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1. Book Review: Smek for President

Smek for President

by Adam Rex

Science fiction for kids is rare enough; truly funny middle-grade science fiction is even rarer. In fact, off the top of my head I can only think of one book in the hilarious middle-grade science fiction genre: The True Meaning of Smekday. Now that number has doubled, with the publication of a worthy sequel, Smek for President.

If you haven't read The True Meaning of Smekday, why not? Go forth and read it now! It's a great road-trip buddy comedy about a girl and an alien on the run from the evil alien overlords.

Beyond this point there will be spoilers for the first book.

In Smek for President, human leader Dan Landry has taken credit for defeating the Gorg. No one, human or Boov, knows that it was really Tip and J.Lo who discovered the Gorg's weakness and defeated them with hundreds of cloned cats. Tip is living an anonymous life trying to adjust to being a regular girl again. J.Lo is infamous on two worlds: he can't seem to stay out of trouble in their community on Earth, and to the Boov he's still the Squealer, who accidentally signaled the Gorg in the first place. Tip and J.Lo decide to take a trip to New Boovworld (formerly known as the moon Titan) to explain to Captain Smek what really happened and clear J.Lo's name.

Hilarious hijinks ensue, including a low-gravity chase that is every bit as awesome as you'd hope for a low-gravity chase to be, an escape into a garbage-pit, (with obligatory Star Wars reference) and a lonely bubble-billboard. There's more awesomeness that I can't say anything about without spoiling the book. There are several comic sections that extend the story throughout the book.

There's not much else I can say, except that this is a perfect middle-grade book, and fans of The True Meaning of Smekday will love it. Anyone who hasn't read The True Meaning of Smekday would be well served to read it first.

Diversity?

The protagonist Tip is mixed-race and dark skinned. She's also an awesome character that boys and girls of all races can identify with. (How many times am I allowed to say awesome in one review?)

Buy from Powells.com:
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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2. 2014 Andre Norton Award Nominees


The 2014 Nebula Award nominees have been announced, and with it the nominees for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy. The Nebula and Andre Norton awards are given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

Two of the Andre Norton nominees were also Cybils Awards finalists: Salvage, by Alexandra Duncan, and Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, by A.S. King. As a Cybils judge, I read both books and they're both excellent, although very different, books. I've also read Love Is the Drug, by Alaya Dawn Johnson, and loved that one as well.

Here's the full list of Andre Norton Award nominees:

  • Unmade, Sarah Rees Brennan (Random House) 
  • Salvage, Alexandra Duncan (Greenwillow) 
  • Love Is the Drug, Alaya Dawn Johnson (Levine) 
  • Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, A.S. King (Little, Brown) 
  • Dirty Wings, Sarah McCarry (St. Martin’s Griffin) 
  • Greenglass House, Kate Milford (Clarion) 
  • The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, Leslye Walton (Candlewick)
The complete list of Nebula Award Nominees on the SFWA website.

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3. Book Review: The Last Wild/The Dark Wild

I read both of these books together, so I'm going to do what I rarely do and review them together. If you haven't read the first book, you might want to stop after my review of The Last Wild, because my review of The Dark Wild will, of necessity, have spoilers for the first book.



The Last Wild
by Piers Torday

In a dystopian future, all animals have died out from an illness called "red-eye" that mutated to spread throughout the animal populations. The only animals still living are a few hardy species like cockroaches. Even the bees are dead, which means that there are no more food crops. The only food left is a synthetic food called Formul-A, and the only supplier of Formul-A is the Facto corporation, essentially giving them control of the remaining human population.

Twelve year old Kester Jaynes has been incarcerated in Spectrum Hall Academy for Challenging Children for six years. The Academy is just as horrible as its name makes it sound: the children live regimented, restricted lives, and breaking the rules is punished by solitary confinement. Kester can't even complain: he hasn't been able to speak since his mother died. The words just won't come out.

Kester keeps company with a cockroach at lunch, but one day he's surprised to hear the cockroach speaking to him in his head. Shortly after that, one hundred pigeons break through his window and help him escape from Spectrum Hall. Kester discovers that Facto lied: the animals are not all dead. There is a group of them — a Wild — still living on the edge of civilization, and Kester has a unique ability to talk to them through a kind of mental connection. Between the red-eye virus and the cullers sent out by Facto to kill any remaining animals, the Wild is in grave danger. Kester sets off with the pigeons, the cockroach, a stag, and a wolf cub to find his father, who used to be a vet, and try to find a cure for the red-eye.

If all this sounds a bit unbelievable, it is, but that's ok. This isn't the kind of book that has to be realistic. The characters and the situations are somewhat exaggerated, like you might find in a Roald Dahl or a Lemony Snicket book, with the same kind of dark humor found in those books.

The main characters are Kester and a girl named Polly, whom he meets along the way, and various animals. Kester and Polly are good characters, but the animals are really the best thing about this book. Torday has done an outstanding job of giving the animals unique voices that really fit their personalities. Kester develops through the story, as he learns to be self-reliant and to take responsibility.

The pacing is good, and the plot keeps you turning pages, as Kester, Polly and the animals go from one situation to another as they try to make their way to the city to find Kester's dad. The Last Wild is a unique and interesting book, and a good read. I've read a lot of books, and I can honestly say that I haven't read anything quite like it.

Diversity?

There isn't really any diversity that I saw in the book. In fact, in a few cases I was bothered that some of the villains had impediments or physical characteristics exaggerated in a negative way for comic effect. For example, the evil headmaster stutters.

Who would like this book?

Middle-grade readers, particularly those who like animal fiction. Be aware that The Last Wild is a dark book, and there are deaths; some animals are killed by evil people in front of Kester and Polly. Sensitive children who are bothered by such things may want to give it a pass.

I suspect that this book would have strong appeal for fans of the Warriors series. It's a very different kind of book, but I think that Warriors fans would appreciate not only the animal characters, but also the dark conflicts in a dangerous world, the Wild community, the theme of personal sacrifice, and the well-paced plot.






The Dark Wild
by Piers Torday

Kester and Polly have saved the Wild, and helped Kester's dad find a cure for the red-eye virus. But the Facto corporation isn't going to give up their control of the world and everything they've worked for so easily. Selwyn Stone, the head of Facto, wants something more than to kill all the animals. He wants what Polly has, the secret she swore to her parents that she'd never reveal.

Other factions are also after the secret, and Polly escapes into the city to protect the secret. Kester sets off after her, to help and protect her, but before he can find her he discovers another Wild — an army of bitter, angry animals living under the city, who are determined to destroy the human race. Kester is caught in the middle, and must try to find a way to stop the Dark Wild, while also saving Polly and the animals of his Wild from Facto.

The Dark Wild is a gripping read, and just as thrilling as The Last Wild. In the first book, Kester had to learn to be a leader, but in this one he learns something much more difficult: the value of loyalty, personal heroism, and sacrifice. Other characters develop as well, particularly the wolf cub, who is beginning to grow up and become an adult wolf.

It's also just as dark as the first book, if not more so. In one painful scene, Kester, as a prisoner, has to watch Selwyn Stone taxidermy a squirrel who had been one of Kester's friends. The squirrel was already dead, killed earlier in the book, but it's quite a horrifying scene.

Some things are not resolved by the end of the book, so there may be another book on the way.


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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4. Don't overlook these books!

I love the seven books my panel selected as the finalists for YA Speculative Fiction. I'm really proud of our shortlist as a representation of the best YA Spec Fic books of 2014. However, there are always the ones that got away, the ones that didn't quite make it. When seven people are deliberating, compromises have to be made, and sometimes, no matter how passionate you are about a book, you can't convince your fellow judges. Here are some of the 2014 Cybils nominees that I loved, but which didn't make the cut as finalists:


Divided We Fall Trilogy: Book 1: Divided We Fall
Trent Reedy

This is a frighteningly believable book about a near-future conflict between a state and the Federal Government, with the National Guard caught in the middle.  Exciting plot, credible and distinctive teen male voice, and well-developed protagonist.



Gwenda Bond

For anyone who has ever wanted to be Circus. Part mystery, part circus story, and a bit of magic, this story of a young wire walker trying to overcome her family's past and prove herself is dripping with atmosphere and loaded with teen appeal.



Love Is the Drug
Alaya Dawn Johnson

Federal agents investigating Washington DC prep school student Emily Bird may be more of a danger to her than the rapidly spreading global pandemic. An exciting thriller that shows the stark contrast between the power elite in Northwest DC and the working class in the Northeast, and the racism that exists in both.



Shadowfell #03: The Caller
Juliet Marillier

The conclusion of a terrific high fantasy series that started with Shadowfell. I've loved all the books in this series, but sadly I've been unsuccessful at convincing my fellow judges to shortlist any of them. With well developed characters, a page-turning plot, and themes of sacrifice and choice, this may be the best book of the trilogy.


The Girl from the Well
Rin Chupeco

A creepy paranormal horror story told from the point of view of a centuries-old ghost. With distinctive voice, an almost poetic writing style, and a strong dose of Japanese culture, The Girl from the Well has a lot of teen appeal. This one came very close to making the shortlist, but we had some concerns about the mentally ill being used in a stereotyped way for horror effect.



A Creature of Moonlight
Rebecca Hahn

As the daughter of a dragon and a princess, Marni is torn between two worlds, the wild and beautiful but dangerous forest, and the equally dangerous life at court. A beautifully lyrical, character-driven fantasy with a theme of choice and being true to yourself.

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5. Cybils Awards 2014 Finalists!

The 2014 Cybils Awards finalists have been announced! The Cybils Awards, now in our 9th year, recognize the best children's and YA books of the year as defined by our primary criteria: kid appeal and literary merit. We are an adjudicated award, and our judges are all bloggers specializing in children's and YA literature. Our lists are a great resource for anyone looking for the best children's and YA books. Here is the full finalist announcement.

I serve as a judge in the YA Speculative Fiction category, where I'm also Category Chair. I'm excited to share our seven excellent finalists!

by Leah Cypess
Greenwillow Books
Nominated by: Charlotte
From the moment Ileni stepped into a cave of assassins to teach magic and discover who killed her two predecessors, I was hooked. In DEATH SWORN, Ileni goes deep into a culture that values absolute obedience and killing for the greater good. Ileni herself is the novel's greatest assassin, a heroine who overcomes her fears and doubts, managing to hide that she's weak and easy prey. The intense tension between Ileni and her assassin protector Soren adds a touch of romance to the action, with a refreshing lack of anything resembling a love triangle. The theme of questioning authority and dogma will resonate with teens, as will Ileni's growing engagement with the world around her as she discovers that you can forge a new path for yourself after your dreams falter.
Allie Jones, In Bed With Books

by A.S. King
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Angie Manfredi
You don't need a dose of hallucinogenic bat to enjoy this trippy tale. A.S. King's capable writing weaves together three worlds: the past, where a young mother's suicide left her husband and daughter reeling, the present, in which the last days of high school close the door on that daughter's childhood, and the future, which is a nightmare existence in a patriarchal dystopia. Today, eighteen-year-old Glory O'Brien's smallest choices and revelations will affect all three worlds. They will clarify her past, determine her present and maybe - just maybe - change the future for everyone.

by John Corey Whaley
Atheneum
Nominated by: Mary McKenna Siddals
Travis Coates is a boy out of time. His body was dying of cancer, which led him to cryogenically preserve himself hoping for a cure. But 5 years later, a radical new procedure allows the doctors to place his perfectly good head onto another boy's body. Now he is literally out of time: he is woken up feeling like only a day has passed when in reality, the world has moved 5 years into the future without him. His friends have graduated, his girlfriend is engaged to another man, his best friend is content to stay in the closet and yet Travis is still stuck in high school. As Travis tries to keep his head on straight, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll cringe. Pun totally intended. Noggin by John Corey Whaley takes the typical questions of the teenage years – who am I? where do I fit in? – and kicks them up a notch with a brilliant speculative concept that combines biting humor with the perfect amount of angst and sorrow.

by Alexandra Duncan
Greenwillow Books
Nominated by: Kristen
Salvage is the epic journey of a girl severed from her community and exiled from the only life she’s ever known. The struggle to survive becomes a journey for self-actualization, as Ava loses everything and must find within herself the strength to start over and find her own way, not once, but over and over again. Rich details immerse the reader in each setting and culture, from a patriarchal, fundamentalist society in space, to a floating city in the Great Pacific Garbage Gyre, to a futuristic Mumbai. A dark skinned heroine leads a cast of characters diverse in race, culture, and class.
Sheila Ruth, Wands and Worlds

by Matt De La Peña
Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Jen Robinson
What starts as a way for Shy to earn money to help his family back in a small town close to the San Diego/Mexico border turns out to be a horrific ride when the dreaded 'Big One' hits the West Coast. Added to the mix is a deadly disease that has killed not only Shy's grandmother, but others. The Living has a gripping plot featuring a Mexican-American protagonist and a cast of diverse characters. It starkly portrays racism and classism among the rich cruise patrons, and the greed that drives some in power to commit questionable acts. Sure to appeal to reluctant readers with its multi-layered characters and action-packed scenes, this novel nails the horror of being caught in a disaster and portrays the courage and strength that can come when people are faced with terrible odds.
Kim Baccellia, Si, se puede

by Marie Rutkoski
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
The Winner’s Curse is a world-building lover’s dream, with a rich setting and two distinct cultures free of stereotypes. Despite the unequal power dynamic between the two leads - Kestrel as a daughter of the conqueror and Arin as one of the conquered and enslaved - they find themselves drawn to each other, playing a game of emotional chess to get what they need even as the attraction builds. Rutkoski deals sensitively with class issues and the realities of slavery, allowing the romance to develop but ensuring her characters remain true to themselves and their own motivations. The action-packed second half, the moral ambiguity of the characters’ actions, and the intense romance make The Winner’s Curse highly appealing and a story readers will continue to think about long after the last page is turned.
Kimberly Francisco, STACKED

by Karen Healey
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Bibliovore
While We Run opens with Abdi Taalib singing a rendition of Here Comes the Sun - a hopeful, romantic song that directly contradicts his nightmare existence as a government prisoner and puppet. Soon he and Tegan (star of 2013's When We Wake) are on the run, not sure who to trust or what the right next step is. Abdi’s privileged, Somali upbringing may come in handy as they maneuver between the rebels and the installed regime. His ability to manipulate people could be just what they need. But no matter what they decide, lives will be lost.

Healey completely integrates a diverse set of characters into a world so real it seems like the reader is also barreling towards that future. The intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, and religion are natural and the characters well-rounded and complete. Diversity isn't a plot device, it's part of each character's individual story. While We Run shows throws us into a world that has computers that look and act like paper, night vision contact lenses, legalized drugs, and the worldwide ability to use human waste as manure. But is it a better future?"
Kathy M Burnette, The Brain Lair

Here are the finalists for Elementary & Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction, from the committee chaired by the awesome Charlotte of Charlotte's Library:

by N. D. Wilson
Random House Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Sarah Potvin
In the swampy mucks of Florida where sugar cane grows and football is king, Charlie’s family has moved to begin a new chapter in their lives. Pairing up with his cousin, “Cotton”, Charlie begins to learn about his new town, but soon Charlie and Cotton find that their carefree days playing football and running through the burning cane fields are coming to an end. There is something not quite alive--but not quite dead either--wreaking havoc in the flats. Old rivalries are tearing the town apart. The little jealousies, bitter musings, and grudges people have cradled in their hearts are taking over their whole souls. The monsters, bent on destruction, are using this for their own ends. Charlie soon finds himself in the role of reluctant hero tasked with bringing an end to the source of the monsters’ power. In Boys of Blur, N.D. Wilson tells a sweeping tale of family, friendship, community, and heroism with a diverse cast of characters and plenty of action.

by Kate Milford
Clarion Books
Nominated by: Tara
Milo Pine has grown up in Greenglass House, the beautiful old smugglers's inn his parents run. Everything in his life follows the same pattern from year to year, and that's just the way he likes it. But one snowy day at the beginning of winter vacation, a visitor unexpectedly arrives, and then another one, and another, setting into motion a chain of events that will change Milo's world forever.

Part puzzle, part mystery, Greenglass House is an enchanting and thoughtful story. Milo's conflicted feelings about his identity and the idea of growing up will resonate with reader. His growing friendship with Meddy and their adventures playing his father's forgotten RPG provide an emotional backbone to this strongly written story about finding out that you are more than you ever thought you could be.
Maureen Eichner, By Singing Light

by Lynne Rae Perkins
Greenwillow Books
Nominated by: Lwad
When Jed the squirrel is captured by a hawk, he manages to escape, but he is lost and far from home. Fortunately for him, Jed has good friends, TsTs and Chai, who are willing to put themselves at risk to come to his rescue. Then, the three friends discover a greater threat to their squirrel community than hawks and other predators. Can they return home in time to sound the warning, and can they persuade the busy, nut-gathering squirrel clan that their lives are in danger?

Nuts to You is a squirrel-y story. The squirrels talk to each other–--in squirrel. One of them has learned some English, and he tells the story to the author who writes it down for us. The moral is, “Save the trees,” for the sake of the squirrels and for humans, too. All of that–--the talking squirrels, the environmental message, the author inside the story—works together for a tale of friendship and adventure that is a cut above your usual talking animal story. At times poignant and at other times hilarious, Nuts to You will keep kids reading and laughing and perhaps looking for their own squirrel friend with whom to share a conversation and a peanut butter sandwich
Sherry Early, Semicolon

by Merrie Haskell
Katherine Tegen Books
Sand has lived all his thirteen years in view of the cursed castle surrounded by a thick hedge of poisoned thorns. But that doesn't prepare him for the morning when he wakes up inside the castle, among the ashes on the hearth. Everything in the castle is broken, including loaves of bread, items of clothing, and the giant anvil in the smithy. Everything is broken except the body of the princess whom Sand finds in the castle crypt. How to break this curse isn't obvious, and Sand is not a prince. In fact, he's never wanted to be anything but a blacksmith, and as he starts repairing the items in the castle, he discovers a gift for mending -- and healing. But waking the cursed princess is only the beginning. Trapped together inside the castle by the poisonous hedge of thorns, blacksmith's boy and princess must learn to work together to uncover the secrets of the past and break the curse.

The Castle Behind Thorns is a tale of enchantment, friendship, and forgiveness, a story of overcoming obstacles, mending what's broken, and finding one's place in the world. It will appeal to those who love fairy tales but appreciate stories where it can take much more than a simple kiss to break a spell.
Sondy Eklund, Sonderbooks

by Jason Fry
HarperCollins
Nominated by: Stephanie Whelan
Pirates! In Space! Twelve-year-old Tycho Hashoon and his twin sister Yana are actually privateers on their family’s ship, the Shadow Comet, licensed by the Jovian Union of the inhabited moons of Jupiter. Their older brother is, like Tycho and Yana, training to be captain of the ship someday. When Tycho earns a chance to lead a boarding party, disaster strikes. The Hashoons have to give up their hard-won prize and risk losing their letter of marque. Tycho and Yana’s efforts to uncover the truth take them from the Ceres Admiralty Court to seedy port hangouts and uninhabited regions of space.

The Hashoon family itself is as appealing as the space-faring premise. They are both loving and competitive, with an extended family all living, joking and squabbling together on board ship. Part space opera, part legal thriller, with a whole lot of very relatable family relationships, Jupiter Pirates: Hunt for the Hydra is an exciting yarn that will hook kids with the adventure while leaving them with deeper thoughts on topics from siblings to slavery.
Katy Kramp, alibrarymama

by Paul Durham
HarperCollins
Nominated by: Ruth Compton
Welcome to the village Drowning. For centuries, the residents of Drowning have been warned not to venture into the dark, murky bogs that surround the village. After all, the bogs are home to the evil and terrifying Bog Nobblins – or so the legend goes. Rye O'Chanter has always believed Bog Nobblins were a thing of legend. No one has seen one and there has been no indication they even exist. That all changes when she has a horrific encounter with a single Bog Nobblin that forces Rye to realize the thing people fear most is real.

Now, Rye is tasked with convincing others the Bog Nobblin is a threat and the village needs help from a mysterious group of criminals known as the Luck Uglies. Luck Uglies, the first book in a trilogy, is a fantasy novel that has it all – magic, friendship, adventure, mysterious creatures, and secrets that need to be uncovered.
Cindy Hannikman, Fantasy Book Critic

by Charis Cotter
Tundra
Nominated by: Reno
Rose sees ghosts and thinks she herself might be one, for no one seems to see or care about her. Polly desperately wants to see ghosts, or at least find respite from her busy, family-filled house. What neither expected was for the angry ghost of a third girl to interfere in the friendship they have made with each other through their shared attic wall.

Part mystery, part ghost story, this gripping and sometimes deeply poignant book will delight readers who love character-driven stories of friendship and family. Full of twists, both ghostly and otherwise, this is an utterly absorbing and beautifully written story.
Charlotte Taylor, Charlotte's Library

I'd like to give a shoutout to my fellow judges, an amazing group of smart, hard working, passionate and dedicated book bloggers. It was a pure pleasure discussing books with you! Anyone looking for children's or YA book recommendations would do well to follow these blogs:
Now a second panel of judges in each category will choose one winner per category. Winners will be announced on February 14, so stay tuned!


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6. Book Review: The Name of the Blade by Zoe Marriott



The Name of the Blade
by Zoë Marriott

Mio Yamato has a secret sword hidden in the attic. Her grandfather, Ojiichan, showed it to her when she was nine years old, He told her that the sword would be hers when she turns 16, but he made her promise not to touch it before then. Ojiichan planned to teach her about the katana, but he never got a chance, because the next day he died from a massive stroke.

All these years, Mio has avoided the sword as she promised her ojiichan, and kept it hidden away, even from the rest of her family. But when she needs a katana to complete her costume for a costume party a few days before her sixteenth birthday, she figures that she's close enough to 16 to take it. As soon as she touches the sword, though, strange things start happening. She feels an immediate connection to the sword; it's almost as if the sword is alive and speaking to her. Then a giant, catlike, many-tailed monster called the Nekomata appears. The Nekomata claims the katana, and threatens to kill everyone that Mio cares about to get it.

With a distinctive teen voice and an action-packed plot full of Japanese monsters, sword battles, Kitsune, and a super-hot 500 year old Japanese dude, The Name of the Blade is loaded with teen appeal. It should especially appeal to anyone who likes anime, Japanese folklore or culture, but there's so much Japanese influence in pop culture today that its appeal should be much broader than that.

The characters are interesting, well-rounded, and authentic teens. Mio is ethnically Japanese, but culturally she's a Londoner. Her ojiichan taught her Kendo and some Japanese folklore when he was still alive, but her father eschews his Japanese heritage, and Mio knows very little about Japan except for Kendo and anime. Mio's impulsiveness in taking the sword and her other early behavior show an immaturity that she starts to grow out of throughout the book, as she begins to take responsibility for the consequences.

Her best friend Jack (Jacqueline) is a bit of a rebel, with pink and purple streaked hair and black fingernails. Both girls get along with their families, although Mio's relationship with her father is somewhat strained. Shinobu, the 500-year-old Japanese boy, is mostly a one-note character, but his hotness more than makes up for that. He looks out for Mio, and yet I found it refreshing that he doesn't try to take the sword from her, even though they both have a claim to it, and he lets her take the lead in battle. (Although he does teach her a few things about combat).

There is also a young Kitsune (fox spirit) named Hikaru. The Kitsune are one of my favorite parts of this book. Apparently, there's a London court of Kitsune; how cool is that? Mio, Jack, and Shinobu get caught up in Kitsune politics when they visit the court to ask for assistance.

The plot is exciting but well-paced. The story alternates the big battle scenes with quieter moments and other challenges. It's quite an enjoyable read.

There are a few things that weren't explained, but since this is the first book in a trilogy, I hope that everything will be explained fully before the end.

Diversity?

The Name of the Blade does well on diversity. Besides Mio's Japanese heritage, Jack and her sister Rachel had a grandmother who came from Barbados, and they have brown skin. Jack is also a lesbian, which comes up a few times, but doesn't really play a role in the story, except when Jack has to tell a Kitsune who is sweet on her that he isn't her type. The girls are multifaceted personalities that are not defined by their ethnicity or sexuality.

Who would like this book:

Anyone with an interest in Japanese folklore, culture, martial arts, or anime. Anyone who likes stories where the contemporary world intersects with the fantastic.

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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7. Cybils Nomination Suggestions!

Wednesday is the last day for Cybils Awards nominations, and there are still eligible books that haven't been nominated that maybe should be considered. If you're looking for something to nominate, here are some suggestions that might jog your memory. See this post for information on eligibility and how to nominate.

Young Adult Speculative Fiction


Chasing Power
by Sarah Beth Durst
ISBN 978-0802737557

Published today (October 14), but still within the eligibility window.

Amazon link









The Truth Against the World
by Sarah Jamila Stevenson
ISBN 978-0738740584

Amazon link









Glory O'Brien's History of the Future
by A. S. King
ISBN 978-1478957775

Amazon link

Another book with an October 14 publication date.
William Shakespeare's The Empire Striketh Back
by Ian Doescher
ISBN 978-1594747151
Amazon link

and

William Shakespeare's The Jedi Doth Return
by Ian Doescher
ISBN 978-1594747137
Amazon link

Sequels to last year's finalist, William Shakespeare's Star Wars



Mortal Gods
by Kendare Blake
ISBN 978-0765334442

Amazon link

Sequel to Antigoddess. Also published October 14, just within the eligibility window.







Circle of Stones
by Catherine Fisher
ISBN 978-0803738195

Amazon link










While We Run
by Karen Healey
ISBN 978-0316233828

Amazon link










The Slanted Worlds
by Catherine Fisher
ISBN 978-0803739703

Amazon link










Young Adult Fiction

Reality Boy
by A.S. King
ISBN 978-0316222709

Amazon link

This one came out just after last year's eligibility period. It was too late to be eligible last year, but it is eligible this year.







The Doubt Factory
by Paolo Bacigalupi
ISBN 978-0316220750

Amazon link

Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction

Storm: The SYLO Chronicles #2
by D.J. MacHale
ISBN 978-1595146670

Amazon link



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8. Calling all bloggers!

If you blog about children's and/or YA books, whether on your own blog or a group blog, the Cybils Awards need you! We're currently accepting applications for judges for the 2014 Cybils Awards season, which will run from October 1, 2014 through February 14, 2015. It's a lot of work and takes up a lot of time, but it's oh, so worth it for a chance to read and discuss books with other like-minded bloggers. I've learned so much from my fellow judges in the years that I've been a judge, and some of them have become dear friends.

I am again the Category Chair for YA Speculative Fiction, as I have been for most of the last eight years. If you love Speculative Fiction and you read a lot of YA, I encourage you to apply. We can't guarantee you a slot, but we try to have a good mix of new and returning judges on the panels, so whether or not you've ever judged before, please consider applying! We need you!

What is Speculative Fiction? It's a catch-all term for anything that's not realistic fiction. Fantasy, science fiction, paranormal, horror, steampunk, dystopian, and post-apocalyptic all fit in the Speculative Fiction category. Things like contemporary fiction, historical fiction, and mysteries will go in the regular YA or middle-grade categories. If, like me, you like a little of the impossible, improbable, or unknown in your books, please consider applying for YA Speculative Fiction.

Here's the Call for Judges, with more information and links to apply. The deadline to apply is September 5.

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9. Book Review: Chorus by Emma Trevayne


Chorus
(Sequel to Coda)
by Emma Trevayne
Note: Chorus is the sequel to Coda, and this review will contain spoilers for Coda. If you haven't read Coda and want to avoid spoilers, you might not want to read this review. If you're looking for an awesome YA dystopian novel with a unique premise (controlling the population with addictive music) and a diverse cast, go forth and read Coda! You won't be sorry.
Eight years have passed since Anthem led the movement to defeat the Corp and stop their use of mind-controlling music tracks on the population of the Web. During the battle, the Corp used Anthem's own younger sister and brother, Alpha and Omega, as pawns to try to stop him, and exposed them to the addictive music while they were too young for their minds to be able to handle it.

As a result, Alpha, known to her friends as Al, still has flashbacks of that day, flashbacks which incapacitate her in a seizure-like state. Determined to find a cure, Al is in Los Angeles studying neuroscience. She loves her life in L.A., and other than the flashbacks, life is good, until a message comes in from the Web that Anthem is dying. Those who lived under the Corp's mind control tend to have short lives anyway, and Anthem's years as an energy source for the Corp have shortened his life even more. Al has to leave L.A. behind to rush home to be with him. And something else is not right; Al is getting anonymous messages, and someone is stalking her. Someone who knows too much about her.

Coda was an excellent, unique, and suspenseful dystopian story. Chorus is no less gripping, but for different reasons. Chorus is much more a personal journey of addiction and love and loss. Oh, don't worry: Chorus does have its share of danger and suspense, but Al is not Anthem. She doesn't want to lead a fight; she just wants to go back to L.A. and work on her cure.

It's Al's poignant personal journey that really makes this a book you can't put down. She struggles with addiction, and every day, every minute, she resists using the tracks, for fear that if she tracks she'll damage her brain beyond her ability to find a cure. Being back in the Web exacerbates the addictive urges, and also stirs up old feelings that increase the flashbacks. Al's boyfriend from Los Angeles, Jonas, accompanies her to the Web, along with two other friends. Al's relationship with Jonas is sweet, but there's a tension there, too, from the secrets that Al's been keeping from him, including her flashbacks.

The second half of the book becomes much more externally suspenseful, as both L.A. and the Web are in danger from an unexpected threat. And when bad things do start happening, when it becomes clear that something is seriously wrong, Al must find within herself the strength to fight to save the people she loves.

Diversity?

Coda did a good job with diversity. Anthem, the main protagonist, was bisexual, and there were other diverse characters, including some people of color, although both of the ones I noticed were minor, if important, characters. Overall, Coda gave a sense of a diverse society where things like sexuality and race weren't issues.

Chorus seems to have fewer characters who are from groups under-represented in YA fiction. There is one same-sex couple who are minor but important characters, and a couple of characters from Coda that I'm pretty sure I remember are dark skinned — Mage and Iris — although I didn't see any physical descriptions of them in this book. If you come to Chorus after reading Coda, as I did, you'll probably read into it the same sense of a diverse society, but if you read Chorus without having read Coda, I suspect you won't come away with quite the same impression.

Who would like this book:

Dystopian book readers, fans of Coda, and anyone who likes a good character-driven story. 

Buy Chorus from Powell's Books

Note: I decided to give the Powell's affiliate program a try. I've been an Amazon affiliate since the 90s, but I've become increasingly concerned about their market share and dominance in the industry. I don't think that Amazon is a demon, but I also don't think it's good for one company to have so much power and influence. I've heard good things about Powell's (even long before it got the Colbert Bump) so it seemed like a good way to go.

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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10. Book Review: Raging Star (Dust Lands Book 3) by Moira Young


Raging Star 
(Dust Lands Book 3) 
by Moira Young

New Eden is a paradise: a fertile land surrounded by post-apocalyptic wastelands. New Eden holds promise and hope for the future, and one man, DeMalo, who calls himself The Pathfinder, has a vision of leading humanity into that future. DeMalo feels that the future belongs to the strong, that only the strong and healthy can bring about a utopian future. In DeMalo's New Eden, those not strong and healthy enough to be among the chosen are either exiled, enslaved, or put to death.

Saba and her friends, including her twin brother Lugh and younger sister Emmi, have gone underground, and this small band of guerrillas fight back against DeMalo in any way they can. Saba secretly meets with Jack, her love and heart's desire, who gives her strategic information uncovered by his group of rebels. The only problem is, Saba can't let anyone in her group know that Jack is still alive, because some of them hate him and would kill him on sight, including her brother Lugh.

Saba loves Jack, but then why is she so drawn to DeMalo? Why does the heartstone warm when she's near him, as well as when she's near Jack? DeMalo is smart, charismatic, and seductive, and he runs New Eden with a tight control. Saba's Free Hawks will have to be smart, too, and find a new way to fight back if they hope to defeat DeMalo.

Raging Star is the conclusion of the trilogy that began with Blood Red Road, and it may be the best of the three. Raging Star has the same driving plot, awesome characters, and distinctive voice as the other books, but it goes deeper in exploring the themes. The huge gray area between right and wrong is explored in a thoughtful way. DeMalo truly believes that what he's doing is good and right. He's trying to rebuild and repopulate the Earth, turn the deserts into paradise. Is it so wrong to eliminate the weak in service of that goal? Yes, he kills people, but Saba and her group have killed also in fighting back against DeMalo. DeMalo is charismatic and convincing, and it's hard for Saba to know what's right. And so the girl known as the Angel of Death is left trying to find a better way.

We did wrong today at the bridge. An' he's wrong. He is wrong. What's right must lie somewhere else. Between us maybe. Or beyond us.
Saba also keeps secrets: from Jack, from Lugh, from everyone. She does it with the best of intentions, but she discovers, as many have, that the more you lie, the more you have to lie to cover your lies. Other characters also have secrets, and the weight of secrets threatens to destroy the group.

Saba has always been a great character. She's a survivor and a fighter, who'll do whatever it takes to save the ones she loves. But what if fighting isn't enough? What if you're in a fight you can't win? Saba experiences some real character growth as she tries to resolve her dilemmas. It's also great to see Emmi come into her own in this book, and become more than just the little sister.

As with the other books, it's hard at first to adjust to the dialect and the unusual punctuation. The entire book is written without quotation marks. Dialog just flows in with text. However, it doesn't take long to get used to it, and before too long it seems so natural you don't even notice it. I could hear Saba's distinctive voice in my head as I read.

Altogether, Raging Star is a moving, gripping, and sometimes heartbreaking book. Both the plot and the character arc will keep you turning pages.

I do have one complaint, and that's the cover. The picture of two random people against a green background just doesn't do anything for me. I assume they're supposed to be Saba and Jack, but they don't look anything like I imagined these two, and in fact they really just look like someone snapped a photo of two random people walking down the street in any modern city, and Photoshopped over a vaguely post-apocalyptic background. I didn't care for the cover of Rebel Heart, either.

Diversity?

I didn't notice a lot of diversity in this book. Saba is described as dark, but that's in comparison to her golden brother Lugh, so it's not clear whether she is actually dark skinned or just a dark haired caucasian. Other characters are described in ways that don't make clear their ethnic origins, at least not that I could tell.

One of the characters is an older man who wears dresses. He's a likable character who plays an important role in the rebellion.

Who would like this book:

Teens and adults who enjoy dystopian and post-apocalyptic books with strong female protagonists. Recommend this series to fans of The Hunger Games.

Get it from:
Audiobook
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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11. The Stark Law (Game of Thrones)

The Stark Law: No two living Starks can ever occupy the same place at the same time.

Corollary: If any Stark is approaching a location where another Stark currently resides, the resident Stark will either leave or be killed.

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12. Lassie, Devil Horns, Hot Men, and Worldbuilding: Day 2 at BEA

Anyone training for a marathon should consider three days at BookExpo America for building endurance. By the end of day 2, every muscle and joint in my body aches. But it's so worth it to spend three days surrounded by books and book people.

I spent the first part of the day in meetings with publishers to talk about the Cybils. I had some great conversations with some really interesting people. One of the best things about BEA is having the chance to talk to people who are passionate about books, children's and YA literature.

After that, I had some time to walk the floor. Here are some of the things I saw:

The tenth generation Lassie made an appearance in support of the book, Man’s Best Hero: True Stories of Great American Dogs by Ace Collins.

Lassie poses for his photo shoot
It was impossible to walk by the Ellora's Cave booth and not notice these guys:

Hot Men of BEA

Author Michelle Knudsen was signing her new YA book, Evil Librarian. Here we are sporting cool devil horns:

I wear devil horns now. Devil horns are cool.
Books I got today that I'm excited to read: Love is a Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld, Sky Raiders (Five Kingdoms book 1) by Brandon Mull, House of Purple Cedar by Tim Tingle, The Zoo at the Edge of the World by Eric Kahn Gale, Thursdays with the Crown by Jessica Day George, Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen. Thanks to my husband Nick for getting some of these for me!


I also attended two panel sessions. "The Craft Of Writing And World Building" was an interesting session on worldbuilding in fiction, featuring:

I tried to take notes, but there was so much good stuff that I had trouble capturing it all. Here are some highlights of what I did manage to get:
  • Michael Grant is an improviser, not a planner. He prefers to start with sketching the barest minimum and building from there, so as not to box himself in.
  • Scott Westerfeld said that you don't have to write paranormal or fantasy to do worldbuilding. Afterworlds is about the book world we know and love, including BEA. He said that worldbuilding is about the slow accretion of little details.
  • Brandon Mull said that a big part of how to make a fantasy novel make sense is to have rules. If anyone can do anything it doesn't make sense. There have to be limits on magic.
  • Heather Demetrios said that you have to follow rules in fantasy. Have to have structure. If anything goes, it's hard for the reader to care.
  • Scott Westerfeld starts with what he wants to happen, and then builds a world around that. With Afterworlds he wanted a fantasy world that parallels the world of writing, so the novel within a novel is about ghosts that only stay in the world as long as someone remembers them and tells their story.
  • Kiera Cass starts with characters and then builds the world around them.
I also attended "A Conversation on Digital Strategies for Tapping the YA Market," which was about marketing books online for authors and publishers. The panel was moderated by Manuela Soares, Pace University, and included:
  • Alaya Dawn Johnson, Author, The Summer Prince and Love is a Drug
  • Arthur A. Levine, Publisher Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic)
  • Carolyn Mackler, Author
  • Cheryl B. Klein, Editor, Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic)
  • Jeffrey Yamaguchi, Director of Digital Marketing, Abrams Books
  • Jennifer Hubert Swan, Reading Rants
This was a wide-ranging session that covered a lot of ground, but here are a few points:
  • All the speakers indicated that in many cases, they are not reaching teens directly, and instead most of their audience is adults. For some, this is a change; Jennifer used to have a lot of teens commenting on her blog, but now most of her audience is adults. But they are reaching passionate people who will help spread the word, so in many cases they're reaching teens more indirectly.
  • When you do connect with teens, authentic connections are very important; teens are looking for people to be real.
  • Two major themes: community and word of mouth. That hasn't changed, but the way those happen has changed.

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13. BookExpo America 2014 Day 1

My day started bright and early at 8am, as I attended the Harlequin Teen Blogger Breakfast. I sat next to the friendly bloggers from Bookcrastinators in wonderland, who have the fun tagline, "Why put off until tomorrow what you can read today?" This was their first BEA, and I enjoyed chatting with them. The event was organized like speed dating, as the featured authors and their editors rotated around to each table and talked with us. Authors we met included:

  • Alexandra Adornetto, author of Ghost House, who asked us if we believe in ghosts. (For the record, the people at my table do. Alexandra said that the previous table most definitely did not)
  • Jennifer L. Armentrout with Stone Cold Touch (The Dark Elements). I haven't read any of her books, sadly, but everyone else there loved her books.
  • Julie Kagawa talked about her new book, Talon, which is about dragons who can appear as human. She said she figured that, "If dragons existed today, they wouldn't be sitting in caves guarding treasures, they'd be CEOs of multinational corporations."
  • Adi Alsaid with his book, Let's Get Lost, a road trip book told in five parts from different points of view. Adi likes to travel and has been on his own road trips, but he likes to write about places he hasn't been to so that he can use his imagination.
  • Robin Talley talked about her book, Lies We Tell Ourselves, which is about school integration in 1959, and the attraction between two girls, one black and one white. Robin was inspired to write it after hearing about her own parents' experiences during that period.
One thing I realized during the brunch is that Harlequin has changed a lot, and that they publish a lot of different books, not just the romances that I think of when I hear the name. These books sounded interesting, and I clearly need to start reading more of their books.

After the brunch, I attended the YA Editors Buzz Panel. I always try to attend these at BEA, because it's fascinating to hear the editors talk about the selected buzz books, how they acquired them and what they love about the books. The five buzz books are:
  • Daniel Ehrenhaft from Soho Teen talked about Cynthia Weil’s I'm Glad I Did. Cynthia is a songwriter who has written songs such as "On Broadway" and "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," and I'm Glad I Did is about a songwriter.
  • Krista Marino from Delacorte Press talked about Frank Portman’s King Dork Approximately and read a hilarious excerpt where the main character, Tom Henderson, muses on Pride and Prejudice. I never read King Dork, but now I want to read both books.
  • TS Ferguson from Harlequin TEEN talked about  Robin Talley’s Lies We Tell Ourselves (see above)
  • Karen Chaplin, HarperTeen talked about Amy Ewing’s The Jewel, which is about a city of extremes, where the protagonist is enslaved as a surrogate, as in The Handmaid's Tale.  
  • Alvina Ling of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers talked about Ryan Graudin’s The Walled City, which sounds really interesting. It's like a dystopian book, but based on a real place, the Walled City of Kowloon, near Hong Kong, which was apparently a lawless place ruled by organized crime. Alvina said that the book is not historical fiction, as it's fictionalized, but not completely fantasy either, since it's based on a real place. She humorously called it "histopian."
Most of the rest of the day I spent in meetings with publishers about the Cybils Awards, with some time spent walking the floor with my husband and son. 

Here I am with some awesome Star Wars Lego sculptures at the DK booth, that they have in honor of the revised version of Lego Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary:

Boba Fett, where?

Will someone get this big walking carpet out of my way?
Little, Brown engaged in some clever marketing for their new YA post-apocalyptic, The Young World. These signs were on the stalls in the bathrooms:


I ended the day by attending the panel, "The Best in Fall 2014 Graphic Novels," with Michael Cho (Shoplifter), Farel Dalrymple (The Wrenchies), Jules Feiffer (Kill My Mother), and Raina Telgemeier (Sisters)  with moderator Calvin Reid from Publishers Weekly. Here are the panelists geeking out about brushes:


One of the most interesting discussions in the panel was in response to the question about whether the images or the text came first (since all the panelists are artist, writer, and creator for their graphic novels). Each one had a different answer. Dalrymple said that his inspiration generally comes from visual images, and he starts by sketching. Telgemeier works in thumbnails, where she works on layout and text together, using stick figures. Feiffer said that the writer and the artist in his brain are two different people who don't even know each other. He starts by writing the script, and then gives it to the artist in his brain, who wonders who the writer is that wrote such crappy stuff. (He was very funny, in case you couldn't tell). Cho also starts with the text, but he finds that he has to actually hand letter the text in the layouts to be able to determine the pacing.


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14. Book Review: The Lost by Sarah Beth Durst




The Lost
by Sarah Beth Durst

Lauren doesn't want to face the diagnosis; she fears the news that her mother's cancer has returned. Without planning or even conscious intent, she sets off driving, trying to escape her troubles. Three hundred miles later, Lauren is lost in the desert, surrounded by a dust storm. Finally, she escapes the storm and finds a town where she hopes to get gas, a phone to call her mother, and a hotel room for the night. What she finds instead is a town strangely cluttered with trash, and populated by residents who seem troubled. This is the town of Lost, where everything that is lost - including people - ends up. There's no escape from Lost unless you find what you've lost. With the help of a precocious child named Claire and a mysterious, charismatic man named Peter who calls himself the Finder, Lauren tries to find a way to get out of Lost and back to her mother.

The Lost is Durst's first foray into adult fiction, and what an adult debut it is! As with her YA's, she doesn't disappoint. An intriguing and twilight-zoneish premise, fascinating characters, and a highly readable story make this a book you won't want to miss.

I don't think that Durst gets the recognition she deserves for being one of the best writers of literary fantasy today. I've followed her books since her first one, Into the Wild, which I loved, but over the years since then she's honed her craft to a exceptional level. Her literary technique is masterful, yet doesn't get in the way of telling a good story.

The Lost is a very character-driven story. Although there are a few edge-of-your-seat moments, the plot is primarily driven by Lauren's character arc. It's a mesmerizing book that's hard to put down, and one that proves a book doesn't have to be driven by a frenetic plot to be a page-turner. As you can imagine from the title, everyone in the town of Lost is, well, lost in some way, and the book revolves around a theme of finding your way. Even the Finder, who is supposedly there to help people, seems, in some ways, more lost than anyone. Lauren's journey of self-discovery unspools gradually, as her relationships with Claire and Peter develop and the details of her past life are teased out.

The town itself is fascinating and well developed, almost a character in itself. The streets are cluttered with piles of things that were lost: keys, socks, luggage, and even things like foreclosed houses scattered all over, creating an odd juxtaposition of different architecture. It's all a little bit creepy, as well, in a Stephen King kind of way. The idea sounds like a cliche, but it's so much more than that and the reality and details of life in Lost are fully fleshed out. Survival is a big part of life in Lost; residents have to scavenge among the piles to find the necessities of life. And not everyone in Lost is friendly, in fact, some are decidedly unfriendly. So Lauren has to learn how to survive in Lost as well as trying to figure out how to get home.

I hope I won't be spoiling too much if I say that there's a powerful chemistry between Lauren and Peter right from the start, but I won't say much more than that. It's handled well, and while it's an important element, it doesn't take over the story.

Diversity?

None of the three main characters appear to be people of color in this book. One of the important secondary characters, Victoria, who runs the diner, is described as having rich brown skin. In conversation with Durst, she confirmed that Victoria is African-American. She also told me that Peter is half Native American, but the reader doesn't learn this explicitly until book 3.

Any relationships in the book were heterosexual, and all characters appear to be cisgender. Since Lost draws in all sorts of lost people, one could reasonably expect to see a diversity in Lost reflective of society in general, however, I didn't see that. There's quite a variety of people in Lost, but other than the one character, none were described in a way (that I noticed) that would lead me to believe they were from an underrepresented group.

Who would like this book

Adult and teens who like a well-written, slightly dark, character-driven fantasy with an intriguing premise and a bit of a romantic interest. Although The Lost was published for the adult market and has an adult protagonist, I think it has a strong teen crossover appeal.

Other Reviews

For another view of The Lost, check out Reading in Tandem: "The Lost," by Sarah Beth Durst at Finding Wonderland.

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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15. Book Review: Dark Eden by Chris Beckett


Dark Eden
by Chris Beckett

Imagine a world with no sun. A world where the only heat and light comes from geothermal energy and bioluminescent plants and animals, and everything else is dark. Imagine a community of 532 people living on this planet, all descended from two astronauts who were stranded on the planet. (And yes, there was some incest in order for 532 people to be descended from only two.)

One hundred and sixty-three years after Tommy and Angela were stranded on Eden, their descendants still live in Circle Valley, where the landing vehicle originally came down, because Angela told the family to stay close, so that they could be found when rescue arrived from Earth. Food in Circle Valley is running out, but outside of Circle Valley is the Snowy Dark, and no one has ever crossed the Snowy Dark to find out what (if anything) lies beyond. Everyone in Family fears to leave the valley, lest they be stranded when the rescue comes from Earth.

Everyone except teen ("newhair") John Redlantern. John feels suffocated in the closeness and stagnation of family, and he asks the questions that everyone else is afraid to ask. No one will listen, so John does the unthinkable, with consequences that will affect everyone in Family and cause lasting change.

Dark Eden is a compelling story and a fascinating study of a society with characteristics derived from its unique environment, as well as from its tragic origin story. As the book progresses, it starts to become clear that the origin story portrays a very dysfunctional family. How would it affect an entire society to be based on such dysfunctional origins?

The worldbuilding is amazing. Although I have trouble imagining how a planet like Eden could exist, every detail of the world is so well developed, the ecosystem consistent and logical, that it came across as fully realized and believable. All that detail is developed very naturally through the story and the characters; there are no infodumps. The society, culture, and language are all distinctive and consistent.

The characters are interesting, diverse, and well-developed. John Redlantern is a bit of an anti-hero. Although he is honestly trying to help Family, he acts also out of self-interest, restlessness, and a compulsion for change. John's sometimes-lover and co-conspirator, Tina Spiketree, is an equally interesting and complex character. In addition to John and Tina, there is a rich tapestry of well-developed characters, some of whom become point-of-view characters for a short time.

Story is an important theme running throughout Dark Eden. Obviously the origin story plays a significant role. As in many cultures, the stories from the past are retold and reenacted at important events. These stories are distorted by the lens of time, and by people who don't really understand, in some cases, what the stories mean, because they have no experience with things that could form a basis for understanding. John Redlantern is keenly aware of the power of story; he consciously makes choices that will make him a mythic character to other people, and he wonders how his descendants will tell his story in the future.

The title of the book fits on multiple levels. The planet is named Eden, and obviously Tommy and Angela are its Adam and Eve. But Earth is the Eden that they've been exiled from. The Family doesn't seem to have a religion or worship any gods, but waiting for the return to Earth has an almost religious fervor to it. Later in the book, there is also a kind of Cain and Abel vibe happening.

Dark Eden is an astonishing, compelling, and unique science-fiction story. If you like science fiction and this isn't on your TBR, it probably should be.

Note: Dark Eden is published for the adult market, but I think it has crossover appeal for teens. Besides the teen protagonists, it has a teen outlook and themes of social change that will appeal to teens. There is some fairly explicit sex, so it would be best for mature teens, but sex is not uncommon in YA today. And in spite of the explicit nature of the sex, it's some of the least sexy sex I've read in books — it's supposed to be, because it's another symptom of the stagnation of this society.

Diversity?

  • Mother Angela was black, according to the stories, and Tommy was white (Jewish, if I remember right). One minor character in the Family is described as being a "dark bloke with dark curly hair," but other than that, I didn't see any other mention of racial characteristics. Given the description of Angela and Tommy, I think it's safe to assume that everyone in Family would have multiracial characteristics.
  • Nations are mentioned in the stories from the past, but because the people in Family have no basis for understanding — their closest analogue is the smaller groups within Family —it doesn't really pay a role.
  • At one point, Tina is thinking about how all of the boys want to "slip" (have sex) with her, and then she adds, "except those who prefer boys." Although I didn't notice any same-sex couplings in the book, it seems that in this society they're accepted as routine.
  • Cleft lip and club foot are common congenital deformities in Family, probably due to the incest and inbreeding. These play a significant role in the story. The effect of the deformities on the individuals is shown, without it degenerating into stereotypes. And they are individuals, that have distinctive personalities of which the disability is only a facet. One adult character is angry and mean as a result of bullying in childhood, but others are caring, respected members of society. One boy with clubfoot who appears to be an object of pity in the beginning ends up becoming a leader.
Who would like this book:

Mature teens and adults who enjoy unique science fiction with richly developed worldbuilding and characters

Get it from:
Audiobook

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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16. Book Review: In the Shadows


In the Shadows
Text Story by Kiersten White
Art and Art Story by Jim Di Bartolo

In the Shadows alternates between two related stories, one told in text and the other entirely in pictures. It's hard to talk about In the Shadows without risking revealing too much. The stories themselves unfold gradually, and at first it's hard to understand what's going on or how the stories fit together, but as the details unfold the pieces start to come together.

The text portion alternates between five young people: Cora and Minnie, whose mother runs a boarding house in a small town in Maine; Arthur, a mysterious young man who comes to the boarding house; and two brothers, Thom and Charles. Charles is dying from a terminal illness, and their father sends the two young men from New York City to Maine for Charles' health, although a conversation that Thom overhears between his father and a woman seems to indicate a more sinister reason. The five teens begin to suspect that there is evil lurking in the town, and all five of them are linked to it in some way.

The art story depicts a young man traveling around the world, apparently searching for something or someone. We don't know who he is, and at first it's hard to understand what's going on or what the connection is with the text story. By about halfway through, you begin to suspect, and then later details in the text story make clear what's happening in the art story.

In the Shadows is an intriguing, beautifully made book. I love this kind of story, where the connections aren't always clear and you have to puzzle it out as you go along. I actually found that after I finished the book, I wanted to go through the art story again from the beginning to pick up on all the details and fully appreciate it.

The text story is well-written and holds your interest, the art is beautiful, and the two fit well together stylistically. There is a dark, creepy, and mysterious feel to both stories. With evil lurking in a small town in Maine, it's hard not to compare this to Stephen King, but stylistically it's not really similar to King's writing. The compelling story and short chapters conspire to keep you reading; "Just one more chapter," I kept telling myself.

Diversity?

Other than a few incidental characters in the pictures, I didn't see any diversity.

Who would like this book:

With the short chapters, artwork, and fast-paced read, this may be a good book for reluctant readers. Graphic novel readers may also enjoy it, even though it isn't strictly a graphic novel. Any teen or adult who enjoys dark, creepy stories with mysterious conspiracies will enjoy In the Shadows.

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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17. Book Review: Rose and the Lost Princess



Rose and the Lost Princess
by Holly Webb

In the first book, Rose was thrilled to be selected for a position as a housemaid for a prominent magician. As an orphan, her dream was to get out of the orphanage and earn her own living. But when she discovered that she has an inherent talent for magic, Rose had mixed feelings. Magic is exciting, but also so far outside her experience that it makes her uncomfortable. Although Rose is now an apprentice to the magician, Mr. Fountain, she wanted to keep her position as a housemaid in the house. Besides providing her income, she's not quite ready to let go of her ordinary, normal life.

But now that the other servants know that she is magic, they don't want to have anything to do with her. Most ignore her, and some are actively antagonistic. Only Bill the houseboy is still friendly. To make matters worse, there is a growing anti-magic movement in the aftermath of the events of the first book. It's not a good time to be a magician. People are blaming the early winter and heavy snowfall on magic, and when the beloved Princess disappears, and is found again, the whole country is in a frenzy, convinced that magic is involved. The King is worried that there will be another attempt on the Princess, so Rose is sent to the palace to stay with the Princess, because as another young girl she can provide some magical protection while seeming to be an ordinary housemaid and companion for the Princess.

Rose and the Lost Princess is a delightful book that I enjoyed even more than its predecessor. Rose is such a great character. She loves the magic, and yet she's a very no-nonsense, practical girl. She's what Mary Poppins might have been like as a girl. The book is extremely well-written and immersive. There's gentle humor, much of it provided by Gus, the magical cat. In many ways it's a perfect middle-grade novel. Even as an adult I quite enjoyed reading it, and I'm looking forward to future books in the series.

Diversity?

I didn't see any diversity of color or ethnicity, but then, Victorian-type settings tend to be pretty monochrome. Sexuality simply doesn't come into the book, other than Rose's hand on Bill's arm at one point, so there's not really any opportunity for sexual diversity.

There is diversity of class, and in fact class is one of the themes in this novel. As a servant who is also an apprentice to a powerful magician who is a councilor to the King, Rose is caught between classes in a most uncomfortable way. The lives of both the upper and lower classes are vividly portrayed, from the glittering palace to the lives of Mr. Fountain's servants downstairs. The effect of power on the powerless is shown in small ways, including the house manager's not-so-subtle threat to a servant who is threatening to leave, "How will you get a new position without references?"

Who would like this book:

Middle-grade readers who love an immersive, character-driven fantasy. There's enough excitement to keep anyone interested, but it's not overly violent or scary, so it should be fine for sensitive readers. Although the protagonist is a girl, I think that boys will enjoy it as well, if they can get past the girl on the cover and the feminine name, "Rose." (Edited to add: the first book has an evil magician kidnapping children and drinking their blood, so sensitive readers may want to skip that one and start with this one.)

My review of Rose, the first book in the series.

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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18. 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:
Audiobook:

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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19. 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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20. 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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21. 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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22. 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.
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1159695087/light-of-the-white-bear

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23. 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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24. Book Review: Underneath

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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25. 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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