - bright lights, reason, and technology is what keeps its denizens safe. But with every tremor shaking up her safe, familiar life, Maggie realizes that Newworld - and everything else - isn't what she's been told, and sometimes looking into the shadows lets a person see.
Panelists were nearly unanimous in their love for this fast-paced novel with obedient dogs, less obedient algebra books, quirky humor and loveable characters who are clearly a tribute to the imagination of Diana Wynne Jones. Robin McKinley's Shadows is a classic fantasy novel which reveals a new world to a reluctant heroine, and sends her on a fantastic journey. McKinley touches on themes of civil liberty, freedom, and knowledge in this book and reminds us that we can take what we fear, and use it to arm ourselves to take on the universe.
— Tanita Davis,  Finding Wonderland 

Alaya Dawn Johnson
Arthur A Levine
Nominated by: thereadingzone
In the lush city of Palmares Tres, June Costa creates art that's sure to make her legendary. In Enki, the bold new Summer King, she sees more than his amber eyes and a lethal samba. She sees a fellow artist. Together, June and Enki will stage explosive, dramatic projects that Palmares Tres will never forget. And June will fall deeply, unfortunately in love with Enki. Because like all Summer Kings before him, Enki is destined to die. Set in a world rich with organic diversity, The Summer Prince is sure to take readers on a journey through the beautiful Palmares Tres and the lives of its inhabitants. Teens, especially, will relate with the pain the book’s protagonist, June, feels, wanting to be recognized for her art in a society where being under 30 means you are no one. In addition, the complex relationship between June, her best friend, Gil, and the one they both love, Enki is sure to pull at heartstrings, making readers fall uncontrollably in love. The Summer Prince is a fantasy like no other, and from its very first sentence, it promises to amaze.
— Patrice Caldwell, Whimsically Yours 

Robin Wasserman
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Liz B
When the killing day comes, violence erupts in the town of Oleander. Many are dead at the hands of the people they love, but this is only the beginning. A year passes and the dark is once again slowly waking; a sinister something seems to seep into the heart of Oleander, turning loved one against loved one. And when the dark wakes, can anyone be safe? The Waking Dark is a slow-boil horror tale where a sleepy, small town becomes a character in its own right. A group of teens are left behind to navigate a path to safety only in the midst of the incredible violence that has overtaken their town. They struggle with the very real emotions of self discovery and alienation, the trials of faith and doubt, and the very real question of who you can trust when this sickness seems to turn the hearts of all the towns inhabitants. Wasserman takes the epidemic tale to interesting new depths by placing very real teens in the midst of a Stephen King-esque novel and amping up the volume. Teen life was never quite so terrifying.
— Karen Jensen, Teen Librarian's Toolbox 

Ian Doescher
Quirk Books
Nominated by: Pink Me
Star Wars and Shakespeare go together like grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. If the Bard were alive today, he would surely have written the epic story of a young man’s search for identity amidst a galactic battle for freedom -- and the larger tragedy of his father's descent into darkness, redemption, and death. William Shakespeare’s Star Wars turned out to be so much more than the gimmicky book we initially assumed it would be. Ian Doescher has imbued every line of this book with his passion for, and understanding of, both the Shakespeare and Star Wars canon. It goes far beyond just mimicking Shakespeare’s language: from Darth Vader’s introspective monologues to R2-D2’s Puckish asides, this is truly Star Wars the way that Shakespeare would have written it.
Although this book tells the story of Episode IV: A New Hope, (the original Star Wars movie) it draws on the other films and the larger Star Wars universe for some of the material, and even includes nods to Star Wars fandom. William Shakespeare’s Star Wars is rich with literary merit - one judge is already using it in a classroom Shakespeare unit - and oozing gooey teen appeal, especially for Star Wars fans. All of the judges would love to see this performed live, or even participate in the staging of it!
— Sheila Ruth, Wands and Worlds

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11. Give a Book and Help Raise a Reader

When I was growing up, our tradition was that we always got at least one book for Christmas, and those were some of my most treasured gifts. I still remember the Christmas that I got an anthology of Sherlock Holmes stories, and I sat next to the Christmas tree and spent a pleasant couple of hours reading. Giving children books as gifts helps to reinforce that books are something special and to encourage a love of reading. Here are some sources that can help you find the perfect book as a gift for the child in your life:

  • 150 Ways to Give a Book: Every year my friend MotherReader posts this list of gifts which pair a book with something fun related to the book. Check out the updated 2013 list here.
  • I've been involved with the Cybils Awards since the award was founded in 2006. Our goal is to honor those children's books which have both literary merit and child appeal. The Cybils lists are great sources of ideas for book gifts. Go to www.cybils.com and check out the 2013 nominations lists by category in the middle sidebar. The nomination lists include links to judges' reviews for many of the books. You can also check out previous years' finalists and winners in the right hand sidebar.
  • I've also been doing some web development work recently for the Mom's Choice Awards, making enhancements to their web store. Here you can shop for books, toys, and other gifts that meet the Mom's Choice standards of excellence. (My husband's book, The Dark Dreamweaver, is a Mom’s Choice Awards® Gold Recipient)
  • Don't forget your local independent bookstore! Independent booksellers are knowledgeable resources who can help you find the perfect gift. You can find a local bookstore or search for books through the IndieBound website.

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12. Diversity, Authenticity, and Kindred Spirits: Thoughts from Kidlitcon 2013

I had the most inspiring, enlightening, empowering, and yes, fun, weekend. That's right — I was at Kidlitcon 2013 Austin, or as Sherry Early called it, the "Austin Kindred Spirits KidLit conference."

Kidlitcon has always been a small conference, and that's part of its appeal. This year was even smaller in terms of attendance numbers than the last few, but what it lacked in size it made up for in heart, spirit,  and community. I felt that the smaller size was an advantage; I think I talked to everyone there at some point, and all of us there formed such a strong connection.

It would be impossible to try to recap everything about the conference, so I'm just going to hit some of the highlights. For more recaps of Kidlitcon, see the round-up post on the Kidlitosphere.org website.


Several themes recurred throughout the conference:

Kindred Spirits

I'm not sure if the actual words "Kindred Spirits" came up until the final session, when Sarah Stevenson asked everyone for one or two words that summarized what the Kidlitosphere meant, but the feeling was definitely there throughout the conference. We all felt an instant connection created by a shared passion. I think it was Jen Robinson who said that what makes us different as a community is that we all care deeply about children and reading, and so we connect on a deeper level than other blogger groups, whose primary connection is about the blogging and financial aspects.


From the keynote speech by Cynthia Leitich Smith to the last words in the "Past, Present, and Future of Blogging" session, authenticity was an idea that came up over and over again. Our authenticity as bloggers and/or as writers, authenticity of characters in books, and our authenticity as a community.


Diversity was another topic that resounded throughout the conference, not only in the sessions but in many conversations over meals, at the hotel bar, and anywhere else we happened to be. Lee Wind challenged us to be upstanders, not bystanders, and Cynthia Leitich Smith said that it's essential to let the powers-that-be know that there are loud booklovers. Lee had some eye-opening statistics, such as that 24% of the U.S. population are Latino, but only 1.1% of books have Latino characters. I think that everyone at the conference cares deeply about making sure that as many kids as possible find books that are "mirrors" and "windows," but it's clear we have a long way to go to get there, and that we bloggers, as a public voice for children's lit, have a responsibility to call out both good and not-so-good examples of diversity.

One thing that really struck me is how diversity, true diversity, is not about representing "groups," but about representing authentic (there's that word again) individuals. Lee talked about how we are all made up of hundreds or thousands of characteristics, and none of us are any one thing, yet too many books have "the" gay, "the" black, "the" Asian character. Charlotte Taylor said in her session that "Every child is a different target audience," and I think that's an important thing to keep in mind. Every child is different, so the more different, authentic, diverse individuals there are in literature, the better chance a child will find books that they can relate to.


The people were the best thing about the conference. It was great seeing old friends, and I met such wonderful and interesting new people. I wanted to try to mention everyone, but I'm afraid I'll miss someone, and I don't want to make this too long. So I just want to post a few special shoutouts:
  • To MotherReader Pam Coughlan, for being such a terrific host. As an extrovert in a group of mostly introverts, she was the glue that held us together.
  • To Jackie Parker-Robinson and Tanita Davis, and anyone else who helped with the planning but couldn't attend. I can't imagine anything worse! Thank you, thank you, to everyone who worked to make this conference a success.
  • To Charlotte Taylor, a special friend who is incredibly funny and intelligent. I enjoyed hanging out with you and comparing books on the flight back. I hope I didn't talk your ear off.
  • To my roommate Maureen Kearney, who was as great a roomie as you could ask for. We both gave each other space when we needed down time after the excitement of the day. Even if she was playing Candy Crush when I thought she was reading.
  • To Jen Robinson and Sarah Stevenson, who have been Kindred Spirits for a long time.
  • To Lee Wind, for being funny and fun and for your special talent for making people feel at ease. And for reminding us how important it is to be upstanders, not bystanders.
  • To Sherry Early and Camille Powell, both longtime friends online whom I finally met in person.
  • To Molly Blaisdell, who was a fascinating person. I learned a lot from listening to her.
  • To Allie Jones, for sparkling dinnertime conversation
  • To everyone else! This list is already longer than I meant it to be, and I feel bad about the people I didn't mention.

Thoughts and Quotes from the Sessions

I wanted to end with some of the thoughts and quotes that came out of the sessions. I culled these from Twitter, so some may not be exact quotes. I apologize in advance if I made any mistakes. Thanks especially to Melissa Fox, Maureen Kearney, and Jen Robinson for live-tweeting so much of the conference. 

What happens at kidlitcon13 stays at kidlitcon13.
—Pam Coughlan
We're passionate and with passion comes peril.
—Cynthia Leitich Smith
Blogs are a battlefield, but pick your battles and pick them wisely.
—Cynthia Leitich Smith
Diversity: "Finding yourself on a library shelf."
—Cynthia Leitich Smith
Diversity: Letting the "powers that be" know that there are loud booklovers is essential.
—Cynthia Leitich Smith
Authors don't want to do it wrong, so they avoid diversity. "You might make a mistake, but not trying is so much worse."
—Cynthia Leitich Smith
You may write for adults, but if you're writing about Percy Jackson, fourth graders will find you.
—Cynthia Leitich Smith
In many ways we just have to take it on faith that we are doing SOME good getting books into the hands of readers.
—Unknown, Blogger Burnout Session
Give yourself permission to NOT do things!
—Sarah Stevenson
No one is just ONE thing.
—Lee Wind
The way you empower a child is to let them know that variety exists. (How better than through books?)
—Lee Wind
Stories/words are powerful, they can challenge stereotypes that people hold dear.
—Lee Wind
what does it mean when you don't see yourself? You feel written out of history.
—Lee Wind
Characteristics of sticky ideas: simple yet profound, surprising, credible, concrete, emotional, relatable.
—Molly Blaisdell
Every kid is a different target audience.
—Charlotte Taylor
Books are not "good and "bad", it's just a matter of finding the right reader for each book.
—Sheila Ruth (me)
You have to trust that, as a reader/blogger, that you DO know what you're talking about.
—Unknown, Critical Reviews Session
Words of kidlitosphere: Community. Literacy. Connection. Opportunity. Kindred spirits.
—All of us

And finally, I wanted to leave you with a thought from Lee Wind that I can't stop thinking about. I feel like this one idea profoundly affected my thinking:

Diversity is not "the other" it's the diversity within ourself, and we are all the other to someone.
—Lee Wind

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13. Interview with P.J.Hoover, author of Solstice

Last Friday, at the pre-con leading up to Kidlitcon, I met author P.J. Hoover, and I took the chance to interview her about her new book, Solstice, and her writing life. This post was also used as an example of the techniques I taught in my Kidlitcon session, "Don’t fear the code: spice up your blog with HTML and CSS."

Your new book is called Solstice. Can you tell me a little more about it?

It is set here in Austin, in the future when global warming is killing the earth. There's a girl named Piper and she turns 18. She gets a present delivered to her house, and when she opens it, this whole world of mythology starts to explode around her. Her best friend almost dies, so Piper has to travel to the underworld to save her, and there are lots of Greek gods.

That sounds great! Tell me a little bit about your path to publication.

Solstice is my fourth book published. I actually have a trilogy out from a small press. My path to publication has been really working on my writing, and also networking. I met my first editor at a conference, and I met my agent at a workshop out in California, and I met my new editor at a conference also. So for me a lot of it has been really focusing on the writing, and also getting out and meeting people.

So is that what you would advise for new writers? To get out and go to conferences?

I think it's really an important part of it. It's one thing to write a book, but it's easy to get trapped in a bubble and forget there's a whole world out there. It's important to know the business. I think if it as a lifetime thing, not just about one book.

"...it's easy to get trapped in a bubble and forget there's a whole world out there."
That's good advice. Tell me a little bit about your writing process. Do you write every day, or just when it inspires you?

I try to write every day. There are days when I'm just not able to write. Sometimes I take weekends off, now that I'm writing full-time, but I think having some sort of regular routine is really what matters. Even if some days you might write eight pages, and some days you might write a paragraph. Sticking with it even when it gets hard, and not quitting a project even when it stops being so interesting.

That's hard in any project. Do you have a particular place you write, particular music you listen to?

I have an office in my house, so if I have really intense work, like hard line edits or something, I work at home. But otherwise, I like going out to coffee shops, as long as the coffee is good, and sometimes I meet friends there. Music that I write to at home, sometimes I'll listen to the soundtrack from The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. There's no words, and it's soothing. It puts me in a good writing place.
Buy Solstice from: Amazon Independent Bookstores

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14. Attention Kidlitcon attendees! (And if you aren't registered for Kidlitcon yet, why not?)

So it's just a little over a week until Kidlitcon and I'm psyched! I'm looking forward to hanging out with the tribe and talking some good kidlit. Oh, and I'm leading a session! I'm going to be teaching some cool tricks for using HTML and CSS to enhance your blog posts! Don't worry - you don't need to be a techie to attend my session; in fact, I'm specifically planning this with the assumption that no one attending my session has ever used HTML (although if you have, you might still learn something!) I hope that everyone attending my session will leave with a sense of just how FUN this stuff can be!

BUT - if you're thinking about attending my session, I have HOMEWORK for you! "Whaaaaa?... I didn't know there was going to be homework," I hear you say. But this is going to be fun, help the cause of kidlit, and hopefully leave you with a great, shiny blog post you can show off.

Because this session is hands-on, you need to have a blog post to work on. Rather than just having you make up a nonsense post just for the class, I want you to have a real post to play with. The interview format will be perfect for what I have in mind, so I ask everyone who is thinking of attending my session to find an author (or another blogger) at Kidlitcon and do a short interview sometime before Breakout Session #4. It doesn't have to be a long interview; two or three questions will be sufficient. If you're going to the precon, that will probably be a perfect opportunity, but just try to do it (and type it up in draft) sometime before the session. If you know someone who will be attending, you could even do it remotely before the conference, but I want your subject to be another Kidlitcon attendee.

Also, if you will have one with you, please bring a tablet or laptop to the session! If you don't have one, you can still attend, but you won't be able to do the hands-on part. A phone might work, but I suspect it will be too difficult to do it on a phone, and I'm not sure the blog editors will let you work in source code on a phone.

If you're still on the fence about attending Kidlitcon, get yourself over to the site and register! The deadline to register is this Friday! You won't be sorry, I promise you. If you need more convincing, check out these posts from MotherReader, Jen Robinson, Kelly Jensen, and Leila Roy. Also see the schedule and partial list of attendees.

See you in Austin!  

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15. 2013 Cybils Awards: Suggested Nominations

There are only about five more days to nominate for the Cybils Awards, and while there are some great books nominated, I'm surprised at some of the books released in the last year that haven't been nominated yet. If you haven't nominated yet, here are some suggestions for books that you might want to nominated in the Young Adult Speculative Fiction category. I don't have the patience to compile a comprehensive list like Charlotte's Library's amazing lists for Elementary/Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction, (here and here) so these are just some books that I'd like to see nominated. Some of them I've read, but most I haven't read yet, but would like to. Don't forget that the deadline to nominate is October 15 at 11:59pm (Pacific). More information on how to nominate is on the Cybils blog, and please do read the eligibility rules and category descriptions!

Suggested Nominations

MacHale, D J 
Rebel Heart ( Dust Lands Trilogy #2 ) 
Young, Moira

Raven Flight ( Shadowfell #2 )
Marillier, Juliet
Obsidian Mirror ( Obsidian Mirror - Trilogy )
Fisher, Catherine
Fire & Ash ( Rot & Ruin #4 )
Maberry, Jonathan
The Shade of the Moon ( Life as We Knew It )
Pfeffer, Susan Beth
Stohl, Margaret
Shadow on the Sun 
Gill, David Macinnis
The Madman's Daughter
Shepherd, Megan
The Final Descent ( Monstrumologist #4 )
Yancey, Rick
The Watcher in the Shadows 
Ruiz Zafon, Carlos

For more YA Speculative Fiction suggestions, see Finding Wonderland and Miss Print

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16. Book Review: Rose


by Holly Webb

Synopsis: Rose is a practical girl. When the other orphans daydream about finding their parents, Rose dreams of getting a position in domestic service, of being independent, working hard, and earning a living. So when the housekeeper for a leading magician comes to the orphanage looking for a young housemaid, Rose is thrilled to be selected.

Rose doesn't hold with magic, so when she begins to suspect that she may have some magic abilities, she is determined to get rid of them if possible. She just wants to be an ordinary person, and to fit in with the other servants, especially her new friend, the houseboy, Bill. But when someone starts stealing children off the streets, and Rose's best friend from the orphanage disappears, Rose teams up with the magician's apprentice, Freddie, his spoiled daughter, Isabella, and the magician's cat Gustavus to get to the bottom of it.

Review: Rose is a fun middle-grade fantasy with a delightful, no nonsense heroine. Practicality and imagination are usually portrayed as being mutually exclusive, so it's terrific to see a protagonist who has both in abundance. Young readers will identify with Rose's struggles to both find herself and fit in, two things which sometimes seem to be in conflict. I fell in love with Rose from the first page.

The story is set in an alternate Victorian England where magic is real, although rare and expensive. There's a variety of interesting characters, and most are pretty well developed. The one exception is the villain, who's a pretty clichéd evil villain, and is really more of a story device than an actual character. It doesn't really matter, though, since the battle with the villain doesn't come in until later in the book. Rose is the real centerpiece of this story, and most of the book revolves around her learning to adjust to life outside the orphanage, developing relationships with the other members of the household, and coming to terms with her magic.

This is an engaging book with a lot of kid appeal, and I would recommend it to young readers who enjoy a fun story with great characters and a little bit of magic, as well as those who enjoy historical and pseudo-historical settings.

Get it from:
FTC required disclosure: Review copy given by the publisher at BEA 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.

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17. Cybils Awards 2013: Speculative Fiction

Every year since 2006, I've participated in one way or another in the Cybils Awards, the annual award for children's and young adult books given by the children's book blogger community. For most years, I've been Category Chair for the Fantasy & Science Fiction category. This year, we changed the name of the category to Speculative Fiction, to better represent the diverse types of books we consider in this category.

Here's my category description from the Cybils Blog:

Speculative Fiction takes us to realms of the imagination: places and times and realities where the rules of life may be different than our own and where the impossible and improbable become real. But good science fiction and fantasy does more than that: it asks, "What if?" It makes us think. It holds up a mirror to our own society and lets us see ourselves in a different light. 
This year we are changing the name of this category, but not the focus. "Speculative Fiction" better reflects the diverse types of books that we have always considered in this category. Magic, aliens, ghosts, alternate universes, time travel, space travel, high fantasy, dystopian, post-apocalyptic futures, and sentient animals are just some of the many topics that belong here. If a book could happen today or could have happened in the past, nominate it in YA Fiction. But any story that's impossible, improbable, or merely possible - but not quite yet - belongs in Speculative Fiction. Magic Realism is tricky, but more often than not ends up here.  
The age range for this category is approximately 12-18, although there is some overlap with the Elementary/Middle-grade Speculative Fiction category that will be decided on a case by case basis. Speculative fiction novels with graphics in addition to text belong here, but if the book is primarily told through serial artwork, it belongs in the Graphic Novels category.  
This category accepts books published in either print or ebook formats.

You can see my fantastic list of judges for the category here. I want to thank everyone who took the time to apply. I wish I could have accepted everyone, but I only have twelve slots and I had a lot more applicants than that. Just because you didn't get in doesn't mean we didn't think you were qualified. If you applied and didn't get a slot this year, I hope that you'll try again next year. We have several panelists who applied several years before they got a slot.

In recent years, I've been Chair for both the middle-grade and young adult books in this category. But the category has grown so much that it's really too much work for one person. This year I'm thrilled to be passing the baton for Elementary & Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction to the fabulous Charlotte Taylor of Charlotte's Library, who really knows middle-grade much better than I do. You can read her category description for Elementary & Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction here, and the judges for Elementary & Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction here.

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18. Book Review: Conjured


by Sarah Beth Durst

Synopsis: Eve remembers nothing. No past, and not even any recent memories. Eve isn't even her real name – she has no idea who she really is. All she knows is that she's in the witness protection program, and that she can do magic. Any use of magic, though, causes incapacitating visions of a strange carnival, and a Magician and a Storyteller. Eve begins to suspect that the visions are actually memories, but who are the Magician and the Storyteller? And more important, who is Eve?

A magical serial killer is on the loose, and Eve may be the key to finding him, if only she can remember in time. As Eve tries to unravel the mystery of her life, it becomes increasingly difficult to know who she can trust. The Witsec agents? Patti, the library manager? Zach, the boy in the library that she wants to kiss? Or handsome, cocky Aidan, who has magic of his own? It seems that everyone has their own idea of what Eve should be doing. But in order to decide what to do, Eve must first figure out who she is.

Review: Conjured is an exquisitely crafted book that stands out for its tight writing, unique story, and intriguing character arc. Durst obviously spent time and care on the writing: every word is carefully chosen and rich with meaning, from smells, sounds and colors, to the use of point of view.

It must have been exceptionally difficult to write a character who is essentially a tabula rasa at the beginning, and do it in an engaging way, but Durst succeeded admirably. Eve is engaging, and the reader becomes her as her character journey unfolds. An important theme of this book is defining who you are for yourself, rather than allowing your past or other people to define who you are.

Conjured is mysterious, suspenseful, and oh so creepy. The descriptions are evocative and convey a strong sense of atmosphere, whether the deliciously comforting atmosphere in the library where Eve works, (obviously written by a book lover!) or the bizarre and creepy atmosphere in her visions.

Put this in the hands of anyone who enjoys the creepy, mysterious, and atmospheric books, or someone who is just looking for something a little bit different.

Get it from:
FTC required disclosure: Review copy sent by the publisher 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.

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19. Book Review: SYLO

by D.J. MacHale

Synopsis: When tailback Marty Wiggins suddenly drops dead in the middle of a high school football game, it's the beginning of a strange series of events that will disrupt quiet Pemberwick Island just at the end of the tourist season. The backup tailback, freshman Tucker Pierce, and his best friend Quinn are among the only witnesses to a strange shadow that explodes off the coast of the island. Then the island is invaded by a mysterious U.S. military unit known only as SYLO, who take control of the island and quarantine it from the mainland, to stop the spread of the mysterious virus.

But Tucker and Quinn, whose parents are doctors at the island's hospital, suspect that SYLO isn't telling the whole story. Before long the two friends, along with another island teen, Tori Sleeper, are caught up in events. As the situation on the island spirals from bad to worse, the three teens find themselves on the run, carriers of information that they can't share with anyone. But what can three teens hope to do against the might of an occupying military force?


  • Tucker Pierce. Tucker is not native to Pemberwick, having moved there several years earlier.  Tucker is an average guy: his grades are not exceptional, and neither is his football playing. He likes life on Pemberwick Island, and has no plans to leave it when he grows up, unlike his friend Quinn. Sometimes he acts too old to be a high school freshman, although that's not completely unbelievable for an only child who is close to his parents.
  • Quinn Carr. Quinn is smart and inquisitive. He and Tucker are opposites in many ways. Quinn can't wait to leave the island and do something important.
  • Tori Sleeper. Tori is badass. She's the daughter of a lobsterman, and helps her father on his boat. She's fearless and competent, whether she's piloting a boat or defending her home. She's also a bit standoffish, and doesn't suffer fools gladly, but as she and Tucker get to know each other, they become friends.


  • Pemberwick Island is a fictional place, but it's based on Martha's Vinyard. Island life and the island residents are portrayed vividly, giving the book a strong sense of place. 


  • SYLO is a good read: well-paced and exciting without being frenetic. It builds slowly; MacHale takes time to develop the characters and setting as the suspense and mystery grows, but by halfway through the book you'll be turning pages at a rapid rate.
  • Tucker is a likeable character, and it's refreshing that he's pretty average. When he has the chance to take over as the team's tailback after Marty dies, it could have been a wish fulfillment situation, where Tucker saves the day, but instead his playing is bad enough that he gets considerable ridicule from the town.
  • Tori is awesome, and easily the most interesting character in the book.
  • The book ends on a cliffhanger; not only are not all questions answered, but more are raised. Some people will enjoy the cliffhanger ending, but others may be annoyed by it.
Who would like this book:
  • With a first person male narrator and a story that drives along pretty well, this is a book that should have strong appeal to many boys. However, it also has a strong female secondary character and other elements that give it plenty of girl appeal as well. 
Get it from:
FTC required disclosure: Review copy given by the publisher at BookExpo America. 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.

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20. Book Review: The Color of Rain

The Color of Rain
by Cori McCarthy

Plot: Rain White lives in Earth City, where she ekes out a living trying to take care of her little brother, Walker. That is, until Walker becomes one of the Touched, people who have a degenerative brain disease. If the authorities find out about Walker, they'll take him away. No one knows what happens to the Touched after the authorities take them, and Walker is the only family that Rain has left.

Determined to protect her brother, Rain makes a deal with an offworlder, Johnny, who promises Rain and Walker passage through space to the Edge, where the bioengineered Mecs may be able to cure Walker. In exchange for passage, Rain agrees to be Johnny's girl. But Rain has no idea what she's getting into. Onboard ship, Rain learns that Johnny has many girls, and runs a prostitution ring. But Johnny has even darker secrets than that, and soon Rain must make a choice whether to get involved for the greater good, or to continue to do whatever it takes to ensure that she and Walker survive and make it to the Edge.

Notable Characters:
  • Rain White. Tough girls are becoming more common in YA fiction, but very few of them are as tough as Rain. Rain lives through forced prostitution and psychological and physical torture, yet she survives. More than that, Rain manages to keep her essential self intact, and even to help others when she can.
  • Johnny. The mysterious ship captain who makes a deal with Rain to take her and Walker off-planet. About the nicest thing you can say about Johnny is that he's seriously messed up. Although he has a certain dark charisma, he is not a nice person. He's not a cardboard villain, though; he's a complex character, and as the book progresses, you learn some things about him that almost, but not quite, elicit sympathy.
  • Ben Ryan. A Mec who is bound to Johnny and controlled by him. Ben and Rain become friends, as much as two people can be friends when friendship could mean death for either of them. 
Worldbuilding: Earth City is a gritty, futuristic city where everyone lives a soulless life going from one factory shift to the next, and those who don't even have that live on the ragged edge. Most of the book takes place on board Johnny's ship, which is well-developed and has its own, er, twisted culture. The rest of the universe is touched on though small scenes and interactions with other people. The worldbuilding is effective, although not extensive.

Things I liked: 
  • Strong, interesting, well-developed characters. Rain is a fantastic character who will capture your heart and have you rooting for her. Ben is also a great character, who seems off-putting and alien at first, but as Rain gets to know him and bonds with him, so does the reader. Even the minor characters are interesting and vividly drawn, although Rain's friend Lo is pretty much the clichéd "Hooker with a heart of gold."
  • Pacing & suspense. I read this book on vacation and stayed up late into the night reading, unable to stop, my stomach twisted into knots for worry over Rain for most of that time. 
  • There is romance, and I like the way it's portrayed (and thankfully, Johnny is not the romantic interest). It recognizes that a girl who has been subjected to the things Rain has been through is going to have emotional baggage to deal with, and that desire and attraction won't be unencumbered.
  • It's not really an issue, but as is probably clear from the above description, this is a book that would be most appropriate for mature teens. The subject matter is difficult and, at times, brutal, although the actual sexual encounters are not overly explicit and are described in mostly vague terms. The horror comes through without the scenes being titillating, as is appropriate to the subject matter.
  • I did wonder how Rain managed to be a virgin at the start of the book, while living on the edge in a place like Earth City.
  • Unfortunately, I didn't really see much diversity in this future.
Who would like this book:
  • Mature teens who like a character-driven novel and aren't put off by reading about forced prostitution.
Get it from:
FTC required disclosure: Review copy given by the publisher at BookExpo America to facilitate writing a 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.

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21. Cybils Awards 2013 Call for Judges

It's that time of year again: The 2013 Cybils Awards for children's and young adult literature are getting underway! The call for judges was posted yesterday, and you have until August 31 to apply. Anyone 16 or older who blogs regularly about children's or young adult literature is eligible to apply. Check out the call for judges here and the eligibility criteria here. Once you've read those, you can apply at this link. (Note: due to a temporary glitch, the eligibility criteria page has an incorrect link that will be corrected this weekend. To be sure you are using the 2013 form use this link to apply).

This year we are changing the name of the Fantasy & Science Fiction category to Speculative Fiction, to better reflect the types of books we consider in that category. The actual category criteria haven't changed; the category will still include fantasy, science fiction, paranormal, talking animals, magic realism, steampunk, dystopian, and anything that stretches the bounds of reality, and we hope that the new name will better reflect that. I will be the Category Chair for the Young Adult Speculative Fiction category, as I have been every year except one, but new this year Charlotte Taylor, who blogs at Charlotte's Library, will be the Category Chair for the Elementary/Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction category. Charlotte is fantastic (pun intended) and very knowledgeable about the category. I'm confident she's going to do a great job.

The nonfiction categories have also been refactored this year. In past years, we had two nonfiction categories: Nonfiction Picture Books and Nonfiction Middle Grade/Young Adult. This year, picture books will be combined with other elementary and middle-grade books into the new Elementary/Middle-Grade Nonfiction category, and teen books will be considered separately in the Young Adult Nonfiction category. This brings the categories more in line with the way we separate the other categories, but more importantly, the Nonfiction Category Chairs Gina Ruiz and Jennifer Wharton feel that splitting by age rather than by format will make it easier to judge the nominees in those categories fairly.

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22. Recommending YA at the North American Discworld Con

This past Sunday I spent the day at the 2013 North American Discworld Convention, where I had a great time hanging out with good friends and fellow bloggers Charlotte Taylor (Charlotte's Library) and Tanita Davis (Finding Wonderland). Charlotte had agreed to moderate a panel recommending YA fiction, and invited Tanita and I to be on the panel. The fourth member of our panel was Anne Hoppe, Terry Pratchett's Children's/YA editor in the US, who was a fascinating and delightful person.

Recommending YA books for fans of Terry Pratchett was a challenge, since, as Charlotte said introducing the panel, there is only one genius named Terry Pratchett and no one writes like he does. However, I think we did pretty well, coming through with about 25 suggestions of books that should appeal in one aspect or another to Pratchett fans. I discovered several new books/series that I'm eager to read from my fellow panelists' recommendations.

These were the criteria I used for my selections:

  • Mix of older and newer books
  • Variety of themes and styles. 
  • Books and authors who are smart and expect their audience to be smart.
  • Vividly-drawn characters.
  • Books with layers and/or nuance.
  • Books with reread value: those that are not one-time, throwaway reads but ones that you can get something different out of on each read.
  • Stories that don’t tell you what to think, but give you some space to think for yourself
See our complete list of recommendations, along with another 20 or so from the audience, in this post on Charlotte's blog and our recommendations for finding more here. Also see Tanita's wrap-ups here, here (including observations on Con diversity, or lack thereof), and here. Although, as a Baltimore native, I will strongly argue with Tanita's assertion that, "the Bay Area of San Francisco is more balanced in diversity" than Baltimore. I don't think she saw enough of Baltimore to know how diverse we really are.

The rest of the day, Charlotte, Tanita, Tanita's husband, and I enjoyed the usual con activities: attending  other panels (including "Editing Discworld" and "The Science of Discworld," both of which were fascinating), browsing the dealer room, looking at art, and costume-watching. We also enjoyed dinner together at the hotel and a delightful evening of conversation, which I think none of us wanted to end. I'm so excited that I finally got the chance to meet Tanita in person; I've considered her a friend for many years, but we've only known each other online.

I also had a very enjoyable lunch with author Catherine Asaro (well, she had lunch and I had Brie cheesecake). I've been developing her new website, although we spent the lunch talking about everything except the website — our grown children, homeschooling, singing (she sings, I don't), and life in general.

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23. Book Review: The 5th Wave

The 5th Wave
by Rick Yancey

The 1st Wave: Lights Out

The 2nd Wave: Surf's Up
The 3rd Wave: Pestilence
The 4th Wave: Silencer

Plot: Nearly 7 billion people are dead, almost the entire population of the world, killed in four successive waves of destruction sent by the aliens. Cassie Sullivan has lost everyone she loved, all dead -- except possibly one, and to that one she made a promise that she intends to keep no matter what the cost. 

Seventeen-year-old Zombie has lost everything and everyone, too. He failed to protect his sister when she needed him, and now he has no desire to go on. Then Zombie is given a new purpose and a chance to redeem himself when he's recruited into a newly formed military unit comprised entirely of children and teens being trained to fight back against the alien invasion.

These teens, and the other few remaining survivors must make a choice. To hide. To run. Or to stand and face whatever comes. To choose to be human, even when it's the hardest choice of all.


  • The 5th Wave is a remarkable story and a remarkably well-written book. With excellent character development, rich sensory language, layers of reveals, a surprisingly sweet (and hot) romance, and some dystopian elements, it's a science fiction book that even people who don't read science fiction can enjoy. It's an unusual creature: a thrilling page turner with philosophical underpinnings. It's a book that you can read more than once and get something different out of it each time (I read it a second time immediately after finishing it, and would still like to read it a third time when I get a chance).
  • The writing is complex, with multiple point of view characters and extensive flashbacks that circle around on themselves. Different characters' experiences conflict with each other, leaving the reader (like the characters) wondering exactly what the truth is. While that's a plus for many people (it is for me), there are some readers who will find it challenging and difficult to understand.
Who would like this book:
  • Science fiction readers, dystopia fans, and anyone who likes a good YA book which is both deep and thrilling, with realistic teen characters. I think it will appeal to many teens, with the exception of readers who are easily confused by complex plots.
Get it from:
FTC required disclosure: Review copy sent by the publisher. 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.

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24. Things I learned today at BEA

  1. Acquiring copies of the buzz books after a buzz panel requires combat skills usually only needed in post-apocalyptic survival settings.
  2. The Jikji Buddhist teachings were printed in Korea using metal movable type in 1377, which was 78 years before Gutenberg's Bible. (from the Korean Printers Association)
  3. Drinking chocolate is to die for. (No, it's not at all like hot chocolate. More like drinking a chocolate bar.) Check out booth S560 for a sample if you don't believe me.
  4. How to say "Hello" in Chinese. (ChineseCubes language learning system, booth DZ1966.
  5. The hot "new" subgenre in YA this year seems to be: Science Fiction! (Happy dance!)
  6. You can still get your bag back if you lose your bag check claim ticket, but the bag check staff won't be happy with you.
  7. I look better as a pirate than as Rapunzel: 

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25. Book Review: Grave Mercy

Grave Mercy

by Robin LaFevers

Plot: Ismae Rienne still bears the scars of the poison her mother took in an attempt to abort her. Her survival from that, and the scars from the incident, prove that she was sired by the god of Death. At seventeen, when her abusive father sells her to an equally abusive husband, she is spirited away by secret followers of the old gods to the convent of St. Mortain, the god of Death. The convent takes her in, gives her a home, and trains her in all the skills necessary to serve St. Mortain, from poison and weapons training, to history and "feminine artistry."

The convent is loyal to Brittany, and to its young Duchess Anne, who is fighting to retain Brittany's independence from France. When word reaches the convent that there may be a traitor in Anne's court, Ismae is sent on a mission to Anne's court, disguised as the mistress to the nobleman Gavriel Duval. Her instructions are to search for information on the traitor, assassinate anyone marqued for death by St. Mortain (or that she is ordered to assassinate by the convent), and to watch Duval, who may be the traitor. But when her instructions come into conflict with her heart. Ismae must make some difficult decisions.

Notable Characters:
  • Ismae Rienne. Ismae is the kind of character I love. Equally adept with poisons and the crossbow, this girl can kick some serious butt. She's not so adept at playing Duval's mistress, however, having skipped many of the lessons in the feminine arts for more time in the poison room. Ismae is a well-rounded and fully developed character who has to make some difficult decisions as the book progresses. The convent took her in and essentially saved her life, and she is sworn to serve them, but her instincts increasingly come into conflict with her instructions from the convent, and she has to choose between honoring her commitment to the convent, and doing what she thinks is right. 
  • Sybella. Sybella is a novitiate who starts at the convent at the same time as Ismae. Sybella seems quite mad when she is brought to the convent, but Ismae befriends her and she eventually becomes one of the convent's strongest novitiates. We don't learn much about Sybella; there's hints of a tragic past, and she plays a key role in a few places later in the book, but she's an intriguing character. I was happy to learn that the second book in this series, Dark Triumph, tells Sybella's story, and I'm looking forward to reading it.
  • Annith. Annith is another novitiate who was already at the convent when Ismae joins. Annith and  Ismae become good friends, but there are hints that there are some weaknesses in Annith's character. Perhaps we'll learn more about Annith in the third book.
  • Gavriel Duval. Gavriel is a nobleman, although a bastard, and appears to be fiercely loyal to Duchess Anne. Initially he dislikes Ismae as much as she dislikes him, but it probably will not surprise anyone that eventually the sparks fly between these two.
  • Anne, Duchess of Brittany. Although very young at the time of this story, (13, I think?) Anne is already a determined young ruler playing the political game and dealing with issues that would intimidate even older and more experienced leaders, including the fact that her father promised her in marriage to half a dozen different European nobles and that, as a woman, she had no right to rule. Anne is a historical figure, and her life makes interesting reading (see the link above to the historical note on the author's website for starters).
Worldbuilding: Because Grave Mercy is set in a historical time and place, in many ways the worldbuilding is more about creating a sense of place and bringing to life 15th Century Brittany. This LaFevers does excellently.

Things I liked: 
  • See my discussion of Ismae's character above.
  • Lots of court intrigue! In fact, as complex as the intrigue is and as numerous the betrayals, LaFevers says in her historical note, "Suffice it to say there were about twice as many schemes going on in real life as I used in the book, including additional suitors, competing claims for the throne, and additional double crossing."
  • The romance is credible and manages to be both sweet and hot.
  • For a book about assassins serving the god of Death, surprisingly Grace Mercy doesn't glorify death. Ismae discovers that sometimes death can be a mercy, and that redemption is possible.
  • I can't think of any issues I had with this book, except perhaps that a few threads were left hanging, presumably for the sequels.
Who would like this book:
  • In many ways, Grave Mercy is historical fiction, and would appeal to readers who enjoy historical fiction. However, the court intrigue gives it a fantasy feel, and with the addition of fantasy elements (primarily relating to the god of Death), it would also appeal to readers of traditional fantasy, especially those who like both strong female protagonists and a little romance.
Get it from:
FTC required disclosure: Review copy sent by the publisher for Cybils Awards judging. 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.

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