Sunday, July 31, 2011

What's up with the Zombie Chickens?

I'll be kicking off Dystopian August in less than 12 hours! Can you feel the excitement in the air?  Before the kick-off, I wanted to clarify the whole Zombie Chicken mystique. 

Zombie Chicken Ratings are something I developed to give readers an idea of which books they might put at the top of their dystopian and post apocalyptic reading lists.  They are not strict star ratings denoting quality, but very much graded on a bell curve, meaning most books are going to be rated a three, with very few achieving immortal 5 Zombie Chicken status and very few earning just one lone Zombie Chicken.

Here’s what I intended Zombie Chickens to mean:

5 – This book stands out as one of my very favorites of the genre.  I definitely have this on my keeper shelf and want to read it again and/or refer to it often.   It highly exceeded my reading expectations and might well be on its way to classic dystopian status.   In my opinion, the ultimate dystopian reading experience.

4 – This is a book I highly recommend as an excellent example of the genre.  There’s a very high chance I still have it on my keeper shelf and may well read it again someday. It exceeded my reading expectations and I can imagine a wide range of readers enjoying it as well. 

3 – This is a book that’s well worth reading, especially for lovers of the genre.  I may still have it on my keeper shelf, but wouldn’t necessarily feel the rereading urge. It met my reading expectations and should also find fans amongst readers.

2 – This is a book with some problems that detracted from my reading experience, although it was ultimately enjoyable enough.  I likely gave it away to another reader hoping they’d like it more than I did.  Because it did not fully meet my reading expectations, I’d judge it as entertaining but not essential.

1 – This is a book that I struggled through, but found something in it redeeming enough to continue reading until the end. Likely problems include: false advertising about the genre (NOT really dystopia), derivative nature of book (seen it all before) or writing or plotting issues.  This one is for dystopian completists only.

DNF - These you won't see during my Dystopian Theme Months, but there have been quite a number of books I've started reading and simply could not bear finishing.

The problem is, most people aren’t going to know my rating intentions, they’re just going to see a rating out of 5 and make their own assumptions about what that means.  That’s why I’ve decided NOT to make full use of the Zombie Chicken rating system this time around.  However, I will still be awarding 4 and 5 Zombie Chicken designations to an honored few (and you may well be able to discern by reading my review what I might have rated the others).

Long live the Zombie Chicken.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Book Review: Sinister Scenes by PJ Bracegirdle

Joy Wells is back in this final installment of the JOY OF SPOOKING trilogy – a series I love. 

I’m perplexed. Why isn’t this series more popular?  It has fantastic series storytelling (each book has a standalone plot but the first two books set up plot points that lead to inventive and surprising revelations in book three), a precocious and likeable protagonist, three dimensional supporting characters, an antagonist (Mr. Phipps) so compelling he’s made my favorite villains list, intrigue, adventure, a tiny hint of romance, wry humor, infinitely quotable writing … I could go on and on.

SINISTER SCENES finds a horror movie being filmed in Spooking.  When the starlet cast as the lead goes missing, Joy is asked to step in.  Also starring is the former arch-nemesis of  Mr. Phipps: Teddy Danger, a former fan of Phipps band who left Spooking and made it big.  Via the movie, Joy and Phipps uncover long-buried secrets and discover they may have more in common than they ever thought possible.

When I think about the genius way Author PJ Bracegirdle left a bunch of clues throughout the books and then surprised the heck out of me with the wrap-up of Spooking’s mythology, I am rendered speechless.  The whole movie set plot was also a lot of fun and a great backdrop to the character’s interactions.

This was the perfect note to end the series on, though I’ll always be open to more Joy and more Mr. Phipps. Find out more about the series at the author's website.

LEVEL TWO sells UK rights

I'm so excited to share that Usborne has bought rights for LEVEL TWO in the UK (and commonwealth excluding Canada/Australia/NZ) and you can read all about the acquisition in an article in The Bookseller.

Usborne plans to publish in the UK at the same time as S&S in the US: Fall 2012. ETA: Read the press release from Usborne for more fun tidbits about the book.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Book Review: Dark Water by Laura McNeal

DARK WATER is one of two novels I’m reading and judging (along with Bart’s Bookshelf) as part of Nerds Heart YA.

Pearl never really took note of the migrants that worked her uncle’s avocado farm – until she meets the (mostly) mute Amiel.  Amiel fascinates her, but is warning him of the coming fires worth putting her own life at risk?

First off, I have to say that I really enjoyed McNeal’s use of language.  Here’s a snippet of Pearl reacting to seeing Amiel:

For a second I couldn't move or breathe. What is it about a person that makes him harmless to others and fatal to you, like a bee sting or a trace of peanut butter?” p 48

Though the crux of the plot relies on Pearl’s growing interest in Amiel, DARK WATER is much more than a romance.  It explores shifting family dynamics, the consequences of misunderstandings and the evolution of friendship – all against the backdrop of an area of Southern California plagued by deadly wildfires.

The scenes in the novel seemed very realistic – that is until the end. Pearl makes some spectacularly bad decisions and I didn’t think the story up to then supported her motivations for making them.

DARK WATER, a National Book Award finalist, is available now.  Find out more about it at the author’s website.  

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Book Review: A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend by Emily Horner

A LOVE STORY STARRING MY BEST FRIEND is one of two novels I’m reading and judging (along with Bart’s Bookshelf) as part of Nerds Heart YA.

Cass is mourning the death of her best friend Julia and deals both by taking a road trip to spread Julia’s ashes (the “then” part of the narrative) and by helping Julia’s boyfriend Oliver and theater geek friends put on a production of a musical Julia wrote called Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad (the “now” part). Her road trip is complicated by having to ride a bike from Chicago to California on school break, and the musical is complicated by her former nemesis Heather getting the lead role.

LOVE STORY is as much about coming to terms with grief as it is about discovering who you are.  Cass is the kind of unreflective character who seems to never have thought about actively defining herself.  She sees herself as “Julia’s best friend” or “girl who people pick on and call a lesbian”.  Because she’s such a “black hole”, I had trouble connecting to her and I felt more like I was being put through the paces of the plot rather than really being touched by it.

But it’s all pleasant enough – and I especially liked the plot and the lyrics of the musical as well as the heartwarming climax to the road trip.

A LOVE STORY STARRING MY BEST FRIEND is available now.  Find out more about it at the author’s website.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Return of Cat Tuesday (40)

I've decided this will be the last Cat Tuesday until Sept 6th, to make room for Dystopian August.  During previous months, I've tried to make Cat Tuesday fit the theme.  So for example - for the following picture of Lu, I might say:  "Looks like Lu enjoyed CROSSED by Ally Condie so much that he CROSSED his paws - lol!"  But ... I don't want to do that to you.  You're welcome ;)

Monday, July 25, 2011

This and that

Dystopian August starts in one week - can you believe it?  I've read 14 books so far in preparation (with more reading on the way obviously) and have an amazing interview series set up to preview upcoming dystopians you may or may not have heard about yet.  So August is going to be a busy month - I'll likely be posting twice a day most days ... a far cry from the 2-3 posts a week I've managed over the past few months.  So prepare for the dystopian deluge!

This week I'm reading the two books in my Nerds Heart YA bracket that I am judging with Bart's Bookshelf:  Dark Water by Laura McNeal and A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend by Emily Horner.  We'll be picking just one to move on.

Oh and I did an interview with James of The Book Base - so head over there if you want to find out which fictional characters I'd invite to dinner and more.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Blog Tour and Giveaway: Forever by Maggie Stiefvater

As I mentioned in my recent review, FOREVER belongs to the character of Cole St. Clair.  That's why I am thrilled to be the official Cole blog stop on Maggie's tour.  Which means I get to share Cole's playlist with you.

Cole (Playlist by Maggie Stiefvater)

1. Party - Clint Mansell
2. You’ll Find a Way - Santogold
3. Technologicque - Orbital
4. Brooklyn is Burning - Head Automatica
5. Show Me How To Live - Audioslave
6. Get Out Alive - Three Days Grace
7. Anyway You Choose to Give It - The Black Ghosts
8. Coming Undone - Korn
9. Bother - Stone Sour
10. Duke - Booka Shade
11. You Fight Me - Breaking Benjamin
12. You Know You’re Right - Nirvana
13. Talk Amongst Yourselves - Grand National

And I also get to share a sketch of Cole drawn by Maggie herself.

Pretty yummy right?  (Though I did expect him to have more of a smirk on his face). Oh and guess what? One lucky winner gets the framed original sketch!  If you want a chance to win, fill out this form.

I also wanted to share a couple of my favorite Cole moments from FOREVER.

Here's a passage from Isabel's point of view: 

Cole sat back up, slowly, and I opened my eyes.  His expression, as ever, was blank, the face he wore when something mattered.
He said, "That's how I would kiss you, if I loved you."
He stood up, looking un-famous, and retrieved the car keys from where they'd slid out onto the bed.  He didn't look at me when he left, shutting the door behind him.

And Cole's:

The road flew by beneath the car; my hand was cold from being in the wind. For the first time in a long time, I felt powerful. The woods had taken that void that was me, the thing I thought that could never be full, never be satisfied, and they'd made me lose everything - things I never knew I wanted to keep.
And in the end, I was Cole St. Clair, cut from a new skin. The world lay at my feet and the day stretched out for miles.

Oh and the scene under the counter in Isabel's mother's lab with the die-cast Mustang ... but I'll let you read that for yourself...

Some tour info:

Scholastic recently launched an online community called This Is Teen to connect readers with their favorite YA authors and books. Visit their page on Facebook for all the latest news on Maggie Stiefvater and Forever:

Check out the next stop on the tour: Friday, July 22 –  The Compulsive Reader - Beck

My favorite villains

I am over at Brave New Words today talking about my favorite villains.  Check it out!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Book Review: Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker + My own "Hell House" experiences

SMALL TOWN SINNERS revolves around a church’s production of a Hell House – a Christian alternative to a haunted house.  Lacey Anne Byer covets the lead role of “abortion girl” – but when an old classmate, Ty, returns to town, Lacey begins to question if she really wants to star in hell house after all.

Back when I was a teen in Ohio, my church put on a version of Hell House called Reality House.  I talk more about that later, but first, let's discuss the novel.

Hell House presents a parade of sins – from abortion to spouse abuse to online porn.  A Demon Guide leads visitors from sin to sin and finally to judgment.  It’s pretty controversial stuff – especially the lines the demon guide says as he condemns the various sinners to hell.  During the few weeks of rehearsals, Lacey has to deal with friends going through teen pregnancy and alcohol abuse as well as having her eyes opened to the possibility that one of her close friends is homosexual. As Lacey deepens her relationship with Ty – much to her parents displeasure – she is encouraged to approach all kinds of sinners with more compassion and realizes that one cannot simply take over one’s parents values without questioning them first.

This type of storyline is full of landmines, but Author Melissa Walker treats her characters with sensitivity – never letting them become one-note stereotypes.  Lacey Anne was pretty similar to Christian teens I grew up with - sheltered, committed to the church and blissfully unaware of her own prejudices. I liked that a romance with Ty was the catalyst for Lacey realizing that things aren't as black and white as she had always thought. I wasn’t a huge fan of the ending, but I can at least understand why Lacey made the choices she did.  Also, even though I thought I knew what Hell House was, I was pretty shocked by the extreme way it was staged. 

Reality House at my church was very mild in comparison.  I participated for four years and though each year had a different storyline, the basic structure was the same.  The first year, visitors attended a “party” and then piled into a van.  The van had an “accident” and then everyone was delivered to the morgue.  The doctor put each individual on a tray and pushed him or her into a refrigerated drawer.  He or she would emerge in a coffin in the funeral home (I usually played a mourner in this scene). After the funeral, they were taken to judgment where God cast them into hell.  Hell was full of strobe lights and teens dressed in black that would jump out and try to scare the group.  At the end, there were counselors standing by in case anyone wanted to talk about God, death, and the afterlife.  Cost of entry was one canned good that we donated to a food bank. I enjoyed the experience and am very glad that my church never put on the more extreme Hell House version.  I'd likely have nightmares still!

SMALL TOWN SINNERS comes out TODAY and is available for purchase now.  Find out more about it at the author’s website.

Return of Cat Tuesday (39)

I thought it was fun how Emmy squeezed herself between the water glass, the mug and the wall.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Cover Reveal for Catherine Knutsson's SHADOWS CAST BY STARS + Dystopian August Heads Up

Today I am pleased to present the world premiere of Catherine Knutsson's cover for her 2012 debut with Atheneum (Simon & Schuster) SHADOWS CAST BY STARS.

You've surely noted the large raven.  It is THE raven (no, not Poe's raven) - the one that First Nations call both the trickster and the creator of all things. And for all of you fans of diversity in fiction - this one's for you.  The main character is Metis (like the author) and the whole book is infused with the First Nations story. In fact, several supernatural creatures have major parts to play, like a double-headed sisiutl and the dzoonookwa (the wild woman of the woods in Kwakwakawak belief).

Here is the summary:

Two hundred years from now, the great cities of the west coast of the United Americas are under water. Blood has become the most valuable commodity on the planet – especially the blood of aboriginal peoples, for it contains antigens that protect them from the plagues that ravage the rest of the world.

Sixteen year old Cassandra Mecredi might be aboriginal by blood, but without a totem animal, she cannot make sense of her visions or walk the paths of the spirit world. When her family is forced to leave their reservation, they flee east to the Island: a mysterious and idyllic territory free from the depredations of industry and sickness and under the control of the Band, a group of guerrilla warriors. There, Cassandra will become the apprentice to a wise woman, fall in love, and find her destiny when the creatures of spirit claim her as their own. For the spirit world is angry... and they have chosen Cassandra to be their voice and instrument.

Add on Goodreads
Visit Catherine's blog

Come back in "Dystopian August" for a preview interview with Catherine as well as preview interviews with over 20 other authors of dystopian and post-apocalyptic novels coming out in 2012!  I'll also be reviewing a ton of dystopians and giving away lots of prizes during the month.  It'll be the 4th celebration of Dystopian lit after Dystopian February 2010 & 2011 and Dystopian August 2010.  See index of all my dystopian reviews.

Can't wait!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Return of Cat Tuesday (38)

This one of Kaia just makes me laugh.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Book Review: Possum Summer by Jen K. Blom

P isn't allowed to have any pets, so when she rescues a baby possum, she knows she has to hide him from her older sister and mother, and get him ready to survive in the wild before her father returns from combat duty in Iraq.

The voice in POSSUM SUMMER captivates with its authenticity and middle graders will learn a lot about life on the farm here.  The novel explores responsibility, loss and family relationships in a sensitive and heartbreaking way.  It also made me want to carry around a possum close to my chest inside a sports bra (like P does). Be aware - there is quite a bit of death involved, but that is the way of nature after all.

POSSUM SUMMER is available now.  Find out more about it at the author's website.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Writerly links & awesome covers!

Today I am over at Brave New Words talking a bit about why I write speculative fiction.  I may have spilled some LEVEL TWO secrets - so check it out!

Also, I donated a 10k critique to TLC Auctions to benefit YA blogger The Story Siren's 6 year old cousin who has cancer.  If you're a writer and you're looking for some honest feedback, this is a great, and most likely cheap, opportunity.  Bid here!

Apocalypsies have been revealing covers of their 2012 debut novels left and right lately.  Kimberly Sabatini posted them all in one handy post.

And lastly, I am super excited because Jess Rothenberg just unveiled her cover for THE CATASTROPHIC HISTORY OF YOU AND ME, due Jan 2012.

Isn't it gorgeous?! It's a book with an afterlife theme (you know I love those) and I can't wait to read it.  See the full summary & Add it on GoodReads!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Return of Cat Tuesday (37) + Buffalo Book Giveaway!

Daniel got his contract copies of TEACH YOUR BUFFALO TO PLAY DRUMS and Emmy wasted no time at all claiming them as her own.

But we'll brave her wrath to send two lucky readers a personalized copy of the newly released book! Get it for yourself or for little kids you know and indicate what pose you'd like to see the Buffalo strike.  Enter by filling out this form. Open internationally.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Book Review: Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

The summer Chloe was 14,  a classmate died out at the reservoir near town which caused  her to move away.  Two years later, drawn by the irresistible pull of her older sister Ruby, Chloe comes back to town.  Ruby gives her a list of things she ABSOLUTELY must not do, including getting together with her longtime crush Owen.  But does Chloe owe Ruby complete obedience or is it time to crawl out of her shadow?

IMAGINARY GIRLS is haunting - with intoxicating prose and a storyline that had me wondering if Chloe was crazy with grief, living in a fantasy world, or if the paranormal events she narrates actually took place.  It's the kind of novel that grabs you and pulls you under until you're finished and only then can you surface, gasping for air, wondering where the time went and what the hell just happened.

IMAGINARY GIRLS is available in hardcover now.  Find out more about it at the author's website.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Where my last 40 books came from (12)

   25% bought books, 25% ebooks ... interesting.