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1. Queen Sugar/Natalie Baszile: Reflections

I meet this beautiful woman named Natalie Baszile. She's just published her first book—Queen Sugar—with Pamela Dorman of Viking. Its cover is almost as pretty as she is. I buy into Natalie's allure (now that was easy) and I happily buy her book (simple as snap).

Then, in bits and pieces (because that's my life right there, all bits and pieces), I read this book about a widow named Charley Bordelon and her daughter named Micah, who leave California for Louisiana to take on a late father's gift—eight hundred acres of sugarcane.

Eight hundred acres of sugarcane. No how-to book. No extra funds. Hardly any working machines. And nobody but Charley and Micah and some Louisiana family to turn to when the going gets tough.

The going will get tough.

Well-researched, lovingly imagined, Queen Sugar is a sweep-you-in story. Charley is a woman we understand, but also a woman we admire—for taking the unknown on, for being honest with herself, for staring out across an endless field and daring to believe not just in the land but (eventually) in herself. Baszile is a seamless storyteller. She takes her readers not just to the land, but into its depths. Her earth is not just topography, but taste:
Charley raised the dirt to her mouth again. She sniffed: wood smoke, grass, damp like a sidewalk after it rained. She tasted: grit, fine as ground glass, chocolate, and what? Maybe ash? She closed her eyes as the soil dissolved over her tongue, and slowly, slowly, almost like a good wine, the soil began to tell its story. She tasted the muck, and the peat, and the years of composted leaves, the branches and vines that had been recently plowed under, and the faint sweetness the cane left behind. She swallowed: a moldy aftertaste she knew would stay on her tongue for the rest of the afternoon.
Lovely, right? But look, too, at Baszile's ability to write of water, towboats, a wheelhouse. I respect the specificity here.
Amazing how quickly the barge moved. It was closer now. The engine rumble sent larger ripples, and across the water, Ralph Angel could see the captain high up in the towboat's wheelhouse, his small white face like a speck of white sugar behind the big glass window. As it approached, the barge sucked water into its enormous hull so that the current up where Ralph Angel sat seemed to flow in reverse and the water level actually dropped. Water hyacinths and lilies clumped together in the backwards flow and even up ahead, in the barge slip, the water seemed to be draining away. 
What's hard about writing? Everything. What takes time? Getting the details and every single sentence right. Though Queen Sugar is a debut novel, it is also a most-self-assured novel. The work of a writer who knows precisely what she's doing.

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2. Graphic Novel Review: Vinland Saga 2 by Makoto Yukimura

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

Wowzers!  Akseladd is just a prick!  Just when I start liking the guy, he goes and does something so cold-blooded and heartless that I have to immediately dislike him again.  He’s cunning, crafty, and greedy, and he wants to maximize profits for his warriors, even at the expense of what would be considered his allies.  Start a raging forest fire to smoke out the kidnapped Prince Canute?  Not a problem.  Strike down other rescuers so that he can keep all of the reward money for himself?  Certainly not a problem!  This is one guy that you don’t want on your bad side.  Or anywhere near you at all, especially if he or any of his men have projectile weapons!

While  I love the action, and there is plenty of that, I also find the historical details fascinating.  I don’t know much about Vikings, or Medieval Europe for that matter, but Makoto Yukimura is sprinkling the text with interesting facts about the time period.  It’s a chaotic time, with constant conflict between the European groups of the day.  Everyone wants a piece of the pie, and they will do anything to get it.  Murder, pillage, mayhem – it’s the coin of the times.  Trusting anyone seems like a very dangerous proposition, as many of the characters have found out, much to their dismay.  Askeladd’s betrayal of Thors has twisted and reshaped Thorfinn into a killing machine with one goal – to kill the man who killed his father.  I keep wondering what kind of a man Thorfinn would have grown into if he hadn’t stowed away on his father’s boat.  Would he be so consumed by hatred, if he hadn’t witnessed his death?

The main story arc for this volume centered around the rescue of Canute, the teenaged son of Sweyn, Kind of Denmark.  He’s been captured by Thorkell, a Dane who has chosen to help defend London against the Vikings threatening to overwhelm it.  He comes across as sort of a simple guy, whose first love is fighting and testing his strength against other warriors.  Thorfinn has brief, violent run-in with him. He manages to escape from the larger man, and gains some respect from him at the same time, all while proving that he has a lot to learn when it comes to making friends.  Everybody hates Thorfinn, but who can blame them? He acts like a sullen little prick, and seeing the interaction between him and Canute is like watching two different species trying to communicate.  So, while he excels at slaughter, he really needs to work on his people skills.

After two volumes, I am totally hooked on Vinland Saga.  I love the history, the action, and the sheer brutality of the characters.  It’s probably a good thing these Vikings don’t pack mirrors in their gear; I don’t understand how they could stand to look at themselves and not feel one shred of remorse for their behavior.  Then again, in a time when it’s kill or be killed, they all fit right in.

Volume 3 comes out April 29, and I can hardly wait!

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by my local library

From Amazon:

ENGLAND AT WAR The foolish King Ethelred has fled, and Askeladd’s band is one of hundreds plundering the English countryside. Yet victory brings no peace to the elderly Danish King Sweyn, who worries that his untested, sensitive son Canute will never be ready to take the throne. The king’s attempt to force his son to become a man places the young prince within the grasp of the gleeful killer Thorkell! Whoever holds Canute holds the key to the thrones of England and Denmark – and Askeladd has his own reasons for joining the fray! “With its rich visual details, emotional pull and strong characters, this historical epic is an instant winner.” – Anime News Network Winner of the Japan Media Arts Awards Grand Prize for Manga and the Kodansha Manga Award From the acclaimed author of Planetes

The post Graphic Novel Review: Vinland Saga 2 by Makoto Yukimura appeared first on Manga Maniac Cafe.

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3. Review – The Treasure Box

Many of my generation (sadly not all) and those of the next, fortunately have not endured the atrocities of war like those seen during the Holocaust. That we are able to feel its impact, appreciate the drama and acknowledge its implications is the unique potency of a picture book. Margret Wild and Freya Blackwood exploit this power wondrously well.The Treasure Box

The quiet unassuming cover of the Treasure Box magnetised me from the moment I was handed the book. The subdued colours, lone tree bereft of leaf and life, fragments of words adrift; all at conflict with the title, which promises something far brighter and more uplifting. I was a little unprepared for the subtle magnitude of the tale, again preoccupied by the end papers, comprising scraps of text which interestingly are taken from Sonya Hartnett’s and Morris Gleitzmann’s foreign editions of their own wartime tales of displacement and loss.

We join young Peter’s story after his home town is destroyed leaving the library in ruin. Books once housed there are transformed to nothing more substantial than bits of ash as ‘frail as butterflies.’ That is all but one; a book that by fortuitous happenstance had been taken home by Peter’s father before the bombing.

Treasure box illoPeter’s father is intent on safe-guarding the book for the stories it contains; stories that tell the history of Peter’s people, of a past ‘rarer than rubies, more splendid than silver, greater than gold.’ The book is secured in an old iron box which forms part of the meagre possessions they flee with from their homeland.

Peter’s father does not survive the soul crushing exodus but instills in Peter tremendous tenacity and a promise to keep their ‘treasure safe’. Unable to continue with such a load but true to his word Peter buries the box under an ancient linden tree, to which he returns many years later. His single-handed courage and loyalty perpetuates the most valuable treasure of all – the gift of hope and love.

Margaret WildMargaret Wild’s eloquent sense of story and place transports the reader into the very heart and soul of Peter and his father. Her thoughtfully sparse narrative paradoxically permeates every inch of the page and ounce of our attention. Neither her words nor the illustrations compete for space in this book. They work in convincing unison, caressing the story along and guiding us skilfully through horrific, almost unimaginable situations like sleeping in ditches, and holding the hand of a dying father.Freya Blackwood

Freya Blackwood’s artwork is instantly recognisable, however is taken one step higher using collage and multi-layering to create a stunning subtle 3D effect. Characters literally appear to be trudging across the page, accompanied by the metaphoric charred fragments of the leaves of a million books. The story is further enriched with delicate contrasts and symbolism on each page, all in the haunting sepia coloured tones of despair and misery.

Only the intensity of the treasure box itself, shown in vibrant red throughout, never fades. By Peter’s maturity, colour and prosperity have returned to his hometown. Even the library radiates with a glorious, golden yellow – hope restored.

I happened upon this picture book late last year, in spite of its 2013 publication date. I thought it was a most serendipitous discovery, but did not fully appreciate its immense value until I uncovered its contents. Truly one to treasure.

Penguin / Viking January 2013

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4. Viking Daddy Bakes a Cake

IT's Finished! I started tonight, along with some cold medicine and tea... (truth be told I had forgotten completely about this over the holidays - like many things I will realize tomorrow) and just felt like doing a viking. I hope it works in the app, and I can't wait to see what everyone else has put in!!
Happy New Year.

2 Comments on Viking Daddy Bakes a Cake, last added: 1/2/2013
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5. Review: Keep Holding On by Susane Colasanti

 

Title: Keep Holding On

Author:  Susane Colasanti

Publisher: Viking

Keep Holding On – DIGITAL

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Noelle’s life is all about survival. Even her best friend doesn’t know how much she gets bullied, or the ways her mom neglects her. Noelle’s kept so much about her life a secret for so long that when her longtime crush Julian Porter starts paying attention to her, she’s terrified. Surely it’s safer to stay hidden than to risk the pain of a broken heart. But when the bullying of her classmate takes a dramatic turn, Noelle realizes it’s time to stand up for herself – and for the love that keeps her holding on.

Review:

This book brought back a lot of unpleasant memories, and I was going to put it down and return it back to the library unread.  I remember what it was like to be mercilessly picked on in school, and I wasn’t sure that I wanted a refresher course.  I became invested in Noelle’s unhappiness, though, and wondered what she would be able to do to change her circumstances.  In addition to having to deal with bullies at school, she also has a nightmare at home.  Her mother has been raising her alone, and she is resentful of Noelle.  She blames her daughter on her own discontent with her life and her dead end job.  She takes her frustrations out on Noelle, and doesn’t care for her.  There is never enough food in their cramped rental unit, and her mother’s indifferent eats away at her. 

With all of bullying and her mother’s neglect, Noelle feels that she is unlovable.  She finds herself in a relationship with a popular boy who is obviously taking advantage of her.  He has sworn her to secrecy about their clandestine encounters. They spend the entire time making out.  This wasn’t surprising, considering Noelle’s dysfunctional home life.  Conversation isn’t something that happens at her house, so why would she expect to actually talk to the boy she has convinced herself that she’s in love with?

When a cute classmate shows some interest in her, Noelle freaks out.  Yes, she likes Julian, and yes, she’s dreamed of getting together with him, but she won’t kid herself.  Noelle is one of the poorer kids attending her high school, and Julian is from another world.  His parents are wealthy, and she just won’t fit into his life.  Despite her messed up emotions, Noelle did begin to frustrate me here.  Matt was clearly using her, he refused to be seen with her in public, and yet she stubbornly refused to admit to herself that he was taking advantage of her.  Their “relationship” didn’t make her happy; it made her miserable that she had to keep it a secret from even her only friend, and yet she continued down a path that she knew was wrong.  Instead of giving Julian a chance, she turned him down, without even giving him a chance to prove himself to her.  I understood her fe

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6. Balding to pen childhood memoir

Written By: 
Graeme Neill
Publication Date: 
Fri, 01/07/2011 - 11:25

Viking has signed a childhood memoir by BBC sports presenter Clare Balding, paying what is believed to be around £500,000 for two books.

Penguin declined to comment on the sum paid, which was a pre-emptive deal for world rights to the two books. Viking editorial director Joel Rickett bought the books from Ivan Mulcahy at Ivan Mulcahy Associates, acting on behalf of Nicola Ibison at James Grant Group. The first book, My Animals and Other Family, will be published in September 2012.

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7. Country Life editor writes title for Viking

Written By: 
Charlotte Williams
Publication Date: 
Fri, 05/08/2011 - 10:44

Viking has acquired a non-fiction title by Clive Aslet, editor-at-large of Country Life magazine, detailing the lives behind the names on a village war memorial.

Editorial director Eleo Gordon bought UK and Commonwealth rights in the title, All Quiet on the West Country Front: The Story of A Village War Memorial, through Annabel Merullo at PFD. Viking plans to publish in November 2013.

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8. Waiting on Wednesday: Try Not to Breathe by Jennifer R. Hubbard

Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Breaking the Spine to highlight upcoming releases we're anxiously awaiting!

Coming January 19, 2012!


Try Not to Breathe by Jennifer R. Hubbard

A dark and provocative novel from the author of The Secret Year

Ryan spends most of his time alone at the local waterfall because it’s the only thing that makes him feel alive. He’s sixteen, post-suicidal, and trying to figure out what to do with himself after a stint in a mental hospital. Then Nicki barges into his world, brimming with life and energy, and asking questions about Ryan’s depression that no one else has ever been brave enough—or cared enough—to ask. Ryan isn’t sure why he trusts Nicki with his darkest secrets, but that trust turns out to be the catalyst that he desperately needs to start living again.

Jennifer R. Hubbard has created a riveting story about a difficult but important subject.


This novel just sounds amazing. You see a lot of YA novels about teens dealing with their best friend's suicide, or contemplating their own -- but I don't think I've seen any "post-suicidal" stories. It sounds like this novel is about facing the dark side of life, the things we're sometimes afraid to talk about. There's just something about this synopsis that immediately drew me in. I will definitely be reading this one the day it hits shelves.

The Secret Year is sitting in my TBR. Have you read it? Are you a fan of Jennifer Hubbard?

10 Comments on Waiting on Wednesday: Try Not to Breathe by Jennifer R. Hubbard, last added: 8/11/2011
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9. Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff

by Walter Dean Myers   Viking Penguin  1975 A collection of vignettes of teen life in Harlem, though occasionally dated in language and setting, still as bold and authentic sounding as probably was back in the day.   Francis, aka Stuff, moves to 115th street he finds the local kids wary of the newcomer until he proves his stuff (or lack thereof) on the basketball court. The good-natured

0 Comments on Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff as of 1/1/1900
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10. Llama Llama Home With Mama by Anna Dewdney: Giveaway and Review - Llama Clothespin Craft

"Llama" is a rather strange word, isn't it? It is one of the only English words that begins with a double "l." According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word is Spanish in origin, from Quechua, the language spoken by the Incas. Two l's are typically pronounced as a y in the Spanish language so technically the word should read "yama" (or "lyama" in Quechua).

Several poets and authors have used the fun double "l" word in their works. Ogden Nash wrote an animal verse titled, "The Lama." Mary Ann Hoberman writes of "The Llama Who Had No Pajama" in her poetry book of the same title.

More familiar to kids nowadays is Anna Dewdney's New York Times bestselling Llama Llama picture book series. Part of the reason the books are so popular is that parents and kids can easily identify with the various childhood dramas that little Llama Llama character experiences. In the books, Llama Mama helps him cope with his emotions and reassures her little llama. Dewdney's books are a joy to read and the rhythmic verses roll of your tongue with repetitive "llama llama ... mama" and other rhymes. The newest and fifth book in the series is Llama Llama Home with Mama.

Llama Llama Home with Mama by Anna Dewdney. Viking / Penguin Books for Young Readers (August 2011); ISBN 9780670012329; 40 pages

"Llama Llama, red pajama, sick and bored, at home with Mama."


Llama Llama wakes up feeling yucky and ends up spending his day sick at home accompanied by his mama. Mama Llama does all she can to help her little llama recover but, go figure, ends up sick with the same illness. Luckily, Llama Llama follows his mama's example and knows just what to do to help his mama feel better. In her painted illustrations, Dewdney perfectly captures the trials of spending a day sick at home...expressions of exhaustion, red noses (somehow she makes a sore, red nose look cute) and mounds of handkerchiefs. She also includes plenty of expressive words revolving around the sickness theme (yes, shnorltes is a word in her book!)

Out of all the books in the series this is my favorite. For once Dewdney doesn't really address a behavioral issue, but writes of sickness and colds, something that all children and parents suffer with at some point. The premise is so sweet and tender -- Llama L

49 Comments on Llama Llama Home With Mama by Anna Dewdney: Giveaway and Review - Llama Clothespin Craft, last added: 9/22/2011
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11. Viking acquires war camp diary

Written By: 
Charlotte Williams
Publication Date: 
Fri, 07/10/2011 - 10:59

Penguin has acquired a diary written during the Second World War by a teenage concentration camp internee, striking a deal directly with the author at her home in Prague.

Viking publishing director Venetia Butterfield bought world rights directly from Helga Weiss after flying to her home—the same flat she was born in—in the Czech capital with commissioning editor Will Hammond to agree the contract. Viking will publish Helga’s Diary on 7th June 2012.

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12. The Printer's Proof

Over the last five months, I have been very busy working on lots of picture book projects. After a book is finished and all the artwork is uploaded to the publisher, I have to force myself to just put the book out of my mind for awhile because it takes at least another six months before you get to see the finished product.

I work for one publisher, though, who actually sends me the printer's first proof. It ususally comes within a month after the art is finished. So much fun to see all that hard work in print so quickly! And so nice for the designer to actually ask me to look everything over and see how I like the color, etc.


The publisher is Viking and the book I worked on is call "Ready or Not, Here Comes Scout!"
It is the story of an over-eager, but lovable puppy who learns how to make friends at the dog park. I was considered for this particular job because I had done a chapter book for Viking last year call "Labracadabra," which was also about a dog.

The authors of this book are Jill Abramson, the Executive Director of the New York Times, who wrote a blog, followed by a book, called "Puppy Diaries" which was all about her white Golden Retriever puppy "Scout." She teamed up with her sister, Jane O'Connor, author of the "Fancy Nancy" books, to write a fun picture book for the very young, introducing them to the silly antics of her puppy.


I felt like this job was meant for me as I go to the dog park nearly every day with my Airedale,
Mack. Embedded in my subconscious are thousands of mental pictures of dogs playing together. The publishers have given me permission to blog about the book, so in the next weeks, I will be showing you a few spreads and talk about some of the process of creating a book that was on a very fast track. Stay tuned!


4 Comments on The Printer's Proof, last added: 3/29/2012
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13. Librarian Preview: Penguin Books for Young Readers – Viking, Philomel and Puffin

In previous posts on the Penguin Preview (found here and here) I failed to mention how the day began.  To be blunt, it started with me ignoring the obvious.  This is not a strange thing.  My parents once bought a piano for our home when I was a kid and it took me somewhere around two to three days to notice it was there (in my defense, it was not a big piano).  Two days ago my husband replaced one of our posters and I could have merrily walked past it, I’m sure, for a week.  In this particular case it involved the Penguin board room.  For a long time it has been in a state of delightful disarray.  You see years and years ago they hosted a fantastic Truck Town release party for Jon Scieszka, David Shannon, Loren Long, etc. wherein all the guys wore matching jumpsuits and the room was converted into a kind of truck repair shop.  Along one back wall was the front end of a semi (as I remember it).  I’ve just done some digging in my files and located the post where I wrote about it here.  How six years do fly.

In any case, that truck continued to exist in the board room until pretty much now.  When I walked into the board room this time I not only managed to not notice that it was gone (forgivable) but to also miss that the walls looked like the image at the top of this post.

Credit Jon Anderson with this.  Apparently it was his life goal to locate every last Simon & Schuster award winner on the children’s side of things and to frame their be-medaled jackets.  And not only has he included all the Caldecotts and Newberys (no easy feat when you consider how publishers have a tendency to eat one another over the decades) but he threw in the Coretta Scott King Awards, the Printz Awards, and even a Nebula or two.  It was delightful.  Lots of fun to look over.

Enough of that.  On to Viking!

Viking

This year I have carefully been keeping track of all the books that Kirkus stars.  This is partially because Kirkus doesn’t star all that many things and partly because I like their taste.  When I get a chance I go out, locate the starred books and read them through.  One such starred item will be hitting bookstores this May and goes by the name of Heroes of the Surf by Elisa Carbone (illustrated by Nancy Carpenter).  Based on a true story, this work of picture book fiction follows a true incident from May 1882 when a steamship ran aground in New Jersey.  The folks were rescued by sailors who came through terrible waves and weather to save them.  Sharyn November called this one “the happy Titanic” because it’s one of the rare seaside disasters where everyone was saved.  Ms. Carbone was the author of the middle grade historical fiction novel 6 Comments on Librarian Preview: Penguin Books for Young Readers – Viking, Philomel and Puffin, last added: 4/13/2012

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14.

metrical tree of an iambic foot

metrical tree of an iambic foot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the misconceptions about poetry is that you have to spend years studying it, learning every nuance about it, have an MFA degree in it, ad infinitum before writing your first poem of consequence. I’m sure some teacher somewhere planted that propaganda early, during the organization of educational systems, to terrorize the average student into the closet, never to pen verse again.

Odd as it may seem, verse began long before written language. When you find an ancient Viking, ask him. He can probably recite one of the sagas and leave you breathless for a couple of hours.

What is it about poetry that demands that it be written down in certain forms to be considered legitimate?

Consider this case: unless one is a serious scholar of poetic form, the truth about the small and unobtrusive haiku, with its few words and syllables, would never surface in this country. True Japanese Haiku has no title (Americans seem to find one necessary for meaning.) It uses 17 morae, which are not syllables.

For those who are really interested in a complete explanation of the difference between morae and syllables, Marc van Oostendorp published a marvelous paper on Mora Theory in 2005. Suffice it to say that individual languages, such as Japanese, are high in moraic qualities. Entire analysis formulas exist to document a language’s spoken moraic structure.

American English isn’t an especially moraic language. And there are probably few poets in this country that would rather do pure Haiku than use syllables and deviate. When I have at least a few months to devote to additional study, I’ll delve into this precision of thought. Until then, I’ll muddle through with the American version.

Here’s a simple haiku as an example.

 Water rushing now,

Stones weeping my memories

Time flows without end.

This verse, that I wrote many years ago, exhibits the common 5-7-5 syllable line scheme. The trick to Haiku, I’m told, is the juxtaposition of its subject elements.

Here I begin with rushing water, placing it i

7 Comments on , last added: 4/30/2012
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15. Johnny Mackintosh lands on Mars

This morning at 6.31 am (British Summer Time), Johnny and Clara Mackintosh (and their Old English sheepdog, Bentley) made history: thanks to NASA and its Mars Curiosity rover, they became the first literary heroes to literally land on another world. And all broadcast live in Times Square – wow!

Johnny, Clara and Bentley, lowered to the Martian surface on the back of Curiosity (courtesy JPL)

The descent was scary (I wrote a piece about it for Bookzone4Boys) – even NASA had described it as “seven minutes of terror”. Eventually the Mars Science Laboratory landed by “skycrane” in Gale Crater, a perfect location to examine millions of years of Martian geology in one go. Onboard was a microchip onto which had been etched the names of some of the people of Earth, the very first ambassadors to land on another planet. And among those names were:

  • Johnny Mackintosh
  • Clara Mackintosh
  • Bentley Mackintosh

I confess I’m delighted to say “Keith Mansfield” was also included.

Some great fictional stories have been set on Mars, but the paper or celluloid that tells them remains firmly grounded here on our island Earth. John Carter may have disappointed in cinemas lately, but Edgar Rice Burroughs’ series of “Barsoom” books are classics. A film that brought the red planet properly to life saw the now-Governator of California star as Doug Quaid in Dutch director Paul Verhoeven’s 1990  masterpiece, Total Recall. Why anyone feels the need to remake a movie that was originally so stunning is a mystery, but I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve seen Len Wiseman’s remake.

As a child I grew up reading the late, great Ray Bradbury, whose thoughtful Martian Chronicles helped inspire the stories I’ve written. In the first two Johnny Mackintosh books there are mentions of Mars and Johnny and Clara always intend to go there, yet somehow they never quite get round to it. In Battle for Earth they finally make the trip (I won’t spoil it for future readers by saying whether or not they find Martians).

David Bowie famously sang “Is there life on Mars?” and in a fun Doctor Who tribute, Steven Moffat christened the first fictional human settlement “Bowie Base One”. I’ve written a few pieces on whether or not there’s life of some kind on the red planet over at my Keith Mansfield website.

We’ve always found Martian exploration difficult. On page 3 of Johnny Mackintosh: Battle for Earth we read:

“Johnny and Clara had been planing their first ever visit to Mars, with Johnny telling his sister about all the probes scientists had sent to the red planet, but which had mysteriously failed to arrive.”

and then, a little later on page 61:

“Early space probes had taken intriguing but inconclusive photographs of the Martian surface, showing what were called the Pyramids of Elysium, next to what appeared to be a gigantic human face gazing upward. Johnny had always meant to visit and see for himself. For his part, Alf was curious to hear about the probes that had gone missing, so Johnny repeated the conversation he’d had with Clara, in a little more detail. Given the great expense of space exploration, the failure rate for Mars was unusually high. It wasn’t only Beagle 2 that had bitten the dust as it neared the planet. Over the years, around half the missions launched had failed for one reason or another.”

Of course the “giant face” is no more than an optical illusion, but sometimes you can’t let details like that get in the way of a good story. I first came across the pyramids through Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and these don’t only feature in Johnny Mackintosh – Total Recall also centred around the mysterious “pyramid mine”.

Nowadays we know a huge amount about this near neighbour, not least because there are actually three satellites in permanent orbit around the red planet. In the 1970s we sent the twin Viking landers to search for life (you can see a third in the Smithsonain Air and Space Museum in Washington DC). These tantalized, but also frustrated. Given the track record of previous Mars missions, this one played it relatively safe so the spacecraft set down in what proved rather dull areas – and that’s where they remained. The great thing about Curiosity is that it’s mobile.

Mars rover family portrait showing Sojourner, one of Spirit/Opportunity and then Curiosity (courtesy NASA)

We’ve come a long way in a short space of time with Mars rovers. The first was Sojourner, a little add on to the Pathfinder mission that landed in 1997. It was the size of a remote-controlled child’s toy and could only travel a few metres from the main landing station, getting up close and personal with a few interesting nearby rocks. Sojourner started the ball rolling, and the momentum was magnificently maintained by another pair of twin landers, the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which set down early in 2004.

Mars panorama using composite images from Opportunity, showing the rover’s own tyre tracks (courtesy NASA)

Larger, more independent and mobile, it was hoped these two would function for around 90 days. Spirit lasted fully five years, becoming immobile on 2009 and finally ceasing communication in 2010. Opportunity is still going! These two have shown that we are more than capable, not just of landing on Mars, but traversing its surface.

Curiosity being put through its paces on Earth (courtesy of JPL)

Curiosity is in a different league altogether. Weighing nearly a tonne, it’s around the size of a small car. It doesn’t move quite as fast, travelling at what’s almost literally a snail’s pace, but wherever it goes, Johnny, Clara and Bentley will go with it. I hope they and I are able to move across the surface of this faraway world for many years to come.

Buy the first book in the series, Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London.

Buy the third book in the series, Johnny Mackintosh: Battle for Earth in which Johnny and Clara visit Mars.


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16. Newsgirl


It’s 1851, and Amelia her mother Sophie, and her mother’s companion Estelle have just made the journey from Boston to San Francisco. The journey was most difficult for Estelle, who suffered from seasickness the entire time. Amelia, however, had befriended some of the sailors and learned a thing or two about tying knots.

As their ship, the Unicorn, makes its way into the harbor, Amelia’s sailor friend Jim asks her to make herself useful. She helps Jim by tying up the bundles of newspapers he has with him. Amelia is surprised to find that the newspapers are from the east and are 3 months old. She soon learns that folks in California are hungry for news back east and will pay a pretty penny for it.

Once Amelia and her family are on dry land, Amelia’s mother reveals that the journey over was much more expensive than she had planned for. When Amelia goes to find a cart to help them haul their belongings, she has a brainstorm. She unpacks her dress shoes that are wrapped in a newspaper. A newspaper that is indeed newer than the ones that she bundled up and the newsboys were currently selling. When Amelia takes up on a street corner to sell her lone paper, she soon finds out that one kid, especially a girl, can’t sell in Julius’ turf. She is quickly and physically taken out of the game.

Amelia finds it difficult to be one of only a handful of women around. Yes it’s nice that all of the women gravitate toward each other and help each other out, but how is Amelia to help her family if all of the jobs from newsboy to printer’s devil are for boys?

Maybe Amelia would be better off as a boy.

Liza Ketchum has written a rip-roaring piece of historical fiction that will captivate all readers. Amelia’s intrepid nature and the vast chaos of San Francisco in the 1850s are fascinating. Sophie and Estelle are obviously partners, though Ketchum’s treatment of the relationship is simply matter of fact, and the book never strays into lesson territory. It is more of a scandal that Sophie never married. The action is non-stop, and readers will delight in Amelia’s adventures, whether they be up in the sky, down in the streets, or along the journey.

Hands down my favorite read so far this year.

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17. SCBWI TEAM BLOG Pre-Conference Interview: ADs Lucy Ruth Cummins & Denise Cronin

Over the holidays, SCBWI TEAM BLOGger Jaime Temairik posted interview with two fabulous Art Directors in her blog CocoaStomp.



First Jaime talked to Lucy Ruth Cummins, Associate Art Director at Simon & Schuster. Below is a bit from her interview. Click here to read the full post


Jaime: Okay, help is on the way. In the meantime, I'm having my people send Justin [Chanda] a bunch of emails so he'll be distracted and hopefully you'll be able to answer a few more questions. Illustrators will definitely want to know if you are currently acquiring?

Lucy: We are always acquiring new talent. I'm always keeping my eyes peeled. Even if I can't place someone on a project immediately (and it is true that some parts of publisher's lists are shrinking!) I'll often keep them on hand waiting for the right project. An example of this is the debut book from illustrator Jon Klassen, CATS' NIGHT OUT by Caroline Stutson - Jon just received the Governor General's Award for this project, and I had had his work on hand for several years before I was able to pair him with the perfect project. Although we may not always be able to immediately put the rubber to the road with new folks, good artwork makes a strong impression and the quest for a winning collaboration is always on my mind.
As for what I'm looking for - there's never anything specific. I love such a range of things, but I'm mainly looking for things I'm touched by. I love cute. I love simple. But I also love creepy and detailed! There's no one thing I'm looking for and I'm always happy to be surprised.


Next Jaime talked with Denise Cronin, Vice President in the Penguin Young Readers Group and the Art Director for Viking Children’s Books. There's a snippet below. Click here to read the full post.

Jaime: Denise, did you know not only are you an Art Director, you're a flipping Vice President? What is your average day like?

Denise: If you count time spent on the train, checking files and reading manuscripts, my day is about 9 hours. We are usually juggling about 60 books at various points of development. I work very closely with the editors and the designers in my department from start to finish. Making books is very collaborative. Rarely do I work alone.

Be sure to check out both the interviews for insights from these terrific

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18. Sarah Landis Joins HarperCollins

Sarah Landis has been named senior editor at HarperCollins’ Children’s Books. She will work primarily on teen fiction titles and report to editorial director Farrin Jacobs.

Landis served as an editor at Hyperion Books/Voice for almost five years. Prior to this, she held positions in editorial and marketing at Penguin Group (USA).

At Hyperion Books/Voice, Landis edited several novels including The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff, The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan, The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club by Gil McNeil. Some of the memoirs she has edited include Perfection by Julie Metzmoir and Just Who Will You Be? by Maria Shriver.

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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19. Manning Marable Has Died

Scholar Manning Marable (pictured, via) has passed away. He was 60-years-old.

Marable served as professor of history and political science at Columbia University. According to The Root, he had been working on the biography Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention for a decade. Penguin Group (USA) released it today and currently holds the #4 spot on Amazon’s biography & memoirs’ bestsellers list.

His widow, Leith Mullings Marable, shared these thoughts: “I think he would want to be remembered for having contributed to the black freedom struggle. He would want to be remembered for being both a scholar and an activist and as someone who saw the two as not being separated. He believed that both [callings] went together and enhanced each other.”

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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20. Manning Marable Has Died

Scholar Manning Marable (pictured, via) has passed away. He was 60-years-old.

Marable served as professor of history and political science at Columbia University. According to The Root, he had been working on the biography Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention for a decade. Penguin Group (USA) released it today and currently holds the #4 spot on Amazon’s biography & memoirs’ bestsellers list.

His widow, Leith Mullings Marable, shared these thoughts: “I think he would want to be remembered for having contributed to the black freedom struggle. He would want to be remembered for being both a scholar and an activist and as someone who saw the two as not being separated. He believed that both [callings] went together and enhanced each other.”

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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21. Greg Mortenson Accused of Fabricating Parts of His Memoir

A 60 Minutes report last night accused author Greg Mortenson (pictured, via) of fabricating parts of his bestselling memoirs and misusing funds from his charity, the Central Asia Institute (CAI).

The report examined three particular issues: (1) Did Mortenson first visit the village of Korphe after a mountain climbing trip as he wrote in his memoir, Three Cups of Tea? (2) Was Mortenson captured by the Taliban as he alleged in his follow-up Stones into Schools? (3) Is the CAI carrying out its charitable mission with the money it collects from philanthropists and donors? According to several sources who were interviewed, the answer is “no” to all three questions.

Former CAI donor Jon Krakauer called Mortenson’s first meeting with Korphe villages “a beautiful story” and “a lie.” Mansur Khan Mahsud denied that the Taliban kidnapped the author.  Mahsud appears in a photograph from the alleged kidnapping, but works as the research director of a respected Islamabad think tank.

continued…

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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22. Three Cups of Tea Author, Greg Mortensen, faces investigative claims of literary fraud

The book publishing industry is bracing itself for another scandal as one of the best-selling authors in recent years has been accused of fabricating parts of a popular memoir.

Greg Mortenson has been catapulted to celebrity since the 2006 publication of Three Cups of Tea, (Penguin Book Publishers) which he said was a non-fiction account of his travels in Pakistan. The book describes how in 1992, he got lost while descending from an attempt on K2, the world’s second-highest mountain, and was taken in by a group of villagers.

Mr Mortenson wrote that to repay that hospitality, he founded the Central Asia Institute, a non-profit foundation that builds schools in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Three Cups of Tea, which has sold more than 4m copies, was published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin. Penguin, like the Financial Times, is owned by Pearson.

On Friday, 60 Minutes, the CBS news programme, aired a segment that called into question the veracity of many of the stories central to the book. On Monday, author Jon Krakauer, who appeared in the 60 Minutes segment, released a digital booklet Three Cups of Deceit, which chronicles what he says are fabricated parts of Mr Mortenson’s books.

Viking said it would review the book and its contents with Mr Mortenson. “Greg Mortenson’s work as a humanitarian in Afghanistan and Pakistan has provided tens of thousands of children with an education. 60 Minutes is a serious news organisation and in the wake of their report, Viking plans to carefully review the materials with the author,” it said.

If the story is proved to be even partly fabricated, it would be another black eye for the book publishers industry: several works of non-fiction have been shown to be at least partly fictionalised in recent years. Other examples include James Frey’s, A Million Little Pieces published by Random House Book Publishers, that became the investigative subject of the smoking gun website exposing the supposedly non-fiction book as largely fictional.

The 60 Minutes report pointed to several passages that it says are exaggerated or fabricated. It suggested Mr Mortenson did not visit Korphe, the village he describes in the book, until a year after his descent from K2.

In statements to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, in his home town of Bozeman, Montana, Mr Mortenson acknowledged he had taken literary licence in parts of the story. “The time about our final days on K2 and ongoing journey to Korphe village and Skardu is a compressed version of events that took place in the fall of 1993.”

The 60 Minutes report also claimed that a group of Pakistani men who Mr Mortenson said were members of the Taliban who had kidnapped him, were in fact lawyers and other professionals, who were assigned to protect him.

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23. A Discovery of Witches Contest



Viking/Penguin has asked me to hold this contest because of the immense crossover popularity of this book.  Although originally geared toward the adult market, many young adults are finding this book and are loving it. So I'm very honored to be able to offer you a chance to win the book and some really cool buttons.

Now, I have not read this book yet, but it's definitely on my list to read.  I have heard some really good things about it and I'm totally excited for it.  I love crossover books!
Here are what the buttons look like.  Now, because I don't know the story, the buttons mean nothing to me.  But they're just cool swag.

So here is what you have to do to win this Book and a Buttons.

If you are a new follower you get +5 entries
If you tweet this contest you get +2 entries
If you comment on any review I have written +10 entries (one comment-one review)
Post this comment on your sidebar of your blog +3 entries.

So you have 20 chances of winning this contest! Please note that this contest is open
only in the US/CA.  The publisher will be sending out these prizes.  Also, make sure you grab
these widgets.  A fun contest to see who people want to play the leads in the movie!



PRAISE
A wonderfully imaginative grown-up fantasy with all the magic of Harry Potter or Twilight…An irresistible tale of wizardry, science and forbidden love, DISCOVERY will leave you longing for the sequel.”
People

580 pages of sheer pleasure. Harkness’ sure hand when it comes to star-crossed love and chilling action sequences in striking locales makes for an enchanting debut. The best news of all: It’s the first in a trilogy.”
Parade
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24. Lion

by William Pene Du Bois   Viking Press  1956   In an animal factory in the sky winged artists invent new animals, including one very unusual looking lion.   Artist Foreman, looking suspiciously like an angel, was one of the first animal designers in the Animal Factory in the sky.  Now in semi-retirement as, well, a foreman to the other artists, he has come up with a new name for an animal --

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25. Punch in New York

 written and illustrated by Alice Provensen  Viking  1991  When the star of a famed Italian puppet theatre is stolen fro his owner he goes on a mischievous romp through modern day New York City only to realize there's no place like home... unless you get to rip off someone in the process.  Landing in New York, Il Professore Tucci-Picini (all Punch puppeteers are referred to as Professor) has

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