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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Cybils nominees, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 67
1. The End Of My Cybil Season Reading

I finished the last book I'd taken from the Cybils lists last night, and not a moment too soon. The finalists for the Cybils Award will be announced tomorrow.

I love the premise for The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods. Violet Diamond is an eleven-year-old biracial child whose black father died before she was born. She has never met his family because his mother originally objected to her son marrying a white woman and later, we learn, was so devastated by her only child's sudden death in an accident that she couldn't deal with the family he created with his wife. Once she'd recovered, staying away from them had become a habit.

I find that believable, by the way.

Violet's loving maternal family is extremely white,  and she lives in a very white, upper-middle class world. Her mother is a neonatologist, and her late father was a medical doctor as well. Her white grandmother runs some kind of on-line business and her white grandfather is enjoying retirement, cooking and playing golf. Violet wants for nothing, materially or emotionally. Except that half her identity is missing. Just not there.

She is aware that her black grandmother is a well-known artist, and when she finds out that grandmother will be in a neighboring city for an exhibit, she gets her mother to take her to the opening. Violet and grandmother meet, and Violet ends up being exposed to the half of her family history she's never known.

As I said, I love the concept and love the artist grandmother. I felt as if the story of Violet's exposure to her family took a while to get started, though.

For another take on biracial children meeting an unknown grandparent, check out Brendan Buckley's Universe and Everything In It (Hmm, similar title.) by Sundee Frazier.

The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond is a Cybils nominee in the middle grade fiction category.

After a couple of months of Cybilizing, I feel more up-to-date on recent children's lit than I have in quite some time.

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2. I Stumbled Upon A Couple Of Charmers

I think these are the only two picture books I read off the Cybils list. (I've read myself into a mild coma, so I can't be sure.) They are both particularly engaging.

I read Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio with illustrations by Christian Robinson first and was delighted. Gaston does not exactly fit with his teapot poodle siblings, Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo, and Ooh-La-La. Does his mother care?  Not a bit.

One day this family is out at the park where they meet another family of dogs with a member, Antoinette, who doesn't fit in with her siblings, Rocky, Ricky, and Bruno. Quelle horreur! Has a terrible mistake been made?

Gaston is all about feeling right as well as looking right. It's amusing and quick and kind of deep. I did wonder if some kids reading this will learn about the possibility of being switched at birth and be a little shaken. But, hey, literature is dangerous.

Flora and the Penguin by Molly Idle is one of those books in which the pictures tell the tale. There are no words. I can't recall when I've seen a book in which facial expressions and body language--even on the part of the penguin--did such a terrific job of conveying emotion and action.

Gaston and Flora and the Penguin are both Cybils nominees in the fiction picture book category.

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3. "Devil's Intern" Kindle Edition Available Free Today

The Devil's Intern by Donna Hosie is available free TODAY for Kindle. It's a Cybils nominee in the Young Adult Speculative Fiction category.

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4. Going Out On A High

I have liked some of M.T. Anderson's Thrilling Tales/Pals in Peril books better than others. (I know I'm nitpicking on this, but the name of the series changed for some reason.) I had to be won over by the first book, Whales on Stilts, but the second one, The Clue of of the Linoleum Lederhosen, was a hit. The third one I read (there are supposed to be six; I seem to have missed a couple), Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware wasn't a favorite. But the final book in the series, He Laughed with His Other Mouths, is an absolute gem.

The basic premise for all these books: A Tom Swift-type character named Jaspar Dash and a spunky girl (younger and spunkier than the 1930's era Nancy Drew) existed in their own book worlds that reflected the eras that created them, the 1920s/30s and the 1980s/90s. And yet, at the same time, they are existing in our own twenty-first century where Jaspar, in particular, is both having adventures but out of place.

In He Laughed with His Other Mouths, Jaspar is now that classic/stereotypical character, the young male in search of his father. Jaspar will go to the ends of the universe in search of dear old dad. He will accept some pretty outlandish behavior from his father figure. However, Jaspar is a young hero, and he recognizes evil when he sees it. Maybe he doesn't recognize it right away and maybe he needs a little push from his spunky girl companions, but he does recognize and behave as a hero should.

All of the books that I've read in this series operate on more than one level. You have the basic contemporary adventure. You have characters from an older book world trying to function in a contemporary one. You have the knowledge that children who are now old, if not dead, read the older books back when they were new and shiny.

With He Laughed with His Other Mouths, Anderson does something quite marvelous with footnotes. Using footnotes for witty asides has become a cliche since Terry Pratchett perfected doing that back in the day. But Anderson uses his clever footnotes not to be witty but to tell another story entirely, this one about a kid during World War II who was a Jaspar Dash fan. This is a complete story, a piece of serious historical fiction embedded in a fantasy satire/comedy.

As with all these books that I've read, I wonder how much of this wonderful stuff child readers will understand. Assuming they enjoy the layer with the contemporary adventure, will they get the jokes that are part of it? Will they get the nostalgic elements?

Kid readers aside, for those of us who do get He Laughed with His Other Mouths, it's pretty damn brilliant.

He Laughed with His Other Mouths is a Cybils nominee in the Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction category.

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5. How Will We Live Our Afterlives?

Here's the basic set-up for The Devil's Intern by Donna Hosie: Hell and "Up There" are just places people go to after they die. While there are definitely evil folk in Hell who suffer horribly, some people, like our teenage protagonist Mitchell, seem to end up there for random reasons. For them, Hell is pretty much a really boring, overcrowded place. They hold jobs and can change. Mitchell's good friend, a Viking prince who died in battle at sixteen, has learned to read in Hell.

Mitchell is an intern in the accounting department and through his boss is able to get his hands on a device that will allow him to time travel. His plan is to go back in time with his three best (dead) friends to relive and change their deaths. Mitchell, in particular, wants to get to live the life he missed out on because he was hit by a bus.

There's much that's entertaining and intriguing in this book. There's plenty of narrative drive once the group finally gets on the road. But I had a hard time with the "paradox" business that Mitchell kept talking about. If these dead kids changed their deaths, what does that do to their afterlives where they were best friends and even two couples? The things that happen at each of their deaths that only happen because of something else that happened and could that be changed? Well, I was watching an episode of Dr. Who this afternoon that I couldn't follow, either. The where-are-we-in-time thing is difficult for me.

While I was reading The Devil's Intern, I wondered if it was really YA or was it an adult book with teen characters? One of the big factors in determining YA is supposed to be theme. YA themes often involve young people working out how they're going to live their lives. At first, I thought the characters in The Devil's Intern were coming to terms with how they had lived their lives, which would be adult. However, you could argue that they are working out how they're going to live their afterlives, bringing us around to YA territory again.

Hellbent by Anthony McGowan is another YA book set in Hell. Interesting how totally different they are.

The Devil's Intern is a Cybils nominee in the Young Adult Speculative Fiction category.

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6. Characters. It's All About The Characters.

A clever, spunky girl who keeps a journal and is dealing with a parent's tragic illness. Doesn't that sound like a stereotypical children's book, the kind adult gatekeeper's just love?

That was my first impression of The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern. In fact, I considered giving up on this one early on. Before long, I was very glad I didn't.

Twelve-year-old Maggie Mayfield is brilliant, knows it, and loves everything that goes along with being smart. She is given a journal in which she begins writing a memoir while sitting in a hospital room with her obviously critically ill father. This is all in the prologue. You can see why I wasn't immediately entranced.

But Maggie has a truly marvelous voice. She reminded me very much of Flavia de Luce, a child character of about the same age in an adult mystery series, not just in her intelligence and enjoyment of same, but in her relationship with her two hot, older sisters. There is antagonism there, but the older sisters also keep an eye out for Maggie, which she may not always recognize. Maggie also sets out at one point to cure her father of multiple sclerosis, just as Flavia sets out to do something miraculous and impossible for a parent in one of her books.

Maggie's memoir deals with the year between her eleventh and twelfth birthdays, the year when her father's illness took a turn for the worse, something her family couldn't protect her from, try as they would. Hmm. My college knowledge of memoir is that it's a recollection of an event the significance of which is not clear until after it happens. That pretty much fits the situation here.

One thing I found odd with this book was it's 1980s setting. Why? I kept wondering. So that dad could be the aging hippy he is here? So that the author can talk about decades old music? So that Maggie wouldn't have the Internet available to her, because the Internet would have made it a lot harder to keep knowledge of her father's illness from her? No, in an author's note at the end of the book we find out that The Meaning of Maggie is autobiographical. I can't believe I've never read an autobiographical children's book before. If so, was it this good?

The Meaning of Maggie is a Cybils nominee in the middle grade fiction category.

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7. A World Of Prostitutes

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys has an eye-popping first line. "My mother's a prostitute." The narrator isn't just directing an insult toward a mom who sleeps around. The mother here is your traditional, lives-in-a-cathouse, works-for-a-madam prostitute. The setting--mid-twentieth century New Orleans--and the world--of prostitutes--is the big draw for this book.

Main character Josie Moraine is an older YA character. She's finished high school and is saving to get out of the Big Easy. Her voice and those of the other characters are a little contrived, though that is understandable. This is a historical novel and the author is trying to duplicate the language and usage of another era. That's extremely difficult to do and make sound natural. As with so many YA novels, Josie is torn between two lovers. It's pretty obvious to readers (at least this adult reader) that she can forget about one of them. Josie doesn't get it. Once again, this is probably understandable given the era she lived in.

There is a mystery here, but it seems to exist in order to showcase the historical world. Everything in this book seems to exist to support the historical world. Fortunately, it's a fantastic world.

Out of the Easy reminded me of Spirit and Dust because both books involve a protagonist on the high end of YA living in a world YA readers won't be familiar with. Little sub-genre going here?

Out of the Easy was just named a finalist for the 2013 Cybil for Young Adult Fiction.

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8. Book Review: The Archived

The Archived
by Victoria Schwab

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Archived is a 2013 Cybils Awards Nominee

Who would like this book:

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

Get it from:
FTC required disclosure: Reviewed from library copy. The bookstore links above are affiliate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links. Neither of these things influenced my review.

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9. Was "Cress" Worth Paying A Fine For?

It most definitely was.

Cress is the third in The Lunar Chronicles, which began with Cinder, a book I definitely enjoyed. Scarlet I wasn't quite so taken with. I'm back on board with Cress, though.

What Cress does really well is get readers into the story without leaving them mystified because this is part three of a serial and who remembers what happened in part two? Book One was a clear and clever Cyber Cinderella story. Book Two was an intriguing take on Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf, but connecting it to Cinder's story a little awkwardly. The awkwardness is gone in Book Three.

Cress is a techie Rapunzel figure, trapped on a satellite for years doing the evil queens bidding. She is also an inexperienced romantic who believes the space cowboy she ends up leaving the satellite with is the hero of her dreams. It makes sense that she gets pulled into Cinder's scooby gang, which is plotting to save a Prince Charming from having to marry an evil Moon Queen who is planning to...

That's enough.

There's some romance going on in these books. It's pretty clear to me that all kinds of couples are going to come out of these Chronicles. I don't usually care for romance. But there are clever things going on with these people. Cress, for instance, is such an over-the-top sucker for romance and the object of her affections is so bad-boy questionable that there is almost a little parody going on there.

This is a serial, and I do wish I'd been able to read them in a binge instead of over a few years. That's pretty much my only complaint at this point.

Cress is a Cybils nominee in the YA Speculative Fiction category.

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10. Facts Here, Facts There, Facts Everywhere

I was very taken with Peter Sis's book The Wall back in 2008, so when I heard he'd written and illustrated another book, this one about Antoine St. Exupery, for whom I'm a groupy, I was enthusiastic. I've never really understood The Little Prince, and I don't really get Sis's The Pilot and the Little Prince, either. It's beautiful (and very well reviewed), but I'm embarrassed to say that I find the layering of information difficult to manage. There's narrative, sometimes there's little facts in circles in a straight line above the narrative, and sometimes there are facts sprinkled above that. An older child who is into nonfiction and just plain loves facts might eagerly suck this stuff up. This older reader is stuck in her ways and needs a more linear reading experience.

 A New York Times reviewer said, " Sis suggests in his new title that the Pilot of “The Little Prince” is Saint-Exupéry and the Little Prince his child self." I totally missed that. I'm not saying it's not there, just that I didn't get it.

However, I did pick up on the fact that Guerlain named the perfume Vol de Nuit for one of St. Exupery's books. That's the kind of thing a St. Exupery groupy wants to know.

The Pilot and the Little Prince is a Cybils nominee in the picture book category.

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11. You Don't Have To Love Mockingbird To Like This Book

I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora is about a group of teenagers who set out to increase To Kill a Mockingbird's popularity by making it appear to be disappearing and thus unavailable. Everyone wants what they can't have, right? Part of their plan is to take their project viral. Some readers might think that they were unrealistically successful with that. All the characters, teen and adult, are amusing and clever, though some readers might find that they sound a lot alike.

Yes, yes, "some readers" is me.

Okay, let's talk about the intriguing things in I Kill the Mockingbird:

  • This book really is about literate teens. These kids aren't just spokespeople spouting the party line on classics. They can actually discuss a book. They know why not everyone loves To Kill a Mockingbird, for instance. No, no, I am not one of the dislikers. But, nonetheless, I understand why not everyone embraces it and appreciate that mindset being expressed.
  • This book is about religious observance. I do not mean it is about dogma or doctrine. It is about kids who go to religious services and religious school. There are hundreds of thousands of young people who attend the services related to whatever faith their families follow. I don't see a lot of that reflected in children's books.
  • This book does have some of the "this-is-an-important-book-about-death" thing going on. Though it's more an-important-book-about-not-dying-and-having-to-get-over-it thing. And, yes, that's different.
  • I liked the father's reason for thanking God--it's always good to be polite. And the mother's argument that we are only able to enjoy living because we're able to pretend we're not going to die. And the discussion of "Ordinary Time," a season in the Christian church calendar? The main character gives a meaningful explanation of its significance. Though I was a Catholic child, I didn't learn about the church calendar until I was a Sunday school teacher in a Congregational church. I thought Ordinary Time was just that period of the year when nothing else was happening.
I liked I Kill the Mockingbird for all the odd little things I found in it. It's getting all kinds of loving  from people who probably liked it for other reasons.

I Kill the Mockingbird is a Cybils nominee in the middle grade category.

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12. Come On. No One Else Gets A "Jane Eyre" Vibe Here?

When I was a teenager, I was a big fan of historical romance. In college, I would read Georgette Heyer during exam weeks to relax. As an adolescent, I really liked that "I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, Well, maybe you're not so bad" storyline in a historical setting. So I picked Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge off the Cybils Young Adult Speculative Fiction nomination list for one reason and one reason only: The main character has been raised to marry and murder a demon who has had control of her country since before she was born but falls for him before she can complete her task. Okay, it was paranormal and not historical, but I was dealing with a speculative fiction list, after all.

Now, though I seem to read a lot of fantasy, it's mainly because a lot of children's and YA books are fantasy. It's not because I'm so fond of it. I don't get excited about fantasy elements, as a general rule.  I'm not crazy about houses that are always changing, for instance, as the one in Cruel Beauty does. I was kind of mystified about who the Kindly Ones were in this book, especially since there seems to be an alternative Greek mythology thing going on here and where do the Kindly Ones fit in? But that didn't matter because the demon was very witty and clever and our protagonist wasn't a particularly nice person, which I like in a heroine.

Yes, Teen Gail would have loved this thing. Cruel Beauty should be on a list of teen vacation reading that is totally inappropriate for school papers. 

But If You Want To Write A School Paper On It, Try Talking About Jane Eyre

However, if someone really wants to sell this as a subject for a high school paper, I think they might be able to do a Jane Eyre comparison. Cruel Beauty is being marketed as a Beauty and the Beast meets Greek mythology tale, but I kept thinking of Jane Eyre.

Jane Eyre was not assigned reading for me when I was a teenager. I read it on my own, as I read a great many things back then. I did not find it particularly memorable, except for the scene where poor Jane sits on the sidelines during an evening event at Mr. Rochester's house. That probably speaks volumes about my adolescence. I didn't become a fan of Jane's until I re-read it in 2003 after reading The Eyre Affair. The Good Reading Fairy had hit it, and I've become a bit of a Jane Eyre groupy, looking for and reading retellings. Cruel Beauty may not be an intentional retelling, but I still think an enterprising student could make a case that would convince a teacher to at least accept a Beauty/Jane Eyre paper.

Jane Eyre is about a prickly young woman who doesn't inspire affection in traditional relationships, such as the one with her aunt. In the course of acquiring what is by the standards of her time a good education, she is not treated very well. She enters a wealthy (wealth is power) man's home as a governess. Said wealthy man is unhappy and bitter over the life he has been forced to live. These two damaged, unromantic people find something in each other.

Cruel Beauty is about a bitter, angry young woman, her father's least favorite child, the one he bartered away to a demon. He provides her with what is by the standards of her world a good education so she can kill the demon he's marrying her off to. The plan will mean her death as well, explaining her bitterness and anger. She enters a powerful male's home as his wife. Said powerful male is amusing and attractive but resigned to a fate he brought upon himself, one we're not aware of for a while. These two damaged, I can't say unromantic because I'm sure we're supposed to think they are, people recognize something in each other.

In Jane Eyre, there's a madwoman in the attic. In Cruel Beauty, there's a little something in one of the house's many rooms.   

Jane and Mr. Rochester's story in Jane Eyre is framed with a beginning piece about Jane's rough youth with her family and boarding school and an ending bit about her suffering after she leaves Rochester. Nyx and Ignifex's story in Cruel Beauty is framed with a beginning piece about Nyx's rough youth with her family and an ending bit about her suffering after she and Ignifex are separated. Some have argued that Mr. Rochester's blindness is a punishment for what he planned for himself and Jane, a punishment that was alleviated when Jane returned to him. A clever high school student could argue that Ignifex was punished for all he had done, a punishment that was alleviated when Jane returned to him.
There you've got it, folks, the beginning of a Cruel Beauty/Jane Eyre English paper.

Wait! There's more! It's kind of a stretch, but if enterprising students wanted to, they could claim there's a bit of a torn-between-two-lovers thing going on in Jane Eyre what with Jane being proposed to by both Mr. Rochester and that creepy minister named St. John. The author of Cruel Beauty does something interesting with the torn-between-two-lovers cliche.

Okay, lads and lasses. You're welcome to this material, but put it into your own words.

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13. And Now For Something Totally Different

I just finished three fantasy books in a row, mainly because I needed to get them back to the library in a certain order. You'd think fantasy would be different, wouldn't you? As in, it's not real world stuff, so it should be different. But when you read so much of it, there's a certain sameness. And then real world YA is often very similar in its own real world way.

Which is why The Tyrant's Daughter by J. C. Carleson is so exciting. It's real world, but very different YA real world.

Laila is a princess, daughter of the murdered king of an unnamed, presumably Middle Eastern country. Except after she has resettled with her mother and brother in a seriously modest two-bedroom apartment outside Washington, DC she realizes that no, she's not a princess at all. Mainly because her father was never a king. He was a third-generation strongman tyrant and when he wasn't being Dad at the palace, he was behaving in a typical tyrannical way.

Laila has a terrific voice, slightly reserved and stiff as she describes, for instance, her appreciation of her new American friend's kindness even though she can't help noticing that she dresses like a prostitute. She's a kind person, herself, recognizing that a classmate is suffering because her parents are divorcing and becoming attracted to that nice guy who works for the school paper. But  those traditional YA experiences pale compared to those of a fifteen-year-old whose father was gunned down in his home on her uncle's command, who saw her mother covered in her father's blood, whose life was saved by a CIA operative. The Tyrant's Daughter isn't about the world of teens. It's about a teen in the world.

What's missing from this novel is cliched nasty teenagers. There are no mean girls. There are no bullies. There are no jocks trying to force themselves on girls. Adults might find the CIA operative familiar, as well as the brilliant, manipulative widowed tyrant wife. But I don't think they appear often in YA.

So that's just the basic set-up to this thing. As the truth about Laila's family is slowly revealed to her, the fact that this book is a political thriller is slowly revealed to readers. Why is that CIA op hanging around? What's he paying Laila's mother (but not very much) to do? With whom? Why is her mother talking to Laila's uncle, the tyrant who had her tyrant father killed?

And what will Laila's involvement in all this be? She is a tyrant's daughter, after all.

This is a marvelous book, extremely well written. But it's undercut a bit by the essay on women in the Middle East that follows. Even though the essayist ties it to The Tyrant's Daughter by questioning what will become of Laila after the end of the action of the novel, I think most readers are going to wonder why it's there and feel that this great reading experience is being turned into some kind of lesson.

The Tyrant's Daughter is a Cybils nominee in the YA Fiction category.

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14. Wouldn't This Make A Neat Little Sitcom?

When I picked up The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy from the library, I told the librarian that I'd heard the book was like The Penderwicks but with boys and two gay dads. She said, "Ah, bringing the story into the present." I think that is the case. I liked The Penderwicks very much and found it contemporary, probably compared to/contrasted with Little Women, which it is a spin on. But I also thought "This book, simply by being a throw-back to Little Women and, perhaps, other pre-nineteen-fifties stories, is different." It had a retro thing going for it, it was "a story about sisters who worry about the family's honor and don't even mention a TV."

The Fletcher boys may be viewed as a little innocent and other-worldly not because they're retro in any way but because their stories and lives are very rooted in traditional child issues. This in spite of the fact that they are not genetically related, they are not even all the same ethnic background, and they are all the children of two men who are living and raising a family together. Each boy has his own storyline with his own issue:

  • Boy One is a popular athlete who is considering trying something different 
  • Boy Two is dealing with growing apart from a friend and moving on, as well as trying to interview the crotchety old guy next door for a school project
  • Boy Three is highly intelligent and has begged Dad and Papa to let him go to a school for the gifted
  • Boy Four has the "stereotypical" imaginary friend. Or does he?
You know the one problem none of these kids have? Those gay dads. The men are just there, doing any kind of dad stuff. There's nothing didactic or instructive here about accepting families with nontraditional parents. These guys have had children in the school system for a number of years now. People know they're there. Halloween parties are held. Ice rinks are made. Holidays are celebrated. Life goes on.

This is not to say that no one ever raises an eyebrow over the gay family. When they are attending an open house at a new school, oldest brother Sam feels compelled to address questions. "We were all adopted as babies. Our dads have been together for ages. They got married two years ago"..."Do you have any other questions? Want to know our birthdays? Height and weight?"

That was a neat way to handle back story, by the way. The newspaper article written by an eighth grade student about the Fletchers and their annual Halloween party is also a clever way to get the back story on how the Fletcher kids became brothers.

As I was reading this book, I thought this premise would make a charming sitcom. The various chapters here could be the first season's episodes. Then the story could expand with episodes about the gay dads dealing with their boys going to camp, getting babysitting jobs, heading to high school, getting jobs, dating girls. 

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher is a Cybils nominee in the Middle Grade Fiction Category.

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15. My Cybil Picture Books

Well, Thanksgiving is over at Chez Gauthier, for which I am very grateful. Not that I didn't enjoy it. But the three plus days of preparation spread over a couple of weeks, as well as the six hours of socializing has left me exhausted in a satisfying sort of way.

Fortunately, I planned to be tired this weekend. Over the next few days I'm going to be posting links to the Cybil nominees I happen to have read this year. I'm starting with picture books and working my way up in age because I am extremely linear, and this was the line I could most easily find.

First off we have three nonfiction nominees:

Jimi: Sounds Like A Rainbow--A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix by Gary Golio with illustrations by Javaka Steptoe.

Lincoln Tells a Joke by Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer with illustrations by Stacy Innerst.

The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Suzy) by Barbara Kerley with illustrations by Edwin Fotheringham.

And my one fiction nominee:

Shark vs. Train by Chris Barton with illustrations by Tom Lichtenheld.

Now I have to find a vacant spot on which to collapse.

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16. My Cybils YA Books

I am finishing off my not very restful Thanksgiving weekend with links to my posts on YA Cybils nominees.

As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth by Lynne Rae Perkins.

Fat Vampire by Adam Rex.

I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett.

Linger by Maggie Stiefvater.

The Cardturner by Louis Sachar.

As luck would have it, I have two more Cybils nominees upstairs in my To Be Read pile. I just happened to pick them off the new book shelf at the library over the last month. I'll post about them when I've finished them.

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17. Book Review: The Curse of the Wendigo

The Curse of the Wendigo
The Monstrumologist, Book 2
by Rick Yancey

This sequel to last year's The Monstrumologist, finds Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, the Monstrumologist of the title, in the interesting position of arguing against the existence of a monster. When Warthrop receives word that his former mentor intends to propose adding the Wendigo, a mythical American monster that resembles a vampire in some ways, to the canon of Monstrumology at the next conference, Warthrop prepares a speech in opposition to the inclusion of such superstitious nonsense. When Warthrop's old friend John Chanler disappears on a quest for the Wendigo, Warthrop and his young assistant, narrator Will Henry, begin a dangerous journey through the Canadian wilderness in search of Chanler, even though Warthrop believes that search to be hopeless.

I've never been a fan of horror, but I love this series in spite of my squeamishness. I probably would never have picked up the first book, especially with it's original hideous cover, except for three things: it was nominated for the Cybils in 2009, I'm a fan of Rick Yancey (here, here, and here) and my teenage son, who also doesn't like horror, gave it his highest recommendation.

The series is wonderfully written, in a style reminiscent of classic horror, yet with a modern sensibility that will appeal to today's teens. There are some, er, pretty graphic scenes, so this isn't a series for younger children or sensitive readers.

For most of the book, The Curse of the Wendigo is slightly less of a bloodbath than the original Monstrumologist book, and moves a little more slowly, relying on suspense more than outright horror. However, there are still enough detailed descriptions of bodies with entrails hanging out and eyes removed to satisfy the most jaded horror reader.

But really, The Curse of the Wendigo is very much a character driven book. And what characters! I adore Will Henry. On the surface he is obsequious and timid, yet underneath he has a depth of resolve and courage, which is revealed to a much greater degree in this book. We also see Dr. Warthrop in new light here, as some of his past, and some unexpected aspects of his personality, are revealed. Through their hardships, his relationship with Will Henry develops, and while he is still the same arrogant and impatient doctor, by the end some change has crept in. There are some new characters introduced, including Lilly, a delightfully obnoxious 13-year-old girl who makes it her mission to torment Will, and who is certainly destined to be the first female Monstrumologist.

The Curse of the Wendigo was a 2010 Cybils nominee in the Fantasy/Science Fiction: Teen category.

FTC required disclosure: Review copy provided by

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18. Book Review: Firebrand

by Gillian Philip

Seth is the bastard sun of the dun captain Griogar. His father barely acknowledges his existence, and most of the people in the dun revile and torment him, when they aren't ignoring him. But when his older half-brother Conal takes him under his wing, the two form a special bond. So when Conal is exiled to the full-mortal realm, of course Seth goes with him.

Seth and Conal are Sithe, and have the ability to speak mind-to-mind. Sithe also live extremely long lives, but they aren't immortal and can die on the point of a sword—or in a fire. And in the late 16th century, full mortals consider Sithe abilities to be witchcraft, and witches are burned at the stake. Can Seth and Conal survive long enough to live out the term of their exile and return to their own world?

Firebrand is an exciting story driven by a strong narrative voice that leaps off the page. Seth is an interesting character: stubborn, arrogant, and temperamental, yet redeemed by an abiding loyalty to his brother. Although initially he appears to care about no one but himself, he grows through his love and loyalty to Conal, and he shows a deep ability to care in spite of his prickly exterior. Gillian Philip did an amazing job of creating a narrator who should be unlikeable, but whom we can’t help but begin to like and care about.

The plot is exciting, with enough action to keep the pages turning. In fact, it leaps right into the action as Conal is about to be burned at the stake, then much of the book is a flashback that shows how they got to that point. There’s also plenty of political intrigue, and romance as well.

Firebrand appears to be primarily only available in the UK at this time. I was lucky enough to receive a review copy as a Cybils panelist. There are some copies available on Amazon Marketplace, but other than that, readers in the US may have difficulty finding copies. I hope that this excellent fantasy series will be available in a US edition before too long.

Firebrand was a 2010 Cybils nominee in the Fantasy & Science Fiction—Teen category.

Firebrand on Amazon.com (try the used and new link)

Firebrand on Amazon UK

FTC required disclosure: Review copy provided by the publisher to enable me to write this review. Some of 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. What If Dexter Morgan's Dad Had Been A Serial Killer Instead Of That Creepy Cop?

Well, well, well. I requested I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga a while back, and by the time I got hold of it, it was a Cybils nominee for YA fiction.

I Hunt Killers is a serial murderer story with a tormented lead who is both hunting for the killer and fearful that he could become one. It includes a quirky, much weaker, sidekick and a spunky girlfriend. It made me think of Dexter, if Dexter had made any attempt to control himself when he was young. And had friends.

It also reminded me of Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick in that both books seem like YA book versions of adult movies. With some changes to details, all the main characters could easily be ten years older and pretty much maintain the same plot and end up with the same story. And it seems as if it wouldn't take a whole lot to adapt them into movies because they seem so much like movies already.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. This thriller scenario may be new to YA, which is different than doing the same thing in YA over and over again simply because new readers are coming up who haven't seen it before.

This idea of using adult film as inspiration for YA novels may be really taking off right now. I'm reading The FitzOsbornes in Exile, and though I'm enjoying it, I have to say it seems a lot like a Masterpiece series.

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20. If You're Going To Read A Book With Multiple Points Of View, Read This One

Minutes before I started reading Ungifted by Gordon Korman, I gave up reading a book that was told from alternating points of view. Several of them. None of the characters were particularly interesting, some of them were terribly cliched, and the point of view switches meant having to keep readjusting myself to a different person telling a story I didn't like very much, anyway.

Imagine my surprise when I found that Ungifted was told the same way. The basic story is more interesting in Ungifted, though, and the characters are all more likable and more accessible.

Ungifted is the story of a run-of-the-mill kid who has a history of stumbling into disruptive rather than criminal trouble. After accidentally causing expensive damage to the middle school gym, he takes advantage of a paperwork error so he can hide out in the district's school for the academically gifted.

I found the basic premise for the book believable. Donovan had legitimate reasons for being concerned about the financial trouble he was going to make for his family if he was fingered for the gym job. I found the slip-up that got him into the gifted program believable. I found his family's response to his sudden identification as gifted believable. For the past thirty years, at least, it has been a rare parent who hasn't spent their children's entire school careers waiting for someone besides themselves to recognize their offsprings' splendor.

I did feel the point of view switches weakened the story, though. The basic idea is that Donovan's presence at the school makes life better for the gifted students. I buy that idea, too. But I would have enjoyed getting deeper into one point of view in order to see what's so great about Donovan.

This is a contemporary, realistic school story with a lot of humor. I see so much fantasy, paranormal, teen girl group stuff that a realistic story seems unique by comparison. A lot of kids would be happy to find this book.

Ungifted is a Cybils nominee in the middle grade fiction category.

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21. Is It Too Late For Me To Get Myself Some Brothers?

An argument could be made that Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks is just another outsider trying to make it in high school story. Maggie and her three older brothers were all homeschooled by their mother who, like so many mothers in  children's lit/YA, is gone, gone, gone. Each one of them had to transition to public school at ninth grade. Now it's Maggie's turn. Her brothers are quite marvelous, though not particularly attentive, and Maggie is left to experience not just the terrors of high school on her own, but the whole separation from family that most kids do somewhere between the ages of 3 and 5.

Yes, the homeschooling thing is the only unusual element here in the basic story. Nonetheless, Friends With Boys is very well done. Partly this is because those older brothers, while not particularly helpful at first, have made their way through an assortment of adolescent problems and are still standing, so there is every reason for us to trust Maggie to do the same. And partly this is because Friends With Boys is a graphic novel and a really good one.

I am able to whip through what I consider to be a well-done graphic novel, one that uses image to communicate setting and action. Hicks does even more here. Her wonderful artwork conveys character. When Maggie's older brothers appear, our understanding of them is almost instantaneous. There are no what I call "narrative boxes" in these frames--spots where the graphic novelist has had to tell us some info in words. Absolutely everything here is in dialogue and images. You can just suck this story in, absorb it. Be one with the story.

Okay, I will admit I don't totally get the ghost. But for you people who like that sort of thing, hey, there's a ghost.

Friends With Boys is a Cybils nominee in the Teen Graphic Novels category.

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22. Yes, Ivan Is A One And Only

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate is one of those books that is saved by a really great character. Ivan is a gorilla, and he tells his own story in short chapters laid out in short paragraphs. They aren't indented and are spaced in such a way that the material on the pages could pass for lists. This all seems to me to suggest the way a nonhuman would tell a story.

Ivan's is a hard core outsider story, because, though he describes himself as having had a life as a human at one point ("My life as a human was a glamorous one, although my parents, traditional sorts, would not have approved."), he clearly has not. He lived in a human family only as long as the human family could tolerate him. He observes humans from inside a cage.

He may not quite get that his understanding is often just a little bit off. So all his observations and philosophical sounding statements are from the point of view of someone who is watching humans but not always totally getting beyond the surface of what he observes. This is not to say that he's superficial. He does the best he can with what he's got to work with.

Applegate was inspired by a true story of a gorilla who lived much like Ivan did. Since this included spending decades in a cage, you might think this is one of those evil people doing animals bad stories. But the entire human race isn't written off here. Even Mack, who could be described as the heavy, is portrayed as more unenlightened and maybe confused than wicked.

The One and Only Ivan is a clever, often very readable story. But it also often doesn't have a lot of narrative drive. Which brings us to an opportunity to do a Plot Project piece.

Plot Project: You could describe The One and Only Ivan plot as being built around  a character wanting something and having to overcome obstacles to get it. Ivan wants to save a young elephant. But that young elephant doesn't enter the story until about a quarter of the way through the book, and Ivan's mission to save her doesn't become clear until close to the halfway point. You could also describe The One and Only Ivan plot as beginning with a disturbance to his world--the arrival of the young elephant. But, again, that doesn't come until a quarter of the way in. The real story here, the something that happens to somebody and so what, doesn't begin for quite a while. Until then, you're talking world building and characterization.

Ivan is a wonderful character, but it wasn't until the last third of the book that I became interested in what might happen next.

There's a discussion of The One and Only Ivan in the comments to this review at the Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog. The One and Only Ivan is also a Cybils nominee in the Fantasy/Science Fiction category. That seems an odd place for it, given what we think of as fantasy these days. But it is about a gorilla who can write a book, so...

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23. More From Ivy And Bean, Two Of My Favorite Girls

I have been a fan of the Ivy + Bean books by Annie Barrows for years. As I said back in 2007:

"Bean could be described as a Junie B. and Clementine type of child in that she tends to go her own way. Her creator describes her as "loud and wild." The difference between Bean and the other leads in the big, girl series is that Bean is comfortable with who she is. She isn't always anxiously interacting with adult characters who reassure her in some way or are involved in helping her learn a reassuring lesson. Most of Bean's interaction is with another child and not adults. She interacts with Ivy, her co-lead, who, superficially, is your stereotypical quiet little girl.

Yeah, your quiet little girl who is into magic and potions, and who is sharp as a tack. Talk about still waters running deep." 

Their eighth book, No News Is Good News, is more of the same, and the same is very good. Ivy and Bean want to take part in a school fad that requires money. Their first plan to make some involves selling potions that Ivy would make. Surprisingly, that doesn't work. So they fall back on creating a neighborhood newspaper, as Bean's father did when he was young. They grasp the concept of selling subscriptions right away. That they will have to provide something to the people who paid up comes as something of a surprise to them. They also struggle with the concept of "news."

Yes, stories about child-run newspapers have been done before. But not with Ivy and Bean.

Ivy + Bean No News Is Good News is a Cybils nominee in the Easy Readers/Short Chapter Books category.


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I have "known" Melissa Wiley of Here in the Bonny Glen for years. She's written five books, three of which came out this year. Fox and Crow Are Not Friends is the first that I've read.

This clever Step into Reading book uses three tidy chapters to show Fox and Crow interacting in nonfriendly ways. At the same time, the book is a complete story with a climax and surprise reveal. The images don't just illustrate text but really do carry part of the storyline. The reveal makes sense in terms of the illustration. At the end of the story, we suddenly ask ourselves, Ah, yes. Where did the cheese come from?

And this little volume is full of literary references, starting with its title. Fox and Crow Are Not Friends calls to mind Frog and Toad Are Friends the first of the Frog and Toad  I Can Read books by Arnold Lobel. I once saw this series referred to as the best I Can Read books ever written. The chapter title A Good Smell Is Hard to Find has to make adult readers think of Flannery O'Connor's A Good Man Is Hard to Find, a short story I've never understood. Another chapter title, Revenge Is a Dish Best Served with Cheese is a play on "revenge is a dish best served cold," which is not a Klingon proverb, people! And the reveal at the end, which I don't want to give away--did it not make anyone else think of the Berenstain Bears?

I hope we'll see more Fox and Crow books in the future.

Fox and Crow Are Not Friends is a Cybils nominee in the Easy Readers/Early Chapter Books category.

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25. "Scarlet" Took Me Back--Way Back

Reading Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen was a fascinating experience. The book is the Robin Hood story from the point of view of Will Scarlet, one of Robin's band of so-called merry men. Except in this rendition, he's a cross-dressing young woman.

First, I was caught by the voice. Voice can be tricky in historical novels. Characters from the past shouldn't sound twenty-first century, but at the same time, making them sound nontwenty-first centuryish can also mean making them sound contrived or stilted. And while we know how people--particularly educated people--wrote in days of old, we can never really know how they sounded. The key to Scarlet's voice is that she's very ungrammatical. She appears to be unaware of the third person singular of the verb "to be," throwing "were" in everywhere. "That were Rob's version of a greeting." "'First, Freddy Cooper were arrested,'" I said, looking around. It weren't good news." Also, she uses the word "lads" for the other band members. I like the word "lad."

So I liked Scarlet's voice right away. What I didn't like was when she said things like, "Rob looked at me, and as were fair usual, I felt my heart jump." I thought, Oh, no. A romance. Why must there always be a romance? I don't know if I'm going to be able to take this for long.

I switched between reading Scarlet and another YA historical novel, figuring I'd stay with the one that hooked me first. As it turned out, it was Scarlet.


Because I realized I would have loved Scarlet when I was a teenager. I...mean...loved it.

The girl who dresses up like a boy so she can escape the restrictions of her society and be tough and strong and do exciting things? Teenage Gail loved those characters.

The girl-who-is-torn-between-two-lovers scenario, as Scarlet is with Rob and someone who will remain nameless? As an adult, I find that a tedious cliche. As a teenager? Loved it.

The star-crossed lovers who are always misunderstanding cues and take forever to get together? As an adult, I want to slap those characters and tell them to get on with it. But teenage Gail couldn't get enough  of that Elizabeth Bennett/Mr. Darcy vibe.

As I was reading this book, I felt as if I was being transported back in time. Not back into the time of the story, but back into my past. I don't think I have ever read a book that took me back to my teenage reading experience the way Scarlet did.

Also, there is a great reveal in Scarlet that I never saw coming but realized immediately made sense.

Plot Project: The whole Robin Hood mythology is one of those cultural things everyone seems to know about even if we can't remember why. (Maybe even more so than King Arthur, probably because Robin Hood is a much more democratic and contemporary sounding figure. He's all about redistribution of wealth, after all.) I suspect that Gaughen tweaks much of the basic Robin Hood narrative for her plot. Good story, but what is even more impressive is the situation/world she came up with to put the storyline within. There's more going on here than just making Will Scarlet a female.

Scarlet is a Cybils nominee in the YA category.

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