Tuesday, February 18, 2014

2013 starred reviews of YA & middle grade speculative fiction

Publishers Weekly does a very handy periodic list called The Stars So Far, which lists all the YA and children's books that have garnered starred reviews in certain print publications that year.  I thought I'd do a similar list for YA and middle grade speculative fiction books that were published in 2013.

A disclaimer: I haven't read very many of these books myself, and I've been holding off on writing reviews of any of them until after the Detcon1 YSF Awards are given, so none of this contains my personal opinion.

Reviews are funny things.  People who write them are trained to be objective and thoughtful, but they're ultimately personal opinions.  This means that sometimes people will have really different opinions about a particular book.  I love it when I read six reviews, two of which are super-negative and four of which are super-positive; it's just an indication that the book has touched someone personally -- which is the wish of most authors.  So please, take this list with a grain of salt.  Just because a book has positive reviews does not mean you will like it, or that it is right for your library.

You can also find this list on Goodreads, but it doesn't note how many stars a book has received, nor does it include the snippets from reviews.  A PDF printable version is here.

Books labeled MG are middle grade (ages 8-11); otherwise they are YA.

Starred review sources include Book Links, Book Report, Booklist, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Choice, Christian Library Journal, Criticas, Horn Book, Kirkus, Kliatt, Library Journal, Library Talk, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal and VOYA.


5 Starred Reviews

Black, Holly.  Doll Bones.  MG
"Spooky, melancholy, elegiac and ultimately hopeful; a small gem."

Black, Holly.  The Coldest Girl in Coldtown.
"Dark and dangerous, bloody and brilliant."

McNeal, Tom.  Far, Far Away.
"Archetypal figures and situations glimmer through McNeal's small-town American cast like tantalizing clues."

Sedgwick, Marcus. Midwinterblood.
"Part love story, part mystery, part horror, this is as much about the twisting hand of fate as it is about the mutability of folktales."


4 Starred Reviews

Blackwood, Sage.  Jinx.  MG
"A literary cut above Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl books but with no less tension or bravado."

Carriger, Gail.  Etiquette & Espionage.
"A supernatural-meets-steampunk world full of action and wit."

DiCamillo, Kate. Flora and Ulysses.  MG
"Original, touching and oh-so-funny tale starring an endearingly implausible superhero and a not-so-cynical girl."

LaFevers, Robin. Dark Triumph.
"An intricate, masterful page-turner about politics, treachery, religion, love and healing."

Madison, Bennett. September Girls.
"This isn’t just a supernatural beach read; it’s a rare and lovely novel, deserving of attention from discriminating readers."

Moriarty, Jaclyn. A Corner of White.
"Irresistible characters help readers navigate a tantalizingly complex plot."

Stiefvater, Maggie. The Dream Thieves.
"The pace is electric, the prose marvelously sure-footed and strong, but it's the complicated characters... that meld magic and reality into an engrossing, believable whole."



3 Starred Reviews

Cokal, Susann. The Kingdom of Little Wounds.
"Its brutality, eloquence, and scope are a breathtaking combination."

DeStefano, Lauren.  Perfect Ruin.
"From the first page, readers will be enticed by Morgan’s voice, precise in its descriptions yet filled with curiosity."

Jinks, Catherine.  How to Catch A Bogle.  MG
"A period melodrama replete with colorful characters, narrow squeaks and explosions of ectoplasmic goo."

Johnson, Alaya Dawn.  The Summer Prince.
"Rife with political turmoil and seeped in culture, this unique and highly fantastical dystopian romance is both intriguing and imaginative."

Lu, Marie.  Champion.
"In the oversaturated dystopian market, Champion stands out for its suspenseful story and broad appeal."

Marchetta, Melina. Quintana of Charyn.
"Fans of Megan Whelan Turner and Elizabeth Wein should find this exceptional series especially compelling."

Meadows, Jodi. Asunder.
"Dramatic and affecting, completely coherent and oddly irresistible. It is a brilliant book."

Meyer, Marissa. Scarlet.
"Part science fiction/fantasy, part political machinations with a hint of romance."

Moskowitz, Hannah. Teeth.
"Provocative, unsettling, complex and multilayered."

Pope, Paul. Battling Boy.
"A masterful nod to the [superhero graphic novel] genre."

Wasserman, Robin. The Waking Dark.
"The novel works just as well as mainstream horror as YA, and the ending is both effective and brutal."

Winters, Cat. In the Shadow of Blackbirds.
"Strikes just the right balance between history and ghost story, neatly capturing the tenor of the times, as growing scientific inquiry collided with heightened spiritualist curiosity."

Yancey, Rick. The 5th Wave.
"Part War of the Worlds, part Starship Troopers, part Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and part The Stand."




2 Starred Reviews

Carson, Rae. The Bitter Kingdom.
"An action-packed and thoughtful end to an ambitious series."

Doctrow, Cory, Homeland.
"A brazen, polemical novel that riffs on contemporary issues."

Farmer, Nancy. The Lord of Opium.
"Dystopian literature has changed significantly since the first book [House of the Scorpion], but this sequel is still a cut above the rest."

Foxlee, Karen. The Midnight Dress.
"Atmospheric, lyric and unexpected."

Graff, Lisa. A Tangle of Knots.  MG
"Subtle and intricate, rich with humor and insight, this quietly magical adventure delights."

Jones, Gareth P. Constable and Toop.  MG-ish
"A complex, richly textured tale that will satisfy patient readers."

McCarry, Sarah. All Our Pretty Songs.
"Haunting, otherworldly and heartbreaking."

Moriarty, Chris. The Watcher in the Shadows.
"A touch of Chabon, a hiss of steampunk, and a blast of originality."

Nesbet, Anne. A Box of Gargoyles. 
"A flavorful mille-feuille with equally tasty layers of dark magic, light comedy and salty determination."

Ness, Patrick. More Than This.
"A delicate balance between dystopian survival and philosophical grappling."

Sanderson, Brandon. The Rithmatist.
"[A] well-crafted mix of action and setup, enriched by a thoroughly detailed cultural and historical background and capped by a distinctly unsettling twist."

Shulman, Polly. The Wells Bequest.
"A clever, sparky adventure made of science fiction, philosophy and humor."

Smith, Sherri L. Orleans.
"The bleak setting becomes a tableau for lifes basics: survival and sacrifice, compassion and greed."

Strasser, Todd. Fallout.
"Combines terrific suspense with thoughtful depth when the bombs really do fall in this alternate-history Cuban missile crisis thriller."

Trevayne, Emma. Coda.
"A creative concept, skillful dialogue and vivid characters."

Tucholke, April Genevieve. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.
"Give this one to fans of creepy mysteries, particularly tales that don't skimp on the violence. They'll appreciate the conclusion's heart-pounding, bile-rising standoff."

Ursu, Anne. The Real Boy.
"Will fondly remind readers of Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted (HarperCollins, 1997) and Meg from Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time."

Valente, Catherynne. The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two.
"Richly layered imagery draws deeply from the fairy-tale canon as well as Valente's imagination."

Williams, Sean. Twinmaker.
"Marries accessibly explored moral ramifications of future technologies with a strong, capable teen heroine and heart-pounding action."

Young, Suzanne. The Program.
"For lovers of dystopian romance, this gripping tale is a tormented look at identity and a dark trip down Lost-Memory Lane."

Zettel, Sarah. The Golden Girl.
"Brings the mythology of the Celtic fairy tradition into 1930s Hollywood."



1 Starred Review

Anderson, John David. Sidekicked.
"The Avengers meets Louis Sachar."

Arnston, Steven
The Wrap-up List
"Quirky, charming and life-affirming, supernatural style."

Bardugo, Leigh. Siege and Storm.  Fantasy.
“Appealing three-dimensional characters and an involving plot that keeps a steady pace.”

Bickle, Laura. The Outside.  Amish vampires.
“A horror story with heart and soul.”

Blake, Kendare. Antigoddess.
"A gory, thrilling vision of the twilight of the gods, in all their pettiness and power."

Blakemore, Megan. The Water Castle.
"Raises fascinating questions about the possibilities of science."

Bow, Erin. Sorrow's Knot.
"A lovely gem, dark and quiet as the dead but glimmering with life as well."

Breen, M.E. Darkwood.
“Both grounded and wonderous.”

Carlson, Caroline. Magic Marks the Spot.
"A silly, rollicking good time."

Charbonneau, Joelle.  The Testing.
"Action, romance, intrigue, and a plausible dystopian premise into a near-flawless narrative."

Chima, Cinda Williams. The Enchanter Heir.
"A smoldering story soaked in tears, sweat and blood, constantly threatening to blaze into an inferno. Spellbinding."

Cremer, Andrea and David Levithan. Invisibility.
"Love child of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Levithan's Every Day."

Falls, Kat. Inhuman.
"Sure to satisfy fans of the dystopian-romance genre."

Fusco, Kimberly Newton. Beholding Bee.  MG
"Matter-of-fact, first-person account and slow understanding allow for a smooth transition from realism to fantasy."

Gidwitz, Adam. The Grimm Conclusion
"Entertaining story-mongering, with traditional and original tropes artfully intertwined."

Goelman, Ari. The Path of Names.
"The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay for kids."

Hautman, Pete. The Cydonian Pyramid.
"Elements of ancient Mayan sacrifices and political intrigue, the book will have fans of historical fiction and science fiction thinking through the motives and concepts of this smoothly layered adventure."

Healy, Christopher. The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle.
"Witty banter, amusing characters, and seat-of-your-pants action."

Healey, Karen. When We Wake.
"Accessible, thoughtful and compelling--science fiction done right."

Herrick, Amy. The Time Fetch.
"Solid characterization and fantastical invention."

Howard, A.G. Splintered.
"A sensuous version of Alice's adventures for the Hot Topic crowd."

Howson, Imogen. Linked.
"A roller-coaster ride into space."

Lint, Charles de. The Cats of Tanglewood Forest.
"A satisfyingly folkloric, old-fashioned--feeling fable."

Littlewood, Kathryn. A Dash of Magic.
"Readers will enjoy accompanying these kitchen magicians on their Parisian adventure."

Lomax, David. Backward Glass.
"Following the complex threads of adventure as they come together through the multitude of intertwined journeys is a joy."

Lo, Malinda. Inheritance
"Clever plot and strong world-building are this sequel's strengths."

Lu, Marie. Prodigy.
"Provides a more satisfying readalike experience for fans interested in [the dystopian] niche."

Maas, Sarah J. Crown of Midnight.
"Intricate plot, dishy romance, and rich world building."

Martin, T. Michael. The End Games.
"The story is not all zombie fun and games; it is brutal bordering on horrific, and it packs an emotional wallop."

Meloy, Maile. The Apprentices.
"Just enough magic, chaste romance and humor to appeal to middle-grade readers through teens."

North, Phoebe. Starglass.
"This richly textured first novel deserves to be widely read."

Oliver, Lauren. Requiem.
"A dystopian tour de force."

Parker, Amy Christine. Gated.
"A complex, intriguing tale rooted in real-world events."

Rees Brennan, Sarah. Untold.
"A whopping dose of girl detective-style sleuthing make this series a refreshing take on the paranormal romance genre."

Revis, Beth. Shades of Earth.
"Revis has brought real and immediate emotions to sci-fi scenarios."

Sanderson, Brandon. Steelheart.
"Snappy dialogue, bizarre plot twists, high-intensity action, and a touch of mystery and romance."

Shepherd, Megan. The Madman's Daughter.
"Shepherd sticks fairly close to Wells's Island of Dr. Moreau but furthers her story's appeal with sweeping romance."

Shurtliff, Liesl. Rump: The True Story of Rumplestiltskin.
"The picaresque-style narrative gives the maligned character a refreshingly plainspoken voice, while honoring the original story's hauntingly strange events."

Stroud, Jonathan. Lockwood & Co.: The Screaming Staircase.
"[A] wry, practical voice counterpoints the suspenseful supernatural goings-on in this rollicking series-opener, which strikes just the right balance between creepiness and hilarity."

Terrill, Crisitin. All Our Yesterdays.
"Time travel done right... Powerful emotional relationships and tight plotting."

Thomas, Sherry. The Burning Sky
"A blend of magic, gender-bending disguise, and self-sacrificial longing will satisfy fantasy lovers."

Werlin, Nancy. Unthinkable.
"Blending of real-world and fantasy, the focus on family, and the tale of a young woman overcoming what seem like incredible odds."

West, Kasie. Pivot Point.
"Will appeal to those who enjoy the [paranormal] genre, and it is a welcome change from vampires and zombies."

White, Kiersten. Mind Games.
"An effective paranormal thriller."

Wiggins, Bethany. Stung.
"A fast-paced, fever-bright post-apocalyptic adventure."

Zinn, Bridget. Poison.
"Vivid, headlong, and occasionally tongue in cheek, and the narrative's dark moments never get too scary because everything else is so much fun."



If I missed any, please let me know!

Monday, February 17, 2014

VIDEO: Sarah Zettel and Mama Librarian on the Detcon1 YSF Book Award


Hey, it's me (in the Perry the Platypus shirt)!  I'm talking with Sarah Zettel there on the left, who is a fantastic YA/middle grade/etc. author and the Mistress of Ceremonies at Detcon1.  We talk about the current expanding, changing culture of science fiction for young people, and how to nominate a book for the 2014 Detcon1 YSF book award.

Be sure to watch to the very end of the video.  =)

The awards would love a signal boost, so if you would repost this video, it would be much appreciated.

The Detcon1 Awards for Young Adult and Middle Grade Speculative Fiction

tl:dr: Read some good YA fantasy, SF, horror or dystopian fiction this year?  Nominate them here! Yes, that means you!



I think I've read more young adult and kids' science fiction and fantasy since I became an adult than I did when I was a kid, and that's saying something.  Yes, you might assume that because I'm a children's librarian that I have to read a lot of kids' books, but I think the primary reason is because there is so much good speculative fiction being published right now.  Children's fantasy is still enjoying the post-Harry Potter renaissance; YA publishing is at an all-time high.  Genre fiction for adults has an unfair reputation for shoddy writing -- but there's nothing more literary than the science fiction and fantasy literature written for youth today.

Unfortunately, I think a lot of it is overlooked by the audience who might enjoy it most: adult SF/F readers.  SF/F conventions provided me with a safe haven when I was a teenager; I've been attending them for over twenty years.  My fannish peers read piles of books every year, but I'm sad to say I believe there are still a large number of adult SF/F readers who just don't read books published for kids.  

Detcon1 (July 17-20, 2014 in Detroit, MI), the 2014 North American Science Fiction Convention, is betting I'm wrong.  They're promoting a new member's choice award for young adult and kids' SF/F, titled the Detcon1 Award for Young Adult and Middle Grade Speculative Fiction.  (That's a mouthful.  I'm going to call it the Detcon1 YSF Award for short.)

There are other awards for speculative fiction.  The Hugo Awards are also member choice awards.  Some winners have been middle grade and YA (traditionally defined by publishers as ages 8-12 and 12+ respectively); Gaiman's Graveyard Book won in 2009.  Arguments have been made for and against including a special category in the Hugos for YA books, but so far, nominations are inclusive for all kinds of speculative fiction, written for all ages.

There's also the Golden Duck, a juried award specifically for science fiction written for children and young adults.  A panel of distinguished readers choose these awards from the pool of potential candidates, rather than relying on popular vote.  The 2014 Golden Duck winners will be awarded at Detcon1, too.

The Detcon YSF Award nominations are open to the public, at http://award.detcon1.org/ or by mail ballot.  Anyone can name up to five speculative fiction books published in 2013 for young people.  Nominees don't have to attend Detcon1 in order to participate, but if they want to vote on the winners, they'll have to buy a membership.  Works published in a language other than English are also eligible if their first year of publication in English was 2013.

You might not have heard the term speculative fiction before.  It includes lots of genre, including fantasy, science fiction, horror, dystopian fiction and superheros.  Graphic novel compilations of comic books or webcomics are included, too -- they're welcome to be nominated if they were published in novel form for the first time in 2013.  If you're not sure if a book is YA or middle grade, don't worry about it; the awards committee will sort those details out when we tally the nominations.

What do we need from you?  Your opinion!  Visit http://detcon1.org/award and tell us what books you loved this year, before the deadline on February 28, 2014.  If you haven't read any YA or children's SF or fantasy, read some!  There's so much good stuff out there.  Of course, I'm going to tell you to go to your public library and asking your children's librarian for suggestions.  Check out the nominees for the Cybils in the YA Speculative Fiction and Middle Grade Speculative Fiction categories.  

Once you've submitted your nominations, spread the word.  And then, invite people to attend Detcon1 -- young, old and in between.  Fandom needs people of all ages to thrive.  I look forward to seeing you there.

Maggi Idzikowski, Detcon1 YSF Award Administrator

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Review: Babymouse for President


Babymouse for President
Babymouse for President by Jennifer L. Holm

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



The Babymouse series is one of those remarkable creations: a pink book that appeals to boys. I have had no trouble selling 8-year-olds on the dramatic, hyperactive, accident-prone mouse. Kids with a more subtle sense of humor appreciate the narrator's snarky comments, but everybody loves being smarter than Babymouse.

This newest volume is right on time for the 2012 election. Kids who aren't quite ready to formulate opinions about presidential politics still have plenty of ideas being thrust upon them about what an election is about. Babymouse isn't intimidating; perhaps young would-be politicians will be inspired by her dreams.



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Review: Friends with Boys


Friends with Boys
Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



Full of teen angst and fear about finding her tribe, it's easy to identify with Maggie as she begins her first year of high school after being home schooled. The catch? Maggie's also being haunted by a local ghost.

Hicks' black and white marker art is perfect for this coming-of-age tale. Her character's wide-eyed faces are pleasantly imperfect. Maggie's older brother isn't perfectly sized, and he's the most popular character in the book.

I appreciate that Hicks uses familiar tropes of high school relationships without letting her characters become cardboard stereotypes. The relationships between Maggie and her brothers and the larger school community are complex and interesting. Maggie's anguish and confusion at the loss of her mother is palpable. There are no easy fixes. I found myself wanting more from the story, though; the character development in a graphic novel can be slow, especially when the pictures tell the bulk of the story. Hicks gave me a taste of this family, but it wasn't enough to whet my appetite.

I admit I also love that one of her brothers is doing a musical about zombies.

There's a nice twist at the end that might be anticipated by savvy readers, but I didn't, and I like that.



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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Oh, frabjous day!

Long story short... my school district saw fit to remove me from the media center two years ago because, even though I'd been teaching media for eight years, have a classroom teaching degree and a masters in library and information science, I needed to have an additional piece of certification.  I fought it, and lost, and spent two years teaching in the classroom in an awesome building working with a bunch of fantastic teachers and adorable, brilliant children.  Last week, the district decided I was suddenly qualified again, and moved me back into the media center, complete with two new buildings.  So... here I am again, doing what I'm most qualified to do. I'm sad to leave my building of two years, but very happy to be working with library collections and technology again.  Let's call it a win, and hopefully they won't decide next year that I'm not qualified anymore.

So!  I'm suddenly back to reading, and reading means blogging, and blogging means you get to hear me nattering on about books again.  I'll be focusing on graphic novels, as usual.  Also, since one of my schools is K-2, I'll be reading a lot of picture books and early readers.  

Anybody have any good suggestions?  What have I missed over the past two years that I absolutely need to pick up and read?

Thanks to everyone who's still out there reading.  I'm so happy to be back.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Review: Circle Series Visual Edition: Black, Red, and White Graphic Novels


Circle Series Visual Edition: Black, Red, and White Graphic Novels (The Circle Series)Circle Series Visual Edition: Black, Red, and White Graphic Novels by Ted Dekker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I picked this up with some skepticism, as I've not been impressed with the quality of writing of most Christian fiction, but was drawn in despite myself. The story moved quickly (think "24") and was creative and multifaceted. I really enjoyed it. The graphic novel adaptation is well put-together and I thought the art was adequate if not distinguished. It reminded me a bit of last year's Cybils finalist The Dreamer.



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