- 150 Ways to Give a Book: Every year my friend MotherReader posts this list of gifts which pair a book with something fun related to the book. Check out the updated 2013 list here.
- I've been involved with the Cybils Awards since the award was founded in 2006. Our goal is to honor those children's books which have both literary merit and child appeal. The Cybils lists are great sources of ideas for book gifts. Go to www.cybils.com and check out the 2013 nominations lists by category in the middle sidebar. The nomination lists include links to judges' reviews for many of the books. You can also check out previous years' finalists and winners in the right hand sidebar.
- I've also been doing some web development work recently for the Mom's Choice Awards, making enhancements to their web store. Here you can shop for books, toys, and other gifts that meet the Mom's Choice standards of excellence. (My husband's book, The Dark Dreamweaver, is a Mom’s Choice Awards® Gold Recipient)
- Don't forget your local independent bookstore! Independent booksellers are knowledgeable resources who can help you find the perfect gift. You can find a local bookstore or search for books through the IndieBound website.
Tuesday, December 03, 2013
Friday, November 15, 2013
Kidlitcon has always been a small conference, and that's part of its appeal. This year was even smaller in terms of attendance numbers than the last few, but what it lacked in size it made up for in heart, spirit, and community. I felt that the smaller size was an advantage; I think I talked to everyone there at some point, and all of us there formed such a strong connection.
It would be impossible to try to recap everything about the conference, so I'm just going to hit some of the highlights. For more recaps of Kidlitcon, see the round-up post on the Kidlitosphere.org website.
ThemesSeveral themes recurred throughout the conference:
Kindred SpiritsI'm not sure if the actual words "Kindred Spirits" came up until the final session, when Sarah Stevenson asked everyone for one or two words that summarized what the Kidlitosphere meant, but the feeling was definitely there throughout the conference. We all felt an instant connection created by a shared passion. I think it was Jen Robinson who said that what makes us different as a community is that we all care deeply about children and reading, and so we connect on a deeper level than other blogger groups, whose primary connection is about the blogging and financial aspects.
AuthenticityFrom the keynote speech by Cynthia Leitich Smith to the last words in the "Past, Present, and Future of Blogging" session, authenticity was an idea that came up over and over again. Our authenticity as bloggers and/or as writers, authenticity of characters in books, and our authenticity as a community.
- To MotherReader Pam Coughlan, for being such a terrific host. As an extrovert in a group of mostly introverts, she was the glue that held us together.
- To Jackie Parker-Robinson and Tanita Davis, and anyone else who helped with the planning but couldn't attend. I can't imagine anything worse! Thank you, thank you, to everyone who worked to make this conference a success.
- To Charlotte Taylor, a special friend who is incredibly funny and intelligent. I enjoyed hanging out with you and comparing books on the flight back. I hope I didn't talk your ear off.
- To my roommate Maureen Kearney, who was as great a roomie as you could ask for. We both gave each other space when we needed down time after the excitement of the day. Even if she was playing Candy Crush when I thought she was reading.
- To Jen Robinson and Sarah Stevenson, who have been Kindred Spirits for a long time.
- To Lee Wind, for being funny and fun and for your special talent for making people feel at ease. And for reminding us how important it is to be upstanders, not bystanders.
- To Sherry Early and Camille Powell, both longtime friends online whom I finally met in person.
- To Molly Blaisdell, who was a fascinating person. I learned a lot from listening to her.
- To Allie Jones, for sparkling dinnertime conversation
- To everyone else! This list is already longer than I meant it to be, and I feel bad about the people I didn't mention.
Thoughts and Quotes from the Sessions
—Cynthia Leitich Smith
—Cynthia Leitich Smith
—Cynthia Leitich Smith
—Cynthia Leitich Smith
—Cynthia Leitich Smith
—Cynthia Leitich Smith
—Unknown, Blogger Burnout Session
—Sheila Ruth (me)
—Unknown, Critical Reviews Session
—All of us
And finally, I wanted to leave you with a thought from Lee Wind that I can't stop thinking about. I feel like this one idea profoundly affected my thinking:
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Last Friday, at the pre-con leading up to Kidlitcon, I met author P.J. Hoover, and I took the chance to interview her about her new book, Solstice, and her writing life. This post was also used as an example of the techniques I taught in my Kidlitcon session, "Don’t fear the code: spice up your blog with HTML and CSS."
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
BUT - if you're thinking about attending my session, I have HOMEWORK for you! "Whaaaaa?... I didn't know there was going to be homework," I hear you say. But this is going to be fun, help the cause of kidlit, and hopefully leave you with a great, shiny blog post you can show off.
Because this session is hands-on, you need to have a blog post to work on. Rather than just having you make up a nonsense post just for the class, I want you to have a real post to play with. The interview format will be perfect for what I have in mind, so I ask everyone who is thinking of attending my session to find an author (or another blogger) at Kidlitcon and do a short interview sometime before Breakout Session #4. It doesn't have to be a long interview; two or three questions will be sufficient. If you're going to the precon, that will probably be a perfect opportunity, but just try to do it (and type it up in draft) sometime before the session. If you know someone who will be attending, you could even do it remotely before the conference, but I want your subject to be another Kidlitcon attendee.
Also, if you will have one with you, please bring a tablet or laptop to the session! If you don't have one, you can still attend, but you won't be able to do the hands-on part. A phone might work, but I suspect it will be too difficult to do it on a phone, and I'm not sure the blog editors will let you work in source code on a phone.
If you're still on the fence about attending Kidlitcon, get yourself over to the site and register! The deadline to register is this Friday! You won't be sorry, I promise you. If you need more convincing, check out these posts from MotherReader, Jen Robinson, Kelly Jensen, and Leila Roy. Also see the schedule and partial list of attendees.
See you in Austin!
Wednesday, October 09, 2013
Pfeffer, Susan Beth
Gill, David Macinnis
Update: Has been nominated!
Ruiz Zafon, Carlos
Thursday, October 03, 2013
Roseby Holly Webb
Synopsis: Rose is a practical girl. When the other orphans daydream about finding their parents, Rose dreams of getting a position in domestic service, of being independent, working hard, and earning a living. So when the housekeeper for a leading magician comes to the orphanage looking for a young housemaid, Rose is thrilled to be selected.
Rose doesn't hold with magic, so when she begins to suspect that she may have some magic abilities, she is determined to get rid of them if possible. She just wants to be an ordinary person, and to fit in with the other servants, especially her new friend, the houseboy, Bill. But when someone starts stealing children off the streets, and Rose's best friend from the orphanage disappears, Rose teams up with the magician's apprentice, Freddie, his spoiled daughter, Isabella, and the magician's cat Gustavus to get to the bottom of it.
Review: Rose is a fun middle-grade fantasy with a delightful, no nonsense heroine. Practicality and imagination are usually portrayed as being mutually exclusive, so it's terrific to see a protagonist who has both in abundance. Young readers will identify with Rose's struggles to both find herself and fit in, two things which sometimes seem to be in conflict. I fell in love with Rose from the first page.
The story is set in an alternate Victorian England where magic is real, although rare and expensive. There's a variety of interesting characters, and most are pretty well developed. The one exception is the villain, who's a pretty clichéd evil villain, and is really more of a story device than an actual character. It doesn't really matter, though, since the battle with the villain doesn't come in until later in the book. Rose is the real centerpiece of this story, and most of the book revolves around her learning to adjust to life outside the orphanage, developing relationships with the other members of the household, and coming to terms with her magic.
This is an engaging book with a lot of kid appeal, and I would recommend it to young readers who enjoy a fun story with great characters and a little bit of magic, as well as those who enjoy historical and pseudo-historical settings.
Get it from:
Friday, September 20, 2013
Here's my category description from the Cybils Blog:
Speculative Fiction takes us to realms of the imagination: places and times and realities where the rules of life may be different than our own and where the impossible and improbable become real. But good science fiction and fantasy does more than that: it asks, "What if?" It makes us think. It holds up a mirror to our own society and lets us see ourselves in a different light.
This year we are changing the name of this category, but not the focus. "Speculative Fiction" better reflects the diverse types of books that we have always considered in this category. Magic, aliens, ghosts, alternate universes, time travel, space travel, high fantasy, dystopian, post-apocalyptic futures, and sentient animals are just some of the many topics that belong here. If a book could happen today or could have happened in the past, nominate it in YA Fiction. But any story that's impossible, improbable, or merely possible - but not quite yet - belongs in Speculative Fiction. Magic Realism is tricky, but more often than not ends up here.
The age range for this category is approximately 12-18, although there is some overlap with the Elementary/Middle-grade Speculative Fiction category that will be decided on a case by case basis. Speculative fiction novels with graphics in addition to text belong here, but if the book is primarily told through serial artwork, it belongs in the Graphic Novels category.
This category accepts books published in either print or ebook formats.
You can see my fantastic list of judges for the category here. I want to thank everyone who took the time to apply. I wish I could have accepted everyone, but I only have twelve slots and I had a lot more applicants than that. Just because you didn't get in doesn't mean we didn't think you were qualified. If you applied and didn't get a slot this year, I hope that you'll try again next year. We have several panelists who applied several years before they got a slot.
In recent years, I've been Chair for both the middle-grade and young adult books in this category. But the category has grown so much that it's really too much work for one person. This year I'm thrilled to be passing the baton for Elementary & Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction to the fabulous Charlotte Taylor of Charlotte's Library, who really knows middle-grade much better than I do. You can read her category description for Elementary & Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction here, and the judges for Elementary & Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction here.
Thursday, September 19, 2013
Conjuredby Sarah Beth Durst
Synopsis: Eve remembers nothing. No past, and not even any recent memories. Eve isn't even her real name – she has no idea who she really is. All she knows is that she's in the witness protection program, and that she can do magic. Any use of magic, though, causes incapacitating visions of a strange carnival, and a Magician and a Storyteller. Eve begins to suspect that the visions are actually memories, but who are the Magician and the Storyteller? And more important, who is Eve?
A magical serial killer is on the loose, and Eve may be the key to finding him, if only she can remember in time. As Eve tries to unravel the mystery of her life, it becomes increasingly difficult to know who she can trust. The Witsec agents? Patti, the library manager? Zach, the boy in the library that she wants to kiss? Or handsome, cocky Aidan, who has magic of his own? It seems that everyone has their own idea of what Eve should be doing. But in order to decide what to do, Eve must first figure out who she is.
Review: Conjured is an exquisitely crafted book that stands out for its tight writing, unique story, and intriguing character arc. Durst obviously spent time and care on the writing: every word is carefully chosen and rich with meaning, from smells, sounds and colors, to the use of point of view.
It must have been exceptionally difficult to write a character who is essentially a tabula rasa at the beginning, and do it in an engaging way, but Durst succeeded admirably. Eve is engaging, and the reader becomes her as her character journey unfolds. An important theme of this book is defining who you are for yourself, rather than allowing your past or other people to define who you are.
Conjured is mysterious, suspenseful, and oh so creepy. The descriptions are evocative and convey a strong sense of atmosphere, whether the deliciously comforting atmosphere in the library where Eve works, (obviously written by a book lover!) or the bizarre and creepy atmosphere in her visions.
Put this in the hands of anyone who enjoys the creepy, mysterious, and atmospheric books, or someone who is just looking for something a little bit different.
Get it from:
Tuesday, September 03, 2013
by D.J. MacHale
Synopsis: When tailback Marty Wiggins suddenly drops dead in the middle of a high school football game, it's the beginning of a strange series of events that will disrupt quiet Pemberwick Island just at the end of the tourist season. The backup tailback, freshman Tucker Pierce, and his best friend Quinn are among the only witnesses to a strange shadow that explodes off the coast of the island. Then the island is invaded by a mysterious U.S. military unit known only as SYLO, who take control of the island and quarantine it from the mainland, to stop the spread of the mysterious virus.
But Tucker and Quinn, whose parents are doctors at the island's hospital, suspect that SYLO isn't telling the whole story. Before long the two friends, along with another island teen, Tori Sleeper, are caught up in events. As the situation on the island spirals from bad to worse, the three teens find themselves on the run, carriers of information that they can't share with anyone. But what can three teens hope to do against the might of an occupying military force?
- Tucker Pierce. Tucker is not native to Pemberwick, having moved there several years earlier. Tucker is an average guy: his grades are not exceptional, and neither is his football playing. He likes life on Pemberwick Island, and has no plans to leave it when he grows up, unlike his friend Quinn. Sometimes he acts too old to be a high school freshman, although that's not completely unbelievable for an only child who is close to his parents.
- Quinn Carr. Quinn is smart and inquisitive. He and Tucker are opposites in many ways. Quinn can't wait to leave the island and do something important.
- Tori Sleeper. Tori is badass. She's the daughter of a lobsterman, and helps her father on his boat. She's fearless and competent, whether she's piloting a boat or defending her home. She's also a bit standoffish, and doesn't suffer fools gladly, but as she and Tucker get to know each other, they become friends.
- Pemberwick Island is a fictional place, but it's based on Martha's Vinyard. Island life and the island residents are portrayed vividly, giving the book a strong sense of place.
- SYLO is a good read: well-paced and exciting without being frenetic. It builds slowly; MacHale takes time to develop the characters and setting as the suspense and mystery grows, but by halfway through the book you'll be turning pages at a rapid rate.
- Tucker is a likeable character, and it's refreshing that he's pretty average. When he has the chance to take over as the team's tailback after Marty dies, it could have been a wish fulfillment situation, where Tucker saves the day, but instead his playing is bad enough that he gets considerable ridicule from the town.
- Tori is awesome, and easily the most interesting character in the book.
- The book ends on a cliffhanger; not only are not all questions answered, but more are raised. Some people will enjoy the cliffhanger ending, but others may be annoyed by it.
- With a first person male narrator and a story that drives along pretty well, this is a book that should have strong appeal to many boys. However, it also has a strong female secondary character and other elements that give it plenty of girl appeal as well.
Monday, August 19, 2013
by Cori McCarthy
Plot: Rain White lives in Earth City, where she ekes out a living trying to take care of her little brother, Walker. That is, until Walker becomes one of the Touched, people who have a degenerative brain disease. If the authorities find out about Walker, they'll take him away. No one knows what happens to the Touched after the authorities take them, and Walker is the only family that Rain has left.
Determined to protect her brother, Rain makes a deal with an offworlder, Johnny, who promises Rain and Walker passage through space to the Edge, where the bioengineered Mecs may be able to cure Walker. In exchange for passage, Rain agrees to be Johnny's girl. But Rain has no idea what she's getting into. Onboard ship, Rain learns that Johnny has many girls, and runs a prostitution ring. But Johnny has even darker secrets than that, and soon Rain must make a choice whether to get involved for the greater good, or to continue to do whatever it takes to ensure that she and Walker survive and make it to the Edge.
- Rain White. Tough girls are becoming more common in YA fiction, but very few of them are as tough as Rain. Rain lives through forced prostitution and psychological and physical torture, yet she survives. More than that, Rain manages to keep her essential self intact, and even to help others when she can.
- Johnny. The mysterious ship captain who makes a deal with Rain to take her and Walker off-planet. About the nicest thing you can say about Johnny is that he's seriously messed up. Although he has a certain dark charisma, he is not a nice person. He's not a cardboard villain, though; he's a complex character, and as the book progresses, you learn some things about him that almost, but not quite, elicit sympathy.
- Ben Ryan. A Mec who is bound to Johnny and controlled by him. Ben and Rain become friends, as much as two people can be friends when friendship could mean death for either of them.
Things I liked:
- Strong, interesting, well-developed characters. Rain is a fantastic character who will capture your heart and have you rooting for her. Ben is also a great character, who seems off-putting and alien at first, but as Rain gets to know him and bonds with him, so does the reader. Even the minor characters are interesting and vividly drawn, although Rain's friend Lo is pretty much the clichéd "Hooker with a heart of gold."
- Pacing & suspense. I read this book on vacation and stayed up late into the night reading, unable to stop, my stomach twisted into knots for worry over Rain for most of that time.
- There is romance, and I like the way it's portrayed (and thankfully, Johnny is not the romantic interest). It recognizes that a girl who has been subjected to the things Rain has been through is going to have emotional baggage to deal with, and that desire and attraction won't be unencumbered.
- It's not really an issue, but as is probably clear from the above description, this is a book that would be most appropriate for mature teens. The subject matter is difficult and, at times, brutal, although the actual sexual encounters are not overly explicit and are described in mostly vague terms. The horror comes through without the scenes being titillating, as is appropriate to the subject matter.
- I did wonder how Rain managed to be a virgin at the start of the book, while living on the edge in a place like Earth City.
- Unfortunately, I didn't really see much diversity in this future.
- Mature teens who like a character-driven novel and aren't put off by reading about forced prostitution.
Friday, August 16, 2013
This year we are changing the name of the Fantasy & Science Fiction category to Speculative Fiction, to better reflect the types of books we consider in that category. The actual category criteria haven't changed; the category will still include fantasy, science fiction, paranormal, talking animals, magic realism, steampunk, dystopian, and anything that stretches the bounds of reality, and we hope that the new name will better reflect that. I will be the Category Chair for the Young Adult Speculative Fiction category, as I have been every year except one, but new this year Charlotte Taylor, who blogs at Charlotte's Library, will be the Category Chair for the Elementary/Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction category. Charlotte is fantastic (pun intended) and very knowledgeable about the category. I'm confident she's going to do a great job.
The nonfiction categories have also been refactored this year. In past years, we had two nonfiction categories: Nonfiction Picture Books and Nonfiction Middle Grade/Young Adult. This year, picture books will be combined with other elementary and middle-grade books into the new Elementary/Middle-Grade Nonfiction category, and teen books will be considered separately in the Young Adult Nonfiction category. This brings the categories more in line with the way we separate the other categories, but more importantly, the Nonfiction Category Chairs Gina Ruiz and Jennifer Wharton feel that splitting by age rather than by format will make it easier to judge the nominees in those categories fairly.
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Recommending YA books for fans of Terry Pratchett was a challenge, since, as Charlotte said introducing the panel, there is only one genius named Terry Pratchett and no one writes like he does. However, I think we did pretty well, coming through with about 25 suggestions of books that should appeal in one aspect or another to Pratchett fans. I discovered several new books/series that I'm eager to read from my fellow panelists' recommendations.
These were the criteria I used for my selections:
- Mix of older and newer books
- Variety of themes and styles.
- Books and authors who are smart and expect their audience to be smart.
- Vividly-drawn characters.
- Books with layers and/or nuance.
- Books with reread value: those that are not one-time, throwaway reads but ones that you can get something different out of on each read.
- Stories that don’t tell you what to think, but give you some space to think for yourself
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
by Rick Yancey
The 1st Wave: Lights Out
The 2nd Wave: Surf's Up
The 3rd Wave: Pestilence
The 4th Wave: Silencer
Plot: Nearly 7 billion people are dead, almost the entire population of the world, killed in four successive waves of destruction sent by the aliens. Cassie Sullivan has lost everyone she loved, all dead -- except possibly one, and to that one she made a promise that she intends to keep no matter what the cost.
Seventeen-year-old Zombie has lost everything and everyone, too. He failed to protect his sister when she needed him, and now he has no desire to go on. Then Zombie is given a new purpose and a chance to redeem himself when he's recruited into a newly formed military unit comprised entirely of children and teens being trained to fight back against the alien invasion.
These teens, and the other few remaining survivors must make a choice. To hide. To run. Or to stand and face whatever comes. To choose to be human, even when it's the hardest choice of all.
- The 5th Wave is a remarkable story and a remarkably well-written book. With excellent character development, rich sensory language, layers of reveals, a surprisingly sweet (and hot) romance, and some dystopian elements, it's a science fiction book that even people who don't read science fiction can enjoy. It's an unusual creature: a thrilling page turner with philosophical underpinnings. It's a book that you can read more than once and get something different out of it each time (I read it a second time immediately after finishing it, and would still like to read it a third time when I get a chance).
- The writing is complex, with multiple point of view characters and extensive flashbacks that circle around on themselves. Different characters' experiences conflict with each other, leaving the reader (like the characters) wondering exactly what the truth is. While that's a plus for many people (it is for me), there are some readers who will find it challenging and difficult to understand.
- Science fiction readers, dystopia fans, and anyone who likes a good YA book which is both deep and thrilling, with realistic teen characters. I think it will appeal to many teens, with the exception of readers who are easily confused by complex plots.
Thursday, May 30, 2013
- Acquiring copies of the buzz books after a buzz panel requires combat skills usually only needed in post-apocalyptic survival settings.
- The Jikji Buddhist teachings were printed in Korea using metal movable type in 1377, which was 78 years before Gutenberg's Bible. (from the Korean Printers Association)
- Drinking chocolate is to die for. (No, it's not at all like hot chocolate. More like drinking a chocolate bar.) Check out booth S560 for a sample if you don't believe me.
- How to say "Hello" in Chinese. (ChineseCubes language learning system, booth DZ1966.
- The hot "new" subgenre in YA this year seems to be: Science Fiction! (Happy dance!)
- You can still get your bag back if you lose your bag check claim ticket, but the bag check staff won't be happy with you.
- I look better as a pirate than as Rapunzel:
Friday, April 26, 2013
Grave Mercyby Robin LaFevers
Plot: Ismae Rienne still bears the scars of the poison her mother took in an attempt to abort her. Her survival from that, and the scars from the incident, prove that she was sired by the god of Death. At seventeen, when her abusive father sells her to an equally abusive husband, she is spirited away by secret followers of the old gods to the convent of St. Mortain, the god of Death. The convent takes her in, gives her a home, and trains her in all the skills necessary to serve St. Mortain, from poison and weapons training, to history and "feminine artistry."
The convent is loyal to Brittany, and to its young Duchess Anne, who is fighting to retain Brittany's independence from France. When word reaches the convent that there may be a traitor in Anne's court, Ismae is sent on a mission to Anne's court, disguised as the mistress to the nobleman Gavriel Duval. Her instructions are to search for information on the traitor, assassinate anyone marqued for death by St. Mortain (or that she is ordered to assassinate by the convent), and to watch Duval, who may be the traitor. But when her instructions come into conflict with her heart. Ismae must make some difficult decisions.
- Ismae Rienne. Ismae is the kind of character I love. Equally adept with poisons and the crossbow, this girl can kick some serious butt. She's not so adept at playing Duval's mistress, however, having skipped many of the lessons in the feminine arts for more time in the poison room. Ismae is a well-rounded and fully developed character who has to make some difficult decisions as the book progresses. The convent took her in and essentially saved her life, and she is sworn to serve them, but her instincts increasingly come into conflict with her instructions from the convent, and she has to choose between honoring her commitment to the convent, and doing what she thinks is right.
- Sybella. Sybella is a novitiate who starts at the convent at the same time as Ismae. Sybella seems quite mad when she is brought to the convent, but Ismae befriends her and she eventually becomes one of the convent's strongest novitiates. We don't learn much about Sybella; there's hints of a tragic past, and she plays a key role in a few places later in the book, but she's an intriguing character. I was happy to learn that the second book in this series, Dark Triumph, tells Sybella's story, and I'm looking forward to reading it.
- Annith. Annith is another novitiate who was already at the convent when Ismae joins. Annith and Ismae become good friends, but there are hints that there are some weaknesses in Annith's character. Perhaps we'll learn more about Annith in the third book.
- Gavriel Duval. Gavriel is a nobleman, although a bastard, and appears to be fiercely loyal to Duchess Anne. Initially he dislikes Ismae as much as she dislikes him, but it probably will not surprise anyone that eventually the sparks fly between these two.
- Anne, Duchess of Brittany. Although very young at the time of this story, (13, I think?) Anne is already a determined young ruler playing the political game and dealing with issues that would intimidate even older and more experienced leaders, including the fact that her father promised her in marriage to half a dozen different European nobles and that, as a woman, she had no right to rule. Anne is a historical figure, and her life makes interesting reading (see the link above to the historical note on the author's website for starters).
Things I liked:
- See my discussion of Ismae's character above.
- Lots of court intrigue! In fact, as complex as the intrigue is and as numerous the betrayals, LaFevers says in her historical note, "Suffice it to say there were about twice as many schemes going on in real life as I used in the book, including additional suitors, competing claims for the throne, and additional double crossing."
- The romance is credible and manages to be both sweet and hot.
- For a book about assassins serving the god of Death, surprisingly Grace Mercy doesn't glorify death. Ismae discovers that sometimes death can be a mercy, and that redemption is possible.
- I can't think of any issues I had with this book, except perhaps that a few threads were left hanging, presumably for the sequels.
- In many ways, Grave Mercy is historical fiction, and would appeal to readers who enjoy historical fiction. However, the court intrigue gives it a fantasy feel, and with the addition of fantasy elements (primarily relating to the god of Death), it would also appeal to readers of traditional fantasy, especially those who like both strong female protagonists and a little romance.
Friday, April 19, 2013
Throne of Glassby Sarah J. Maas
Plot: 18-year old Celaena Sardothien was an assassin with a feared reputation, until she was sentenced to hard labor in the death camp of Endovier. After she has suffered a year of torture in Endovier, Crown Prince Dorian visits her in the prison to make an offer: fight in a competition his father is having to select the next King's Champion, and if she wins the competition, serve his father for four years in exchange for her freedom.
- Celaena Sardothien aka Lillian Gordaina. Kick-butt heroine who also loves books and beautiful gowns.
- Prince Dorian. Bookish crown prince with a good heart. Nothing like his evil father.
- Captain Chaol Westfall. Strong but gruff Captain of the Guard. Charged with guarding Celaena.
- Princess Nehemia Ytger. Princess of the subject nation of Eyllwe. Ostensibly visiting Adarlan to learn the language and ways of the country that conquered her own. Rumored to be working with the rebels.
This was a book that had a lot of potential, but unfortunately fell just short of the mark. The plot, the world, and the characters were all interesting, but not sufficiently developed to really work. In addition, I had some credibility issues.
Celaena is a strong female protagonist, and her character caught my attention from the first page. Ultimately, though, it left my expectations unfulfilled. She just didn't seem credible as a hardened assassin who spent a year in a death camp. Most of the time she just seemed like a regular teenager who happened to be good at fighting. I would have expected her to be smarter, better at subterfuge, and more disciplined after the intense training that she supposedly was put through as a child being trained to be an assassin. She is put out at being asked to hide her real identity; she wants the recognition of being the famous Adarlan's Assassin. Yet I would have expected an assassin to want to remain anonymous. And while it might be understandable for someone just out of prison to indulge in sleeping late, indulging in fine meals, losing her temper and wishing she could go to the ball, I just expected to see more discipline and focus in her character.
All of the characters had promise, but ultimately seemed to be too much cobbled together from tropes to be real people. The book is written with a more omniscient point of view than one usually sees in young adult fiction. Although there's nothing wrong with that, I felt that it contributed to a feeling of detachment from the characters. Knowing exactly what the Prince and the Captain and
Likewise, the worldbuilding almost, but doesn't quite, hit the mark. There are some intriguing features to the world, such as a castle made of glass, and an ancient religion based on outlawed magic. However, none of it was very well developed or explained. Why would someone build a castle of glass, for example? What did the King do banish magic? (The why of that is sort of explained in the end.) The idea of magic banished by an evil king was much better developed and much more credible in Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier.
There's a lot of telling going on when there should be showing. The king is supposed to be evil, for example, and yet we really don't see much to make that credible, other than Celaena's experiences in prison, and one massacre that happens off-screen. We mostly have Celaena's internal description of him as evil to go on. Other elements are similarly described rather than shown.
The setup for the competition to select a King's Champion was interesting, but halfway through the book the plot suddenly takes a turn and becomes more about the evil in the castle, a plot thread that was hinted at in a few places earlier, but for the most part seems to come out of the blue. The two plots threads are tied in together, though, and the plot is one of the stronger elements of this book.
In general, Throne of Glass just seemed to have too much of a modern point of view to be credible as a court story. Reading romance novels before bed, playing pool with the
Friday, March 22, 2013
Losers in Spaceby John Barnes
Plot: In a future where celebrity status is regulated by the government, a group of teen celebrity offspring stowaway on a ship to Mars in order to get media attention and boost their recognition scores enough to qualify for celebrity status. To the teens, it's just another party, until things go very, very wrong! Adrift in space with only their own skills to draw on and a sociopath on board, the teens must learn to rely on themselves and each other as they try to survive and find a way to get home.
- Susan Tervaille. Protagonist and first-person narrator. Daughter of a classical actor, Susan was interested in science at a younger age, but gave it up when she realized that science was never going to achieve celebrity status for her. Now, she focuses on partying and "styling" for the camera, but as much as she tries to deny it, "Crazy Science Girl" still lives inside her.
- Glisters. Initially portrayed as a fairly repulsive boy who makes porn videos, Glisters turns out to be one of the best characters in the book. He's incredibly intelligent, and really sweet in a bit of a geeky way.
- Derlock Slabilis. Susan's almost-boyfriend and de facto leader of the little group. Arrogant and self-centered; if it weren't for the fact that Susan is using him as much as he's using her, it would be hard to understand what she sees in him.
- Fleeta. Formerly Susan's best friend and another former science girl. Fleeta destroyed her brain taking the drug happistuff, and now she'll never be more than a child mentally.
- Every character in this book is interesting, unique, and thoroughly developed.
Worldbuilding: A well fleshed-out dystopian future. Barnes developed the social aspects as thoroughly as the science, and did a great job of portraying the customs and language.
Things I liked:
- The best thing about this book is watching the teens develop. They start the book as spoiled, self-centered teens who are only interested in partying and fame, but the crisis forces them to grow up. Most of them turn out to be quite exceptional and likable people; not only do they each grow individually, but they bond and develop real friendships in a way they never could when partying was their primary focus.
- After the first hundred pages or so, the plot is also quite suspenseful and exciting.
- The first hundred pages were difficult to read, and honestly, I probably wouldn't have finished this book if it hadn't been so highly recommended by a fellow Cybils panelist. I'm truly glad that I did, because it turned out to be one of the best books I've read, but that first 100 pages makes it a difficult sell to teens. First, the characters are not very likable, not even Susan. This is intentional and necessary in order to see the dramatic growth that they experience over the course of the story, but reading about these self-centered and superficial teens partying and posing for the camera was difficult.
- The other thing that made the first part of the book difficult is what Barnes calls the "Notes for the Interested." His intent was to segregate the difficult science and social concepts into separate notes, where anyone interested can read them and anyone not interested can skip them. I think that it doesn't work, though, because every time I hit one it yanked me out of the story. I'm actually interested in the science, but would rather see it incorporated as part of the story, as is usually done in science fiction.
- This is difficult because of the first hundred pages problem. I actually think that a wide variety of readers would enjoy this, because it manages to be both hard SF and character-driven fiction. But the problem is, I think, that some of the people who would enjoy the hard SF aspect won't enjoy reading about the partying teens, and some of the people who would enjoy the social/character aspects of it might be put off by the science, even if it is in skippable notes.
- In the end, I think both types of readers will enjoy it, so if you are a teacher or librarian, all I can say is recommend it highly to students, possibly with a caveat about the slow beginning, and hope for the best.
Thursday, January 31, 2013
PlanesrunnerEverness, Book One
by Ian McDonald
I decided to try a new format for my reviews. I hope this is a useful format.
Plot: Everett Singh's dad, a quantum physicist, is kidnapped off the street in view of Everett by three men in a black car. Later that night, Everett gets a message from his father containing a mysterious app, with only the note "For you only, Everett." Turns out that his dad has been working on a scientific project seeking physical proof of parallel universes, and the app is a map of all the known universes, the only one of its kind in existence. Now Everett is on the run from agents of the Plenitude, an alliance of the known universes. They want the map, called the Infundibulum, and will stop at nothing to get it. But Everett has other plans, and he uses the Infundibulum to travel to an alternate London in a daring attempt to rescue his dad.
- Everett Singh. Teen boy who is as good at cooking as he is at math, and not afraid to use either in pursuit of his goal. Punjabi, or at least half Punjabi (his dad is Punjabi, but I never figured out if his mom is). Authentic teen male voice.
- Sen Sixsmyth. Fearless teen girl with an attitude and a love for "bona" tech. Airship pilot in an alternate London.
- Captain Anastasia Sixsmyth. Sen's adoptive mother. No-nonsense airship captain. Strict but compassionate, not afraid of a fight.
Worldbuilding: Excellent! The second half of the book takes place in E3, an alternate universe in which oil-based technology was never developed and modern technology comes out of a coal-based heritage. More advanced than our universe in some ways - carbon nanotubes are used everwhere - but less advanced in some areas, like computing. Very steampunkish feel.
Things I liked:
- The worldbuilding and the steampunkish feel to E3, as noted above.
- Hard science fiction that doesn't shy away from science and math.
- Authentic teen boy voice. A boy who's good at math and soccer and cooking, and isn't afraid to use his culinary skills.
- Sen Sixsmyth is just about the best thing about this book. She's a fantastic character. Her adoptive mother Captain Anastasia is pretty awesome, too.
- The bond between Everett and his dad. Everett is a typical teen boy, and mentally rolls his eyes at some of the things his dad does, but it's clear that they are close, and Everett literally travels to another universe to rescue his dad.
- There's too much detail in the descriptions, and it bogs down the story in some places. In some ways the detail is good, as it contributes to the worldbuilding. It's also authentic to the protagonist, as we learn early on that he notices details and connections. However, in places there's so much detail that it almost seems to be stream of consciousness and it's hard to follow.
- I think the cover really does the book a disservice, and probably deters a lot of teens from picking it up. The biggest problem with it is it's too busy. I think the picture of Everett coming through the gate would have made a better cover. Although I have a problem with that image as well, as he looks more like a caucasian with a tan than someone of Indian ancestry.
- Math and science geeks
- Steampunk fans
- Boys and girls
- Hard science fiction fans
Monday, January 28, 2013
There were some constraints placed on the list that affected the books selected. Davies was trying for a diverse mix of subgenres and themes, so in some ways diversity overrode influence in making the selections. He also limited the list to no more than one book from each author, so highly influential authors are woefully underrepresented. (How can you choose only one book to represent the canon of authors such as Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, or Bradbury?)
Working within the constraints as defined, in some cases, I would have chosen a different book to represent some of these authors.
Stranger in a Strange Land for sheer influence, rather than Starship Troopers. However, my favorite Heinlein book has always been The Door Into Summer, which has been a favorite of mine since about fourth grade.
The White Mountains, over Davies' selection of The Death of Grass or No Blade of Grass. The White Mountains has been very influential in introducing generations of new young fans to the science fiction genre. Read my review of The White Mountains.
Rendezvous with Rama quite a bit, but I agree with commenters who said that Childhood's End would have been a better selection to represent Arthur C. Clarke.