Saturday, May 31, 2014

Lassie, Devil Horns, Hot Men, and Worldbuilding: Day 2 at BEA

Anyone training for a marathon should consider three days at BookExpo America for building endurance. By the end of day 2, every muscle and joint in my body aches. But it's so worth it to spend three days surrounded by books and book people.

I spent the first part of the day in meetings with publishers to talk about the Cybils. I had some great conversations with some really interesting people. One of the best things about BEA is having the chance to talk to people who are passionate about books, children's and YA literature.

After that, I had some time to walk the floor. Here are some of the things I saw:

The tenth generation Lassie made an appearance in support of the book, Man’s Best Hero: True Stories of Great American Dogs by Ace Collins.

Lassie poses for his photo shoot
It was impossible to walk by the Ellora's Cave booth and not notice these guys:

Hot Men of BEA

Author Michelle Knudsen was signing her new YA book, Evil Librarian. Here we are sporting cool devil horns:

I wear devil horns now. Devil horns are cool.
Books I got today that I'm excited to read: Love is a Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld, Sky Raiders (Five Kingdoms book 1) by Brandon Mull, House of Purple Cedar by Tim Tingle, The Zoo at the Edge of the World by Eric Kahn Gale, Thursdays with the Crown by Jessica Day George, Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen. Thanks to my husband Nick for getting some of these for me!

I also attended two panel sessions. "The Craft Of Writing And World Building" was an interesting session on worldbuilding in fiction, featuring:

I tried to take notes, but there was so much good stuff that I had trouble capturing it all. Here are some highlights of what I did manage to get:
  • Michael Grant is an improviser, not a planner. He prefers to start with sketching the barest minimum and building from there, so as not to box himself in.
  • Scott Westerfeld said that you don't have to write paranormal or fantasy to do worldbuilding. Afterworlds is about the book world we know and love, including BEA. He said that worldbuilding is about the slow accretion of little details.
  • Brandon Mull said that a big part of how to make a fantasy novel make sense is to have rules. If anyone can do anything it doesn't make sense. There have to be limits on magic.
  • Heather Demetrios said that you have to follow rules in fantasy. Have to have structure. If anything goes, it's hard for the reader to care.
  • Scott Westerfeld starts with what he wants to happen, and then builds a world around that. With Afterworlds he wanted a fantasy world that parallels the world of writing, so the novel within a novel is about ghosts that only stay in the world as long as someone remembers them and tells their story.
  • Kiera Cass starts with characters and then builds the world around them.
I also attended "A Conversation on Digital Strategies for Tapping the YA Market," which was about marketing books online for authors and publishers. The panel was moderated by Manuela Soares, Pace University, and included:
  • Alaya Dawn Johnson, Author, The Summer Prince and Love is a Drug
  • Arthur A. Levine, Publisher Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic)
  • Carolyn Mackler, Author
  • Cheryl B. Klein, Editor, Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic)
  • Jeffrey Yamaguchi, Director of Digital Marketing, Abrams Books
  • Jennifer Hubert Swan, Reading Rants
This was a wide-ranging session that covered a lot of ground, but here are a few points:
  • All the speakers indicated that in many cases, they are not reaching teens directly, and instead most of their audience is adults. For some, this is a change; Jennifer used to have a lot of teens commenting on her blog, but now most of her audience is adults. But they are reaching passionate people who will help spread the word, so in many cases they're reaching teens more indirectly.
  • When you do connect with teens, authentic connections are very important; teens are looking for people to be real.
  • Two major themes: community and word of mouth. That hasn't changed, but the way those happen has changed.

Friday, May 30, 2014

YA books, Star Wars, and Graphic Novels: BookExpo America 2014 Day 1

My day started bright and early at 8am, as I attended the Harlequin Teen Blogger Breakfast. I sat next to the friendly bloggers from Bookcrastinators in wonderland, who have the fun tagline, "Why put off until tomorrow what you can read today?" This was their first BEA, and I enjoyed chatting with them. The event was organized like speed dating, as the featured authors and their editors rotated around to each table and talked with us. Authors we met included:

  • Alexandra Adornetto, author of Ghost House, who asked us if we believe in ghosts. (For the record, the people at my table do. Alexandra said that the previous table most definitely did not)
  • Jennifer L. Armentrout with Stone Cold Touch (The Dark Elements). I haven't read any of her books, sadly, but everyone else there loved her books.
  • Julie Kagawa talked about her new book, Talon, which is about dragons who can appear as human. She said she figured that, "If dragons existed today, they wouldn't be sitting in caves guarding treasures, they'd be CEOs of multinational corporations."
  • Adi Alsaid with his book, Let's Get Lost, a road trip book told in five parts from different points of view. Adi likes to travel and has been on his own road trips, but he likes to write about places he hasn't been to so that he can use his imagination.
  • Robin Talley talked about her book, Lies We Tell Ourselves, which is about school integration in 1959, and the attraction between two girls, one black and one white. Robin was inspired to write it after hearing about her own parents' experiences during that period.
One thing I realized during the brunch is that Harlequin has changed a lot, and that they publish a lot of different books, not just the romances that I think of when I hear the name. These books sounded interesting, and I clearly need to start reading more of their books.

After the brunch, I attended the YA Editors Buzz Panel. I always try to attend these at BEA, because it's fascinating to hear the editors talk about the selected buzz books, how they acquired them and what they love about the books. The five buzz books are:
  • Daniel Ehrenhaft from Soho Teen talked about Cynthia Weil’s I'm Glad I Did. Cynthia is a songwriter who has written songs such as "On Broadway" and "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," and I'm Glad I Did is about a songwriter.
  • Krista Marino from Delacorte Press talked about Frank Portman’s King Dork Approximately and read a hilarious excerpt where the main character, Tom Henderson, muses on Pride and Prejudice. I never read King Dork, but now I want to read both books.
  • TS Ferguson from Harlequin TEEN talked about  Robin Talley’s Lies We Tell Ourselves (see above)
  • Karen Chaplin, HarperTeen talked about Amy Ewing’s The Jewel, which is about a city of extremes, where the protagonist is enslaved as a surrogate, as in The Handmaid's Tale.  
  • Alvina Ling of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers talked about Ryan Graudin’s The Walled City, which sounds really interesting. It's like a dystopian book, but based on a real place, the Walled City of Kowloon, near Hong Kong, which was apparently a lawless place ruled by organized crime. Alvina said that the book is not historical fiction, as it's fictionalized, but not completely fantasy either, since it's based on a real place. She humorously called it "histopian."
Most of the rest of the day I spent in meetings with publishers about the Cybils Awards, with some time spent walking the floor with my husband and son. 

Here I am with some awesome Star Wars Lego sculptures at the DK booth, that they have in honor of the revised version of Lego Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary:

Boba Fett, where?

Will someone get this big walking carpet out of my way?
Little, Brown engaged in some clever marketing for their new YA post-apocalyptic, The Young World. These signs were on the stalls in the bathrooms:

I ended the day by attending the panel, "The Best in Fall 2014 Graphic Novels," with Michael Cho (Shoplifter), Farel Dalrymple (The Wrenchies), Jules Feiffer (Kill My Mother), and Raina Telgemeier (Sisters)  with moderator Calvin Reid from Publishers Weekly. Here are the panelists geeking out about brushes:

One of the most interesting discussions in the panel was in response to the question about whether the images or the text came first (since all the panelists are artist, writer, and creator for their graphic novels). Each one had a different answer. Dalrymple said that his inspiration generally comes from visual images, and he starts by sketching. Telgemeier works in thumbnails, where she works on layout and text together, using stick figures. Feiffer said that the writer and the artist in his brain are two different people who don't even know each other. He starts by writing the script, and then gives it to the artist in his brain, who wonders who the writer is that wrote such crappy stuff. (He was very funny, in case you couldn't tell). Cho also starts with the text, but he finds that he has to actually hand letter the text in the layouts to be able to determine the pacing.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Book Review: The Lost by Sarah Beth Durst

The Lost
by Sarah Beth Durst

Lauren doesn't want to face the diagnosis; she fears the news that her mother's cancer has returned. Without planning or even conscious intent, she sets off driving, trying to escape her troubles. Three hundred miles later, Lauren is lost in the desert, surrounded by a dust storm. Finally, she escapes the storm and finds a town where she hopes to get gas, a phone to call her mother, and a hotel room for the night. What she finds instead is a town strangely cluttered with trash, and populated by residents who seem troubled. This is the town of Lost, where everything that is lost - including people - ends up. There's no escape from Lost unless you find what you've lost. With the help of a precocious child named Claire and a mysterious, charismatic man named Peter who calls himself the Finder, Lauren tries to find a way to get out of Lost and back to her mother.

The Lost is Durst's first foray into adult fiction, and what an adult debut it is! As with her YA's, she doesn't disappoint. An intriguing and twilight-zoneish premise, fascinating characters, and a highly readable story make this a book you won't want to miss.

I don't think that Durst gets the recognition she deserves for being one of the best writers of literary fantasy today. I've followed her books since her first one, Into the Wild, which I loved, but over the years since then she's honed her craft to a exceptional level. Her literary technique is masterful, yet doesn't get in the way of telling a good story.

The Lost is a very character-driven story. Although there are a few edge-of-your-seat moments, the plot is primarily driven by Lauren's character arc. It's a mesmerizing book that's hard to put down, and one that proves a book doesn't have to be driven by a frenetic plot to be a page-turner. As you can imagine from the title, everyone in the town of Lost is, well, lost in some way, and the book revolves around a theme of finding your way. Even the Finder, who is supposedly there to help people, seems, in some ways, more lost than anyone. Lauren's journey of self-discovery unspools gradually, as her relationships with Claire and Peter develop and the details of her past life are teased out.

The town itself is fascinating and well developed, almost a character in itself. The streets are cluttered with piles of things that were lost: keys, socks, luggage, and even things like foreclosed houses scattered all over, creating an odd juxtaposition of different architecture. It's all a little bit creepy, as well, in a Stephen King kind of way. The idea sounds like a cliche, but it's so much more than that and the reality and details of life in Lost are fully fleshed out. Survival is a big part of life in Lost; residents have to scavenge among the piles to find the necessities of life. And not everyone in Lost is friendly, in fact, some are decidedly unfriendly. So Lauren has to learn how to survive in Lost as well as trying to figure out how to get home.

I hope I won't be spoiling too much if I say that there's a powerful chemistry between Lauren and Peter right from the start, but I won't say much more than that. It's handled well, and while it's an important element, it doesn't take over the story.


None of the three main characters appear to be people of color in this book. One of the important secondary characters, Victoria, who runs the diner, is described as having rich brown skin. In conversation with Durst, she confirmed that Victoria is African-American. She also told me that Peter is half Native American, but the reader doesn't learn this explicitly until book 3.

Any relationships in the book were heterosexual, and all characters appear to be cisgender. Since Lost draws in all sorts of lost people, one could reasonably expect to see a diversity in Lost reflective of society in general, however, I didn't see that. There's quite a variety of people in Lost, but other than the one character, none were described in a way (that I noticed) that would lead me to believe they were from an underrepresented group.

Who would like this book

Adult and teens who like a well-written, slightly dark, character-driven fantasy with an intriguing premise and a bit of a romantic interest. Although The Lost was published for the adult market and has an adult protagonist, I think it has a strong teen crossover appeal.

Other Reviews

For another view of The Lost, check out Reading in Tandem: "The Lost," by Sarah Beth Durst at Finding Wonderland.

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.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Book Review: Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

Dark Eden
by Chris Beckett

Imagine a world with no sun. A world where the only heat and light comes from geothermal energy and bioluminescent plants and animals, and everything else is dark. Imagine a community of 532 people living on this planet, all descended from two astronauts who were stranded on the planet. (And yes, there was some incest in order for 532 people to be descended from only two.)

One hundred and sixty-three years after Tommy and Angela were stranded on Eden, their descendants still live in Circle Valley, where the landing vehicle originally came down, because Angela told the family to stay close, so that they could be found when rescue arrived from Earth. Food in Circle Valley is running out, but outside of Circle Valley is the Snowy Dark, and no one has ever crossed the Snowy Dark to find out what (if anything) lies beyond. Everyone in Family fears to leave the valley, lest they be stranded when the rescue comes from Earth.

Everyone except teen ("newhair") John Redlantern. John feels suffocated in the closeness and stagnation of family, and he asks the questions that everyone else is afraid to ask. No one will listen, so John does the unthinkable, with consequences that will affect everyone in Family and cause lasting change.

Dark Eden is a compelling story and a fascinating study of a society with characteristics derived from its unique environment, as well as from its tragic origin story. As the book progresses, it starts to become clear that the origin story portrays a very dysfunctional family. How would it affect an entire society to be based on such dysfunctional origins?

The worldbuilding is amazing. Although I have trouble imagining how a planet like Eden could exist, every detail of the world is so well developed, the ecosystem consistent and logical, that it came across as fully realized and believable. All that detail is developed very naturally through the story and the characters; there are no infodumps. The society, culture, and language are all distinctive and consistent.

The characters are interesting, diverse, and well-developed. John Redlantern is a bit of an anti-hero. Although he is honestly trying to help Family, he acts also out of self-interest, restlessness, and a compulsion for change. John's sometimes-lover and co-conspirator, Tina Spiketree, is an equally interesting and complex character. In addition to John and Tina, there is a rich tapestry of well-developed characters, some of whom become point-of-view characters for a short time.

Story is an important theme running throughout Dark Eden. Obviously the origin story plays a significant role. As in many cultures, the stories from the past are retold and reenacted at important events. These stories are distorted by the lens of time, and by people who don't really understand, in some cases, what the stories mean, because they have no experience with things that could form a basis for understanding. John Redlantern is keenly aware of the power of story; he consciously makes choices that will make him a mythic character to other people, and he wonders how his descendants will tell his story in the future.

The title of the book fits on multiple levels. The planet is named Eden, and obviously Tommy and Angela are its Adam and Eve. But Earth is the Eden that they've been exiled from. The Family doesn't seem to have a religion or worship any gods, but waiting for the return to Earth has an almost religious fervor to it. Later in the book, there is also a kind of Cain and Abel vibe happening.

Dark Eden is an astonishing, compelling, and unique science-fiction story. If you like science fiction and this isn't on your TBR, it probably should be.

Note: Dark Eden is published for the adult market, but I think it has crossover appeal for teens. Besides the teen protagonists, it has a teen outlook and themes of social change that will appeal to teens. There is some fairly explicit sex, so it would be best for mature teens, but sex is not uncommon in YA today. And in spite of the explicit nature of the sex, it's some of the least sexy sex I've read in books — it's supposed to be, because it's another symptom of the stagnation of this society.


  • Mother Angela was black, according to the stories, and Tommy was white (Jewish, if I remember right). One minor character in the Family is described as being a "dark bloke with dark curly hair," but other than that, I didn't see any other mention of racial characteristics. Given the description of Angela and Tommy, I think it's safe to assume that everyone in Family would have multiracial characteristics.
  • Nations are mentioned in the stories from the past, but because the people in Family have no basis for understanding — their closest analogue is the smaller groups within Family —it doesn't really pay a role.
  • At one point, Tina is thinking about how all of the boys want to "slip" (have sex) with her, and then she adds, "except those who prefer boys." Although I didn't notice any same-sex couplings in the book, it seems that in this society they're accepted as routine.
  • Cleft lip and club foot are common congenital deformities in Family, probably due to the incest and inbreeding. These play a significant role in the story. The effect of the deformities on the individuals is shown, without it degenerating into stereotypes. And they are individuals, who have distinctive personalities of which the disability is only a facet. One adult character is angry and mean as a result of bullying in childhood, but others are caring, respected members of society. One boy with clubfoot who appears to be an object of pity in the beginning ends up becoming a leader.
Who would like this book:

Mature teens and adults who enjoy unique science fiction with richly developed worldbuilding and characters

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.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Book Review: In the Shadows

In the Shadows
Text Story by Kiersten White
Art and Art Story by Jim Di Bartolo

In the Shadows alternates between two related stories, one told in text and the other entirely in pictures. It's hard to talk about In the Shadows without risking revealing too much. The stories themselves unfold gradually, and at first it's hard to understand what's going on or how the stories fit together, but as the details unfold the pieces start to come together.

The text portion alternates between five young people: Cora and Minnie, whose mother runs a boarding house in a small town in Maine; Arthur, a mysterious young man who comes to the boarding house; and two brothers, Thom and Charles. Charles is dying from a terminal illness, and their father sends the two young men from New York City to Maine for Charles' health, although a conversation that Thom overhears between his father and a woman seems to indicate a more sinister reason. The five teens begin to suspect that there is evil lurking in the town, and all five of them are linked to it in some way.

The art story depicts a young man traveling around the world, apparently searching for something or someone. We don't know who he is, and at first it's hard to understand what's going on or what the connection is with the text story. By about halfway through, you begin to suspect, and then later details in the text story make clear what's happening in the art story.

In the Shadows is an intriguing, beautifully made book. I love this kind of story, where the connections aren't always clear and you have to puzzle it out as you go along. I actually found that after I finished the book, I wanted to go through the art story again from the beginning to pick up on all the details and fully appreciate it.

The text story is well-written and holds your interest, the art is beautiful, and the two fit well together stylistically. There is a dark, creepy, and mysterious feel to both stories. With evil lurking in a small town in Maine, it's hard not to compare this to Stephen King, but stylistically it's not really similar to King's writing. The compelling story and short chapters conspire to keep you reading; "Just one more chapter," I kept telling myself.


Other than a few incidental characters in the pictures, I didn't see any diversity.

Who would like this book:

With the short chapters, artwork, and fast-paced read, this may be a good book for reluctant readers. Graphic novel readers may also enjoy it, even though it isn't strictly a graphic novel. Any teen or adult who enjoys dark, creepy stories with mysterious conspiracies will enjoy In the Shadows.

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.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Book Review: Rose and the Lost Princess

Rose and the Lost Princess
by Holly Webb

In the first book, Rose was thrilled to be selected for a position as a housemaid for a prominent magician. As an orphan, her dream was to get out of the orphanage and earn her own living. But when she discovered that she has an inherent talent for magic, Rose had mixed feelings. Magic is exciting, but also so far outside her experience that it makes her uncomfortable. Although Rose is now an apprentice to the magician, Mr. Fountain, she wanted to keep her position as a housemaid in the house. Besides providing her income, she's not quite ready to let go of her ordinary, normal life.

But now that the other servants know that she is magic, they don't want to have anything to do with her. Most ignore her, and some are actively antagonistic. Only Bill the houseboy is still friendly. To make matters worse, there is a growing anti-magic movement in the aftermath of the events of the first book. It's not a good time to be a magician. People are blaming the early winter and heavy snowfall on magic, and when the beloved Princess disappears, and is found again, the whole country is in a frenzy, convinced that magic is involved. The King is worried that there will be another attempt on the Princess, so Rose is sent to the palace to stay with the Princess, because as another young girl she can provide some magical protection while seeming to be an ordinary housemaid and companion for the Princess.

Rose and the Lost Princess is a delightful book that I enjoyed even more than its predecessor. Rose is such a great character. She loves the magic, and yet she's a very no-nonsense, practical girl. She's what Mary Poppins might have been like as a girl. The book is extremely well-written and immersive. There's gentle humor, much of it provided by Gus, the magical cat. In many ways it's a perfect middle-grade novel. Even as an adult I quite enjoyed reading it, and I'm looking forward to future books in the series.


I didn't see any diversity of color or ethnicity, but then, Victorian-type settings tend to be pretty monochrome. Sexuality simply doesn't come into the book, other than Rose's hand on Bill's arm at one point, so there's not really any opportunity for sexual diversity.

There is diversity of class, and in fact class is one of the themes in this novel. As a servant who is also an apprentice to a powerful magician who is a councilor to the King, Rose is caught between classes in a most uncomfortable way. The lives of both the upper and lower classes are vividly portrayed, from the glittering palace to the lives of Mr. Fountain's servants downstairs. The effect of power on the powerless is shown in small ways, including the house manager's not-so-subtle threat to a servant who is threatening to leave, "How will you get a new position without references?"

Who would like this book:

Middle-grade readers who love an immersive, character-driven fantasy. There's enough excitement to keep anyone interested, but it's not overly violent or scary, so it should be fine for sensitive readers. Although the protagonist is a girl, I think that boys will enjoy it as well, if they can get past the girl on the cover and the feminine name, "Rose." (Edited to add: the first book has an evil magician kidnapping children and drinking their blood, so sensitive readers may want to skip that one and start with this one.)

My review of Rose, the first book in the series.

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.