Friday, April 25, 2014

April Debut YA Novels

It's time to talk April debut YA novels, and this month, there are quite a few. I've rounded them up best as I can, but as usual, it's likely I'll miss a title or two and I'm happy to hear of other debuts from traditional publishers in the comments. I define debut as first novel. I'm not including debuts that are an author's first YA novel; I want them to be first novels. 

All descriptions are from WorldCat. Titles that Kimberly or I may have reviewed we'll include links to, as well. 

Breakfast Served Anytime by Sarah Combs: Spending the summer before her senior year at a camp for gifted and talented students, Gloria struggles with the recent loss of her grandmother while trying to meet new friends and make the best of her new circumstances.

Burn Out by Kristi Helvig: In the future, when the Earth is no longer easily habitable, seventeen-year-old Tora Reynolds, a girl in hiding, struggles to protect weapons developed by her father that could lead to disaster should they fall into the wrong hands.

Dear Killer by Katherine Ewell: Kit, a seventeen-year-old moral nihilist serial killer, chooses who to kill based on anonymous letters left in a secret mailbox, while simultaneously maintaining a close relationship with the young detective in charge of the murder cases. 

Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige: Amy Gumm, the other girl from Kansas, has been recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked to stop Dorothy who has found a way to come back to Oz, seizing a power that has gone to her head -- so now no one is safe!

Expiration Day by William Campbell Powell: t is the year 2049, and humanity is on the brink of extinction. Tania Deeley has always been told that she's a rarity: a human child in a world where most children are sophisticated androids manufactured by Oxted Corporation. 

Far From You by Tess Sharpe: After Sophie Winters survives a brutal attack in which her best friend, Mina, is murdered, she sets out to find the killer. At the same time she must prove she is free of her past Oxy addiction and in no way to blame for Mina's death. 

Learning Not to Drown by Anna Shinoda: Clare, seventeen, has always stood up for her eldest brother, Luke, despite his many jail stints but when her mother takes Clare's hard-earned savings to post bail for Luke, Clare begins to understand truths about her brother and her family.

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaria: When Laurel starts writing letters to dead people for a school assignment, she begins to spill about her sister's mysterious death, her mother's departure from the family, her new friends, and her first love.

Open Road Summer by Emery Lord: Follows seventeen-year-old Reagan as she tries to escape heartbreak and a bad reputation by going on tour with her country superstar best friend--only to find more trouble as she falls for the surprisingly sweet guy hired to pose as the singer's boyfriend.

Pointe by Brandy Colbert: Four years after Theo's best friend, Donovan, disappeared at age thirteen, he is found and brought home and Theo puts her health at risk as she decides whether to tell the truth about the abductor, knowing her revelation could end her life-long dream of becoming a professional ballet dancer. Kelly's review

Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman: In 1930s Munich, the favorite niece of rising political leader Adolph Hitler is torn between duty and love after meeting a fearless and handsome young Jewish reporter.

Salvage by Alexandra Duncan: Ava, a teenage girl living aboard the male-dominated, conservative deep space merchant ship Parastrata, faces betrayal, banishment, and death. Taking her fate into her own hands, she flees to the Gyre, a floating continent of garbage and scrap in the Pacific Ocean. How will she build a future on an Earth ravaged by climate change? Kimberly's review

Sekret by Lindsay Smith: A group of psychic teenagers in 1960s Soviet Russia are forced to use their powers to spy for the KGB. Kimberly's review

Stolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen: Trolls are said to love gold. They are said to live underground and hate humans, perhaps even eat them. They are said to be evil. When Cécile de Troyes is kidnapped and sold to the trolls, she finds out that there is truth in the rumors, but there is also so much more to trolls than she could have imagined. Cécile has only one thing on her mind after she is brought to Trollus, the city she hadn't even known existed under Forsaken Mountain: escape. But the trolls are inhumanly strong. And fast. She will have to bide her time, wait for the perfect opportunity. But something strange happens while she's waiting--she begins to fall in love with the handsome, thoughtful troll prince that she has been bonded and married to. She begins to make friends. And she begins to see that she may be the only hope for the half-bloods--part troll/part human creatures who are slaves to the full-blooded trolls. There is a rebellion brewing. And her prince, Tristan, the future king, is its secret leader.

Talker 25 by Joshua McCune: The fifteen-year-long war between man and dragons seems nearly over until Melissa becomes an unwilling pawn of the government after she--and those driving the beasts to extinction--discover that she can communicate with dragons.

Tease by Amanda Maciel: A teenage girl faces criminal charges for bullying after a classmate commits suicide. 

The Chance You Won't Return by Annie Cardi: High school student Alex Winchester struggles to hold her life together in the face of her mother's threatening delusions about being Amelia Earhart.

The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer: When a sleazy reality television show takes over Ethan's arts academy, he and his friends concoct an artsy plan to take it down. 

Continue reading...

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Graphic Novel Roundup

A Flight of Angels by Rebecca Guay and others
This graphic novel is absolutely packed with talent. It's conceptualized and illustrated by Rebecca Guay, with stories by Holly Black, Bill Willingham, Louise Hawes, Alisa Kwitney, and Todd Mitchell. Even casual fantasy or graphic novel readers will likely recognize one or two of those names.

I love the idea beyond the book. It's a frame story: a group of fairies and other creatures (fair and foul) discover an injured, unconscious angel in the forest. They each take turns telling a tale that describes how the angel may have gotten there, and the youngest among them will decide the angel's fate based upon these tales. Each story explores some facet of angel mythology. I particularly enjoyed the first, written by Louise Hawes, which gives us a different version of Adam and Eve, though I think all are pretty strong.

What stands out particularly well, though, is the art. Each story is illustrated in a different style, which led me to initially think they were illustrated by different artists. This is not the case. Rebecca Guay illustrates the whole thing, and each story - including the frame story - looks like it came from a different hand. I'm pretty blown away by that, especially when I consider that the art is top-notch all the way through.

This is a beautiful book, beautifully thought-out and executed. It was selected as one of YALSA's top 10 graphic novels of 2012, and I'm surprised I hadn't even heard of it until I came across it in the comics shop. It's written for an adult audience but could easily cross over to more mature teens, and I highly recommend it.

Fairest vol. 1: Wide Awake by Bill Willingham and Phil Jimenez
Fables' popularity has brought us a few spinoffs, and this is the latest I've discovered. It focuses on the women of Fables. This first volume tells Sleeping Beauty/Briar Rose and the Snow Queen's stories, which intertwine. Regular Fables readers will recall that Briar Rose was left in a rather precarious position in the main storyline; this volume gives readers an opportunity to find out what happened to her and continue her tale.

Right off the bat it was obvious to me that this was written by Willingham (as opposed to the Cinderella spinoff, reviewed below). The characterization is closer to that in the main Fables story, the humor flows better, and the story is just more interesting. Of the spinoffs I've tried (Cinderella, Jack of Fables, and Fairest), this is my favorite. Phil Jimenez gets primary credit for the art, and he does a terrific job. I'm such a sucker for Adam Hughes' cover illustrations, too, which are phenomenal.

The bonus story at the end is wild. It's a noir-ish detective story featuring Beast. I can't say more than that. It kind of blew my mind. I still don't know if I liked it.

Cinderella vol. 2: Fables are Forever by Chris Roberson and Shawn McManus
I guess the cover on this one should have been a giveaway, but I liked the first volume well enough, I figured I'd enjoy this one equally. It was...just OK. It features Cinderella hunting down Dorothy Gale, an assassin who worked for the shadow Fabletown and has some history with Cindy. That's basically the extent of the story, aside from an unpleasant twist near the end which made me extremely uncomfortable.

There was a lot of Cinderella and Dorothy fighting in bikinis. As I said, the cover should have clued me in on that. It may sound like I didn't care for this one much, but I did enjoy it. I just expected more. The idea of Cinderella as a spy is a great one. The first volume played with the traditional Cinderella story in new ways, but I felt like Roberson just phoned it in on this one. Not the best.

The Undertaking of Lily Chen by Danica Novgodoroff
This is a case of "It's not you, it's me." I recognize the technical quality of the book. The art is certainly good. The story is unique and well-developed. I found the premise of ghost brides fascinating. The whole thing just left a bad taste in my mouth.

Deshi's older brother, the pride of the family, dies, and Deshi's parents send him out to find a ghost bride for him, so he doesn't have to be buried and go into the next world alone. A ghost bride is a corpse of a woman - the fresher the better. Deshi lives in modern-day rural China where this very old tradition is still sometimes practiced. He falls in with a young woman named Lily, on the run from problems of her own. Female corpses, especially fresh ones good enough for Deshi's brother, are in short supply. You see where this is going.

I think my main issue arose when Deshi and Lily started developing romantic feelings for each other. Deshi was romantically involved with Lily even while he was still considering killing her to bring home as a ghost bride. I think Novgodoroff was trying to show how tough parental pressure can be - and Deshi's parents are certainly awful. But it didn't work for me. I suppose as a woman, I automatically place myself in the girl's shoes, which made me consider how I'd feel if a boy was considering killing me while he was kissing me. This is mainly Deshi's story (despite the title!), but Novgodoroff does tell a good portion of it from Lily's point of view, so sympathizing with her seems to be intended as much as sympathizing with Deshi is. It just made me feel icky, and not in a nice way.

A Flight of Angels and Cinderella purchased, Fairest borrowed from the library, Undertaking of Lily Chen provided by the publisher. All titles are available now.

Continue reading...

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Kimberly Interviews Kelly: On 5 years at STACKED

For our five year blogoversary, Kelly and I thought it would be fun to interview each other about reading, blogging, and our journey together these past years. She interviewed me yesterday, and today I put her on the hot seat for a few questions. We're also giving away fourteen books - if you haven't entered to win yet, go forth and do so.

Kimberly: How do you think your blogging style has evolved over the past five years?

Kelly: I think I've become a lot bolder and more willing to write about anything that interests me. I think we both have been honest and frank in our reviewing style since the beginning, but I know in the last couple of years, I've found myself not so much less interested in writing reviews, but more interested in writing about books in new and different ways. I like talking about big topics and I think when I started blogging, that wasn't something I felt as confident about doing.

I'm more willing, too, to put posts together that are more about jumpstarting discussions than having them be whole and complete discussions themselves. I forget sometimes the most interesting posts are the ones that raise questions, rather than attempt to answer them.

How do you think blogging about books and kidlit has changed over the past five years?

I talked about this a little bit over at Adele's blog a couple of months ago. Maybe the biggest thing in the last five years has been the growth of blogging -- but I also think a lot of that growth in blogging has become a growth in really becoming an arm of the publicity of new books.

A number of really powerful blog voices I got to know when we started Stacked aren't doing it anymore. Many have stopped because of other commitments, but others have stopped because being critical and having that platform has conflicted with other things (notably, being published themselves!).

The Kidlitosphere is still going strong, but it's definitely quieted down. It's still an excellent community, but I think with other commitments in everyone's lives, things have just changed a bit. There are certainly still amazing, long-time, well-respected bloggers out there. I think maybe now, five years after we started this, the tremendous growth in blogging about books and kidlit has made it harder for people to find their niche in the same way they did five, seven, or ten years ago.

Has blogging changed your reading style? If so, in what way?

Yes. But not necessarily because I've become more critical or because I'm now looking for certain things when I read. The biggest change in my reading style is that now that I've been thinking and reading so critically for five years, I have a stronger sense of when a book is going to be a book for me. I have a strong sense of when a book's going to hit all the right notes for me as a reader, and that's pretty neat.

What have been some unexpected benefits of blogging?
My writing has become stronger, clearer, and more thoughtful. I've always been a strong writer -- comes with writing and thinking about writing since the time I could write -- but blogging involves writing for an audience, so I have to be a lot more conscious of what I'm saying and how I am saying it.

Beyond the writing, I've met some of my best friends blogging. When I think about these last five years and the people who have had a tremendous impact on my life, nearly every one of them I met through blogging in some capacity.

I think you and I have gotten to know each other very well, when we didn't in grad school, too.

I guess I should mention an unexpected benefit has been getting a job, too. That's so new and fresh that I haven't quite wrapped my head around it yet.

What is most frustrating or challenging about blogging?

It's the most practical thing: I hate formatting posts. I don't mind writing or rewriting or reworking words until they sing. But I hate when I have to resize, reshape, and fix images, alignments, weird font issues, and so forth.

Another thing that can be frustrating is when something you write is something you think is great and should really 'hit,' and it just doesn't. What can you do though except keep writing?

Which posts were the most fun to write and why?

I find writing every post fun. I think we talked about a long time ago that when blogging wasn't fun anymore, we wouldn't do it. So I always remember it's supposed to be fun, and with that in mind,

Of regular posts I write, I think the cover change posts are the most fun to write, as well as the cover trend posts. I love looking and talking about the visual representations of books because that's such an interesting topic and it's so subjective.

Which two or three posts would you consider your “greatest hits” and why?

I wrote two posts last June that really stood out to me: the post about girls and representation of girls in fiction, as well as the post about girls and their sexuality. Both really homed in on a topic I'd been thinking about -- girls and girl reading -- and I didn't know there were so many other readers who'd been thinking about these issues because this is a topic that doesn't GET talked about in the same way boys and boy reading do.

I'm also partial to my posts on getting beyond the easy reach with reader's advisory, as well as what I've written about how reductive YA seems to have become.

You seem to have really found your voice in support of high-quality, contemporary, realistic books for teens, particularly those that are often overlooked. What draws you to these kinds of stories, and why are they so important to highlight and advocate for?

These have been the books I've always read. I picked up Speak in high school, as well as Perks of Being a Wallflower and Cut. I read more realistic fiction as I went on through college and after, into grad school. It's a genre I am just drawn to because it's such a limiting genre -- you can't magic your way out of anything. Every problem has to have a solution that's plausible.

Unlike many readers, I'm not in realistic fiction for 'relatability.' I don't care if I relate to a character or not. I want to be compelled by them and their stories, and I want to see how they use the limited

Realistic fiction is important to highlight and advocate because at this point, if it isn't the next book you can hand to a fan of John Green or Rainbow Rowell, it's not going to see much marketing or publicity. And frankly, even the books being sold that way aren't either; they're instead being reduced to a kind of story which also reduces readers to types of readers. Realistic fiction is rich and complex. I think it's important to talk about those complexities and richnesses because those reflect the realities of today's teens and YA readers (teens or not!).

What’s the strangest, most bizarre thing that’s ever happened in your blogging career?

I went to a small publisher dinner at ALA, and I picked up a copy of Veronica Roth's Insurgent. I didn't realize she was at the dinner but when I found out she was, I wanted to get her to sign the book for me so I could give it away to one of my teens.

I introduced myself to her, and she knew who I was. That was pretty strange and neat all at once.

If you want bizarre, maybe it was the time someone emailed to tell us that our review policy was wrong, and they proceeded to send a detailed critique of why our review policy was so wrong. Guess it's only fair that bloggers have their own policies evaluated for them?

Any advice for someone looking to start blogging?

Keep writing, keep reading, and keep working. You'll find your voice and your passions and your community. It's not about hits nor about recognition. It's always about what blogging brings to you on a personal level.

For me, it's a necessary part of unpacking what I'm thinking and reading.
resources in their world to find their way out of the problem -- if they're even able to do that. Some of the most satisfying realistic stories don't solve all the problems, which is just how the real world works.

Continue reading...

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Kelly Interviews Kimberly: On 5 Years at STACKED

I asked Kimberly what we should do to celebrate blogging for five years, and besides a big giveaway, we thought it could be fun to interview each other. We've known each other now for six years, and through reading and blogging, we've gotten to know one another even better.

But there are things that we don't talk about much when it comes to our blogging processes, our reading styles, and more. So we asked each other ten different questions. Today I'm talking with Kimberly and tomorrow, Kim will be talking with me! 

Kelly: How has your reading changed since beginning to blog in 2009?

I read a lot more! Not out of any sense of obligation, but because I'm much more attuned to what's being published - and that means there's just so much more that I want to read. Blogging has also really focused my interests and broadened them at the same time. By that I mean blogging has allowed me to discover that I'm really passionate about young adult fiction, but it's also encouraged me to read more widely within that group. Before blogging, I stuck mostly to adult high fantasy and would likely have never picked up something as realistic as A. S. King's Ask the Passengers or as bizarre as Pete Hautman's Obsidian Blade.

What's your favorite piece you've written and why? 

I'm going to cheat and pick two. I had so much fun doing this cover math post. It allowed me to be more creative and use my brain in a different way. My other pick is my piece about non-fantasy readers and how fantasy fiction is often reviewed. I've been a lifetime reader of fantasy fiction, and here I was able to put into words why it's so powerful for me. Blogging has allowed me to find my voice in defense of it, as well as find a community of like-minded readers and reviewers.

How do you think blogging has changed since we started STACKED on 2009?  

Even in just the past five years, there's been an explosion of content in the blogosphere. A lot more people are blogging books, which means it can be tougher to pick and choose the blogs that are worthwhile reads for me. It seems there's a lot more blogs that go for snappier, less critical reviews. There's a place for that, but I love getting down into the nitty gritty and reading reviews that tell me what worked, what didn't, and why. 

What's one thing you hope to accomplish in your reading and/or blogging habits in the next year?  

I want to read more diverse genre fiction - books starring characters of color, LGBT characters, and so on - and feature them more prominently. The lack of representation of these groups of people in SFF is an acknowledged ongoing problem and I'd like to be a part of solving it.

Has there been a reading experience that's surprised you in the last five years? If so, what and why?  

I'm surprised by how much I've enjoyed reading graphic novels! I always felt they had a place in a library collection, but pre-2009, I didn't really feel like they were for me personally. I had to learn how to read them in a different way from prose novels, and it often felt daunting since there's so much history with so many of the comics out there. But I love them now. I read Castle Waiting in library school and liked it a lot, then picked up the first volume of Fables. After that, I was hooked.   

What keeps blogging fun and exciting for you?  

I love discovering new things, so that's a big one. Blogging has plugged me into this whole new community where discovery is constant. And I think almost everyone loves sharing the things they love and are passionate about with others - blogging is a way for me to do that. My introvert self loves this method, since I don't need to actually talk to anyone to do it. I also get really motivated when people comment on anything I've written. Often blogging feels like sending something out into the void; comments let me know my voice is being heard. (I am a terrible commenter myself. I am not perfect.)

What piece of advice would you share with anyone who wants to get into blogging?  

Don't let it become an obligation. Blogging is least fulfilling for me when I feel like I have to do it. If it's not fun anymore, perhaps it's hiatus or quitting time. Also, try not to take it too personally when you get your first nasty comment. 

Is there something you'd love to find in a book that you haven't found yet? A topic? A theme? A genre blend?  

I really want to read something that astonishes me with its creativity. This could take any number of forms. It could be a book that plays with gender roles in unexpected ways. It could be a sci fi story that features some really odd, totally inhuman aliens. It could be a fantasy story that creates a wholly new culture not copied from one of Earth's cultures - but it's got to be believable (and not full of white people!). I like my tried and true stuff, but I'm also hungry for new ideas. I think there's still so much unexplored territory in SFF and I want authors to push hard at the boundaries.

What would be the perfect Kimberly book? What book that you've read might come closest to being that?  

I love this question! Creativity, as I mentioned above, is really important to me, but I do have my favorite sorts of stories. The perfect book would probably be high fantasy, featuring a girl protagonist who can hold her own mentally as well as physically (though perhaps not right away). I love stories with some sort of quest element to them, where there's a final goal in mind, so there's some action, but I like it to be interspersed with some quiet moments too. Oh, and it should be third person past tense. I can be picky! The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson comes really close, though it is first person. I think that a perfect Kimberly book could be different from a favorite book. When I think of a perfect Kimberly book, I tend to get all nostalgic and pick stuff similar to what I loved as a teen - really formative stuff.

Has blogging changed you?  

It's made me into a more critical reader. It's vastly improved my reader's advisory skills. It's sharpened my writing. It's connected me to a group of people - librarians, educators, readers - who I never would have known otherwise. It's increased my personal learning network tremendously. It's made me more knowledgeable and passionate about something I already loved - reading.

Continue reading...

Monday, April 21, 2014

Five Year Blogging Anniversary Giveaway!

Kimberly and I have now been blogging here at Stacked for five years.

Five years!

To celebrate, we're going to give away 10 books -- five from each of us -- which have stuck with us, that have impacted us, or that we've somehow had a big connection with in these last five years of blogging. One winner will get a copy of each of the 10 titles (and perhaps this is a look at the flavor of Stacked at a glance, too).

Tomorrow and Wednesday, we'll be celebrating our anniversary with a pair of interviews we've done with each other. It was fun to ask Kimberly questions and it's been fun, though tough, to come up with answers to the questions she's had for me.

But without further ado! Here's what we're giving away as a huge thank you to everyone who takes the time to read, share, or comment on our posts. We're eager to see what another year of blogging and shenanigans have in store. This giveaway is open to US or Canadian residents only. Entry form is at the bottom, and we'll pick a winner on or around May 15.


I thought picking five titles to giveaway -- five that have had an impact on me -- would be hard. But it wasn't and maybe because I "cheated" for more than half of the titles.

If "cheating" is choosing to give away three titles that I selected as winners/finalists in the Cybils when I served as a judge/panelist.

In 2010, I was on the judging side of the YA category for the Cybils, and our winner was Courtney Summers's Cracked Up to Be. In 2011 and in 2012, I served on the panelist side of the Cybils, and Swati Avasthi's Split and Geoff Herbach's Stupid Fast were titles that went on to become Cybils winners.

I guess, technically, I've got four books up for grabs there, since I'm going to give away a copy of What Goes Around, rather than Cracked Up to Be, since it contains both the Cybils winning Cracked Up to Be and the Cybils short listed Some Girls Are.

As for the other two titles I'm going to give away, they shouldn't be too surprising. I went for books that have stuck with me long past the time I've read them and/or tackle subjects near and dear to my heart.

Also included in my five-book pick for this giveaway are Susan Vaught's My Big Fat Manifesto -- one of the few books that does justice to fat female characters -- and Trish Doller's excellent debut Something Like Normal, which tackles mental illness and so much more (and a title on the Outstanding Books for the College Bound list).

But because I can't resist a nice giveaway, I thought I'd throw in three pre-order titles as well, to sweeten the pot a little bit more. These books will arrive in May, July, and September, respectively:

Not having reviewed any of them yet, I'll say this much: I want to give them away as preorders because I really dug each one for very different reasons. Guy in Real Life tackles gender and gender expectations (and gaming!). Dirty Wings is about friendship and plays with the Persephone myth in a really neat way. Poisoned Apples is a collection of art and poetry that could best be described as a series of feminist fairy tales. Hopefully, it's endorsement enough that I want to give them away before I've even reviewed them.

I think this is a nice mix of contemporary and non-contemporary titles. There's humor, there's darkness, and there's everything in between.


Choosing only five books was tough.

Since starting this blog with Kelly, the amount of reading I've done has exploded. Not really through any conscious effort - just being plugged in so much more to a community of readers has upped the amount of time I dedicate to reading and writing about books. And I've read a lot of great stuff in five years.

I decided not to go with my absolute favorites, necessarily, but instead chose titles that I come back to again and again, titles that I find particularly thoughtful or creative or haunting or groundbreaking. Most are books I wish would get more attention, which is why you won't see titles like Daughter of Smoke and Bone or Grave Mercy on here. They're all books I loved in some way or another, and I hope our winner will love them too.

First up are two completely different sci fi tales. The Knife of Never Letting Go was one of the first books I reviewed, back in September of 2009. It doesn't need my help to get readers, but I couldn't leave it off my list. This was one of the books that solidified my interest in YA as an adult, and I find myself recommending it over and over again to readers looking for something fresh and challenging. The True Meaning of Smekday, which I read and reviewed in 2010, is still the funniest book I've read since I started blogging. It's creative and hilarious and full of Deep Thoughts. Just thinking about it again makes me want to re-read it. I want to push it into the hands of every 12 year old with even a tangential interest in sci fi. 

I read and reviewed The Obsidian Blade in 2012, and it is the very definition of a book that sticks with you. It's got time travel, human-sized maggots, cults, ritual sacrifice, non-corporeal beings, robots, math that causes illness, and portals to other dimensions. It is so bizarre, and it all works. Each page brings something new to discover.

There were a number of different fantasy titles I could have included in the giveaway. I considered two recent favorites, The Winner's Curse and Cruel Beauty, both of which are standouts for different reasons. I decided to go instead with a couple of older titles that I know have had staying power for me - Vessel and The Shattering. They're each very different from the other. Vessel is a high fantasy story that features gods who inhabit the bodies of their devotees. I can still easily summon up a mental image of the book's desert setting, described so vividly and so well. The Shattering is a modern fantasy set in New Zealand that tackles suicide while still managing to be fun (and even funny at times). I fell in love with Healey's writing with this book. She knows just how to deliver an emotional punch.

Bonus pre-order! Mary E. Pearson's The Kiss of Deception publishes in July, and all fantasy lovers are in for a treat. It reads like an old-fashioned high fantasy tale, featuring a runaway princess, a scorned prince, a little bit of magic, and a good deal of trickery. I'm excited for it to be out in the world in a few months.

Would you like to win all FOURTEEN of these most excellent books? Enter your information below. We'll select a winner on or around May 15. All information will be kept confidential and removed after the giveaway ends.

Continue reading...

Saturday, April 19, 2014

There's No Such Thing As A Straight Line

Today would be a links of note post Saturday, but because there's been so much going on in my life over the last couple of weeks, that's not going to happen. Most of what I had planned on linking up is stuff that I pulled together in a post on Book Riot this week, "We Need Bigger Megaphones For Diversity in Kid Lit." What I have to say isn't that important. It's what the links in the post say that stands out.

Sunday -- tomorrow -- marks five years since Kimberly and I started STACKED. We plan on a few of celebratory posts next week, including interviews of one another and a giveaway of books that have impacted us in some capacity while we've been blogging.

In no way did I think I'd be doing this and loving this for five years. I thought it would be fun and enjoyable. That I'd read a lot of books and talk about them.

I never thought that blogging would lead me to some of the best and most important friendships and relationships in my life. But it has, and I'm beyond grateful for that every single day.

Over these last five years, I've been working in libraries. First, at a suburban two-library system. Then to a small, individual library where I was the entirety of youth services. Then on to the semi-urban library I'm at now. Each of these library positions has come with accomplishments and with set backs. In each position, I learned as much about who I am and how I function and think and work as I did about the job itself and how other people function and think and work. In some ways, it's been really good and in other ways, it's made me do a lot of thinking about what I want to be doing down the road.

I knew pretty early on that management in libraries was something I had no interest in. The problem is that in public libraries, you can only go so far without choosing a management path. Especially if you're in the kind of position I'm in, being a little location bound and that location isn't an urban area with many opportunities available.

It was with many of the friends I'd made through this blog I was able to get through some of these hard parts of my career. I'd work through what was tripping me up, talk about my wants and needs in a career. I'd talk about the good, too, but I knew through these conversations and just my living and working through my life that I needed to change something.

There have been days, especially recently, getting out of bed has been hard. My mental well-being was taking a severe hit in a way that was a wakeup call to me. It wasn't that I wasn't taking steps to make a change. It was that the impact of not figuring it out and feeling overwhelmed with what was currently on my plate was hitting me hard.

Last week, I had one of those days. It was Tuesday. I got up, I went through my morning routine, then I checked out and went back to bed. I made it through, then I made it through Wednesday, too. Would I make it to the weekend, though?

Thursday, I got a message in my inbox I wasn't expecting. Would I be interested in a job? It wasn't in librarianship, but it was a job that melded a lot of interests and passions I had together and I was the first person they thought of for it.

It took everything not to respond with an enthusiastic yes the minute I got that email. Not because it was a way out of where I was. But because it was a way into something I was exceptionally excited about.

I let it sit in my inbox for a few hours while I went through the rest of my routine, got through my shift at work. Then I responded.

On Friday morning, I talked with Rebecca on the phone, hearing more about the job and what all it would entail. "I know you'd not talked about wanting to change careers so I had no idea if you would really be interested but...".

Of course she didn't know because it wasn't something I talked about. Because I love libraries and librarianship. Because there's so much opportunity within the community.


I am ready for the change.

Starting May 1, I'm going to be an associate editor and community manager for Book Riot, with some responsibilities over at Food Riot, as well.

I put in my notice at the library this week, and over the last few days, everything has been a whirlwind in the best possible way. How do you wrap your head around not just a new job, but a new career all together? It's exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. I've been on and off all week about it, in terms of trying to close down one part of my brain and my routine and prepare myself to open up to a new one.

A few years ago, a friend I met through blogging told me that you can't always predict the way a path goes. That it's not always going to be clear, but that it will unfold in the ways its meant to, when it's meant to do so. And that person was right.

You can't predict the way that the path moves. You can only be open to the possibility it might zig or zag, whether or not you know just how much you need it to do so.

But I am so excited about this opportunity.

At this point, I don't foresee changes to Stacked. Libraries and reaching teens are still passions, and I hope that by continuing to write here and write at Book Riot, I'm of help to those who work with teens, with YA books, or who themselves have respect and interest for YA. Instead, this means there will be more writing at Book Riot in addition to the writing here. There might be hiccups or bumps or the need for adjustments down the road, but until there's a change in the path, this is still my home.

Last year, I wrote a post called "You Can, You Do, and You Will." Rereading it today, it still hits home everything I think and feel -- and maybe even more this year, this time around.

This is a huge opportunity and I hope that I'm able to really work toward doing more of the things I'm passionate about in a venue that's been so supportive, nurturing, and fun to be a part of.

Continue reading...

Friday, April 18, 2014

Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

I've had this book for a while, but it took me a long time to actually get around to reading it. It's not because I didn't think I'd enjoy it. On the contrary, I enjoyed it quite a lot. I just loved the first book so much, and it ended so painfully for its characters, I knew the second installment would do cruel things to my heart. Despite my love for dystopias, I don't have a huge capacity for reading about awful things happening to fictional people. Often I'll have to repeat in my head over and over "These people are not real. This did not really happen."

Needless to say, I had to tell myself that often while reading Days of Blood and Starlight.

It feels like a "middle of the series" book. Often that's a negative thing, but Taylor's writing is so good, I doubt many readers will mind. There's not a whole lot of plot movement initially. Much of the novel focuses on Karou and Akiva coming to terms with what happened in Daughter of Smoke and Bone - namely, the rekindling of the war between the chimaera and the angels. The chimaera have been defeated, for all intents and purposes, but they've mounted a small resistance that is growing, thanks to the efforts of Thiago, the brutal son of the legendary chimaera warlord, and Karou, the chimaera's new resurrectionist. Meanwhile, Akiva tries to (secretly) mitigate the effects of the angels' actions upon chimaera civilians, to mixed results. They act separately and independently with very little knowledge of the other, but when they do meet on rare occasions, it's painful - and I mean that in a good way.

So there's a lot of misery going on here. Taylor does bring a bit of lightness with the arrival of Zuzana and Mik, who get to interact with a whole host of chimaera. Their presence is dangerous but funny at the same time. Their visit doesn't serve much purpose other than bringing some levity to the story, but the levity is much needed and prevents the story from seeming to wallow in misery. Things do really start to move in the second half, where we go beyond the (admittedly well-written) scenes of skirmishes and slaughters. The ending sets up the third book nicely, setting the stage for a potentially much larger conflict, which is exciting to think about.

Days of Blood and Starlight focuses a lot on the awfulness of war, which isn't exactly revelatory. But it goes beyond that rather obvious theme to ruminate on questions like: How do two groups who don't even remember why they started fighting end the violence? What is justice and what is revenge, and does the distinction matter? Is forgiving people who have done awful things possible? How much can a person compromise herself to achieve a good end before the ends are not good anymore?

Where the first book was a story about transformation and discovering one's true self, this book is a full-on war novel. Sometimes it's exhausting, but it's always well-executed.

I actually finally hunkered down and read this book since Laini Taylor was visiting my area. I wanted to have the book done so I could get it signed and attend the event without worrying about someone spilling the beans about its contents. Again, I find myself holding off on reading the third book because I know Taylor will put her characters through even more misery. I need to be in a particular mood to read a book that will devastate me. Don't worry - I'll be sure and review it many months after everyone else has already read it, just like this one.

Personal copy.

Laini Taylor and I are having a Very Important Discussion. Also, bonus top of Margaret Stohl's head.

Continue reading...
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