Friday, September 20, 2013

Cybils Awards 2013: Speculative Fiction

Every year since 2006, I've participated in one way or another in the Cybils Awards, the annual award for children's and young adult books given by the children's book blogger community. For most years, I've been Category Chair for the Fantasy & Science Fiction category. This year, we changed the name of the category to Speculative Fiction, to better represent the diverse types of books we consider in this category.

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

Book Review: Conjured


by 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:
FTC required disclosure: Review copy sent 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, September 03, 2013

Book Review: SYLO

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.
Who would like this book:
  • 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. 
Get it from:
FTC required disclosure: Review copy given by the publisher at BookExpo America. 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.