Saturday Trailers: Dove Arising

What better day for a book trailer than a Saturday? Dove Arising by Karen Boa releases 24 Feb. “Be there or be a regular quadrilateral”.

Phaet Theta has lived her whole life in a colony on the Moon. She’s barely spoken since her father died in an accident nine years ago. She cultivates the plants in Greenhouse 22, lets her best friend talk for her, and stays off the government’s radar.

Then her mother is arrested.

The only way to save her younger siblings from the degrading Shelter is by enlisting in the Militia, the faceless army that polices the Lunar bases and protects them from attacks by desperate Earth-dwellers. Training is brutal, but it’s where Phaet forms an uneasy but meaningful alliance with the preternaturally accomplished Wes, a fellow outsider.

Rank high, save her siblings, free her mom: that’s the plan. Until Phaet’s logically ordered world begins to crumble…

Suspenseful, intelligent, and hauntingly prescient, Dove Arising stands on the shoulders of our greatest tales of the future to tell a story that is all too relevant today.

I didn’t realize that Christopher Paolini maintains a blog where among other things, he posts interviews with authors. What great networking! Here, the two authors discuss artistic choices Bao made in writing what is the first book in her trilogy, how Bao, a full-time student, manages to find time to write and why they’ve both decided to stop using italics in their writing. I’m so glad they did!

review: Naughts and Crosses

+-+35697920_140Title: Naughts and Crosses

author: Malorie Blackman

date: 2001; Simon and Schuster

main character: Callum McGregor



Crosses and naughts. Blacks and whites.

Crosses and noughts is the British name for tic tac toe. Malorie Blackman uses the title to describe an alternative universe where Blacks are superior to Whites with Jim Crow type racism playing out in a contemporary setting. Callum is among a small group of naughts selected to attend a prestigious all Cross school. Sephy, a Cross, is Callum’s close friend and also attends this school.

At the same time, there’s espionage and tom foolery as the Cross dominated government works to maintain power. Things come to a head, people are killed and Callum becomes something we could not have predicted at the beginning of the book. He and Sephy begin as such naïve innocents so lacking in motivation that they do little to draw readers into the story. They somehow seem too old and too involved with the world to not understand how race is played out.

Blackman predicates her world on the racism that currently exists but in her world the privilege is reversed. Simple enough job of world building there! As mentioned, I didn’t care for the characters enough to invest in the story. The back and forth ‘lets be friends/lets not be friends’ was fickle and annoying. Labeled as a thriller, suspense was slow to boil. I was surprised that there were so many ‘Britishims’ in the book that left this American often wondering about the meaning. I wonder about the editing that changed the spelling in the title but left so much British in the books.

Naughts and Crosses is an award winning 5 books series that is extremely popular around the world. Malorie Blackman has written over 50 children’s and young adult books and currently serves as the United Kingdom’s Children’s Laureate 2013-15. Her most recent books is Noble Conflict (Doubleday).

Needless to say, I want to read more works by Ms. Blackman. While this book didn’t work well for me, there may be others that will.

book review: Drift

maintitle: Drift

author: M. K. Hutchins

date: Tu Books, May 2014

main character: Tenjat

M.K. Hutchins gave herself one helluva challenge of world building with this one. I think she’s taught me that when reading speculative fiction, it’s advisable to look for the author’s notes in order to better understand this new world and the premise upon which it is built. The island world of turtle’s she created really was well crafted and readers quickly become invested in it. I just couldn’t get past how and why a civilization would live on the backs of turtles but after reading her notes and understanding the mythology she used, I had a better understanding.

Tenjat and his father are described as having brown faces. Little other reference to skin color is provided, although some characters are describe as being shaded like the wood. There are distinct differences in the roles of men and women and the worst thing anyone can be called is ‘hub’, short for husband. This is because being a husband and having children selfishly weighs down the turtle. Tenjat wants to become a Handler so that he can better provide for his sister and himself. Just before entering the tree for his training, thoughts are planed that have Tenjat questioning everything he’s come to know. How will he find answers?

Hutchins writes a unique fantasy based in multiple mythologies in which she explores gender based roles, family structures, the environment and what we essentially believe about the cycle of life and death. I did eventually like this story. While reading, I had a difficult time getting a grasp on Eflet’s age (Eflet is his younger sister). I couldn’t figure out how they breathed underwater, either. Character development was lax, as is often the case in action driven stories. But, there are stregnths in Huthin’s writings. Layers of explanations for personal and societal battles are slowly peeled away as Tenjat begins to have things revealed to him. She does a good job of maintaining suspense.

Drift is a very unique book both in its plot and in its issues. The complexities hit me big time at the end and they have left me considering and questioning many things. A book that leaves you with many considerations is a good book!

M.K. Hutchins has had short fiction appear in Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show and Daily Science Fiction. Drift is her debut novel.

book review: The Deep

Cover_v8.inddtitle: The Deep

author: Zetta Elliott

date: 2013; Rosetta Press

main character: Nyla

The Deep continues the stories of Nyla, Keem and D that began in Ship of Souls. While Ship of Souls was D’s story, The Deep is Nyla’s. We knew something happened to Nyla in Germany and now we find what it was and how that terror stole Nyla’s sense of self. She moves to Brooklyn with her stepmother and begins covering herself in an array of body piercings, spiked hair and black clothing. In appearance, she is oddly matched with Keem, an attractive athlete, but he seemed to give her the space and respect that she needed. She is as impulsive in her decision-making as any 14-year-old would be.

As a character, I found Nyla difficult to like just as I imagine a real life Nyla would be. A smart black girl struggling with so many personal issues, would indeed take some special love if you didn’t know her. This girl managed to build a thick, protective covering around herself that didn’t manage to interfere with her sense of independence or her core values.

Before leaving for Brooklyn, Nyla rhetorically asks if she could indeed belong in Brooklyn. Identity and fitting in are themes in this book and they’re themes that shape the lives of many nerdy black girls who rarely find themselves represented in American media. Nyla finds that she has a special purpose, a unique calling that comes from her mother; the woman who walked out on her and her father when she was 4 years old.

Elliott creates a strong sense of place as the Brooklyn landscape plays a prominent role in Nyla’s fate. Prominent public locations become portals that transport Nyla into the deep and deliver important messages to the characters. As D, Keem and Nyla ride the trains, visit the pizza shops and hangout out in the parks we feel such a strong connection to this place that we want to believe this is where they all belong. But our Nyla is being pulled away.

These three friends are once again confronted by powers from below the ground that  bring many threats, not the least of which is the threat to end their friendships. Nyla struggles with her new-found powers and with so many major elements in the book, yet Elliott lets these teens remain teens. Each of them wants to know how to maintain  relationships with parents, friends and lovers. And, each of them wants to find their place in the world. Well, D and Nyla do. We still need to hear Keem’s story!

Elliott continues to self publish imaginative and provocative young adult speculative fiction. Her commitment to her readers is evident in the honest portrayals that she gives them. Zetta sent me a copy of this book back in December when I was knee deep in BFYA reading. I never committed to when I would read The Deep and honestly, I didn’t want to read it because I didn’t want to not like it. I shouldn’t have doubted her skills.

Interview: Alaya Dawn Johnson

I actually met Alaya (‘rhymes with papaya’) Dawn Johnson at ALAN in Las Vegas last winter. She radiated an energy that was fresh and new to YA and I knew I wanted to interview her. Since then, she’s released The Summer Prince and, from the reviews I’ve been seeing, she’s been quite busy! Thankfully, I was recently able to connect with her for the following interview.

From GoodReads on The Summer Prince

The lush city of Palmares Três shimmers with tech and tradition, with screaming gossip casters and practiced politicians. In the midst of this vibrant metropolis, June Costa creates art that’s sure to make her legendary. But her dreams of fame become something more when she meets Enki, the bold new Summer King. The whole city falls in love with him (including June’s 221best friend, Gil). But June sees more to Enki than amber eyes and a lethal samba. She sees a fellow artist.

Together, June and Enki will stage explosive, dramatic projects that Palmares Três will never forget. They will add fuel to a growing rebellion against the government’s strict limits on new tech. And June will fall deeply, unfortunately in love with Enki. Because like all Summer Kings before him, Enki is destined to die.

Pulsing with the beat of futuristic Brazil, burning with the passions of its characters, and overflowing with ideas, this fiery novel will leave you eager for more from Alaya Dawn Johnson.

First, congratulations on the wonderful reviews you’ve been receiving!

Let’s start with a few short questions.

Where did you grow up?

Just outside of Washington, DC in Maryland.

Do you have any pets?

Not now, though I do have a lot of plants!

What do you enjoy watching on television?

I don’t watch much these days, but some of my favorite newer shows are Downton Abbey, Dance Academyalaya-johnson-c-alden-ford_custom-7df1507ada0d013149fb630635d806e238016ae9-s6-c30 (this Australian TV show about teens going to a dance academy…I have no idea why it’s so great, but it is), and a whole bunch of Korean dramas (in particular Sungkyunkwan Scandal and Scent Of A Woman).

 Meat or vegetables?

Vegetables! I was raised vegetarian, in fact, so I’ve never (deliberately) eaten meat.

Are there any books that stand out in your memory from your childhood?

Tons, but in particular I adored Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Kindred by Octavia Butler, Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay and The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett.

What book(s) are you in the middle of reading right now?

Too many! I’m reading The Passing Bells by Phillip Rock, which seems to be a proto-Downton Abbey, The Discovery And Conquest of Mexico by Bernal Diaz del Castillo (a memoir by one of the conquistadors) and Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (the writing is so good).

There is so much complexity to Summer Prince I have to wonder how long it took you to write.

Thank you! The first draft took me about a year. The funny thing is that when I started the book, I’d somehow convinced myself that I could bang out a very rough draft in a month and then return to the project I was supposed to be working on. I took three weeks off from my life, basically, and wrote as much as I could. And I did write a significant chunk of the novel, but I realized how big and complicated the project was. I realized that I had to take a deep breath and focus on it for a much longer time than I’d thought at first. But I’m always over-ambitious when it comes to my writing speed. After the first draft, I spent about another year doing revisions. The writing could get intense–I would work for hours and only get out a couple of hundred words. But even a slow writer can finish a book if she does it consistently, and thank goodness!

What was the biggest challenge in writing The Summer Prince?

 Probably the hardest aspect of writing The Summer Prince was figuring out how to create a world that was complex and nuanced and very different from our own, integrate that with strong characters, all without breaking the story up with infodumps. Figuring out how to juggle all of those elements with some sort of economy and grace took years and many rewrites. I’m pleased with how it turned out in the end, but the complexity itself sometimes daunted me.

When I look at the title, I see you as referring to Enki as ‘The Summer Prince’ and not ‘The Summer King’. Why do you see him that way?

 A few characters in the book will reference Enki as a “moon prince” or a “summer prince.” I wanted to use that as the title, instead of the more obvious “Summer King”, because I wanted something that evoked the struggles between youth and old age that are so important in the novel. Because Enki is a character who dies young, and who chooses to do so. Calling him a “prince” gives him his power in a way that calling him a “king” doesn’t.

Which character is you in this book?

No character is exactly like me, though June and I definitely share some prominent characteristics. We are both obsessed with our respective arts, and very ambitious (though June’s attitudes at the beginning of the book are more extreme than my own). But I think I share with Bebel a more holistic appreciation of competition, and I very much admire Enki for his dedication to what he believes in, though I could never do what he does.

I tuned into some of my favorite Brasilian tunes while reading Summer Prince, but I’m wonder what songs you would put into a playlist for readers?

 So many songs! But among my favorites (many of which are mentioned in the book): “Roda Viva” by Chico Buarque, “Eu Vim Da Bahia” by João Gilberto (and everything else he wrote ever), “Sonho Meu” by Maria Bethânia, “Quilombo, O El Dorado Negro” by Gilberto Gil, “Velha Infancia” by Tribalistas (that whole album is great), “The Carimbaeo” by Nação Zumbi, “Life Gods” by Marisa Monte and Gilberto Gil, “Oba, Lá Vem Ela” by Jorge Ben, “Tudo Que Voce Podia Ser” by Simone and “O Leãozinho” by Caetano Veloso.

I have that Tribalista album. Love it!

You’ve literally turned the world upside down with people no longer living on the ground, women ruling the world and the sexual identity no longer existing as a boundary. The story questions the use of technology, and treatment of the poor. And, June’s main weapon is art. Why art?

 Possibly this is because I’m an artist, but I think that art is potentially the most powerful force in human culture, and certainly one of the most important ways that cultures express and change themselves. Think about iconic posters that have recruited for wars, or convinced people to support different causes or politicians. Art can reflect the zeitgeist, but I also think that it can create it. I’ve always wanted to write a novel about art and politics, and with June’s story I finally had that chance.

I hear you’re working on another YA project! What is it about?

 It’s very different, in some ways, from The Summer Prince–it’s set in the modern US, for one. And I’m drawing a little more on my personal experiences, since it takes place in Washington, DC at a private school in the midst of a flu pandemic. But like The Summer Prince it deals with race and class and politics and family troubles and first loves.

Obrigada!  I wish you much success and, I hope to see you at ALAN again!


February. Way back when I began teaching, I hearted February as it gave me the opportunity to do veer from the tried and true and do some really creative things with my students. Because the student population at the Catholic school where I taught was 100% African American, we would celebrate Valentines Day as “I Love My Black Me Day”.  My 7th and 8th graders wouldn’t have to wear uniforms and we’d have guest speakers on topics such as relationships, health, children in the civil rights movement, and sharing our talents.  Throughout the school, the month would be filled with biographies, viewings of “Roots” and kente print. That was 15 years ago and thngs really haven’t changed.

Here on the blogosphere, I see White bloggers and journalists feel that it’s now safe to talk the lack of presence of Blacks (and other minorities) in YA literature. To be clear, there are Whites who keep this topic at the forefront, but not enough, not nearly enough. I’ve notice on the YALSA listserv, there has been a surge of people asking for books with Black characters. It often starts as the request for “urban books”, that nebulous term for “African American books”.  The conversation becomes muddled and one or two will respond with straight up urban fiction, some will throw in Stephanie Perry Moore and Paul Volponi and sometimes there’s even 8th Grade Superzero and some Sarah Dessen. I often wonder why librarians can’t effectively describe exactly what they’re looking for on these listservs in terms of genre, setting, ethnicity, reader age…?

In responding to a recent request on a listserv, I created such a major faux pas!! Someone was looking for sources for African American YA books and well, of course I listed my own. I then mentioned Reading in Color and The HappyNappyBookseller and that was it. AHH!!!! Can you believe I forgot the BrownBookShelf and Miss Domino?? Then there’s Multiculturalism Rocks that promotes books of color, as well as Diversity in YA, PaperTigers. Fledgling and??? Who else am I forgetting that promotes books for teens and children of color? Since I dwell in the world of YA I know I’m missing children’s books blogs.

I’d be remiss in my duties of a promoter if I didn’t mention the thorough list Zetta Elliot compiled a while ago of African American YA speculative fiction books. I admit, this isn’t particularly my favorite genre, but when it comes to building imaginations and getting readers to wonder about possibilities, this is it. So, why aren’t there more books here?

I admit, I am doing special reading for February. I’m reading Bleeding Violets for our online discussion and I’m reading the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks for a discussion with my teachers. Are you reading anything special for Black History month?