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