Monday, July 28, 2008

Need book recommendations!

Lately, I've been feeling a little bit of burnout, and it looks like I'm not the only one. The Seven-imps and Jen Robinson both posted recently about feeling burned out by the reviewing, and both posts triggered an outpouring of response from across the kidlitosphere. It seems that many of us are feeling the pressure that comes when something you love becomes something you're obligated to do.

I love getting those ARCs in the mail, but when there's more books coming than I could ever possibly read and review, it starts to feel overwhelming. I've realized that it's been a long time since I've read anything but children's and YA books. Every time I finish a book, I feel like I have to pick up another one of those review copies, because otherwise I'll never get caught up. Don't get me wrong - I'm not giving up reading and reviewing children's books. I love doing this, and I still plan to keep doing it for a long time. But I think I need a break.

I'm going on vacation to the beach next week, and I've decided I want to read a great adult book for a change. The problem is, that I haven't been keeping up with adult fiction. So I'm hoping that someone can recommend an exciting page turner of an adult book that would be great to read at the beach. I'd like something that's either science fiction (but not fantasy this time), suspense, thriller, or dystopian novel. I'd like something with rich character development and some meat to it, but not too slow-paced. Does anything come to mind? Any ideas or suggestions? Thanks!

Edited to add: Bonus points for recommendations that were independently published! I'll take any recommendations, but I'd especially love to find a great, independently published novel.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Book Review: Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit
by Nahoko Uehashi
translated by Cathy Hirano
illustrated by Yuko Shimizu

Balsa's life changes unexpectedly when the Second Prince falls into the river and she rescues him. When the Prince's mother, the Second Queen, invites Balsa to the palace, she knows that it's more than gratitude, and indeed, the Second Queen lays a duty on Balsa that she can't refuse: take the Second Prince and protect him. The Second Prince, named Chagum, appears to be possessed by something, and signs point to it being a water demon that was defeated by the Mikado's ancestors two hundred years ago. The Second Queen believes that the Mikado is doing the only thing he believes he can do to save the country: kill his own son. The Second Queen asks Balsa to take Chagum with her, hide him, and protect him from the Mikado's men.

Balsa agrees, and prepares to leave the city with Chagum to head into the mountains. Balsa and Chagum are pursued by the Hunters, an secret and elite group of warriors who serve the Mikado, and their leader, Mon. Meanwhile, back in the royal city, a young Star Reader named Shuga perceives that things with Chagum may not be as they seem. With the blessing of the Master Star Reader, Shuga begins to delve into the archives of the founding of New Yogo, and discovers that the official history of New Yogo may not be entirely accurate. As Balsa and her friend Tanda, an apprentice magic weaver, struggle to save Chagum, Shuga desperately seeks the truth that will save the country.

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit is an exciting, action packed story that's an easy read. The fight scenes are amazing, and obviously written by someone with more than a passing familiarity with the martial arts. Yet, the book also has surprising depth and solid character development. Balsa and Chagum become more than bodyguard and protectee as they develop a deeper relationship that changes both of them. Chagum grows from being a spoiled and helpless prince to a capable, courageous and compassionate young man, while Balsa's caring for Chagum helps her to begin to come to terms with her past.

The world building is amazing; New Yogo is a fantasy world, but there are definite Japanese cultural influences. Add to that themes relating to class systems, colonialism,  and manipulation of information by those in power, and several gorgeous two-page-spread illustrations reminiscent of woodblock prints, and you have a winner. I especially loved that there's no black and white in this book and there's no villain; everyone is doing what he or she believes is best. And as a female martial artist myself, I adore the character of Balsa. I'd love to see this book as a candidate for the Batchelder award.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Calling all authors, illustrators, and jacks-of-all-trades: we need your help

On February 5, 2008, a terrible tragedy struck when a tornado swept through central Arkansas. Among those killed by the tornado were a beautiful 10-year-old girl named Emmy Grace Cherry, along with both of her parents, Dana and Jimmy. Emmy was a sweet, caring girl who loved animals and books, and wanted to be either an astronomer or a veterinarian. Her favorite author was Erin Hunter, author of the Warriors series. (Erin Hunter is a pen name for a team of writers who write the Warriors books: Victoria Holmes, Kate Cary, Cherith Baldry, and the newest Erin, Tui Sutherland. )

Emmy Cherry

Lynn Wiman, owner of neighborhood bookstore Vintage Books, knew Emmy as a friend and frequent customer in the store. Lynn wanted to do something special to honor Emmy's memory, so she wrote to HarperCollins hoping to be able to get an autographed copy of one of the books for Emmy's school.

Lynn's letter kicked off a chain of events, as person after person who heard the story was touched by it. The Erins donated not only one book, but an entire set of books. I was contacted by Erin Hunter because they know that my online community has many Warriors fans, and they asked if I would consider posting something. I, too, was touched by Emmy's story, and gladly agreed to post something.

When I posted about the tragedy on my fan community, there was an outpouring of grief and condolences. Fans of the Warriors series gave Emmy the Warrior name Brightspirit, and they named Emmy's mother Dana, Shiningheart, and father Jimmy, Braveheart. Erin Hunter announced that she would include Brightspirit, Shiningheart, and Braveheart in a cameo appearance in Long Shadows, a forthcoming book in the Warriors: Power of Three series.

Emmy's surviving family, including grandmothers Elaine and Kay, were touched by this outpouring of love, and wanted to do something to bring some good into the world as a result of the tragedy. Thus, the Brightspirit Relief Fund was born. The Brightspirit Relief Fund will be raising money to help causes that would have been important to Emmy, including tornado relief, animal organizations, and literacy.

The Brightspirit Relief Fund will be holding an online auction to raise money for these causes. The showpiece of the auction is a complete set of the six books in the first Warriors series, signed by all three original "Erins" using their real names. This is the first time that any Warriors book has been autographed by Kate Cary, Cherith Baldry, and Victoria Holmes using their real names, and we expect this set to draw a lot of interest. A variety of other items have been donated so far by Erin Hunter and other authors, ranging from autographed books to personal items to signed pictures of the authors cats.

That's where you come in. The fund has some great items for the auction already, but more items would not only raise more money, but would also make the auction more interesting and bring more attention to it, and to the Brightspirit Relief Fund. We're hoping that more authors and illustrators will be willing to donate items for the auction, to help raise the profile of the auction and raise more money. If you are an author or illustrator reading this blog, please consider donating something: signed books, artwork, or anything else that would be of interest to your fans. Unique and interesting items would be especially valued.

If you aren't an author or illustrator, won't you consider donating something to help Emmy's causes as well? Any donation that people would be interested in bidding on would be welcome. Donations don't even have to be tangible items; if you provide specialized services, perhaps you could offer your services to the winning bidder? (I'd bid on someone to help me unclutter my house!) You can specify in your donation description that you will only provide the service within a certain geographic area.

The auction will be launched on September 20, at a special Warriors day in Russellville, Arkansas. Victoria Holmes herself will be the guest of honor at the Warriors day, and we expect this to be a high profile event. If you would like to donate something to the auction, please email me at

If you don't have anything to donate to the auction, you could also donate new or gently used books to be given out to children at the Warriors day. Lynn Wiman and Emmy's family hope to encourage literacy by giving a book to every child who attends the Warriors day. This is a great opportunity to clear out any extra books you have, or you could buy a new book to donate. Books donated to be given out at Warriors day can be sent to:

Vintage Books
602 E Parkway
Russellville, AR 72801

Finally, I wanted to add a personal note to say how much this means to me. When I first read about Emmy, I cried buckets of tears. I've cried many more tears throughout this whole process, as I've been touched not only by Emmy's story, but by her family and friends, who are all, without exception, wonderful people. I hope that anyone reading this will consider donating something, small or large, to the auction to help literacy, animal organizations, and tornado relief, or sending books to be given out to the children at Warriors Day. Please email me at with any donations for the auction.

I'd really appreciate it if any bloggers reading this would consider helping me spread the word.

For more information:

Brightspirit Relief Fund web site

My original tribute to Emmy, and the response from the fans

A message from Emmy's family, and one from Erin Hunter

A big thank you to everyone. I'm sorry that this message was so long.
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Where are the monarchs?

Monarch butterfly on a flower My family is obsessed with monarchs butterflies. Every summer, we collect monarch eggs and raise them to adulthood, at which point we release them. We have a butterfly garden, where we can observe the monarchs and other butterflies in their natural habitat. My husband even wrote a book in which a monarch plays an important role.

This year, though, we've been asking ourselves, where are the monarchs? We haven't seen any monarchs, or many butterflies at all, in our butterfly garden. My husband and son went camping this weekend, and didn't see any butterflies there, either. So far this summer we've found a grand total of ONE monarch larva (caterpillar), which was almost ready to pupate when we brought it in to finish growing to adulthood. We've seen no monarch eggs. What's going on?

It's true that we usually see the largest number of monarchs here (Maryland) in August and September, but we usually can find some throughout the summer. This year, though, there's almost none to be found.

Apparently, we aren't the only ones asking the question. Monarch Watch recently posted an article on their blog about the very subject:

Monarch Watch: Where are the monarchs??

While the low numbers of monarchs isn't good, the article points out that there is some hope: because the butterfly population is low, parasites and predators that depend on the butterflies may dying or not reproducing, which will give the next generation of monarchs a better chance. Here's hoping!

Monarch photo copyright 2005 Sheila Ruth. All rights reserved.
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Monday, July 14, 2008

Kaimira Blog Tour: Interview with Chris Rettstatt

Today, I'm interviewing Chris Rettstatt as part of the blog tour for his new book, Sky Village, book one of the Kaimira series. (Chris writes the series under the pseudonym Monk Ashland; his co-author uses the pen name Nigel Ashland).

You can read my review of Sky Village here.

Sheila: I was fascinated by the technologies in The Sky Village - the meks, the demons, the Tree Book, the kaimira gene - but some of them are so advanced as to seem like magic (to paraphrase Arthur C. Clarke’s third law). Will we learn more about the basis for these technologies, either in future volumes or in supplemental materials on the web site?

Chris: That’s one of the reasons nanotech and biotech are so interesting. To the average non-scientist, the possibilities in those fields seem a lot like magic.

The second book in the series, The Terrible Everything, will shed light on the science behind the Tree Books, the demons, and the Kaimira gene, which are all related. Readers will also learn a bit about the evolution of the meks and why they act the way they do.
Sheila: The Sky Village itself, that large, floating balloon city, is such a compelling image. How did this idea come about? Was it inspired by a real experience?

Chris: In the earliest chapters for The Sky Village, when I was just starting to figure out what sort of story it was going to be, the book wasn’t even called The Sky Village, there was no Sky Village. (Or Demon Caves, for that matter.) Mei was traveling by horse-and-buggy. So I just imagined myself on the trip, traveling through this futuristic landscape that was still forming in my head, trying to imagine what strange and wonderful things Mei might see. I looked up (I was sitting outside at the time) and saw the clouds, and the image just came to me, a village made of hot air balloons. Initially it was something she saw on her journey, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked it, and eventually it took over the entire book.  

Sheila: The culture of the Sky Village seems to be based on Chinese culture. Have you lived in China?

Chris: I lived there for exactly one year, to the day, teaching English to students ages four to forty. While a lot of foreign teachers in China live in “western housing” of some sort, I was happy to live in the same apartment complex as many of my students. And I traveled a lot, from the Great Wall to tiny farm villages to the monasteries in Tibet, striking up conversations with strangers and trying to learn as much as I could and improve my Chinese at the same time.
Sheila: Did you write the cloudwatching notes at the end of the book in Chinese? Will there be a translation somewhere?

Chris: No, my written Chinese is terrible. I wrote the cloudwatching notes in English and my wife helped me translate them into Chinese, then she wrote the characters. First she tried cursive, but that didn’t look right, so next she tried the more formal style practiced by grade school kids, and that’s what made it into the book.

Sheila: According to your bio, you have an interest in “kids, technology, and story telling.” Can you tell me more about that?

Chris: When I moved back to the US from China almost a decade ago, one of my first jobs in Chicago was as a chat room monitor for a children’s online community. I was called CJ_Chris (CJ stands for Chat Jockey). I loved the job, and so I made a career in the field of youth-focused virtual community, which put me at the intersection of kids, technology and story telling. And now, as a writer, I find myself still at that intersection.

Sheila: How many books are planned in the Kaimira series?

Chris: The series is five books, which seems like a lot, but I know I’m going to have so many more stories to tell after that. And I’ll find a way to tell them.

Sheila: Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions!

Be sure to check out the rest of the tour stops throughout the week:

Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Shelf Elf

Wednesday, July 16, 2008
A Wrung Sponge

Thursday, July 17, 2008
Jan Dohner, Library Media Specialist

Friday, July 18, 2008
Association of Online Community Moderators

Saturday, July 19, 2008
Bri Meets Books
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Book Review: The Sky Village

The Sky Village
Kaimira: Book One
by Monk Ashland and Nigel Ashland

In a futuristic world dominated by wars between men, beasts, and meks, two children find themselves in possession of a strange book. In China, a girl named Mei is sent by her father to the Sky Village, a huge floating city of interconnected balloons, for safety after her village is attacked and her mother taken by meks. Among her possessions is her mother’s book, the Tree Book, which her father gave her for safekeeping but instructed her strictly not to open it.

In Las Vegas, a boy named Rom sets off to rescue his sister after she is taken by beast-mek hybrids called demons. Rom is captured and taken to the caves under Las Vegas, where he’s forced to learn to control a demon and fight in gladiator style battles with other demonsmiths in order to rescue his sister. Rom also has a Tree Book, which belonged to his father.

When Mei inadvertently alienates the birds who have always been allies of the Sky Village, she must learn to perform the highly risky sky dance to restore the city’s friendship with the birds. Meanwhile, Rom tries to learn to control the demons and win the tournament without losing his mind to the technology. When Mei and Rom open the Tree Book to look for answers, they discover that they can communicate with each other, and also with an entity named Animus who seems to reside in the book. They also learn that each has an unusual gene called the kaimira gene, which combines elements of beast, mek and human within them. Mei and Rom find comfort in communicating through the book, as each tries to learn to use their unique abilities to save the people they care about before it’s too late.

The Sky Village is a unique fantasy with rich world building. Monk and Nigel Ashland have created two fascinating cultures, each of which shows elements of their root cultures. The Sky Village is a lovely concept, a city made of balloons tied together and floating above China. The culture of the Sky Village is an interesting mixture of traditional Chinese elements with unique elements unique to an airborne society. I particularly loved the nuptial rituals. The caves under Las Vegas, by contrast, have a culture steeped in greed and gambling that seems appropriate to their location.

The characters are also interesting, varied and colorful. The two protagonists are likable, sympathetic, and quite human: they make mistakes and they fail, sometimes with disastrous consequences, but they are both courageous and caring, and try to make up for their mistakes. The plot is exciting and holds your interest, although I did find Rom's story a little more exciting than Mei's.

One thing that frustrated me is that the story reads like science fiction, and yet the science wasn’t explained and sometimes seems impossible. For example, the demons, which are supposed to be some kind of beast-mek hybrid, materialize out of thin air, apparently constructed from the mind of a demonsmith. I find it hard to understand how something like that could really exist - perhaps some type of nanotechnology? But for now, I’ll comfort myself with Arthur C. Clarke’s third law, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” and hope that the science will be better explained in future books.

Kaimira is an exciting and enjoyable series, and I look forward to reading future installments.

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Kaimira Blog Tour

Tomorrow, I'll be participating in the blog tour for Kaimira, Book 1: The Sky Village, by Monk Ashland and Nigel Ashland. Monk Ashland is a pseudonym for writer (and 2007 Cybils judge) Chris Rettstatt, and Chris will be joining me tomorrow for an interview. I'll also be posting my review of the book tomorrow.

The complete schedule for the tour follows, so be sure to check out all the other tour stops, too!

Monday, July 14, 2008
Wands and Worlds

Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Shelf Elf

Wednesday, July 16, 2008
A Wrung Sponge

Thursday, July 17, 2008
Jan Dohner, Library Media Specialist

Friday, July 18, 2008
Association of Online Community Moderators

Saturday, July 19, 2008
Bri Meets Books
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