Monday, April 30, 2012

Monday Music: Some New Mraz Inspiration

Not sure if I dig the new Jesus look, but the song is inspiring for the Monday.

 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Agatha Award Winner for Best Children's/YA: Black Heart Crypt by Chris Grabenstein

Congrats to Chris Grabenstein!

If you haven't read the book, go take care of that. Right now.

Here are the Agatha winners in other categories (courtesy of CrimeSpree).

Friday, April 27, 2012

Edgar Winners for Best Juvenile and Best YA

And the winners are...

Best YA:
The Silence of Murder by Dandi Daley Mackall

Best Juvenile:
Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby

I know, I was wrong on both--but then the odds (one-in-five) were ever not in my favor.

Congrats to the winners and the nominees! For me, picking a winner was like flipping a coin, so I hope all the nominees celebrate this weekend anyway.

Happy Friday, y'all...


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Summing Up: Edgar Nominees For Best Juvenile

I finished reading all the YA and Juvenile Edgar nominees in time! I'm pretty proud of myself just for that accomplishment, to be honest--that's ten books, enough to make a little TBR pile side table.

But you didn't come here to hear about that; let me give you the skinny on the Edgar nominees for Best Juvenile. To refresh, here's the list:


BEST JUVENILE
Horton Halfpott by Tom Angleberger (Abrams – Amulet Books)
It Happened on a Train by Mac Barnett (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
Vanished by Sheela Chari (Disney Book Group – Disney Hyperion)
Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby (Scholastic Press)
The Wizard of Dark Street by Shawn Thomas Odyssey (Egmont USA)

And at the risk of sounding lame, I should say that all of these books are winners. Think about it: of all the middle-grade mysteries published last year, only five could make this shortlist. That's quite impressive, no?

I'll add to this that it's extra-difficult to write a true mystery for the MG audience--not a fantasy, or a historical, etc. The age of the protagonist (usually 8 to 12 years old) makes it very challenging for a writer--I mean, what ten year-old you know goes around solving mysteries and catching bad guys? Exactly.

Which is why so many MG mysteries aren't mysteries first, and many on this list really weren't. Horton Halfpott and The Wizard of Dark Street are both fantasies first, I think. Icefall is more of a historical, Vanished a stronger coming-of-age story than a mystery. It Happened on a Train is the one solid, tried-and-true mystery here.

But this year, I did feel like the mystery wasn't just tacked on. Every one of these books relied on the mystery to carry the plot forward, which hasn't always been the case in previous nominee reads. So I'm pretty pleased after reading these Best Juvenile mystery nominees.

I do hope to see more realistic/contemporary MG mysteries in the future. We really need more books that are junior versions of the mysteries (and thrillers--I'll lump those in there) that are so popular with adults. Readers love mysteries--so why aren't there more solid mysteries for kids?

Alright-y, I'll kick myself off the soapbox here. Because I should really give you my prediction of the winner...

And I'm really not sure... I think It Happened on a Train is the strongest mystery here, so that's my pick.

But I'll add that all of these are really strong contenders... So don't call your bookie and blame me when it all goes south, okay? I'll post the winners here after the announcement on April 26 (that's tonight!)...


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Review: Edgar Nominee For Best Juvenile: Horton Halfpott by Tom Angleberger

The last book of my Tour des Edgars! I didn't think I'd make it in time, but here we are: the last book in the Best Juvenile category. And another great cover, which made me open Horton Halfpott with anticipation.

The story is as fun as the cover: Horton Halfpott works in the Smugwick Manor kitchen, and falls right into chaos when one day, Lady Luggertuck (the lady of the manor) decides not to tighten her corset. The Luggernut Lump is stolen, and Horton is accused of the theft. Horton teams up with stable boys Bump, Blight and Blemish to solve the mystery and clear his name.

It took me a little while to get comfortable with the prose, but then found myself laughing at the little jokes and bits of wordplay throughout. The pacing is brisk--perfect for the younger middle-grade reader. In fact, I imagine this book would be fun to read aloud in class or at home, if you're up for the tongue-twisters in this book.

Verdict: Fun book for the younger MG reader who loves fantasy and whimsy.

Mystery Quotient: 4 out of 5; there was a solid whodunit, but the prose and whimsical fantasy overshadowed the mystery a bit.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

How I Sat on the Beach, Climbed a Lighthouse, and Picked My Next House

Remember how I asked you all for advice on stuff to do to reward myself? Well, I took all your good ideas and had a little micro-vacation.

First, I bought a sundress. We drove to Florida (it's only two hours to Pensacola's non-swampy beaches!), and I sat and did nothing for a few hours.

It was awesome. I highly recommend doing nothing, even if you don't have a Florida handy.

Then I built a sandcastle with my nine year-old. I read Elle Decor and picked an architecturally fantastic house I'll never own, including a seven thousand dollar sofa.

We ate pizza with bacon (because we like to keep it real--but artisan pizza, because we're also a little snobby), and tried to hook up the DVD player to the hotel TV, but alas, no dice. So we watched Storage Wars, which my kids are now addicted to.


The next day, I climbed this lighthouse...










For this view. Beautiful, no? I was complimented several times on the sundress, which is always nice.










Then I found this house, and mused that maybe it's even better than that house from Elle Decor. See the little alien in the doorway? Pretty cool.

And after some awesome BBQ (you can tell vacation means food for me), we drove home in time to watch the cats wake up from a two-day nap.






It was the perfect little break, and I vow not to let so much time pass before doing something like this again.

So how about you? Have any vacation or just general fun planned to give yourself a pat on the back?


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Review: Edgar Nominee For Best Juvenile: It Happened On A Train by Mac Barnett

The fourth book on my reading list of Edgar nominees for Best Juvenile had me reading It Happened On A Train by Mac Barnett, the third in the Brixton Brothers mysteries series. I was a little worried that I wouldn't be able to follow along, as I hadn't read book one or two, but no worries needed. This book stands nicely on its own.

The story starts with seventh grader Steve Brixton feeling kind of down. He's retired from his PI business (a fun running joke in the book), and is busy throwing out his beloved Bailey Brothers mystery books. Steve's just lost all faith in himself and what he thought the PI business stood for. So when he goes on a field trip by train, he doesn't plan to solve any more mysteries.

Until he meets a pretty (and smart) girl named Claire, and ends up taking on one last case: finding the missing (and very expensive) cars belonging to the rich Vanderdraaks. With help of his best friend Dana, Steve is a true PI, and the book has you turning the pages and laughing at the jokes that are sprinkled throughout. Chase scenes on the train and cool illustrations by Adam Rex make this a fun middle-grade mystery great for the more reluctant reader.

Verdict: Great mystery, a modern take on The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew-type stories. Fun, fast-paced.

Mystery Quotient: 5 out of 5. Solid middle-grade PI story.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

What's Your Most Hated Movie Cliche?

I'm a big fan of (fictional) crime TV. Cop shows, amateur sleuths--I love a good mystery or crime show. But there are those cliches that make me cringe. The redheaded rhymes-with-witch. The evil Russian mobster.

The chase through a commercial kitchen!

That one has to be my most-hated cliche. There's usually some low-paid sap the cops are chasing, while pots fly and food (carrots, usually, for visual effect) goes everywhere, and then we end up in an alley with a dumpster.

The sap turns out to be just a dish-washing (or short-order cook) pawn--extra cliche points if he's worried about his expired Visa. The commercial kitchen chase is so unoriginal, I can predict the scene down to the second.

So tell me, YA Sleuthians. What is your most-hated TV cliche?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Review: Edgar Nominee For Best Juvenile: Vanished by Sheela Chari

The third book on my list of Edgar nominees for Best Juvenile had me reading Vanished by Sheela Chari. Can I just say that this is one of the best covers I've seen this year?

But on to the story. Eleven year-old Neela has the most beautiful instrument: her grandmothers veena, an instrument from India with a magical past. When it gets stolen from Neela, she feels horribly guilty, and begins her quest to find the veena. She follows different clues like a true amateur sleuth: a magical teakettle, a link to a dead musician... Meanwhile, Neela is trying to figure out where she fits at home, at school and with her friends, as well as what's really important to her.

This story felt like a classic middle-grade: the coming of age story, the unique cultural insight, and a mystery to keep the story moving. The author added some notes in the back of the book about the veena and her research--great extra material that I think should put this book with the classics in MG.

Verdict: strong MG classic, a great insight into the veena and Indian culture, too

Mystery Quotient: 4 out of 5. Not a mystery first, but still a good contender.

Side note: This book should be on the various children's awards list, I think. Perfect coming-of-age story.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Survival Guide For A Snowstorm, Hurricane, Or Zombie Apocalypse

I thought this program at the Bridgeport Public Library program was too cool: zombie apocalypse survival training for teens. It's intended to get kids into the library by teaching survival skills, like how to make yourself look like a zombie to avoid an attack by the zombies (The Walking Dead, anyone?).

But this one's for teens only. "It's rewarding that adults have voiced they're interested in attending," says teen librarian Michael Bielawa. "But we have had to explain, this is just for the teens."


Bummer... I guess when the zombie apocalypse is here, we'll want to hang with the teens from Bridgeport.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Edgar Nominee For Best Juvenile: The Wizard of Dark Street by Shawn Thomas Odyssey

The second read in my tour of the Edgar nominees for Best Juvenile had me reading The Wizard of Dark Street by Shawn Thomas Odyssey. This one made me smile: if Roald Dahl and Agatha Christie wrote a book together, this would be it. And that's a pretty big compliment, since both authors are childhood favorites of mine.

The story: 12 year-old Oona is the wizard's apprentice on Dark Street, a magical world that's hidden on the streets of New York City.
But Oona would rather be an investigator, so she leaves the world of magic to solve a mystery: who killed her uncle, the wizard?

The narrative flows perfectly, the characters are quirky, and the whodunit is fun and paced well. This was a well-balanced blend of magic and mystery for the middle-grade reader.

Verdict: Great for kids who like mystery and magic alike; paced for the reluctant reader.

Mystery Quotient: 4 out of 5, since it was as much mystery as fantasy. Solid amateur sleuth story, though.

Celebrating Teen Lit Day, Today I #rockthedrop

It's Teen Lit Day! 

The awesome people at readergirlz and Figment organized Rock The Drop, where we all leave a book in a public place to put a smile on someone's face.

I'm cheating a little this year... My local library has been hit hard by Katrina, and is still recovering in so many ways. What better way to bring books to teens' lives than to give them to the library, I figured--that way, these books can Rock The Drop for years to come.

Hope you join in!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

How Do You Celebrate Your Accomplishments?

I just sent the first draft of the second book in the Double Vision series to my editors. I did my taxes--both annual and quarterly (now that should come with the delivery of a mega-bag of peanut M&Ms, I'm telling you). I started work on the www.doublevisionbooks.com website (long way to go, but hey).

I should be celebrating, but you know what? I'm not very good at celebrating those milestones.


There's always another deadline, something else to do--like clean the house after I've been ignoring it for weeks. Maybe it's a Dutch work ethic thing.

But I think I'll do something fun to celebrate today. Don't know what yet...

How about you all? What do you do to reward yourself for a job well done?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Cool News: Twelve Year-Old Breaks Skateboarding Record

Watch twelve year-old Tom Schaar do a 1080. I can't even stay on a skateboard, but Linc (the lead in DOUBLE VISION) would love this.

Happy weekend, all. Don't try this at home...

 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Apparently, I'm Not Alone In E-Reader Reluctantness

Confession time: I hate my e-reader. Shhhh, don't tell anyone, because it was a present.

And this isn't some publishing biz post about the whole print-versus-e-format fight, because I don't really think there's anything to fight about--but that's for another time. I just don't like reading on a tablet. Reasons:

1. The thing only tells me I'm so many percentages into my book. I want to know what page I'm on. How else am I going to brag?

2. I can't tell if it skipped a page. My youngest and I were reading her favorite Mallory series book, and it just jumped to a page that made no sense. We tried to fix it, flipped back-and-forth a couple times, but after a minute or two, my girl just handed the e-reader back with a sigh. "I like the books better, Mom."

3. No pretty cover for the books. I know, I'm shallow, but I'm going with it. Covers are cool. And illustrations are also lost on the easy-on-the-eyes e-reader screen, which is probably why parents prefer print over e-format for picturebooks.

4. Nowhere to stick my bookmarks. Also shallow, I'm aware.

5. There's no cool book smell.

Note that all of these reasons could stem from my inability to adapt to new things, particularly of an electronic nature. But I like my 'real' books.

Help me out, YA Sleutheri. Make me love my newfangled e-reader. What am I doing wrong?



Wednesday, April 4, 2012

For You Thriller Lovers: 2012 Thriller Award Nominees

Fresh from International Thriller Writers, the 2012 Thriller award Nominees. Still no YA or Children's category, alas...

Looking forward to hearing who won at Thrillerfest! Tough competition here, no?

Best Hard Cover Novel:

Joseph Finder - BURIED SECRETS (St. Martin’s Press)
Jonathan Hayes - A HARD DEATH (Harper)
Stephen King - 11/22/63 (Scribner)
Michael Koryta - THE RIDGE (Little, Brown and Co.)
Marcus Sakey - THE TWO DEATHS OF DANIEL HAYES (Dutton Adult)


Best Paperback Original:

Jeff Abbott - THE LAST MINUTE (Sphere/LittleBrown UK)
John Gilstrap - THREAT WARNING (Pinnacle)
Helen Grant - THE GLASS DEMON (Delacorte Press)
Steven James - THE QUEEN (Revell)
John Rector - ALREADY GONE (Thomas & Mercer)


Best First Novel:

James Barney - THE GENESIS KEY (Harper)
Melinda Leigh - SHE CAN RUN (Montlake Romance)
Paul McEuen - SPIRAL (The Dial Press)
H.T. Narea - THE FUND (Forge Books)
Leslie Tentler - MIDNIGHT CALLER (Mira)


Best Short Story:

James Scott Bell - “One More Lie” (Compendium Press)
Michael Lewin - “Anything to Win” (Strand Magazine)
Twist Phelan - “Happine$$” (MYSTERY WRITERS OF AMERICA PRESENTS THE RICH AND THE DEAD, Grand Central Publishing)
Tim L. Williams - “Half-Lives” (Dell Magazine)
Dave Zeltserman - “A Hostage Situation” (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine)


2012 Thriller Awards Winners to be announced at ThrillerFest VI July 14, 2012, Grand Hyatt, NYC.

Edgar Nominee for Best Juvenile Review: Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby

Every year when I read the Edgar nominees for Best Juvenile, there's a book in there that... Well, a book that I fail, to tell you the truth. There are some books that I just don't seem to get. This year that book is Icefall.

The story is a Nordic middle-grade fantasy. We follow Solveig, her brother (the crown prince) and sister, who are awaiting their father's return from battle. They're stuck in a fortress, while under guard by berserkers. These warriors are pretty shady, and it becomes clear after some time that there's a traitor in the fortress--someone out to destroy the kingdom.

As I said: I failed Icefall as a reader. Between the cadence of the prose and the slow-moving plot, it felt like the kind of book an avid fantasy reader would appreciate (note: this book gets excellent reviews on Goodreads, so it really is me). My love is more with the whodunit and thrillers.

That said, once I got into the story, I loved the cinematic writing--I felt like I was right there. I hope you'll give this book a try, and tell me what I missed.

Verdict: best for a middle-grade fantasy reader; unique look at Nordic times for a curriculum tie-in

Mystery quotient: 3 out of 5; there was a mystery in the plot, but slow pace and historical setting drowned out the whodunit feel.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Why It Pays To Join Professional Writers Organizations

I was lucky enough to be part of a Skype conference call with author Lee Child a few weeks ago--I know, you're a little jealous. To tell you the truth, I didn't talk much. There were a few other debut authors who were asking these really smart questions, so I mostly listened.

The funny thing? I never thought that joining organizations like International Thriller Writers would do a whole lot, other than maybe make me look like I know what I'm doing. But ITW has this great debut authors program that gives you a boost by helping promote your book, find other newbies, and get advice.

From Lee Child. How cool is that?

Anthony J. Franze wrote up an article about what we learned; check it out here.

Monday, April 2, 2012

My Short Crime Fiction For The "At The Zoo" Flash Fiction Challenge


***This is my contribution to the Flash Fiction Challenge (setting: at the zoo), a short crime fiction bit to take me back to my roots for the day. No kid lit, but the main character Angela Stark is a supporting cast member in my upcoming MG debut. I wanted to give her a turn, and develop her story a little.

Find more stories at Patti Abbott's blog.***

Packing

Meet me @ the wolves. 9:30 a.m.

            Just a text, after all this time. Not even a phone call. Angela Stark wondered if he still looked the same, her big brother Rupert. It had been ten years. People change in ten years. They get fat, grow out their hair, get new jobs. Like she did—well, the job part anyway.

            Rupe was thinner, sitting there on the metal bench that faced the wolf habitat, but he looked pretty much the same otherwise. Just a little more wiry and worn. “Angie.” He nodded as a greeting. Tried a smile, but he winched in pain instead. “How are you?”

            How are you, Rupe? was what she wanted to ask, but there was no need. It was written all over his pale face: the sweat, the jitteriness, the darting eyes. He was hurt. Shot, probably.

            A little girl popped out from behind him. She was about seven, her long hair tangled and matted where she’d slept. Her pink coat was faded, probably a Goodwill buy after some other kid already sucked the goodness out of it. She squinted. “Are you my aunt Angie?”

            Well look at that. Rupe went and had a kid. Stark didn't like kids much. She slid away on the bench, putting some inches between herself and the disaster that was Rupe's family.

            He smiled and rubbed the girl’s head. “Ruby, why don’t you go watch the wolves while me and Aunt Angie talk, okay?”

            Ruby nodded. “Did you know that wolves aren’t that aggressive at all?” The girl didn’t wait for an answer, but moved to the glass and pressed her hands against it. Her giant purple backpack had a broken zipper, leaving a sweater sleeve dangling like a flat, dead arm.

            “I know, I should have told you,” Rupe said as he got up. “About Ruby.” He winched, and stepped closer.

She could smell the stale sweat, the fear. And there was dried blood on his wrist. He’d washed his hands, but forgot about the details. That was Rupe.

“Don’t worry,” he whispered. “Ruby wasn’t there. Not like we used to be.” He sat down again, and this time, he didn’t hide his pain.

When they were little, Rupe was the one who got to go inside the bank with Dad. They would be ‘where the action was’ (those were Rupe’s favorite words). Stark (before she was Stark and still Little Angie) would sit in the car. Waiting. Listening, for sirens.

“I wouldn’t do that to Ruby.” Rupe’s voice crackled.

Ruby still stood at the glass, waiting for something to happen. There wasn’t a wolf in sight.

“Going to work?” Rupe pointed at Stark’s shoes. They were black, rubber-soled, the kind you could run in, but would still go with a suit. Agent shoes. “It’s okay,” he said. "I know they're waiting out there."

They both knew this could only end one way now.

“Daddy, look!” Ruby turned and smiled. “I think there’s a wolf coming.”

“That’s good, baby.” He wheezed. “She needs glasses. Ruby. I forgot them when we packed.”

The girl turned and smiled. “Did you know that—”

“Hush, Ruby!”

The smile on the girl’s face disappeared like a speeding bullet. She turned back to the glass, and leaned her hands and nose against it.

“Tammy didn’t make it.” Rupert exhaled the words, like they were the last air in his lungs. “It all went bad, Ange, like that time in Barstow. Remember, with Dad?”

She remembered. Five gunshots. Back when she was Little Angie, waiting for them to come outside, and when they did, seeing the dead body on the ground. The black soles on the security guard’s boots as he lay dead on the floor, before the doors closed.

“We made it out this time, but had to take out a guy. And Tammy got hit in the chest, didn’t make it fifteen minutes.” Rupe sank in his seat. His breathing was heavy. Hit in the shoulder, Stark guessed, possibly in the gut, too. “We drove all night. Ruby slept some in the car.”

Stark saw the wolf now. It walked down the wooded hill of its habitat with a slight swagger, an ease that came with knowing you owned the place. Probably smelled the girl. Or Rupe’s blood.

“Well I’ll be,” Rupe said. “There is a wolf.” He smiled and sat up. Groaned, and clutched his side.

The wolf got close to the girl now. It paced back and forth near the glass, teeth bearing. But the girl didn’t flinch. She kept her nose and hands pressed to the glass.

“Ruby loves animals. She’ll blabber your ear off with her gazillion animal facts.” Rupert reached under his coat. Stark expected him to check his bandage, but instead, he pulled out a piece. Her brother had been packing, and she hadn’t even noticed. This was why it was better to keep your distance. Family messed with your mind. Turned you into Little Angie again.

“You can take care of this, right?” he whispered.

Stark tucked the gun in her holster. It didn’t occur to her to bring a gun to the zoo, so she had room.

Rupe slid a folded piece of paper across the bench. There was a smeared bloody print on it. “The take’s location, for Ruby. Don’t let ‘em take it, okay? Keep quiet.”

The wolf lifted its head and started howling like a siren. Right next to Ruby.

It startled Stark. She jumped up, and took the girl by the hands, away from the glass. When she turned around, her brother was gone. She could just make out his slumped back as he disappeared in the crowd. His tired walk.

“He was calling his pack, Aunt Angie,” Ruby said with a smile. "The other wolves will come now." They sat down on the bench, but the girl’s backpack was too fat for her to lean back, so Stark took it off her. “Daddy says I need to hush up.” She waited for Stark to say something.

Stark listened for the sirens that she knew would come soon. But not yet. There was only the howl of the wolf, calling his pack.

“Daddy says you don’t like it when people talk.” The girl squinted. “I can be quiet.”

“No.” Stark held the broken backpack. “Tell me more about the wolves.”