Monday, December 31, 2012

Twas the night before the Cybils shortlist announcements!

Happy New Year, everyone! But more importantly, New Years Day is one of the Kidlit world's most important holidays, with the announcement of the Cybils Awards finalists! I was the Fantasy & Science Fiction Chair, and a judge in the Fantasy/Science Fiction: Teen category, as I have been most years. There were 205 books nominated in Fantasy/Science Fiction: Teen and 151 nominated in Fantasy/Science Fiction: Middle/Elementary, and narrowing each of those down to seven finalists was not an easy task. There were so many excellent books this year! But in the end each group selected an outstanding shortlist of finalists, and I can't wait to share them with the world! Tune in tomorrow, January 1, at for the announcement!

Between reading Cybils nominees and my Cybils administrative tasks, I haven't had much time to post recently. Starting next week, I'm going to start posting about some of the terrific Cybils books I've been reading!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Game of Books on Kickstarter

Lately I've been interested in Kickstarter, and I keep finding interesting Kickstarter projects to back. This is my second Kickstarter post recently, and I don't want to turn this into a Kickstarter blog, because that would change the purpose of the blog. So instead, I decided to start a new Tumblr called Kickstarter Addicts to post those projects I find interesting.

To kick things off, I wrote about a really exciting project called The Game of Books. It sounds like a fun game that both kids and adults would enjoy, and I want to play it! The picture above is my game card from the demo of the game. If I remember right, I entered Ratha’s Creature, Dune, Dust & Decay, and The Hobbit. I may also have entered The Hunger Games but I can’t remember for sure.

Read more about it on my Kickstarter Addicts post!

While you're there, I hope you'll follow my new Tumblr!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Maelorum Gamebook on Kickstarter

I remember the old Choose Your Own Adventure -type gamebooks. I always thought they were fun, although usually the story was light and character development almost non-existent. William Fincher has spent ten years creating something new: a gamebook which looks like it will be much richer and more complex than any created previously. I haven't seen it, other than the few samples posted on the Kickstarter page, so I can't vouch for the quality, but it looks intriguing. William claims to have focused on aspects of storytelling including character development, and there are detailed illustrations throughout. You can play as one of three different characters, each with their own strengths and flaws. He even created a Tabletop RPG-like combat system which is incorporated into the story at various points!

The book is almost done, but William is running a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds to get it published, including professional editing, game testing, printing, and digital conversion. The project has reached its initial funding goal of $5000, but it's not too late to become a backer and earn rewards ranging from a copy of the book to signed original art.

There are additional goals and levels of funding, so backing this project could still make a big difference. If it reaches $8000, an app will be created in addition to the book. There are only three days left to become a backer, so don't delay.

Click here to read more about the Maelorum Kickstarter project and become a backer.

Note: I don't know William and am not connected to this project in any way. He emailed me about it through the blog, and I just thought it looked interesting. I backed it at the $28 level to get a print copy of the book and a pin of the cool-looking logo above.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Last chance for Cybils nominations, and some suggestions!

Today is the last day to nominate for the Cybils Awards, the annual award for children's and young adult literature given by the children's book blogging community. You have until 11:59pm PST tonight to get your nominations in. There are ten categories, from Easy Readers to YA, and Book Apps to Poetry.

More information and the nomination form

If you're looking for books to nominate, here's a few suggestions of books I thought looked interesting for the science fiction/fantasy categories. I haven't read any of these, but if you have and think they're nomination worthy, head on over to and nominate!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Cybils Awards Call for Judges

The Cybils Awards, given each year by the Kidlit blogging community for the best children's and young adult books of the year, have put out the call for judges. If you haven't heard of the Cybils, we seek to honor books that have both literary merit and kid (or teen) appeal.

Cybils 2012 will be starting soon, and we're seeking a few good people to be judges! There are eleven judging panels over ten categories (Fantasy/Science Fiction has separate panels for young adult and middle grade, due to the number of nominations):
  • Book Apps
  • Easy Readers/Short Chapter Books
  • Fantasy & Science Fiction
  • Fiction Picture Books
  • Graphic Novels
  • Middle Grade Fiction
  • Non-Fiction Picture Books
  • Non-Fiction: Middle Grade & Young Adult
  • Poetry
  • Young Adult Fiction
If you are an active Kidlit/YAlit blogger, have experience and interest in any of these categories, and are willing to give up your life for a couple of months in exchange for a chance to do something fun and meaningful, please consider applying. 

I've been involved with the Cybils in one role or another since they were founded in 2006, and have been a judging panelist for most of those years. It's a huge amount of work, but a lot of fun, and one of the most rewarding things I've done. If you're thinking about applying, plan to spend a significant amount of time reading and discussing during your chosen round (October - December for Round 1, and January-February for Round 2). 

The deadline to apply is August 31. Here is the information and link to the application form:

Please don't think that you have to be a big, known blogger to apply! We try to choose a variety of bloggers for all the panels.

As Chair of the Fantasy/Science Fiction category, I'll be selecting the two panels for that category, one for young adult and one for middle grade. I'll consider any applications through the deadline of August 31, but I'm especially in need of people who are passionate and knowledgeable about middle grade for the Middle Grade SFF panel. We always get many more applications for YA SFF than for MG SFF, and while many of the YA applicants say that they'll be happy with middle grade, and I appreciate that, I'd love to fill the middle grade panel with judges who love middle grade and put it as their first choice.

I'm also interested in applicants for either panel who have an interest or specialization in books for under-represented groups.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Book Review: Bitterblue


Sequel to Graceling; Companion to Fire
by Kristin Cashore

Bitterblue is that rare sequel that not only lives up to expectations set by the first book, but exceeds them by quite a bit. Each book in this series is better than the previous one, and Bitterblue is an exceptional book: heartbreaking, deep, and beautiful. Kristin Cashore has managed an amazing and unusual feat: she created a genre story whose primary theme is healing, that is as mesmerizing and page-turning as any epic good vs. evil battle.

Because of the nature of this book, I'm going to have to give some spoilers for Graceling and Fire to be able to adequately discuss Bitterblue. If you haven't read those two books, I highly recommend you read them before continuing with this review. Before you stop reading, however, I wanted to take a minute to give a content advisory. Bitterblue contains some highly disturbing elements, and is probably not a good fit for most middle-grade readers. There are references to rape and torture that happened in the past, and although they are not explicitly described, there is enough implied to make them disturbing. Some of the things that were done to characters, or that they were forced to do, are truly horrific. Some of the characters don't deal well with this past: both suicide and cutting happen during the course of the book, for example. These things are handled sensitively and responsibly, but even so, some readers will not be ready for such heavy themes.

Spoilers for Graceling and Fire Below

Bitterblue is now 18 and has taken her place as Queen of Monsea, with the help of four advisors who had served under her father and who were selected to aid her by uncle, King Ror of Lienid. Things are not well in the kingdom of Monsea. Bitterblue's father, King Leck, may be dead, but the shadow of his reign and his atrocities still looms over the kingdom. Essentially, the entire kingdom is suffering from a kind of PTSD.

Somehow, Bitterblue must find a way to heal Monsea and its people. But like everyone else in the kingdom, her memories are fuzzy from Leck's mind manipulations, and she is so busy with paperwork and administrative tasks that she doesn't have time to learn more about the kingdom. Desperate to understand her kingdom and her people, Bitterblue takes to sneaking out of the castle at night, disguised as a man. She discovers that things are even worse than she suspected. The city is falling apart and people are being killed, apparently to suppress the truth about Leck's reign.

Bitterblue is a deeply emotional book that deals with some difficult topics. Leck did things, horrible things, and it's fair to say that, even dead, he is the primary villain of this story. It's rare to see a genre book delve so deeply into the realm of the psyche and the theme of healing; topics such as cutting and suicide are more common in contemporary teen fiction. Kashore handles these themes and topics brilliantly and sensitively.

Bitterblue is a wonderful character. Much of the book is also a journey of self-discovery for her, as she moves out of the shadow of her father, finds herself, and learns how to be a queen.

All of the other characters are equally fascinating and well-developed, from Bitterblue's tormented advisors, who were hurt at least as much as anyone during Leck's reign, to the dashing sailor Sapphire and his printer friend Teddy, whom she meets in the city. My favorite new character has to be Death (pronounced Deeth), the gruff librarian who loves cats. In addition to the new characters, Katsa and Po from Graceling play a significant role, along with Giddon, Raffin, and Bann, and even Lady Fire makes an appearance.

Those who like romance in their fantasy won't be disappointed. There is at least one, and possibly a second, romantic interest for Bitterblue. Katsa and Po show that even two people who love each other deeply can fight passionately. And there are two same-sex couples: Raffin and Bann, and two women in the city. Raffin in particular struggles with what it means to be gay in a land where same sex marriage is not accepted; among other things, as a prince, his father expects him to marry and produce heirs.

I wanted to take a moment to express how much I admire Cashore. Before reading Bitterblue, I had read an article in PW about the birth of the book. Cashore struggled to write it, taking three years to write an 800 page manuscript. Her editor at Dial, Kathy Dawson, told her that she had to cut 300 pages and start from scratch. I can't imagine how discouraging this must have been for Cashore, but she rallied, and after extensive discussions with Dawson, went back to the drawing board. I don't know how it compares to the first draft, but the result is truly a masterpiece, and I'm glad Kashore put in the time and effort to do the rewrite. I admire anyone who writes a book—to me, it seems like a heroic endeavor. But to then go back and rewrite something that you've already put so much time and effort into—that's truly Herculean.

Buy Bitterblue from:
Your local independent bookseller through IndieBound
Barnes & Noble

FTC required disclosure: Autographed copy received from the publisher at BookExpo America to enable me to write this review. The bookstore links above are affiliate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links. Neither of these things influenced my review.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Book Review: Redshirts


by John Scalzi

As a newly-minted Ensign on the Universal Union flagship Intrepid, Andrew Dahl expects to be gopher and coffee-fetcher for his senior co-workers. What he doesn't expect is that being the newest crew member will also make him most likely to die. Something strange is happening on the Intrepid: low-level crew members die at an alarming rate, especially on Away missions, decks six through twelve always take significant damage during space battles, and unexplained alien technology can find a cure for anything, usually in the most dramatic way possible.

With help from a crazed crew member who took to living in the cargo tunnels after his wife died, Dahl and his friends, other crew members newly assigned to the Intrepid, are determined to figure out what's going on. It's worth any risk to stop it, because if they don't, they face certain death anyway.

Redshirts is a fantastic book that manages to be simultaneously a hugely entertaining parody, a deeply philosophical existential exploration, and a rollicking good story. As you might expect from a book like this, it gets pretty meta. I'm not usually a fan of metafiction, because when I read fiction, I like to lose myself in the story, and don't want to be constantly reminded that I'm in a story. However, Scalzi manages the impossible: he incorporates the metafiction in such a way that it doesn't yank you out of the story. In fact, I think we get several layers of meta deep here, making this perhaps the Inception of metafiction.

This is a book which has something for everyone. Science fiction fans will love the parodies of  beloved SF tropes, but I don't think you have to be a science fiction fan to enjoy this. I think that even literary fiction readers will enjoy Redshirts, both for its metafiction, and because it gives them an opportunity to laugh at us science fiction geeks (perhaps not realizing how much love of the genre is imbued in Scalzi's gentle parodies).

Redshirts is published as an adult book, but I think that teens will enjoy it as well. There are a few crude slang terms for sexual acts, used in a way that you might expect in any military setting, and some implications of off-screen sex. People die in horrific ways, but that's part of the parody. Most high school age teens will not find it shocking.

Buy Redshirts from:
Your local independent bookseller through IndieBound
Barnes & Noble

FTC required disclosure: Autographed copy received from the publisher at BookExpo America to enable me to write this review. The bookstore links above are affiliate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links. Neither of these things influenced my review.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Post-BEA Blues: A Book Blogger's Lament

I'm not much of a poet, but this came to me as I was walking up 37th Street from the Javits Center at the end of BEA on Thursday, carrying my heavy bags of books:

Post-BEA Blues: A Book Blogger's Lament

are heavy
on my shoulders.
Sore back, sore feet.

are heavy
on my soul.
I took too many.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Do non-interactive books do a better job of encouraging literacy than interactive books?

A recent study by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center seems to indicate that they do. The study found that when parents and children read together, children recall significantly more details when reading print books or regular, non-enhanced ebooks than they do when reading interactive ebooks. In addition, children engage with the content more when reading non-interactive books, with actions such as pointing and talking about the story.

So what does this mean? Are interactive books a dead end? I personally don't think so. We live in an era of options, and while all those options sometimes make it difficult to choose, in the long run this is a good thing, because there is no one right option for everyone and every situation. There are many ways to read and many ways to publish, and we can pick and choose as the situation requires. The key, as with everything, is balance.

For Parents

The old advice is still the best: read to your child early and often. We started reading to our son the day we brought him home from the hospital, and read to him almost every day after that until he was a teen. Even then, we sometimes read books together as a family, taking turns reading. We spent a glorious weekend reading the last Harry Potter book together the weekend it was released. I don't think it's unrelated that, at age 16, my son just finished his first year of college, living in the dorm, earning excellent grades and fitting in well with the other students. Reading to him was certainly not solely responsible--he's his own person and in large measure responsible for his own success--but it certainly helped.

But interactive books have their place as well. They may not be as good at developing traditional literacy skills, but computer literacy skills are just as important in today's world, and interactive books do help with those. In addition, the study also showed that interactive books have a lot of appeal for children, and can help encourage an interest in books, especially for reluctant readers. And in some cases, interactive eBooks can teach things that are difficult to teach using traditional books, or provide additional experiences and information about a particular topic. So the key, as it always has been, is in providing a variety of experiences for your child: books, ebooks, apps, not to mention "real life" experiences.

For Publishers, Self-Publishers, App Developers, and Authors

Parents will need books in a variety of formats, which is good news for everyone involved in creating books for children. Publishers can choose to provide their content in a variety of formats, or focus on just one or two. Print, Kindle, ePub, iOS, Android, computer: it's all good and all will be needed. Publishers need to keep aware of the changes in the industry and be prepared to act accordingly. Read industry newsletters and learn as much as you can about the different options, so you can make appropriate choices. Print is not dead, and I don't believe it will go away any time soon, but there's no denying that print markets are shrinking, so publishers need to think carefully about what formats to publish in, and run the numbers to see what makes sense and what will be profitable.

Some projects will be ideally suited to interactive ebooks, others will be a good fit with print and traditional ebooks, while still others will make sense to do in both formats. Any absolute statements about what publishers "must" be doing should be viewed with caution and evaluated carefully. There is no one right solution, and thank goodness we live in an exciting time of options.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Book Review: Black Heart

Black Heart
The Curse Workers, book 3
by Holly Black

Take The Godfather, mix in a little bit of The Sting, and add some magic, and you have a recipe for a great series. That alone would be enough, but Holly Black didn't stop there. The Curse Workers is also a great character driven story, a tightly plotted page turner, and one of the most original fantasies I've read in a long time.

When you read as much fantasy as I do, sometimes it starts to run together. Not so with the Curse Workers series; it's unique and memorable.

Cassel Sharpe comes from a crime family, but with a difference: in this mafia, people have the ability to curse other people with their hands. Curses are like a very specific, very limited magic. Curse workers might be able to cause luck, alter memories, break (or heal) bones, or, in rare cases, kill. Much of the tension in the first book, White Cat, comes from the fact that while Cassel comes from a talented curse worker family, he himself has no curse abilities.

If you haven't read this series, I urge you to stop here and read White Cat, and the second book, Red Glove. You could probably read Black Heart without having read those, but you'll appreciate it much more for having read the whole series. The rest of this review may contain spoilers for the first two books.

There's a reason why there are so many examples of cons in literature and television and movies. There's something fascinating about confidence men. They're smart, charismatic and they have a freedom from the constraints of society that we envy, if we can admit it. But Cassel is not free. He is trapped by the expectations of everyone in his life: his family, the Feds, Zacharov, the Dean of the school, Lila, and even his friends Daneca and Sam. Everyone has expectations, and everyone wants something from him, and there's no way that Cassel can live up to those expectations.

Cassel is such a great character. In spite of his background, or maybe because of it, Cassel tries so hard to be good, but with all these conflicting expectations, how can he possibly figure out what's right? But he is smart and he is charismatic, and you can't help but cheer for him as he navigates the shark-infested waters of his life.

One of the best things about this series is that there are no clear divisions between good and evil. It's hard to even tell who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. Instead, we have complex characters who have conflicting interests and make choices and take action based on those interests. Is it any wonder that Cassel has trouble figuring out the right thing to do?

If you enjoyed the first two books in this series, you won't be disappointed in this one. It's a great story that builds to a surprise (at least to me) climax. I think Holly Black has some talent as a con artist, because even after reading all three books, I didn't see the climax coming, and afterwards it was so obvious I don't know how I didn't anticipate it.

My only problem was one of the subplots that seemed a little too tangential and didn't seem to fit in very well with the main plot. I'm not sure what purpose it served, but it's possible it was a distraction or a red herring.

Buy Black Heart from:
Your local independent bookseller through IndieBound
Barnes & Noble

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

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Book Review: The Girl of Fire and Thorns

The Girl of Fire and Thorns
by Rae Carson

Once every generation, God chooses someone to bear the Godstone, a mark which indicates that person is selected to perform an act of service sometime in his or her lifetime. Lucero-Elisa de Riqueza, the younger daughter of the King of Oraville, is the current bearer of the Godstone, but she doesn't feel worthy. She's not thin, beautiful, or adept at court politics like her older sister, and she worries that when the time comes, she won't have the courage to perform her act of service.

When Elisa is wed to Alejandro de Vega, the King of neighboring Joya d'Arena, she is thrust into a world of intrigue and danger. Joya d'Arena is on the verge of war, and the Godstone makes Elisa a target. Between the people who expect her to save them, and those who want to kill her, Elisa isn't sure that she'll even survive long enough to perform her act of service, if she could even figure out what she is supposed to do.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns is a well-built fantasy with a kick-ass heroine, rich worldbuilding and themes, and enough excitement and intrigue to keep the pages turning. I first read it for the 2011 Cybils Awards, then read it again—twice—before reviewing it, and each time I got more out of it.

The worldbuilding is excellent, with a Spanish influence that made a refreshing change from the standard fantasy setting. The major religion is thoughtfully developed, with some superficial resemblance to the Catholic church, but with its own unique beliefs and rituals. In spite of the resemblance, it isn't a Christian religion, but one that fits into the world Carson developed. Religion plays an important role in the story, but not in a dogmatic way. Instead, questions of faith are explored without finding easy answers. The Godstone gives Elisa a connection to God, and she prays often, yet her prayers are not always answered; loved ones die, and Elisa battles doubts about herself and about God. When person after person claims their actions are the will of God, Elisa asks why it is that she seems to be the only one who doesn't know the will of God! Elisa even questions several times whether some bearers of the Godstone could have been selected from among the enemy, something that has never occurred to anyone else. (Not all the bearers are known).

Elisa is a terrific protagonist who ranks right up there with the best literary heroines. She may be overweight and self-doubting, but she kicks ass in every way. Some reviewers objected to the fact that Elisa loses weight as a result of the privations and trauma she experiences. They worry that the book sends the wrong message about weight, that the outward change reflects an inner change from lazy to strong, and that weight is something to be ashamed of. I didn't get that on my first read-through, however the idea troubled me and I paid close attention to it on my second and third read.

I've come to the conclusion that I disagree with this view. First, Elisa is not lazy and self-absorbed, not at the beginning, and not ever. Early in the book, King Alejandro's personal guard observes that she has steel in her, and she does. By the third chapter, she has saved her ladies during a battle, pulling one of them to safety, and killed a man to save someone else. Even as she runs into the battle she feels her stomach and breasts bouncing, but she acts without thinking and without worrying about the consequences. These are not the actions of a lazy, self-absorbed person.

Even before that, she is not a spoiled, lazy princess; she is, in essence, a prisoner. A prisoner in a gilded cage, but a prisoner nonetheless. In order to protect the bearer of the Godstone, she is not allowed to take any risks, to do anything, or even to know anything about the Godstone that she bears. Elisa is interested in war and strategy, but all she can do is read about it; she is never allowed anywhere near danger. She does clearly have an eating disorder, but given the suffocating life she has lived, is it any wonder? And an eating disorder is not gluttony; it's trauma.

Even when she loses weight, it's made clear that she isn't thin. She has lost weight, a significant amount of weight, as anyone would who lives through the experiences she does, but she is "not even close to thin." And time and time again, the people who matter most to her, including a certain romantic interest, make it clear through words and actions that her weight never mattered to them, that she was always beautiful. Here's some thoughts from Rae Carson about weight and judging people by appearances.

I think I've made it clear how much I loved this book. It was definitely one of my favorite books of the year, and I'm really looking forward to the release of The Crown of Embers in September.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns was a 2011 Cybils Awards Finalist.

Buy The Girl of Fire and Thorns from:
Your local independent bookseller through IndieBound
Barnes & Noble

FTC required disclosure: Review copy provided by the publisher to enable me to write this review. The bookstore links above are affiliate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links. Neither of these things influenced my review.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Charlie Kaufman to adapt The Knife of Never Letting Go

Charlie Kaufman to adapt The Knife of Never Letting Go

Lionsgate has selected Charlie Kaufman to adapt the first book in Patrick Ness' Chaos Walking trilogy for film. Whenever I hear that a favorite book is being made into a film, I am simultaneously excited for the film, and worried that it won't do the book justice, or worse, will ruin my vision of it.

I'm more worried than usual for this one, because according to the article, Kaufman is known for taking adaptations into "all kinds of imaginative directions not found in the pages of those books."

Now, I'm not a person that believes that movies need to adhere exactly to the book. Rather the opposite: sometimes when a film tries to stick too closely to the book, it ends up stilted. Books and movies are two different media, requiring different storytelling techniques. For example, I was pretty happy with the Hunger Games movie and felt that most of the changes made it a stronger film.

However, when I hear that a screenwriter may take a favorite book in imaginative directions, I have to ask "Why?" Patrick Ness' masterpiece is already imaginative enough. I can't imagine that Kaufman, or anyone else, could improve on it.

On the other hand, Apocalypse Now and Blade Runner are two excellent films that are hugely different from their literary sources. (I studied both of those in a "Books to Film" literature class I took in college). So even a drastically changed story can be good. But when the story is a favorite, as this one is for me, it can be hard to swallow.

Right now, it's hard to say what will happen. Perhaps Kaufman won't make imaginative changes. Or perhaps he will, and they will make a better film. For now, I'll wait and keep an open mind, although I can't help a feeling of dread as well.

In the mean time, if you haven't read this excellent series, I suggest you read it.

My review of The Knife of Never Letting Go

My review of The Ask and the Answer (with guest post from my son)

My review of Monsters of Men

"Charlie Kaufman To Adapt ‘Chaos Walking,’ Lionsgate’s Next Franchise Play"

Buy The Knife of Never Letting Go from your local independent bookstore

Buy The Knife of Never Letting Go from

Buy The Knife of Never Letting Go from Barnes & Noble:

Disclosure: The links above are affiliate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A plea to indie authors and publishers

I've long been an advocate for indie authors and indie publishers. As a former president and current member of the MidAtlantic Book Publishers Association, I have worked to help improve both the quality of indie publishing and the recognition for those involved. As an organizer of the Cybils awards, I argue vehemently each year to continue to allow self-published books to be eligible. There are excellent self-published books, I argue, and we need to continue to allow them to be eligible to find the hidden gems. And indeed books like Angelfall, an excellent self-published ebook which was one of the finalists this year, prove the point.

But for every Angelfall, there are a hundred, maybe a thousand, substandard books that opponents of self-publishing can hold up as examples. As a blogger/reviewer I receive submissions of many interesting-sounding indie books, only to be disappointed when I try to read them. I want to like your book. I really do. I'm starting from a perspective of hoping to find good indie books. But I'm disappointed more often than I'm satisfied.

This is a plea to all the indie authors and publishers, and those thinking of publishing. With ebooks and POD, it's so easy today to make a book available to the public, but that's not the same thing as publishing. Publishing is hard work and time consuming, and includes the myriad of details necessary to produce a quality book. Before you jump into publishing your book, please consider the following:

1. Read, read, read.

Have you read widely in the genre you are planning to write & publish in? Each genre has its own requirements and conventions, and you need to understand them. For example, YA books are usually tightly plotted, have strong voice, appeal to teens without talking down to them, and use tightly controlled point of view. In addition to reading widely, it helps to participate in discussion groups (Goodreads is one place to do that) or to start a blog and review books, and read reviews by other bloggers, because you can learn a lot from the comments of other people.

I can't tell you how many times I receive a publicity email saying, "So and so wrote this book because there were no good books for children about..." and I think, "What about this book, or that book? Have they read any books in the children's/YA genre at all?"

2. Learn the craft.

Writing is a craft, and like any craft, it requires training and practice. Most traditionally published writers I know spent years learning their craft before they ever had a book published. On the other hand, I have met many indie authors who decided to write a book and then published it, with little forethought or training. Just because you can string sentences together, doesn't mean you can write a book. At least not yet.

I believe that writing is a skill that can be learned, and that most people are capable of becoming good writers, but it takes time and it takes work. This is not an indictment of all indie authors, because I do know some who have put in the time and work. But for anyone who hasn't, please don't skip this important step.

Do you understand point of view, how it affects a story and how to control it? Do you know what voice is and how to use it? Do you know how to write believable dialog? Do you understand the "Show, don't tell" rule?

Take writing classes if you can, and read books about the craft, particularly as it relates to your chosen genre. Join a critique group and learn both from others critiquing your work, and from the opportunity to critique others. Write many things, and understand that the first book you write may not be publishable. As with anything, you will improve with practice.

3. Produce a quality product

Once you have a book that is good enough to be published, it will still need work and money before it is a product ready for the public. No matter how good a writer you are, the book should be professionally edited by someone familiar with the genre. Really, there are multiple levels of editing, and ideally they should be done by different people, because someone can get too close to a book to be able to see the errors anymore.

Cover design is crucial and should be done by a professional cover designer. Just because someone is a graphic designer doesn't mean that they can design a cover. Cover design is a specialty with unique needs and requirements that not all graphic designers necessarily know. For a book that will be printed (even print on demand), plan to spend $500-$2000 for a professional quality cover. Books which will only be ebooks may be a little less expensive. Yes, that's a lot of money, but after you put all the work and time into writing your book, do you really want to wrap your baby in a substandard cover?

I highly recommend 1106 Design who did the cover design (but not the illustrations) for the Ratha series books. Here's an interesting post on their blog about the choices made in designing Clan Ground.

For printed books, interior design is also important. Microsoft Word is not a typesetting tool. Although I know people who use it, in my opinion it's not capable of producing professional quality typesetting. If you don't understand typography, find someone who does (or take the time and put in the work to learn it, just as you did for writing). For ebooks, interior design is not as much of a consideration, because ebooks are designed to be adapted to the device and preferences of the reader. However, even for ebooks, you want to make sure to have a good conversion.

Final words

With friends like me, who needs enemies, right? I'm a friend of indie publishing, and if these are the things I see, just imagine what the opponents are saying. Please, let's all work to raise the bar on indie publishing and help change the perception by creating quality books that we can all be proud of.

I'm thinking of starting to ask anyone submitting a self-published or indie book for review to elaborate on the book's writing and editing process, in an attempt to weed out books that are poorly written and poorly edited. What do you think? I feel like I shouldn't have to ask, but I'm just tired of being disappointed.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Book Review: Ship of Souls

Ship of Souls
by Zetta Elliott

Dmitri, or D for short, never knew his father, so when he loses his mother to cancer, he is put into foster care. His new foster mother, Mrs. Martin, is nice enough, but she has her hands full with a crack -addicted baby and doesn't have much time for D.

One day in the park, D finds a wounded bird, and discovers it can talk. The bird tells him she is there to gather the dead from the African Burial Ground, who have been waiting for years to find peace. The bird, whose name is Nuru, has been held prisoner and prevented from accomplishing her mission, and she needs D's help.

But forces are determined to stop them, and D is in grave danger. Along with his new friends Hakeem and Nyla, D must battle dangers, from a monster made from paving stones, to hostile Revolutionary War ghosts, before he can reach the spirits who need his help.

Ship of Souls is a lovely and touching story. At its heart, it's a story of friendship, and it works best when D, Nyla and Keem are together. The friendship between these unlikely friends works, and even the slight tension between the two guys, both of whom like Nyla, makes the relationship seem genuine. Over the course of the story, Nyla and Keem become D's new family.

One of the things I found refreshing about this book is that most of the people (with the exception of the very angry and racist Revolutionary War ghosts) are really nice people. Often part of the tension in YA novels comes from the unpleasant people surrounding the protagonist, and it ends up giving a very negative view of the world. That wasn't the case here. When Mrs. Martin took D in, I was tense, expecting that she would seem like a nice old lady but turn out to be a nasty child abuser. But no, she really was a nice old lady, who just had more problems than she could deal with. When D was asked to tutor basketball jock Keem in math, I though, "Uh, oh. Keem is going to turn out to be a bully who torments him." But no. In spite of being a basketball star, Keem was really lonely because people tease him about being a Muslim, and after a little bit of initial tension, he and D hit it off almost right away. It made the book an enjoyable read.

The supernatural elements were not as well developed as I felt they could have been, and I ended up with too many unanswered questions about the dead and about Nuru, her role, her realm, and her mission. I just didn't feel that I got a very good picture of how it all fit together.

As with Elliott's first YA novel, A Wish After Midnight, there is a strong sense of place, and Elliott's love for her adopted city of New York, and in particular the Brooklyn borough, shines through. New York history also plays a role.

This would be a great book to read in a classroom setting, with its historic tie-ins and explorations of prejudice and tolerance. Elliott included several pages of discussion and writing topics at the end of the book.

Buy Ship of Souls from:
Your local independent bookseller through IndieBound
Barnes & Noble

FTC required disclosure: Reviewed from ARC. Review copy provided by the publisher to enable me to write this review. The bookstore links above are affiliate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links. Neither of these things influenced my review.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Book People Unite: Take the Pledge and help RIF put books into the hands of kids in underserved communities

"...there’s only one book for every 300 kids living in underserved communities in the U.S." RIF has been putting books into the hands of kids for decades. Now, they've teamed up with some top recording artists and actors to create this music video to raise awareness and encourage people to join the cause. After you watch the video, please go to to learn more about the video and sign the pledge. It doesn't cost you anything.

RIF recently lost its federal funding, which represented 80% of its operating budget. But rather than give up, this loss seems to have infused RIF with new energy, new creativity, and new determination to accomplish their mission. But RIF needs our help. Visit for information on donating or volunteering in your community.

Books inspire, educate, inform, entertain, but most importantly they open minds to new ideas, new horizons. Imagine how much it benefits us as a society to put books in the hands of kids who don't have them. In the words of Grammy award-winning Hip-Hop band The Roots, who produced the video, ""Narrative is perhaps the most essential aspect of human culture." I would agree with that, and add that narrative is not "just" story; it helps us to make sense of the world around us. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Walking the Clouds: an Anthology of Indigenous Science Fictio

Walking the Clouds is an anthology of indigenous science fiction. The book sounds fascinating, and I'd love to read it, although I admit to being disappointed to discover that most of the stories are excerpts from longer works, and only a few are self-contained stories. This review contains a short but interesting interview with editor Grace Dillon: "Just as our science is not primitive, our storytelling has always contained the elements of science fiction that are considered forward-thinking, inventive and visionary today." Read the review & interview here.

Many thanks to +Biology in Science Fiction for sharing this gem.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Once Upon a Time

Snow White is so badass!
I don't often write about television, but I feel compelled to say something about what I feel is the best new show on television this season. Imagine what the creators of LOST could do if they took on fairy tales. Wait: you don't have to imagine! That's what really happened! Once Upon a Time is based on fairy tales, but it's so much more than just another fairy tale retelling.

The story takes place in two worlds. One is the fairy tale world, populated by the characters we know (or think we know) and love. The other is a town called Storybrooke, Maine, where those same characters are cursed by the evil queen to live ordinary lives in our world, with no memory of their fairy tale existence. The queen herself, played by Lana Parrilla, is the mayor of the town.

The first episode introduces the town and the characters, and shows the fairy tale backstory leading up to the curse. Then, in typical LOST fashion, the entire rest of the season proceeds to deconstruct the backstory, teasing out the "true story" in stunning reveals, episode by episode.

The acting is BRILLIANT, especially Ginnifer Goodwin as Mary Margaret Blanchard/Snow White, Lana Parrilla as Regina/Evil Queen, and Robert Carlyle as Mr. Gold/Rumplestiltskin. Most of the characters are very different in the two worlds, and the actors handle the double characterization beautifully. I can't say enough good things about the entire cast of this show.

I adore Red Riding Hood's cape!
The production values are very high; it's worth watching the show for the costumes alone! From the queen's elaborate costumes to Snow White's forest getup, from Emma Swan's boots to Ruby's cute modern costumes in Storybrooke, the attention to detail is amazing. I particularly love the costumes that give an ironic nod to some of the characters' Disney counterparts, such as Belle's dress in "Skin Deep."

If you haven't been watching this show, you should be. I recommend that you don't jump into the middle, though. As with LOST, you may be a bit confused if you haven't been watching along, and you'll definitely get a lot more enjoyment out of it if you watch from the beginning so that you can follow along with the development of the characters and the reveals. You can watch the episodes on the ABC website, or get them from Amazon Instant Video or iTunes. There is also a DVD of the first five episodes that ABC says is available exclusively from Target.

A heartbreaking performance by Lana Parrilla
For those who have been watching it: I thought last night's episode was the best yet! Lana Parrilla was absolutely brilliant, and the tragedy, and her transformation from an innocent teenager to the beginnings of the evil, manipulative character we know, were absolutely heartbreaking. Even though you pretty much knew what was going to happen after the initial setup was revealed, watching it unfold was horrifying. And the confrontation between Mary Margaret and Regina in the jail was incredibly moving, with terrific performances by both Lana Parrilla and Ginnifer Goodwin. (There must be something about that jail cell that inspires the best in the writers and actors! Some of the best scenes have been in that cell.) The talented girl (Bailee Madison) who played young Snow White not only looked a lot like Ginnifer Goodwin, but she nailed Snow White's mannerisms. And of course Barbara Hershey was perfect as the Queen's mother. What did you think?

Photos are from the ABC website. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Gift by Andrea J. Buchanan

Gift is an exciting new project being released today, from Andrea J. Buchanan, author of The Daring Book for Girls.  Gift is a new multimedia paranormal YA novel which includes music by Fredrik Larsson, as well as art, videos, triggered events, and a graphic novel story. There's even a soundtrack and a playable Minecraft map available for download. Gift is not being promoted specifically as a transmedia project, at least not that I've seen, but with the variety of media included, and the addition of other media like the Minecraft map, it seems to me that it could qualify as one.

The enhanced ebook with the full feature set is only available for iBooks on iOS devices, but the story itself is available for a variety of ebook platforms, including Kindle, Nook, and Google (you may be able to buy the Google book from your local independent bookseller).

I haven't read Gift yet, but plan to. I just wish I had an iPad so that I could have the full experience.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Pool of Fire by John Christopher

The Pool of Fire is the third book in the Tripods series by John Christopher. I'm reposting my reviews in tribute to this great science fiction writer who died last week.

The Pool of Fire

by John Christopher

Time is running short, and the final push to overthrow the Tripods has begun. To do his part against the Masters, Will must risk his life and go back inside the city that he hoped never to see again, the city where he was a slave and where he saw so many horrors.

This book is a little more fragmented than the others - it's really several different episodes involving Will and his companions in the battle against the Tripods. But it's an exciting story, and anyone who enjoyed the first two books will enjoy this one. One of the things that makes Will such a likeable character is that he's an ordinary boy. He's not the smartest, or the most disciplined, or even the most heroic, but he still manages to be in the thick of the war, striking blow after blow against the tyrannical rulers of the Earth. Through Will we come to believe that anyone can be a hero.

Buy The Pool of Fire

More About John Christopher

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The City of Gold and Lead by John Christopher

The City of Gold and Lead is the second book in the Tripods series by John Christopher. I'm reposting my reviews in tribute to this great science fiction author who died this week.

Will and his friends have been living with the renegade community in the White Mountains, undergoing training to help in the battle against the Tripods. Now, volunteers are needed for a dangerous mission, and the three friends hope to be chosen. The volunteers will travel to a city in Germany to compete in the yearly athletic tournament. The winners of the tournament get the "honor" of going to the Tripod's city to serve the Tripods. If any of the volunteers win the tournament, they will have an opportunity to gather information from inside the Tripod's city. But this could well be a fatal mission; no one has ever returned from the Tripod's city. If they get into the city, will the heros be able to get back out again alive?

The first part of this book is a little slow but once the story gets going it's pretty exciting. In this book the fight against the Tripods, or the Masters as they are called in this book, becomes much more personal. Whereas in the first book they are a somewhat remote threat, with only a few close encounters, in this book we learn much more about the horrors of the Masters dominion over the Earth. The battle becomes much more real, and much more necessary. There are a couple of scenes in this book that may be too intense for sensitive children.

Buy The City of Gold and Lead

Monday, February 06, 2012

The White Mountains by John Christopher

In tribute to science fiction writer John Christopher, who just passed away, I'm reposting my review of The White Mountains, the first book in his Tripods series.

Will Parker is 13 years old, and in another year he will undergo the capping ceremony, which marks the passage to adulthood. During the capping ceremony, the Tripods, giant metal beings with three legs, permanently fuse a metal cap to the person's skull. Will accepts the capping as a normal part of life, as everyone else does, until Jack, his best friend and cousin is capped. Seeing the changes in Jack makes Will nervous about what lies in store. Soon afterwards, he meets a vagrant who tells him that the Tripods are beings who have taken over the Earth and that the caps are the means they use to keep humans under control. He tells will about a colony of free humans living in the White Mountains, far to the south, and gives Will directions for how to get there. Accompanied by first one, and then another boy, Will sets off on a journey to find the free men in the White Mountains. The journey is fraught with peril and filled with adventures.

I first read this book when I was young, and reading it again as an adult I found it just as exciting as I remembered it. Will and his friends must be constantly alert to avoid Tripods and other dangers. Since the book is told from Will's point of view and we can "see" his throughts, he is the most thoroughly developed character. During the journey, he grows as he interacts with the other boys and also as he examines and questions his own beliefs, desires, and motivations. While the book doesn't have a strong female character, that didn't bother me when I was a kid. I just enjoyed the adventure, and still do. The only complaint I have about the book is that it ends too abruptly, and the ending is anticlimactic, almost like the author just said, "that's enough, I'll cut it off here."

One important note: John Christopher later wrote a prequel to the series called When the Tripods Came. The prequel is now marketed as book 1, and The White Mountains has been shifted to book 2. But do not read When the Tripods Came first! The White Mountains was originally intended to be the first book, and if you read the prequel first, it will diminish your enjoyment of The White Mountains, because part of the fun of the book is the mystery of the Tripods. If you read When the Tripods Came first, then you will know too much about the Tripods to enjoy The White Mountains the way it was originally intended to be read.

Buy The White Mountains:

RIP John Christopher

I'm so incredibly sad to learn of the death of John Christopher. His Tripods series was a big influence on me as a child, and he helped to shape the YA SF genre. Reading the books again as an adult I wasn't disappointed. I posted reviews of the Tripod books on my original pre-blog Wands and Worlds site, and I'll repost them here in tribute.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Locus Magazine posted their 2011 Recommended Reading List today. Looks like a great list of books! Four of the Cybils Awards SFF Teen finalists made the list: Red Glove and The Shattering in the YA category, and Girl of Fire and Thorns and Blood Red Road in the First Novels category. One of the Cybils Middle Grade SFF finalists is on the list: A Monster Calls.
Besides the Cybils finalists, personal favorites on the Locus list include Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor, The Boy at the End of the World, by Greg van Eekhoutand Welcome to Bordertown, edited by Holly Black & Ellen Kushner. There are several others on the Locus list that I want to read and haven't yet had a chance.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Books I wish had made the shortlist

Being a Cybils judge is a lot of work and a lot of fun, but it's also heartbreaking when books you love don't get enough support from your fellow panelists to make it on the shortlist. Cybils overlord Anne Levy invited panelists to share their favorite books that didn't make the shortlist, and here are a few of mine:

Daughter of Smoke and Bone was one of my favorite books this year. I loved the beautiful writing, interesting characters, and the gradual reveal. Unfortunately, not all of my fellow panelists loved it, and this was one of the more heavily debated books in our discussions. Read my review for more about this book.

The Monstrumologist series is a favorite of mine. Although I'm not generally a horror fan, and these books are pretty horrifying in places, they are also extremely well written, exciting, character-driven books. I think they have a lot of teen appeal and literary merit. Later books in a series can sometimes have trouble living up to their predecessors, but that's not the case here. The series just keeps getting better, and The Isle of Blood is the best one yet, by far. I plan to write a more detailed review of it soon.

Traditional fantasy fans will love The Floating Islands. Incredibly detailed and creative world building; well-developed magic system; great characters; beautiful writing with lots of sensory imagery; dragons! The two protagonists, a boy and a girl, are each outsiders in different ways, and each longs for a different life: Trei yearns to fly, which may not be allowed to someone from another land, and Araene wants to be a chef, an occupation forbidden to girls. As these two children struggle to make their way in the world, the book deals with themes of loss, loyalty, and being true to one's self.

Check out some other panelists' favorites.

Monday, January 09, 2012

A Wrinkle in Time 50th Anniversary

"It was a dark and stormy night." This year is the 50th anniversary of one of my favorite books, A Wrinkle in Time. Listening Library/Random House Audio is releasing a new audiobook version tomorrow. Here's a sample. Update: the widget wasn't working, but it has been corrected and should work now.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Cybils 2011 Fantasy & Science Fiction Middle/Elementary Finalists

As Fantasy and Science Fiction Organizer for the Cybils, I supervised, but didn't participate in, the discussions for the Fantasy & Science Fiction Middle/Elementary category. (I served on the teen side of SFF; see my other post today). In this case, supervising meant basically standing back and watching with awe as this terrific group read like maniacs, chatted up a storm, and selected a terrific shortlist. Here are the SFF Middle & Elementary level finalists:

A Monster Calls: Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd
by Patrick Ness
Candlewick Press
Nominated by: Monica Edinger
The first night Conor is awakened by a monster he believes it is all a dream, but he soon discovers this monster is very real and very serious about getting the truth from him. But even Conor does not know the truth he must confront. As Conor's story progresses, he grows braver and stronger and bolder with the help of his monster who taunts him and pushes him into admitting what he fears, then learning how to beat it. Developed from an idea originated by Siobhan Dowd, Patrick Ness has written a compelling story about taking on fears and triumphing over them. Gorgeous black-and-white pen-and-ink illustrations add to the uplifting power of Conor's story, which is one part horror, one part fantasy, and full of heart. Get ready to quake in fear, laugh in exaltation, and cry in sympathy as Conor learns about life, love, and loss.
--Rebecca Newland

by Anne Ursu
Walden Pond Press
Nominated by: Katie Ahearn
 A modern retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen”, Breadcrumbs tells the story of Hazel and Jack. Best friends their entire lives, they are inseparable. That is until, something happens and Jack begins to change. Hazel finds herself drawn into a fairy tale world full of magic, witches, enchanted flowers and spells in order to save her best friend. The writing is poetic and brilliant, and the literary allusions will leave readers searching for the original stories. Enchanting, heartfelt, sincere, and magical, Breadcrumbs is a book that will be loved by middle grade readers whether they are reading it independently or it is read aloud to them.
--Sarah Mulhern Gross

Dragon Castle
by Joseph Bruchac
Nominated by: April Conant
By the head of the dragon! It’s a good thing Prince Rashko, the sensible second son, is around to defend the royal family’s ancestral castle when Baron Temny and his army of invaders move in, because he’s not going to get much help from his parents (called away to the Silver Lands) or his brother (bewitched by the beautiful Princess Poteshenie). Drawing on Slovakian proverbs and folklore, Bruchac alternates—and eventually intertwines—Rashko’s story with that of the hero Pavol, also depicted in a mysterious tapestry that hangs on the castle walls. The result is high fantasy laced with history and humor, action and adventure, as Rashko and the reader alike uncover the secrets of Dragon Castle.
--Anamaria Anderson

by Matthew J. Kirby
Nominated by: Betsy Bird
Awaiting word from her father the Viking king, Solvieg is trapped by winter's ice on a remote fjord with her brother Harald, heir to the throne, and her beautiful older sister Asa. Food is running out, the Berzerker soldiers sent to protect the children are restless, and betrayal is in the air. As the brutal cold tightens its grip, and tensions mount, Solveig finds strength in the power of stories, and, secretly, away from her father's prying eyes, trains to be a skald, or storyteller. Kirby effortlessly weaves a gripping tale about the power of words in Icefall, blending Norse myths with the larger story. The result will delight those who like a twist of the extraordinary in their historical fiction.
--April Conant

The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale
by Carmen Agra Deedy
Nominated by: Monica Edinger
Alley cat Skilley is thrilled be taken on as mouser for Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a London tavern renowned for its cheddar. There's just one catch--it's the cheese Skilley wants to eat, not the mice. So he and the mice form an alliance, acting out games of catch and release, much to the amusement of writer Charles Dickens, who watches their doings while struggling with his writing. But the path to cheese is strewn with dangers and difficulties-- an enemy tomcat, named Oliver, aided by an unpleasant barmaid, is scheming to take Skilley's place, and he is a true hunter of mice. But the greatest challenge of all for Skilley and his mouse friends is to return an injured raven to the Tower of London--before its absence causes the whole British Empire to fall. Surprisingly rich in the twists and turns of its story, peopled with a cast of memorable characters, and with unexpected moments of true emotional depth, this is a book for all ages—adults will appreciate the word play and literary allusions and kids will adore the cats and mice.
--Donalyn Miller

The Inquisitor's Apprentice
by Chris Moriarty
Nominated by: Laura Wadley
An incredibly rich and rewarding read, The Inquisitor's Apprentice is a mystery steeped in equal parts fantasy and history. Sacha Kessler, a Jewish kid in Turn of the 20th Century New York, accidentally reveals he can see magic, and so is apprenticed to the NYPD Inquisitor's bureau-- the detectives who solve magical crimes. Sacha joins Inspector Maximillian Wolf and fellow apprentice Lily Astral in a race to solve the mystery of who is trying to murder Thomas Edison.
But the tantalizing plot is only a small part of what makes Inquisitor's Apprentice such a great read: it teems with characters both real (larger than life American figures like Edison, Harry Houdini, and Teddy Roosevelt all play a role in the novel) and imagined (Maximillian Wolf is a detective on the order of Sherlock Holmes, or Lieutenant Columbo, and both Sacha and Lily are authentic, fresh, and vibrant). And the setting--this fantasy New York of an alternate past--reads less like history and more like a fully realized and incredibly complex act of worldbuilding. Moriarty has pulled off quite a hat trick here: the young reader will find in Sacha a character whose interior struggles mirror their own, despite his living in an impossibly fantastical past; what's more, that past is revealed to not be quite so impossible, distant or unlike our present as one might think.
--Justin Colussy-Estes

Tuesdays at the Castle
by Jessica Day George
Bloomsbury USA
Nominated by: Sondra Eklund
The titular castle in Tuesdays at the Castle is one of the most delightful fictional buildings around—it changes itself according to its own magical whims, surprising its inhabitants with new rooms, secret passages, and even whole wings. Young Princess Celie knows and loves the Castle best of anyone in her family. When her parents are presumed to have been killed, and dangerous enemies plot to take over the kingdom, it's up to Celie and her siblings to call on the castle to help them keep their kingdom safe. Celie’s pluck and the castle’s magic combine to create an utterly engrossing adventure.
--Charlotte Taylor

View all the Cybils finalists

Cybils 2011 Fantasy & Science Fiction Teen Finalists

I'm not a winter person, but I love winter for one reason: the Cybils awards. Each year for the last six years, I've assisted with this blogger-selected award for children's and YA literature. Although I wear several hats for the Cybils, my favorite one is both organizer and panelist for Fantasy and Science Fiction. The Cybils finalists were announced on January 1, and I'm especially proud of the SFF Teen shortlist, which I helped to select. This is a great group of books, and every one of them is worth reading, recommending, and adding to a library collection.

Angelfall (Penryn & the End of Days, Book 1)
by Susan Ee
Feral Dream
Nominated by: Lydia Dawson
Angels have attacked the world, killing billions. Humans have gone savage in order to survive. There’s a seventeen-year-old girl in the middle of it all trying to keep her family together and find a place amid the madness where she can eke out some kind of existence. When angels take Penryn's sister from her and that small hope is stolen, she makes a deal with the enemy. If the injured angel Raffe helps her save her sister, she will help him reach the ones who cut his wings. There is nothing easy or predictable about Penryn and Raffe’s story. Their partnership is tenuous, based on survival and a need so powerful they are willing to do what they would otherwise never consider and that makes the few moments of compassion and the threat of intimacy that much more genuine and valuable. Angelfall was a terrific surprise to all of us as a genuinely unique and gripping story of horror and faith, humanity and destruction. We loved the believability of Penryn’s strength and independence born from her troubled relationship with her schizophrenic mother and disabled baby sister. These strong themes and beautiful writing made Angelfall an easy favorite.
--Sommer Leigh

Anna Dressed in Blood
by Kendare Blake
Tor Teen
Nominated by: Kelly
Seventeen-year-old Cas Lowood is a ghost hunter. For the past three years, he’s sharpened his skills of killing the dead, and is almost ready to take on the ghost who murdered his father. When Cas hears about the legendary ghost named Anna Dressed in Blood who eviscerates her victims, he’s hooked. And when Anna spares his life, Cas finds himself unraveling a mystery that comes back to haunt him. Anna Dressed in Blood is an excellent choice for older teens looking for a clever, action-filled read. Debut author Kendare Blake blends humor, pop culture references, colorful descriptions and compelling characters with plenty of horror and vengeance to make Anna the perfect edge-of-the-seat read.
--Vivian Mahoney

Blood Red Road
by Moira Young
Margaret K. McElderry
Nominated by: Leila Roy
Dystopias are so much the rage in young adult fiction. It seems the world barely has time to breathe before dying anew. What sets a book apart in this genre is the protagonist and the language, not the dire conditions. In these two regards debut author Moira Young has excelled with Blood Red Road. Her heroine, Saba, embarks on a desperate quest through a barren, post-apocalyptic world to save her brother and finds herself tested again and again. Don't let the patois dissuade you; though language has degraded with this version of the end of the world, the adventure still comes through clearly.
--Steve Berman

by Jon Skovron
Nominated by: Jason Walters
Half-demon Jael Thompson may be hunted by all the demons from Hell, but she’s tired of running, and just wants to settle down and live the life of an ordinary high school girl. But to do that, Jael must take a stand, not only against the demons hunting her, but against the wishes of her father, who is bent on protecting her at all costs even if it means moving again and ripping her away from the life she is building. Misfit was a delightful surprise; it’s so much more than your average demon paranormal. The writing is excellent; spare where it needs to be to keep the plot moving, but with beautiful descriptions in places, particularly where Jael is exploring the world through her newfound demon senses. Rich relationship-building plays a central role here: with Jael’s best friend, her potential boyfriend, and her newly discovered demon uncle, but most especially with her flawed father, a former demon hunter broken by the loss of his beloved, Jael’s mother.
--Sheila Ruth

Red Glove (Curse Workers, Book 2)
by Holly Black
Margaret K. McElderry
Nominated by: Sarah Wendorf
Cassel Sharpe's summer of scamming hasn't helped him forget his recent run-in with the Zacharov family, nor has it taken his mind off Lila Zacharov, the magical mob daughter he thought he killed in Holly Black's White Cat (the first book in the Curse Workers series). By the time he goes back to school in Red Glove, Lila is cursed to love him against her will, the Zacharovs think he would make a fabulous evil underling, and the government is after him. Discrimination against people who work magic is primetime news, and Cassel's entire family, and some of his friends, are suspect just for existing. Out of options, Cassel must decide who gets protected and who gets conned--and the odds are good that someone he loves is going to get hurt. Red Glove stands on its own, but series readers will appreciate how it builds upon and intensifies themes from White Cat. No counterfeiting here: Red Glove's singular magical system and noir feel combined with a clever plot is the real deal. With intense family relationships, romance, shifting friendships, and a mysterious murder, there's a little vice for every reader. It would be a crime to miss this one.
--Hallie Tibbetts

The Girl of Fire and Thorns
by Rae Carson
Greenwillow Books
Nominated by: Hallie Tibbetts
The panel loved this story of a princess chosen by God. We identified with the shy and overweight girl, who suffers terribly from doubt about what God really wants from her. We rooted for her as she slowly but surely comes into her own as the secret queen of a war-torn country. We commiserated as she suffers loss and the knowledge that being chosen doesn’t mean you get a happy ending. We loved that her world was not the standard UK-influenced fantasy land, and that faith was a powerful, organic force in the story. We licked our lips over the descriptions of her meals. We cheered for the strong, courageous woman that she becomes in the end. Elisa, we decided, absolutely had to go onto Round 2. Also, we totally have to find a recipe for those pastries with crushed pistachios. Yum!
--Maureen Kearney

The Shattering
by Karen Healey
Little, Brown
Nominated by: Beth Mitcham
She’s rehearsed what she’ll say for her parent’s eulogies, if they both get hit by a car, has worked out her escape route if she’s ever kidnapped, and has her go-bag stocked in case of emergencies. Keri is over-prepared for everything life can throw at her - except her older brother’s suicide. Hailed by "Publishers Weekly" as an “intense and powerful novel,” The Shattering combines sharp dialogue, brilliant characterization and subtle cultural shading to explore familial love, the bonds of friendship, and the lengths to which we’ll go to keep what we love safe.
--Tanita Davis

This year, for the first time, we accepted nominations of "born digital" ebooks, those books published only in ebook form and not in a corresponding print edition. One of those books, Angelfall, made the shortlist!

A big shoutout to my fellow panelists Sommer LeighVivian MahoneySteve BermanHallie Tibbetts,  Maureen Kearney, and Tanita Davis. You are all amazing, and I had a great time working with you!

The Cybils kept me pretty busy, and I haven't posted in months. Now that Round 1 is over, my role is reduced and I should have more time to post. I plan to start by reviewing some of the great books I've been reading!

View all the 2011 Cybils finalists