Thursday, February 28, 2013

Put a Bird on it: Cover Trend 2013

I know I've blogged pretty extensively about cover trends already but another one that's been popping up and I've noted keeps coming around. So of course, I have to note it.

It is the bird.

I keep seeing birds on covers. They're taking up different shapes and purposes. And for the most part, it's a trend I'm really digging. It could possibly be from watching too much Portlandia, but I think the covers with the birds have been pretty good!

These are all 2013 titles, and not all of them are out quiet yet. It's very possible I'm missing some other titles, so feel free to chime in in the comments. All descriptions are from Worldcat or Goodreads.

First, here are three middle grade novels getting the bird cover treatment. It's pretty amusing they're all blue, too. 

Texting the Underworld by Ellen Booraem: Conor O'Neill faces his cowardice and visits the underworld to bargain with the Lady who can prevent the imminent death of a family member, but first Ashling, the banshee who brought the news, wants to visit his middle school.

Bird Nerd by Tracy Edward Wymer: Eddie Waymire is not a birdwatcher. He's a birder. And he'd be the first to tell you that birders do more than watch. They listen, smell, and when necessary they taste. Eddie learned everything there is to know about birding from his dad, including the story of the mythical Golden Eagle. And then, when Eddie started sixth grade, stomach cancer made his dad "fly away" for good. Now Eddie is in seventh grade and lives with his mom, the head janitor at West Plains Middle School. As the school year begins, Eddie tries to impress Gabriela, the new girl in town. But it's no use. She has no interest in a scrawny seventh grader who everyone calls bird this and bird that. To make matters worse, Eddie is paired with Mouton, an oversized enemy with Tourette syndrome, for the year-long Science Symposium project. Eddie must find a way to survive seventh grade and make the most of his star-crossed life, all while searching for that elusive Golden Eagle. If he can do that, he just might soar higher than ever before.

One Came Home by Amy Timberlake: In 1871 Wisconsin, thirteen-year-old Georgia sets out to find her sister Agatha, presumed dead when remains are found wearing the dress she was last seen in, and before the end of the year gains fame as a sharpshooter and foiler of counterfeiters.

Bird by Crystal Chan: A girl, who was born on the day her brother Bird died, has grown up in a house of silence and secrets; when she meets John, a mysterious new boy in her rural Iowan town, and those secrets start to come out.

Canary by Rachele Alpine:  Kate Franklin’s life changes for the better when her dad lands a job at Beacon Prep, an elite private school with one of the best basketball teams in the state. She begins to date a player on the team and quickly gets caught up in a world of idolatry and entitlement, learning that there are perks to being an athlete. But those perks also come with a price. Another player takes his power too far and Kate is assaulted at a party. Although she knows she should speak out, her dad’s vehemently against it and so, like a canary sent into a mine to test toxicity levels and protect miners, Kate alone breathes the poisonous secrets to protect her dad and the team. The world that Kate was once welcomed into is now her worst enemy, and she must decide whether to stay silent or expose the corruption, destroying her father’s career and bringing down a town’s heroes.

The Chaos of Stars by Kiersten White: Isadora’s family is seriously screwed up. Of course, as the human daughter of Egyptian gods, that pretty much comes with the territory. She’s also stuck with parents who barely notice her, and a house full of relatives who can’t be bothered to remember her name. After all, they are going to be around forever—and she’s a mere mortal. Isadora’s sick of living a life where she’s only worthy of a passing glance, and when she has the chance to move to San Diego with her brother, she jumps on it. But Isadora’s quickly finding that a “normal” life comes with plenty of its own epic complications—and that there’s no such thing as a clean break when it comes to family. Much as she wants to leave her past behind, she can’t shake the ominous dreams that foretell destruction for her entire family. When it turns out there may be truth in her nightmares, Isadora has to decide whether she can abandon her divine heritage after all.

Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos: A sixteen-year-old boy wrestling with depression and anxiety tries to cope by writing poems, reciting Walt Whitman, hugging trees, and figuring out why his sister has been kicked out of the house.

Infinite Sky by C. J. Flood (note: this is a UK book): Iris Dancy’s free-spirited mum has left for Tunisia, her dad’s rarely sober and her brother’s determined to fight anyone with a pair of fists. When a family of travellers move into the overgrown paddock overnight, her dad looks set to finally lose it. Gypsies are parasites he says, but Iris is intrigued. As her dad plans to evict the travelling family, Iris makes friends with their teenage son. Trick Deran is a bare knuckle boxer who says he’s done with fighting, but is he telling the truth? When tools go missing from the shed, the travellers are the first suspects. Iris’s brother, Sam, warns her to stay away from Trick; he’s dangerous, but Iris can no longer blindly follow her brother’s advice. He’s got secrets of his own, and she’s not sure he can be trusted himself. 

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater: No description yet, but this is the second book in the "Raven Boys" cycle.

Legacy of the Clockwork Key by Kristin Bailey: A orphaned sixteen-year-old servant in Victorian England finds love while unraveling the secrets of a mysterious society of inventors and their most dangerous creation.

Prodigy by Marie Lu: June and Day make their way to Las Vegas where they join the rebel Patriot group and become involved in an assassination plot against the Elector in hopes of saving the Republic.

The Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett: Being the only Nightmare at Arkwell Academy, a boarding school for "magickind," sixteen-year-old Destiny Everhart feeds on the dreams of others, working with a handsome human student to find a killer.

Tandem by Anna Jarzab: Sasha, who lives a quiet life with her grandfather in Chicago but dreams of adventure, is thrilled to be asked to prom by her long-time crush, Grant, but after the dance he abducts her to a parallel universe to impersonate a princess.

Shadowlands by Kate Brian: Rory, a girl in witness protection, thinks the serial killer she turned in has found her and is killing people around her. But as she investigates, she discovers a dark, disturbing truth about her new hometown. 

What do you think of putting a bird on it? Are there others coming out in 2013 featuring our fine feathered friends? I guess I don't need to mention there are a few books with nothing but feathers, too, do I (looking at you, Antigoddess and Phoenix, among others). 

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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What I'm Reading Now

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver
I don't know why I've put off reading this one for so long. Perhaps because I knew, as the middle book in a trilogy, it would be something of a downer. Perhaps because I just wasn't ever in the mood for a present-tense book. Perhaps because I wasn't sure if I could buy into the ludicrous premise again. I needn't have worried about any of those things, though, because the writing is excellent and the story fascinating (despite being completely unbelievable). 

Fables vol. 18: Cubs in Toyland by Bill Willingham
When someone tells you that a story is for kids because it's about kids, you can show them this book to prove just how wrong they are. The main story in this installment is dark and grisly, exploring portions of the prophecy about Snow and Bigby's children (the cubs). It's not my favorite Fables volume, and I actually enjoyed the standalone story at the end much better, but it's a solid entry and thankfully moves a main story arc along. (I think the series has been floundering a bit since the defeat of Mr. Dark.)

Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block
I'm so excited about the newest FLB. I'm a big fan of her writing style, and this story, about a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles which draws upon elements of the Odyssey, is something I would naturally gravitate to. I've read the first few chapters and they're fantastic.

The Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda (on audio)
I've discovered that while I don't much care for reading middle grade novels in print, I love them on audio. This adventurous story features a pre-teen hero, his sidekick little sister, Indian archaeology and mythology, and a dastardly villain. It reminds me a bit of a cross between the Percy Jackson and Skulduggery Pleasant stories in tone (good mix of adventure, magic, and humor), albeit the protagonist himself is (so far) magical power-less. (Side note: the boy on the cover is certainly not an accurate representation of the protagonist, who is a self-admitted chubby guy.)

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

So I want to talk about "new adult" at ALA

Are you an ALA member?

Liz Burns, Sophie Brookover, and myself have proposed a conversation starter for this year's annual conference in Chicago, and we need your help to make it happen. After a wildly successful #readadv chat on the topic of "new adult," we decided to put together a discussion proposal to take this conversation to the librarian arena. You can read the entire proposal here.

Here's where ALA members come in: in order for our proposal to be accepted, we need support from people who'd be interested in hearing and participating in this discussion. The proposals are selected on a basis of 30% member vote, 30% staff vote, and 40% an ALA advisory board.

Voting isn't too hard -- click here, make sure you're logged into ALA Connect, then click the thumbs up button. The voting is open until the end of March, and then we'll hear back on the proposal in mid-April.

Fingers crossed we can take our conversation to this audience and if we do get the chance to, we'll share the good news in hopes of seeing both ALA members and non-members attending the conference at our session.

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The Murmurings by Carly Anne West

Ever since Sophie's older sister Nell was found dead in Jerome, Arizona, she's been grieving. But it's not simply grieving. There's something suspicious about Nell's death that Sophie can't wrap her head around. Her sister suffered from what the doctors called Schizophrenia -- she was hearing voices and they were telling her to do things that weren't okay. Nell had tried committing suicide with a piece of shattered mirror glass, for example, after she'd been told she had to do that.

Nell was found hanging by her toe from a tree.

Sophie withdraws in school. She doesn't care. She's late all the time. She doesn't care. Maybe she even looks forward to her punishment for being tardy because it means a little time with Evan, the new boy. Evan transferred to her school just six months ago from the other side of Phoenix. And as much as Sophie thinks falling for the new boy is so cliche, well, she does anyway.

It's possible that Evan's cousin Deb may have the clues to unlocking what happened to Nell at Oakside Behavioral Institution. He knows Sophie's story. That's because it's his story, too. Together, Sophie and Evan are going to comb through the clues of Nell's mysterious death, of the suspicious Dr. Keller who runs the Institution, and maybe save cousin Deb and everyone else still under Keller's orders.

The Murmurings is West's debut novel, and it's straight-up horror. There are paranormal elements, but it's not a paranormal romance. The overarching tone and mood of the novel is horror. Things happen that don't make sense and that are creepy. Nell's body was found dangling by a toe. It's possible there is more than one character whose fate, too, will be found dangling upside down by a toe.

West builds great atmosphere in her novel. This is achieves not only through strong writing, but through great setting. The book takes place primarily in a couple of places: Jerome, Arizona and Oakside. Jerome, for anyone unfamiliar, is known for being the Wickedest City in the West. Weird things happen. Weird people live there. While Evan knows that Sophie's sister died while being treated for her illness, he isn't aware that she was found dead in Jerome, and knowing Sophie's love of horror, Evan wants to take her there for a date because, well, it's scary. Little does he know how scary, and when Sophie gets wind of this plan, she immediately breaks down and tells Evan about Nell's death. Of course, he backpedals. It doesn't stop them from a trip to Jerome, though.

It just makes their trip have a different purpose when they realize that Dr. Keller's former second-hand man may have the clues to unlocking the truth of Oakside.

Oakside is the second primary setting. It's here where the true action unfolds. It's creepy. We know how the doors do and don't work. We know that Pigeon -- one of the heads in the facility -- is to be feared. We know that those admitted here as patients all have something off about them. More than anything, though, we know that Dr. Keller isn't in his right mind either. I can't explain a whole lot more without unraveling the rest of the plot, but I can offer this much: Keller's grieving his own loss. And it's because of his own loss that he lords over his patients. It's his grief that forces him to behave as he does, and Oakside is his playground. While it's true Nell may have experienced Schizophrenia, she's forced through treatment by Keller that comes as a result of his need to control, rather than his need to actually treat his patients.

Where The Murmurings doesn't work, though, is in much of the execution of the story. It relies heavily on coincidence and on telling the reader backstory, rather than allowing the reader to piece it together. Evan and Sophie's trip to Jerome allows them to meet Keller's former partner at Oakside, Adam. Both were aware of Adam prior to their trip because he ran a blog "exposing" the truth of the treatments at the Institution, but when they arrive and find him in an underground bunker, Adam tells them everything. Yes, tells. We learn about Keller's loss. We learn how his loss created different types of creepy creatures (these being a metaphor for the loss, that is). And Sophie's fear that she's becoming like Nell in hearing voices and having issues with mirrors? That's part of the loss Keller suffered and it's inflicted upon her because she's part of Nell by being her sister. While readers are allowed to be skeptical about Adam's information dumping, there's not enough loops thrown from this point out to allow questioning. Sure, there are times Sophie wonders if she and Evan were led astray, but it doesn't quite translate for the readers. Especially as more pieces snap into place.

At times, the story dragged because of the insistence on telling. Lengthy passages of back story of Oakside and of Keller and of the Tellers/Seekers/Insiders were uninteresting. It would have been much more effective for these things to occur throughout Sophie's journey of discovery, rather than to have them incorporated simply as story explanation. In other words, the hand holding of the reader leads to a less-than-satisfying resolution and weak tension building. So where West is able to offer good atmosphere, her writing fails to conjure the same strength in tension. Since much of horror hinges on both elements working with one another in a story like this, having one of these elements lack impacts the greater whole. It doesn't mean there's not tension -- there is and at times it's quite creepy -- but opportunities to take it a step further were instead used as opportunities to tell too much.

Likewise, The Murmurings depended a lot on coincidence. Evan, the new boy, of course has the key to unlocking the truth of Nell. Of course his cousin was friends with Nell at the institution. Of course Sophie just trusts him and she just trusts Adam. It was too easy for the characters and too easy for the reader. Had there been more red herrings and more plot twists, then this could have gone from an okay story to a great one.

The exploration of grief in conjunction with horror isn't new territory, but thematically, it works well here. After letting this book settle for a while, another small element I felt worked spectacularly well was the parallel storyline of Sophie's interest in and passion for Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis. She claims she doesn't like it. And while that's likely true, it plays a larger role in her own life than she's likely to admit. This metaphor was a smart way to bookend Sophie's own story.

Pass The Murmurings off to readers who want a horror story that doesn't rely on creatures to tell it. Yes, it's possible there's a creature or two here, but it's not in the werewolf/ghost/vampire/zombie tradition. That may or may not be up to the reader's interpretation of what's real and what exists within the mind. This is a story about mental illness and about grief and loss and how those things can tangle, twist, and mangle a person. Readers who want scary will find it here. Even though this didn't quite capture my attention and didn't quite deliver on the fear factor in the way I anticipated, West's writing is strong enough and the potential for going even further in the next story make me eager to see what she delivers next.

The Murmurings will be available March 5 from Simon Pulse. Review copy received from the publisher. 

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Monday, February 25, 2013

So You Want To Read YA?: Round Two

Last year, we ran a very fun, informative, and popular series here at STACKED called "So You Want to Read YA?" It arose out of a question that we receive often as librarians and YA readers: "Where do I start?" The series asked that very question to a variety of people in the kidlit world, ranging from teachers to librarians, to authors and bloggers, to editors and marketing folks.

Following the presentation about running a blog series at KidLitCon, I was asked if I would consider doing the series again but with a new set of guest bloggers. I thought about it for a long time, and I thought why not?

So it's coming back!

Starting next Monday, March 4 and running through the last Monday in July, we'll be featuring a guest post on the topic of where to start in YA fiction. The posts come from a range of people like before, including authors, editors, soon-to-be-published authors, bloggers, librarians, and teachers. I'm so excited about each and every one of them. Nearly all of the guest writers for this round of posts have never been featured here before on STACKED, so we're excited to spotlight some new-to-us voices (and, in some cases, not so new-to-us voices who we'd never approached before).

If you haven't read or caught up with last year's posts, feel free to dive in here. Prepare to expand your to-read piles significantly.

A huge thank you goes out to each and every one of this round's contributors, and a special thanks goes out to Nova Ren Suma, who not only encouraged revisiting the series at KidLitCon, but she offered some wonderful suggestions for contributors.

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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Links of Note, February 23, 2013

Great infographic on which creatures are most detrimental to your health.
Credit beneath image.

This edition of the biweekly link round up has a little bit of everything: the serious, the less serious, and just some fun stuff that caught my eye. It's packed with stuff, so grab your favorite beverage and take your time to enjoy!

  • Does social media sell books? Here's an interesting piece from Gillian Flynn's agent. As you probably know, Gone Girl has done pretty darn well and Flynn's not really all that active on social media. Neither is Suzanne Collins, who has had no problem selling her books. I think there's something particularly fascinating in the notion of the fact Flynn's not doing the social media selling herself but that her books have garnered a ton of social media attention anyway. Likewise, maybe it's worth noting that the authors cited as examples in this piece are ones who likely had huge publicity and marketing bucks behind their titles and they didn't need to do a whole lot of the work themselves. 
  • It was really neat seeing my post included in this roundup of posts about introversion over at Library Journal/School Library Journal's The Digital Shift. I also wanted to include this blog post written by Lahey herself about the sort of blowback she received after her piece went up. This topic continues to inspire blog posts everywhere I look (including a couple of interesting posts at Lifehacker -- one which talks about how to use your introversion for your power and another ill-informed piece about how to "overcome" your introversion to succeed. I'm not linking them since you can find them easily enough if you want to).
  • A couple of weeks ago I linked to a post from Maggie Stiefvater about rape and the problems she had with it being used in the last number of books she'd read. I mentioned having some issues with how she presented this post. I was willing to overlook some of the points because she raised some worthwhile questions. Then she posted this piece about writing and the thinking writer (with applications to the thinking reader, too). Which, I have to say actually made me dislike the rape post even more. Why? Because of the implication that the writers who employed a rape scene didn't think about the issues surrounding it. Again -- we have no context in her post for this issue. We're supposed to just accept it without knowing whether these rape scenes and the discussion of rape culture more broadly is supposed to be illuminating some real, honest issues going on in our world right now. I link to these posts I don't agree with because I think they're worth reading and because I think the points she raises are ones worth thinking about and having thoughts about, even if they aren't in line with hers. 
  • Sort-of related to the piece above about Gillian Flynn and social media is this really thought-provoking piece about book discoverability. Is it even an issue? Do people care? Or is this something that marketing is concerned about but that the average reader (and non-reader) even care about? I agree with the notion that choosing what to read isn't necessarily linear (maybe there is for some people, but from what I've heard, most people are mood readers). Best line in the piece is this one: "Nothing will ever replace building authentic, two-way relationships with customers and readers." Same with librarians. That's the game of reader's advisory, isn't it? 
  • Can you do something sweet for Bridget Zinn? If you're a blogger or a librarian or a teacher or a reader....consider doing something for Zinn's little book, Poison. Even if you can't do something big, consider purchasing and reading a copy of her book when it comes out and then talk about it with other readers who would want to know about it. 
  • A worthwhile read from Victoria Schwab on the publication and development of fanfiction. She's not against it -- in fact she thinks it's valuable in many ways -- but she has some issues with the glorification of their origin stories. This actually gets me thinking a lot about that One Direction fanfiction which is based on real people, rather than an origin story. 
  • This is one of my favorite reader's advisory posts in a while, and it's something that doesn't need to be limited to just this specific example. Heather, over at TLT, talks about using candy hearts to recommend books. Think of the possibilities to expand this -- what about mood ring book recommendations? Or color book recommendations? Or sound-related book recommendations? Or recommendations based on favorite food? Or drinks? Or candy? Think beyond just the easy appeal factors. Reader's advisory can be off the wall like this and in some ways, it makes it even more enjoyable. 
  • If you haven't been reading YA Highway lately, make sure you go check out their series of interviews with black YA authors. So far, they've talked with Justina Ireland and Brandy Colbert.  

And then there was the time that the Canadian House of Commons talked about the zombie apocalypse:

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Friday, February 22, 2013

Darkroom by Lila Quintero Weaver

I was thrilled to be a round 2 judge in this year's Cybils awards, helping select the winners of both the middle grade and young adult graphic novels. I had actually only read one of the finalists before the shortlists were announced, so I had a terrific crop of new reading to dig into. Among them were two memoirs of two different places and eras, and I enjoyed them both quite a lot, for different reasons: Little White Duck by Na Liu and Andres Vera Martinez (middle grade) and Darkroom by Lila Quintero Weaver (young adult). I intended to review them both here, but I discovered I had a lot to say about Darkroom, so I'll discuss Little White Duck in a future post.

When Lila was five, her family moved from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Marion, Alabama. It was 1961, and the American South was heavy with Jim Crow, segregation, and the Civil Rights Movement. In that time, the dominant white group had not yet decided to marginalize people of Latin descent, who were not yet emigrating to the United States in the waves they do now. So the Quinteros were not reviled like their black neighbors, but nor were they quite accepted, either. This made Lila a bit of an in-betweener, neither black nor white, and therefore gave her a unique perspective on the events that unfolded in the 60s.

I normally avoid stories about race relations in the 60s. I've learned about Jim Crow and the Civil Rights movement since the moment I began attending school, but more than that, I just find it all incredibly depressing, mostly because I still see so many of the same awful attitudes reflected in my peers today (toward black people and other marginalized groups, too). (You should probably know that I live in the American South and have my entire life.)

Despite my predisposition to not enjoy these kinds of stories, though, I quite liked it. Lila describes how she, as a child and a teenager, reacted to what was going on around her: what she witnessed, what she heard about, what was hidden from her. Because of her unique vantage point, she learned at an early age what it meant to hold a prejudice, and she learned to fight against it. She also weaves in her own experience as a Latina and the prejudices people had about her family. She was constantly embarrassed by her parents' use of Spanish in public, for instance, and she yearned to look more like the white ideal espoused by so many of her classmates. It's not a story entirely about race and culture, either: Lila also tells us about her everyday life, her parents' vocations and values, her friends, and so on. While this could have been a dry treatise on the evils of Jim Crow, instead it's a deeply personal story - of both Lila and our country.

The black and white illustrations are competent, though not breathtaking. She uses the black and white medium to great effect, particularly shadows. She also varies the composition of the pages, creating some with strict panels, some with full-page illustrations, and some that are a mixture of the two. One particularly memorable spread features a drawing of a history textbook Lila's class used, with the actual text reproduced. (This particular textbook reminded me strongly of some of the textbooks purportedly being currently used in some Louisiana schools, where slaves were happy and well-treated and the KKK was an upstanding community organization.)

While it's very well-done, I think the appeal is a bit limited. The perspective is clearly that of an adult reflecting on childhood. It's a lovely, poetic reflection, though, with a fantastic parallel beginning and end. For readers interested in graphic memoirs, this is a good selection, and it's particularly impressive considering it was a school assignment for Weaver, and her first published effort.

Finished copy checked out from my local library.

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

When You've Gotta Go . . .

I've hesitated to write this post because it's weird. And because I kept debating the appropriate subject line for it because it's so weird.

There's an odd trend I've noticed recently in my reading. I mean odd in that, over the course of the last two months, I've read this particular incident six separate times, and it's something that, prior to this series of incidents, I don't know I remember reading in the past. Or if I did it was so isolated it never made me pay attention. It's something I don't know I want to be paying attention to, but now that I've noticed it, I can't stop noticing it. 

I guess you can call it the new vomit.

What is this trend, you ask?'s when a character pees him or herself. 

In all of the situations I've read this scene in -- and let me note that two of the books below have this happen twice to their characters in the course of the story -- none of the incidents have been related to laughing so hard that holding one's bladder becomes impossible. No. In every instance, it has been either trauma-related or, in the case of one instance, it was related to a health issue. 

Since I've been asked about this and asked to name names about what books have done this, I've decided it was time to showcase this bizarre little trend. I'm going to post the covers of the books, the descriptions from WorldCat, and yes, I will highlight when said instances occur in the book to give it some context. It's possible there could be a little spoiling that happens. I've included links to reviews, where relevant, and I think the ones I haven't yet reviewed are likely sitting in the queue for future review. 

But I'll be leaving the incontinence out of those reviews since I'm covering it well enough here.

Empty by KM Walton: Deeply depressed after her father cheated on and divorced her mother, seventeen-year-old Adele has gained over seventy pounds and is being bullied and abused at school--to the point of being raped and accused of being the aggressor. Reviewed here

When it happens: Del takes Vicodin before a talent show. It loosens her up but it really screws with her brain chemistry. When she's walking back to her apartment after the disaster of a show, she loses her bladder. Lucky for her, her pants have enough fabric to them to soak up the mess (since they're pants for a big girl). 

All You Never Wanted by Adele Griffin: Wealthy teen Thea Parott's jealousy of her older, prettier, more popular sister Alex prompts a series of self-destructive acts that threaten their seemingly-idyllic lives. Reviewed here

When it happens: This is actually a significant plot point in the story. When Alex is at her internship -- the one she got through her step-father's connections -- she's so nervous and worried that she pees herself. It's horrific and embarrassing and a real sign of shame for Alex. 

The Whole Stupid Way We Are by N. Griffin: During a cold winter in Maine, fifteen-year-old Dinah sets off a heart-wrenching chain of events when she tries to help best friend and fellow misfit Skint deal with problems at home, including a father who is suffering from early onset dementia.

When it happens: This might be cheating a little bit, but because my radar has been up on this one, I'm including it. Skint's father has early onset dementia, and in one of the scenes, his mother cannot handle being his father's caretaker any longer. She makes a scene, and during it, she shouts about how she can no longer handle him peeing himself. 

Scowler by Daniel Kraus: In the midst of a 1981 meteor shower in Iowa, a homicidal maniac escapes from prison and returns to the farm where his nineteen-year-old son, Ry, must summon three childhood toys--Mr. Furrington, Jesus Christ, and Scowler--to protect himself, his eleven-year-old sister, Sarah, and their mother. This book comes out next month.

When it happens: This book gives readers two horrifying scenes of self-urination. Since both are huge plot spoilers, I'm going to talk around them as much as possible. The first happens in one of the grisliest scenes I've ever read before, and it involves someone being forced to pee themselves because they've been restrained in such a way they have no choice. This particular scene involves two characters, and it's the second character who remarks upon the first's incident. In the second instance of this, it's that second character who finds himself being the victim of his own incontinence. That instance is out of fear and trauma and horror. And I give Kraus some props for making that almost equally as horrifying to read about as the first instance. 

Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn (description via Goodreads): Andrew Winston Winters is at war with himself. He’s part Win, the lonely teenager exiled to a remote Vermont boarding school in the wake of a family tragedy. The guy who shuts all his classmates out, no matter the cost. But he’s also part Drew, the angry young boy with violent impulses that control him. The boy who spent a fateful summer with his brother and teenage cousins, only to endure a family secret so painful it led three children to do the unthinkable. Over the course of one night, while stuck at a party deep in the New England woods, Andrew battles the pain of his past and the isolation of his present. Before the sun rises, he’ll either surrender his sanity to the wild thoughts inside his mind or learn that surviving can mean more than not dying. This book comes out in June.

When it happens: It's very near the beginning of the story. Win is the victim of bullying at school, and it involved him accidentally peeing all over himself. It doesn't come in the present, but the story opens in the immediate after -- and then he's reminded of the incident by someone he runs into. 

Bruised by Sarah Skilton: When she freezes during a hold-up at the local diner, sixteen-year-old Imogen, a black belt in Tae Kwan Do, has to rebuild her life, including her relationship with her family and with the boy who was with her during the shoot-out. This book comes out next month. 

When it happens: This is another two-for-one deal. In both instances, the main character pees herself out of fear and trauma. The story focuses on a girl dealing with PTSD, and her incidents come when the traumatic event first unfolds, and then it happens again much later in the story when she's reliving/experiencing memories of it. 

This is my small list of books where a character -- usually a big player in the story -- pees him or herself. None of these are happy incidents. I mean. Not that they would be, but they aren't out of laughter. 

Can you think of other recent titles where this has happened? All of the books above have published in the last few months or will be publishing soon. I think it's such a bizarre and odd little trend. It really does remind me a bit of the stress/fear vomit that seems to make its way into many YA titles. 

(Also, it was very hard to write a post and not make jokes. I mean, rather than piss on others, YA characters are just pissing on themselves instead.)

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Runaway King by Jennifer Nielsen

After revealing himself as the true Prince of Carthya, thought long-dead after his ship was attacked by pirates, Sage (now Jaron) has ascended the throne and is now King. He is still so young, though, and his regents aren't sure they made the right decision to name him king without a steward first. After an assassination attempt, one of his regents moves to officially place a steward on the throne until they feel Jaron has learned enough about ruling to do it well.

Jaron doesn't feel this is the right solution, and he's frustrated that the regents aren't paying more attention to the threat of war with Avenia. Jaron knows that Avenia - working with the pirates and the pirate king, Devlin - are responsible for the assassination attempt, and he knows that Avenia plans to invade Carthya. He's determined to stop it before it starts, so he concocts a plan: in order to save his kingdom, he must flee his own country, going undercover once more as Sage, and infiltrate the pirates.

The Runaway King is the sequel to the story that began with The False Prince, and it's the second book in a trilogy. The standout of these books is the voice. The world-building is pretty standard, and the plots - while fun - aren't terribly original. But Sage/Jaron's voice is phenomenal. He's sassy and intelligent and snarky and a little arrogant but a lot unsure of himself, too. He loves deeply, while denying that love most of the time, and he acts before he thinks way too often. He's such an interesting character and the perfect narrator for his story. 

This particular story is interesting enough, with plenty of action and derring-do and a nice, twisty plot (though not as twisty as the first). The inclusion of the pirates will definitely pump up the appeal, though it's got plenty of appeal already. It's a smaller story than that of the first book, and it's certainly a much smaller story than that which will be told in the third volume (as the last chapter declares), but I don't think it's in danger of being a second-book slump. 

I will say that the way the main storyline is resolved is bit of a disappointment - it seems too easy, requiring a certain character to act in a way that is at odds with previous behavior. But the journey to that point - and the promise of the story to come - makes up for this slight shortcoming. The story moves so well and Jaron tells it in such an engaging way, it's hard to stop telling yourself "Just one more chapter..."

Review copy provided by the publisher (via Kelly @ Midwinter!). The Runaway King will be available March 1.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Two Debut Reviews: Nobody but Us by Kristin Halbrook & The Whole Stupid Way We Are by N Griffin

These books don't really have anything to do with one another, except that they're both contemporary titles, both feature a male and female lead character, and both are written by debut authors. 

In Kristin Halbrook's Nobody But Us, Will takes Zoe away from her home and on the road to Vegas. She's escaping an abusive and destructive father and he's escaping the stigma and history he has as a kid lost in the system. Together, they're bound and determined to start a new life, a happier life, and a life of loving and caring for one another in only the way two people with such a broken past can.

Except, of course, that can't happen. Both Zoe and Will can't simply shed their past. It's part of who they are, and it impacts their decisions and reactions to one another's decisions. And this is where the story becomes strong: one character will continue to see the past as their defining present and the other will choose to not let their past define them and instead, use it as guidance to make the hardest choice they've had to make. 

This book reminded me so much of Heidi Ayarbe's Wanted -- the setting, the troubled and painful pasts of the characters, and the escape from home are all similar. Halbrook's writing is gorgeous; the moments of tenderness are as searing and brutal as those moments of insecurity and vulnerability. Not to mention the moments that are panic-inducing for both the characters and the reader. Yes, both of these characters at times make terrible decisions, but their initial decision to run away sets up the story to showcase their poor choice-making skills. But these aren't choices either Will nor Zoe make lightly. They're honestly driven to make a better life for themselves and being they're so young, they're going to figure it out in very teenage ways. 

Both Zoe and Will are fully-fleshed and interesting characters. While both come from troubled backgrounds, it's not an angst-ridden story. These characters are determined to grow and to change; however, only one really and truly is able to do so. That doesn't mean the other doesn't have a full arc, though. It's just different. 

My one hold out in the book is a minor one: it almost felt like Zoe was too mature for being 15. Some of the passages and insights into life and appreciating the act of living are so fluid and powerful and I don't know if they quite ring true to her voice. On the other hand, her experiences may indeed provide her with this wisdom at such a young age. Juxtaposing that with Will's willingness to risk everything is where I find myself struggling a little bit -- if she is this smart, did she choose to leave with Will simply out of desperation? I could buy that, but then I have a harder time with whether or not she is sincere and honest when she tells him how deep her love is for him. I want to believe her, but I'm not sure I can. For what it's worth, this is teen talk of love and feelings, and those DO ring authentic. It's just a matter of where I believe her emotionally/intellectually.

I don't know if I see this as a great read alike to If I Stay, which is one of the titles it's pitched like. This is a very character-driven novel, and while there is romance, it's not in the same manner that Forman's book portrays. I'd say it's going to appeal to fans of Heidi Ayarbe and Kody Keplinger (particularly A Midsummer's Nightmare). I also see fans of Nina LaCour digging this one, especially if they liked The Disenchantments and how the road trip line worked in that book. This is a solid and strong debut from Halbrook. 

Where Halbrook's story is about running away with your true love, N. Griffin's debut novel The Whole Stupid Way We Are takes entirely in one place: small town, snowy Maine. It's a story of two best friends determined to make the best of themselves and their lives right in the place they are. 

Dinah and Skint's story begins in detention -- Dinah's rescuing her best pal yet again, this time after he's been sentenced for drawing pictures that someone found offensive. From there, Griffin's debut novels follows as the duo attend a donkey show at the church (to which neither belongs, despite Dinah's volunteering for one of their groups), their commitment to helping get food to the Rural Routes, and their never-ending desire to be the good in the world.

The book takes place in rural Maine in the winter. The bleak setting is a strong backdrop to the story itself, which at heart sounds like it's uplifting. But that's superficial (sort of like the idea of rural Maine in winter). Skint's life is anything but happy. His father suffers from early onset dementia, and his mother is unable to be patient and understanding any longer. Dinah and her desire to be helpful, to be good in the world around her, is unable, though, to be there for Skint. Except, of course, she IS there for him and in the way he really needs. It's just that the consequences of her actions completely shift his world in unimaginable ways.

Kirkus called this a highly stylized novel, and I think that's the perfect description. It's told through third person, and it shifts from focusing on Dinah to periodically focusing on Skint, and these shifts are not only jarring, but because the reader is so far removed from the characters, it's hard to understand their emotional complexities. It comes through only in dialog. There's little action to propel any of the story forward. In other words, the choice in story telling style impacts the way the story moves -- this is a character-driven novel but because the characters are so removed from the reader, it is tough to feel the full impact of the story itself. I wanted more insight into what was going on in their minds, into what they were feeling when they were feeling it. I felt like the full impact of just how good Dinah wanted to be was lost because we don't see her yearning or aching for that except through dialog (she talks about it a lot, but she doesn't get the opportunity to ruminate on it for us internally). More than that, though, I wanted to know more about how pained Skint was following Dinah's actions. We know what he does after she reacts. But we don't ever get to truly know how he felt. 

The biggest strength is that Griffin is able to offer a true portrait of rural life and the ways that members of a community like the one here are all interconnected -- and completely not connected -- at the same time. At times, this reminded me a little bit of Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & Park because of the dynamics between Dinah and Skiny and how both characters brought significant baggage to the relationship. That baggage, of course, helped solidify their relationship. But there's not a romance here. It's just a close and strong friendship between two characters. This is a fine read, but it's probably not among the most memorable. 

Review copies received from the publisher. Nobody But Us is available now through HarperTeen and The Whole Stupid Way We Are is available now through Antheneum/Simon & Schuster.

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Monday, February 18, 2013

An Ode to the Series, Contemporary YA Style

I'm not a huge fan of series books. The biggest reason is that when I read a book that's part of a series, I want to read the entire series at once. I don't want to have to wait. So, when I do read a series, usually it's after the final book is out so I can marathon them. 

But I've been thinking about series books in contemporary YA a lot lately, both because it's relevant to the book I'm writing and because I seem to not hold the same stigma about the books than those which are more genre fiction series. I think my memory for contemporary stories and series might be stronger than that for genre because it's a world I can remember a lot more of since it's the real world. 

Series books come in two flavors: there are series where the books are contingent upon one another and then there are series which are much more about being companions to one another, set in the same world and sometimes using the same characters, but they aren't dependent upon one another to be read. Below is a list of some of the contemporary series titles I can come up with. I've limited myself to books in the last handful of years, and I'm not including books that have a singular sequel or companion (so books like Ron Koertge's "Shakespeare" companions didn't count). I want at least three books in the series. Descriptions come from WorldCat, and I've linked to relevant reviews. 

Can you think of any others? What are your thoughts on contemporary YA series more generally? I'd love to hear. 

The Dairy Queen series by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (reviewed here in 2009)

The Dairy Queen
After spending her summer running the family farm and training the quarterback for her school's rival football team, sixteen-year-old D.J. decides to go out for the sport herself, not anticipating the reactions of those around her.

The Off Season
High school junior D.J. staggers under the weight of caring for her badly injured brother, her responsibilities on the dairy farm, a changing relationship with her friend Brian, and her own athletic aspirations.

Front and Center
During her junior year basketball season, D.J. faces the dual challenges of college recruiting and romance.

The Stupid Fast series by Geoff Herbach. How much do I adore this series? And how many fantastic similarities are there between it and the Murdock series? Many. Like the Wisconsin setting. The athletic backdrop. The family challenges. The great voice of the main character. 

Stupid Fast 
Just before his sixteenth birthday, Felton Reinstein has a sudden growth spurt that turns him from a small, jumpy, picked-on boy with the nickname of "Squirrel Nut" to a powerful athlete, leading to new friends, his first love, and the courage to confront his family's past and current problems. Reviewed here

Nothing Special
Continues the story of Wisconsin teenager and high school football player Felton Reinstein, how he relates to his friends Gus and Aleah and what he does when his little brother Andrew runs away on his way to orchestra camp. Reviewed here

I'm With Stupid (May 2013)
It's nerd-turned-jock Felton Reinstein's last year before college, and the choices he makes now will affect the rest of his life. That's a lot of pressure. Before leaving home forever, Felton will have to figure out just who he is, even if, sometimes, it sucks to be him. 

The Summer series by Jenny Han -- I've read this entire series and dug the romance and more specifically, the way that Belly navigates two good choices and yet doesn't lose sight of herself in the process. 

The Summer I Turned Pretty 
Belly spends the summer she turns sixteen at the beach just like every other summer of her life, but this time things are very different. Reviewed here in 2009.

It's Not Summer Without You 
Teenaged Isobel "Belly" Conklin, whose life revolves around spending the summer at her mother's best friend's beach house, reflects on the tragic events of the past year that changed her life forever.

We'll Always Have Summer 
The summer after her first year of college, Isobel "Belly" Conklin is faced with a choice between Jeremiah and Conrad Fisher, brothers she has always loved, when Jeremiah proposes marriage and Conrad confesses that he still loves her.

The Swim the Fly series by Don Calame -- I haven't read this series, but it's one that has been popular at the libraries I've worked at, especially with the boys. I had one specifically ask for the final book in the series before it came out because he wanted to read it so bad.

Swim the Fly 
Fifteen-year-old Matt and his two best friends Sean and Coop, the least athletic swimmers on the local swim team, find their much anticipated summer vacation bringing them nothing but trouble with unsucessful schemes to see a live naked girl and with Matt, eager to impress the swim team's "hot" new girl, agreeing to swim the 100-yard butterfly.

Beat the Band
Paired with the infamous "Hot Dog" Helen for a health class presentation on safe sex, tenth-grader Coop tries to salvage his social status by entering his musically challenged rock group in the "Battle of the Bands" competition.

Call the Shots
Coop is cooking up another sure-misfire scheme (big surprise), and this time the comedy plays out from Sean's point of view. What's the new master plan? Making a cheapo horror movie guaranteed to make Coop, Sean, and Matt filthy rich! It's a terrible idea, and Sean knows it. But he actually is desperate for cash -- and for a way to wipe that big fat L off his girlfriend-less forehead. But when he agrees to write ascript about the attack of zombie-vampire humanzees, he has no idea just how powerful a chick magnet this movie will be. Suddenly Sean is juggling not one but three interested ladies. Will any of them wind up as Sean's true leading lady? Will Sean stop being a doormat and finally start calling the shots?

The Violet series by Melissa Walker -- these have been sitting on my book shelf for so long. I've read the first one, Violet on the Runway, and I've passed along the series to many a reader before, looking for a story of a model and the modeling world. In a non Tyra Banks way. 

Violet on the Runway
Seventeen-year-old Violet Greenfield of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, believes herself too tall and skinny until a top modeling agent gives her the royal treatment in New York City, and Vi suddenly finds herself facing fame, popularity, and the jealousy of her best friends.

Violet by Design
Despite her intentions to give up runway modeling, eighteen-year-old Violet is lured back by the promise of travel to Brazil, possibly Spain and France, and, after seeing her best friends off to college, embarks on an, often exciting, often painful, international adventure.

Violet in Private
Enrolled at Vassar College, Violet Greenfield, an insecure nineteen-year-old supermodel, accepts an internship with "Teen Fashionista" magazine and finds herself falling in love with her best friend, Roger.

The Carter series by Brent Crawford -- I've only read the first book, Carter Finally Gets It and it wasn't my thing. But I totally see the audience. I have a feeling many of the readers who love the Calame series will enjoy this one, too.

Carter Finally Gets It
Awkward freshman Will Carter endures many painful moments during his first year of high school before realizing that nothing good comes easily, focus is everything, and the payoff is usually incredible.

Carter's Big Break
Fourteen-year-old Will Carter's summer gets off to a bad start when his girlfriend leaves him, but then he is cast opposite a major star, Hilary Idaho, in a small movie being filmed in his town and things start looking up.

Carter's Unfocused, One-Track Mind 
Fifteen-year-old WIll Carter's sophomore year at Merrian High presents new problems, from the return of Scary Terry to friends-with-benefits negotiations with Abby, but when Abby considers transferring to a New York arts school Carter's world is turned upside-down.

The Naughty List series by Suzanne Young -- I've read the first two. This is a fun series, perfect for fans who like a little mystery mixed up with a lot of humor. And a lot of girl-boy tension. 

The Naughty List
Head cheerleader Tessa runs the ultra-secret SOS, or Society of Smitten Kittens, that spies on her fellow-students' cheating boyfriends, until her own boyfriend is implicated. Reviewed here in 2010

So Many Boys
Head cheerleader Tessa works to stop an imposter who threatens to expose the secret identities of SOS, the Society of Smitten Kittens, while also facing ongoing problems with her boyfriend, Aiden.

A Good Boy is Hard to Find
I believe this book was released as a digital-only publication. I may be wrong, but I can't find the description in WorldCat. You can find out more on the Amazon page

The Hundred Oaks series by Miranda Kenneally -- I haven't read any of these, but I've been interested in doing it. In addition to these four books, there are a couple others coming, too

Catching Jordan
What girl doesn't want to be surrounded by gorgeous jocks day in and day out? Jordan Woods isn't just surrounded by hot guys, though. She leads them as the captain and quarterback of her high school football team. They all see her as one of the guys, and that's just fine. As long as she gets her athletic scholarship to a powerhouse university. But now there's a new guy in town who threatens her starting position...suddenly she's hoping he'll see her as more than just a teammate.

Stealing Parker
Parker Shelton pretty much has the perfect life. She's on her way to becoming valedictorian at Hundred Oaks High, she's made the all-star softball team, and she has plenty of friends. Then her mother's scandal rocks their small town and suddenly no one will talk to her. Now Parker wants a new life.

Things I Can't Forget (March 2013)
Seeking God's forgiveness for a past sin, eighteen-year-old Kate finds summer employment at a church camp, where she is tempted to have a fling with co-counselor Matt.

Racing Savannah (December 2013)
No description on WorldCat yet, but you can read about it over at Goodreads.

Obviously, this isn't a complete list. What are some other contemporary YA series you can think of? I don't want mysteries (in the style of Ally Carter, for example) nor genre fiction.  

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