Thursday, December 31, 2009

Thursday Links: Looking Back

2009 is almost over... Tempus fugit, huh? And in light of the dawn of 2010, most of today’s links are about looking back, so join in on the retrospection:

Megan at YPulse talks YA books in 2009, both best and worst. I like how she gave a good overview of trends and moods—check it out here. For you gamers, YPulse also covered best and worst videogames of 09.

School Library Journal takes the retrospective thing to the next level by looking at the past decade in kid lit. The scope of this article goes from changes in YA to ebooks; can’t say I agree with all the predictions and observations, but it was an interesting article all the same.

Amazon announced it now sells more Kindle books than paper ones. Show me the numbers, analysts and bloggers say.

Publishers Lunch sums up the year’s (and decade’s) best from USA Today, NPR, and others—thanks for the recap, PM people.

For a crime fiction detour, check out Paul D. Brazil’s Best Crime Fiction of 2009. Alafair Burke talks movie and TV faves for the year at Murderati, and Janet Rudolph talks mystery best of on her blog.

And for something to look forward to in 2010: Wimpy Kid goes Hollywood with the March 16 release of The Wimpy Kid Movie Diary. I’m usually not such a fan of these blockbuster-type books, but I have to say, I love the Wimpy Kid series.

Tomorrow, I will make stern plans of productive seriousness for 2010, with lots of checklists and such. But for now: enjoy the last of 09, and I’ll catch up with you next year.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays!

I know, there are supposed to be Thursday links today. But with all the fudge making, post office lines, snow, and mind-numbing Christmas carols, I didn't get to be reporter Fleur this week. Apologies.

So instead, I wish you happy holidays, whatever your denomination, and I hope to catch up with you next week with some plans for 2010.

And for those of you feeling a little Scroogy, this cat can commiserate (and so can I).

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Thursday Links

Thursday links are a bit tardy, but I was busy navigating parking lots while shopping, and wrapping presents, which as it turns out are both sticky business. But here is the latest in YA and sundry stuff:

Want to know what to get the teen you love for the holidays? Here are some teen-approved ideas by Grommet. No books, but otherwise some nifty ideas.

Pew Research Center talks about what it means to grow up Hispanic in the U.S. The short of it: Hispanic kids are optimistic, but also more likely to wind up poor, pregnant, and dropping out of school. Interesting stats, so read the whole thing. Now all we need is some research to figure out how we can change these odds.

For you writers, author Tess Gerritsen lists her least favorite questions on Murderati. Entertaining, I thought. And Libba Bray is blogging it up this month at FiveAwesomeYAFans about her book Going Bovine.

There was much buzzin’ around the PW cover “Afro Picks,” highlighting African-American books in today’s marketplace. Read the article about the differing opinions here.

Publishers Weekly reports that Putnam Books for Young Readers’ president Nancy Paulsen is starting a new imprint, Nancy Paulsen Books, with first titles out in 2011.

Religious folk have beef with David Michael Slater’s novels over biblical interpretations. Mr. Slater never intended to cause a fuss, and plans to continue writing his series. As he says, “My novels continue to be fiction.” Good for you, Mr. Slater.

SLJ reports on video games and libraries—with a Colorado focus, so I thought that was cool.

The Consumerist talks about a new Federal Trade Commission program called You Are Here, aimed at educating tweens to be conscious consumers. Sounded interesting. is launching a bookclub for tween girls. Sounds like there’s some heavy parental influencing going on, but that’s probably appropriate for the 8-12 age group (says Mama Fleur).

And saving the most important news for last: Nick is coming out with another season of Spongebob. Now how’s that for an early Christmas present.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ten Questions

Just in case you wanted to know more about me, check out Wendy Burt-Thomas' 10 questions I answered. I'm feeling a little bit famous here...

You can roll your eyes now. Go ahead.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Review: DopeSick by Walter Dean Myers

Another book with a skinny spine, which you probably know I’m a fan of. And since this one was written by Walter Dean Myers, I hoped it would pack just the punch I love. I wasn’t disappointed.

In DopeSick, Lil J is having a really bad day. He’s running from the police, hiding inside an abandoned building (at least he thinks it is) with a gunshot wound to his arm. His friend Rico has already been arrested, and now there’s a manhunt for Lil J.

Inside the abandoned crack house, Lil J finds Kelly. Kelly is watching TV, with strange images of Lil J’s past and future. At the start of the book, we get the impression Lil J is just at the wrong place at the wrong time, but as we read on, it becomes apparent that Lil J has something of a skewed perception of himself. Kelly confronts him with his past mistakes, with the bad decisions he’s made to get him where he is: wounded, running from the police, destined to wind up dead.

DopeSick, in its simplest definition, is A Christmas Carol meets the ghetto. The story is terse, immediate—and what surprised me most was how this book made me take a closer look at my own beliefs. At the start of the book, I wanted to believe Lil J was a stand-up guy with some tough breaks. When our lead was exposed as a ghetto stereotype: an unemployed drug user, failing in high school, and a baby mama he wasn’t supporting, I didn’t know what to make of Lil J, or my own disappointment in him.

The end of the book is poetic, though I have to admit that it was Lil J’s flaws that kept me thinking long after I turned the last page.

Read this book. Let me know how you experienced it.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Thursday Links

It’s the season! And Generation Y isn’t all that happy about it, according to this MediaPost article, asking: “Why is this Christmas so depressing?”

Facebook is forming a Global Advisory Board to enhance safety for kids. Be interesting to see what comes out of that, though I have to say: it took you long enough, Facebook people. On this same themesong, MTV is running a campaign against digital abuse called A Thin Line; read all about in this YPulse interview with MTV’s Jason Rzepka.

Agent Kristin Nelson gives us the inside scoop on St. Martin’s new line for older teens/twenty-somethings. It’s more writing biz focused, but interesting all the same.

The NYT reports on a two-page e-reader aimed at making textbook reading more practical. It’s called the eDGe (couldn’t think of a snappier name, could ya?), and is due out in February.

MSNBC reports that young people are among the angriest Americans in this most uninformative article on research done in 2005. Investigative reporting appears to be dying along with the newspapers.

Onward to some recommendations for your holiday wishlist: YALSA has announced their shortlist for the William C. Morris Award for debut YA. The winner will be announced Monday January 18 at ALA’s Midwinter Meeting in Boston. Lots of grief-themed books—will check these out for you and report my findings.

For you publishing folk, especially fellow writers: check out J.A. Konrath’s predictions for 2010 when it comes to ebooks. I’ll be interested to see if he’s right; some bold predictions in there, and I like his ability to think outside the box, and give it a kick or two while he’s at it.

To end on a happy note, here’s some good news: kids who are active online are also more likely to read/write more, according to a study in England and Scotland. Let’s hope that goes for Americans too, huh?

Monday, December 7, 2009


I'm back from vacation. The washing machine has done its duty, cats have been comforted, and driveway plowed--twice. It's good to be back, despite the frigid Colorado weather.

While I was gone, my blog (at YA Sleuth and Publishers Marketplace) got a record amount of visitors, more than when I blog regularly about YA books and news. I should shut up more often, it seems.

Actually, I think it might have been the buzz surrounding the Wal-Mart, I Love You flash fiction challenge. You can read my story Aubergine below; I'll be off to read all the other great flashes linked on Patricia Abbott's blog, since I missed out on that.

And Thursday, I hope to be caught up on YA news to share as always. Just to chase you blog readers away.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lost in Translation

I’m heading off to the motherland in a few days—that would be Holland, the land of windmills, fries with mayo, and gorgeous beer. It’s always a strange thing to go back, as I’ve lived elsewhere (U.K., U.S. and a planet called North Dakota) for the past 15 years or so. Holland is home but isn’t, all at the same time.

As a result of growing up in Holland, I can claim I speak German, French, Dutch, and Latin (well, sort of, Latin’s a dead language after all). I say claim, because beyond ordering dinner, I don’t get very far with my German and French. And even my Dutch is a little rusty, believe it or not. Language is a living thing: if you don’t use it, it fades.

Not that I don’t pick it right back up again. But there’s always one language that suffers: once my Dutch gets better, my English gets a little odd: the sentence structure is off, word choices not quite what they should be, and I get a stronger accent. Not such a big deal while I’m on vacation, although it’s unsettling for the writer in me. After all these years between two languages, I’m convinced there’s only so much room in the language center of our brains. You have to choose one.

So for the next few weeks, I’ll be off to be Dutch again. And when I get back, I might blog with an accent. Just to give you a heads up.

Review: How They Met and Other Stories by David Levithan

Some of you probably know: I’m a big fan of the short story. I cut my teeth as a writer while attempting to craft shorts, and still love to write a short or two. Many of my favorite books are short story collections.

This is the first YA short story collection I read, one I picked up after enjoying Nick&Norah's Infinite Playlist, which was co-authored by Levithan. How They Met is essentially a collection of love stories; according to the jacket flap, Levithan starting writing these to entertain his friends.

I won’t go into the individual stories too much here, since that would take forever. Each of these love stories was very different from the other—not easy to pull off in a collection, where any lazy plotting or recurrent characters would be easily revealed. And there’s none of that in this collection.

What struck me most about the writing was that despite the somewhat wry look on life, these are all very hopeful love stories. Some of them even border on schmaltz—and I like it (amazing, I know).

I highly recommend you pick up this book, if you’re into YA, and like a story you can finish in a single sitting. You’ll have 18 really great ones in How They Met. This book seems like the perfect present for someone you love.

On a side-note: I’m adding a category on the YA Sleuth blog for YA short story collections, because I love shorts so much. Even if they’re not mysteries—I mean, nobody’s perfect, right?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thursday Links

Here’s some of this week’s news in YA:

Want to get jiggy with Generation Y? Here’s the current slang according to Trend Central, and it’s totally cosmic, dude. Okay, I’ll stop now. Honestly, I’d never heard of any of these, but that might have something to do with the fact that I’m old.

And on a side-note: what’ll happen when we run out of alphabet? What comes after Generation Z—do we start back at A? Imagine the pressure on those kids…

Anyway, on that same topic, Liz Funk (who doesn’t want that name?) blogs at YPulse about the botched depiction of teen life on TV and in books, suggesting the writers should get more teen input. Seems like a great point (and her examples are really good, so read that blog.)

I thought this was cool: you can invent a gadget for Alex Rider! Penguin and MAKE magazine are partnering in this contest to promote the November 17 release of the next Alex Rider book, Crocodile Tears. Check out this article in PW, including an interesting short interview with author Anthony Horowitz.

Stephenie Meyer is on Oprah this Friday, for you fans.

Kindle for PC is now available. I haven’t had a chance to check it out yet, but plan to soon. Those Kindles and Nooks are cool, but a little pricey considering they’re just for reading (you can buy a lot of books with $200), so I’ll be interested how Kindle works on my trusty laptop. I’ll let you know.

And Cushing Academy is ready to embrace technology completely. They even spent $10k on 18 e-readers—how come that math makes no sense to me? But I’ll be interested to see how this works out; schools seem like prime candidates for e-books to me.

The Toronto Star talks about what it means to be Jewish to young people. Interesting stuff.

And on a final unrelated note: my local TV station reports that Utah is the happiest state in America. I have to say, I’m still not moving there…

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wal-Mart: I Love You

Well, not really, and I'm sure I'm in good company. But Wal-Mart: I Love You is a flash fiction challenge run by a few writer friends of mine, based on the People of Wal-Mart website.

I wrote my story, and will be posting it on November 30. This was fun. I'd forgotten how much I love flash fiction; I love the sharp prose, I love how you can read it in just a few minutes, and how as a writer, it's a finished piece of work without months invested. Flash fiction is so much fun. Must write more of it again...

Anyway, watch this space on November 30 for a fun YA flash.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Review: Jumped by Rita Williams-Garcia

I picked up Jumped because it made the ABA nominee list, and looked like the kind of book I would enjoy. Plus it has a skinny spine, and you know how I like that. Author Rita Williams-Garcia is also a Coretta Scott King Honoree (for Like Sisters on the Homefront, which I will now have to add to my list).

Jumped is written from three perspectives: Trina, who is a confident artist, Dominique, who’s rough around the edges with a solid temper, and Leticia, who falls somewhere in the middle.

All Trina (in her pink outfit) does is pass by Dominique, but at the wrong place and time. Dominique (“Do I look invisible to you?”) vows to get back at Trina, and we follow these three girls throughout their day at school, as tension builds and builds.

The shifts in perspective are expertly done—the voice is incredible for each of these girls. All written in first person, it would be easy for the author’s voice to intrude, but there’s none of that. As a short story lover, I enjoyed this book for its succinct storytelling, great build in tension, and ambiguous ending.

Jumped is a solid 5, and goes on my crime fiction list. Go read it. You won't be disappointed.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Thursday Links

Look no further for all of this week's YA news! Okay, maybe you could look further, because I’m not on top of everything. But here’s some of the newsworthy stuff I found:

An article in PW last week by Wendy Werris reported on the fall meeting of the California Independent Booksellers Organization. Very interesting stuff being said about the teen market, including some stats telling us that 75 percent of teens read for fun every day, on average 43 minutes a day. So good news! Too much interesting stuff to report here, so check out the article for yourself.

On a related note, Tess Gerritsen shares her reader demographics on the Murderati blog. One interesting fact: she has a following with readers under 18. This brings me back to last week’s article in PW, reporting on teen reading habits. Yes, 61 percent love mystery/thriller books, but 89 percent of teens venture into the adult section for their books. Not that this is a bad thing, but I’ll bet good money that it’s those mystery readers that get their books on the adult side of the bookstore. I’ve said it before: let there be more YA mystery/thrillers!

And off my soapbox now…

I found Harper Teen’s (new?) website Pitch Black, which gets major points for creativity. It’s a bummer it’s all about books with fangs, at least to me, but if you’re into vampire YA, check it out. Kudos for the creativity, Harper Teen people.

Another publisher promoting teen books: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children's (now there’s a mouthful) did a live webcast on 60 of their new YA releases for teen read week, which I only read about until this week. But happily, you can still check out the archive of that webcast here.

Penguin is giving away money to charity to promote Mike Lupica’s novel Million Dollar Throw, which just came out this week. Props for thinking outside the box, I say. Read all about it in this PW article.

Want more bloggery? Check out School Library Journal’s article by Elizabeth Bird on blogs about children’s books (you have to read to the bottom of the article to get her top 10). Or try KidLitosphere (thanks to Olgy Gary for referring to this!)—there are a scary amount of blog links there.

On a bit of an off-topic and serious note: this month is Youth Homelessness Awareness Month, as reported on YPulse. Apparently more than 75 percent of homelessness cases go unreported, and these are kids who should be worrying about their grades and their hair, not where they’ll be sleeping that night. Very gripping stuff. Causecast tells you how you can help this growing group—talk about a great way to celebrate Thanksgiving.

GalleyCat’s Jason Boog reports on Jericho Brown’s advice for young poets: "Think about the whole of things, as opposed to thinking about right now (..)” Seems like good advice all the way around.

And as a final note for all us writers who think we know what craft means, check out this photo. Now that’s impressive.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Review: Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott

Living Dead Girl tells us about everyone’s nightmare: a girl (unnamed) is abducted when she’s ten, taken to be her captor’s object of cruelty. He calls her Alice.

We get tossed into her living hell of a life when Alice is fifteen. Her captor, Ray, starves Alice to keep her from growing, but Alice knows her time is up. Ray’s previous Alice washed up in a river when she turned 15, something he likes to remind our Alice of.

We follow every cruel detail of Alice’s captivity: the sexual abuse, the mental abuse, the starvation that makes Alice slow and tired. We get to see how everyone looks the other way, how Ray keeps the upper hand, and how Alice gives in to her situation.

Until it’s time to find a new girl for Ray, a young victim Alice picks out at her local park. Alice meets the young girl’s brother, who’s confused and damaged himself, and allows her to break out of her pattern of submission.

This book was so dark, I was afraid to put it down. The writing is sparse and poignant, just like I like it, but raw, in a way that made me cringe. Think Joyce Carol Oats’ darkness, and multiply by a hundred. Living Dead Girl was such a deep dive into desperation and evil, I was afraid I was never coming out.

Although this was not a mystery, it’s crime fiction with a capital C. And the writing is probably among the best I’ve seen, so it gets a 5.

I have to confess though: after I finished this book, I read Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (also a 5, and most recommended by me, but not a mystery) just to cheer myself up. That’s how dark Living Dead Girl was. So come prepared.

Monday, November 2, 2009

On Skinny Spines and Reluctant Readers

I’m a bit of an impatient reader, if you want to know the truth. When I browse my bookstore, I look at the spine. And if it’s really fat, I sigh. Do I want to commit to this book? It had better be really recommended someplace.

Yes, I’m one of those readers who skips past lengthy narrative passages until I reach a line of dialogue. Because that’s where stuff is actually happening. We all know this.

It’s not that I don’t have respect for the language, the beautiful descriptive passage, the profound introspection of characters. I’m sure the author worked really hard on it. And some authors, like Sarah Dessen for one, write some really beautiful books this way.

But if I’m honest, I look for the skinny spines. Because to tell a story with fewer words, now that takes some writerly muscle. Walter Dean Myers, Gary Paulsen, Rita Williams-Garcia—I could go on a while. These authors could take a few dozen pages to tell you all about a character’s inner life. But instead, they show you with a line of dialogue, the way they say something. Take Stephen King: he writes some real tombs, ones that are a bit much for me, but ones that readers love. But if you want to read his best work, pick up one of his short story collections. Now that’s some good writing.

I used to apologize sheepishly for my impatience. I would sigh when my work was rejected outright, without a second glance, because it was too short to make the cut. It must be my flaw, I thought. Everyone else seems to need at least 300 pages to feel a story.

But the more I felt that way, the more books I found with skinny spines. Good books. Short story collections that still have me thinking about the characters for days, like Levithan’s How They Met. And I found there’s a name for readers like me: reluctant readers. We’re impatient. Need skinny spines, so we don’t get overwhelmed some say. And we’re mostly boys, apparently.

So I’m a reluctant reader, I guess. And you know what? It’s a really great place to be. Because some of the best writing is behind those skinny spines—you just have to pay attention. I feel sorry for those of you who dismiss books that don’t make a certain page or word count, because you’re missing out on the greatest show-don’t-tell stuff that’s out there. Brevity is a virtue much underrated.

Here’s a thought: maybe reluctant readers are really just the sharpest ones.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thursday Links

This week in YA:

Teen Read Week is over… But that doesn’t mean we stop reading YA, right? Right. Like you needed an excuse to read a good book.

Most links from this week relate back to last week’s bookfrenzie. For author interviews, go to Readergirlz and the YA Authors Cafe. Just be ready for your to-read pile to take on Jenga-esque proportions.

Publishers Weekly reports on teen reading habits, based on research done by Very interesting, so take a look for yourself, but here are some numbers that jumped out at me:

1. By 2013, sales to teens are expected to rise more than 30 percent

Let there be more books in this category! Exclamation mark! Books like this one, maybe? And more books to get boys excited about reading, because the survey shows that 96 percent of responders were female… And that just ain’t right.

Speaking of which, check out GUYS READ, a website all about books for guys (but I’m guessing you may have figured that already). I found this one at YPulse, where this article reviews the website. Apparently, GUYS READ is the brainchild of author Jon Scieszka; check out this great list of books great for guys of all ages.

Onward to the Great Stories CLUB, an ALA grant-sponsored book club for underprivileged teens. Applications for grants are being taken until November 2, so if you want in, hurry. Seems like a cool program.

Also at YALSA, find out which books 11,000 teens voted for this year’s top 10. I was glad to see John Green’s Paper Towns at the top, and added a few new titles to my list. So many books, so little time…

My very own Pikes Peak Library District has a list of 20 YA mysteries, in case you want more to read.

At Shelftalker, children’s bookseller Josie Leavitt makes her predictions on which books will get Newbery, Caldecott and Printz awards, and asks everyone to chime in. I’m staying out of this one, but will be interested to see if she’s right.

And finally, delightfully off-topic, check out Becky Clark’s collection of Halloween pet costumes. Happy Halloween, everyone!

P.S. Links come on Thursday now, since that works out better for me.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Review: Desert Blood by Ronald Cree

Before I start the review of Desert Blood, I should say that the author Ronald Cree is part of my local writers group. We’ve met at local events—but I didn’t realize he’d written a YA mystery until he pointed the fact out to me. It appears that sometimes in the hunt for a good mystery, I could stand to look in my own backyard.

Desert Blood is the story of Gus Gonzalez, an orphan adopted by TV star Nicholas Hernandez. The two live near Los Angeles, and they do their best to avoid the press when possible. But when Gus comes home to catch an intruder in the house, and he narrowly escapes, tabloid stories are the least of their worries.

Gus soon finds out from his adoptive father Nick that there have been threatening letters, and that Gus himself is being targeted. When his best friend Lalo is kidnapped, Gus is determined to expose the culprit, to eventually expose all the mysteries surrounding his father, the adoption, and the stalker who’s out to get him.

The hardest thing for me as a reader was to buy into the whole celebrity father, and Hollywood glitz that’s the backdrop to Desert Blood. But our lead Gus and his best friend Lalo immediately pulled me into the story—and I especially loved the Hispanic flavor of the story, something you rarely see in YA.

The pacing was a little slow at times (for YA), but the narrative was strong, and the suspense and mystery surrounding Gus’ adoptive father and his past was very compelling. The threat to Gus felt real and palpable, and the mystery was well-paced. I also liked that Gus wasn’t afraid to act—too often in YA, the lead laments over what happens, but doesn’t do anything but navel-gaze. In this book, there was no doubt who the hero was.

Although there was some forceful plotting that needed a good amount of explaining at the end, I’m glad to say that this was, in fact, a YA mystery. With a lead who solved it. So Desert Blood is going on the list, with a solid 4 rating.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Early Links

Friday Links come early, as I’m vowing to get crackin’ on plotting a new novel. There isn’t much to report in the YA department—aside from the myriad of author interviews and chats in light of YALSA’s Teen Read Week—but lots of stirring in the publishing pot, for those of you interested:

I thought this first column by Cory Doctorow (he wrote Little Brother, for you YA fans) was really interesting; basically, he’ll be running an experiment, to see how giving away free e-books will boost sales (among other things). He’ll be blogging about this monthly at Publishers Weekly, and I’ll keep you posted on this, since I find this stuff fascinating.

J.A. Konrath explains how e-books put the power with the writer, and squash Lady Luck’s hold on our sales. Food for thought. GalleyCat wonders if sharing e-books is okay, or if this leads to e-piracy—interesting stuff being said in the comments.

M.J. Rose links back to an indie bookseller in Boulder, who talks (tongue-in-cheek?) about why the book price war isn’t such a bad thing. And Pimp My Novel’s Eric looks at all the angles of the price war, and why publishers are worried.

At Kidlit, agent Mary Kole talks about writing in multiple genres, and things to consider as writer. She also explains where series stack up in today’s market. Very informative.

For more writing craft stuff, Women on Writing covers what makes a good children’s short story for Highlights Magazine. And Type M for Murder reports on agent Donald Maass’ seminar at Bouchercon for SinC, and tells us what makes a great villain, in case you need help with that.

And if you haven’t already, you must check out Readergirlz; they’re really rocking Teen Read Week.

Happy early weekend, all!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Review: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

I’m not a big fan of issue books, so when Penguin announced their new Point of View program with books on ‘difficult topics,’ I cringed a little. My inner rebel (okay, so she’s not so inner) smelled an after-school special. But some of my favorite writers were featured in Point of View, so when I saw the little display at my bookstore, I picked up a copy of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls, along with a snazzy discussion guide.

This book is dark and painful and beautiful. We dive into Lia’s world of self-torture, right after Lia’s best friend Cassie kills herself in a nearby motel room. Lia tries to assure her father, step-mother, and mom that she’s just fine, but inside she’s really unraveling like one of her knitting projects. Lia is anorexic, and cuts herself.

The book has a brutal insight into Lia’s mental deterioration as she starves herself to be clean inside, dropping pounds every day: “At 099.00 I think clearer, look better, feel stronger.” Even more gripping is watching the adults around her struggle to make her stop and get her to eat, and watching the effect Lia’s anorexia has on her stepsister Emma.

As Lia’s struggle continues, she tries to come to grips with her best friend Cassie’s death—Cassie, whose ghost haunts Lia, taunting her to win their contest to be the thinnest.

The writing is true Laurie Halse Anderson: direct, beautiful, painful, and gripping. It hurt to read this book, hurt to watch Lia’s descent into anorexia, and how she unwittingly dragged everyone down with her, including her little stepsister. My only minor gripe is that the ghost aspect seemed a little forced at times—but this was a mini objection in a powerful book.

I watched a lot of hidden anorexia in my high school, growing up. And I imagine this hasn’t changed much. A girl in my high school, like Cassie in Wintergirls, even killed herself over her struggle with bulimia—and that’s something that haunts all of those who knew her forever. Could we have done something?

So I’m coming back from my no-issues-in-books stance. Maybe we need books like Wintergirls to expose things like anorexia, even if it’s hard. Maybe because it’s hard.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Teen Read Week

It’s Teen Read Week! And this means we’re reading teen books, not that you have to be a teen to read them—at least that’s my belief.

This year, YALSA decided on the theme Read Beyond Reality. I usually like my fiction to be firmly grounded in reality, but found myself writing a scifi thriller this year—so if I can change my mind in my writing, I can certainly read some more scifi or fantasy.

For more on Teen Read Week, you can check out author interviews at the YA Authors Café, and chats with authors Justina Chen, Alyson Noel, and Zoe Marriott at Readergirlz. And Teenreads has this week’s releases, just in case you need some ideas on what to read. For some YA reviews by the intended audience, check out Publisher's Weekly's Barbara Vey's page.

I’ll be heading out today to get myself a beyond reality read. What are you reading?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Bouchercon and Anthony Awards

So I missed Bouchercon, but thankfully, there are plenty of reports to read online now. The Rap Sheet covers pretty much everything (found their blog on Sarah Weinman's), including the Anthony award winners, so go there to get the latest.

Congrats to Chris Grabenstein for his win of Best Children’s/ YA for The Crossroads—if you haven’t read this book, go read it. Right now. It’s that good.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday YA Links

Have at it:

First off, happily stolen from Nathan Bransford’s blog: J.A. Konrath talks money. If you are a writer, you must check this out. It certainly left me contemplating the meaning of these numbers.

During a time when you hear nothing but negative reports on how publishing is faring, it was nice to read this article on small mystery press Poisoned Pen’s success. PP is also hosting a web conference on October 24, for those of you looking for a reason not to leave the house. I’ll be there, so come say a virtual hello if you’re there.

Apple is happy to report that 22 percent of teens intend to buy an iPhone in the next 6 months, according to a survey of teens. And apparently plans are underway to add a Rock Band app, so we can rock out on the go.

HR Block has a new program to teach high school kids about finances. In a game-like environment, kids have to get a job, pay the bills—and you can even win a scholarship. Sounds like a cool idea, and something adults could learn something from too.

For you writers thinking of doing the NaNoWriMo thing this year: the smart and talented Alexandra Sokoloff is talking all about craft on her blog this month; looks like a great way to be prepared come November.
And I saw that NaNo has a young writers section too, for you teen writers taking the challenge. Chapeau to all of you attempting this contest; I couldn’t do it.

In Twilight news, there’s now a comic book biography of Stephanie Meyer. I thought it looked pretty nifty.

To add to your book wish list, here are the NBA nominees. Publishers Weekly discusses some questions raised by the nomination of David Small’s Stitches, as (apparently) it wasn’t a clear YA title. I'm staying out of this one, as I'm still recovering from my Edgar hissy-fit.

If you’re in the mood for a good short mystery, check out Sniplits. In honor of Bouchercon, they’re having a mystery week (with some free shorts), and they're featuring author Libby Fisher Hellman.

And for a Halloween-themed photo, check-out polar bear Carly and her pumpkin. That’s my kinda girl.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Money, Money, Money

It ain’t easy being a writer. And I’m not talking about the hard work, the solitude, the craft—that’s a post for someone else’s blog. I’m talking about the money we want to spend wisely. Namely, the money most of us don’t have.

And this isn’t about the not-enough-to-live-on advances either, or the expenditures of time/money expected when we do sell the book and have arrived. I wanted to bring up the fun stuff, the times we get to come unglued from our computer chairs: conference time.

I’ve been to a few of these, and they’re lots of fun. I come away recharged, newly inspired, and up-to-date on all things publishing. Plenty of reasons to go.

But let’s look at the price tag that comes with a conference: $250 for the plane ticket (if you’re lucky), $300 for the conference fee (on average, unless you’re going to Thrillerfest). Then the cab to the hotel—and then there’s The Hotel. Which is usually about $200 a night, because it’s The Hotel, and has a bellhop with better clothes than you, and a $20 breakfast. Three nights sets you back $600.

So we’re already at $1150. Then there’s some souvenirs for the kids, food, a banquet you should really go to that adds $60, and you’re spending $1500. And that’s assuming you still have a pair of conference pants that fit, and something that can pass for a banquet outfit.

For me, this is as much as a family vacation on a budget, or a mortgage payment, or my utility bills for a year. If you look at that price tag, going to a conference seems like a frivolous and selfish expense.

So instead, I’m looking at local events, or online ones, so there’s no hotel, no airfare, and I can drive my own car. I’m already looking at such events next year. Events where I can smile at the bellhop on my way in without my little suitcase, instead of feeling like I have to hand him a tip. And I use Facebook or CrimeSpace to catch up with my faraway writer friends.

Still… I wish I was going to Indy this week, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Get Your YA Sleuth On

I was doing so research, looking for new books to read (like I needed any more…). And I found this link to Ocean County Libraries (in NJ), where someone named L Fletcher put together a list of YA mysteries.

How great is this! It’s a little dated (2007), but still. It was nice to find someone else who likes to get their YA Sleuth on.

Who said surfing the web is a waste of time?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

About The Weather

This is my kind of weather, perfect to hybernate and read. Gotta love Colorado on days like this...

Friday, October 9, 2009

Links for Your Friday

As always, here are your Friday YA-related links, and some sundry items I felt like adding:

You can nominate your favorite (recent) YA book for the Cybils—check it out here.

At Teenreads, there are several contests to win books (you have to scroll down a bit to get to that part). Penguin also has a contest where you can win some classic books, more on that here. And who doesn’t love a contest, right?

A recent report found that teens, women, and seniors are adopting mobile the fastest, read more in this article. There was a comment in there by Chris Quick, client services manager (mobile media), suggesting that us women find mobile connectivity handy so we can improve our shopping, and plan tonight’s dinner. I’ll try not to be offended by that.

If you’re between 13 and 24 and would like to share your opinion on all things youth culture, YPulse is looking to add 10 people to their advisory board.

From the Publisher’s Marketplace news page: reviewing bloggers now have to disclose if they got a book for free. Read about this new FTC ruling here. This one has got all my online groups buzzing, and not the happy kind of buzz.

Publishers Weekly reports that Robin Brande’s Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature was optioned by producer Diana Ossana (of Brokeback Mountain). Sounds like this could be an interesting movie.

For you writers with a finished manuscript (you know who you are), author Kat Richardson has a detailed and very informative blog post on how to find the right agent.

And under the department Did We Really Need a Poll to Prove This?: whatever is the most annoying word in America.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Review: Diary of a Witness

After hearing about it at FiveAwesomeYAFans, I read Catherine Ryan Hyde’s Diary of a Witness. The cover is really nice (you can see it here), simple and foreboding, which made me hope that maybe this was a mystery.

It was not. It was a real page-turner all the same though, so I thought I would tell you what this book is all about. Our main character is Ernie, who is an outcast in high school. His only friend is Will, and together, they manage to survive the bullying in their high school.

Until a fishing trip, where Will’s little brother dies in a freak accident. At first, his schoolmates avoid Will, but then the taunting starts, playing on Will’s guilt about his role in his brother’s death. And for the duration of the story, we watch Will tick like a time bomb, until the inevitable ending (which I won’t give away).

Meanwhile, Ernie struggles to lose weight (while his Mom orders pizza and cooks mac and cheese), but finds refuge in visiting his uncle’s cabin. Uncle Max also gives Will advice when figuring out what to do to help Will.

This book was nicely paced, with impressive detailing when it came to the fishing chapters. The characters were vivid, from the bullies, to Will as the broken kid nobody could fix, and especially Ernie. Ernie’s struggle with his weight felt very honest and real, particularly in his struggle to tell his mother about his wish to lose weight.

There are two things I wish had been different in this story. First, I wish Ernie had been a little less of a hero from the beginning. At the end of the book, Ernie sees his best friend Will as he is—but that wasn’t all that much of a change from the beginning. Ernie saves his friend twice. I think Ernie’s inner journey would have been more compelling had he decided to not save his friend the first time around. Second, I wish the adults wouldn’t have been so great throughout the story. With the exception of Will’s parents (who were almost over-the-top lousy), all adults are sympathetic to Will and Ernie’s plight, to the point that I wish this was a little less so. The reality is that a lot of us rather look away, since it's so difficult to stop bullying.

Aside from these objections, I thought Diary of a Witness was a great read, and one I recommend. Final wish: there should be more books that shine a bright light on the effects of bullying like this one did.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Cat Strike

“Dude, did you eat the last of the kibbles?”

“Uhm, no. Okay, maybe.”

“Dangit. I’m hungry. Now I’ll have to be nice to The One Who Brings Us Food.”

“Sorry. I was upset. You know I like to eat when I get stressed.”

“Don’t give me your excuses. Help me out here, man. She has no idea we’re out of food—this could take hours! And I’m late for a nap.”

“We can call her.”

“That never works. She just pets us, and I hate that.”

“Let’s go over to that room she sits in all the time. We can sit in front of that screen she’s always looking at. That'll get her attention.”

“Brilliant. Let’s go.”

Friday, October 2, 2009


For the latest and greatest in all things YA (plus some detours), here are your Friday links:

People unfamiliar with YA often ask me what the deal is with these teen books, and why there’s even a whole section for teens now. Note that most of these people are adults… I usually encourage them to read some of my YA favorites, but here’s a good (oldy but goody) Writer’s Digest link about the genre, and what gives.

In honor of banned books week, read one of these children’s books. I mean, how can you not like Captain Underpants?

Stolen from the Publishers Marketplace news page: Sourcebooks starts a new YA imprint called Fire with books out in Spring 2010; read all about it here.

At FiveAwesomeYAFans (they are pretty awesome), Catherine Ryan Hyde has been blogging the month of September away, some about her book Diary of a Witness, which is on my (dangerously toppling) to-read pile. If you sign up at this group, come be my friend? I’m all lonesome.

Meredith at YPulse interviews author Libba Bray of Going Bovine—not a mystery, but still sounds like an interesting book. Ms. Bray is also part of a chat this month over at readergirlz.

For you children’s writers who want feedback on your work: agent Mary Kole at Andrea Brown will take your query letter in this contest. The winner gets a critique of the first 30 pages of their manuscript—sounds like a sweet deal.

Live in the Colorado Springs area? Check out the Authorfest of the Rockies this Friday and Saturday at the Cliff House in Manitou Springs.

And if you’re a writer, editor, or someone else in publishing, and live in New York, consider this charity organization: Girls Write Now. It sounds like a really cool way to give back, and who can’t use a little good karma, right?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Operation Yes

To back up my goal of joining this millennium and get with it techno-wise, I followed a TweetChat yesterday. It was a back-and-forth between editor Cheryl Klein and author Sara Lewis Holmes—these ladies worked on Ms. Lewis Holmes' book Operation Yes together, so I was very interested to learn more about that.

A TweetChat, I learned, moves superfast, but the cool part here was that I got to ask questions, listen to a discussion, and all without leaving my comfy computer chair and cat on the lap. Pretty awesome, I think.

Anyway, the transcript of this TweetChat is on Sara Lewis Holmes’ blog, so you can get the lowdown on her new book, and a contest she’s running. You can win a signed copy of Operation Yes if you write the winning Jody call. What’s a Jody call, you ask? Well, you can find out here and get the skinny on this contest. This book sounds great; I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy for my daughter and me to enjoy while Dad’s deployed.

And I’m still pretty proud of myself for following a TweetChat. I didn’t even know such a thing existed two days ago.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Digi-Novel Update

I cracked open my copy of Level 26, the digi-novel I told you about a few weeks ago. The story is juicy, creepy, and moved very fast (last night, I almost forgot I actually do have to go to sleep at some point). Good book.

So then I got to the part where you’re supposed to go online and watch something. But the prompt was for a snuff film of one of the victims, made by our psycho bad guy…

As much as I imagined this might have cross-over appeal into YA, I would have to say: major negatory. Level 26 carries a rating of R-plus, if I can create such a category on the fly.

But a good book. The online part, the snuff film? I think I’ll pass…

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mama's Got A Brand-New Bag

I’ve had my share of bad haircuts. The frizzy perm, the angled bob, the short do—they all seemed like a good idea at the time. Sometimes you just need a change. Look at Drew Barrymore's hair if you need more evidence.

My website is such a case. The old one was fine: there was information, short story links, sample chapter—it did the job. But sometimes, it’s just time for a change. So I spent the morning overhauling it, updating, and changing the design just for the hell of it.

Here it is. Hopefully, it’s not just another bad perm…

Let me know what you think.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Grand & Humble

You can stop rolling your eyes now—I wasn’t talking about myself with this post's title. Grand & Humble is a book by Brent Hartinger, and I finished reading it last night. So I thought I would tell you what I thought.

For a quick recap: Grand & Humble is told from two perspectives: Manny and Harlan. Manny is poor, Harlan is rich, to put it simply—though the characters have a lot more depth beyond their economic status. We follow both as they are plagued by visions of their own death, visions they’re trying to explain. The book switches between the two guys’ point of view, which works very well for keeping the pages turning. A snappy, engrossing read.

The story has nice diversity to it: a deaf character, a gay character, which I appreciate a lot. My mind was there anyway, as this has been a topic of late in publishing, and the theme for next year’s YALSA symposium. And Brent Hartinger, like in his previous novels, knows just how to add diversity without making it feel like it was done for the sake of being p.c.

I won’t talk too much more, because I’ll give the ending away. Which was a real whopper I didn’t see coming. Not a mystery as I had hoped (no crime), but a good puzzle with characters who act. Which I like. I’m giving Grand & Humble a 4.5 out of 5, so go read it. Even if it isn’t a mystery.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Friday Links: Ode to the Craft

After reading this article in The Village Voice (warning—lots of f-bombs), I got to thinking. Well, first I was laughing, then I got to thinking. Mostly about how dumb some people are, and then about how incredibly valid this point is: have respect for the years it takes to hone a craft, whether it’s painting, writing, or editing, whatever.

For this Friday link post, I thought I would step away from the usual YA theme, and give you some writing craft related links. Because we could all stand to learn something new. Especially me.

So here goes my Ode to the Craft:

Kelly Spitzer, writer extraordinaire, talks about Rose Metal Press’ Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, which sounds really interesting. I have a soft spot for short fiction, and recognized some of the names there—will have to check this book out.

I finally sat down and read the 2010 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market. It’s technically a reference, listing agents, book publishers, etc., but like the Playboy fans, I bought it mostly for the articles. Good stuff, with articles on YA writing, revision, and the latest in publishing.

Some of my writer friends have been partaking in a two-week write-a-thon. Kudos to all—and I thought Jenny had some smart thoughts on the whole process, and how lots of bits of writing make a bunch, and eventually a novel.

Barry Eisler has a ton of info for those of us in the trenches, so check out his website.

If you’re out of ideas, check out Writer’s Digest’s prompts to get a creative kick in the pants.

The Gotham Writers’ Workshop has a page devoted to tips from the masters, for those of you who could use some encouragement or guidance.

And if you're frustrated by hearing about the dismal odds of even selling your book, check out Kelly Corrigan’s story. She kicked some promotion butt and beat the odds with a baseball bat—rock on, Kelly.

On that note, this writer is off to write the weekend away…

P.S. Trying out new blog template, hoping it's easier on the eyes. Blogger people: you need more templates. You're hurting the creative people here with your boring choices.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Book List

To start of my list of bonafide YA mysteries, I’m mining my recollection of books I’ve already read. Since my memory is what it is, this list will expand as I remember.

Here it goes:

YA Mysteries (books where the protagonist solves a crime as the main plot):

Acceleration by Graham McNamee (5)
I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak (5)
Rat Life by Tedd Arnold (5)
Torn to Pieces by Margot McDonnell (3)

YA Crime Fiction (there was a crime, but the protag(s) didn’t solve it):

Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd (5)
Echo by Kate Morgenroth (4)
Hit and Run by Lurlene McDaniel (3)
What Happened to Cass McBride? by Gail Giles (5)

I’ll look at posting this list as a sidebar, and keeping it updated as I read and have stuff to add. The numbers are a rating system 1-5, like Amazon, since that seemed like an easy way to go.

Of course, those are my ratings, which you’re free to ignore. Or argue with. I welcome arguments (but don't tell my kids I said that)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Techno Fleur

When your brain scatters a bit like mine does, it’s important to set goals. I have annual goals, monthly goals, weekly goals. It’s nice to have a list you can check. Makes you feel productive.

Part of my list of goals this year is to stop being such a bleemin’ dinosaur. I know how to wire the electrical system and fix the plumbing in my house, but when it comes to computers and related technology, I tune out. When stuff breaks, I sheepishly get the scowling geeks at my computer repair shop to fix it.

No more. I’m learning how to download stuff, go on Facebook, blog, etc. My hope is to eventually figure out how to have my writing available for readers to download. Because that’s where the future’s at, right?

I find it fascinating to read how innovative authors find ways to get their work out there, like M.J. Rose’s blog, and the past few posts on J.A. Konrath’s blog. Check it out, if you’re in publishing. It's the future.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Wish List

I was browsing Amazon the other day, searching for some good YA mysteries. And after a little aimless searching (okay, a lot of aimless searching), I always wind up looking for new books by my favorite authors. Favorite authors who, for some reason or another, haven’t published anything new of late. Authors I wish would get crackin’ already. Warranted or not (Laurie Halse Anderson seems to be crackin’ all the time, for instance).

Here’s my wish list. If you’re any of these authors: please, get writing. On a mystery, to be exact. I’ll send you a steady supply of peanut M&Ms, whatever it takes to get you to sit your talented rear in the seat and get your fingers a-dancing on the keyboard.

Here ‘tis:

Gail Giles
Laurie Halse Anderson (a follow-up to Chains, to be exact)
Nancy Werlin (a mystery, please)
Marcus Zusak
Tedd Arnold (your kids books look nifty, Mr. Arnold, but I would love to see another YA mystery by your hand…)
S.A. Harazin

Who’s on your list?

Monday, September 21, 2009


I spent the weekend cleaning house, and getting my to-read pile prioritized, looking for YA mysteries. I managed to read Echo by Kate Morgenroth, which was pretty good, and just the right size at 137 pages.

Meet Justin, who’s starting to lose his marbles a little. His brother Mark died last year, leaving Justin to pick up the pieces. Justin loses his best friend, girlfriend, jock status, and general stature in high school. We’re along for this dark ride into the abyss of his life, trying to figure out along the way how brother Mark wound up getting shot, and whether this was really Justin’s fault, or if Justin’s just going crazy.

Echo gets to be quite the mind trip, which I really loved. And there was no fluff here either—something I really appreciate. There’s been plenty of opinionated bloggery about the right length of a manuscript, and I’ve had my own work rejected because it was too short. Echo proves that economy in words is a craft, not a liability.

Nice read.

But not a mystery, unfortunately, since our lead is not solving a crime—it’s happening to him, more than anything else. This is YA crime fiction, I would say. A worthy read, but alas, not a mystery.

Still, I’ll be looking for more of Ms. Morgenroth’s work. If you have a free afternoon or evening, read this one. It has all the quality of short fiction, with the emotional challenge of a YA. And does it get much better than that?

I think not.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday Links

I’ve been a good girl this week: I actually edited a manuscript I’d been avoiding. Bad news is, that means not so many links for your Friday. But I did find a few:

Hey kids! Want to read books about difficult topics? YPulse has an article on Point of View, Penguin’s department for novels covering ‘difficult topics.’ This would be teen pregnancy, anorexia, suicide—the fun stuff.
In all fairness, some of my favorite authors (Laurie Halse Anderson and John Green, for instance) are part of this new Point of View marketing effort, so I’ll give it some benefit of the doubt.

I actually went to Borders and their new Teen Ink (see previous blog post) department—was pleasantly impressed with this dedicated teen area. Lots of books, only one wall dedicated to Twilighty things, and easy layout for browsing the stacks. The benches were a little uncomfortable, but I’ll take them over beanbags any day. Kudos to Borders. May you make lots of money off your teen readers with disposable income.

For you YA writers: send your shorts to YA Literature Review for their mag, and Rebel Books for their upcoming anthologies. I can’t take credit for finding these markets though; I found them on the brilliant Sandra Seamans’ blog—this girl is very serious about keeping up on short story markets. If you’re a writer, I suggest you bookmark her page.

More linkage for you YA writers: check out the Springfield Library’s links page. Some good stuff there.

Have you written a fabulous mystery novel? Enter the 2010 St. Martin’s Minotaur/MWA First Novel Contest. Lotsa rules, so do your homework.

From Patricia Abbott’s great blog: if you’re in Ann Arbor this Friday, go see Megan Abbott, Theresa Schwegel, and Tasha Alexander talk about their books at the Aunt Agatha Bookstore.

And check it out: they’re building a Harry Potter theme park in Florida. Sounds like fun.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Check It: The YA Mystery Checklist

Now that I got my Edgar rant off my chest, and my soapbox has been reinstated as a coffee table, I thought I should think about criteria for my list of YA mysteries. Since everyone else seems to be so liberal with their interpretation of the genre.

So here are my four must-haves:

1. Must have a mystery as the central plot. This means the solving of the mystery has to be at the front of the story, and at the top of lead character’s list. Navel-gazing and peer pressure allowed, but it had better while on the way to catch a bad guy. Or while washing the blood off your hands, or something equally mystery-worthy.

2. Must contain a crime, punishable by law. This was a tough one to add, but in light of recent crimeless ‘mysteries,’ I want to add this clause. Puzzles are cool, but crimes are better.

3. Must be YA.

4. Must have been first published within the last five years. The Face on the Milk Carton was a great book, but it’s about time we found some new YA mysteries to talk about. And no reprinted 'classics' either.

That’s it. I’m off to my bookstore.

Game on.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The 2009 YA Edgar Nominees, or Fleur Found Her Soapbox

I’ve now read all the 2009 YA Edgar nominees, in case you’ve been hanging around the blog long enough to remember when I started this exercise. The point, for me anyway, was to see what’s happening in YA mystery today—what does it take to make the YA Edgar shortlist in 2009? I wanted to know.

And I was kind of… well, disappointed, if you want to know the truth. Don’t get me wrong: all of these books are worth reading—some should even be required reading, I think. But out of all of these, only one was a mystery. In my opinion.

Two of the nominees’ sole crime was a case of peer pressure/bullying-gone-wild (Getting the Girl and The Big Splash—though extra points for this one’s originality), one was a chase for a girl who was not really missing, so no real crime there either (Paper Towns), however nice the writing. One was a literary masterpiece (Bog Child), but not a book where the protagonist is solving a mystery—he’s just surviving his environment. There was no chase, no detective work. The only book that made the cut, or my cut anyway, was Torn to Pieces. And it didn’t even win—but let’s forget that for the moment.

I’ve spent a lot of time arguing the point that every book is a mystery, that all books have unanswered questions, so mysteries in them.

But I was wrong.

There is a distinct difference between the definition of a mystery in general, and a book that is labeled a mystery. I won’t go into label/genre definitions, because we could be here all day (and nobody wants that). I’ll put it this way: if these books weren’t written for teens, they wouldn’t be filed under mystery (with Torn to Pieces as the exception). Simple as that. They don’t explore human nature through crime, they don’t have the mystery or crime as a central plot element, and would be filed under general fiction if you took out the YA component.

So what’s the big whoop, you say. They’re good books, you said so yourself.

But these are Edgar nominees! These are supposed to be the year's best in mystery YA—what gives? Where are the YA mysteries?

Why, if mystery and suspense is one of the bestselling categories in fiction written for adults, is the genre so sadly represented in YA? Plenty of mystery and crime on TV. Why not in YA fiction? Are we afraid the kids might get squeamish? Or is it really the parents and librarians we worry about? Plenty of librarians who love mystery, I meet them all the time at fan conferences. So why so few mysteries in YA?

I want to know. Because I love mysteries. Mysteries explore human nature in an ultimate show-don’t-tell fashion. The best literary novels I’ve read are filed under mystery. The genre has merit, dangit. And I’m convinced that this category is neglected in YA. Just look at the Edgars this year, if you don’t believe me.

So what to do, Fleur? Well, I’m changing my blog description: I’m no longer finding the mystery in YA, I’m just looking for mystery books in YA. And every time I find one, a bonafide, true mystery with a crime in it that someone is solving YA-style, I’ll list it here.

I’m a little ticked off by how lousy mystery is represented in YA, if you haven’t figured it out yet. And I found my soapbox again. Lucky me.

Monday, September 14, 2009


Some books get all the publicity, marketing money—you know how this works. And I certainly have nothing against Dan Brown. The man worked hard to get where he is.

But to even out the odds a little, buy something else, M.J. Rose said in her cool blog. So for me #buy+brown: Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd.

Pass it on. Share a book you’re excited about.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Edgar Nominee: Torn to Pieces

I had originally put Torn to Pieces by Margot McDonnell aside, since I figured out the plot by page two. But the point of reading the YA Edgar nominees of this year was to get a full picture of what’s happening in YA mystery. So I felt I had to read this book, too.

And I’m glad I did. After a bit of a choppy start, I got absorbed by the story of 17 year-old Anne, whose mother goes missing. At first, Anne’s thinking it’s just another business trip (her mother is a ghostwriter who travels a lot), but eventually, she realizes something’s wrong. She asks her grandparents for help, and they give her a sealed envelope with a letter from Mom.

Meanwhile, there’s hot guy Tal, mysteriously odd Evan, and a host of other weird stuff that you’ll just have to read the book for, because I’ll give too much away otherwise.

The verdict on this book? It’s a mixed bag. It had a distinct romantic suspense, chicklit-ish flavor to it: Mom has money, buys clothes, hot boys at every corner… Not my cuppa joe, but alright. The mystery/crime components were a little contrived, a bit like taking half a dozen Lifetime Network movie plots, and blending them together. There was an awful lot going on, and all in one book.

And yet… This was a mystery. The first of the nominees that actually had a mystery with a crime (several, in fact), and a main character solving them. And the author wasn’t afraid to put the lead in deathly peril on a regular basis—kudos! After reading a few cop-outs, this was like a breath of fresh air. And I think this is just the kind of book a teen girl with a love for mystery would really dig.

I think the plot could’ve used a little less of a heavy hand. But Torn to Pieces was an actual mystery!

Hot dang.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Early Linkatude

Friday links (a.k.a. time-wastery) come early, since I’m actually hoping to get some writing done tomorrow. So here you go:

It’s a book! It’s a movie! It’s a website! No, it’s a digi-novel. When the TV writers strike was going on (last year, was it?), apparently CSI creator Anthony Zuiker was bored and came up with this hybrid entertainment. It’s not written for teens, but seems to fit the demographic anyway. Plus, looks like Duane Swierczynski is in on the crime, so I have high hopes. The novel, Level 26, is out this week. I bought myself a copy, so I’ll let you know what I think. You know how I like to do that.

I thought this article in The Wall Street Journal about Facebook as a parenting tool was funny. It was so much easier to be a teen back in my day. And don’t these helicoptering parents know better than to comment on their kid’s Facebook page?

Nathan Bransford asks if books for kids should be rated for content (like movies and TV), which I thought was a very interesting discussion. My initial answer is yes, but I’ll have to think about that one for a while to be sure. Plus, the comments are interesting to follow. Wish we could get some teen feedback on that one.

Newsweek has an article about the effects of 9/11 on millenials, or the now grown kids of that hellish day (first I heard that term, but okay). Interesting, though I think the conclusion that today’s focus on service in a result of 9/11 alone is a bit easy. I would argue the current economic and political climate is a more logical (and current) infuence. But read for yourself.

For you unpublished writers out there, Pikes Peak Writers is opening up submissions for their 2010 Fiction contest. And speaking of new writers, check out this story about a 17 year-old’s 10-book deal. You go, M’Lin!

For you teens: vote for your 2009 top 10 reads at YALSA. But be speedy, because voting ends September 18.

And to the people who keep sending me e-spam, saying they’ll buy my timeshares: I don’t have any. Really. Not even if you email me every day.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Edgar Nominee: Bog Child

Last week, I talked about Siobhan Dowd, who died far too early, and left two manuscripts behind. I read one of them: Bog Child, Edgar nominee this year. I was careful not to let the fact that Ms. Dowd was no more cloud my opinion of this book. The point of my reading all the nominees was, after all, to take an honest look at YA mysteries. Heartbreaking stories aside.

So I cleared my head and began reading. Bog Child is set in the eighties, in Ireland, during the time of the Troubles (as the book calls them). We’re knee-high in Irish/British politics, right along with Fergus, who’s preparing to take his exams (A-levels, for those of you familiar with the school system over there): stress #1. Then along with his uncle, he finds a buried body in the bog: stress #2. It’s the body of a child, later revealed from 80 A.D., and an archeologist comes in with her pretty-but-troubled teenaged daughter (stress #3) to examine and study the remains.

Meanwhile (thought we were done, huh?) Fergus’ brother Joe is in prison for his IRA activities, and has just become part of the hunger strike aimed to get the prisoners special status from Thatcher (remember her? I wish I didn’t…). And no one in the family, including Fergus, seems to be able to persuade Joe to eat: stress #4. To make things worse, his brother’s old friend is pressuring Fergus to run packages across the British-controlled border: stress #5.

It took me a chapter or two to get spun up on the IRA/eighties politics. I was hairbrush singing along with Madonna right around the time this hunger strike was happening, after all. And I can imagine an American teen might have some trouble grasping the book too—though a challenge is not a bad thing. However, once I got my bearings reading this book, it completely sucked me in. The writing is great—lots of showing, no telling. Fergus is easy to relate to: he has his plate full, and just wants to get the hell out of Ireland and become a doctor.

This book has so many layers (see all the above-mentioned stresses), it would have been easy for the story to feel scattered. But reading Bog Child was like listening to an orchestra, with the author as the brilliant conductor. It was perfect.

But… In context of the Edgar nomination, I have to say that the mystery component was, in my opinion, not strong enough to warrant a win, and I’m even not persuaded it should’ve been nominated, despite the brilliance. This is not a mystery—not even crime fiction, even, unless you reaaaaallly stretch the term. Yes, there’s a dead body with a mystery. But it just doesn’t fit the genre beyond that.

And yet.

You must, must, must read this book. It sings.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Choose Your Literary Adventure

The most interesting thing about writing for and teaching teens is that I’m so much more aware of how different high school is in the States versus Holland, where I grew up. In Holland, middle and high school is split by academic level, for instance. And for English, German, and Dutch classes, I was allowed to pick what books I read—something I assumed was the same here in the U.S..

I was wrong, apparently. This article in The New York Times talks about how some schools are changing required class-wide reading of classics, and allowing kids to pick what they read. Fascinating stuff—and how exciting that students get to be active participants in their reading. Nothing against To Kill a Mockingbird, but there are lots of contemporary works that are just as exciting (Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains, anyone?). Plenty of new classics waiting to be discovered. Plus teens should be able to make their own book choices, I think. But read the article and draw your own conclusions.

I don’t have much other linkage for the Friday this time around. So if you’re looking for distraction, go to YouTube and check out some kittens. That should tide you over for the day. And who doesn't love a kitten?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Digging Deep

I’ve started reading Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd, an Edgar nominee in the YA category this year. More on the book once I finish it, hopefully next week.

But this book made me think about something. As always when starting a new read, I first flip to the back of the book, to find out something about the author. I’m a writer myself, so I’m nosy that way. Bog Child is Siobhan Dowd’s third novel, the bio with nice picture said. Her first novel won several awards (I believe in England or Ireland), and she lived in Oxford with her husband Geoff.


Siobhan Dowd died in 2007, at the age of 47. Bog Child was one of two unpublished novels she left upon her death. Needless to say, this made pause a while. It reminded me that people die (never a nice thing to think about), even writers, and of cancer (the big C and I have a history, so this pisses me off), and too young. And sometimes, they leave books behind for us to enjoy, thankfully, as did this author.

So as I pondered all this, I thought of my own writing. What if I kicked the old bucket tomorrow? What stories will I leave behind?

And what story will I regret not having written?

These are big questions, I know. Most of us don’t want to think about our mortality—there’s good TV on for one, better books waiting to be read, and Twitter that needs updating. But Ms. Dowd’s bio has been bugging me enough for the past few days that I thought of the story I haven’t written. Da Story. The one I need to tell. I’ve been putting it off, because it’ll require me to dig deep, but no more chickening out. Time to step up to the plate. And bring it.

So how about you? What’s your story?

Think about it. Twitter will wait.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday Linkage

For some time-wasting--er, research on your Friday, here are some cool links I found this week:

ITW has a call for submissions out for their 2010 Thriller of the Year award. Hey ITW people! Why no YA category?

Cheryl Klein, senior editor at Arthur A. Levine Books, has a plea for agents on her blog, asking everyone to simmer down now a little. I thought it gave some interesting insights into what it’s like to sit on the editor’s side of the desk.

YPulse has an interesting opinion piece, discussing why teens are not big tweeters.

Check out this British ATM with Cockney rhymes: A nice flashback to my days in England. Oy.

Thought this was funny: coaching for those facing jail time, or What to Expect When You’re Going to Jail. Just in case you’re rich and got busted, you can get all prepped for the slammer at $100 an hour… Or you could just rent HBO’s Oz series.

A was asleep at the wheel or something, because I only just realized Vanished by Kat Richardson is already out. I don’t normally do vampires, but Ms. Richardson manages to blend the fangs with a butt-kicking mystery. So I picked up my copy, and I recommend you all do the same.

If you’re young and live in the Colorado Springs area, check out the Young Lyrical Lounge open mic night. Sounds like a lot of fun.

Finally, I hope you’ll all send some good thoughts my way today, as I’m throwing a Hannah Montana birthday party for ten second-graders. And no, you’re not invited, unless you’re Hannah Montana.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Got Ink?

The Instore Marketing Institute gives more information on Borders expanded kids section called Borders Ink. I had snarky comments about their toys and merchandising ready, but then read that there will be a section for the 8-12 year-old reader.

The article (and Borders?) calls this the independent reader; I’m assuming this is middle-grade. I really, really like how this age group is no longer tossed in with younger kids’ books, or with YA for high school age teens, as was previously done (at least at my bookstore and library). There’s just a big difference between YA and middle-grade readers, and mixing the books up only leads to confusion.

Ever pick up a book, thinking it was YA, only to find it’s a middle-grade written for a 10 year-old? I have. Not cool, however brilliant said book is.

And tweens need their own bookshelf. Life is hard enough already when you're ten.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Big Splash

After my little snafu while reading Torn to Pieces (where I figured out the plot by page two), I continued with Jack D. Ferraiolo’s The Big Splash, also nominated for an Edgar this year. Not the winner, but I’ve found some real page turners among the nominees.

As was this one. From the cover, which had a slight Japanamation feel to it, I assumed that maybe this was a graphic novel. But no. I think it was a not-so-obvious throw-back to the old pulp covers—right up my alley. I love the pulps. Wrote a few shorts reminiscent of the genre myself, like this short for The Thrilling Detective, a most fine ezine with lots of pulpy PI stories.

But enough spam-o-rama of yours truly. The Big Splash is, in short, a middle-grade PI pulp. So I was really digging this book as I began reading, with a grin of recognition on my face as main character Matt Stevens takes on the case of this book:

Who water-gunned Nikki Fingers, the school’s meanest hit-girl?

The scenes follow some of the stereotypical pulp characters, like big boss Vinny, right-hand man Kevin, and of course our loner PI Matt. Add some key scenes, like the ‘killing’ of Nikki Fingers, the simultaneous hiring of our PI by both big boss Vinny and Nikki’s pretty sister, and the hall monitors’ (cops) ambiguous involvement. Like I said, pulpy.

Beyond the pulp PI format, the story continued with the mystery, some good plot twists, and solid writing. The Big Splash was a decent and unusual read.

Here are my issues with the book though (you knew I was going to have something to bring up, right?):

1. However cool I thought this format was, will a middle-grader get it? I mean, we’re talking old-school pulp here—I know it’s making a bit of a comeback, but I doubt it’s enough for a 10 year-old to appreciate.

2. The case our PI Matt is investigating is the shooting in the crotch with a squirt gun. With water. Now, I know peer pressure is a real pain, but this was the best crime you could come up with? I mean, it’s a squirt gun with water.

In my opinion, this book is one of those that’s more pleasing for adults than for kids. Sure, the pulp PI nod is clever, but do you really think a middle-grader will dig that? And the squirting the water in the crotch thing… Not only are you missing the point of pulp, which has a distinct, gritty noir thing going on, you’re trivializing what it means to be a teen. It’s not all about who’s in and who’s out.

Basically, I would have loved for this book to have a real crime, like the kind that middlegraders see in real life. Because they do, you know. Waterguns are insulting—plus imagine how great this book could have been with the depth of some reality. It’s a bummer the author decided not to go there, because this book was a pretty good read. But it could have been a really great one.

In short: The Big Splash was a little too clever for its own good. But an interesting read all the same.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Shorts, Squirrels and M&Ms

I’ve been busy editing this textbook on finance for the past week. Hence the quietness on the blog, in case you were wondering.

So I didn’t get to comment on how ridiculous this whole dumb discussion is over Michelle Obama’s shorts (really? This is what we reduce the woman to—her shorts?). People, people. We should all wish we look that good in a pair of shorts, after sitting on a plane for hours. Nuff said.

I did want to share this pretty cool picture of tourists and a squirrel, though. Gotta love it.

But now I’ll return to some good YA reading, and keeping tabs on any other happenings in YA. I’m back. Everyone, hide your M&Ms…

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Dang Dunit

Take this situation: you’re settling in your most comfortable reading spot (for me, this is my bed with fluffy cat at my side), you open a new mystery book. The pages are crisp, making you feel like you are the first to discover this story. Happy joy.

Okay, so you begin reading. The writing is nice. The main character intriguing. Then there’s the mystery—it’s introduced quickly, which you like. You’re digging this book, even though you’re only on page one.

You flip the page to number two. The mystery unfolds, aaaaand… you figure out the dunit. You pause. You pet the cat. Dammit, you think. I know the dunit.

You hesitate. Maybe you got it wrong. Maybe the dunit you think dunit, didn’t do it at all. Maybe this writer is so clever, she tricked you into thinking you’ve figured out the dunit, but really someone else dunit. An Ellery Queen twist. It’s possible. Your cat looks up at you, wondering why you stopped reading.

Okay. So do you continue reading?

You hesitate once more. Get up and find a beverage (hot chocolate seems appropriate for this particular drama). Get back in your favorite reading spot, where your cat now looks cranky, since you messed up his nap.

You pick up the book. Read page two once more. No, no doubt. You know whodunit, and even why. You’re pretty sure now, because this particular plot is not exactly original.

You finish your beverage. Then you commit the ultimate reader crime: you flip to the back. You feel a little guilty, but only a little. After all, there’s no point reading 250 pages if you already know where it’s going. Your to-read pile resembles the tower of Pisa after all, so time’s a-wastin’.

On page 230-something, right where you guessed the solution to this not-so-original plot would be, there it is. The dunit, who you guessed dunit, and even the why.

And that was how I sort of read Edgar nominee Torn to Pieces by Margot McDonnell. Sorry, Ms. McDonnell. Your writing is beautiful, for what it’s worth.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Linkage, And Who Stole My Soapbox?

Some linkage for your Friday, should you be in need for time wasting. And who isn’t on a Friday, right?

YALSA has registration open for teen read week (in Oct., but it never hurts to make plans), and for proposals for the 2010 Young Adult Literature Symposium. So check it out.

The YA Authors Café has a contest to win a signed copy of The Comeback by Marlene Perez—caveat: you have to share a how-I-was-dumped story. I guess you could see it as cheap therapy…

Ypulse’s U Don’t Need to Dumb Down News 4 Teens discusses a study by Northwestern University Media Management on how to reach younger audiences with news. Interesting, plus it almost made me pull out my soapbox to talk teens and intelligence, but somebody stole it. A discussion for next week, I guess.

Mystery author Pam Ripling talks about reaching the easy reader audience at Chris Verstraete’s blog.

If you’re local to Colorado Springs, check out Pikes Peak Writers Write Brain workshop next week, August 18th. Author Mario Acevedo will talk about the fantasy genre, and he’s very smart. So get off your butt and go.

And I’m going to Pikes Peak Writers American Icon tonight to cheer on the incredibly talented Mary Koehler, John Ridge, and Mandy Houk. They’re reading for two minutes in front of three judges and a room full of chocolate-eating writers. Hat’s off, guys.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Getting the Girl

I just finished reading Getting the Girl by Susan Juby, which was an Edgar nominee this year. And I could see why this book got noticed: great YA voice, and a fun, interesting storyline.

The book follows Sherman Mack, dork boy with a thing for Dini, who is older than he is and obviously out of his league. Sherman figures out that Dini is about to be blackballed, or defiled, by Harewood Tech’s population. Joining this D-list is pretty much hell on earth (think unpopular at your high school, and multiply by a thousand), and Sherman doesn’t want this to happen to Dini. So he goes on a detective-type mission to find the defiler, and save Dini.

Like I said, this was a pretty good book. Although I had to stretch my imagination a bit to feel the threat of being D-listed like it was deadly, I enjoyed Sherman, the narration, and the fun (though sometimes stereotypical) depiction of high school life.

My biggest objection to this book was that the detective/mystery angle seemed like an afterthought (see my Monday post). I understand that I’m reading YA, but those books qualifying as Edgar nominees just don’t feel like mysteries to me. They’re YA first, and mystery faaaar second.

Don’t get me wrong. Getting the Girl is a good book, definitely worth reading. And my objections are not with this novel at all, really. I’m just a little saddened to find that so far, the Edgar nominees don’t feel like mysteries for teens. They feel more like YA’s with a dash of mystery tossed in.

Which is a shame. Because mysteries are cool, goddammit.