Friday, September 30, 2011

Happy News!


I've been sitting on some happy-making news for a couple of days, and now that it's official, I can let it out. I'm a Cybils judge again! I get to judge Round 1 of the YA Science Fiction and Fantasy award! Woohoo!

I'm joining these fine, fine bloggers: 
Sheila Ruth
Wands and Worlds

Tanita Davis
Finding Wonderland

Vivian Lee Mahoney
Vivian Lee Mahoney

Sommer Leigh
Tell Great Stories

Steve Berman
Guys Lit Wire

Hallie Tibbets
Undusty New Books

Okay, enough exclamation points. I am very excited to do this, really, because I always have such fun debating books with other people. It's the English major in me, I guess.

Now I really want to see what you all are going to nominate, starting tomorrow at the Cybils website. Gather up some great books, guys, because I'm ready to read!

(Okay, I was lying. One more exclamation point.)

Friday, September 23, 2011

KidlitCon 2011 Recap - Part Two

So, besides panels about new things, the other highlight of this conference was a return to the basic question of book blogging (e.g., why and how). Along with Melissa of Book Nut and Jen of Jen Robinson's Book Page, I had a panel discussion about blogging a mix of older books and newer books. For the purposes of our discussion, we said that "older" meant it was published more than six months ago. While that sounds massively silly, the topic came up at last year's KidLitCon that publishers have a window of three months before and three months after the publication date of a book that seems to be the golden time for the publicity blitz. After that, it's on to the next thing. So six months? Collecting Social Security.

Melissa, Jen, and I discussed how reading and reviewing both older and newer books had their own advantages and disadvantages. Since we were missing the delightful Terry Doherty of The Reading Tub, we invited the audience to jump in just as much as they liked, and they certainly did!  We agreed that while it was exciting to get shiny new ARCs and review copies, often months before they hit the stores, there was a sense of obligation towards the publishers that's missing when you blog a book from ten years ago or even last year. And blogging older books could help you stand out when everyone seems to be talking about the same books. Obviously, there was a lot more nuance to this discussion, but these are some of the core points.

The most interesting thing to come out of that, for me, was some input from two publisher's reps in the audience. There's a feeling around some areas of the kidlitosphere that you can't blog older books because the publishers won't pay you any attention. They stated the opposite. For smaller to mid-size publishers, a fair amount of their stock is backlist. Even for bigger publishers, attention to an author's older book could ramp up excitement for newer titles. Yes, there's not the same publicity push for backlist titles, because they only have so many publicity dollars, but hey, publicity is publicity. Thanks to everyone who came and contributed. I was so nervous about doing my very first conference presentation ever, but I had a blast!

The other great panel I went to was  presented by Kelly Jensen of Stacked, Abby Johnson of Abby the Librarian, Julia Riley of Spine Label, and Janssen Brandshaw of Everyday Reading, on critical reviews. Actually that's a topic that came up over and over throughout the conference, at multiple panels. Critical, by the way, does not equal negative. It simply means reading the book with a clear eye and being honest yet professional in your review. You can call out negative aspects of a book and still have an overall positive review. One of the premier reasons for this is because your readers trust you more if they see you're being honest, rather than posting shiny-happy reviews all the time. I personally only blog about a book when I really have something to say about it, which most often translates into the books I like best. I have to give some thought to how I review after this panel.

The biggest highlight, even more than the panels, was getting to meet people and hang out with old friends. I live-tweeted all the panels I attended, once I got Twitter to behave itself, and struck up conversations on there. I got to meet Roseanne Parry and geek out over the religious themes in Heart of a Shepherd, and in kidlit in general, a conversation that I continued with Anne Boles Levy. I got to chat with old friend Liz Burns and new pals Lisa Song and Sondra Eklund about Battlestar Galactica. I got to catch up with Pam Coughlan and astonish Colleen by bringing out my knitting during our lengthy lunch break. Thanks to Jackie and Colleen for building in lots and lots of hangin' out time to a fairly short conference, by the way. Definitely one of the planning highlights. I even got to even got the chance to buy Goliath two days before the laydown date, just so we could get it signed by our keynote speaker, Scott Westerfeld. Aren't you jealous! He chatted with us all very nicely, even while the fangirl vibes were practically peeling his hair back.

And remember that exchange of Tweets I mentioned in the first half of this post? After playing tourist on Sunday, and doing everything I could to support Seattle's economy, I left on Monday morning and ran into Scott in the airport on his way to his next tour stop. We chatted briefly and then I Tweeted thusly:
Ran into @ScottWesterfeld in the airport just now. Random. #Orwasit #amnotstalkerIswear
Scott's reply/retweet?
This really happened. *alerts security*

Check out the roundup of all the recaps, here at the Kidlitosphere site. If I met you at KidlitCon, I had a great time! If you didn't make and are reading this, green with envy, just know that next year is in New York City. Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

KidlitCon 2011 Recap - Part One

This is my fifth year attending the annual Kidlitosphere Conference, affectionately known as KidlitCon. Every year is a little different . . . different cities, different attendees, different activities. But I'll tell you what's always the same: getting to meet new friends, hang out with old ones, attending sessions that make me think critically (and not always comfortably) about the way that I blog and review. Most of all, though, this is the one weekend a year I can be sure that I'm talking to people who just get it. They get the blogging thing, they get the kid's books thing, and they have nothing but respect for both.

This year, the festivities went down in Seattle, arranged by Jackie of Interactive Reader and Colleen of Chasing Ray. It's a gargantuan task, and they did a stellar job. The conference was expanded by an extra half-day of panels on Friday before the full day on Saturday. I could go through all the panels I attended one by one, but I think I'll just call out the highlights.

I decided that this year I'd try out new things, and went to two panels on new ways of storytelling and delivering content. The first was on transmedia storytelling, meaning stories told through a variety of platforms. Examples include Patrick Carman's Skeleton Creek series, which mixes a paper book with online videos, and the 39 Clues series from HarperCollins, which blends a book series with card collecting and an online game. The presenters themselves were the creators of the Angel Punk world, which encompasses a novel, a comic book, and a feature film, among other things. The point I came away with was that transmedia is more than just tie-ins; it's using multiple platforms to tell the story.

The second was presented by Mary Ann Scheuer of Great Kid Books, Betsy Bird of Fuse #8, and Paula Wiley of Pink Me. They talked about the brave new world of picture-book apps. Currently the 900-pound gorilla in that market is the iPad, although chatting with Chris of BookDads afterwards, I discovered that the Nook Color also has some picture-book apps as well. These aren't tie-in games, these are the digital equivalent of pop-up books, with activities embedded within the story. To my surprise, it's not confined to the picture-book realm. There were some ridiculously awesome nonfiction titles in the stack, as well as one particularly neat chapter book. It was pretty neat to see how well (or not) publishers had enhanced content without sacrificing story or information. It strikes me that Choose Your Own Adventure would be an ideal fit for this medium (and a quick iTunes check shows me that there are indeed a few Choose Your Own Adventure titles on the market). I'll be keeping an eye on this because I really want to figure out how libraries intend on using them, if they do at all.

Enough for now! Leave 'em wanting more, that's my motto. Up next: more panel goodness, and fun with Tweeting. Fittingly enough, my KidlitCon experience ended with an exchange of tweets. But you'll hear that next time.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Book: Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini

Book: Star-Crossed
Author: Josephine Angelini
Published: 2011
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley

Helen Hamilton has never felt like her face could launch a rowboat, much less a thousand ships. She’s taller than almost everyone she knows, she’s stronger and faster, and yet when she inadvertently calls attention to herself, she suffers debilitating cramps. She just hopes to slide through her senior year without attracting too much scrutiny, and then get the holy hell off Nantucket Island.

But then the Delos family moves to town, and the moment she lays eyes on eldest son Lucas, she feels an immediate explosion of feeling - specifically, utter homicidal hatred. Literally - they try to kill each other, not knowing why. There’s something bigger than everyone at work here, and Helen knows Lucas’s family holds the answers to all the questions she’s ever asked. That’s if she can get close to them without a total bloodbath.

I'm conflicted about this book. Like, srsly, you guys. On the one hand, intriguing premise. Super-powered descendants of Greek gods, living out ancient prophecies? Vibes of the Iliad and the Greek tragedies? Fascinating themes of free will versus destiny? Oh, baby, take me there!

On the other, major Twilight vibes. Maaajor. The awkward and unconfident girl, living with a single father, meets a beautiful boy and his intriguing family, who all tell her she’s the most marvelous thing in the world. (That homicidal thing gets taken care of early on.) Yet the beautiful boy must stay away from her for a nebulous reason that never gets explained until most of the way through the book. There's even, no joke, the watching-over-her-while-she-sleeps bit.

And yet, there was more meat on this book. Helen has good reason to feel like a freak, because she kind of is. She's so much faster and stronger than any normal human being that she has to hold herself back everywhere but home, and eventually, the Delos house. She’s not only adopted into the Delos family, she’s held to their standard. She’s not a cute little pet. This family insists on her learning to defend herself, instead of assuring her that they will defend her. She does take a frustratingly long time to take hold of her powers. Really, sweetheart? I know you're in the habit of backing off, but for cripes sake, we're talking actual people wanting to actually kill you here. Take hold!

You see my conflict? I’ll recommend this for the cool premise, the compelling story, the massively fun shout-outs to Greek tragedy (I know, I'm weird), the intricate interweavings of loyalties and lies, and in the certain knowledge that the Twilight vibes aren’t going to be a problem for many readers. It’s well-written, and now that Helen has taken her life by the horns, I’m really looking forward to the rest of the series.

But if a werewolf enters the picture, I’m outta here.

Monday, September 12, 2011

This Week in Kidlit

Sooooo . . . whatcha doin'?

This is a big week in the Kidlitosphere. Thursday, September 15, is the last day that our beloved Cybils awards are accepting applications for first and second-round judges. I know they have a pile of applications, but a little birdie told me that there are some categories that still really need judges. I've judged for various categories in the past, and it's really an amazing experience. Plus, you get the thrill of seeing how happy the winners are, and knowing you were a part of that. How can you lose?

So that's Thursday. Come Friday, I'll be at the 5th annual (that's right! Fifth!) Kidlitosphere Conference, affectionately known as KidLitCon. It moves around the country to give people the chance to attend. This year, it's in Seattle. I've been to all four previous ones and I wouldn't miss this one for the world. Especially since I'll be presenting. That's right, you get to see me blather on in person, along with Jen Robinson of Jen's Book Page and Melissa the Book Nut. Here's our panel:
One is Silver and the Other’s Gold: A Discussion on Blogging Backlist vs. New Releases, and Why It Doesn’t Have to Be Versus
Four reviewer-bloggers will discuss the different advantages to blogging the backlist and blogging about newer titles, and how having a variety of books strengthens your blog and your voice.

We may be unique in having a panel title that's almost as long as the description. That's on Friday afternoon at 3:00.

After we present, I'll be enjoying the rest of the conference, which lasts through the rest of Friday and into Saturday. The panels all sound amazing, but for me, the best part is always meeting new friends, both authors and bloggers, and reconnecting with the friends I made over the last four years. True story: I have not seen my fellow panelists, Jen and Melissa, in person since last year's conference. We've made plans to spend time together before the con starts just so we can get the first jumps of joy taken care of before we have to present together.

Unfortunately, registration is closed, but it's not too late to start clearing your schedule for next year's con.

If you can't make it this year but want to follow the festivities anyway, there's an official Twitter feed: @KidlitCon, and a hashtag, #kidlitcon. Except for during my own panel, I'll probably be energetically live-tweeting the sessions I attend. Follow me: @mosylu

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Book Review: Funny How Things Change by Melissa Wyatt

Book: Funny How Things Change
Author: Melissa Wyatt
Published: 2009
Source: Local Library

The summer after his high school graduation, Remy knows that big changes are coming. He’s just agreed to move away from Walker Mountain with his beloved girlfriend, Lisa, while she goes to college. He’ll be fine, he tells himself. He’ll get a job as a mechanic or something. What does it matter, as long as he’s with Lisa?

But as the reality of leaving the mountains and his roots looms closer, Remy starts to wonder if he loves Lisa . . . or he loves home more.

Remy is in the kind of situation that YA authors love to plant their protagonists in, and let them claw their way out. Living in a trailer in the Appalachians of West Virginia, with a single parent and very little money, no prospect of higher education and what many would consider a dead-end job, most kids in Remy’s life would climbing the walls to get out. Remy’s not.

But his beloved Lisa is. And while we can see from the first page that Remy has the mountains in his blood and could never be happy anywhere else but on his own land, it’s a realization he has to come to on his own. Realistic in its portrayal of modern-day Appalachia, a young man’s first love, and his first great adult choice, Funny How Things Change is a book that will resonate with kids at the same crossroads.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Book Review: Angel Burn by L.A. Weatherly

Book: Angel Burn
Author: L.A. Weatherly
Published: 2011
Source: Review copy provided by publisher via

There's a new cult sweeping the nation, the Church of Angels. The angels have come to earth to bring peace and goodwill to humanity, and everyone who encounters an angel in person comes away changed, at peace, and wanting nothing more but to devote their lives to the angels forevermore.

Only Alex Kylar knows the truth: that these angels want a little something in return. Namely, human life force, which they suck away from their victims, leaving them dazed, confused, and in too many cases mentally broken or physically damaged. He's been on the road since the age of five, hunting and killing any angel he sees, but there are too few angel killers and too many angels.

Then he's sent after Willow Fields. She's psychic, she fixes cars, oh, and she's part angel. But only part, and she doesn't know a thing about her angelic half or even that angels exist. But for some reason, she's Public Angel Enemy #1. Alex starts to suspect that there's something big going down, and Willow Fields might just be the key to humanity's survival. No pressure or anything.

I was really behind this book about halfway through. It hit a lot of my interest spots. Smart, practical, slightly quirky girl? Check. Competent, cynical boy with the added mystique of wandering warrior, doing battle against the forces of evil all by himself? Check. A good amount of reluctant sexual tension between the two aforementioned? Check. Serious upending of a trope? Checkity check. (Eeeevil angels. Say it with me. Eeeeeeeeeeeeevil angels.)

Then Willow and Alex got together and confessed their love and it was sweet and all, but after that it was 50% lovey-dovey times. And I'm fine with lovey-dovey times, but there are some eeeeeevil angels out there to nuke, okay? Let's get on that.

And then at the very end . . . well. I had a rant about that, but it's spoileriffic. I'm just gonna say, long series may be the thing, but I don't think this book needed it, with all the build-up. 460 pages and you left it that wide open? I'm annoyed. I need some sort of pay-off.

Still, I think this book is worth reading, if only for the uniqueness of the premise, and I'll pick up the next one hoping for some resolution. But no more lovey-dovey times, okay? Smooch and move on to deep-frying the evil angels.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Reading Roundup August 2011

By the Numbers
Teen: 11
Tween: 12
Children: 10

Review Copies: 8
Swapped: 3
Library: 15

Teen: The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Just another dead-sister book . . . except it's not. Lennie's grief takes her all sorts of unexpected places as she attempts to create a new life, one where she has no sister's shadow to hide in.
Tween: The Death-Defying Pepper Roux by Geraldine McCaughrean
There's a real Forrest Gump vibe about this book, as the doomed Pepper Roux stumbles from one identity to another on borrowed time, and learns in the process that life is not about waiting to die.
Children: Captain Nobody by Dean Pitchford
After living a life in his brother's shadow, Newt Newman turns to alter ego Captain Nobody to cope when his brother has a life-threatening accident. Seriously not as angsty as it sounds.

Because I Want To Awards
Awesomest History Book Evah!: The Smart Aleck's Guide to American History by Adam Selzer
98% Fabulous: The Inquisitor's Apprentice by Chris Moriarty
There may be a blog post upcoming about this, but basically, I got to the climax and went, "Wait. What?"
Tailor-Made for 12-Year-Olds: Sir Fartsalot Hunts the Booger by Kevin Bolger
Throwback of the Month: Any Which Wall by Laurel Snyder
Reads exactly like the Penderwicks, Edward Eager, and all those other old-fashioned kids books, which can be bad or good depending on your mood.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Sorry, Y'all . . .

My August Reading Roundup is going to be delayed until tomorrow, due to acute brain-fried . . . ness. Argh.