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Nov 13, 2016


  • YA Series: Dark Gifts (Book 1)
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Del Rey (February 14, 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0425284158
  • ISBN-13: 978-0425284155


For readers of Victoria Aveyard and Kiera Cass comes a darkly fantastical debut set in a modern England where magically gifted aristocrats rule—and commoners are doomed to serve.

Our world belongs to the Equals—aristocrats with magical gifts—and all commoners must serve them for ten years.
But behind the gates of England’s grandest estate lies a power that could break the world.
A girl thirsts for love and knowledge.

Abi is a servant to England’s most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of their noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family’s secrets might win her liberty—but will her heart pay the price?

A boy dreams of revolution.

Abi’s brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution.

And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.

He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate—or destroy?

A much-feted Wattpad success story, Vic James' page-turner gives us an alternative British class system based on those who have magical ability (the Skilled) and those who have none, who must spend ten years of their otherwise mundane lives slaving for the ruling class. 

The Hadley family decide to get their ten years over and done with together, but their plans are upset when the oldest son, Luke, is sent to the infamous slave town of Millmoor instead of the grandest house in Britain, belonging to the Jardine family.

With this physical split of the family, the narrative splits into two storylines that come back together when Luke rejoins his family at the Jardine's ancestral home for the last third of the book to find them caught up in the Jardine's political and familial power struggles. 

Luke, Abi, and Daisy Hadley are each in their own way bewitched by a member of the ruling class and as the first book in a projected trilogy ends on a cliffhanger it remains to be seen how those relationships will play out. In the meantime, in this first volume the world-building is intriguing and well-thought out, the details rich and visual, and the intrigue and brisk plotting pull you through the pages, gasping at the collateral damage of tertiary characters in this confident debut.

Jan 2, 2016



  • Age Range: 9 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 4 - 7
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Dial Books (June 2, 2015)
  • ISBN-10: 0525428437 


Do you believe in magic? Micah Tuttle does.

Even though his awful Great-Aunt Gertrudis doesn’t approve, Micah believes in the stories his dying Grandpa Ephraim tells him of the magical Circus Mirandus: the invisible tiger guarding the gates, the beautiful flying birdwoman, and the magician more powerful than any other—the Man Who Bends Light. Finally, Grandpa Ephraim offers proof. The Circus is real. And the Lightbender owes Ephraim a miracle. 

With his friend Jenny Mendoza in tow, Micah sets out to find the Circus and the man he believes will save his grandfather. The only problem is, the Lightbender doesn't want to keep his promise. And now it's up to Micah to get the miracle he came for. 

Reminiscent of Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, Cassie Beasley has created an appealing fantasy with a deeper exploration of love, loss, faith, and being open to the unexplainable.

The relationship between Micah Tuttle and his grandfather also recalls the understanding between Charlie Bucket and his grandfather in Roald Dahl's classic, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."

This is a wholly satisfying, elegantly constructed novel that will entertain and instruct with a light hand, particularly on how to let go of a beloved family member.

Apr 16, 2015



  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • Series: Chronicles of the Black Tulip (Book 1)
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Walden Pond Press (September 1, 2015)
  • ISBN-10: 0062221906
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062221902


Does the Vanishing Island really exist? And if so, what treasure—or terrible secret—was hidden by its disappearance?

It’s 1599, the Age of Discovery in Europe. But for Bren Owen, growing up in the small town of Map on the coast of Britannia has meant anything but adventure. Enticed by the tales sailors have brought through Map’s port, and inspired by the arcane maps his father creates as a cartographer for the cruel and charismatic map mogul named Rand McNally, Bren is convinced that fame and fortune await him elsewhere. That is, until his repeated attempts to run away land him a punishment worse than death—cleaning up the town vomitorium. 

It is there that Bren meets a dying sailor, who gives him a strange gift that hides a hidden message. Cracking the code could lead Bren to a fabled lost treasure that could change his life forever, and that of his widowed father. But to get there he will have to tie his fate to a mysterious Dutch admiral obsessed with a Chinese legend about an island that long ago disappeared from any map. Before long, Bren is in greater danger than he ever imagined, and will need the help of an unusual friend named Mouse to survive. 

Barry Wolverton’s thrilling adventure spans oceans and cultures, brings together the folklore of East and West, and proves that fortune is always a double-edged sword.


I just received an Uncorrected Proof of Barry Wolverton's upcoming MG mystery, THE VANISHING ISLAND (Chronicles of the Black Tulip, Book One) and was tickled to find there's a character in it, leaning against a barrel, called "Roderick Keyes, more mustache than man." My last name is Keyes. As I'm a friend of Barry's I checked in with him and he confirmed that it wasn't a coincidence—he'd needed a British name, so he borrowed mine. Delighted, I read eagerly on.

Two pages later, after an unhappy collision between a clumsy, adventure-seeking stowaway, a pipe-smoking sailor, and eight kegs of gunpowder, Keyes gets blown to kingdom come. Sometimes there's no justice in this world. But, after reading the prologue and first chapter, I knew I was in the hands of a master storyteller and ended up finishing it that night in one, greedy gulp.

The central mystery of Marco Polo's secret treasure map unfolded with smooth logic, and I enjoyed the moral ambiguity of the antagonists, both familial and sea-faring.

I was particularly struck by the beautifully crafted, inventive, and detailed alternative world Wolverton has created, peopled by characters who were so well-drawn that, while I enjoyed predicting how they'd feel about any given situation, I couldn't guess how they'd respond. The story celebrates, nay, revels in big ideas, but doesn't take itself too seriously, providing lots of laugh-out-loud moments.

So, you heard it here first. Put this stellar, intelligent, middle grade adventure by Barry Wolverton on your Want To Read list now.

Personally, I can't wait for the second volume of The Chronicles of the Black Tulip to find out where Bren's adventures will take him next!

Dec 5, 2014


  • Age Range: 10 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 6
  • Series: Knightley and Son
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens (March 4, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1619631539
  • Source:  Local Library
"The once highly in-demand detective Alan Knightley has just woken up after an unexplained incident kept him asleep for four years. While he was out cold, his son, Darkus, took it upon himself to read of all his dad's old cases, and he's learned a lot about the art of detection. It's a good thing too—because suddenly the duo find themselves caught up in a crazy conspiracy that involves a group of villainous masterminds (who keep appearing and then vanishing), some high-speed car chases (that will have everyone fastening their seat belts), and a national, bestselling book with the power to make people do terrible, terrible things. But because Alan is still suffering the effects of his coma, he tends to, well, fall asleep at the worst possible moments, Meaning that young Darkus might just have to solve this mystery . . . by himself."


Written with a humour that reveals the author's enjoyment of his subject matter, this promises to be an interesting series to follow for young lovers of mystery, and the parents who may want to read along with them, too. There are some very sharp and funny parodies of pop culture (the book at the centre of the mystery, clearly modeled on the runaway self-help bestseller "The Secret" by Rhonda Byrnes, and the hero's stepfather, a caricature of Top Gear personalities) which provide plenty of chuckles for the older readers.

The language is sophisticated, yet accessible, offering younger readers a chance to stretch themselves without being too aware of the work involved to find meaning in context.

I was interested in the unusual set up of a father and son detective series in a literary world that usually prefers to kill parents off as soon as possible, but unfortunately the author seemed nervous about following through with this, frequently rendering the father unconscious so that the son could work on his own towards solving the mystery. This got a little tiresome, and I hope it will be a problem restricted only to the first book, with subsequent books in the series having the guts to develop the mentor/adept relationship more whole-heartedly.

Young Darkus, who slavishly copies his father's mode of dress, office decoration, speech patterns, and methods (I do hope he develops his own style at some point), gets a girl sidekick in the form of his scientifically able step-sister, Tilly, whose hair mysteriously changes colour. We don't get inside any of the characters much, in spite of multiple points of view opportunities to do so.

The mystery was well-plotted and verged on modern-day satire, which I very much enjoyed and hope we get more of as the series progresses.

I look forward to reading the next in the series to see how these characters are developed, and to see what trouble "The Combination" will challenge them with next.

Apr 5, 2014

ORKNEY by Amy Sackville

"On a remote island in Orkney, a curiously-matched couple arrive on their honeymoon. He is an eminent literature professor; she was his pale, enigmatic star pupil. Alone beneath the shifting skies of this untethered landscape, the professor realises how little he knows about his new bride and yet, as the days go by and his mind turns obsessively upon the creature who has so beguiled him, she seems to slip ever further from his yearning grasp. Where does she come from? Why did she ask him to bring her north? What is it that constantly draws her to the sea?"

I've been reading a lot of British fantasy and mythology during my five months in the UK, and Amy Sackville's spare, haunting story, set on a Scottish island, spanning a two-week honeymoon, tapped into that mood perfectly. Richard, a professor of English Literature at work on a study of 19th-century enchantment narratives, calls his new wife “my Lamia” and “Merlin’s last folly,” referring to Keats’ and Tennyson’s tales of great men destroyed by the love of women who wear their unearthly beauty like a veil of mist about them.

I knew from the start that I was being bewitched by language wielded as a siren call, drawing me inexorably towards an unhappy ending, but it didn't matter - the prose in “Orkney” was so compelling that I read, not to find out what happens, but how it would be described.

Short on plot, but long on rhythmic prose and keenly observed poetic detail, this intimate portrait of the beguiling of an older man in a place where the waves “rush in iron-grey and unforgiving, like the cavalry of old wars" had me holding my breath from one page to the next.

"I told of Vivien, or Nimue or Niviane; the huntress, the sometime Lady of the Lake... I grew expansive, settling into the old routine, gesturing in the air above me as if casting grandiloquent spells, and she stroked, stroked at my temples, and it was I who was spellbound."

An in depth interview exploring Sackville's method and inspiration:

Feb 8, 2014

SHE IS NOT INVISIBLE by Marcus Sedgwick

US Edition

This week I discovered a whole new level of writer envy when I read Marcus Sedgwick's SHE IS NOT INVISIBLE.

His protagonist, Laureth, is on a quest from the UK to the US to find her missing father, with her younger brother in tow.

The twist is, she is blind.

Think about that for a moment. How heavily do we rely on visual descriptive detail when we write, and read? Now imagine trying to make scenes come alive without any of that. Yes.

And guess what? It works. Sedgwick nails it. In the process, he gives us a unique, admirable, fascinating, brave female protagonist who doesn't let her handicap stop her from getting what she wants. She's so matter of fact about her blindness that I began to pay less attention to it, too, and focused on the mystery of their missing father.

It is one of the tidiest, most well-thought out novels I've read in some time. Every detail counts. Nothing is wasted.

An added pleasure for me is that Laureth's missing father, Jack Peak, is a novelist who has been working on a new book about coincidence. It has taken up most of his time, appears to have cost him both his sanity and his marriage as he obsessively researches Edgar Allen Poe, Carl Jung, Albert Einstein, the number 354, and the Hound of Heaven. Most recently he's been on a research trip to Switzerland, but when Laureth doesn't hear from him in a week she grows concerned. Then she receives a mysterious email from someone in New York claiming to have found her father's precious notebook.

The notebook provides a fascinating piece of metafiction, as we chuckle with Sedgwick about the writing mind and creative process as Laureth asks her younger brother to read the contents to her in the hope that it will provide clues to his whereabouts.

All in all SHE IS NOT INVISIBLE was a rollicking good read, and I whizzed through it in one afternoon, unwilling to leave Laureth until she'd accomplished her goal, even though that didn't come about in quite the way she expected.

Description from Goodreads...

Laureth Peak's father has taught her to look for recurring events, patterns, and numbers--a skill at which she's remarkably talented. Her secret: She is blind. But when her father goes missing, Laureth and her 7-year-old brother Benjamin are thrust into a mystery that takes them to New York City where surviving will take all her skill at spotting the amazing, shocking, and sometimes dangerous connections in a world full of darkness. She Is Not Invisible is an intricate puzzle of a novel that sheds a light on the delicate ties that bind people to each other.

  • Age Range: 12 - 17 years
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Roaring Brook Press (April 22, 2014)

I'm curious... which cover do you prefer—the US or UK edition?

UK Edition

Aug 15, 2013

VICIOUS by V.E. Schwab

Product Details
  • Excerpt Source: Netgalley
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; 1 edition (September 24, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0765335344
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765335340 
A masterful, twisted tale of ambition, jealousy, betrayal, and superpowers, set in a near-future world.
Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong.
Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up with his hold friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will.
Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge—but who will be left alive at the end?

I am more than a little excited about Victoria Schwab's first foray into adult fiction! Netgalley is only sharing an excerpt, but it was enough to hook me.

I'm particularly intrigued by the sophistication of the storytelling structure and language. While The Archived, Victoria Schwab's previous book, felt a little unfocused, this one feels like Schwab knew exactly what she wanted to accomplish, and I was muttering "The game's afoot!" by the time the sample ended.

I'll be updating you on this one once I can get my hands on a complete copy but, for now, enjoy the trailer!


Feb 1, 2012

THE NAME OF THE STAR by Maureen Johnson

Genre:  Fantasy, Supernatural, Mystery
Publisher:  Putnam Juvenile; First Edition edition (September 29, 2011)
The day Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London marks a memorable occasion. For Rory, it's the start of a new life at a London boarding school. But for many, this will be remembered as the day a series of brutal murders broke out across the city, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper in the autumn of 1888.

Soon "Rippermania" takes hold of modern-day London, and the police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man police now believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him. Even her roommate, who was with her at the time, didn't notice the mysterious man. So why can only Rory see him? And more urgently, why has Rory become his next target? In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, full of suspense, humor, and romance, Rory will learn the truth about the secret ghost police of London and discover her own shocking abilities.

Rory's quirky Louisiana perspective on life at a London boarding school provides a lot of laughs and makes her an easy-to-love character in this modern take on the Ripper murders. She spills details of her crazy family's lifestyle to British friends whose small intakes of breath appear to go unnoticed by her blithe spirit. In the context of a ghost story this practical, grounded character is a delightfully unexpected contrast and I enjoyed the first half of the book because of Rory's culture clash. 

As the focus shifted to solving the copycat modern Ripper murders it felt as though there were two stories being told in one book. So if you like fish-out-of-water stories you'll prefer the first half, and if you like murder mysteries you'll prefer the second half.
Johnson throws a curve ball with the reveal that the Ripper is targeting Rory because she can see him when no-one else can. No-one else, that is, except for a mysterious investigative team called The Shades. Rory loses some of her trademark humor and smarts in the second half, and her love interest seemed distressingly okay with leaving her to walk unescorted through Ripper territory, but the final revelation of an unexpected new dimension to Rory's talent for the supernatural will leave readers eager for the next in the series.

A mite short on chills for a supernatural murder mystery, but the loving portrayal of London from a foreigner's perspective, the plot twists, and the quirky characters entertain and delight.

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Jan 19, 2012

THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater


Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Scholastic Press (October 18, 2011)

Some race to win. Others race to survive.

It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line.

Some riders live.

Others die.

At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.

Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn't given her much of a choice. So she enters the competition - the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.

As she did in her bestselling Shiver trilogy, author Maggie Stiefvater takes us to the breaking point, where both love and life meet their greatest obstacles, and only the strong of heart can survive. The Scorpio Races is an unforgettable reading experience.

Maggie Stiefvater, best known until now for her "Shiver" werewolf romances, has created a story of timeless appeal in The Scorpio Races, adapting Celtic water horse legends to create a stark and isolated island community off a mainland that could be Scotland, Ireland or Wales, but is never named. 

 In this close-knit community one boy is legend. Sean Kendrick is gifted with an intuitive understanding of the capaill uisce, almost untamable horses that surge out of the waves on November 1st each year and are captured and trained to run in a life or death race. Sean's employer's capaill uisce, Corr, is the love of Sean's life until a local girl, Puck Connolly, shocks the traditional community by entering the Scorpio races, hoping to use the prize money to save her home from repossession by the owner of the stables Sean works for. 

 The story unfolds in seamless alternating first-person, providing valuable insight into the emotionally wind-swept inner lives of both Sean and Puck, whose terse island manners would otherwise render them remote. 

Puck endures many challengers to her desire to run the race from the misogynistic islanders, and Sean is more of an extension of the sea and land than a member of the community, but their mutual respect of their horses and their desire to preserve what is best about the island of Thisby turns from tentative acceptance, to friendship, to romance. 

 The annual influx of tourists and Americans who migrate to the island for the races provide an interesting foil to the islanders and allow Stiefvater to explore themes of financial inequality, family unity in times of stress, and loyalty to one's homeland vs seeking opportunity abroad. 

 In this affectionate and evocative depiction of small island life Stiefvater has built a mythology and belief system that feels as though it could have existed for hundreds of years, resulting in a poetically rendered and literary respite from the hackneyed excesses of much current YA literature.

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A stop motion animated trailer by Maggie Stiefvater for the October 2011 novel, THE SCORPIO RACES. Done with several hundred frames, some cool paper, and a very manky paintbrush. Music composed by Maggie Stiefvater, performed by Maggie Stiefvater & Kate Hummel.

Dec 23, 2011

CLOCKWORK PRINCE by Cassandra Clare


Genre: Historical YA Fiction, Steampunk
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (December 6, 2011)

"In the magical underworld of Victorian London, Tessa Gray has at last found safety with the Shadowhunters. But that safety proves fleeting when rogue forces in the Clave plot to see her protector, Charlotte, replaced as head of the Institute. If Charlotte loses her position, Tessa will be out on the street—and easy prey for the mysterious Magister, who wants to use Tessa’s powers for his own dark ends.

With the help of the handsome, self-destructive Will and the fiercely devoted Jem, Tessa discovers that the Magister’s war on the Shadowhunters is deeply personal. He blames them for a long-ago tragedy that shattered his life. To unravel the secrets of the past, the trio journeys from mist-shrouded Yorkshire to a manor house that holds untold horrors, from the slums of London to an enchanted ballroom where Tessa discovers that the truth of her parentage is more sinister than she had imagined. When they encounter a clockwork demon bearing a warning for Will, they realize that the Magister himself knows their every move—and that one of their own has betrayed them.

Tessa finds her heart drawn more and more to Jem, though her longing for Will, despite his dark moods, continues to unsettle her. But something is changing in Will—the wall he has built around himself is crumbling. Could finding the Magister free Will from his secrets and give Tessa the answers about who she is and what she was born to do?

As their dangerous search for the Magister and the truth leads the friends into peril, Tessa learns that when love and lies are mixed, they can corrupt even the purest heart."

Author Cassandra Clare hits her stride in CLOCKWORK PRINCE, the second book of the Infernal Devices series, delivering deeper insight into characters only superficially introduced in the first book, CLOCKWORK ANGEL, with a particular focus on Will Herondale.

Although the plot is well-constructed, with clear goals, a ticking clock, betrayals, and power plays, it is the dynamics between the main characters and the mystery of the origins and identity of the main protagonist, Tessa, that take center stage here. If you enjoy love triangles, with shifting point-of-view scenes allowing deeper understanding of the motivations behind the main players, this is the book for you. The ensuing drama leads to an ending that is sure to have readers declaring themselves either for Team Will or Team Jem. As this isn't the last book in the series, we can safely assume that the triangle has more ground to cover, too, and although the ending was clearly telegraphed, it was an experience comparable to watching a train wreck happen in slow motion, mingling horror at the pain caused to the unsuccessful suitor with happiness at the pathos of the other's success. The bromance between the two suitors, who are bound to protect each other, further intensifies the conflict.

Any love triangle runs the danger of making the girl, caught in a dither about which boy to choose, rather unlikeable and I don't think Tessa entirely escapes that problem here, but the two boys' backstories go a long way to supply adequate reason why a kind girl might be drawn to make the dying Jem happy despite finding the mercurial Will compelling. Which one does she ultimately choose? I couldn't possibly say. You'll have to read it yourself to find out!

Clare has researched her material and included literary quotes as epigraphs to each chapter, yet readers can rest assured this is not a heavy read.

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Dec 18, 2011

In Defence of Libraries

Do you remember the years between learning to read by yourself for the first time and the ones during which school workloads dealt a mortal blow to your free time? And do you remember the books you read then? Yes, the big ones, the stories and characters that have haunted you ever since, burrowing deep roots in to your fertile childhood memories, perhaps as dear to you as a childhood friend—unless you were denied books on the basis of cost or suitability.

A commenter responding to an article in The Bookseller said:
"Our children have already lost much of the magic of the childhood I had (secrets from parents about where you are, freedom to play outside without fear etc) without chipping away at yet another freedom - the freedom to choose books without parental interference or limits of finance."

When books are bought it involves a power struggle between parent and child. I see it every time I visit a book shop. The parent judges the child's armful of books - by the cover (too violent, too mature, too fantastic), sometimes by the blurb (same criteria), and sometimes, if the child is lucky enough to get that far, by reading the first page or two (quality of writing, mature language).

But when a child has the freedom of a library, as I did, there's no-one to filter what that child reads. I can practically hear you suck in your breath in shock. No filter. Complete and utter freedom. To read whatever you want.

Did I abuse that freedom? You bet I did.

I read everything by Tolstoy that I could lay my hands on before I reached my mid-teens. I read D.H. Lawrence, Hardy, du Maurier, E.M. Forster, Dostoyevsky, Dumas, Dickens, Austen, the Brontes, Hawthorne, Wilde, Conan Doyle, Stevenson... the list goes on. It was my school library, it was well-stocked with quality literature, and nobody told me I couldn't read this or that.

An indelible impression was left by many of the stories I read. They weren't all young adult books (although some, like Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, and Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield, would be classified as such today). They were stories of men, women, and children. They were human stories. They showed me how the world works before I had to become a part of it, before it was my turn to navigate a timorous path through the maze.

And that's why I will always fight for better school and public libraries. Libraries that don't only pander to cravings for a particular kind of young adult literature as insubstantial and lacking in nourishment as candy floss. Those books should be there, too, as gateway drugs, but the percentage should be fiercely monitored by a vigilant librarian. There is much to be gained by digging deeper, exploring beyond our comfort zone, into wilder jungles.

When parents curb reading material they curb imagination, depth, intellectual power, emotional empathy, and an awareness of something grander than 'safe'. It would have been nice to have parents to talk to about some of the things I read, but I didn't know it at the time. I let difficult stories sit there for a while, turning them over and over in my mind, until I was able to move on to something else. I noticed the power that some stories held over me, refusing to leave and make room for a new one to take its place. Irving Stone's The Agony and the Ecstasy was one like that. The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay is a more recent one of that ilk.

Would a parent consider those stories suitable for a fourteen-year old? Probably not. What about fifteen, sixteen, or seventeen? "Don't you want something lighter?" they'd probably say. Or maybe it wouldn't even come up, because now teens go to the Young Adult section of the bookstore (especially if they're girls), and don't even consider exploring the potency of adult literature.

Parents, and society, have told them to be approachable, fluffy, pink. No-one wants them to grow up.

Perhaps that's why there aren't any 18-year olds writing works of the caliber of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein today. There's no opportunity for anarchy, self-expression, individualism, or the building of a unique identity. Teenagehood has become homogenized and controlled until there's little opportunity for intellectual or emotional evolution.

I was born the daughter of a garage mechanic, but books gave me wings. They weren't books chosen by my parents' view of acceptability, but books made available to me by a clever school librarian. What I gained from reading freely rewarded me with a scholarship to one of the top two independent schools in London. What I gained from the libraries there (we had two) gave me a passport to a different life than I was born to. Books showed me a thousand different ways to live my life.

So just what is it that parents are so afraid of? What do they think will happen if they give their children free rein to read whatever they want to? And why aren't we fighting harder to keep libraries going? They are, for many children and teenagers, the only access to truly democratic reading, free of charge and available to all.

"Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation."   — Walter Cronkite

Dec 7, 2010

VIXEN by Jillian Larkin

Reading level: Ages 12 and up
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Ember (August 9, 2011) 
Genre: Historical

"Jazz... Booze... Boys... It's a dangerous combination. Every girl wants what she can’t have. Seventeen-year-old Gloria Carmody wants the flapper lifestyle—and the bobbed hair, cigarettes, and music-filled nights that go with it. Now that she’s engaged to Sebastian Grey, scion of one of Chicago’s most powerful families, Gloria’s party days are over before they’ve even begun . . . or are they?
Clara Knowles, Gloria’s goody-two-shoes cousin, has arrived to make sure the high-society wedding comes off without a hitch—but Clara isn’t as lily-white as she appears. Seems she has some dirty little secrets of her own that she’ll do anything to keep hidden.
Lorraine Dyer, Gloria’s social-climbing best friend, is tired of living in Gloria’s shadow. When Lorraine’s envy spills over into desperate spite, no one is safe. And someone’s going to be very sorry."

After a somewhat unsympathetic opening (two of the society girls' goals extend no further than wanting to become flappers and the third wants to hide from the painful repercussions of her past as an uber-flapper), this book was hard to put down as the three point of view characters' lives became more entangled in a world of intrigue, parties, Mafia-run bars and the streets of 1920's Chicago. I started reading at midnight and found myself staying up until 3.30 am to finish the book.

It hasn't got anything very deep to say, despite one girl's taboo relationship with a black jazz pianist. The girls' goals are only wrapped up in their men - the good, the bad, but none of them ugly. Even Gloria only discovers she wants to be a jazz singer because she falls for a handsome pianist in a bar. Yet the characters became more interesting, the motives and mystery more intriguing, and the pace more urgent as the book progresses.

Considering it's set in a time when many women were fighting for equality, a voice in government, and many other worthy causes it's a shame that the mean girl cat fights entirely rule the action as the girls go after the men of their dreams, but it's a fast, fun read nevertheless.

Clara was perhaps the most appealing of the three, as waiting for the truth to be revealed about her past gave the book much of its suspense and tension. But Raine's self-destructive desire to be noticed made her misguided actions almost sympathetic and deepened my interest in her POV. Perhaps the least well-developed was Gloria, but as this is only the first book in the series, I suspect subsequent books will delve more deeply into the problems of mixed-race romances and the shifting social identity of women of the 1920's as these naive young girls begin to deal with the repercussions of their choices.

Despite some anachronistic elements (did girls really learn their lessons using flashcards in the 1920's?) this series is sure to be a hit with older YA girls, even those who don't normally read historical fiction. Be prepared for some sexual elements, drinking and violence. But that's not a surprise, is it? Mobsters, Chicago, and prohibition? It's a given.

Aug 30, 2010

Editor Emma Dryden on Drydenbks and the State of the Publishing Industry


Last May, after nearly 19 years at Simon and Schuster, Emma Dryden was laid off from her position as Vice President and Publisher of Atheneum Books for Young Readers and Margaret K. McElderry Books in a cost-cutting initiative which left the publishing industry reeling.

If even someone who has edited writers of the caliber of Susan Cooper and Ellen Hopkins and has 25 years of experience in the children's book publishing industry isn't immune, where would the axe fall next? And who will be left to guide the young talent left in charge in their stead?

Too young to retire, Dryden was left with a sense of unfinished business and launched drydenbks, applying the same passion and love of craft that marked her outstanding career as an editor for major publishing houses.

Six months on, drydenbks is a multi-platform venture offering editorial, creative and consulting services to children's book authors, illustrators, publishers and agents, as well as workshop presentations at author retreats, book clubs, and conferences.

What better time to check in on how drydenbks is faring? Emma graciously satisfied my curiosity when I caught up with her recently.

What's it like to be on your own after 19 years within the corporate structure of Simon & Schuster?

Emma Dryden: It’s never easy for anyone to make the leap from the apparent safety and stability of a corporate job to being on your own. However, it’s important to realize that the safety and stability of a position within a corporation is just what I’ve called it—apparent—and there is no guarantee for anyone’s security in the current economic environment.  Launching one’s own business because one has to is quite different from launching one’s own business because one wants to—and I suppose I might have preferred to remain where I was if only for the benefits such a structure provides for me and my family. However, since I had no choice but to launch my own business, I recognize how fortunate I am to have such a strong support system within the children’s book industry and to have retained professional and personal relationships forged during my tenure at Simon & Schuster, as it is these that have bolstered drydenbks and kept me more busy than I ever dreamed.

What's your overall vision for drydenbks?

ED: I’d like to share what I think and what I know about the children’s book industry through drydenbks and I hope drydenbks can be a useful resource for authors, illustrators, agents, publishers, and anyone interested in the children’s book business. I’d also like drydenbks to be an editorial haven for authors and illustrators, a place to which they can turn for assistance and consultation if they haven’t been able to obtain helpful feedback on their children’s book projects nor know what to do next with their work.

What do you feel are your particular strengths as an editor?

ED: I enjoy helping others and I’m a voyeur who enjoys getting to know a person’s deepest, darkest stories! As an editor, I get to engage both of my interests in the best possible way: I ask the right questions to get an author to share their most intimate stories and I suggest ways in which to best engage a young audience, thereby helping an author tell their best story in a way that will reach the widest possible audience. I feel it’s important to be sensitive to others and to the world around us and I bring this to the editing process; I’ve been very successful in providing authors and illustrators with a calm, comfortable space in which they feel safe to express themselves, push their own limits, and surprise themselves by doing something they didn’t trust they could do.

What have been the highlights of your career to date?

ED:  There have so many moments of pride and delight during my career, it’s terribly difficult to quantify or define them. I cannot answer this without first acknowledging three mentors for whom I worked and from whom I learned how to be a professional, sensitive, thoughtful editor:  Ole Risom, Linda Hayward, and Margaret McElderry. During the earliest phase of my career, I had the honor of working with such luminaries as Richard Scarry and Laurent de Brunhoff, whose books were magical and instrumental to me as a child—and working on their new books allowed me to participate in the workings behind the magic. What better highlight of a career than to imagine oneself a magician—and have it be true!  As my career progressed, It’s been particularly exciting to work with authors and illustrators who allowed me to help them push themselves to try a new voice, a new medium, a new dimension to their work—such as Louise Borden, Lorie Ann Grover, Chris Demarest, and Shelia Moses—and it’s been most gratifying to work with authors and illustrators on some of their very first books and to still be working with them now that they’re winning awards, critically acclaimed, and on the bestseller lists—artists such as Karma Wilson,  Alan Katz and Ellen Hopkins.

You now offer a range of editorial services to publishers as well as to authors. Is outsourcing a new trend in publishing?

ED: So many people in publishing companies have been, and are continuing to be, laid off— editors, designers, production managers, copy editors, etc—and are not being replaced, thereby giving the people who remain in the publishing houses way too much to manage on their own. Publishers need help, but don’t want to pay out the salaries and, more to the point, the benefits they’d have to pay full-time employees, so they are outsourcing more and more work to freelancers and consultants.

You offer both 'broad stroke' and 'line-by-line' editorial help. What form does each take?

ED: Once I consider a submission (as per the submittal guidelines posted on the services page of my website), I make a determination as to whether I think the work will be best served with a broad-stroke assessment or if it’s far enough along to be ready for a more intense line-by-line editorial suggestions. A broad-stroke assessment includes a detailed memo from me outlining what I perceive to be the strengths and weaknesses of the plot, the characters, the storyline—all supported, as appropriate, with examples pulled from the manuscript itself—and whether I feel the work will or will not fit into the current needs and demands of the marketplace. A line-by-line edit consists of the same sort of assessment memo as offered in the broad-stroke scenario and includes a copy of the manuscript in which I’ll insert, through track changes technology, text change suggestions, make comments and/or ask questions in the margins, highlight passages/words of particular concern, move passages of text around, etc.

Do you work within any particular age category of children's literature?

ED My training—and my interest—is in board books, picture books, poetry, middle grade and YA fiction and fantasy. I am comfortable working within all of these genres for all age groups. I also work with non-fiction, but not as often and only if the subject matter is of intense interest to me.

In what ways can editorial suggestions improve synopses, too?

ED: I recently asked an author to think of her synopsis as an overture to an opera or musical insofar as an overture introduces snippets of the longer pieces of music we’re going to hear over the course of the whole piece of entertainment prior to the curtain going up. An overture sets the tone, the pace, and the emotional mood of the story we’re about to experience. In the same way, if an author gives a synopsis a bit of the character’s voice and attitude and emotional drive, this can set the stage well for the story a reader is about to experience and encourage a reader to want to read more, to know what happens next.  Too often authors overload their synopses, thereby creating something not nearly as streamlined as it should be; an editor can be helpful in suggesting ways to streamline and condense a synopsis in order for the essential elements of an author’s story to shine through and grab a reader’s interest. Really, the synopsis is a selling tool; editors can be helpful in advising how best to craft such a document particularly because editors are the ones to whom the author wants to first sell the story to begin with.

How can you help illustrators with portfolio evaluations?

ED: I can look through a portfolio and make suggestions as to what they may have too much of or what they may be missing that art directors and editors are going to want to see. I can also advise an illustrator as to whether the portfolio best showcases their style/s, whether it’s easy to look through, and what sort of publishing houses (trade, mass, educational, etc) may find their work suitable for their needs.

I noticed a glowing endorsement from Eddie Gamarra of The Gotham Group on your website. Will you be developing proposals for submission to the film industry, too?

ED:  My area of expertise is not in the film industry, however I know full well that a good story is a good story and ought to have as wide appeal as possible, be it in book form, electronic form, or film form.  While I’m not specifically helping develop proposals for submission to the film industry, I do think a strong proposal will transcend format.

With the dawn of the digital book era, how do you foresee our reading habits changing?

ED: I think we’re going to see a continuing rise in e-books, digital publishing options, and books as apps, formatted to be read and experienced on all sorts of devices.  All that being said, though, I don’t think we’re going to be seeing the demise of the book as we know it.  And as much attention as possible (authorship, editorial, design, production) ought to be paid to putting the best possible stories into whatever format is available on which to share stories and writing with readers.

Will it require new skills from authors?

ED: I’d hope authors will want to learn as much as they can comfortably tolerate about digital publishing—at the very least, what the various digital options are, what their rights are when it comes to royalties and rights, and the general lingo used when maneuvering the digital landscape so they will stay apprised of what’s going on in their business—for, indeed, authors need to see publishing as much their business as it is a publisher’s business and a bookseller’s business.

How can writers prepare for the future?

ED:  I’ve been speaking on this subject quite a bit recently! My best advice on the matter right now is for authors and illustrators to listen, learn, be open-minded, be flexible, and be willing to adapt. I urge artists of all kinds to stay in the conversations (even on the periphery is a better place to be than nowhere near the table at all) about what’s happening in the digital landscape, what’s on agents’ minds as they negotiate rights, what’s up with B&N and Border’s, what decisions publishing companies are making right now, how illustrators are using digital techniques, and the like.

Authors and illustrators can stay attuned to news from SCBWI on this subject and follow along on Facebook and Twitter and wherever else such conversations are happening.

At the same time, I want to emphasize the need for authors and illustrators to focus on writing the best stories they can and preparing the strongest artwork they can—agents and editors have less time than ever to evaluate and critique submissions, so the more an author or illustrator can invest in their work prior to putting it on submission, the better it will be for them in this current market.

Ultimately, I feel that whatever happens on the publishing scene, there will always be a need for new material to publish—whether it’s called literature, story, or content and whether it be on an iPad, in ink on paper between covers, or on a 2” screen—and the author and illustrator remain of the utmost importance to the entire process, and need to recognize and feel empowered by their important role in the process!

Where Emma's appearing next:

  • SCBWI-LA's Annual Working Writer's Retreat
  • Nevada SCBWI Conference on the Comstock

  • drydenbks online:

  • drydenbks
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Blog

  • Apr 20, 2010

    Where I Write: LEWIS BUZBEE


    Lewis Buzbee is a third generation California native who began writing at the age of 15, after reading the first chapter of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Since then he's been a dishwasher, a bookseller, a publisher, a caterer, a bartender, and a teacher of writing (currently on the faculty of the MFA program at the University of San Francisco). He and his wife, the poet Julie Bruck, live with their daughter Maddy in San Francisco, just half a block from Golden Gate Park. His books for adults include The Yellow Lighted Bookshop, Fliegelman's Desire, After the Gold Rush, and First to Leave Before the Sun.

    His first novel for middle grade readers, Steinbeck's Ghost, was published in 2008 by Feiwel and Friends and was selected for these honors: a Smithsonian Notable Book, a Northern California Book Award Nominee, the Northern California Independent Booksellers' Association Children's Book of the Year, and the California Library Association's John and Patricia Beatty Award.

    A second middle-grade novel, The Haunting of Charles Dickens, will be published in the fall of 2010, and he is currently at work on Mark Twain and the Mysterious Stranger.

    I'm currently reading the Advance Reader's Edition of The Haunting of Charles Dickens and updated my Facebook page to comment after only 100 pages:

    "Lewis Buzbee's THE HAUNTING OF CHARLES DICKENS is the first book I've truly enjoyed, line by line, since Philip Pullman's THE GOLDEN COMPASS. Masterful prose, beautifully drawn characters, and a mystery to solve... what's not to like?"
    I'll update you on my response to the book when I've finished it, and there'll be a more detailed post nearer to publication time but, for now, here are Lewis' responses to my questions about his creative space, working method and favorite tools of the trade.

    What's your favorite writing desk possession/writing ritual?

    I write longhand for my first draft, with a beautiful roller ball pen from ACME that's black with a white alphabet around it (I guess in case I forget). The balance is perfect, the line thick and juicy, but not smeary. I go through about 30 refills per book...

    For each new book, I choose one kind of pad or notebook to write in, then keep with that the whole time. Some books take up 8 or 10 pads. It's really satisfying to have that big chunk of handwritten pages there--beats a USB key.

    What's on your bedside table?

    A stack of books, of course. Raymond Carver: A Writer's Life; The Fourth Wish by Elizabeth Varadan; Mozart and Leadbelly by Ernest J. Gaines; In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower by Proust; The Restraint of Beasts by Magnus Mills; Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagon; The Art of Syntax by Ellen Bryant Voigt; and Ask by Sam Lipsyte. There's also a plastic moose with two chipmunks hanging from its antlers.

    Favorite time to write:

    I write in the mornings after I drop my daughter off at school, start around nine, end around noon or one, and on a terrific, but exhausting, day, until two or three.

    When I come home from dropping Maddy off, I get back into my pajamas, then sit at my desk, staring out the window--my desk is in the corner of the living room, and it overlooks a busy street. I read for half an hour, whatever I happen to be reading, then start writing. That reading does something to get my brain properly aligned.

    Cure for writers block:

    More writing. I don't really believe in writer's block. I think if you let that phrase get in your head, you're doomed. When I get stuck, I write something else, even if it's just what I see out the window; I just play with words and sentences. Until I get bored and back to my novel. "Invention invents itself," V.S. Pritchett said.

    Source of inspiration:

    My daughter. I have always written, since I was a teenager, and published, too. But when Maddy was born I discovered WHY I was writing, and the urgency of that, writing for your child, changed everything. I write more now, and I write, I hope, better, too.

    Daily writing goal:

    At least 1,250 words. Well, that's one answer.

    The other goal is to get so lost in the writing that I forget that I'm writing. I'm just there, and these words are pouring onto the page. It's a great day when I read over what I've written, and I wonder who thought up all that stuff. My friend Robert, a painter, he and I have used this metaphor for a long time--we want to be radar dishes; it's our task to be at our stations, getting down, as faithfully as possible, what the universe is beaming our way. Takes a lot of pressure off, really. I'm just a middle-man.

    Reward for meeting it:

    Not having to beat myself up for the rest of the day. When I'm writing, the rest of the world is so much easier to deal with--all that life-stuff that happens. When I'm not writing, the life-stuff can be such a burden. Writing makes me a much better person to be around, that's for sure. My reward is, I suppose, the smiles on the people around me. Oh, and I get to take a nap.

    Lewis' books for adults:

    Lewis' books for children and teens:

    Find Lewis here:

    older post