New releases of fantasy and science fiction for children and teenagers--the end of October edition

Happy Halloween! Here are the end of October science fiction and fantasy treats for children and young adults. As usual, I get my list from Teens Read Too, and the blurbs from Amazon...

Nominations for the Cybils Awards ended two weeks ago, and the panelists are busily reading. It was a banner year for young adult fantasy in particular--will this coming year be as good? Starting from this post of new releases, these will all be books eligible for next year. I hope that by the time 2010 nominations role around, I'll have the whole year's worth of new sf/f mg and ya releases (at least the ones I know of) all covered, to help people remember the books they enjoyed most!

For 9-12 year olds

AVALON: THE WARLOCK DIARIES VOLUME 2 by Rachel Roberts. "No matter how hard they try, it seems warlock and mage magic just can’t work together. Kara is determined to find a way and asks Donovan to the Ravenswood "Adopt a Beast" dance. Things get out of hand when the imp, Crumble, lets loose a warlock love spell on the mages to keep them occupied while he kidnaps all of Ravenswood’s magical animals."

BURN by Camilla d'Errico. "Burn was once human. He also had a family and friends, until a metallic angel of death took everything from him. This mechanical monster, Shoftiel, was one of many living machines made to help humanity that revolted and declared war on their creators. It tore through Burn's home and wreaked havoc on his city until the buildings collapsed, crashing down upon them. Emerging from the rubble, Burn and Shoftiel discover their once separate bodies have become one -- neither human nor machine, but a freak union of both. Internally their minds are caught in a raging battle for control. Just as mankind must struggle against the sentients for survival, Burn must find the strength to overcome Shoftiel's genocidal programming to retain whatever's left of his humanity."

CARBONEL & CALIDOR by Barbara Sleigh. "Carbonel’s human friends Rosemary and John soon encounter magic in the form of a ring set with a fiery red stone that grants wishes to whoever wears it. And it’s a lucky thing, too, because Carbonel needs Rosemary and John’s help. It seems that his son Calidor has rejected his princely status for the love of a streetwise cat named Wellingtonia (also known as Dumpsie). Even worse, Calidor has apprenticed himself to the witch-in-training Mrs. Dibdin. With all this going on, it’s just a matter of time before Carbonel’s old nemesis Grisana—accompanied by her slyboots daughter Melissa—hatches a plan to take control of Carbonel’s kingdom once and for all."

THE CASE OF THE PURLOINED PROFESSOR: THE TAILS OF FREDERICK AND ISHBU by Judy Cox. "Frederick and Ishbu live in Miss Dove's classroom, where they learn--and eat--to their hearts' content. But one fateful evening Natasha arrives with disturbing news: her father, a famous professor and scientist, has gone missing! For the second time in their lives, the rats embark on a worldwide journey. They travel the globe to save their friend and meet such colorful characters as a secret clan of badgers, two vicious rat terriers, and a stuffy English show mouse. It's another whirlwind adventure they'll never forget!"

CROWN OF EARTH: SHIELD, SWORD, AND CROWN by Hilari Bell. "The moment Prince Edoran hears these words from Weasel's trusted friend Justice Holis, Edoran knows he has to find a way to rescue Weasel, who has been kidnapped in Edoran's place. Edoran's task is far from easy. Life-threatening challenges greet him at every step as he searches for Weasel, forced to hide his true identity from all he meets along the way. The journey is full of surprises and revelations, as Edoran learns for the first time the real meaning of hard labor and the cost of a meal. The story builds to a stunning climax, where the true nature of the magical objects of Deorthas is at last revealed."

DARK MAGE: AVALON, WEB OF MAGIC by Rachel Roberts. "The Dark Sorceress and her companions in the Otherworlds have decided to get rid of the mages once and for all. She targets Kara, who is particularly vulnerable to evil fairy magic since she is related to the Dark Sorceress. To save herself, Kara and her fellow mages, Emily and Adriane, must embark on a dangerous mission. They must go to the Otherworlds and retrieve the stolen power crystals of Avalon before it’s too late."

DRAKE'S COMPREHENSIVE COMPENDIUM OF DRAGONOLOGYby Dr. Ernest Drake & Dugald A. Steer. "From the esteemed Dr. Drake comes a beautifully illustrated, lovingly assembled tribute to all things dragonological, featuring:
— A guide to dragon species, with entries on everything from the well-known European dragon to the lesser-known hydra — as well as pseudo-species such as the phoenix and the incognito
— Insight into dragon biology, from flight to reproduction (with tips on how to tell the males from the females)
— An in-depth look at dragons’ habits, including migration, communication, camouflage, and notorious hoarding practices
— A section on humans and dragons, offering secrets of tracking and taming, deciphering riddles, and becoming a dragon master
— Practical essentials such as how to keep records, use spells, keep specimens, and care for sick dragons
— A comprehensive glossary, index, and much more."

A HORSE, OF COURSE!: WIND DANCERS by Sibley Miller. "Inspired by Career Day at their neighboring school, the Wind Dancers decide to explore what they can do and be too—from a police horse to a performance horse, from a race horse to a ranch horse, with funny and surprising results."

HUNGRY AS A HORSE: WIND DANCERS by Sibley Miller. "Sirocco, the lone colt among a trio of fillies, is always hungry. Will he lose his appetite when his fellow Wind Dancers challenge him to learn to cook, or will he become a chef extraordinaire?"

OVER MY DEAD BODY: 43 OLD CEMETERY ROAD by Kate Klise. "The International Movement for the Safety & Protection Of Our Kids & Youth (IMSPOOKY) dictates that Seymour cannot live in the mansion at 43 Old Cemetery Road "without the benefit of parents." Ignatius B. Grumply tries to explain to Dick Tater, the head of IMSPOOKY, that he and Seymour are in a lovely living (and publishing!) arrangement with the ghost of Olive C. Spence. Dick Tater is not convinced. But this clever trio can’t be broken up as easily as he imagines . . ."

POWERLESS by Matthew Cody. "Twelve-year-old Daniel, the new kid in town, soon learns the truth about his nice—but odd—new friends: one can fly, another can turn invisible, yet another controls electricity. Incredible. The superkids use their powers to secretly do good in the town, but they’re haunted by the fact that the moment they turn thirteen, their abilities will disappear—along with any memory that they ever had them. Is a memory-stealing supervillain sapping their powers?"

SECRET OF THE SIRENS: THE COMPANIONS QUARTET by Julia Golding. "A girl discovers that she can bond with all mythical creatures and becomes part of a secret society sworn to protect them."


Young Adult

BLACKBRIAR by William Sleator. "Danny can feel something sinister about his new home, Blackbriar, an old, abandoned cottage in the English countryside. The residents of a nearby town refuse to speak of the house and can barely look Danny in the eyes. Then Danny begins to have strange dreams of fires and witches, and awakes to shrieks of laughter that seem to come from another time and place.With help from his friend, Lark, Danny begins to unravel the mysteries of Blackbriar and its frightening past,through the discovery of an ancient doll and a chilling list of names and dates carved on the cellar door. But what might be most terrifying of all is the mystery that does not lie in the past but in the here and now. . . . "

DRAGONFLY by Julia Golding Princess Taoshira of the Blue Crescent Islands is appalled when she is ordered to marry Prince Ramil of Gerfal in order to unite their lands. And he's not too pleased, either. They hate each other on sight. So, when Tashi and Ramil are kidnapped, they fear there's no escape - from their kidnappers or from each other. Can they put aside their differences long enough to survive ambush, unarmed combat, brainwashing, and imprisonment? And will the people they meet on their adventure help them or betray them to the enemy?

THE ISLANDS OF THE BLESSED by Nancy Farmer. "In this much-anticipated conclusion to the Sea of Trolls trilogy, Notland is no place to seek one's true calling. Or is it?"

NEVER AFTER by Dan Elconin. "Leaving everything behind for the Island was Ricky's dream come true. When his happily ever after is not quite what it seems, he discovers that running away means running toward bigger problems. Trapped on the Island, Ricky must join together with the only people he can trust to help him face his fears and return home. But the only way off the Island is to confront the person who trapped Ricky and his friends in the first place. With countless enemies and true peril staring them down, Ricky's mission to leave this so-called paradise will become a battle for their very lives."

A NEW DAWN: YOUR FAVORITE AUTHORS ON STEPHENIE MEYER'S TWILIGHT SAGA edited by Ellen Hopkins. "A New Dawn is packed with the same debates readers engage in with friends: Should Bella have chosen Edward or Jacob? How much control do Meyer's vampires and werewolves really have over their own lives? The collection also goes further: Is Edward a romantic or a (really hot) sociopath? How do the Quileute werewolves compare to other Native American wolf myths? What does the Twilight series have in common with Shakespeare? With contributions from Megan McCafferty, Cassandra Clare, Rachel Caine and many more, A New Dawn answers these questions and more for a teen (and adult!) audience hungry for clever, view-changing commentary on their favorite series.


A BANQUET FOR HUNGRY GHOSTS: A COLLECTION OF DELICIOUSLY FRIGHTENING TALES by Ying Chang Compestine. "According to Chinese tradition, those who die hungry or unjustly come back to haunt the living. Some are appeased with food. But not all ghosts are successfully mollified. In this chilling collection of stories,Ying Chang Compestine takes readers on a journey through time and across different parts of China. From the building of the GreatWall in 200 BCE to themodern day of iPods, hungry ghosts continue to torment those who wronged them. At once a window into the history and culture of China and an ode to Chinese cuisine, this assortment of frightening tales—complete with historical notes and delectable recipes—will both scare and satiate!"

DESTINY'S PATH: WARRIOR PRINCESS by Frewin Jones. "Ranwen refuses to take orders from anyone—even the Shining Ones, the ancient gods whose power is feared throughout the land. They want her as their Chosen One, destined to save her country from the Saxons. But Branwen doubts she's truly ready to be a leader. Then a messenger from the skies shows her a vision of a bleak and violent future—a future in which Branwen has abandoned her destiny, and those most dear to her suffer unspeakable horrors. There's a blurry line between good and evil, and those Branwen trusts the most are capable of the greatest betrayal. The Shining Ones have spoken. Will Branwen answer their call?"

FIRE: TALES OF ELEMENTAL SPIRITS "Master storytellers Robin McKinley and Peter Dickinson, the team behind Water: Tales of Elemental Spirits, collaborate again to create five captivating tales incorporating the element of fire. In McKinley’s “First Flight,” a boy and his pet foogit unexpectedly take a dangerous ride on a dragon, and her “Hellhound” stars a mysterious dog as a key player in an eerie graveyard showdown. Dickinson introduces a young man who must defeat the creature threatening his clan in “Fireworm,” a slave who saves his village with a fiery magic spell in “Salamander Man,” and a girl whose new friend, the guardian of a mystical bird, is much older than he appears in “Phoenix.” With time periods ranging from prehistoric to present day, and settings as varied as a graveyard, a medieval marketplace and a dragon academy, these stories are sure to intrigue and delight the authors’ longtime fans and newcomers alike."

LOCKDOWN: ESCAPE FROM FURNACE by Alexander Gordon Smith. "Furnace Penitentiary: the world’s most secure prison for young offenders, buried a mile beneath the earth’s surface. Convicted of a murder he didn’t commit, sentenced to life without parole, “new fish” Alex Sawyer knows he has two choices: find a way out, or resign himself to a death behind bars, in the darkness at the bottom of the world. Except in Furnace, death is the least of his worries. Soon Alex discovers that the prison is a place of pure evil, where inhuman creatures in gas masks stalk the corridors at night, where giants in black suits drag screaming inmates into the shadows, where deformed beasts can be heard howling from the blood-drenched tunnels below. And behind everything is the mysterious, all-powerful warden, a man as cruel and dangerous as the devil himself, whose unthinkable acts have consequences that stretch far beyond the walls of the prison. The answers lie in a long-ago meteor strike, a World War II–era comic book (Fantastic Futures, starring the first superhero, Johnny Noble), the green-flamed Witch Fire, a hidden Shroud cave, and—possibly, unbelievably—“powerless” regular-kid Daniel himself."

THE SHADOW DRAGONS: CHRONICLES OF THE IMAGINARIUM GEOGRAPHICA by James A. Owen. "World War II has been raging for three years, but a more terrible evil is just over the horizon. The last stones are falling from the Keep of Time, and the Imperial Cartological Society, led by Richard Burton, has collected doors and is building a new tower at the request of an old enemy: the Winter King's shadow. He has a terrible weapon -- the Spear of Destiny -- that can be used to command the shadows of anyone it touches. The Shadow King uses the Spear of Destiny to enlist an unstoppable army of Dragon shadows. And after the Archipelago falls, the Shadow King intends to use the turmoil of World War II to take over both worlds. All the legendary Caretakers, past and present, come together to save two worlds, and their only hope lies with a small group of companions who are on the quest for the broken sword Caliburn: the Grail Child, Rose Dyson; her clockwork companion, the owl Archie; a dead professor of ancient literature; and the mythical knight Don Quixote."

TEMPTED: HOUSE OF NIGHT by P. C. & Kristin Cast. "So…you’d think after banishing an immortal being and a fallen High Priestess, saving Stark’s life, biting Heath, getting a headache from Erik, and almost dying, Zoey Redbird would catch a break. Sadly, a break is not in the House of Night school forecast for the High Priestess in training and her gang. Juggling three guys is anything but a stress reliever, especially when one of them is a sexy Warrior who is so into protecting Zoey that he can sense her emotions. Speaking of stress, the dark force lurking in the tunnels under the Tulsa Depot is spreading, and Zoey is beginning to believe Stevie Rae could be responsible for a lot more than a group of misfit red fledglings. Aphrodite’s visions warn Zoey to stay away from Kalona and his dark allure, but they also show that it is Zoey who has the power to stop the evil immortal. Soon it becomes obvious that Zoey has no choice: if she doesn’t go to Kalona he will exact a fiery vengeance on those closest to her."


The Museum of Mary Child, by Cassandra Golds

Writing a review of The Museum of Mary Child, by Cassandra Golds (Kane Miller, 2009, 329pp, for readers 10ish on up) is a bit daunting. I somehow want to convey just how much I enjoyed this book without spoiling it at all. I hope I succeed, because I think this book is rather special...

A long while ago, near a city that isn't a real city, a girl named Heloise lives next door to the Museum of Mary Child. She has never been inside it. Her godmother, cold and unloving, shows visitors through it, and always the visitors leave disturbed and shaken.

Heloise who is not allowed to have friends. She is not allowed to play. She is not allowed to know the meaning of love--her bible, the one book she can read, has been edited, and pages glued together, to keep her from anything that speaks of that forbidden subject. But one day, hidden under the floorboards of her room, she finds a doll. And, having at last found something to love, something that needs protecting, Heloise is about to escape.

Her escape will take her into a family of orphaned girls, trained as a church choir (I loved this part most of all). It will bring her into contact with envoys of the Society of Caged Birds, who fly through the city at night doing good deeds. It will take her to the prison, and the mad house next door to it, and, at last, it will bring her face to face with what lies inside the Museum of Mary Child.

This book is many things. It is a fairy tale, and it is a Gothic horror story. It is a lovely story about a girl discovering who she is and growing up. It is a fantasy, with magic that is real. It is a little bit of a mystery. And at the book's heart is a story about the redemptive power of love, with gentle allusions to Christianity. All these elements are happening at the same time, like juggling balls flying through the air, but they are held together in coherent form by Golds' wonderful characterization of Heloise.

I was riveted, and lost track of time and space. I also had to occasionally work hard at suspending disbelief, and I remain uncertain about the ending. But boy, did I have a good time reading this one. It felt to me a little bit like Elizabeth Goudge crossed with Oscar Wilde's fairy tales...and if you think you might know what I mean, you will probably like this book very much!

Note on the cover: This is not what I would have chosen. The girl show looks far too modern to be Heloise, and the whole ensemble leans too far, I think, toward the Gothic end of things, and doesn't convey enough of the book's fairy tale-ness. At right is the Australian cover, which doesn't match my image of the book either...

The Museum of Mary Child has been nominated for the Cybils in the Middle Grade Science Fiction and Fantasy category, for which I am a panelist. Here are other two other reviews, at Kids Lit and Sweet Trees.

PS: The museum is the creepiest museum I have ever read about. Anywhere.

PPS: Golds is also the author of Clair-de-lune (2006); after reading this review of it at the Guardian, it is high on my list of books to read after I have fulfilled my Cybils obligations!


Ice, by Sarah Beth Durst

Ice, by Sarah Beth Durst (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2009, YA--14ish on up, 308pp), is a re-imagining of the fairy tale "East of the Sun, West of the Moon."

Cassie has lived all her eighteen years in an arctic research station, where her father studies polar bears. When she was little, her grandmother told her the story of how her mother disappeared one day, a story that began:

"Once upon a time, the North Wind said to the Polar Bear King, "Steal me a daughter, and when she grows, she will be your bride....and so, the Polar Bear King kidnapped a human child and brought her to the North Wind, and she was raised with the North Wind as her father and the West, South, and East Winds as her uncles." (page 1)

Cassie knows this is just a story. But one day, when she sets off by herself to tag a polar bear, she finds that fairy tales can be true...and that she can save her mother from the castle of the trolls where she is imprisoned, if she herself will consent to be the polar bear's wife. Agreeing to the bargain, she sets off to live in a beautiful palace of ice, with the bear at her side. Each night, in the dark, he takes on human form, and gradually love grows between them. Then one night, Cassie breaks the rules. Now she must set off to the land east of the sun and west of the moon, to save her bear husband from the trolls, whoever they might be.

It is not just her own happiness, or the fate of her unborn child, that is at stake. In an original twist to the tale, Durst's bear is a guardian spirit, a mumaqsri, charged with ensuring the rebirth of the polar bears over whom he watches. But things have been going wrong, and there are too few souls to give life to the babies being born. By saving her husband, Cassie can help set this balance right again--if she can outwit those who would trap her forever.

In her journey to rescue the polar bear, Cassie shows herself to be a formidable heroine. The story becomes a nail-biting test of her survival skills as she crosses the ice, and tests her wits and resolve, and her love for her husband, against a strange force of nature that wants to prevent her from reaching the castle of the trolls. Durst skillfully handles Cassie's emotions, making her a very real and (almost always) believable character, despite the improbability of her circumstances. The one truly jarring element is the return of Cassie's mother--this was ostensibly the main reason why Cassie married Bear, and it is rather summarily dealt with.

The incorporation of spirit guardians, with its concomitant environmentalism, adds depth to this fairy tale retelling. And it's a very nice touch that Cassie is able to use her training as a scientist to help her bear with his mission, traveling with him as he delivers souls to the baby bears to gather data that improve the odds that the species will continue (in the original story, she saves her husband by doing laundry. This is much more cool).

By setting her fairy tale in the modern world, one where girls can be scientists, and polar bears are endangered, and by adding a spiritual dimension to the plot, Durst gave herself a place to reimagine an old story in an exciting and entertaining way, and does so rather splendidly.

Here are a few other reviews and recommendations, at Bib-Laura-Graphy, Grow Wings, The Book Butterfly, Book Geeks, and Kids Lit, and here's an interview with Durst at The Enchanted Inkpot.

Review copy supplied by the publisher at the request of the author.

Fire, by Robin McKinley and Peter Dickinson (Waiting on Wednesday)

Tomorrow (Thursday October 29) is a happy day for McKinley and Dickinson fans--Fire, a collection of short stories, will be released! This book is the second in a planned series covering the four elements. Water, published in 2004, whetted (pun intended) my appetite for more, but this volume was a tad delayed.

Robin McKinley, it turns out, has a little issue with her stories.

There was Sunshine, which decided it wanted to be a book (and if you like vampires and haven't read this one, do so! Now!) . Dragonhaven, ditto, except the vampire part. Chalice, ditto. Which was rather nice for us readers, to have three new McKinley books, but not so great for the anthology....

So anyway, Fire comes out tomorrow! I, for one, will be putting it on my Christmas wants list. It is just the sort of book I like to offer my personal shoppers--easy to buy, and one I have to have.

You can read more here at Robin McKinley's blog.


Teaser for A Conspiracy of Kings posted on Facebook

Greenwillow has posted a teasingly short teaser for Megan Whalen Turner's upcoming book, A Conspiracy of Kings, on facebook....

Is the "younger man" Sophos? Is the peashooter involved? (Here's the blurb for the book, in case you don't remember the peashooter....)

I want more! I don't want to wait till March!

The Taker and the Keeper (Red Monocle 1) for Timeslip Tuesday

The Taker and the Keeper, by Wim Colemand and Pat Perrin (ChironBooks, 2009, 158pp, ages 8 and up), is one of those books that isn't quite a timeslip, in as much as the time to which the children travel isn't real, but since the kids think for a good part of the book that they've travelled through time, I'm doing to go with it for today's edition of Timelip Tuesday.

Gregory and Yolanda are two ordinary middle school kids, who are about to become heroes. The colored lenses that Gregory found in a box discarded by their old science teacher are more than just pieces of glass--they let the kids see a dark tunnel that leads them back to the Dark Ages. But it is a Dark Ages in even more trouble than usual. The stone that holds Excalibur, waiting for young Arthur to pull it out, is there, but the sword is gone. Morgan Le Fey has stolen it in her own bid for power, and in doing so has just messed up the course of history, both in the realm of ancient story, and in our own modern world.

It's up to Gregory, the Taker of risks, and Yolanda, the Keeper of the true stories, to help Merlin and his young apprentice set things straight.

This is the sort of book that's great for a nine or ten year-old looking for a pretty straightforward narrative punctuated by danger (like a battle with a giant venomous serpent) and adventure (scaling the walls of a forbidding castle, and confronting the animated suits of armour inside). The "timeslip" part is rather nicely done, and I chuckled when Yolanda, confronting the medieval folk, assumes they are costumed festival participants--"These people really need to get a life," she grumbles (page 53).

In many ways The Taker and the Keeper reminded me of the Magic Tree House books (although at a reading level several grades up), which is a fine thing if you are a young reader, but less so if you are an adult lover of middle grade fantasy. Like those books, stylistically this one is aimed at young readers (shortish sentences, relatively un-latinate vocabulary), and story-wise, the experienced fantasy reader is not going to be blown away by the plot or stunned by the depth of characterization.

But the kid who's perhaps a reluctant reader might well find this an exciting read, and that's who it's written for, after all. I am pretty sure my own nine-year old will enjoy it a lot.

(Bonus points to the book for featuring a girl of color, a non-issue in the story, but apparent in the cover art).

The Taker and the Keeper has been nominated for the Cybils Awards in the MG Sci fi/fantasy category. Many thanks to the publisher for sending us panelists review copies! And please feel free to purchase this, or any other book you want, through the Cybils link at the right, to help fund the awards!


How to be a Genius: Your Brain and How to Train it, for Nonfiction Monday

There are some books that you know instantly will make marvelous presents for a curious child (no genius required). How to be a Genius: Your Brain and How to Train It, by John Woodward, illustrated by Serge Seidlitz and Andy Smith (DK, 2009) is such a book.

I'm imagining giving it to my children at the start of Christmas vacation at Grandma's house, imagining many happy hours poring together as a family over the information bits, challenging each other to the mind puzzle bits--mazes, memory challenges, logic problems--it will be a beautiful thing.

And this is a beautiful, wonder-filled book. There are the plenty of challenges for the reader (some of which I have excelled at, others not so much, although already being, of course, a genius, I am not worried about those). But there's also tons of information of the sort that fascinates the non-fiction loving child (or genius grown-up). There's a two page spread, for instance, on Mary Anning, the girl who found the ichthyosaur fossil. There's another on Leonardo da Vinci. I could go on and on.

There's also a lot of attention payed to how the brain works, like the section entitled "What is Creativity?" that talks about luck, building on what's already buzzing in your brain, imagination, brain waves, incubation, and, hardest of all, follow through.

Here's a little snippet on how we read, which explains why some of us can't proof read our own blog entries:

As lnog as you wrtie the frsit and lsat lttres of a wrod, you can sitll raed it (pgae 121)

The engaging illustrations add lots of lively, humorous, and informative detail. A lovely, fun book to share with your 8-9 year old child, even though he might think he is a genius already....and a great one for older kids (and grown ups) to read on their own.

Nonfiction Monday, a regular feature of the children's book blogosphere, is at Wrapped in Foil today!

Full disclosure: review copy received from the publisher.


readathoning -- final update!

Well, it's now 8:56, almost an hour since the readathon ended. I started The Forever Formula, by Frank Bonham, and read 54 more pages in the last hour (25 minute of reading). Only 1160 pages read, far short of my goal...I only managed to read 5 hours and 35 minutes altogether.

Here are my answers to the final meme:

1. Which hour was most daunting for you? not really applicable, because of having to spend so much of the 24 hours being a mother...

2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? Gosh, we are all so different-- but I think short and snappy definitely works best in general.

3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? It was pretty good as it was!

4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? The encouragement from all the organizers and cheerleaders was great!

5. How many books did you read? Only three and a bit... sigh...

6. What were the names of the books you read? The Dragons of Ordinary Farm, The Lightning Thief, The Museum of Mary Child, and part of The Forever Formula.

7. Which book did you enjoy most? Mary Child.
8. Which did you enjoy least? The Dragons of Ordinary Farm.

9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders? na

10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? I'd be happy to be a reader again, preferably with my husband at home!

Thank you all so much, Readathon Team! It was great fun!

Part 6: Slept until six, which was not the plan :( Finished The Museum of Mary Child, which turned out to be a book that drew me in utterly, the sort that makes you forget you are reading. 329pp/45 more minutes.

Part 5: Read for about another hour, half way through The Museum of Mary Child. It is not quite like any book I can think of. But although I am enjoying it very much, I am calling it quits for the night...I'll be back around 5 tomorrow morning!

Part 4: Half way through-8:11 pm. Read about an hour and half more-hard to tell how much, exactly, because it was so fractured. Finished The Lightning Thief (375 pp)--it was a very good challenge book, gripping without being dense.

Mid-Event Survey:

1. What are you reading right now? About to start either Toby Alone, or The Museum of Mary Child

2. How many books have you read so far? 2. Sigh.

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? Probably The Museum of Mary Child.

4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day? It wasn't possible, what with my husband being away for the weekend.

5. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? Every time one of my boys asked for my attention, I gave it to them in a self-sacrificing, utterly patient and loving way. "Of course I will get more milk for you, my little angel," I said, "I know you will be happy to get it for yourself once you grow that last crucial bit of biceps muscle required for safe pouring from a gallon jug, but in the meantime, I don't mind in the least little bit putting down my book so that you feel Loved." Or something like that.

6. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far? I am really enjoying all the mini challenges and efforts to encourage participants. More so, in fact, than the reading, because, after all, I do as much reading as I can almost every day....

7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? no

8. What would you do differently, as a Reader or a Cheerleader, if you were to do this again next year? try to not have a Halloween party to take the children to, but, if I do, to make the horned helmet the day before.

9. Are you getting tired yet? Sadly, I haven't had a chance to read enough yet today to become tired of it...

10. Do you have any tips for other Readers or Cheerleaders, something you think is working well for you that others may not have discovered? Nope, sorry!

Part 3: 1:20pm. Only managed to read half an hour more (100 pages of The Lightning Thief). Am unable to concentrate. The sword-fighting down below is getting louder. The horns are not affixing themselves well to the helmet. In fifteen minutes we go to a Halloween party, with or without horns. Possibly without swords too. But I am taking my book.

Part 2: Three hours into the challenge, I have read for 2 hours and five minutes, and finished my first book, 412pp worth. And I just took part in the second mini-challenge, putting myself on the map! What fun!

Part 1:

My first reading hour of Dewey's 24 hour readathon is done--174 pages of The Dragons of Ordinary Farm. I started at 8 am, as per instructions, but lost twenty minutes to feeding and watering the children....

Here's my first mini challenge, in which I answer Questions:

3 facts about me: I am a poor planner, and am going to have to go to the grocery store today; I have a paper mache berserker helmet drying on my wood stove, and I have two chickens who also need to be feed and watered some time this morning....

How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours? I have about thirty books in my pile, but I'm not committing to any of them--instead, I'm treating it like an all you can read buffet.

Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)? I'd say about 4000 pages would do me....and I'll try to comment on a fair number of blogs....hour wise, I can't commit to anything.


Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon--I'm in! (also wolf skins, library books, and Miss Suzy had a baby)

It's supposed to be a rainy day here in Rhode Island tomorrow, which means the pressing things that need to get done outside won't get done....so, since I'll probably be inside reading anyway, I decided to jump on board Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon! (I'm number 344--yoikes!)

I won't be reading for the full 24 hours--my husband is off teaching at a gathering of Irish pipers in the Catskills (I got to go to Kidlitcon last week, so it evens out), which means I will have my Darling Boys with me all day. And we have a Halloween party to go to, which means that I have to make a Berserker costume tonight, and sadly, we have no wolf skins kicking around the house...any one in Rhode Island have any spare pelts I can borrow?

Anyway. I sure have lots of books to read...and they are mostly library books that have multiple holds on them, so I feel guilty as heck about keeping them piled up here. My goal is to read at least five books tomorrow. Easy peasy lemon squeezy, as they say at my children's school. (We never said the lemon part when I was young, although I was at a British school in Portugal at their age, so what do I know. Veering further off topic, I find it interesting that in the Bahamas, where we lived next, "Miss Suzy" was popular, and almost identical to the US version).

Planet Narnia (a link to a review) and a slew of links for the fairy tale lover

Planet Narnia, by Michael Ward, sounds incredible (in, perhaps, all senses of the word). Anyone who is at all interested in the hidden depths of the Narnia books (or hidden depths of books in general)-- read this review at the Times Online, and see if you don't agree.

Thanks to Jenny Davidson, whose blog, Light Reading, is a constant source of linkish divertissement.

And from Monica at Educating Alice, I learned that the Guardian has been doing a whole series on fairy tales....she has all the links at her place.


Odd and the Frost Giants, by Neil Gaiman

Odd and the Frost Giants, by Neil Gaiman (Harper Collins, 2009, 117 pages) is a gem of a book. It is smaller than average, and instead of a bright dust jacket, it is a plain dark blue, except for the color plate on the cover. It looks special--old and magical, yet friendly. The black and white illustrations, by Brett Helquist, add to the feeling that this might be a book from long ago, but are considerably less scary than the bulk of the fairy tale illustrations I can remember from the old books of my childhood. In short, this is the sort of book that makes you want to pick it up.

Odd and the Frost Giants had not been inside our house for more than a few minutes before my older boy had it in his hands. I didn't let him read it to himself, though-I wanted to read it to him. And for the next few nights, we were enchanted by the story.

In Norway, long ago, a boy named Odd leaves home very early one cold winter morning, when it was supposed to be spring, but wasn't. After his father had died while off being a Viking, a tree had crushed his leg, and his mother had married a man who did not want him. With nothing left to keep him in his village, he sets off to live alone, as best he can, in his father's old woodcutting hut.

There in the snowy woods he meets three animals--a fox, a bear, and an eagle--and learns that they are Norse gods, transformed by the curse of a Frost Giant. The giant has claimed Asgard, the realm of the gods, as his own, and, unless he is driven out, winter will last forever.

The gods (Loki, Thor, and Odin), trapped in their animal forms, think it's all pretty hopeless, but they have nothing to loose, and Odd doesn't either. So when Odd suggests that a visit to Asgard might be in order, off they go, with Odd riding on the bear's back, to find the rainbow bridge that leads away from Midgard, the middle earth where humans live.

And then Odd must face the Frost Giant. He can't outfight the giant, he can't think of a way to trick him, and he doesn't have any special magical powers or talismans. All he has is a carving his father had begun before he died, and his wits...

I am very fond of Odd. He is smart without being smart-aleky, unhappy without ever whining, brave partly because taking action beats doing nothing, and partly because of his delighted self-awareness that he is living a story:

"As the bear sped up, the cold went through Odd's clothes and chilled him to the bone.

The fox dashed ahead of them, the eagle flew above them and Odd thought, crazily, happily, I'm just like one of the brave lords in my mother's ballads. Only without the horse, the dog and the falcon." (page 21)

The gods don't come off as well as Odd does. This should not be a surprise to anyone familiar with Norse mythology, and the bickering back-talk between Thor and Loki is delightfully spot-on (Odin, the rather grumpy and aloof eagle, has much less to say).

My nine year-old loved this book. He knows his Norse mythology pretty well, however, and I wonder how much that contributed to his reaction, in as much as he was able to greet Thor and Loki as old friends. I am pretty sure, however, that Gaiman has created a solid enough enchantment to sustain even young readers meeting these gods for the first time. He doesn't try to fit "An Introduction to the Gods of the Vikings" into his story, but instead trusts his readers to find their own way in, with a minimal amount of overt explanation. As events unfold, some things are made clear, but other stories and mysteries and magics are only hinted at.

In short, this is a lovely book to buy a child, for winter time reading together under the covers or in front of a fire. It is a lovely book to have on one's shelf. It is a lovely book for those who delight in Norse Mythology. It's hard to predict if this will please "Gaiman fans," because his books are all so different from each other, but those who loved The Graveyard Book will, I think, like this one.

And now I am trying to decide in my own mind if Odd, from this book, and Bod, from The Graveyard Book, are pretty much the same boy in different circumstances....they both provoke a similar maternal response in me.

The end note of Odd and the Frost Giants implies that there may be more stories about Odd--I do so hope that is the case. The book was written for World Book Day in the UK--the cover for that edition (which kids could buy for just one pound) is at right.

Here are some other reviews, at Things Mean a Lot, Chasing Ray, and Shelf Elf, and, by way of interesting contrast, reviews by adults for adults at SF Signal and Graeme's Fantasy Book Review.

Odd has been nominated for the Cybils Awards in middle grade science fiction and fantasy, for which I am on the short list committee; the opinions expressed here are entirely my own.


Airman, by Eoin Colfer, is being made into a movie

Last year I was one of a panel of bloggers who shortlisted Airman, by Eoin Colfer, for the Cybil's Shortlist in YA Sci Fi/Fantasy. And so even though I don't pay much attention to movie adaptations, this article at Fantasy Book Review caught my eye.

It's really easy to picture this book as a movie, what with the ballooning, the mines, the prison inmates, and the escape from prison all so vividly brought to life by the words....I might even go see it.


The Prince of Fenway Park, by Julianna Baggott, for Timeslip Tuesday

The Prince of Fenway Park, by Julianna Baggott (Harper Collins, 2009, middle grade, 322 pp) is much more than a time slip story. But because the element of time travel is central to the resolution of the plot, I am happy to feature it as today's Time Slip Tuesday book.

It is 2004, and the Red Sox are cursed. Ever since they traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees back in 1919, nothing has worked for them.

A 12 year old Red Sox fan named Oscar is pretty sure he is cursed too. Neither of his parents, who adopted him as a baby and who were since divorced, seems to want him anymore, and he can't help but wonder if it is because he isn't white.

When his mom takes off to Baltimore, leaving him with his father (a surprise to both of them), Oscar learns that there are reasons, good ones, why he never spent the night with him before. Turns out, his father lives under Fenway Park (home of the Red Sox), with a strange assortment of Cursed Creatures. These include his three fairy great-aunts, the Weasel Man, Smoker the organ player, and most mysteriously scary of all, the Pooka....

Now that Oscar has joined the Cursed Creatures, there's only one way out for all of them. Somehow, Oscar must break the Curse, unraveling its mystery one clue at a time. But meanwhile, some of the denizens of the under-park are dead set against any tampering with the Curse, and will do just about anything to stop Oscar and his supporters.

The best way to break a baseball curse is through a game of baseball. Oscar must use the magic of Fenway Park to travel back in time, so that he can field a team of baseball greats--not necessarily the greatest athletes, but the ones who had been wronged--"the players with some sorrow to heal, some sorrow that burrowed down into the dirt of Fenway Park." (page 256)

Oscar goes back to when each of these players was just a kid like himself, and invites them back to play the first great game of their lives. These encounters back in past are moving and poignant glimpses into the lives of the boys who would go on to change baseball--like Jackie Robinson, whose mother is trying to support her five kids, Ted Williams, whose mother is too busy helping "the poor" to look after her family, Pumpsie Green, too tired from his day of hard labor to sleep....and Babe Ruth himself, a young orphan working long hours in a tailor's shop.

Facing these kids--the orphaned, the poor, the dark skinned, the immigrants-- are a team of players who embody the worst of the sport, those who will do anything to win. And back in the present, the curse is still in force. The Red Sox have lost the first three games of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees.

The Prince of Fenway Park is two books in one. It's a fantastical quest story, with a lavishly imagined and very engaging alternate world. But it's also the story of the racial injustices that taint the history of baseball, and if sometimes Baggett presents this history in largish chunks, a tad removed from the fantasy story line, that's just fine with me, because it is so darn moving, and powerful, and so important.

I feel like I should confess, however, that there was one part of the book I didn't read all that closely--the play-by-play of the Final Game. I'm not, actually, a baseball fan...

But for the kid who is, who might be a reluctant-ish reader, I bet the entire book would be utterly enthralling. It would be absolutely perfect of the 10 or 11 year-old Red Sox fan who loves Harry Potter. Yankees fans, not so much.

Note: There has recently been some controversy about this book (as described in Baggott's September editorial in the Boston Globe). To quote from the author's note:

"Although The Prince of Fenway Park is a work of fiction, it relies on and intersects with history. The word nigger appears in this novel three times--on pages 177, 257, and 299. In each of these cases, I was relying on facts and real quotes.

"I believe that the word nigger is the most hateful word in the English language. Although it is morally wrong to use this word, censoring it would be an attempt to sanitize the past. I refuse to do so--for the sake of children or any readers, for that matter. When we try to alter history, we cannot truly understand and learn from our mistakes, and we are guilty of diminishing the truly great acts of heroism in the battle against racism."

The Prince of Fenway Park has been nominated for the Cybils, in the Middle Grade Science Fiction and Fantasy category.

The Unfinished Angel, by Sharon Creech

The Unfinished Angel, by Sharon Creech (Harper Collins, 2009, 164pp)

High in the Swiss Alps, in an old stone tower, lives an angel. At least, a being who is pretty sure she or he is, in fact, angelic. But this being feels confused, and unfinished--without an instruction manual, or other angels to give advice, it's pretty hard to be sure what exactly an angel is, or what an angel is supposed to do.

"Me, I am an angel. I am supposed to be having all the words in all the languages, but I am not. Many are missing. I am also not having a special assignment. I think I did not get all the training." (page 2)

The arrival of Zola, an American girl, which strong expectations about angels, changes things. Zola's father has come to set up a school, one that will bring children from around the world together in peace. Zola's goals are more immediate--to get the angel to do something about the orphaned children scavenging a living in hiding outside the village.

And so the angel tells its story in short chapters, as Zola's convictions compel it to act more directly in the world, and all becomes well in the little Italian village. Which sounds a bit cliched, but is, in fact, what happens.

This is the sort of children's book that I think adults who don't normally like children's books will love, and will give to their grandchildren. There may be many adult readers who will consider this a beautiful book, one that nicely expresses the rewards of right action (although it does not underline morals with a heavy hand, and although it is about an angel, it is not a directly religious book).

Many adult readers who are less high-minded, but who like stories with orphans (like me) might enjoy the 'saving the orphans" plot very much, as I did.

Other adults, and perhaps a large number of the putative grandchildren referred to above, may not like the book. They may well have trouble with the angel's voice, one that inexplicably mangles simple English (although there are jarring bits of grammatical correctness). They may well not have much patience with the angel's occasionally peevish introspection, and somewhat confusing abilities.

On the other hand, they may well cheer Zola on as she briskly encourages the angel to do more.
They might find the angel's idiosyncratic, wacky use of English delightful. And for a certain type of kid, the angel's circumstances might strike a chord. After all, middle school doesn't come with an instruction manual either, and goodness knows, the right words and the right actions are something that takes practicing.

I'd be real curious to know if any children, perhaps the sub-set of intuitive, patient children, fall for this book. I am not even sure if my uncynical child-self would have loved it, or if I would have disliked it very much. I think I might have loved it, what with the medievally set up of an angel in a stone tower (such as the random example shown at right), and my own self-identity as a Good Child. But it is hard, as an adult, to be sure (even though I am still a big fan of stone towers and good deeds) I would have liked it, and I am actually finding it rather hard to figure out my Final Opinion of it even now...

Here are other reviews, at Tweens Read, and 3T News and Reviews.

The Unfinished Angel has been nominated for the Cybils in middle grade science fiction and fantasy.


The Federal Trade Commission and Book Bloggers--update from Kidlitcon 09

Kidlitcon 09 was absolutely wonderful--it was so great to meet so many wonderful fellow bloggers! It is so cool to have three-dimensional people in my mental map of the bloggosphere, as opposed to two-dimensional names. Pam (of Mother Reader) did a superb job organizing everything--thanks so much, Pam!

One of the most important things that happened was that a representative of the Federal Trade Commission came to speak to us. Here's the gist:

Book bloggers who don't get paid by publishers to act as shills for their books are independent reviewers, regardless of how many books they might get from publishers. Therefore, there is no material connection between us general book-receiving bloggers and the publishers, that our readers need to be made aware of. Therefore, we are not required by any law or regulation to disclose where we get the books we review (although I still think it is a good idea).

The FTC is still, however, a tad uncertain about Amazon and other book store links--still figuring out whether the consumer who clicks through our links can reasonably expect us to get a small commission, or whether this should be disclosed on every post where such links occur. The FTC representative seemed to think this might, in fact, be a reasonable expectation, in which case such links would not require disclosure, but this hasn't been decided yet.

In any case, the FTC would focus their attention on Amazon or the other book stores about this and not the bloggers.

The guidelines that the FTC just issued about disclosing material connections do not have the force of law. Therefore, all the talk about the $11,000 fine is irrelevant.

So all is well, as far as book blogging and the FTC are concerned.

Here's what other bloggers heard the FTC say: A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy, at GalleySmith, and WriterJenn.


We have met the bloggers, and they are us (as Pogo might have said, if he had been at Kidlitcon 09)

I did, in fact, get lost in the rain in Crystal City, as predicted, but when I got to the hotel lobby, I was quickly able to spot another blogger (Sarah, of Archimedes Forgets), so I never had to find a corner to read in.

More bloggers trickled in, until there were about 15 of us, standing in a loose circle...It was rather gratifying to see people's eyes spark with recognition when I said who I was, and it was very nice indeed to see in real life the folks whose blogs I know and love, and to meet new bloggers as well.

And then we trooped through the rain to our dinner venue, and more and more people arrived, and all was warmth and laughter etc etc. I had a lovely time sitting between Melissa of Book Nut and Tricia of The Miss Rumphius Effect. So today, preparing to set out once again, I feel nothing but happy anticipation...I will not get lost today, and I will remember my umbrella.

But I will take a book (Nine Pound Hammer today. It's not as heavy a book as its name might suggest). Being an introvert of the highest order, I dunno if I can make it till ten tonight without finding that little corner....


In just one hour...

...I will be meeting my first bloggers (except for Anamaria at Books Together, who I already got to practice on). Actually, in just one hour I will probably be lost in Crystal City (nice fantasy ring to it) and then I will find the hotel and there will be no one there and I will feel vaguely despairing but at least I will have a book with me (currently reading Darkwood, by M.E. Breen, and what has struck me most powerfully so far is my name appearing in the thank yous, but it isn't me, just someone using my name). So if anyone sees someone in the corner reading Darkwood, that would be me, and please say hi.

If you too would like to come to Kidlitcon 09, and met lots of people, and get to hear a representative from the Federal Trade Commission explain the new regulations for bloggers, please show up tomorrow in Arlington, VA! Here's Mother Reader's latest promotional post.

The Last Dragon (Dragon Speaker Book 1), by Cheryl Rainfield

The Last Dragon, by Cheryl Rainfield (H.I.P. Books, 2009, 111 pages) is exactly the sort of book that makes me happiest. You see, I have a nine-year old who enjoys reading, but is a picky reader, one who won't read anything that he finds at all intimidating. No Harry Potter for him, yet.

So when The Last Dragon arrived at our home, and he pounced on it, and sat and read it cover to cover, emerging at the end to enthuse about it, I was very, very pleased indeed.

It's a simple story, about 16-year old boy growing up in a medieval village in a land oppressed by an evil lord and an even more evil magician. But Jacob has a gift that could overthrow the tyrants--he is the Dragon Speaker, foretold by a prophecy. He's an unlikely hero, scrawny and lame from an old injury, but with the help of his friends Orson and Lia, he must set out to rescue the egg of the last dragon, before all hope for his country is lost....

This book, and volumes 2 and 3 of the series, are specifically written to be high interest, low vocabulary, and are marketed for older readers who need encouragement, rather than nine-year olds like my son. There is nothing here, however, that is unsuitably YA for a child my son's age--there's a bit of scary stuff, but nothing nightmarish. And consequently, I'm don't think this would hold the interest of anyone, say, over 14. So I'm putting a middle-grade label on this one. The publisher, strangely enough :) , agrees with me: Reading level: 3.2 (I dunno what that means) Interest level: grades 5-10.

Because I do know for certain sure that if you have a fourth grade boy who likes fantasy, and who needs encouragement to finish a book cover to cover, this one is a winner. Rainfield's crisp sentences and nicely (in the old fashioned sense of the word) honed story are spot on. And although the plot might seem not so fresh to a reader who has read thousands of fantasies, for a child like my son this is still new and magical territory.

Books 2 and 3 of the series are out now as well, but written by other authors. You can read more about the series at the Dragon Speaker website.(Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the author)


In which I give up my rash quest to find the Undiscovered Gem of middle grade fantasy and nominate a book I love

The past 24 hours I have been (rather foolishly, I now know) trying to discover an Un-nominated Middle Grade Fantasy/Sci Fi Gem of Unsurpassable Child Appeal to nominate for the Cybils. Although I ended up reading some pretty good books, there was nothing that I simply had to nominate (except for Ghost Town, by Richard Jennings, which I ended up nominating in Middle Grade, because the fantasy-ish elements in that don't drive the plot particularly, and don't necessarily happen, in a happening in reality sense. I hope they like it over there in MG. I think it is one of the best books I've read all year).

But back to me, and my own category of mg sff. In the end, I decided just to nominate a book that I love--The Serial Garden, a collection of stories by Joan Aiken. So there it is.

There are, however, still a few hours during which Other Gems can be nominated.

And now that I've gotten that settled, and have found Inner Peace, I shall pack for the kidlitosphere conference in DC!!!! Actually, I have packed my books already (oh my gosh I am so looking forward to travelling without my children and actually being able to read on the airplane....). I am also looking forward, in a shy and cautiously optimistic way, to meeting my fellow bloggers....


Exciting Bartimaeus news, and more about the Cybils

Over at Fantasy Book Review (a UK site) I was pleased as punch to see that Jonathan Stroud is writing a prequel to the Bartimaeus trilogy--"The new and fourth Bartimaeus book will follow Bartimaeus’s adventures during his 5,000 year career as a djinni." For those of us for whom Bartimaeus made the series, this is wonderful news. Ptolemy's Gate, the third book in the trilogy, won the Cybils Sci Fi/Fantasy award in 2006.

Which leads nicely into this years Cybils--nominations close tomorrow! I have still not committed myself to a nomination in my own category--science fiction and fantasy. Indeed, I am still hoping to find the perfect book that hasn't been nominated yet, one that I can really stand behind. So tonight and tomorrow (unless someone nominates them before I get to them) I am reading:

The Unfinished Angel, by Sharon Creech (now read)
The Oracle of Delphi Keep, by Victoria Laurie (halfway done)
Ghost Town, by Richard W. Jennings (now read)
and Dormia, by Jake Halper and Peter Kujawinski (now read)

Poor Dormia got stuck with a cover I, at least, find utterly dreary. I know someone must have put a lot of love and effort into it, but the end result is just, well, un-exciting. But I am enjoying it...

Viola in Reel Life, by Adriana Trigiani

I am a fan of girls' boarding school stories. I love the girl community aspect of them--the enforced social bonds of the setting, in which the individual personalities of the girls play out. And so Viola in Reel Life, by Adriana Trigiani (HarperCollins, 2009, YA, 282pp), was right up my alley.

Fourteen-year old Viola had no interested in being plonked in a girls' boarding school in South Bend, Indiana while her parents went off to shoot a documentary in Afghanistan. She was quite happy as a city girl in Brooklyn. But now she's sharing a room with three other girls, and has to decide if she wants to be defiantly lonely, filming life obsessively without living it to the fullest, or part of the group. Fortunately for Viola, she picks the latter, and her three room-mates, all very different, become her friends. And when Viola enters a documentary competition, each offers her strengths to the project, making it the best movie Viola's ever made.

In the meantime, there's the cute boy at the nearby boy's boarding school to distract her. But back in New York, her old best friend, Andrew, seems to be changing....

And who is the woman in red, who appears mysteriously in Viola's videos? Are the grounds of the school haunted? (This turns out to be a rather slight sub-plot, adding a bit of mystery and metaphorical point without pushing the story into fantasy).

A very pleasant, diverting read--strong on girl friendship, and with the added interest of documentary film making. It's all a little too good to be true (in fact, I kept misreading the name of the boarding school, the Prefect Academy, as the Perfect Academy). But a very nice younger YA to read when one is tired of Heavy, Issue-filled books. Viola is an engaging heroine, backed up by a fine supporting cast.

(disclaimer: copy received from the publisher)


Reviews that made me want the Middle Grade Science Fiction Fantasy book to end up on the Cybils list Part 2

I want to start by apologizing for the clunky post title. It's supposed to be a riff on "reviews that made me want the book" which is a feature Jen does, but since my reading of them this fall is contingent on these books being nominated for the Cybils award (since I'm a panelist in mg sf/f) I tried to get all that into the title.

But anyway. I meant well.

So. Here are more reviews of middle grade science fiction/fantasy books that have made me want to read them (and in order for that to happen anytime soon, first they must be nominated by the end of October 15 (which you can do at the Cybils site, here)

The Midnight Charter. Back in August, Shiela Ruth, our very own Category Organizer, and the technology genius behind the Cybils, said "The Midnight Charter is one of the most original and creative books I've read in a long time. David Whitley has done an amazing job of world-building." And I said, "I'll add it to my list." And there it has stayed.... (now nominated, although the consensus is that it's YA)

Candle Man (The Society of Unrelenting Vigilence Book ) Bookworming in the 21st Century says "Full of thrilling adventures, Candle Man pulls you into the story and makes you crave more." It sounds awfully fun.

Last year I enjoyed Gods of Manhattan; this year, its sequel, Spirits in the Park, is eligible. Kiss the Book says: "The Trap around Central Park that is holding the spirits within is becoming more violent in its attempts to loosen. Rory must combine efforts with the Rattle Watch and trust his little sister, too, if he not only wants to lower The Trap safely, but also wants to ensure that the Park spirits and the City Spirits don’t kill each other on sight. The cast of spirit characters gets larger and the plot gets more complicated in this sequel. The danger and adventure are even greater..."

And speaking of sequels, there's the new Skulduggery Pleasant book--The Faceless Ones. Jennifer over at the Jean Little Library says: "There's betrayal at every corner and Skulduggery's trademark humor has a dark flavor. Valkyrie continues to ignore the grim hints and expostulations of Skulduggery's friends and refuse to return to her ordinary life, even when she knows she may not survive. Heart-stopping action peppered with grim humor lead up to a startling conclusion that's not altogether unexpected." (now nominated)

Continuing to speak of sequels, there's The Silver Door, which my co-panelist Eva recommended highly.

Then there's The Dark Planet, the third of the Atherton books, which I read about at Books for Sale? -- “Atherton - The Dark Planet” is truly amazing. Once again, Patrick Carman has created a rich world full of details that make it stand solid. The innovative thinking behind the Atherton series makes it unique when compared with many other science fiction and dystopian series."

I saw the description of The Feathered Cloak in a recent new releases post I did, and went looking for reviews. I found this one, at Jane On Books, that made me want to read it rather badly--"This is a lovely fantasy book that incorporates a somewhat old-fashioned style of writing with a mastery of the elements of great fantasy." Viking fantasy! Yes!

and please take a look at Part 1, the post below this one, for more books that sound excellent!

Reviews that made me want the middle grade sci fi/fantasy book to be nominated

I'm on the first-round panel for middle grade science fiction and fantasy for the Cybils, and so I'm keeping a very interested eye on what's been nominated. I thought today I'd share a list of reviews that made me want particular books to be nominated, because they look so darn good and I don't really have time to read anything that's not on the list.

So. Here is Part 1 of My List of Books that Haven't Been Nominated Yet that I Want to Read:

Be A Genie in Six Easy Steps, at Never Jam Today: "Be a Genie in Six Easy Steps is truly to Nesbit what Snyder's Any Which Wall is to Edward Eager: a lively continuation of a great author's legacy. One of my favorite books of 2009." Sold. I am so sold. I had no idea I wanted to read this book so badly.

The Undrowned Child, at Bookwitch "...for anyone who might feel the need for something Harry Potterish after HP himself; look no further. And if you’re not, I still recommend reading this mermaid war drama set in Venice." And then she adds "...don’t be put off by the mermaids. Anything less mermaidish I’ve not come across. It’s not cute; it’s exciting and different."

Back in July, Doret at TheHappyNappyBookseller wrote about The Poisons of Caux, and I left a comment saying I'd look for it, but I never did. I still want it, though. (EDITED: it's now been nominated).

The Unfinished Angel, at 3T News and Reviews.

City of Fire, reviewed at Good Books for Kids: Yep "...sets his story in an alternate universe where an alternate earth enjoys magic and magical creatures; and where certain historic events, such as World War II, never happened. [Hawaii remains an independent country!]"

I've never read The Runaway Princess, by Kate Coombs, but it's on my list, along with its sequel, The Runaway Dragon (eligible this year), mainly because of this interview with Kate at The Enchanted Inkpot. (EDITED: now nominated)

And finally, here's a book that I requested from the library ages ago mainly because of its title, The Hotel Under the Sand, by Kage Baker. Looking for reviews, I see it hasn't gotten much attention yet...here's a brief review, from someone who didn't know she was getting a children's books, at Disorganized, as Usual. (EDITED: it's now been nominated)

The nomination deadline for the Cybils is 11:59 pm, Pacific Time, October 15.


The intersection of fiction and anthropology--an interview with Laura Resau in celebration of The Indigo Notebook

Laura Resau is one of my favorite authors. I am very fond of What the Moon Saw, and love Red Glass, which I helped shortlist for the Cybils Awards two years ago. And I have just gone over to the Cybils to nominate her newest YA book, The Indigo Notebook, for this year's awards (with its October 13th release date, it just slips in under the wire). Here's why I picked it:

There is 15 year-old Zeeta, thoughtful and interesting, whose life is beautifully and believably entwined with a wide variety of fascinating secondary characters.

There's Resau's ability to write about places that are foreign and make them another normal, as opposed to an exotic other. In this case, it's the Ecuadoran Andes.

And finally, there's her writing, which is full of color and imagery, and which isn't afraid to step beyond Western ideas of reality. Like her earlier books, The Indigo Notebook has hints of magic--enough to carry it past the quotidian, though not so much as to make it fantasy.

So I am awfully pleased to celebrate the release of The Indigo Notebook by chatting with Laura about the intersection of fiction and anthropology--a field in which both of us have an academic background. Her answers are in bold.

I know you are an anthropologist by training. I'd love to know more about the intersection of your life as an anthropologist and your life as a writer.

I've always loved both anthropology and story-telling. As a kid, I was interested in biological anthropology (primates), and as a teen, I was into archaeology (Mesoamerican and historic American). Later in my undergraduate studies, I became drawn to cultural anthropology, especially the areas of indigenous rights issues, healing practices, and immigrants' and refugees' experiences. After graduating with a Bachelors in anthropology, I went to the Mixtec region of Oaxaca, Mexico to teach English for two years.

I approached this experience as both an anthropologist and writer. I was completely fascinated by my new home, and I filled many spiral notebooks with notes on conversations with my friends and their relatives, always asking tons of questions. Essentially, I did what anthropologists would call "participant-observation"— hanging out with people and helping them with everyday tasks-- making tortillas, gathering medicinal herbs, feeding chickens, harvesting squash, preparing coffee beans, etc. I approached language-learning from a linguistic anthropological perspective, and ended up speaking Spanish fluently and gaining a very basic vocabulary in the Mixtec and Mazatec languages. These experiences helped me get a scholarship to the University of Arizona, where I studied for a year, then went back to Oaxaca to do field research on healing practices, and later returned to the U.S. to finish my coursework and Masters thesis in cultural anthropology.

To be honest, during grad school, the dreamy, poetic part of me recoiled at academia's demand to turn sensual, emotional, and spiritual experiences into dry academic jargon-filled language, and to fit them into the latest hip anthropological theory. Although I got good grades and could appreciate the need for academic protocols, I didn't find joy in my coursework. My joy came from the hours I spent writing poems and stories and creative non-fiction… and ultimately, the manuscript for my first novel, What the Moon Saw. I loved infusing my writing with sounds, smells, tastes, music, soul, metaphor, imagery, dialogue-- all the things you find in good stories. After I got my Masters, I decided that instead of continuing with my PhD, I wanted to dedicate myself to creative writing… with an anthropological twist.

To what extent have you included the experiences and stories of actual people that you met doing fieldwork in your stories?

Most of my characters contain bits and pieces of real people and their stories- which hopefully makes them feel vivid and authentic. Although a certain spark or energy from someone I know might be the seed for a character, each character evolves into her or his own person. For example, in What the Moon Saw, the character of Helena began with the spark of an older woman healer who is like a grandmother to me. Helena's story (of growing up with a calling to heal in a society that was often racist and sexist toward indigenous women) contains pieces of many stories I heard from a number of older women friends of mine. Many women's stories were remarkably similar—dealing with arranged marriages as young teens or being exploited as young maids in the city—so it seemed natural to incorporate them into Helena's story.

Most of the people who inspired characters in my first two books were friends of mine before I was officially doing fieldwork—and before I was even thinking about publishing stories with their cultural setting. At that time, I was only writing for myself, and for my family and friends. It wasn't until years later that this writing evolved into published works. This most recent book, The Indigo Notebook, is my first in which I thought the people helping me with my research (mostly relatives of my friend Maria Virginia) might end up inspiring characters in a published novel.

Were there ethical issues that you wrestled with in regard to this?

I definitely have thought about the ethical issues of incorporating other people's stories into my novels. Whenever I can, I check with the people to make sure it's okay with them, and afterward, give them copies of my work and explain what it's about (since most of my indigenous friends can't read English). When I was paid for shorter essays and stories, I shared the money with friends who inspired them (wiring money to their relatives in nearby towns). With the books, I've found that there are just too many people who played some tiny part in inspiring characters and scenes, so I donate a portion of my royalties to indigenous organizations in Latin America as a form of gratitude and in hopes that it can help indigenous people have their voices heard. I also do workshops for immigrant adults and kids (a number of whom have indigenous heritage), to encourage them to tell their stories. I've found that after immigrant adults and kids read my books, they often feel inspired to write their own memoirs, stories, and essays… which thrills me!

What sort of reactions have you gotten from your friends in the field?

I'm grateful that I've gotten nothing but enthusiasm and excitement from people who have helped me with my books or inspired characters. Across the board, people have told me they're pleased I'm writing about their corner of the world— it makes them feel pride in their indigenous communities and culture, which have often been disparaged by the mainstream society of their countries. They've expressed delight that a wide audience is reading about their lives and struggles and triumphs. They've told me that they hope my books generate more of an interest in and respect for their culture, not only among Americans, but among people in their own communities as well.

I’m an archaeologist myself. Some of us are turning to story-telling to communicate our findings to the public, playing with fiction as a vehicle for describing what resulted from the fieldwork. Do you see your fiction as a vehicle to convey what you have learned as an anthropologist, or is it its own thing?

Interesting questions. My anthropological background definitely affects my writing, but not in a deliberate way, for the most part. It taught me to look at the big picture— to notice the social and economic and political circumstances that inform a situation. For example, my healer friends who inspired the curandero characters aren't part of an unchanging, timeless, mystical tradition. They are creative people who are always trying new things and novel methods, often incorporating modern ideas into what they learned from their grandparents.

For instance, some curanderos use spiritual cleansing rituals to ensure their patients will obtain visas to the U.S. Some take spiritual flights to visit their children who are working as undocumented immigrants in the U.S. The fluctuations in their coffee or corn prices might depend on greater economic forces like NAFTA. In The Indigo Notebook, the Quichua healer is dealing with alcoholism and child abuse in his community, and many of his "children" have gone on to emigrate abroad to play Andean music and sell crafts. The anthropologist in me makes sure I give a picture of these contemporary issues along with the more "mystical" elements of the culture.

That said, I don't approach my novels as vehicles to discuss the issues—for me, novels come from deep and mysterious places. In my experience, writing stories is more of an unconscious, dream-like process than a conscious or rational one. Ultimately, I feel that by writing fiction from a deep place with an anthropological perspective, I can reach tens of thousands more readers than I could reach through academic articles.

I completely agree! But do your anthropological colleagues support your fiction writing, or are they indifferent or outright dismissive?

While I was working on the manuscript for What the Moon Saw in grad school, I was very selective about which colleagues I told about my fiction writing. In my anthropology classes, we spent most of our time criticizing theories and journal articles, and the last thing I wanted was for my manuscript-in-progress-- this tender, precious little piece of my soul-- to be torn to shreds. When that book, and the next book, Red Glass, came out, I was delighted to find that my colleagues at the community college where I taught were extremely supportive and enthusiastic. (In fact, the department head writes YA fiction herself.) Since the publication of my first two books, I've been thrilled to get positive feedback from other people with anthropology backgrounds-- including people on awards committees.

Do you have to consciously fiddle with the level of ethnographic detail you include, to make it fit with fiction, or does your fieldwork/life/travel experience blend with your fiction in an organic, unforced way?

I don't deliberately inject my books with ethnographic detail. I think it comes naturally, since I'm writing what I've seen, felt, heard, smelled, tasted… and through these sensual details comes an organic sense of cultural setting. I can only think of a few spots in my books where I felt the need to give deliberate clarification of beliefs or practices. For me, the stories, characters, and relationships come first.

One of the things I love about your books is that they push the reader beyond the normative American view of what constitutes "reality." What sort of feedback, if any, have you gotten about this? Would you
ever consider leaving “reality” behind altogether to write some speculative fiction? That’s my favorite genre, and I pretty much love the books that happen when anthropologists (or daughters of anthropologists, as in Ursula Le Guin), write it.

I adore speculative fiction—it's one of my favorite genres too. (In fact, nearly all my favorite books this year have been speculative fiction and fantasy!) The first book I ever wrote (unpublished—it was my "practice book") was about dragons (this was 15 years ago, before dragons were all the rage). As a kid and teen, the stories I read and wrote explored the intersection between reality and magic. At this point, most of the "magical" elements in my books reflect the worldview of the characters; for them, these elements are part of their reality. Most readers like this magical realism, although a few readers do feel challenged to suspend their disbelief; they try to pin down whether the "magical" parts really happened.

I do have a feeling that one day soon I'll write a speculative fiction book … I've had some ideas churning around for decades, especially lately. Thanks for the gentle nudge, Charlotte!

You're very welcome, and I hope it works out! Turning a bit more specifically to the book in hand -- the ending of The Indigo Notebook hints that there are more stories to come—can you tell us more about this?

This is planned to be a three book series. The second book, The Ruby Notebook, is set in Aix-en-Provence, France (where I lived with a local family for a year). The third and final novel, The Jade Notebook, is set in a tiny town on the Pacific coast of Oaxaca.

Good news! Thanks!

Your books have such a strong sense of place, which seems based in large part on your own lived experiences. Did you do any traveling for The Indigo Notebook?

The Indigo Notebook began during a research trip I took for another book set in Ecuador (The Queen of Water-- a collaborative memoir with Maria Virginia Farinango about her indigenous girlhood in the Andes, Delacorte, Spring 2011 release date.) Before my first trip to Ecuador, I spent hundreds of hours-- over the course of a year—listening to Maria Virginia tell me her life story (and tape-recording it, transcribing, it interviewing her, etc). Through her life story, I felt I already had a vivid picture of Ecuadorian society, especially in the indigenous communities. Then I went to Ecuador to spend time in all the places that had some significance in her life story, so that I could make the descriptions in the book as sensual and vivid as possible. While I was with her extended family in Quichua communities, I grew fond of the setting, and heard stories that sparked the premise of a subplot of The Indigo Notebook. On my second trip to Ecuador a year later, I had both books in mind as I was talking with people and exploring the area.

I'm wondering if you are traveling, or planning to travel, to new parts of the world, to experience first-hand cultural immersion in future settings. Does it make you nervous to write, or to imagine writing, about a place you've never been?

Last year, I took a trip to the Oaxacan coast and Provence, France to do more focused research for the sequels, but since I'd already been to both places several times before, I already had an idea of the plots and what I was looking for.

At this point, I feel comfortable setting my novels in places where I've either lived or spent a significant amount of time. I can't imagine getting a contract to write a novel before I've spent time in the place where it's set. I think I would feel anxious about whether I would feel inspired there. Basically, I don't think I'd find joy in "forcing" a story from a place.

Ideally, I'll keep traveling to new places (southeast Asia is next on my list) and go back to places I know and love (Morocco) and live abroad again (probably somewhere in Latin America-- we're waiting until our toddler is a little older). And who knows, maybe another book will start brewing…

Thank you so much, Laura, for the fascinating discussion, and for taking the time to answer my questions in such satisfying detail! And I hope (in a not entirely unselfish way) that your writing is going well...

The Indigo Notebook officially enters the world October 13th!

(disclaimer: ARC received from Delacorte Press, the publisher)

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