Friday, March 30, 2012

The Joy of Random Roadblocks

Those of you who know me are aware that the state of Mississippi and I don't always get along. But sometimes, on the road out of my bay-side neighborhood, I run into random roadblocks that make me smile.

Like this turtle. 

It was determined to stay put, until we moved it. It hissed and tried to bite, oblivious to the perils of sitting on the yellow line on a Friday afternoon.

Then the other day (on this same road; it's pretty long and narrow), I got stuck because there was a house in the middle of the road.

I know, it's sort of a trailer. But it's someone's idea of a house. This Dutch girl is fascinated. We were late for things both times, but it was well worth the surprise. 

The storyteller in me loves this stuff. I imagine someone's having a cup of coffee on that porch right now, watching the turtle cross the road. 

Happy Friday, y'all. 


Thursday, March 29, 2012

What's Your Favorite Book Trailer?

I'm getting interested in book trailers now, mostly because I'm thinking I should probably make one for mine. As a reader, they're not really my cuppa tea as they say. I pretty much judge a book by its cover and jacket description.

It's hard to take a book's content and pour it into a trailer format, without losing the magic of letting the reader use their imagination.

I found a bunch of book trailers at Bookriot, but have yet to pick a favorite. I guess I'm still getting used to the idea of a trailer for a book.

How 'bout you? Any book trailers to share?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Summing Up: Edgar Nominees for Best YA

Now that I've read all the Edgar nominees for Best YA, I'll give you my thoughts on the category. I started this blog a few years ago not to post pictures of my cats (even if they are cute) but to start keeping track of mysteries in the YA and MG departments of my book stores.

To refresh, here is the list of Edgar nominees for Best YA:

BEST YOUNG ADULT 

Shelter by Harlan Coben (Penguin Young Readers Group – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson (Penguin Young Readers Group – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
The Silence of Murder by Dandi Daley Mackall (Random House Children’s Books – Knopf BFYR)
The Girl is Murder by Kathryn Miller Haines  (Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group – Roaring Creek Press)
Kill You Last by Todd Strasser (Egmont USA)


In case you're interested in my thoughts on individual books, click on the links above...


To get to the point: mystery is alive and well in YA--how exciting, huh? In previous years, I would often find a fantasy or literary novel among the nominees, one that really wasn't a mystery at all. Sure, the book was good, and there was a mysterious element. But not a mystery. So what makes a YA a mystery in my book? I usually ask: if this book was written for adults, would it be classified as a mystery?


All of this year's Edgar nominees for Best YA are a solid yes as an answer to that question this year, which makes me very happy. Other than The Name of the Star, there were no supernatural elements, vampires, etc. present--and Johnson's book was such a strong whodunit, the ghost element was really secondary. 

Prediction of who'll win: To be honest, I could flip a coin--the nominees are that strong this year. It's anybody's guess; I certainly thought all of these were well-written YA mysteries. But since I don't want to wuss out, I would predict that it'll be Harlan Coben's Shelter.

We'll have to wait until April 26 to find out...

YA Edgar Nominee Review: The Silence of Murder by Dandi Daley Mackall

My last read for the Edgar nominees for best YA is The Silence of Murder by Dandi Daley Mackall. This one was darker than the others at the opening: we're sitting in the court room with Hope while her brother Jeremy is on trial for murder. Not your light YA fare.

Against her better judgement, Hope testifies to their rough childhood so Jeremy, who no longer speaks, can be declared insane. In dark and clipped prose--my favorite--we learn that their mother is an unfit one, and an alcoholic too. But Hope (as her name implies) doesn't give up, and keeps looking for evidence to clear her brother's name. We delve deep into family history, small-town scandals, so the only way this mystery will be solved is by opening every can of worms.

This story was gripping, and the author didn't pull any punches when it came to the stakes. The resolution was a bit over-staged, but why not--I was right there as Hope revealed the killer. My only gripe was with the at times heavy religious message and quoting of scripture, particularly toward the end. It made the resolution very moralizing, and took away from the great grit this mystery has. Still, solid plotting, and a good murder mystery.

Verdict: a good mystery, could appeal to both boys and girls. Some religious overtones.

Mystery Quotient: 5 out of 5. Plotting a bit on the stretchy side, but done with heart.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Where Your Readers Are

I went to see The Hunger Games movie when it came out this past Friday--but don't worry, I won't review it. Other people will do that a-plenty. It was good. Let's move on.

What I really wanted to share was not the actual movie watching experience, but my wait in line for tickets. We went early, my tween posse and I, hair in braids and super-excited. I was fully expecting to find a crowd of t(w)eens and parents, since the book is YA and all.

Guess again.

Cool observation #1: The majority of people in the theater were adults, male and female in equal amounts. We outnumbered the under-18 crowd, big time... Now remember, this is a YA.

Cool observation #2: Every single person in line that I talked to had read the book. One man my dad's age confessed he read the first book, then went back the next day to buy the other two.

Cool observation #3: There was a 9 a.m. showing just for the local school kids. Teachers are tying reading into movies--what a smart way to get everyone's nose in a book.

Coolest moment? Having a crowd of thirty-or-so people of all ages talk about a YA book. Not about the movie, but about the book. Your readers are at the movie theater. Pretty cool, huh?


Friday, March 23, 2012

Hey Writers! Join Me At The Zoo...

In case you missed this the first time around and are looking for something to do this weekend...

Join the flash fiction challenge! All you have to do is write a story with the zoo as a setting. That's it.

Your story can be science fiction (alien monkeys!), romance (monkeys in love!), mystery (who killed the monkey?)--you get the idea. Have fun with it.

Find out more here. It's like a fictional field trip, without the poop smell.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

YA Edgar Nominee Review: The Girl Is Murder by Kathryn Miller Haines

The next book in my YA Edgar nominees read-o-rama is The Girl Is Murder by Kathryn Miller Haines. As the cover hints, this YA mystery takes us to the forties, when Iris is struggling with the familiar YA stand-by: new school, new people.

But in the historical context, this YA cliche became fresh and interesting. Iris goes from a private to public school after her mother dies, and finds herself hanging with not-so-popular Pearl. To make matters worse, her P.I. father, an injured war veteran, is hanging on by a thread financially--which is what prompts Iris to help him with his cases. Her stubbornness is endearing, and her search for belonging in her new life recognizable.

Iris' quest shifts when a boy at her new school goes missing, and she begins her amateur sleuth quest for his whereabouts. We quickly get caught in some girl-drama, 1940s style. The historical detail in setting, dialogue and social mood were spot-on; big kudos to the author for getting the details right. This historical context got in the way of the story though, and the mystery's resolution felt a little disappointing to me. Still, The Girl Is Murder is a very solid P.I. mystery, well-plotted, and a unique read.

Verdict: recommended for a teen-view of the 1940s in America, probably better-suited for girls.

Mystery Quotient: 5 out of 5; a solid P.I. mystery.



Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Gatekeepers R Us

Gatekeepers.

My fellow kid lit writers know this term; it doesn't sound so friendly, but it actually is. The gatekeepers are all the lovely teachers, librarians, parents, and other adults who put books in the hands of kids. They make sure they're the right books, which is where the whole gatekeeper business comes in.

 I'm lucky enough to not only write for kids, but also be a gatekeeper for my own. It's a real eyeopener, let me tell you. With each book, I have to decide if it's age-appropriate, of quality, and possibly educational.

I thought this Storia app from Scholastic sounded interesting; supposedly it's meant to “use word games, story interactions, and animation to deeply draw your young reader in, further developing confidence and critical thinking skills.” It's out this fall, and I'll be interested to see how the latter in this statement from Scholastic works.

 How do you pick books for the kids in your life? How about apps and toys?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What's Your Favorite Fictional Bookstore?

Flavorwire, where all the cool lists are, collected a top ten of fictional bookstores from the movies. There's some good ones in there, you'll see.

I love the one in Hugo. The Shop Around the Corner from You've Got Mail was adorable too; I could just imagine this being my favorite as a little girl. Cozy, magical, all that.

Tell me, is your favorite in there?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Monday Music - You Give Me Something

A James Morrison oldie, to give your Monday some Sunday morning soul.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Rock The Drop



You know how sometimes people ask you to join some good cause, and it takes a lot of effort and/or money? Like those 5k runs, or school fundraisers, or Mustache March. You sigh, and then try to hide out in a corner so no one notices that you didn't join.

This is not one of those times.

Rock The Drop is easy-peasy: you just drop a book on a park bench, coffee shop, or wherever with a printout of this book plate inside. You take a picture of your book in the wild, and then you can Tweet about your book drop and look like a hero. People will applaud you for saving literature, you will bow in modesty...

Okay, maybe it won't quite go down like that. But you never know.

Either way, join Rock The Drop on April 12. Go over to the lovely Readergirlz blog for more details. You can stop growing that mustache now...

Educational. Sort Of...

I'm teaching my kids about continental drift, and thought the opening to this movie trailer was a way more fun explanation of the why and how.

And yes, there's an Ice Age 4 coming. Wonders never cease, huh?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Superhero Librarians

All librarians rock in my world. But this article at SLJ spotlights a particularly rockin' library lady: Interview: An Enterprising Texas School Librarian Goes All-Out for Teens

Know a librarian who wears a cape? Educational publisher Gale is looking for nominations; get the skinny here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Galleys!

I'm elbow-deep in edits for the first draft of book two in the Double Vision series. It's been fun, but now I'm also at the part where stuff gets harder. I need to think about the details, timeline, and do research. Fun, but hard work too.

So you can imagine my delight when I found this box at my doorstep from the awesome people at Harper, with a stack of galleys of Double Vision:


There's just something super-awesome about holding your hard work in your hands, and it's a real book.

Happy day, so I thought I'd share... How about you all? Any milestones to share?

The Goliath of Story Topics

A few years ago, I had a brilliant idea for a new YA novel. It was inspired by true events in my native Holland during WWII. The story was epic, exciting, and I started writing it with the enthusiasm you have when it's a first draft.

Then I went to Holland. For my research, I visited the Dutch Theater (Hollandse Schouwburg in Dutch) where one of my characters would be held. I felt the sadness of the place, read the letters of those who perished, saw the baby shoes of babies who never got to grow up.

And I stopped writing. The story was too big. The responsibility of getting it right too great.

I've put that project aside; maybe I'll finish it someday. For the moment, I'm right where I should be, writing Linc's story and keeping it on the lighter side.

But for some strange reason, the whole Holocaust stories for kids topic came up twice at Springmingle, a recent SCBWI convention I went to. I talked with Claudia Pearson of Look Again Press, a small publisher in Birmingham, AL. She was passionate about a book by Eve Tal called A Truth to Tell. It's a critical look at children's books on the Holocaust, and how so few stories exist on the ghettos and camps.

Tal talks about how Holocaust stories are so indicative of culture: here in the States, we like stories to be hopeful; in Israel, those same stories speak more of resistance. Fascinating stuff. Not your light reading for the night, but a very interesting analysis if children's books are your business.

Find out more here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

YA Edgar Nominee Review: The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

The third book in my kid lit Edgar nominees read-a-thon gave me a change of pace. After the fast-paced thrillers by Harlan Coben and Todd Strasser, Maureen Johnson's The Name of the Star felt like a slower ride. But the book was no less interesting and gripping, just more of a mystery. There's a puzzle to solve, so settle in and enjoy the journey, was what this book seemed to say.

Rory, a teen from Louisiana, gets to spend a year at a London boarding school. Okay, so I rolled my eyes a little when I saw this boarding school angle--let's face it, it's been done. But Johnson obviously did her homework, because the details of the British school system and the colorful way she described Wexford made me regret my initial reaction. I quickly got to love Jazza, Jerome, and the rest of the Wexford population.

The book opens with the usual mystery body discovery, but then it took a while to get back to the dunnit--largely because Johnson took a good amount of time to let us watch Rory scramble to adjust to Wexford. But eventually, it becomes pretty clear that the story is not just any mystery, but a ghost hunting expedition as well.

I won't spoil the rest of the book, because you really should read it yourself. Despite some pacing and revelation hiccups, The Name of the Star is such a smart, well-written story that I didn't care that I had to watch Rory get settled at Wexford before the mystery got hot. Great YA voice, too. It's Agatha Christie meets Ghostbusters meets YA. If that makes sense.

Verdict: Perfect YA. Girl protagonist, but not a girly book, so recommended for guys too. Smart. Cool.

Mystery Quotient: 4 out 5 because of the supernatural element. But pacing more like a traditional mystery.

Side-note: This is just the sort of book I wish had been around when I was a teen.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Hunger Games --Not Just For Girls

Holy Hunger Games. Have you seen the merchandising that's out there in anticipation of the movie? In my house, where one tween is anxiously awaits the movie release while side-braiding her hair, the madness is already creeping in.

I can't say that I mind. I enjoyed the books myself. And I thought this WSJ article was interesting, talking about how The Hunger Games movie is aimed to appeal to both boys and girls. Be interesting to see how it pans out later this month.

In case you haven't heard about the movie (were you hiding under a rock?), here's the trailer.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Friday Fun: Penguins On A Plane

I don't know about you, but I hope there are penguins on the plane next time I fly. Maybe it could be a movie with Samuel L. Jackson?

Happy Friday!


Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Quote, And Guinness

I've never been much of a networker. When I go to a conference, I'd rather have a good conversation with a new friend than try to weasel my way into some Important Person's circle. The good part: I meet cool, interesting people that become friends for a lifetime.

The bad part: I don't know anyone famous. And I've come to that part in the new book release business that I need quotes. Preferable from those very Important People I left alone at the bar, because I didn't want to seem like a suck-up.

I make a great fangirl to authors like Rick Riordan, James Patterson, Chris Grabenstein, Neal Shusterman, Elmore Leonard--I could go on for a while, but you get the picture. But now that it's time to grovel for quotes... I know they're not going to want to read my debut and quote that it's a rollercoaster ride and stuff.

And I'm terrible at asking for help. I once drywalled a whole room by lifting the sheets on my toes--a story for another time. Must be that stubborn Dutchness.

In case you're famous: I'll buy you a Guinness if you'll read my book. Oh, who am I kidding--I'll even buy you a Guinness if you're not famous, because it's all the same to me. And I like a beer and a good conversation with any writer, published or not. We all write one word at a time, right?

How 'bout you, YA Sleutheri? Are you good at asking for help, or are you a stubborn Dutch girl that way too?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Awards--Do You Care?

I'm reading my way through the Edgar nominees, as you regulars to the blog probably know. So far, the caliber of books is impressive. And they're books I might not have picked up otherwise, so this awards mattered to me, I guess.

But there are so many awards! Edgars, Anthonys, DILYS, etc.--and that's just in the mystery department. I'm sure all are deserving, but there are A LOT of awards. And I watched my oldest dismiss a book the other day because there was one of those book award medal emblems on it... It was not a mystery award, at least. But still.

So I wonder: does a book award nomination or win matter to you? For books that you buy for the kids in your life? Or outside books, the Oscars, Grammys whatever? I'm curious.


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Book Cover Reveal!

The hardest part so far about this whole publishing thing? Not being able to reveal the cover for DOUBLE VISION when I first saw it a little while ago.

BUT NOW I CAN! Look... Cool, huh?

Here's the jacket description:

One’s a secret agent. One’s not.

Twelve year-old Linc is a trouble-maker with a dilemma. His antics on a recent school field trip went way overboard, landing his already poor family with a serious lawsuit. So when two CIA agents show up at his house, Linc is eager to take them up on their offer to make the lawsuit disappear. They just need one tiny favor.

Turns out Linc looks exactly like one of the CIA’s top kid agents—an agent who’s vanished during a vitally important mission. But no debriefing can prepare Linc for how dangerous the mission really is. It’s too bad he isn’t a black belt, a math genius or a distance runner like his agent counterpart. He’ll need all those skills and more if he hopes to make it out of this mission alive…

Sounds cool, right? It was a blast to write, and I hope you'll all get a chance to read the book when it's out in the fall (or so) of this year.

Of course, I can't take credit for this beautiful cover. Brilliant artist Owen Richardson created the awesome art, and the fabulous people at Harper Children's worked hard to pull everything together, including coming up with that jacket description, all stuff I don't have the talent for.

Happy day!

And while I have your attention: pop by my Facebook page, so I can keep you posted on all things Linc and DOUBLE VISION.

Much more exciting stuff to come, I promise...

Monday, March 5, 2012

YA and MG Indies Choice Nominees

Courtesy of Publishers Lunch, here are the Indies Choice Award nominees for YA and MG:

Young Adult
Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick, by Joe Schreiber (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys (Philomel)
Legend, by Marie Lu (Putnam Juvenile)
A Monster Calls: Inspired by an Idea From Siobhan Dowd, by Patrick Ness, Jim Kay (Illus.) (Candlewick Press)
Shine, by Lauren Myracle (Amulet Books)
Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories, Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant (Eds.) (Candlewick Press)
Middle Reader
The Apothecary, by Maile Meloy, Ian Schoenherr (Illus.) (Putnam Juvenile)
Bluefish, by Pat Schmatz (Candlewick Press)
The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale, by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright, Barry Moser (Illus.) (Peachtree)
The Flint Heart, by Katherine Paterson and John Paterson, John Rocco (Illus.) (Candlewick Press)
Liesl & Po, by Lauren Oliver, Kei Acedera (Illus.) (HarperCollins)
Wildwood, by Colin Meloy, Carson Ellis (Illus.) (Balzer + Bray)
Congrats to the nominees! Winners are announced on April 5.
Buckle up, TBR pile. You're about to grow...

If Books Could Fly

To cheer up your Monday, in case you could use some enchantment.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Edgar Nominee Review: Kill You Last by Todd Strasser

Book two on my Tour des Edgars (doesn't that sound fancy?) is Kill You Last by Todd Strasser. A great cover that promises a snappy mystery/thriller.

And Strasser didn't disappoint. It took me a minute to shift gears from Harlan Coben's male POV to a decidedly more girl-friendly book, but once I got a few pages in, I was hooked. Break-neck pace, solid mystery--the perfect blend of mystery and thriller.

The story follows Shelby, daughter of a small-town but once big-shot photographer. When three missing girls are linked to her father and his questionably photography practices, she quickly gets caught in the media circus that puts her family life in chaos. Meanwhile, she's receiving threatening texts, and is alienated at school.

Shelby has to dig for the truth about her father's involvement in these girls' disappearances, all while trying to figure out who she can trust.

Kill You Last is a great mystery: I was wondering right along with Shelby what everyone's motive really was. Strasser had me staying up late, flipping the pages, so it had that great thriller element as well. I wasn't too crazy about the whole which-boy-do-we-like plotline, but that's more of a personal preference. Some of the dunnit and the title importance was a bit of a stretch, but not implausible.


Mystery quotient: 4 out of 5, mostly because of the thriller pacing. A solid mystery that leaves you guessing, but makes sense once you get to the reveal.


Verdict: Great for the reluctant reader teen, 14 and up. Main characters drive cars, and deal with mature subject matter, so definitely squarely in the YA category. But no questionable content at all. Probably more for a girl, but might stretch to boy territory because of the strong thriller factor.


Side Note: I liked Kill You Last. This Edgar race might just be tough to predict...