Thursday, May 28, 2009

Meet the Bloggers at Book Expo America!

Tomorrow morning the exhibit halls open and Book Expo America, the annual gathering of the book tribe, goes into full swing. I'll be there with everyone else, wearing my comfortable shoes, wandering the floor, and attending some interesting sessions.

One thing that I'll be doing at BEA is a signing. No, I'm not an author, but Firebrand Technologies, the company behind NetGalley, had a brilliant idea: they're going to turn the traditional autographing sessions on their head, and host blogger signings in their booth. Every hour for the entire expo, two book bloggers will be at the Firebrand booth, #4077 (think M.A.S.H.!) to meet and greet any publishers, authors, and blog readers who might be interested.

I'll be signing (I'm not sure what I'll be signing, though) on Sunday from 11am to noon, accompanied by the fabulous MotherReader, Pam Coughlan. This is a good deal for me, because if no one shows up, at least I know she'll keep me laughing with her great sense of humor. In addition to our own blogs, we'll be talking Cybils and Kidlitosphere Central, so please stop by and chat with us!

There's also some talk that Firebrand might be making blogger trading cards, so make sure that you get a Wands and Worlds and a Mother Reader for your collection! (My son is saying, "Gotta catch 'em all!") I think this is even cooler than the signing itself.

There's a host of interesting bloggers signing, so you'd best just hang out at the Firebrand booth for the whole conference to meet them all. If you'd like to pick and choose so that you can spend time elsewhere, here's the full schedule:

I hope to see you there!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Book Review: A Wish After Midnight

A Wish After Midnight
by Zetta Elliott

Fifteen year old Genna lives in a tiny apartment in a Brooklyn ghetto. Her brother works for a drug dealer, and her sister is a favorite with the boys. Her mother works too many hours trying to support the family, and Genna is primary caregiver for her baby brother Tyjuan. Genna is determined to make something of her life. She wants to go to college and become a psychologist, to help people.

Genna's sanctuary is the Brooklyn Botanic Garden; when things get bad she likes to go to the garden and wander around, sometimes with Tyjuan in a stroller. Sometimes she throws pennies in the fountain and wishes for a different life. Late one night, Genna ends up at the fountain in the garden after a fight with her mother. But this time, something happens, and Genna wakes up to find herself in 1863 Brooklyn, in the middle of the Civil War.

Brooklyn may be part of the North, but that doesn't mean that it's safe for an African-American girl. Slave catchers abduct African-Americans, free or not, and send them down south. And racial tensions are brewing, tensions that will soon explode into violent race riots. Genna is caught in the middle, trying to make a life for herself in a Brooklyn that is far removed from the one she knows, not knowing if she'll ever be able to make it back home to her time, her family, and the young man she loves.

A Wish After Midnight is a remarkable book: intense, well-written, and moving. I read it through quickly, which is always a sign of how much I enjoy a book. Elliott does a great job of depicting racism in all its forms, not only overt racism, but also the insidious racism from some well-meaning people that is sometimes worse than the ugly, blatant kind. It would be easy for a book like this to descend into simplistic dogmatism and finger pointing, but A Wish After Midnight never does. The characters are well-rounded, complex individuals, with human flaws and human strengths. Courage, compassion, and intelligence are not defined by color, and neither are hatred, violence, and racism.

Don't let this talk of racism mislead you into thinking that this is a "message" book. This is no didactic tome weighed down with messages; it's just a darn good story that depicts real people in a moving way.

In spite of the time travel aspects, A Wish After Midnight reads more like historical fiction than fantasy. It's such a good story, though, that even most die-hard fantasy fans won't mind. I'm a fantasy reader, and I couldn't put it down.

Bridget Zinn charitable auction for writers and booklovers

Bridget Zinn is a teen librarian and writer, who recently got an agent for her young adult novel and got married. She also found out that she had Stage Four colon cancer. Her story is a moving one, and you should read it here:

The kidlit community, led by the uber-awesome Jone MacCulloch, has rallied to the cause, and an online auction is taking place right now to raise money to help Bridget with her overwhelming medical bills. There are a boatload of incredible items that have been donated for the auction, from autographed books and artwork, to manuscript critiques, agent readings, and publicity packages. It's a feast for both book lovers and writers. You can see all the items and bid here:

Don't delay, because bidding ends on May 30 at 11:00pm (I don't see a time zone specified, but since Bridget and Jone are both in Oregon, I'm guessing that's Pacific time. Does anyone know?)

I'm a little late posting this, but maybe that's a good thing; hopefully if you meant to bid but forgot, this will be a timely reminder. And if you visited the auction near the beginning but haven't been back recently, there have been a lot of new items added, so check it out!

I'm going to bid now, but I wanted to leave you with a couple more links:

Bridget Zinn and the nature of resilience (Article from The Oregonian)

Live auction taking place in Portland on May 29

Bridget Zinn's web site

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Book Review: The Dragon of Trelian

The Dragon of Trelian
by Michelle Knudsen

Calen is a wizard's apprentice, a job that's not nearly as glamorous as it sounds. When hiding from his duties to watch a procession, he meets the Princess Meglynne, the third daughter of the king. Meglynne, or Meg as she prefers to be called, is quite a bit different than Calen expected a princess to be. First she startles him, almost causing him to fall out the window, then she laughs at him, and then she kicks him! But when she climbs into the window to watch the procession with him, the two form an instant friendship.

The procession marks the entrance into Trelian of Prince Ryant of Kragnir, who has come to marry Meglynne's older sister, Maerlie. After a hundred years of war between Trelian and Kragnir, the betrothal of the two young people will bring peace.

But things are about to get a lot more complicated: a terrifying creature attacks the castle, Calen and Meg discover an evil plot, and unknown to everyone but Calen, Meg is secretly bonded to a dragon, a bond which could change her or even result in her death.

I have to confess that I totally misjudged this book from the cover and description. I thought that it would be a light, amusing children's fantasy about two children and a dragon. But when I read the book, it totally blew me away. It's so much more than I expected.

The Dragon of Trelian is definitely one of my favorite books of the year so far. It's a rich fantasy with everything you could want in a book: engaging characters, humor, exciting plot, young romance, emotional impact, and depth. At first, Meg and Calen seem to be clichéd characters: the spunky princess and the clumsy apprentice. But they turn out to be so much more, and they develop and grow as the book progresses. They really start out the story as children, and end it as young adults. In some ways it reminds me of The City of Ember, in that the adults refuse to act, leaving the two young people to take matters into their own hands. Even the villains have depth and pathos, that culminates in a heart-wrenching scene at the climax.

Although the basic story is resolved, some plot threads are left open, so a sequel may be in the works.

Book Review: The Softwire: Wormhole Pirates on Orbis 3

The Softwire: Wormhole Pirates on Orbis 3
by P. J. Haarsma

Once again, J.T. and his friends from the seed ship Renaissance are being transfered to a new guarantor. The children are knudniks, indentured servants bound to work for four years on the Rings of Orbis. The guarantor owns their work contract, and in essence, owns them. Having had two bad experiences with their previous guarantors, they fear the worst, but this time, their guarantor turns out to be Charlie, an old friend who has helped them in the past.

Things are looking up: Charlie is kind, they get plenty to eat, and they don't have to work. But Charlie makes them go to school, and while Charlie's intentions are good, as the only knudniks in a school full of citizens, the children face discrimination and bullying.

J.T. has questions that Charlie won't answer, and it becomes apparent that there's more going on than the children realize. Before long, they're drawn into the dark underworld on Orbis, pawns in a larger scheme. Risking their lives may be the only way out.

The Softwire is one of the few true science fiction series out there for kids, and it fills a gap that needed to be filled. This third book has everything that I've come to expect from the series: plenty of danger, excitement, and intrigue, interesting characters, cool aliens and technology, and enough depth to make this more than just an outer space adventure. The first part of the book seems tame by the standards of the other books, as the children face nothing worse than school bullies similar to those found in every school in the universe. As the book goes along, though, there's more than enough excitement and intrigue, as J.T. and his friends once again become involved with the larger problems of Orbis.

There is some tragedy in this book, and also something new for the series: a touch of romance, as the kids get older and some of them start to see each other as more than just friends. I think that these things skew this book slightly older than the other two, although not by much.

I would have loved this series as a teen, and I highly recommend it to anyone of middle-school age and up.

My review of The Softwire: Virus on Orbis 1

My review of The Softwire: Betrayal on Orbis 2

Play the Rings of Orbis Online RPG