Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Interview with Amy Huntley

If you saw my post from yesterday, you'll know that I had nothing but good things to say about The Everafter. I was thrilled when the author, Amy Huntley, agreed to an interview for the blog.

As a first time author, what was it like for you to write, submit, and get your book published?

While I was writing the book, I didn’t even know I was a first time author. I’d played around with writing other novels, but when I was writing The Everafter, I thought it might have a good chance of selling. Still, I didn’t know whether it would or not, so I didn’t consider myself a first time author while I was writing it. Submitting it was a painful process. I began by trying to get an agent—something that took me a year to do. I got a lucky break along the way and an agent recommended my manuscript to another literary agency—who took it! I’ve been so excited to work with Adams Literary ever since. It took such a long time to get an agent, I wasn’t prepared for how quickly the book sold. Within a week of the time my agent sent it out, we had a deal. That was pretty heady stuff—but confusing, too, because I didn’t really know my way around the publishing world.

What drew you to write a ghost story-mystery-romance for teenagers? Was it easy to pack all of those "genres" into one book?

I stumbled onto the idea of this book when several of my fellow teachers were complaining about things they’d lost and one said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if all those lost things turned up after you were dead?” I knew I was going to be playing with that concept, and I knew that how the protagonist died was going to be a mystery, but I never really thought of the book as a “mystery” novel. I never really thought of it as a romance, either, although I realized the romance played a heavy role in the story. Nor would I have classified the book as a ghost story because I think of those as being scary, and about people who’ve come back from the dead and hang out in times that occur after their death. So packing all those genres into one book wasn’t really hard—it was just what happened when I set out to tell a story about a girl experiencing the ultimate change and transition through her death.

The story is a bit chaotic with its vignettes of Maddy's life. How did you keep everything straight and making sense to Maddy's development?

While writing the rough draft, I didn’t actually do anything to help myself with that. I just sort of let things happen in the story and made Maddy’s development as a spirit the focus of the plot structure. When I reached the revision stage, I started paying more attention to how all the pieces were fitting together in relation to each other. I made a chart that listed each vignette, along with Maddy’s age, what she learned about the mystery of her death (if anything) and what she learned about her life and development as a spirit. That made it easier for me to see if all the various characters were showing up often enough, if all strands of the mystery were equally shown, if all the stages of Maddy’s life were there, and if the vignettes truly built on her own understanding of her life but also her maturation as a spirit. That chart was especially helpful whenever I decided I needed to move a vignette’s location in the narrative. Every time I moved one, I often had to shift Maddy’s emotional revelations from one vignette to another because those needed to build on each other just like the mystery of her death did.

It was interesting to read certain characters and events through Maddy's eyes, especially the ones that directly influenced her death. How difficult was it to keep that a mystery until the end while still giving Maddy clues?

Because of the structure of this book, it wasn’t all that hard, actually. I was able to reorder events any time I wanted to build the suspense. That’s not to say it was easy to do that. But still, it could be done. Once I was done with the clues about how Maddy died, I could focus my attention on some sequences that allowed Maddy to make contact with other spirits and use them to help her find her way to the one moment where she could see how she’d died.

What inspired you to use Emily Dickinson's poetry?

I’ve always liked Dickinson’s poetry—more because I’m touched by the issues she addresses in it than because of the techniques she uses as a writer.

Her poetry is so often focused on death, that within the first three pages of drafting The Everafter, I’d thought about her, and wondered if there was a place for her in my story. I started hunting through her poetry and found several poems that seemed appropriate to the book. Then, as the narrative progressed, I narrowed down that list and started incorporating. In some cases, a poem even helped shape the direction I moved the text in, but mostly it was the other way around.

What do you hope readers will gain from reading The Everafter?

This book isn’t actually about death to me. While I was writing it, I tried to explore particular moments in Maddy’s life where growth, change and transition were painful for her. Her death was supposed to be a metaphor for all the change and transition life brings us in general. We don’t stay the same person all our lives, and that’s okay—even good. We can make choices about what parts of who we are that we’ll take with us into the next stages of our life, and that’s what Maddy’s doing. I hope readers realize that we have those choices, that it’s okay to remain attached to parts of ourselves and who we have been, and also okay to leave some of those behind as we venture into new times in our lives.

Do you often lose things like Maddy did in her life?

All. The. Time. That’s probably why I was drawn to this story concept from the moment I heard another teacher’s off hand comment about lost objects. Not only do I frequently lose things, I get very attached to them, too. I can become attached to a pencil, or a particular hair clip. Things that on the surface seem not to be of all that much consequence, things that are easily replaced. This kind of attachment makes the loss of these objects feel so much more significant than it should. I found it incredibly easy, after all my experiences feeling the loss of mundane things, to create moments in Maddy’s life where something small became linked with emotionally charged every day moments.

If you could put your name on any book ever written, claiming it as your own work, what book would you choose?

Wow. This is tough. There are a lot of books that I’ve loved, that have touched me in so many different ways. When I think back to my childhood, I realize what a profound impact books like The Boxcar Children, and From Anna, and Winnie-the-Pooh had. So I want to choose one of those. But then I start thinking about the way I was influenced by books I read in upper elementary, and middle school and high school…and before you know it, the list is a mile long for contenders of “Had a Great Influence.” My students once asked me what my favorite book was. I told them I could only narrow down to my top 100 favorite books, and the list could go no lower than that. So one book I’d put my name to? Tough. Really tough. Besides, part of the beauty of all those books—for me—is that they were written by someone other than me! Those authors brought their unique understandings of the world to me, and I wouldn’t want to do anything to disrupt the positive energy they put into the universe. So I’m going to have to say—there isn’t one!
My thanks, again, go to Amy Huntley. I look forward to working with her in the future and reading more that she has to offer!
Until next time, go read something good!
~ Vilate

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Teen Fiction Tuesday: The Everafter

The Everafter, by Amy Huntley

Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 248
Reading Level: Upper Teen
Enjoyment Level: Highest

I read this book in less than two days.

Because I didn’t want to put it down unless I had no choice (hello, Work, did you need something? I’m busy reading!). It was actually later on my reading list, but since the author agreed to the interview, I decided I’d bump it up so I could get her the questions faster. I honestly assumed it’d take me at least a week, with all the other stuff I’ve had to do and read. It’s been a while since I’ve read something that I found so engrossing!

In The Everafter, we meet Maddy, who is apparently dead. Surrounding her are objects from her life. As she comes across each one, they give her memories of her former life, but none tell how she died. She can’t move forward until she figures it out and lets go of her fears.

This is a ghost story told from the ghost’s point of view, although saying that is an oversimplification. Maddy is definitely dead, but she relives moments of her life and the reader gets to relive them with her. Through a series of vignettes, we get a sense of the mystery surrounding Maddy’s death, but we get all the pieces of the puzzle, too, although you don’t realize it until the end.

As characters go, Maddy is great. Actually, as character growth goes, this is one of the best examples I’ve read. I got to watch her moments of realization – when she messes up and when she finally understands what she needs to do in order to move on. It’s intriguing and definitely addicting.

I don’t think there’s a single thing I can critique about The Everafter. Even the ending was completely satisfying, giving me the need to sit and ponder for a few moments. This is a book that makes you think, so be prepared if you pick it up – and I highly recommend that you do! Paranormal gets a new shift with this one and it’s more than worth the read.

Until next time, go read something good!

~ Vilate

Saturday, March 27, 2010


Author: Judith Graves
Publisher: Leap Books (2010)
Pages: 328 pages
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Publisher

Recently, 2010 debut author Judith Graves popped over to YA Literature Review for an interview. In honor of her book birthday, I am posting a review of UNDER MY SKIN.

Let me begin with revealing that my guilty pleasure is Young Adult Paranormal/Urban Fantasy. Not necessarily the really dark stuff, instead, I love stories that are filled with paranormal beasties, great characters (especially kick-butt heroines), resident hotties, and humor! Humor is a must!! So you can imagine my joy when I was reading the beginning of the story and the main character Eryn is facing a deadly werewolf and just as she is thinking she has the upper hand she slips in of all things “bunny blood”. Yes, I just wrote “bunny blood” and it will make sense when you read it. =D

Redgrave is a small town in Alberta, Canada. It is supposed to be paranormal free which is why Eryn is sent there by the Council after her parents’ death/disappearance. However, she isn’t there long when she is face to face with a werewolf, meets several teen paranormal beastie hunters, and encounters one of the high school hotties who just happen to be a vampire. Eryn is hiding her own secrets about her connection to this world and struggles with the Council’s edict to stay away from paranormal involvement and her new friends’ invitation to join their ranks as hunters.

When I first, heard of Judith Graves’ UNDER MY SKIN, I added it to my list of debut authors to read as part of the 2010 Debut Author Reading Challenge hosted by The Story Siren (Kristi). It sounded like my kind of story. After finishing it, I certainly wasn’t disappointed. The story is the first in a trilogy (SECOND SKIN, and SKIN OF MY TEETH will follow in subsequent years) and author Graves does a lot of world building with the first book, introducing her characters, and her mythology (which tends to be fairly traditional). This tends to slow the book down in places but there is enough humor, and action to balance it out.

Overall, UNDER MY SKIN had all my favorite things. I really enjoy stories where I like the characters. I hate reading books where the characters annoy me, but Graves’ has wonderful characters. Even her secondary characters are fun (Kate – a witch and owner of the a local café, and Whip, a biker dude with a tattoo parlor). There is also the pre-requisite love triangle, and like Eryn I couldn’t decide whether I was Team Alec or Team Wade even up to the end. That alone is amazing. I usually have definite feelings about the resident hotties. And of course there was humor reminiscent of “Buffy, The Vampire Slayer”. At times, I found myself laughing out loud at certain comments or scenes.

If you are looking for a fun book that will keep you entertained, and enjoy YA Urban Fantasy, I would recommend that you pick up Judith Graves’ UNDER MY SKIN. If you are on Twitter take a moment today to wish Judith a Happy Book Birthday. Her twitter name is @judithgraves.

Happy reading,

P.S. If you are looking for UNDER MY SKIN, you won't find it at the big "A", but it is available from the Leap Book website and B & N also has it available for order.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Three Viewpoint Thursday: Going Bovine

Another Three Viewpoint Thursday, where three of us at YA Lit Review sit down and chat about one book. This week, we read Going Bovine by Libba Bray (best-selling author of The Gemma Doyle Trilogy and winner of the 2010 Printz Award).

Cameron Smith, a high school slacker, is living a somewhat aimless life when he is diagnosed with Creutzfeld-Jakob variant BSE, popularly known as mad cow disease, for which there is no cure. When he is visited in the hospital by Dulcie, an punk angel with pink hair, who knows of a Dr. X who can cure him, Cameron and his roommate Gonzo, a neurotic video game-playing dwarf, set off on a quest that takes them from Texas to New Orleans and into Florida, all the while pursued by the Wizard of Reckoning and other enemies.

Renée: First, just from reading it myself, and from impressions I browsed on GoodReads, I get the feeling that GOING BOVINE by Libba Bray is a kind of polarizing novel. You either love it or hate it. What are your general impressions of the book?

Vilate: It was definitely difficult to get into. I'm not sure I'm on one end or the other, though. I didn't like it very much, but that was mainly because I found it tedious. I don't passionately feel anything about it enough to go with love or hate.

Alyson: I would agree with Renee. When I looked at GoodReads, I felt that people either loved it or disliked it. I felt that it was unfair to rate it just because I didn't "get" it. I feel like there are people who love that kind of humor and style. However, I never felt I connected with Cameron or the other characters and I just didn't really like the humor in this particular book.

Renée: Well, I admit that the first 100 pages were a real struggle. I agree with both of you that it was very difficult to get into. But once the characters' big "adventure" began, I got very wrapped up in it, and all the random details that annoyed me at the beginning started filling in pieces of the plot, and I ended up really enjoying it. But yes, Aly, I think it's one of those books that isn't going to be universally "gotten," with that offbeat style and dark humor.

Vilate: I felt like the writing style was Vonnegut-esque, but without the savvy. I also felt like I knew what was going to happen, so it made it that much more difficult to care about the main character. Dark humor, I understand, but a journey for no reason makes it hard to empathize and hard to connect.

Alyson: I agree that in some ways it was predictable. Cameron's disease is fatal, technically, and I guess I was hoping that the ending would be a little different. That the ending would make up for the rest of the story. Also, and this is just me... a journey that is filled with all this crazy living might have purpose if it is tied together in the end but that didn't seem to happen for me.

Renée: Personally, I think it is one of those (clichéd, as you mentioned) things where the journey is more important than the destination, but going back to Cameron. What were your opinions of him and the other main characters?

Vilate: I didn't dislike Cameron. I do feel like there was a change in him from beginning to end, although like Aly, I don't feel the journey was coherent enough with the ending to justify all the weirdness. I actually think that his change is kind of useless... But I did feel like his personality was realistic. And I liked Gonzo. I think that's what makes it difficult. Some of the characters and events that I liked might have been completely made up in Cameron's head. Gonzo was a great character.

Alyson: I didn't mind most of the characters - Gonzo, Balder, Dulcie. And Gonzo was a balance to Cameron for me. I think maybe the journey went on too long for me. I found myself wanting to skim pages. It wasn't holding my attention which was frustrating.

Renée: I agree. There were parts of the journey that moved slower than others, and I was just eager for things to pick up where we would get more "signs" or things from the past that start to make it all make sense. And for me, it didn't matter whether I was 100% sure if all the people and things that happened were "real," because they were real to Cameron, and they still made him feel things. I liked the mystery and ambiguity.

Renée: Did you all have a favorite character or favorite scene that stood out? Or was it mostly just more random stuff?

Vilate: It's hard to answer that one because of my feelings towards the book. Like I said, though, I did like Gonzo. He had real depth. I also did end up liking Dulcie, and the whole situation with the yard gnome was interesting.

Alyson: It just hit me. I think for me I would have preferred if Cameron had something non-fatal that caused the same effect... The idea of – “Was this a dream or some kind of reality? Or alternate reality? And in the end there was a purpose to it all and that it had an impact on his life”... Whew! So now that makes me feel a little better. LOL! As far as favorite characters... I think I liked the combination of Gonzo, and then Balder (gnome), and Dulcie (a punk angel) and the Wizard. I didn't really like Chet and some of the others at the school. And the whole snow globe "rescue" at the end was fun in a weird way.

Renée: I think we are all in agreement that the side characters - Gonzo, Dulcie, Balder - were really good. For me, I really liked when Gonzo and Cameron met those happiness fanatics with the smoothies & bowling. It was refreshing to see how silly constant happiness is, compared to the almost-constant self-pitying cynicism from Cameron with his disease. I think for me, this is when I started to "like" the book, and see some meaning emerge.

Vilate: I did like that part when taken out of context of the book as a whole. And it's funny, now that we're talking about it, I'm leaning more towards the 'hate it' side of the fence, lol. The happiness compound was interesting and well-done in and of itself. Probably the shining moment for me, in a book that tried way too hard to be unique and deep.

Alyson: Did anyone feel that the humor was too clichéd? Too many current day uses of language that can easily date the book? Just curious?!

Renée: I wondered about some of the slang... Phrases like "ridonculous" will probably fade from our language soon - if they haven't already. But, I agree with what Vi said earlier about how (despite how frustrating it became at points) Cameron and the others did sound like 16yr old boys. That is exactly how guys in high school who think they're too cool to care actually sound...

Vilate: I feel like a lot of it was made up slang, anyway. Some of it may date itself at some point, but one of the things that make this feel like Vonnegut is the use of made up slang, terminology and ideas/companies.

Alyson: I think you can make it feel like a 16 yr old boy talking and be careful with the slang. When I think of Libba Bray's Gemma from A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY, she managed to speak like late 19 century English school girl but still had this snarky humor in her thoughts but it didn't have a "dated" sense.

Renée: I personally think this whole style of writing, with the overuse of slang, very conversational tone, "smart alec" vibe works well for male readers, particularly teenage boys. But I read an article that included GOING BOVINE on a list of top 10 teen books adults can enjoy (along with YA books with much heavier subject matter or more typical coming-of-age stories). Where do you think this book falls in terms of audience?

Vilate: I guess I can't imagine a boy picking this up on his own and enjoying it. Not that it goes over heads or anything, but the action is way too slow and random. Cameron, as a character, I think would appeal to teenage boys, but put in this story - no. As for adults, I feel like a 'literary fiction' crowd might get more use out of the book than teens will.

Alyson: I noticed on GoodReads that some of the teens that I know who read it marked it lower than the adults. I'm not saying that all teens wouldn't be interested in the book but it isn't an easy one to get into and it is hard sometimes to get boys into books as it is and this one might not be as Vi was enough or with enough action. But who am I to say. As for adults...I think some will love it and others will not.

Renée: I actually thought that teens might find the hi-jinks and randomness more entertaining, but adults might have more patience for it, so I guess I am on the fence.

Renée: I feel we covered a lot. Do you all have any final things to touch on about this book?

Vilate: Nothing for me. I do want to say that, despite not liking the book, I'm glad we were able to talk about it in this venue. I feel like it's important sometimes for anyone to read things they don't completely enjoy. I feel like this discussion has been a good one.

Alyson: I agree. I might never have ventured into the book if it wasn't for the discussion. And I do appreciate seeing other styles and how things are written. I think you can always learn from books - well most books. :) And it was fun to discuss it with everyone.

Renée: Basically reiterating what you all have said, I think we had a lot to say about this one since it wasn't as readily liked as the first two books we read together :)

Vilate: So thanks for another great discussion!

It was a very interesting chat – lots of opinions! – and we look forward to continuing with this! If you'd like to participate, please send an email to us at for more information.

Happy Reading!

-- Renée

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Interview: Charity Tahmaseb and Darcy Vance

You may have seen the blog review yesterday of Geek Girl's Guide to Cheerleading. The authors were nice enough to answer a few questions for the blog. Enjoy!
I’m sure you’ve answered this before, but can you briefly explain your co-authoring process?

Darcy: Basically, Charity creates the characters and the plot, then writes the story and comes up with a really nifty title, then I apply the sparkly eyeliner, and voila!

Charity: Ha, ha. Darcy’s such a kidder. In truth, we each bring our own strengths to the writing process, and even to individual characters. Darcy had a feel for several characters in the book that eluded me. I can keep the story structure in my head and she can zero in on when we’ve used an uncommon word too many times.

What inspires you to write, specifically for the teen crowd?

Darcy: The teen years are a part of life when you experience a lot of things for the first time. Everything is new and exciting and that makes it a lot of fun to write about.

Charity: Even in the darkest YA stories, there’s often a thread of hope, and I think I’m drawn to that.

There are multiple references to various geeky things in here (Firefly, Star Wars, etc.). Do you have firsthand experience with these geek-trends or did you research what was cool for the nerdy crowd?

Darcy: Lol. We didn’t have to study the nerdy crowd; we are the nerdy crowd. Among other things - the first Star Wars movie came out the year I graduated from high school. I spent a good chunk of that summer waiting in lines at movie theaters, watching it over and over again.

Charity: I saw the original Star Wars in the theater at least fifteen times. After it had been out for a while, the local theater ran it as the dollar matinee on the weekends. I went several Sundays in a row.

Party Quest is the online game the kids play. Have either (or both) of you ever played any online games?

Darcy: I am a Tetris and Mahjong freak but I haven’t ventured into the world of online role playing games. I believe they have the potential for sucking my entire life away. My kids were way into them for a while though – especially Maple Story – so cute!

Charity: I live in fear of online games like that for the very reason Darcy stated. My son plays a few (and is pretty good at managing his time with them, too--better than I would be).

The book could’ve been titled The Geek Girl’s Fantasy Come True, even with the bumps in Bethany’s road. Because the odds are against any geek girl becoming a cheerleader (almost anywhere), what do you think readers (and fellow geeks) will take away from reading your book?

Darcy: I hope readers will pick up on one of the main themes in our book: No risk, no reward. Maybe the odds are against you but your chances of gaining something you really want are absolutely nil if you never even try. Besides, the odds might not really that bad. Just ask Charity – she was a geek girl AND a cheerleader. And, almost everywhere I go I meet girls who say this is their story.

Charity: It’s true, I was a geek girl and cheerleader (one season during my senior year in high school), although sadly, there was no Jack on the scene for me. So … yeah, I see your point about fiction = wish fulfillment. Darcy touched on our theme, and I find that I must constantly relearn this, which might be why it ended up in the story--unintentionally. Themes have a way of sneaking up on me.

You say the theme is no risk = no reward. What has been the biggest risk for you that has gotten the reward you wanted?

It’s not the same as a geek girl trying out for cheerleading but since you asked:

Three years ago, when my son was diagnosed with tongue cancer, we were herded from doctor to doctor and told what his treatment would be. Options weren’t given or explained and, frankly, we were all in such shock at first that we were happy to have someone else making the decisions. It took thirty days for my son to heal from the biopsy so he could begin radiation and chemotherapy. It also took thirty days for us to get in to see the chemo specialist.

He was the first doctor to raise a question about my son’s planned treatment. He told us how unusual it was for a young person to get the type of cancer my son had, and how much more dangerous chemo drugs and radiation could be to younger people – both immediately and throughout the rest of his life. He told us he had been trying to contact a super specialist at a teaching hospital in a neighboring state ever since my son’s file landed on his desk, but he still hadn’t been able to reach him.

It was the Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend. My son was due to start both the chemo and the radiation on the next business day. After a month of preparation and tears and waiting while my son got sicker and sicker, it was finally time to start fighting back against the cancer. But…

If my son started the treatment program as scheduled, it meant he would give up the possibility of being seen at the teaching hospital. Once he’d had that first round of radiation there could be no turning back. We took the weekend to decide.

On Tuesday morning we all took a deep breath and drove to the radiation facility… where we told them, no, our son would not begin treatment that day. Next we drove to the chemo specialist’s office. We camped in the doctor’s lobby for six hours, waiting to see if the teaching hospital would accept my son as a patient.

Even if they did, it would mean delaying treatment until he could be seen, then delaying it even more until new tests were run. Our son’s original doctor had told us the tumor had already grown too large to be completely removed without compromising his ability to eat and talk. How much larger would it grow if we waited? Would they still be able to get the cancer under control?

It was a huge risk but the reward has been well worth it. The teaching hospital accepted my son’s case. They scheduled an appointment for him right away. We met with a team of doctors, one of whom was a surgeon who felt she could remove the cancer. Within three weeks he was scheduled for surgery. The tumor was completely removed and, though he had a lot of hard work ahead of him, my son would eventually be able to eat and talk again. All without being subjected to the radiation and drugs that could have damaged his organs or caused him to develop a secondary cancer.

Today, my son has a fading scar across his neck. He eats a little slower than most people. He has a little bit of a lisp and trouble saying L’s, especially when he’s tired. But he’s healthy and cancer-free – and we have reason to hope he has a long, long life ahead of him.

When your kids have questions about how important it is to be popular, what do you tell them?

Darcy: My kids are a little older now. My “baby” just turned 22 and her older brother will be 25 this year. They don’t come to me for advice as much as they used to but when they did, I told them: Don’t worry so much what other people think of you because the truth is – most everyone is so busy worrying about themselves that they don’t have time to examine every move you make. Just try to act confident and be friendly and you’ll do fine. And hey, it worked!

Charity: Well, my oldest is thirteen so this is a timely question. I tell him (and his younger sister) not to let other people’s opinions keep you from doing what you love. So my son plays football and the violin.

And yeah, he’s lost some friends because he’s sticking with the things he wants to do that don’t necessarily have an immediate return (working toward being an Eagle Scout, for instance). But he’s making new ones along the way.

What’s the geekiest thing you’ve ever done?

Darcy: I do geeky things every day so it’s pretty hard to pick. Probably the nerdiest thing I’ve done lately was show up at a library event dressed like Mollie Weasley (the mom from Harry Potter). My costume was complete with wand and a Better Gnomes and Gargoyles spell cookbook. Once I got there I realized the contest was just for kids -- but I am such a geek that I still wasn’t embarrassed.

Charity: You mean other than spending the Sundays of my youth watching Star Wars? I think that cinches my geek street cred.

So what's next for the two of you? Either separately or together or both?

Darcy: Charity has a solo novel she’s been working on that I can’t wait to read! We’re also teaming up on a non-fiction project for younger readers and we’re cooking up a couple of Geek Girl-esque stories too.

And finally, if you could claim any book as your own, what would it be?

Darcy: Ooh, just one? Every time I read a great book I wish I had written it. It happened again just last week when I finally got around to reading Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games and Catching Fire. I do a lot of work with teen volunteers so I went to a high school cafeteria to meet with some of them. Since I arrived early, I took my book in with me. I’d barely read a page or two before I came to a scene that surprised me so much that I actually gasped out loud. I looked around to see if anyone had noticed, then went back to the book. The next scene was so sad and sweet and tender that I had to start sniffling, then full-on crying.

I want to write a book like that, a book that pulls you into the characters’ lives so quickly and so deeply that you can’t help but express your emotions about it – even when you’re in a busy high school cafeteria.

Charity: Oh, good. I see Darcy hasn’t stolen Pride and Prejudice from me. Because I want to claim that one, for all the reasons Darcy mentioned above.
Thanks go out to Charity and Darcy for the interview. I had fun reading all the answers and I can't wait to read whatever's next from the two of them! So if you haven't yet, be sure to check out Geek Girl's Guide to Cheerleading. It's an awesome read!
~ Vilate

Monday, March 22, 2010

Teen Fiction Tuesday: Geek Girl's Guide to Cheerleading

The Geek Girl’s Guide to Cheerleading, by Charity Tahmaseb and Darcy Vance

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 324
Reading Level: 14 and up
Enjoyment Level: High

Here’s another book I stole from my sister’s bookshelf. I grabbed it mostly because I tend to read (and therefore, review) fantasy and sci-fi. I felt like I needed to do some straight-up teen fiction for a change. Being a geek, the title of this one intrigued me and it didn’t take long for me to not be disappointed.

Bethany Reynolds is a geek. Her best friend, Moni, is also a geek – but a geek with a plan. The two girls try out for the varsity cheerleading squad. And make it. What’s a nerdy girl to do when the most sought-after boy starts paying attention to her and when her best friend is suddenly someone she no longer knows? Bethany finds out soon enough and her life changes in more ways than one.

Due to my own experiences as a geek in high school, I might classify this book as fantasy. No way would anyone less than popular get to be a cheerleader in my school (partly because the student body voted on cheerleaders!). However, despite the fantasy element, the truths of this book hold firm ground. The journey that Bethany takes is relatable to everyone, geek or not, and the lessons she learns about herself and others are worth some empathy.

Bethany, as a character, is easy to like and easy to relate to. Even when her fantasy life becomes her reality, it takes her a while to figure it all out and to figure out what to do with her new-found “power.” She sticks by her friends and she tries to do the right thing, no matter what. But that’s not what draws me to her the most. It’s her willingness to do anything she can to help her best friend, who’s having a very hard time working through a divorce. Bethany shines when she needs to and hurts like the rest of us, especially when it looks like her fantasy is being ripped away from her.

You’d never know this book was written by two authors. The story and characters are seamless. The authors never hit a wrong note AND the ending doesn’t disappoint (long-time readers will know how much I dislike most book endings!).

I’ll give this one my highest recommendation. The story draws you in and Bethany makes you love her. Long live geeks. And stay tuned for my interview with the authors tomorrow!

Until next time, go read something good!

~ Vilate

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

BLOG TOUR: Interview with Class of 2k10 Author Judith Graves

Recently, I had a chance to get a sneak peak at Class of 2k10 Author Judith Graves' YA Paranormal Fantasy book UNDER MY SKIN (Leap Books, 3/27/10). From the little bit that I have seen, I am already very excited about this book. Paranormal beasties, humor, a kick-butt heroine, resident hotties, and some secrets - really what more can you ask for.=D Judith Graves was gracious enough to swing by Young Adult Literature Review for an interview.

How did the idea for UNDER MY SKIN come to you?

I purchased a book at a used bookstore. Windigo: An Anthology of Fact and Fantastic Fiction edited by John Robert Colombo. I realized our First Nations people had some amazingly scary folklore. Then I started to wonder….what would happen if mythological creatures from different regions had a last stand battle over unclaimed territory? Who would win? Would humans survive? And so the Skinned series was born.

What three words would best describe UNDER MY SKIN?

Survival. Betrayal. Temptation.

What is the best thing about being a debut author? What is the most challenging?

The best thing? Everything is new and I’m free to make mistakes. The most challenging? See “best” thing response.

What are three words that describe your writing?

Dark. Edgy. Fun

Do you have any routines or rituals for when you write?

My alarm is set for 5:30 a.m., but I usually wake way before it goes off. I take the dogs out, feed them, make some coffee, and then head upstairs to my office to write. I need music blaring and wear earphones in the morning so I don’t wake my hubbie (or the dogs who, of course, jump back onto the bed and return to sleepyland as soon as I hole myself up in the office).

What advice would you give an aspiring writer?

Join a critique group and get unbiased eyes on your work. Friends and family, sure, that’s a great start, but no one will rip your stuff apart like a relative stranger honing their own writing skills.

Can you remember the book that got you hooked on reading?

Anne of Green Gables. Maybe a Canadian cliché, but L.M. Montgomery is the best! 

Who can you credit with your love of words?

My father, a man of few words, and my mother, a woman of many.

If there was a book about you, what would it be called?

Judith Graves: Paranormal Author or Paranoid Schizophrenic?

What is the one book you wished you had written?

The phone book. Now there’s a writing gig to put food in the dog’s bowls for generations.

If you were stranded on a deserted island, which fictional character would you want to be stranded with and why?

Robinson Crusoe, because he’s pretty much got the deserted island thing down to a science.

If you were to have lunch with one of your characters who would it be and why?

Kate. She’s a witch who controls time, doles out magical advice, and slings coffee at her java joint, the Conundrum Café. She’s one of those minor characters who steals every scene she’s in, and I’d love to find out just how old she really is.

What would be one fact about you that would surprise people?

One of my life goals is to attend a Star Trek convention. Seriously.

Find Out More About Judith Graves at:
Wolfy Chicks Blog
Book Trailer
Publisher’s Website
Class of 2k10 website
Class of 2k10 trailer
Free Read: Old Flames Die Hard

Monday, March 15, 2010

Interview with Silver Phoenix Author: Cindy Pon

Recently, Cindy Pon agreed to answer a few questions about her debut novel, SILVER PHOENIX, which was released in 2009 and her thoughts on writing, books, and things that have influenced her. If you haven't had a chance to read SILVER PHOENIX, please move it to the top of your "to be read" pile. It is a wonderfully rich, fantasy tale set in an amazing setting with incredibly complex characters. The sequel to SILVER PHOENIX will be released in the fall of 2010.

How did the idea for SILVER PHOENIX come to you?

Fantasy was always my first genre love, and at the time I started writing SILVER PHOENIX, I was a new student to Chinese brush painting. It helped me become more interested in the cultures and traditions of my ancestry, and I thought, why not combine my two loves? Silver Phoenix was the result!

The setting for SILVER PHOENIX seemed so real and rich/vibrant – was there a place or a time period that inspired your setting?

No. SILVER PHOENIX is a fantasy inspired by ancient China, but Xia is not actually China. I wish I had visited China, but I hadn't, so I had to do all my research online or viewing fantastically gorgeous books featuring Chinese scenery as well as watching Wu Xia films.

Your characters had wonderful depth and complexity to them. I loved Ai Ling’s inner strength and Chen Yong and Li Rong balanced each other wonderful. Were they based on anyone you know?

Both Ai Ling and Li Rong share some of my own characteristics. Ai Ling is stubborn and loves to eat. Li Rong has my sense of humor. =)

Chen Yong is a mystery to me. He is not based on anyone i know!

What three words would best describe SILVER PHOENIX?

rich, fantastic, epic

Is there anything you can reveal to us about the sequel to SILVER PHOENIX?

The sequel is two stories, a prequel and a sequel which I've dubbed a "pre-sequel". It'll follow the stories of Zhong Ye and Silver Phoenix, as well as, Chen Yong and Ai Ling. It's a much more personal journey than the first, which was fantastic and perhaps a bit more removed.

Do you have any routines or rituals for when you write?

I usually like to be near food and drink. =) If there is the low hum of a cafe, that's great! Sometimes I listen to classical music--never any songs with words. I like to sing along too much.

What advice would you give an aspiring writer?

You are allowed to write utter poo!

When you begin querying for an agent, query widely and be thick skinned.

Always remain professional and positive.

Can you remember the book that got you hooked on reading?

I really loved DANCING SHOES and BALLET SHOES by Noel Streatfield.

Who can you credit with your love of words?

Iris Murdoch, Emily Dickinson, and Ursula Le Guin.

If there was a book about you, what would it be called?

Who Said Life Was Fair?

What is the one book you wished you had written?


If you were stranded on a deserted island, which fictional character would you want to be stranded with and why?

Chen Yong, because he's hot. =)

If you were to have lunch with one of your characters who would it be and why?

Zhong Ye, because he's hot too. haha!

What would be one fact about you that would surprise people?

I'm not a HUGE fan of chocolate!

Find Out More About Cindy Pon at:

Website :

Thanks Cindy for taking time out of a busy scheduling and answering some questions. We certainly look forward to the next installment from the Kingdom of Xia.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Three Viewpoint Thursday: The Silver Phoenix

Welcome to Three Viewpoint Thursday, where three of us at YA Lit Review sit down and chat about one book. This week’s discussion - Silver Phoenix: Beyond the Kingdom of Xia by Cindy Pon.

No one wanted Ai Ling. And deep down she is relieved—despite the dishonor she has brought upon her family—to be unbetrothed and free, not some stranger's subservient bride banished to the inner quarters. But now, something is after her. Something terrifying—a force she cannot comprehend. And as pieces of the puzzle start to fit together, Ai Ling begins to understand that her journey to the Palace of Fragrant Dreams isn't only a quest to find her beloved father but a venture with stakes larger than she could have imagined. Bravery, intelligence, the will to fight and fight hard . . . she will need all of these things. Just as she will need the new and mysterious power growing within her. She will also need help. It is Chen Yong who finds her partly submerged and barely breathing at the edge of a deep lake. There is something of unspeakable evil trying to drag her under. On a quest of his own, Chen Yong offers that help . . . and perhaps more. (from GoodReads)

Aly: So we are here to discuss Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon. This was her debut piece in 2009. Let me just ask...what were everyone's initial impressions of the book?

Vi: The first part was a little slow for me, then the middle really picked up and was exciting, but the end fell flat because I didn't feel like I got the closure I needed. I swear I looked on the next page because I thought for sure I was missing something.

Renee: I thought that the pace was really good throughout, and thoroughly enjoyed the book, but I agree that the ending left me wanting something... I think I read somewhere that there may be a sequel, so perhaps that is why….

Aly: I really liked the book right from the beginning. I thought I might need to read/scan initially because lately books have dragged in the beginning but not with this one. I also thought the pace worked but I wanted a slightly happier ending. I can see this being a stand-alone but also can see this being turned into a series.

Vi: I'd like for it to continue, mostly because the ending didn't hold the closure I was looking for. Maybe it was because I'd gotten so wrapped up in the story and the pacing was intense for so long that I kept expecting a different ending. Not that I think it would've made sense for the Ai Ling to get engaged or anything right there, but... it just wasn't enough. So I hope it'll be a series. Or at least have a sequel.

Aly: Let's talk a little about the characters. Ai Ling and Chen Yong and Li Rong and the others. Did you feel you connected with the characters? Did you feel they were likable and "real"? Did you have favorites? Ones you loved to hate? Ones you wished weren't there? Go for it.

Renee: I really loved the brotherly pair of Li Rong and Chen Yong. Chen Yong had a kindness to his stoicism that I really liked, while Li Rong's playfulness and flirtatious attitude was really refreshing for their "serious" journey. When they interacted, I really loved them together.

Vi: I really love Li Rong. He's probably my favorite out of all of them, and I wish that I could've gotten to see more of him. Chen Yong was a little too stoic for my taste, but he definitely felt like a real person with real reactions to events in the story. I like that *all* of the characters had depth to them. Ai Ling is a great heroine and a good example of a strong female lead.

Aly: I really thought that there was a good blend of characters. And I do feel that the lead female character was strong and smart and though at times acted rashly I didn't feel like "OMG" I can't believe she is doing that which is refreshing. I did like Chen Yong and also felt that Li Rong balanced him out well. I am trying to stay away from spoilers...but anyway, the three together were very good. I also liked the journey that they were on and various other characters that were introduced. I have to say it was also nice to have parents in the story even if they weren't there all the time but there were referred to and respected in many ways.

Vi: I agree about the parents. It was really nice to have several good adult role models, and I especially liked Master Tan. I liked that he admitted he made a mistake and did what he could to rectify the situation.

Renee: I was actually going to mention Master Tan earlier... he seemed very kind, and to stay away from spoilers, I really liked how he reacted to the aftermath of the "issue" at his home and went out of his way to be generous. It seemed believable.

Aly: Just to keep this moving. I was wondering what people thought about the setting. So much of today's YA fantasy stuff takes place in urban settings or high fantasy seems to take place in what I call some interesting version of the British Isle. So China...several centuries ago...more Asian mythology, etc. How was that?

Vi: I loved, loved, loved the setting. I had a hard time with some of the names and stuff, but I could feel the richness and tradition in every page. The world is vivid. I loved the... I guess mythology of the world. Asian influence isn't seen quite as much in YA fantasy these days and I think it's probably because it's not easy to write in a way that feels believable. That wasn't the case for me with this book.
Renee: I personally LOVE Asian mythology, so I really enjoyed the period setting. It was a "rich" world as you said, and it had an element of the mystical that could appeal to audiences who are not quite ready to read supernatural/paranormal fiction that is so prevalent in YA today.

Aly: I also loved the setting and after getting use to the names and some of the other things I settled in and really just enjoyed the world that Pon created. It was vivid and real as Vi mentioned. It just was a nice change from so many other books. Also a nice change from the vampires, werewolves and faeries in many other stories that are out there. Yet the mystical and paranormal are fully there for those who like that kind of thing. Any questions or thoughts that people want to bring up?

Vi: What did everyone think about the "final battle" between Ai Ling and her nemesis? (trying not to put in spoilers! ^_^)

Renee: I liked that it began "before" meeting the villain and that even at the end, there were so many steps and obstacles to get to him... It really made the journey of the whole novel feel bigger that there were so many "foes" for her defeat.

Aly: I also liked that Ai Ling had to learn about her abilities as she went and that the adventure/journey allowed her to learn more of what she was capable of as she traveled which built her confidence for the final battle so to speak.

Aly: Oh I finally remembered what I wanted to ask...if you have more thoughts on the final part share away but I wanted to see if you felt this was really YA or more of "new adult" in the story? Just curious.

Vi: First, in regards to the final between Ai Ling and her nemesis, I liked that it had a feeling of history (and that it touched on reincarnation) and I liked that she used the major skill she learned in order to defeat him.

Vi: I do think this is still YA. I mean, I find the new "new adult" idea a little strange anyway, but this, to me, is a classic coming-of-age adventure story for teens. *and* it is fit for kids younger than fourteen, in my opinion, so I wouldn't classify it as "new adult."

Aly: Pass...sorry Renee what are your thoughts first…

Renee: Well, I think that it is still YA (but one that can be enjoyed by people of all ages). There were typical YA elements like being entrusted with a quest and meeting people of higher positions (in this case, from other worlds and old legends sometimes), very similar to other young adult coming of age stories.

Aly: Hmmm...I guess I was wondering about the scene at the Tan's household on the first night (which I thought was well written) or even the scene at the confrontation (which again I thought was well done). I don't censor books for teens, but I know I have to be cautious because of my position when recommending certain books to 11 or 12 year olds who are reading YA. It is always a dilemma for me.

Vi: I definitely understand about that. I think that I'd still classify it as YA. That particular scene, I think, was handled pretty well. The book might not work for all younger readers, but more of them, these days, are more mature and are reading books for adults. I know that's probably not the best way to judge, but I kind of have to think back about what *I* was reading at 12, too.

Renee: Agreed. It referenced some older material without being graphic, so I think maturity might be an issue, but content-wise the words on the page would not be necessarily inappropriate for younger readers.

Aly: I know that when I was 12 I was reading adult literature but I still try to be careful what I recommend to students because of my position. However, outside of school I would definitely just be recommending it.

Vi: I like the way all of the "mature" content is handled in the book, but I understand that teachers may need to read it first before handing it out or recommending it to even teenagers. Compared to "new adult" books I've read, though, this is very tame.

Aly: Are there final thoughts or points that we haven't talked about that we should?

Vi: None from me. Just that I REALLY hope there's a sequel! And I'll be looking for more from Cindy Pon even if it's not about Ai Ling.

Renee: I agree. I'm looking forward to a sequel, since I really enjoyed this story and the different worlds and legends from the history books in the story.

Aly: I think it is unanimous that everyone would like to see a sequel or at least more from Cindy Pon. I thought it was a great debut novel and really well done especially from that perspective.

It was a fun chat and we look forward to continuing with this! If you'd like to participate, please send an email to us at for more information.

Until next time...

Note: I am happy to report that there will be a sequel coming in the fall of 2010. Really can't wait.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Picture Book: Robot Zot

Author: Jon Scieszka
Illustrator: David Shannon
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2009)
Pages: 40
Ages: 4 to 8 year olds

What do you get when you put Jon Scieszka and David Shannon together to do a picture book? One great picture book filled with humor, great art work, robots, heroes, blowing things up and of course a little love.

The reader is introduced to Robot Zot as he directs his space ship towards planet Earth. With a battle cry of “Robot Zot – never fall. Robot Zot – conquer all”, Robot Zot emerges from his ship in a suburban backyard. As our main character prepares for battle against kitchen and household appliances, readers realize that our space invader is no taller than 3 inches high. After destroying most of the kitchen appliances, Robot Zot discovers “the most amazing earth person…ever” known as the “Queen of all Earth” (a toy cell phone). For the first time, Robot Zot has a purpose to fight for. He must rescue his Queen whom he has fallen in love with.

Scieszka’s humorous text coupled with Shannon’s bold, bright illustrations makes this a fun book to read aloud to children. Young children will enjoy the repetitive phrases and robotic style of wording. They will also laugh at the antics of Robot Zot as he battles the Television and comes face to face with “Earth’s most fearsome Commander General”.

Each year for our school’s Read Across America Day (in celebration of Dr. Seuss’ birthday and reading to children), I search for one book that I know I will be able to read to preschoolers and sixth graders alike. Robot Zot won my heart and earned the distinction of being read in nearly every class at my school. Children and adults laughed, giggled, and chanted back the Robot Zot’s battle cry confirming for me that I had made the right choice.

If you are looking for a fun story to read to your child or in a classroom, then I highly recommend Scieszka’s and Shannon’s Robot Zot.

Share a book with a child,

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Sci-Fi Saturdays: The Lab

The Lab, by Jack Heath

Publisher: Scholastic, Inc
Pages: 312
Reading Level: 14 and Up
Enjoyment Level: High

I’m trying to find more books that teenage boys will enjoy, so I picked up this one at Barnes and Noble the other day. I hoped it would be good enough that I could pass it along to my brother. Lucky for me, it is!

The Lab tells the story of Agent Six of Hearts, a sixteen-year-old superhuman who has been hiding from The Lab all his life. He lives in a world where there is one City and one Company, and he finds it impossible to hide forever. Working at The Deck, a secret agency that tries to police the masses, he’s found a place to belong, though, and he does what he can to keep his home safe.

While the first few pages of this passed slowly for me, it didn’t take long to pick up, and then it was almost non-stop action. The book takes place over a few days and we get secret agents, a corrupt governo-company, a post-apocalyptic City, and awesome (scary) robots. One character calls the time in which they live the last breaths of human society, and yet, I come away from reading the book with a smidgen of hope.

For a sixteen-year-old kid, Six is pretty paranoid. At the beginning, he’s unemotional and seems to only care about results. There is a nice character progression, though, with Six’s mentor, King, giving him advice as well as secret missions. I’m still trying to figure out if there is significance to using a playing card deck as the basis for a secret agency, but that could just be me missing something. It’s at least fun to learn about the characters and see what the different suits do around Six. I’m hopeful that I’ll see more in the next book.

And, yes, I’ve given the book to my brother to read. Reluctant readers, beware! There are books for you out there and your teachers will try to give them to you! Boys will love the action and adventure (and the short length) of The Lab.

Until next time, go read something good!

~ Vilate

Friday, March 5, 2010

Fantasy Friday: Shiver

Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater

Publisher: Scholastic Press
Pages: 400
Reading Level: 14 and up

Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver was one of those books that I kept hearing about before I ever thought of reading. It was on the New York Times Best Sellers list, I read agent blog posts about it, and it kept popping up in my recommended readings for my Amazon account. Finally, when I was in a bookstore, I picked it up to see what all the fuss was about.

I'm glad I did.

First, the book itself is beautiful. I'm a sucker for an interesting layout or a unique idea, and Shiver definitely has that. The cover is white with different degrees of a blue-gray shade creating trees and a wolf. On the inside, the lettering is printed in a deep blue-gray instead of the usual black.

The story follows 17-year-old Grace, who is fascinated by the wolves that live in the woods by her house. One wolf in particular, with yellow eyes, draws her attention. This wolf saved her life when she was young, and she considers him to be her wolf.

Enter Sam. Sam is a werewolf. Each year he transforms as the winter approaches and remains a wolf until it becomes warm again. But his days are numbered. Wolves only change back for a certain number of years, then they remain wolves forever. When he finally comes into human contact with the girl he has been watching for years, he thinks it might be too late. He might not change back next time.

Obviously, Shiver is a love story, but it is much more than a romance. There are other plot points and areas of exploration for the characters. Sam has to work through more than becoming a wolf and being in love with Grace.

I enjoyed this book because it wasn't a simple romance. I really appreciated the character development and the emotional turmoil for Sam. The werewolf mythology was original and it was nice to be able to follow both Grace and Sam through their own viewpoints. Actually, I enjoyed reading from Sam's point of view more than Grace's.

One thing I did not like about the book was the pacing. Sometimes the pacing was great, but there were points in the middle that felt really slow to me. That slow pace made it difficult for me to be motivated to pick it up and finish the story. Luckily, the pace does get better towards the end. Regardless of these reservations, I will definitely be picking up the sequel, Linger, when it comes out in July.

I recommend this book for anyone who enjoys YA romance.

Happy reading!


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Teen Fiction Tuesday: Three Wishes

Three Wishes, by Isabelle Merlin

Published by: Random House Australia
Pages: 326
Reading Level: 14 and up
Enjoyment Level: Medium

I always hate when I get a review request and it takes me a while to read the book. I also hate it when it takes me so long because the story is slow. Three Wishes is one of those books that takes forever for the first half and then no time at all for the second half, so it seems uneven, even though the last part is pretty exciting.

In Three Wishes, Rose is swept away into a fabulous life of wealth when her long-lost grandfather makes contact with her. She moves from her home in Australia to her grandfather’s chateau in France, where she finds out there are secrets in her family. Curses, witches, and people with grudges lurk around just about every corner. Her wishes come true, but there’s always a price with wishes.

The author has done a lot to connect her story to her readers. She’s set up a blog where reader can interact and follow along with Rose’s tale. The only problem with that was the distracting way Rose let her audience know there was a new blog entry. In the middle of the book’s text would be a rose, indicating that readers could visit the blog and see what the entry is. Instead of counting on the audience to figure it out, it was spoon-fed.

But once the conflict really got going and there was a mystery to solve, even the roses didn’t bother me too much. I did get sucked in and I wanted to know what all the answers were. I just wish it hadn’t taken so long to get to the best stuff. It almost felt like there were more words to get through in the first half.

The characters were the best element of the book. Rose, her grandfather, and his employees all felt very real. The author built a cast that complemented each other well and worked together with the plot to bring about the exciting second half and a good conclusion.

Three Wishes is a nice little mystery for teens despite the slow beginning. Rose is easy to relate to and the mystery element is well done. There’s even a hint of the supernatural thrown in to add a slight fantasy element. And although I didn’t take to it right away, I’m happy to have the opportunity to read.

Until next time, go read something good!

~ Vilate

Monday, March 1, 2010

Middle Grade Monday: IT'S RAINING CUPCAKES

Author: Lisa Schroeder
Publisher: Aladdin (2010)
Pages: 208 pages
Reading Level: Ages 9 to 12 years
Source: The Publisher

What do you do when you are 12 years old, and have never been on a real vacation and have never left your small town let alone your home state? Isabel, the main character in Lisa Schroeder’s IT’S RAINING CUPCAKES is facing another summer at home. Her best friend will be away for 3 weeks and her mother has decided to open up a Cupcake Store. However, just before her best friend Sophie leaves for camp she tells Isabel about a baking contest where the finalists will be flown to NYC to compete for a $1,000 prize. The challenge to come up with the perfect recipe wouldn’t be that hard if she didn’t have to worry about disappointing her mother if she turned in something other than a cupcake recipe.

Lisa Schroeder’s new Middle Grade novel IT’S RAINING CUPCAKES is the perfect pick me up and a great alternative to the high caloric snack in which it references. You get all of the feel good fun without the added calories. As I dove into the story, I found myself loving the chapter titles which referenced various cupcake flavors. Really, who can resist reading a chapter entitled “Red Velvet Cupcakes” or one called “Banana Cream Pie Cupcakes”?! However, despite all the fun that cupcakes evoke, Schroeder provides her protagonist with typical challenges – a best friend who apparently is good at everything, a mom that she doesn’t always see eye to eye with, and a few bumps in the road when Isabel decides to enter a baking contest.

Aside from the wonderful chapter titles, there were quite a few things I appreciated about this book. First, it is perfectly written for reluctant readers (albeit reluctant girl readers). The story reads easily and there was never a point where I wished for pages to be eliminated or felt I wanted to just scan it. It was the perfect length and I was satisfied when I reached the end. Second, the main character is some one elementary girls will relate with. Her life isn’t perfect and she doesn’t always get what she wants but the story is positive and hopeful and helps girls see what they can accomplish when they put their mind to it. Third, there are many positive adult role-models in this story and a wonderful sense of community. In a society where most stories ridicule adults, or have them missing from the story altogether, it is refreshing to see positive (though with some flaws) adults who are present. Finally, it was just plain enjoyable. The bring a smile to your face kind of enjoyable.

When I think about trying to rate a book like IT'S RAINING CUPCAKES, I can't help but think of Karla. I know Karla is a name and not a numerical rating system, but if you knew Karla you would get it. Karla is sixth grader that I adore. I know I shouldn’t have favorites but secretly I do, and Karla is one of them. She is a sweet kid with a smile that warms you all over, and who is coming into her own as a reader. She enjoys books with female main characters who face struggles but persevere and overcome their situations. This is her kind of book and I know just who I will be sharing the book with next.

On an aside, tomorrow is Dr. Seuss’ birthday, go celebrate with some green eggs & ham and share a book with a child.

- Aly