Monday, November 30, 2009

In Appreciation of *Maria V. Snyder* and a Book Giveaway!

So the other week I received a fantastic surprise in the mail from Maria V. Snyder. Her first series of books, The Study Series starting with Poison Study, is very well loved in blogger land. I had been hearing about the trilogy before the new(ish) teen alternate covers were released. Bookshelves of Doom put me on to the title way back.

Now, while I wait for Inside Out to be released, which makes me super psyched (April pub date), I want to read through Maria's other titles. Especially Storm Glass! This is the first of a second trilogy, followed by Sea Glass and a third book which Maria is working on right now. I think it's called Spy Glass.

Anyway, what I received in the package was a collection of exquisitely inscribed book plates, unique to each of her books. Yeah, she didn't just sign her name. On the book plate for Storm Glass Maria has written: "Put on your rain gear, this storm is going to be wild"! And on the book plate for Poison Study she's inscribed: "Swirl the liquid around your tongue before swallowing"! My total favourite is for Sea Glass, though: "The sea is full of treasure"! And then she signs her name of course. These book plates are amazing. There area also little images in the bottom right hand corner of sea stars, a bottle of perfume, a goblet with a butterfly on it. Can you imagine picking up a book and opening it up to find these wonderful things inside? She also sent bookmarks. When I can I will post pictures of the book plates and of my book display in the store.

AND, Maria has also generously offered a signed copy of Storm Glass to a very lucky winner! So leave your name and e-mail address in the comments and blog, facebook, or twitter about the contest to gain a second entry. Two times the chance to win! Just let me know how you've passed on the word or just type x2 beside your entry.

I'll leave you with a teaser. I love this from Storm Glass:

All thoughts fled when Aydan placed the pipe in front of me. Glass cooled quickly and I had no time to dwell on anything but shaping the molten ball. Using metal tweezers, I pulled and plucked. When the slug transformed into a recognizable image, I blew through the end of the pipe. The piece's core glowed as if lit by an inner fire.
My one magical trick--the ability to insert a thread of magic inside the glass statue. Only magicians could see the captured light.

Read the first chapter of Storm Glass here.

Oh, and a very well done book trailer!

Good luck to everyone who enters this giveaway!


Sunday, November 29, 2009

In My Mailbox This Week

I didn't get any books in my mailbox this week or last. We're moving into the Christmas Season and I already have my books picked out for any time I'll have off. I started reading Beautiful Creatures and it starts out very promising! Although, being 600 pages I'll probably take the next month reading it. I have a few other things going right now, anyway. Like The Secret Ministry of Frost by Nick Lake, SO GOOD.

I DID get the newest issue of SciFi Now magazine, which I love reading in a hurried frenzy each month. Their book section always has some great little articles and reviews of teen books. SciFi knows that some of the best genre books are being written for teens and re-teen adults (I just made that last name up). James Rundle has this opinion piece called Franchise Wars. In effect:

"I don't have a problem with book series. That's not my point. I take exception with the fact that I can't seem to just read a story in SF or fantasy without knowing that there's another handful left to come before the story is resolved. It's tiring and it's been overdone"

Which I think is interesting because there are so many teen books which are serialized. And I have no problem with book series either. I have to admit that the Pretty Little Liars books annoy me a little bit because I have to read like 7 or 8 of them just to find out the central mystery. They are pretty good books so I don't mind too much to stop, but my worry is "what if the ultimate ending is not good enough?" Then I'm mad at having been made to read so many books, when I could have been checking out other titles, just to have an ending that didn't justify the series. This is working with the assumption that I don't just enjoy the books for what they are individually, but that I need satisfying overall closure to the story.

With TV being more interesting than many movies that are coming out, people are looking for longer stories with the same characters. Maybe it explains a little of the serialization of our reading. The cynic would say that it's all about marketing--keep popping out the same book, with the same characters but slightly different scenarios and you'll make a ton of money. As if people can't tell that they should stop reading becuse the books are getting bad.
What I think James might have been frustrated with in his article is the existence of bad books, serials or not. Because I mean, the Harry Potter books are really good--at least I think. I love that there are 7. I don't love all of them equally, but I don't think the type of integrity the story took on by the later books would have been managed without the build-up of the earlier books. And each book in the series has its own integrity and strengths (and weaknesses). So I think that good stories aren't weakened by being serialized, and that bad books are bad books--it's just worse when a bad book says "Book One".
Actually James also mentions that it's annoying when you're reading a good book and nearing the end you realize that you aren't going to get a resolution because a sequel is in the works. I agree totally. All books in a series should stand alone as a good story in its entirety, with an ending that doesn't make the reader feel like she's been had. A great example is The Maze Runner by James Dashner. It ends and you really really need the next book. BUT, it also leaves you completely happy with the story you've just read by itself. The end clears up a big part of the driving force of the story and then introduces another level which you can expect to be explored in the second book. This is a difficult but necessary balance.

What about you? Do you love or hate book series? What books are necessary as a series?


Friday, November 27, 2009

Our Young Adult Section!

I made this little video mostly as a test to see if I could add videos to the blog, but also to show off our Young Adult section!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Cover Art for *A Blue So Dark* by Holly Schindler

Oh, I just found out that Holly has her cover art for her upcoming book A Blue So Dark, and it looks really pretty. Luscious, really.

Aura is 16 and her artist mother is schizophrenic. Afraid that she'll have the same fate, Aura shuts down her artistic passion and her life unravels.

Here is an excerpt from a recent interview Holly had with Weronika Janczuk:

I’m also absolutely fascinated by creativity—how it can be a desert in some people, and a geyser in others. Creativity’s a little bit like love, actually—inexplicable, and completely elusive. We don’t understand it, but we’re grateful for it when it shows up. In this novel, I got a chance to explore my love of art and some ideas about where creativity might spring from…in Aura’s mind, creativity and madness are inextricably linked. And there’s no denying many artists were both gifted and mad at the same time, so her fears really give readers something to chew on…

I'm also interested in the source of creativity; looking forward to this book. I also wonder if there is a mermaid connection? Even as a symbol in the book? Holly mentions that just before seeing the cover art for her book she had images of waves crashing and mermaids on the rocks. The cover also looks a little mermaid-y.

Can't wait. Coming out in May 2010. Check out Holly's blog in the meantime.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Some Things...

I've posted a wrap-up of our teen author event from Monday night with Jamie Bastedo on our bookstore's main blog, HERE. I'm really into reading his previous book On Thin Ice because I really love the cover. I was going to write a premise myself but I like how this is worded:

Ashley Anowiak is in search of a murderous polar bear that
may be real or mythical. The only thing for certain is that what she discovers will change her life - and her community's - forever.

In spite of its name, no one in the tiny troubled hamlet of Nanurtalik "the place with polar bears" can remember seeing a polar bear in decades. But when a teenager's dismembered body is discovered on a nearby ice road, everyone fears polar bears have returned. The community is thrown into chaos as another suspected bear attack sparks a flury of bullets that whiz through the town during a blinding four-day blizzard. Was it a real or phantom bear? No one can say for sure.

Ashley Anowiak is swept into this storm of confusion by her special link with polar bears expressed through the magic of her art and the terror of her dreams. She finds herself on the trail of Nanurluk, a giant bear that has haunted her people for thousands of years.

It reminds me of Ice by Sarah Beth Durst.

I'm reading Vinyl Princess by Yvonne Prinz right now and I am LOVING it! I'm reading it slowly and carefully because I just can't get enough. I'm looking forward to writing a review, very soon hopefully if I can push myself to finish it and grieve for the ending to my reading. I am so pleasantly surprised by the uniqueness of VP. More MORE to come!


Also check this out. I found it on our teen shelves--the first in a series called The Come Up, The World is Mine by Lyah B. LeFlore. Here's what's on the back cover:

Blue Reynolds has it all: money, brains, style, charisma, and the hunger to be more than what his parents have planned for him. He's a dreamer on a mission to become the world's next music business mogul. But for now he'll settle for being the youngest, hottest party promoter around...and the man on the arm of the fly and sassy Jade Taylor.

Collin Andrews is Blue's best friend, and the order to Blue's madness. Blue dreams up the ideas and Collin figures out how to make them happen; together, they make a powerhouse team that's ready to blow the roof off the music game!

Coming up is never easy. These two dreamers will have to put everything on the line and do whatever it takes to succeed. It's the new American dream, and the sky's the limit. All they need is one shot.

The series is via Simon Pulse and I really love the imprint. And, there are pictures in the book! The illustrator (DL Warfield) has taken photographs of models (also featured on the front and thanked heartfully in the acknowledgements) and worked in a collage of street images, graffiti, edgy splotches and such, in black white and orange. There are images every 5 pages or so.

I'm also kind of obsessed with slang so will probably read this at some point.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Welcome, Gentle Reader, Into Our Bookstore!

I grabbed the camera after an author event we had in the store with Jamie Bastedo (more pics to come!) and went a little silly.

Here is our Teen Fiction section. Now, this isn't our YA or Junior Reader section, oh no, this is an entire casing full of fiction that older teens/incredibly hip adults would love. It's at the front of the store, under my watchful and nurturing eye (a nurturing eye, you ask?). It is also at the start of our fiction section--so a cherry spot. One time it was suggested that we cut back a few shelves in this section to make way for "adult" fiction and I think I made a surprising and possibly dangerous snarling noise from way back in my throat.
In the left-hand picture, at the very front, there's this plastic turn-style that says Modern Classics and I have STOLEN it for my own teen-y purposes.

AND! At the front of the store we have a general table where lives miscellaneous titles, usually adult. But, peer closely into the top right of the picture...

And I've snuck some of my favourite titles in there! And even a makeshift taping-bookmarks-around-the-title-to-create-a-display display!

And look, I love writing little notes on the books to let people know how great these titles are! I have a ton of little notes all over the store. I even cut out little pictures of the covers to glue beside the words. I feel it makes it that much more special.

Next time, I'll show you our YA section, which has a lot of crossover titles with our teen section!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Right Now I'm Reading...

...Vinyl Princess by Yvonne Prinz. It came very recommended by our HarperCollins rep, who also put me on to Pretty Dead by Francesca Lia Block.

I love the cover and I love the title. I was also just on the author's website, just to get some brainstorming ideas to start this entry, and I found out Yvonne also writes a Zine. Too cool. And, there is a Vinyl Princess pin! I know!

Although I am not a vinyl princess myself, I like to think that I have a love for vinyl that would warrant a nod. I don't know anything about music except what I like, but most of what I listen to is played on a little turntable. I don't download music or buy a lot of CDs, but I love a good flea market excursion.

Anyway, Yvonne is the co-founder of "the world's biggest independent music store chain". I hope I can keep up with the music references. Allie is a music junkie and she keeps a blog, under the pseudonym The Vinyl Princess. She's working a summer job at a record store in California and has a crush on a boy.
I think it's neat that the author has decided to write a teen book, based on her love for music. I wonder if she intended to write a book for teens from the start. I often wonder that now, because the label "teen" is so hot right now...ha, well here is my answer:

The book "is like 'High Fidelity' for teens -- that's the story I started out to write," Prinz says, referring to the 1995 Nick Hornby novel about a London record store owner. "Nobody has the inside track of working on a record store like I do. I felt very qualified to write this book." (from Billboard)

She is also the author of the tween Clare books. Which I totally recognize. We have a few on our shelves at work. I'll have to check them out.

Anyway, off to read.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Reviewing *Thief* by Brian James

Push is an imprint of Scholastic and they have a great handle on gritty realism in fiction...Oh, and Push publishes first-time authors in particular and David Levithan is its founder, which is a neat fact. I haven't read anything by him yet, but his name keeps cropping up. He's co-written a book with John Green called Will Grayson, Will Grayson. It's coming out in April and I can't wait to read it. The Push imprint is author-centered, which is great to see.

I just read another book by Brian James called The Heights a few weeks ago. It's his newer title and I really enjoyed it. Brian really knows how to write female characters--although just because I am female I don't have the authority to dictate how all female characters should be written in fiction. He's just good at it. He evokes a compelling inner life. I feel like I personally know his characters.

Elizabeth, "Kid", is living in a foster home with Alexi and their foster mother Sandra, who acts more like a handler than any type of mother. Sandra has Liz and Alexi pickpocket in exchange for room and board. The girls are "homeschooled" and have matching masked tattoos to show that they are thieves. On the cover the girl has an actual mask tattoo and it looks okay, but I really imagined the tattoo as looking more like an infinity symbol with strings hanging off each side. Both the mask image and the inifnity image make sense for Liz's character. I wonder if Brian had a particular image in mind when he wrote this detail into the book and if the cover depicts it accurately. It's funny, the girl on the cover is cute and I thought, starting the book, "yeah, okay, some cute girl is the thief...or they needed an attractive cover girl". But Liz is described as a good thief exactly because she is cute and never questioned. People don't believe she's up to something and she gets away with everything.

Then their household is sent a brother. I couldn't quite get a handle on why Dune, who's like 16, is sent into foster care. But he and Liz have an immediate connection and she helps him become a thief. Apparently boys are bad at stealing because they are automatically suspect. Whereas a cute girl can get away with anything. Sandra doesn't want Dune there upsetting her balance, so she just waits for him to get picked up by the cops. Sandra always says that if you get caught she won't come for you.

One of the strengths of the story is Liz's pull between Alexi and Dune. I think there is a romantic relation ship between L and A, and L certainly looks to A for comfort. But Dune feels like the beginning of a family to her; he offers something even softer than Alexi does. But A doesn't let go as easily as Liz needs her to and the three of them struggle to figure out their own lives and where each of them fits within it.

And like The Heights, Thief is poetic; at times very beautiful. Here's a passage I like:

I wouldn't ever let him see if it wasn't there in his eyes...the spark of a shooting star deep under the surface like a ship still burning on the bottom of the sea. I can tell he tries to hide it as much as I try to hide my smile...
And there's a companion scene a little earlier, a flashback of Liz and her mom:

"The water calms you like it calms all animals," she tells me.
Only she's wrong about that. There's nothing calm about me when I'm near the river. It feels alive inside me.
My mother used to let me throw wishes into the river. I'd scribble them on tiny pieces of paper and cry as I watched them float away. She'd put her head near my ear...whisper softly...tell me how the seagulls would keep my wishes from dorwning...carry them off to the end of the world. One day all the wishes would come back to me on shooting stars.

I really like the image of the ship burning under the sea, it totally captures the sense of Dune and his uniqueness. And subtly connecting his new presence with the shooting star memory is great because you get a feeling for how Dune has affected Liz.

I also like the ending, and usually I don't talk about the endings in books in my reviews. But this one was poetic and it doesn't ruin the book to say that Liz realizes how real love can be strong and secure, versus the slippery love that she's experienced up to this point. It's conveyed very well.

Brian is also the author of Zombie Blondes which seems like a bit of a departure? I have it on my reading list for the near future.


Why You Won't Be Seeing Anything Book Related...

...until I watch all of these online episodes of Breaker High that I found.

It's a tradition. I am sick and very pathetic about it--full couch mode, coffee table pulled up, kleenex, OJ, Capn' Crunch, my puppy lying beside me also wilted (cuz dogs channel your moods). And you just have to watch terrible terrible t.v., see: awesome t.v. And I have actually contemplated creating a blog just for Breaker High. Okay, the only contemplation done was just right now, in a sick, bleery haze.

Don't know about Breaker High? Here are it's base elements:

Ryan Gosling acting all yo. A high school on a CRUISE SHIP. Lighthearted teen issues--more Saved By The Bell than 90210). Awesome outfits circa 1997--which still seems like an extended 80's period, clothing-wise. Ryan Gosling as a tail-chaser with a heart of gold, sans a shoe-box sized cellphone...acting all yo. With a bit of a ridiculous "accent", like maybe he's half-heartedly channeling a Texan?

And it's Canadian! Filmed in BC.

I will bring back the book-related content very soon. I have 2 reviews I'd love to blog about. But they'll just have to wait until BH is out of my system...and also a few episodes of Young Hercules.

Here is a little clip to whet your appetite, a Sean-dez-vous if you will:

I promise stuff about books soon. *I wonder if episodes of Breaker High were ever novelized?*


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Look, Look!

Wow, check out Pastworld by Ian Beck! I just got a copy yesterday and wanted to throw down everything I am currently reading to start it!

I was a little confused about the premise from what I read on the back. It sounded like there is a virtual reality scenario with Jack the Ripper? Bloomsbury's website gave me a few other pointers. Such as Pastworld sounds like the holodeck. It's more like a futuristic theme park for people to experience the past in a fun way. Then, the Jack the Ripper character begins to stop acting and start killing. Ala holodeck Professor Moriarty (you know, the episode with Data as Sherlock *pshaw*) who messed with the 'deck and I think ended up as sentient information just sitting in the ship's memory *shivers*.

Then Caleb, a tourist from the city is accused of murder, he hooks up with Eva, a Pastworlder, and their roles will take them far from home. Looks very unique. I love the what-at-first-I-thought-was steampunk setting. It does have that element--set in London, turn-of-the-century, Jack the Ripper and holodecks. But it also just seems straight SciFi. Not that I deperately need to pidgeon-hole this book *get in there!*.

OooOoh, there is also a truly rad book trailer that is done very well. Have a peek:

Oh, and there are airships. Very cool.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

In My Mailbox This Week!

I had a very fun week in books arriving in my mailbox! Check these guys out (yes, a book that is cutsey and purple is still a boy)!

I kept seeing Scones and Sensibility online, on the blogs, etc. but I have to say that I wasn't sure about it. I haven't actually read any Jane Austen, I KNOW! Can I still enjoy this Scones book? Reviews say YES, so I'm down. Also, the back cover says it's a good pick for fans of Frances Hodgson Burnett. Secret Garden 4-EVA! Scones is available in December via Egmont...whoa, whoa...*much confusing internet research* Okay, I'm checking out the publisher's info and it says Copyright Bree Despain. And I'm like, what?! Does this mean that Bree Despain, author of the upcoming The Dark Divine, also wrote Scones under a pseudonym? But then I go to each author's website and they look like two separate women. Is this a type-o in my ARC? Wacky. I'm going to get to the bottom of this...

And this William Bell book looks very cool. He's a Canadian author and I feel like I've read another of his novels before but I can't place the title. Jake is in film school and is totally in love with a girl. He pulls a bit of a Cyrano and borrows the words and sentiments of his best friend to woo her. The back cover says there are also Shakespearian plot twists, so it looks a bit like 10 Things I Hate About You as a quirky ensemble cast. It's coming out in January, via Double Day Random House.

And of course, a new old Mark Haddon title. I got a fun note with these books and a little back story on Boom. It was first published 15 years ago but has now been completely re-edited in its newest form and will be available in May. I haven't read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, but I do know of the author's love for How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. Oh there are also going to be illustrations. Ha! The sub-title is or, 70,000 light years and the original title from 1992 was Gridzbi Spudvetch. Haddon mentions changing every sentence in the book one way or another, so this feels like an entirely new story. Via David Fickling Books, an imprint of Random House.


In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren!

Some Very Cool Things

Do you remember THIS book?!

What If Everyone Knew Your Name is a Choose Your Own Adventure book for a teen audience that I blogged about as I read. Sadly, I became the victim of a grisly social death, based on my choices in the book. And then I challenged another reader to do better. And my pal The Book Vixen was not only up for the challenge, she met all these characters I had no IDEA about in the book and was able to sail through, avoiding anything horrible. Take a quick leap over to her blog to read how she fared.
AND, it looks like another blogger has taken The Book Vixen up on a further challenge! K.C. from Smokin Hot Books will be reading and blogging this CYOA next.


AND I want to announce the winner of my book giveaway for Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins...

Sunshine Edition

who said:

oooh i want

oooh you'll get! I'll be sending you an e-mail! Congrats!
I still have two other contests going on, for a copy of The Maze Runner, this amazing book by James Dashner and also for a copy of the new modernized version of Double Love, Sweet Valley High #1. See contest links on my sidebar! --->


Thursday, November 12, 2009

I'm Excited About *Everwild* by Neal Shusterman

I've been doing more author interviews/guest blog spots than usualy, especially for my past Dystopian Teen Week, and I feel like I haven't written anything for the blog myself!

Lately I've had a bit of blogger's writer's block (c'est possible?), and it's taken me like 5 days to read this 250 page novel. Christmas, though I love it dearly, puts me into a bit of a rut. Especially working in retail. We get SO busy. Which is great because it's exciting and whirlwind and many people are buying the COOLEST books for the kids in their lives. But all of it makes me a little worn out too. So I'm thinking that most of my reading choices in the next month will be a little closer to my heart; whatever moves me every few days to pick it up, regardless of publication date, or any feeling of "if I write a teen blog, I really SHOULD be reading X and Y".

One such title is Everwild by Neal Shusterman. I think Neal goes beyond the great premise and really works as a detective to unearth (mixed metaphors?) all of the answers the novel as question poses. Like Everlost, the first in The Skinjackers trilogy. Everlost was adventurous and scary, exciting but also very thoughtful. Here you have two kids who collide in a car accident and who wake up basically dead, but not quite where they should have ended up. They are lost in a halfworld, between the living and wherever the dead go. Then, instead of just poking around the plot cul-de-sac of this one premise, Neal takes it so much farther. Okay, now you have some kids who are lost. Are there other kids? If there are, do they congregate? What traits have they kept? Do they start cities or write books? What would you do with sometimes hundreds of years just existing? Do you explore your world? What could you change?

With Neal's books I always enjoy the cerebral fireworks that go on; you always leave with way more questions that when you entered. And it really works for me as a reader. Unwind was awesome in this regard, too.

So Everwild, which I think is available now *checking* ... yep, Simon & Schuster have copies in stock now, is the sequel to Everlost. And I am positively itching to read it.

But I've never read and reviewed a sequel for this blog. And I have a question: How do I review a book which gives spoilers to the first book, properly? I don't want to say "it's good, but read the first book first". But maybe I will have to.

Oh, and Everlost has an author blurb by, get this, Orson Scott Card! Are you kidding me? The man behind Ender's Game read this book and said, "Marvelously inventive...and magically beautiful". If I was an author and Orson read my book AND wrote something very positive about it I would have a happy dance to end all happy dances. I wonder what Neal's happy dance looks like.

I also have Downsiders by Shusterman sitting here too. I must get to that one. Kids living underground in the sewer system, developing a whole lifestyle network. Neal really works well with the Lord of the Flies scenario.

I'm almost finished that hefty 250-pager, so you'll be hearing from me again.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Special Guest Blogger *Bernard Beckett* Author of *Genesis*

Genesis by Bernard Beckett is one of my favourite books I've recently read, let alone one of my favourite SciFi/Dystopian picks. Awhile ago, after reading it, I wrote a sub-par review and mean to go back one day and write a review that does this book justice.

This book has one of the biggest mysteries that I've enjoyed reading as it played out. The setting threw me off; a walled island, an Examination, and the plot happens in 5 hours. Genesis is a strange and satisfying novel and I need you to just go and read this book! I picked it up without any background information and was floored.

And I still wondered about the setting, how exactly had Bernard crafted it and does he consider it dystopian? Enjoy this guest blog post!


Genesis isn't a dystopian novel in the sense that I set out wanting to write about some dysfunctional future world. Rather the future world emerged as the necessary support for another story that I'd always intended to have sit at the heart of the novel, that of the relationship between a prisoner and a robot.

I first played around with this idea in a theatrical form, writing a play set in a prison cell, with a violent and dangerous prisoner left alone save for the company of a conniving and compelling AI life form, who was shackled to the wall. Although the play worked well enough, and allowed me to explore the ideas at the heart of Genesis, in particular the implications of accepting consciousness to be a purely physical phenomenon, I didn't know how to make the leap from here to a story that would fit within a novel's structure.

I knew I needed the story to be set in a future society, so as to make the development of AI plausible, and at first I had a more phi tech scenario, the Adam figure was a teenager, sitting an exam by way of a thought-processing helmet, set in a huge hall along with thousands of other candidates. Adam flips out and goes on a murderous rampage and so is imprisoned and so meets his fate with Adam, the AI robot.

The problem with this backdrop was that the world needed too much constructing, and shifted the balance away from where the heart of the story sat for me, the confrontation between man and robot. I kept wanting to get to the play more quickly. That led to a couple of years of forgetting about the story altogether, until the dystopian version that eventually made it into print suggested itself to me. The conceit of having Anaximander telling the story from an unspecified point in the future by way of an oral exam allowed me to very quickly summarise the break down of the world that led to Adam's imprisonment.

I then found myself in a how to get here from there scenario, and really just free-formed the early conflict stuff, China vs US, resource shortages, global warming, germ warfare, neither likely nor inconceivable, it felt about right for this brand of speculative fiction. I'd also been looking at a little bit of classical Greek history at the time and was taken by the story potential of the whole Sparta thing, and indeed some of the ideas in Plato's Republic. As is often the case in writing, as I constructed the world it just felt sort of right so I went with it. But al the time my eyes were firmly on the prize, the prison cell with Adam and Art, the point of the novel.

Interestingly, readers tend to be split on whether they focus most on the dystopian build-up or the consciousness/machine debate. I know where my own fascination sits, but in the same respect it's sort of cool to think the set-up is tight enough to provide its own set of distractions and questions. I think perhaps the main thing with dystopian novels is they sit as some sort of a warning about the future, or indeed the present, and I didn't set out to do that. Much more I set out to prompt the reader to examine the assumptions upon which their own sense of humanity are built.

Once I realized there are so many cover differences for this book, I just had to include all of them here. Actually I think there are more editions out there:

I would also like to send an apology out to Bernard for not posting this during my dystopian week, last week. Bernard was the first author to get back to me about being involved in Dystopian Teen Week and I truly love what he's written here. Thanks again, Bernard.


Monday, November 9, 2009

An Interview With *Brian James*! Author of *The Heights*

I really enjoyed The Heights by Brian James. It's a contemporary imagining of Wuthering Heights, the classic gothic romance by Emily Bronte. I loved Wuthering Heights at one point in my life; Heathcliff was a Byronic babe. But, as I wrote in my previous review of The Heights, "If Henry (Heathcliff) were my boyfriend I would punch him in the head. He's so controlling". Which is why I love Brian's re-telling; it tells a story I love in a completely different way. It keeps the same overlying themes and heart of the original classic but lays it down in a new and sobering way. The characters have a squeaky newness about them, even as they feel like familiar figures, and the ending is very different, but the the central story--impossibly eternal love between two unlikely people--remains.

And of course, I had questions, even before I started reading.


What was the absolute moment when you realized you wanted to write a reimagining of Wuthering Heights? What is it about this book that captures you? What is your history with WH?

The initial idea came out of a conversation I had with Jean Feiwel (of Feiwel & Friends, the publisher). She was asking me if I ever considered doing a retelling of any sort. I admitted to her my complete ignorance about Wuthering Heights. Even though I was a English Literature major in college, I tended to avoid Victorian novels. But we left our conversation with me promising to read the book and seeing if I had any reaction to it.

I actually read the majority of the book while in England and Scotland and while I was reading, I could almost picture how the story might play out in a modern setting. The relationship between the two main characters in Wuthering Heights was very much a teenage romance, or least, how most of my teenage romances were...meaning, unfulfilled.

I was really drawn to the aspect of fate and bad timing and missed chances that always managed to spoil their love for each other. I've also always been intrigued by this notion of how as people we assume to know what others are thinking and how this attempt at guessing can often lead us to jump to very inaccurate conclusions. I think Catherine and Heathcliff are victims of that fate in Wuthering Heights.

In your comments to Edge of Seventeen's review of The Heights you admit to hating Heathcliff in WH: "I thought he was abusive and horrible. I actually attempted to soften him, to make his plight more sympathetic. He's the character I changed the most, thus the different name". I found that The Heights is more Henry's story than Catherine's. Can you tell me a little more about your relationship to this character, how sympathy for him developed, your frustrations with Heathcliff, his literary predecessor?

It's true. Few characters that I've ever encountered have enraged me as much as Heathcliff. At one point, I was tempted to throw the book across the room. He was very abusive toward the other characters and I found him to be quite horrible.

As I was thinking about how The Heights would work, I realized that to contemporary readers of Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff's actions wouldn't be considered as terrible as they are in our society. I believe Bronte intended the reader to be sympathetic to his plight throughout the novel, but I found my sympathies run out about a third of the way through.

When I considered the character, I wanted to make him more sympathetic and less cruel. Part of that meant giving him a voice. By sharing his thoughts, and by viewing situations through his eyes, the character becomes a different person.

I loved the job you did on Catherine's character. I felt a new shift in my attitude towards her in The Heights, and it even made me look back on reading WH with a softer perspective. How did you develop Catherine? How did she come to you?

It's interesting, my reactions to both Catherine and Heathcliff tend to be different that most. I found that most readers of Wuthering Heights feel Heathcliff to be incredibly romantic and Catherine to be spoiled. I don't see the book that way. Heathcliff was overbearing and closed off. If he had once admitted to Catherine that he loved her, she would accepted him. He didn't. Then he begins acting out and she's left in a tough place.

The other aspect that I wanted to get across with Catherine was this idea that feeling so strongly in love can be a very frightening thing...sometimes so much so that you try to avoid it. This discovery is something we so often realize when we're teenagers. Those first loves are powerful and can be confusing. That's Catherine, or at least, how I saw her. She's very much based on a girl I knew really well through Jr. High and High School.

I actually also came to like the character of Edgar because of The Heights. Or maybe I liked the way Cat and he interacted; there was more meaning as to why Catherine would even like a person like Edgar. Who is Edgar as a character to you? How does he relate to Henry?

In the original, I don't think Edgar is a bad guy. He's only dislikable in the sense that he keeps apart the two characters we all want to see together. But he's genuinely a good guy. He's dedicated to Catherine and he's the only example of a decent father in the story, besides Mr. Earnshaw. He's not as exciting or as passionate as Heathcliff, but there's a certain kindness about him.

Edgar for me is that the guy in High School that always dated the really special girl, but in my opinion, never appreciated just how special she was. He's kind and cute, but also kind of clueless about the real emotions. However, there's is something about this kind of guy that is appealing.

I wanted readers to really pine for Catherine and Henry to be together, but at the same time not resent Edgar. In part, this also comes from my own experiences at that time in my life. Sometimes it's possible to like two different people. You want to take part of this person and part of that person, and since you can't, you can never fully decide what to do.

Are there any references to the world of Wuthering Heights in your book that you hope readers will find? Any particularly important details from WH that you wanted to keep or that needed to stay in your book?

There's no real hidden references, I tried to make everything out in the open. I want very much for people to compare the two books. The Heights is me as an author, sharing the voices of the characters as I saw them. In that sense, it was important for me to keep the situations very much in line with the original book.

Don't you just love the cover for The Heights? Were you involved with cover art considerations? Does having someone create images from your writing give you a different perspective of the story?

I wasn't involved in the cover. With some of my earlier novels, I was very much involved, but have since come to realize that it's best left to the people who's job it is to handle such things. I love what they did. I also love the new paperback cover, which is very similar (it's a photo taken by the artist for his study of the painting).

As for the cover lending new perspective, not really. However, I also write children's books that have illustrations. That experience is very different because the characters are brought more to life. I always enjoy seeing those and seeing how an artist envisioned what I saw.

The internet, do you love it or hate it? Does it help or hinder you as a writer? Are there benefits and/or pitfalls to having a presence online while being an active writer?

I love the internet. It's the nearest complete record of humanity and it's anyone's to explore at will. As far as being a writer, it can be a distraction sometimes, like any form of entertainment. But the one thing it's been great for is the ability it provides me to connect with readers and discuss my books with people who've read them...whether they enjoyed them or hated them. Though, I must I admit, I prefer discussions with those who enjoy them. I'm only human after all :)

Thanks, Brian!

I also tracked down the paperback cover art which is the top image, that Brian references. It's neat that the publishers used both the photographic image and the painted version for each edition.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Very Special Review of *Sweet Valley High #1 Double Love* by Francine Pascal and DOUBLE Book Giveaway!

Katie from Read What You Know is the coolest; when she heard that I was interested in reading the Sweet Valley High novel, Double Love, for the first time, she contacted me with a personal challenge! She proposed that I read Double Love as a first-read while she would take it on as a re-read. Then we'd have an e-mail "sleepover" and gossip about Francine Pascal's well-loved series.

What follows is my review of Double Love, the new re-make edition, and the resulting discussion Katie and I had about our reading experience.


I didn't grow up reading Sweet Valley High, so I felt compelled to read the first book in the series, Double Love, now that the re-issue editions are available. Originally published in 1983, Random House had someone go through the novels and update them for a more modern audience, adding things like cell phones, laptops, and updated car models. The cover is updated too, obviously, but they've used the same model twice for the twins! I don't mind the cover image because, again, I didn't grow up reading SVH, so I don't have a basis for what the Wakefield twins look like.

I want to start out by saying that Jessica is my favourite twin. She's a spaz and is ridiculous at times, but I just like her. The whole them being twins thing and everyone not being able to tell the difference most of the time was very silly at times. It's mentioned at the beginning that the only thing that sets them apart is a tiny mole on a shoulder, their clothing preferences and one of them wears a watch consistently. "Oh yeah, that's Elizabeth, you can always ask her the time". The story opens with Jessica checking herself out in the mirror when Elizabeth jumps in the shower to get ready for school and Todd Wilkins phones, looking for Liz. This is when you get a sense of how potentially evil Jessica can be. She initially has little interest in Todd, until she finds out he likes her sister, then her frenemy side comes out at she tries to hook Todd for herself. She tells him that Liz is both a bookworm school-obsessed nerd and a promiscuous man-eater. And Todd, the goon, never questions her. Here's a sneak-peek to see just how hot Todd is:

Elizabeth's knees actually felt weak as she looked into his warm brown eyes. She wished she had something to lean on. Something other than his gorgeous, athletic, tan bod.

Okay so I just wanted to write the word "bod". And preppy, which is how Todd is constantly described as. I totally remember when people dressed "preppy". Jessica is a piece of work. She latches onto Todd and says anything just to keep his attention away from Elizabeth. Her own SISTER! And they're friends in the book, which makes it more evil-seeming. Except, the great thing about Jess' character is that she just does what she does without any thought whatsoever. You can't blame her for the way she acts because it's not an act; this is Jessica Wakefield. Even when she's spreading rumors that a boy has raped her when he refused to kiss her goodnight at the end of their date, Jess is insane, but true to her nature. And there's something redeeming about her as well; she knows what she wants and she gets it, usually. Then she gets bored of it and moves on very quickly. Here's some redeeming Jessica Wakefield (Todd is at the dance with her but he's been eyeing Liz all night when...):

Why don't you go see what Elizabeth and Enid are talking about? From the look on your face you're dying to know."Todd blushed slightly and Jessica brushed by him, heading for the snack table and a few friends gathered there. If that didn't wake Todd up to his rude behaviour--if there wasn't a complete turnaround by the time she got back--then she was just going to have to take drastic measures. Guys didn't look at other girls when they were out with Jessica Wakefield. It simply was not done.

What self-confidence! Jess has this incredible sense of her self-worth, which is inflated, but this type of confidence is enviable! Even if she wastes it on silly things like thinking she wants guys like Rick Andover, this psycho dropout car-racing drunk, to go out with her. Throughout the whole story, Jessica pretends she's Elizabeth whenever she does something bad or dangerous and then tells Todd that this is typical Liz behaviour. I was surprised by how righteous Todd is in the book, and some of Liz's friends. And I felt that Liz should have channeled Jess a little more when it comes to making boys treat you the way you deserve, i.e. Todd should have been put through the ringer about just blankly accepting that Liz was the way Jess described. He just got all hoity and judgy and didn't even speak with Liz directly, although Jess had been so intense about her conquest she rarely let the two have a moment alone together.

Double Love was pleasantly goofy in parts, too. I was laughing where humour probably wasn't intended. I couldn't help myself; some of the scenarios and dialogue are hilarious. Even though it has been updated, Sweet Valley High still has an 80's sensibility; reading it felt like I was in my PJs watching a weekend marathon of Beverley Hills 90210, especially the "Donna Martin Graduates!" episode.

A chat with Katie:

(Mandy) You mention Betsy in your review. I don't remember her at all. Is she in the first book? Who is she? I wonder if the updated version wrote her out?

(Katie) Betsy's the girl that the twins think Steven is going out with. (He's actually going out with her older sister, Tricia, scandal!) She's the typical wrong side of the tracks girl with a drug history, etc. She's a reoccurring character, becoming more important in later installments of the book. (She's in the updated version, but just mentioned passingly.)

(Mandy) Oh yeah!! That part was so funny. Reading, I didn't care at all about Steven's supposedly secret affair. Then when the girls find out that it's not with Betsy, who is considered a trashy drug-addict like her father, but with Tricia, the girls are like "well actually Trish is okay, we approve". It was hilarious, like no stigma had attached itself to Trish even though they came down on Betsy so hard about her dad being a drug dealer or something like that. So silly.

(Katie) Well, Trish is the angel of that family -- of course she gets a pass. Just wait until you find out what happens to her character in the series though!**

(Mandy) How does the Dairi Burger compare to Casa Del Sol, from the original story? Why do you think they would re-write such an iconic part of SVH? Even when they remade Beverley Hills 90210 they kept a version of The Peach Pit.

(Katie) They're pretty much the same, honestly. It's their local restaurant hang-out. But I think it's the most ridiculous change ever. What would "Saved by the Bell" be without The Max? What would "Buffy" be like without The Bronze? [Okay, I am seriously dating myself with these references.] What would "Grey's Anatomy" be without The Emerald City Bar? [Yay, current reference!] My issue with the change here is that the restaurant represents the old SVH for me (partially because of the fabulous re-read/critique blog, The Dairi Burger), and Casa Del Sol doesn't add anything to the new SVH. It doesn't establish setting. It doesn't modernize the text. I think the decision to change the restaurant was to show that the books have changed, have been updated. I'm just surprised they choose this to update. Have the twins wear Tiffany's heart charms instead of lavalieres. (I still remember not knowing what a lavaliere was as a teen in the nineties.) I just find it weird how they chose what to update versus what they kept.

(Mandy) Yeah, I have no idea what a lavaliere is. I just assumed they look like the silver necklaces the girls are wearing on the cover. I'm googling it now and still don't really know. How is it different than just a necklace? Although here's something interesting from Wikipedia: "In the Greek system in American colleges, it refers specifically to a necklace bearing a fraternity's or sorority's letters. An accepted gift of a lavalier, called lavaliering, indicates a romantic commitment that may develop into a long term engagement, and marriage". And Liz IS stuck with Jess for the long term!

(Katie) Very true! And it brings me a great segue to talk about the sorority/fraternity stuff in the original publication of "Double Love." Both Jessica and Elizabeth are accepted into Pi Beta Alpha in the book and the dance is originally a sorority/fraternity mixer sponsored by the fraternity. I remember, even as a tween in the 90s, knowing that there weren't sororities/fraternities in high school. I was actually really glad that they removed this subplot when they updated the books. Although I am curious how some of the more sorority related plot lines are going to be updated...**

(Mandy) Ghostwritten fiction was more popular in the 80's and 90's. I had to say that it was strange reading a book "written" by Francine Pascal, when it was really written by Kate William (which is a pseudonym). With the internet, readers can now follow author blogs and website updates; the role of the author is more immediate. Would a series like SVH, with its ghostwriters, happen today? Were you conscious of the book being ghostwritten as you re-read SVH?

(Katie) I had no idea the series was ghostwritten as a tween. I had no idea what a ghostwriter was (other than the PBS show...yeah), and I think it's because of my history with the books that it didn't bother me. I don't think a series like SVH would work now-a-days. Authors are so important to teens and the Internet makes it far too easy to find out about ghostwriters.

(Mandy) *singsong* Ghostwriter...WORD!

And there's more! Mosey over to Katie's blog to see her full review of Double Love, some more of our book gossip and a book giveaway for the new edition of SVH: Double Love! Both Katie and I have a copy of the book to give away. So leave your name and e-mail here to enter and then go to Katie's blog and enter again for her copy! Twice the chance to win--think of it as a tribute to the Wakefield Twins! Good Luck! (Giveaway ends November 21st)


P.S. Katie, you're awesome!!

In My Mailbox This Week!

I am fascinated by The Secret Ministry of Frost by Nick Lake. You can't tell from the picture but the front and back covers have this holographic sparkle, like some types of wrapping paper. It makes the book seem icy. It also came with a little note that said, "Mandy--I loved this one!", from our publishing representative, who also put me on to Hush Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick. So I'm excited about her newest recommendation. AND I realize that Nick Lake is also the author of another book I received recently, Blood Ninja (vampires and ninjas? Oh yes). Oh, and there's a Narwhal on the spine of the it.

The book itself (sorry, sometimes I get so wrapped up in book design) reminds me of Geraldine McCaughrean's The White Darkness. Light's father disappears into the Arctic and the Inuit folklore she's read comes to life. Light herself is half-Inuit, albino, and heir to a huge estate. So, a unique premise. Also, flipping through, there are journal excerpts, expedition notes, blog entries, AND more Narwhals. Looks very cool. (Simon and Schuster)

Borderline by Allan Stratton is another one I didn't know anything about. The author wrote Chanda's Wars, which won a bunch of awards. Oh, and the first book, Chanda's Secrets, is a Michael Printz Honor Book. Borderline is about Sami, the only Muslim kid at school, and the drama that happens when his family is accused of an international terror plot. He's be suspicious of his dad for a while now, and his whole world is turned upside down. Heady stuff. It's being published in February in Canada, I think Spring in the U.S., by Harper Collins.

I've seen Beautiful by Amy Reed around the blogs online. I love the cover. It was published in October of this year by Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. Probably one of my favourite imprints, too. Cassie moves from a small town to a large city and decides to shed her good-girl persona. She's swept up by her new existence, terrified by the downward spiral of drug abuse and social dangers. It's funny, the cover doesn't really convey this. But R.A. Nelson (author of Teach Me, which I haven't heard of) said that Beautiful "is raw, gritty, and powerful, an intense ice-pick jab to the heart". Sounds really good, but wrenching.

And The Vinyl Princess by Yvonne Prinz. It's available in December, published by Harper Collins. Allie is a music junkie and gets a job at a record store in California. She falls in love and blogs (!) as The Vinyl Princess. On the back it says, "Not since Nick Hornby's High Fidelity has a book so perfectly captured the quirky world of true music fandom". Seems very cool.


In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren!

And That's That!

*whew* What a week! I had a blast putting together Dystopian Teen Week. I want to thank everyone who read the articles, reviews, author guest posts and author interviews during this time! I looked forward to reading all of your comments each day.

And of course I want to thank Jeanne Duprau, Maria V. Snyder, Kate from The Neverending Shelf, Patrick Ness, Carrie Ryan, Meg Rosoff, and even a surprise guest comment by James Dashner for a review of The Maze Runner:

Thank you for this awesome review! I'm so glad you liked it!!!

My only regret is not reading as many books as I originally intended. I was just finishing up The Declaration by Gemma Malley and I had to put it down. I need to read something different right now and I didn't want to burn out for her book. I'll go back and finish it in a few weeks.

Otherwise, this week was a lot of fun! I'd love to do another week again sometime on a different theme. Got anything in mind?


Friday, November 6, 2009

A Special Guest Blog Post by *Meg Rosoff*!

I love lists, especially book lists. When I was preparing my own list of dystopian fiction to read this week, I kept seeing one title pop up on more than one occassion: How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. I have already read this book (actually it ranks as one of my faves of all time), and my initial reaction was an incredulous "hehn?". On the one hand I can totally see it; How I Live Now has a whiff of specualtive fiction about it. But I was interested to know what Meg thought about the categorization of dystopian in general, and in particular in relation to her books. Read on for Meg's response.


Is it terrible to admit that my heart sinks a little when I hear the words “dystopian fiction”? As for “dystopian teen fiction”, well, I might have to take to my bed. All those flooded, ravaged worlds, burnt worlds. The last man (or woman or child) alive. Ecological disasters, global warming, nuclear war.

I’m enough of a depressive already without all the handbooks.

Having said that, it’s hard to escape the fact that one (maybe even two) of my books brush up against the dystopian – How I Live Now, set in a very-near-future WWIII, and What I Was, which finishes in 2050 and a flooded eastern coast of Suffolk. (The latter scenario, by the way, is not one I made up – I own a little house on that coast, and no one, including the bank, expects it to last more than another twenty or thirty years.)

The big question, I suppose, is why so many writers are attracted to the subject, and why now, particularly? The twentieth century wasn’t short on anxiety thanks to (just for starters) two world wars, a worldwide flu pandemic, economic depression, and the advent of nuclear weapons.

But perhaps that led to more concrete worries – about war, disease and poverty. Today’s sources of anxiety already read like fiction. Think of genetically engineered babies, polar bears drowning in ice-less seas, smart weapons, cryogenics. Or as my husband remarked recently over a display of cod fillets, “we can’t eat them. It’s like eating leopard.”

This may all be beside the point. Writers from Margaret Atwood and Cormac McCarthy on down are producing dystopian stories, and readers are buying them. As for me? I like to take refuge in literary fiction, because it’s the pigeonhole in which I feel least cramped. Once there, I have a tendency to rub up against all sorts of genres – fantasy, history, adult, teen, whatever. Mostly I write about whatever pops into my head. Can’t help it.

Meg Rosoff's Website

Thanks so much, Meg!

I also want to point out the neat coincidence of the previous guest blog post by Carrie Ryan, who mentions reading How I Live Now just before writing The Forest of Hands an Teeth.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Guest Blogger *Carrie Ryan* Author of *The Forest of Hands and Teeth*!

I am very excited to post a guest blogger piece written by Carrie Ryan! I was intrigued by the setting in The Forest of Hands and Teeth because it is such a mystery. I also wondered if Carrie thought of her book as dystopian and how the genre has ties with the post-apocalyptic theme. Below is her insightful response!


Right before I started writing The Forest of Hands and Teeth I’d just finished reading Life As We Knew it and How I Live Now, two books that deal with apocalyptic events (the moon shifting closer to Earth in the first and war in the second). What fascinated me most about these books is what it took the characters to survive and I wanted to read more books like that but had a hard time finding them.

So I decided to write the book I wanted to read and to explore what it took to really survive -- how would the world change and what would we forget if we were cut off from everyone else and cast them adrift for generations? I was already fascinated with zombies so it wasn’t a big step for me to decide that my apocalyptic event would be the zombie apocalypse :)

I spent a ton of time thinking about this world, building the rules and one of the things I realized is that with the world falling apart, there wouldn’t be any safe places left -- any enclave of survivors would get overrun with bandits eventually… unless no one knew they existed and they lived in a place no one would find them: in the middle of a forest full of zombies. I also realized that to make this work, the people inside the village couldn’t ever leave because if they did, the secret of their existence would get out. Hence the Sisterhood and their tight control over all information and aspect of daily life.

I also realized that I didn’t want this book to be about the apocalypse itself -- for my characters the Return (zombie apocalypse) is such a part of their everyday lives that they don’t question it. They don’t spend a lot of time wondering why and how it happened because to them, it doesn’t matter (the same way we don’t spend a lot of time wondering about historical events outside the context of history class - we just accept most things that define our lives such as the concept of freedom in America).

Of course, looking back on it, all of those decisions seem like they came to me easily, but they really didn’t -- a lot of it I figured out as I was writing the story. Really, I just started the book with a first line that popped into my head on the way home from work one night and wouldn’t let go.

Thank you, Carrie!


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