Friday, December 17, 2010

Late Addition to Top Reads List



I just finished Stephen Hunt's The Kingdom Beyond the Waves, and it's so awesome that I had to add it to my list.

Warring countries, kingdoms that float in the air, a sentient jungle, dinosaurs, Victorian-era-esque squalor and class system, adventure, archaeology Indiana Jones-style, metal men with a voodoo religion--what isn't in this book? And somehow it all works, chugging along at a terrific pace and surprising at every turn. There's another book, The Court of the Air, already out and one, The Rise of the Iron Moon, due in March, and I can't wait to spend more time in Hunt's world.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Gifting Suggestions For the Weird (From One Who Knows)



Over on Amazon's Omnivoracious blog, Jeff VanderMeer has some book suggestions for those who like their reading to be a little out there.

There's some excellent stuff on the list, so check it out!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Favorite Reads of the Year


Since starting at the library last October, I've been keeping a list of the books that I've read. Through today, that list is 335 books long (counting adult, YA, and juvenile; not counting picture books). Some of them came out this year; many of them are older books that I missed for whatever reason and felt like I needed to have read. Some of them are books that I re-read, either for my book group or just because the fancy struck me.

I realize that these lists are usually neatly compiled into easily manageable numbers, but I'm not ready to do that yet, so I'm afraid you're stuck with slightly more unwieldy numbers, presented alphabetically by author:

Fiction:

Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
The Manual of Detection by Jedidiah Berry
Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon
The Other Lands: Acacia Book 2 by David Anthony Durham
Sunnyside by Glen David Gold
The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey
Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay
Lisey's Story by Stephen King
Mister Slaughter by Robert R. McCammon
The City & the City by China Mieville
Kraken by China Mieville
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoat by David Mitchell
The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte
Seeing by Jose Saramago
The Kosher Guide To Imaginary Animals by Jeff & Ann VanderMeer
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
Impossible Stories 2 by Zoran Zivkovic

Non-Fiction:

The Sum of Our Days by Isabel Allende
The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett
The History of the Medieval World by Susan Wise Bauer
Tears of Mermaids: The Secret Story of Pearls by Stephen G. Bloom
To Have and To Hold by Philipp Blom
The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum
The Sun and the Moon: The Remarkable True Account of Hoaxers, Showmen, Dueling Journalists, and Lunar Man-Bats in Nineteenth-Century New York by Matthew Goodman
The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession by David Grann
Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S.C. Gwynne
The Age of Wonder: The Romantic Generation and the Discovery of the Beauty and Terror of Science by Richard Holmes
A Voyage Long and Strange: On the Trail of Vikings, Conquistadors, Lost Colonists, and Other Adventurers in Early America by Tony Horwitz
Genius on the Edge: The Bizarre Double Life of Dr. William Stewart Halsted by Gerald Imber
Anything Goes: A Bio of the Roaring Twenties by Lucy Moore
Bonk: the Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach
The Men Who Stare at Goats by Jon Ronson
For all the Tea in China: How England Stole the World's Favorite Drink and Changed History by Sarah Rose
Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood by Oliver Sacks
Wicked River: the Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild by Lee Sandlin
Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong by Terry Teachout
Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st Century Writer by Jeff VanderMeer

Juvenile/YA:

The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander
The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio by Lloyd Alexander
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
White Cat by Holly Black
24 Girls in 7 Days by Alex Bradley
Frindle by Andrew Clements
Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins
Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate Di Camillo
The Magicians's Elephant by Kate Di Camillo
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Beautiful Darkness by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Will Grayson,Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan
My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park by Steve Kluger
A Wrinkle in Time by Madelaine L'Engle
The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine by April Lurie
Hero by Perry Moore
Next to Mexico by Jennifer Nails
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie
The Boy of a Thousand Faces by Brian Selznick
Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
Harry Sue by Sue Stauffacher
The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
How Not To Be Popular by Jennifer Ziegler

Re-reads:

Brittle Innings by Michael Bishop
The Decapitated Chicken and Other Stories by Horacio Quiroga
Blindness by Jose Saramago
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Graphic Novels:

The Stuff of Legend: Book 1: The Dark by Mike Raicht and Brian Smith

Bone: the Complete Cartoon Epic in One Volume by Jeff Smith
Tales of Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan
Blankets by Craig Thompson
Fables: March of the Wooden Soldiers by Bill Willingham

Anthologies:

Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse by John Joseph Adams
Stories: All-New Tales by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio
Dark at Heart by Joe R. lansdale and Karen Lansdale
Son of Retro Pulp Tales by Joe R. Lansdale and Keith Lansdale

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Needle In a Haystack



I tend to skip around a lot in my reading. Anything that catches my eye is likely to end up on my list, regardless of topic. So I've been thinking about just what it is that's likely to catch my eye. The book To Have and to Hold: An Intimate History of Collectors and Collecting does it just right.

Firstly, it's pretty. Just look at it: it's interesting, it's a bit creepy, and it's completly appropriate for the topic of the book. Once the cover has seduced me into picking up the book, I take a look at the back cover. The description sounds interesting, and as a bonus, it has a nice quote from an author who I've read and enjoyed (in this case, Jenny Uglow, author of )The Lunar Men: Five Friends Whose Curiosity Changed the World).

So now I open the book and take a look at the table of contents: The Dragon and the Tartar Lamb, The Mastadon and the Taxonomy of Memory, This Curious Old Gentleman, Why Boiling People is Wrong, Three Flying Du...wait, what? Why Boiling People is Wrong? You've got me; I'm in. I've just got to know the answer to that question, so onto my reading list it goes.

How about you? What catches your eye when browsing for books? How do you find something new? What makes you pick up a book from an author you've never heard of or on a subject you normally wouldn't be interested in?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Highs and Lows


This last weekend was ArmadilloCon 32 up in Austin. This weekend was my first vacation in 2 years, and I had a great time seeing friends, visiting some favorite haunts, and petting all of the pretty, pretty books in the dealer's room. But as fun as all that was, this isn't a blog post about ArmadilloCon.

You see, when I got home Sunday afternoon, my key wouldn't work in my door. I called the 2 people who have keys to the house to see if they had been in and they had not. So I called the police and headed around to the front door to check things out there. Although you couldn't really tell at first because the screen door was closed, the front door was standing wide open--kicked in.

I waited for the officer to arrive and went through the house, which had been ransacked: boxes opened and dumped, closets gone through, drawers pulled and dropped on the floor. Apparently there's been a rash of similar robberies around town (not that you'd know that from reading either of the small papers that report on this area), and it was just my turn.

The list of missing things is random: knick-knacks, some liquor, a new TV that was a gift from my brother & his family, and some paintings.

It's the paintings that really get me.

They took a portrait of my great grandmother (she's the fiercely impressive lady pictured above). They took a picture that was painted by my mother. They took 2 pictures that I painted (2 of the 3 I ever painted). How do you replace something like that?

All in all, I'm grateful that the thieves weren't wantonly destructive. I know that no one is going to steal my books (unless they belong to my book group, and rest assured, I'm watching all of you), but they could easily have damaged them and they didn't. I'm also meanly pleased that they had to work really hard going through closets and boxes and drawers for very little payoff, given that most thieves aren't interested in matching tablecloths for parties, old sheet music, and embroidery accouterments unused in at least 30 years.

But I'm also left wondering: how do you make your house yours again?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Calling All Book Nerds


Tipping the monetary scales at a mere £195.00, the Oxford Press announces The Oxford Companion to the Book, a 2 volume history covering all aspects of the book from ancient times through today.

Do I understand the irony of a really big book about books? Yes, I do. Do I want to fondle this book all the same? So much that my palms itch.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Electron Boy Lives!


13-year old Erik Martin, living with liver cancer, always wanted to be a superhero. The Make-A-Wish Foundation and a whole bunch of other people get together to make his dream come true.

Behold Electron Boy!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Breaking the Rules


When you write fiction, you're told that your plot and characters have to be grounded in reality for your readers to connect to them. People aren't perfect, so your characters have to have flaws and obstacles or no one will buy what you're selling. What they don't tell you is the caveat: all the rules apply until they don't, and if you're really good you can make up your own rules as you go along.

Steve Kluger is that good.

I read Last Days of Summer years ago, and enjoyed it immensely. Kluger's story of a headstrong young boy and his relationship with his idol, a seriously cranky ballplayer, was funny and poignant. Epistolary novels are tough to pull off, but Kluger does it beautifully. I loved the book, wrote a staff selection card for it at the bookstore, and recommended it as much as I could.

But as is often the way, I eventually got distracted by other books and Kluger kind of slipped my mind.

So when I was doing some research on recommended reading lists for kids, it took me a minute to put together the Steve Kluger who wrote Last Days with the recommended book My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park. But once my brain finally kicked in, I put in my inter-library loan request and waited.

I can't tell you how glad I am that I did.

Once you've met these characters, you won't want to put them down. I laughed out loud countless times and totally irritated various friends by forcing them to listen while I read parts of the book out loud to them. The dialog is snappy and the pacing is great, but it's the characters that you'll want to hang on to: TC, whose mom died when he was six, but not before teaching him the importance of magic and dreams; Augie, TC's brother (by mutual decision, ratified by all parents), who loves musicals and old movies and hasn't yet realized that he's gay; Ale, smart as a whip, but who worries about disappointing her father (a retired ambassador) if she follows her true love of dance and the theatre; and Hucky, a six-year old kid who's deaf and fully believes that someday Mary Poppins is going to come and live with him. And I haven't even mentioned the grown-ups, who are just as fun to spend time with.

As in Last Days, the action unfolds entirely in letters, emails, and diaries, and again, it works perfectly. Is it believable? Certainly not. These kids are too perfect, and things work out way too easily. Does it matter? Certainly not, because these kids will absolutely charm the socks right off you, and sometimes that's more than enough.

So thanks for the reminder, Mr. Kluger--I won't forget you again.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Reading Karma


I believe there is such a thing as reading karma. If you read widely and whimsically, picking up things that just sound interesting at the time, you will be rewarded when, seemingly out of the blue, something that you wouldn't have known if not for reading that book or article will be needed, either to answer a question or to enhance your understanding of something.

It happens to me all the time.

Most recently, I read an article about the discovery of the deepest known volcanic vent ever discovered. I have an interest in the ocean, especially the deep ocean, and black smokers are incredibly cool. Karma comes in with the arrival of a book called Sea Legs: Tales of a Woman Oceanographer. Imagine my delight upon reading the book to discover that Kathleen Crane was one of the people who discovered the existence of undersea volcanic vents in the first place.

Sea Legs is really episodes from Crane's life: how she came to study oceanography, her education and experiences as a woman in a predominately male field, the importance of oceanography to world climate and environmental health, and the politics and prejudices that make it difficult or even impossible for oceanographers, especially women oceanographers, to do their jobs. Fascinating stuff.

So cast your nets widely, my friends--you never know when a little bit of knowledge will come in handy.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Burning Your Boats


I'm currently ensconced deep in Burning Your Boats, the collected short fiction of fabulist Angela Carter.

Many short story collections are easy reads—quick tasty bites easily enjoyed and easily finished. Carter's stories are not easy. Her stories defy a cursory reading and demand attention. Her lush language and fecund imagery entangle the reader, forcing a languid pace and a dreamy sensibility. When you read her stories, you're surrounded by excess—the sweet scent of jungle flowers turned cloying, covering up the underlying odor of rot and decay.

You'll meet familiar characters and storylines, but these are not your mother's fairy tales. Loss of innocence is a major theme, both innocence carelessly given and innocence cruelly taken. Sexuality and eroticism is rampant, as is a kind of desperate tenderness. There is blood and violence aplenty, and a notion that we are animals at heart, giving the most unthinkable actions a patina of inevitability and sometimes terrible beauty.

Carter is able to re-work familiar stories into something new and uniquely her own, adding layers of emotion and meaning. There's simply no mistaking an Angela Carter story for anybody else's. She weaves an ornate tapestry that, if sometimes overdone in places, is nevertheless a masterpiece of decorative skill.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Minds Both Melded and Blown



SF Signal has a regular feature they call the Mind Meld, where they pose a question to a number of people in the SF community and post all of the answers. Their most recent question: What are some of your favorite genre crossovers? You can find my answer (and a host of others I'm totally jealous I didn't think of) here.

You can also follow the ongoing Lost conversation between me and fellow geek Mark Finn over on RevolutionSF, including our thoughts on last week's "The Package."

Monday, April 5, 2010

Weekend Book-O-Rama



Between an extra day off on Friday and a slight, non-serious illness, I broke the book bank this weekend.

I read Sugar Rush and The Bermudez Triangle, two YA books about lesbian first love. Neither had particularly happy endings, but both were fast-paced and had a strong sense of humor, and despite the endings, both featured characters coming to terms with their sexuality and being okay with it, which was good to see.

I read Margo Lanagan's novel Tender Morsels, a gripping and somewhat disturbing YA fantasy novel about growing up and living your own life. It's got some tough scenes, but a good message about how a completely protected life isn't a real life.

Sarah Waters's The Little Stranger is a ghost story in the mold of Henry James's The Turn of the Screw or Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House where we can never be quite sure if the malevolent presence is real or psychological.

Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon is a brilliant novel about identity theft and, unsurprisingly, identity itself. Multiple storylines weave together to form a Pulp-Fiction-esque tapestry of interwoven characters.

And finally I feasted on Allison Hoover Bartlett's The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, the true story of John Gilkey, who has stolen thousands of dollars worth of rare books. Gilkey is a fascinating character, but Bartlett's peek into the world of rare book dealers and collectors is equally fascinating.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Contest! Creators of Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals Want Your Recipes



Do you make a mean chupacabra challah? Are you renowned for your Loch Ness latkes? We want your recipes! To mark the release of Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals, Tachyon Publications is asking for your best take on kosher cryptozoological cuisine.

Of course we won’t take your recipes and give you nothing in return. We’ve got prizes, bubele. On April 30 We’ll select the five best recipes and send their authors signed copies of The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals.

Visit www.kosherimaginaryanimals.com to learn more about the book and how to submit your recipe.

MORE ABOUT THE KOSHER GUIDE TO IMAGINARY ANIMALS:

The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals
by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

Hardcover / 96 pp. / April 2010 / $11.95 / 978-1-892391-92-6 
Foreword by Joseph Nigg 
Cover and interior Design by John Coulthart 

Featuring Duff Goldman, star of Ace of Cakes, the Food Network's hit reality TV show.

A perfect gift book, this sumptuously illustrated and whimsically bite-sized bestiary is the definitive – in fact only - guide to the kosherness (kashrut) of imaginary animals. It is an undomesticated romp from A to Z, including E. T., hobbits, Mongolian Death Worms, and the elusive chupacabra. This fantastical journey embarks upon a hilariously contentious debate between the alter-ego of acclaimed fantasist Jeff VanderMeer (a.k.a. Evil Monkey), and his editor/collaborator wife Ann VanderMeer (Steampunk, The New Weird). Once and for all burning questions passed down through the ages will be addressed, such as: Is a vegetable-lamb a vegetable or a lamb? Does licking the Pope make you trayf? What exactly is a Pollo Maligno? Does a Sasquatch taste stringy? 

As featured on Boing Boing and Jewcy.com and brought to you by the same creative team that gave you The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases, this irreverent abecedary is the must-have present for anyone seeking to broaden their imaginary culinary experiences guilt-free.

Here's an example from the book to get you started. When you’re ready, send your recipe to kosher@tachyonpublications.com.

Recipe for: Grilled Mongolian Death Worm Maki
Recipe from: The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals
Serves: 6

4-5 lbs of Mongolian Death Worm meat
2 cups Sushi Rice
2-3 Nori sheets (seaweed wraps)
1 Cucumber, sliced into long, thin strips
Fresh Mango, diced
Pickled Daikon
Wasabi
(Note: you will need a bamboo sushi mat to roll the sushi)

First, you will need to de-electrify the creature. The best way to do this is to zap it with a taser (and ignore it of it says "Don't tase me, bro." It is NOT your bro). If you don't have a taser (and why don't you? It's a dangerous world out there, bubele), you can use static electricity. Simply put on a pair of pantyhose and walk across a carpet, making sure your legs are as close together as possible. Once you've built up enough, touch the thing and hopefully you will see sparks. (Note: this second method is very dangerous. We recommend instead that you just go out and buy a taser.)

Soak it in salt water overnight (this will kill any of the acid residue, we trust). Grill the Mongolian Death Worm in soy sauce until it is nice and tender - there is no way you want to eat this stuff raw. You will notice that the meat shrinks up, which is why you must start with such a large amount in order to have enough once it is cooked. Then cut into small pieces. Place the nori sheet on the bamboo sushi-mat. Spread the rice on top of the nori, not too thick, leaving about an inch on the top and bottom of the nori without any rice. Place a strip of cucumber across the rice, then place the mango and Mongolian Death Worm meat across as well. Make sure the left and right sides are even. Slowly roll up the nori from the bottom. you will have a nice, firm sushi roll. Cut into pieces. Serve with sake (preferably chilled), and the daikon and wasabi on the side.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Catching Up



I finally finished the Chronicles of Prydain, and am just as blown away. I'll try and pull together some more coherent thoughts, but right now I'm left with "Wow."

I also finished Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, and I have to say, the man has a knack for kids books that are great for kids and adults alike.

Friends at the elementary school where I read to kids suggested that I give Margaret Peterson Haddix a try, so I picked up Double Identity, which is about a teen suddenly taken to live with an aunt she never knew about where she discovers that she had an older sister that died. As she digs into the story, some surprising revelations come to light. It was quite good--I'll be looking for more by Haddix.

Because I really do sometimes read adult books, and because I loved A Voyage Long and Strange, I picked up Tony Horwitz's Confederates in the Attic. I know that many have found it funny, and Horwitz really does have an excellent sense of humor, but I found it more depressing than anything else.

This feeling was only reinforced when I followed up with Mildred Taylor's Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. It's a great book, but a very sad one about a black family during the Depression whose three kids learn exactly what it means to be black in the South at that time.

I also gave Donald E. Pease's mini-biography Theodore SUESS Geisel a try. It was all right, but I prefer the more fleshed-out Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel by Judith and Neil Morgan. Pease is an academic, and his discussions of the Seuss books in lit-crit terms literally sucks the magic right out of them.

I'm currently reading Stephen G. Bloom's Tears of Mermaids: The Secret Story of Pearls and enjoying it, and after that I have Kelly Link's Pretty Monsters, Cory Doctorow's Little Brother, David Carkeet's From Away, and Lisa Grunwald's The Irresitible Henry House to look forward to.

Those of you who are following the saga can find Mark Finn's and my discussion of last week's Lost episode "Ab Aeterno" here on RevolutionSF.com.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Short-n-Sweet



If you're looking to get a little Lost fix before tonight's episode, you can catch up on some of my ideas and questions about last week's episode here at RevolutionSF.com.

As for my reading, my inter-library loan books are taking a bit of time to get here, so I've contented myself with Susan Cooper's The Boggart, E.L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and Tony Horwitz's Confederates in the Attic (there were a couple of others, but these were the highlights).

I'm currently enjoying Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, and I'll tell you all about it when I'm done.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Checking In



Since last we spoke, I've finished Boneshaker, Real Unreal: The Best American Fantasy 3, and Sandman Slim and am working on reviews. I have been on an amazing reading run recently with a spate of truly excellent books. God bless inter-library loan, without which the pickings would be much, much slimmer.

I'm back to reading juvenile fiction at the moment as I wait for my next shipment of library books, and again I'm running into some really good books that I really should have read long before now.

Christopher Paul Curtis's Bud, Not Buddy is a marvel. This story of a depression-era orphan searching for the man he believes to be his father really sings, largely because of Curtis's gift with character.

Bud Calloway is only ten years old, but circumstances have forced him to grow up quickly. With the life he has led: no father, mother dying when he was six, life in the orphanage and in various foster homes, he could easily have turned sullen and bitter or even violent. Instead he's become tough and self-sufficient and remarkably resilient.

Curtis is equally adept with his other characters, from the kind librarian who remembers which books Bud used to like when he came in with his mother to Lefty Lewis, the Pullman porter who picks Bud up by the side of the road and takes him to meet the man he believes is his father. Even characters who are only present for a few pages are memorable and ring true.

The same could be said of Kate DiCamillo's bittersweet Because of Winn-Dixie. Like Bud Calloway, India Opal Buloni is 10 years old. She and her father, a preacher, have been abandoned by her mother, and her father has just moved them to a new town where Opal doesn't know anybody and is lonely. While on a shopping trip for dinner, Opal meets a huge, mangy, stinky, exciteable dog who smiles at her and wins her heart. Through her friendship with Winn-Dixie (named for the store he was running amok in when they met), Opal is able to reconnect with her father and make new friends, finding a kind of family.

DiCamillo's books (I've also read The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and The Tale of Despereaux) are full of adventure and humor, but there's always a thread of melancholy which adds depth and richness to the story.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Can't Stop the Reading



My reviews of Blackout and The Magicians are both live now over on RevolutionSF.com.

I finished Mieville's The City & the City and loved it. It's not Bas Lag or New Crobuzon or even Un Lun Dun, but it was never intended to be. It's stripped down, like a good noir thriller should be, full of mood and atmosphere and mystery.

I also finished a kids book by Suzanne Collins called Gregor the Overlander, which I was unfamiliar with (it's book one in a series called The Underland Chroncicles). It was a fast-paced adventure, with some terrific characters. It's impossible not to fall in love with Boots, and I never would have believed that I would be touched by the humble selflessness of a four-foot roach.

I've started both Boneshaker and The Best American Fantasy 3, and I have Richard Kadrey's Sandman Slim waiting in the wings.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Happy 5th Anniversary, Pyr!


It's hard to believe, but acclaimed and award-winning imprint Pyr has been around for five years already. To celebrate their 5th anniversary, they're sponsoring a contest which emphasizes three of the things they hold dear: creative and powerful writing, a passion for reading genre fiction, and this year's special number, five.

Pyr is inviting readers to submit a short essay on this theme:

Five reasons why fantasy and science fiction is important to you

Elegibility Rules (Any essays that do not meet these guidelines will be disqualified):

1. Entrants must reside in the Continental United States and be at least 21 years of age.
2. Essays must be no longer than 1500 words.
3. Essays must be emailed to publicity@prometheusbooks.com as a Word document attachment, with the subject line “Pyr and Dragons Adventure Essay Submission.”
4. The body of the submission email must clearly identify the entrant’s full name, address (within the Continental United States), phone number and email address.
5. All submissions must be received between April 1, 2010 and June 1, 2010.

A complete list of rules and regulations can be found at PyrSF.com


All eligible essays will be read and reviewed by publishing staff at Prometheus Books. Not all of these preliminary readers will be science fiction and fantasy fans, so outstanding essays will likely be those that pique their interest in the genre and make them want to read it too. The top twenty-five essays as determined by these industry professionals will be read by Pyr Editorial Director Lou Anders, who will select the top three.

The writer of the Third Place essay will win a commemorative Pyr 5th anniversary keepsake and five complimentary books of their choice from the Pyr catalog.

The writer of the Second Place essay will win a complete set of Pyr books as published by the contest end date of June 1, 2010 (one copy of each title, without duplicating those that appear in more than one binding) and a commemorative Pyr 5th anniversary keepsake.

The Grand Prize Winner will embark on a “Pyr and Dragons Adventure” that includes:

* A round-trip flight to Atlanta, GA during Dragon*Con, one of the largest multi-media, popular culture convention focusing on science fiction and fantasy,gaming, comics, literature, art, music, and film in the US. Dragon*Con 2010 will be held September 3 - 6, 2010 (Labor Day weekend).
* Two nights hotel accommodation in Atlanta, GA, Sept. 3 and 4, 2010.
* Dragon*Con membership/entry badge.
* Dinner with Special Pyr Author Guests and Pyr Editorial Director Lou Anders
—details to be announced!


The grand prize winning essay will be posted at the Pyr-o-mania blog, and may be promoted by the publisher by other means, including but not limited to their other blogs, websites, e-newsletters and social networking pages.

"Go to Hell, I'm Reading"



My discussion with Mark Finn (@finnswake, for you twitter peeps) about last week's Lost episode Sundown is now live at RevolutionSF.com.

I've turned in my review of Connie Willis's Blackout, which I both really liked and was incredibly frustrated with, and I'll post the link when it goes live.

I just finished reading Lev Grossman's The Magicians, which deserves every bit of the praise that's been heaped upon it, and I'm currently working on China Mieville's The City and the City (which is terrific so far). Next in line is Cherie Priest's Boneshaker and The Best American Fantasy 3, edited by Kevin Brockmeier.

The image up top is from a t-shirt available at the amazing Murder by the Book bookstore in Houston. If you're in the neighborhood, look 'em up. If you're not, try to get there--it's well worth the trip.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Busy Week



Along with my recent review of Dawn of the Dreadfuls, I have two other reviews live at RevolutionSF.com.

One is my review of The Other Lands, the second book in David Anthony Durham's Acacia trilogy, which I enjoyed a great deal despite it being book two, inevitably the most troublesome book in any given trilogy.

The other is of Peter Straub's latest, A Dark Matter, which was equally enjoyable in a totally different way. If you enjoy books featuring unreliable characters or whose point is less "what happened" than "how did what happened effect us" then you're in for a treat. As a bonus, we also have an interview with Straub, conducted by Derek A. Johnson.

Coming soon is the latest installment in my ongoing Lost discussion with Mark Finn and a review of Connie Willis's Blackout.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Lost Thoughts



Those of you who may be missing Mark Finn and I obsessing about Lost every week can find our thoughts over at RevolutionSF.com:

LA X

What Kate Does

The Substitute

The Lighthouse

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

All-Out-Worldwide-Zombie-Blog-Explosion 2010



Some months ago, I picked up a book called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Honestly, I didn't expect much. I figured it was a one-joke project; a funny title and not much else.

I was wrong.

Using mostly Austen's original words, Steve Hockensmith grafted a zombie subplot onto a romantic classic, and amazingly, it worked. So when the folks at Quirk Classics asked if I wanted an early look at Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls, I jumped at the chance.

You can read my review of Dawn of the Dreadfuls on RevolutionSF.com, but if you want to read the book for yourself, the good folks at Quirk are having a little giveaway, and all you have to do to enter is go here to QuirkClassics.com and mention this blog to be entered.

The 50 prize packs that they're giving away all include:

An advance copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls

Audio books of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

A password redeemable online for sample audio chapters of Dawn of the Dreadfuls

An awesome Dawn of the Dreadfuls poster

A Pride and Prejudice and Zombies journal

A box set of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies postcards

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Book of Three



In my continuing series of entries about kids books I no doubt should have read before but somehow never did, I give you Lloyd Alexander's The Book of Three.

One of the perils of growing up reading in a small town peopled largely by non-readers is that there's no one to tell you about stuff like this. I had never heard of Alexander until Disney's The Black Cauldron, which was released the year after I graduated high school and which held no interest for me.

I never went back to see what I missed—I was too busy reading stuff for classes and, if memory serves, buckets of horror stories. Clearly, I was too grown up to read kids books (I'll pause here for all of my friends and every teacher I ever had to stop laughing).

Even though I heard these books mentioned as “classics” when I worked in bookstores, somehow they just never caught my attention. Which is a terrible shame, because as much as I enjoyed reading the book today, as a kid, I would have been over the moon.

Alexander's take off of Welsh mythology is staggeringly good: adventurous, scary, sad, and funny. It's everything I ever looked for in a book as a kid, and the formula works quite well for me still today. Sure, some of the tropes (lowborn boy with big ambition, kids who are more than they seem, ultimate good versus ultimate evil, magical weapons that only work for their rightful owners) are now so overused they don't carry the same weight. But if everything else is good enough: the story, the characters, the way the story is told, then the book sings, regardless of how familiar you might be with those tropes.

If you like tales of knights, magicians, good, evil, and hidden power, check out this opening chapter in the adventures of Taran of Caer Dalben, Assistant Pig Keeper of a most unusual pig named Hen Wen.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Frindle



Books are magical things, but sometimes that magic can be a little shaky, especially for books aimed at kids. If you read the book as a kid, the magic will work and you'll fall in love with the story and that will be one of your favorite childhood memories. But if you missed it as a kid and try to go back and fill in the gaps as an adult, or even if you pick up a childhood favorite you haven't read since you were small, you may find that you're no longer able to suspend disbelief the way you were as a kid. Plot holes jump out at you, or the story itself or the language used to tell it is so simple it can't hold your interest. But if you're lucky, the book is good enough and your disbelief-suspending muscles are strong enough that the magic still works.

While going through the kids books at the library, I saw a book called Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements. It sounded interesting—teenager wakes up invisible, tries to both live with it and figure out why—so I checked it out and gave it a try. It was a good book: well-written, believable characters helping to make an impossible plot-line plausible. So I poked around to see if we had anything else by Clements, and as it turns out, we did. I looked at the available titles and picked up the one that sounded the most interesting: Frindle.

Frindle is the story of fifth grader Nick Allen, a smart kid with lots of ideas, and Mrs. Granger, the language arts teacher who loves the dictionary. They collide when Nick learns how dictionaries came about and invents a new word; instead of a pen, he now uses a frindle. Everyone starts using the word, Mrs. Granger starts punishing those who do, and the whole thing grows way beyond anything Nick ever expected.

It's a really quick read--fast and funny. Clements has a gift for capturing the worldview and speech patterns of elementary school kids. Nick is a great character: smart and funny and believable. Mrs. Granger shines, too—instantly recognizable, a little intimidating, and ultimately delightful.

Clements does an excellent job in making neither Nick nor Mrs. Granger the villain of the story. Kids will respond to Nick's big ideas, and adults (especially bookish adults) will respond to Mrs. Granger's love of words and her fierce dedication to their importance.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Few More Kids Books of Note



I'm still going through the library and trying to catch up on things I probably should have already read, but I haven't for one reason or another. Because one of our focuses is encouraging kids to read, I've been spending some time with kids books, from picture books to YA, so that I have recommendations when people come in. They're not all new, but they are to me, so maybe they are to you, too.

We all think more kids reading is a good thing, so when something like Harry Potter comes along, we embrace it hope to get kids hooked so hooked on it that they continue to read either between volumes or even after the series ends. The current must-read is Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga, and if you or someone you know has read all of Meyer's books and is not-so-patiently awaiting the next installment, do them a favor and recommend Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl's Beautiful Creatures.

Beautiful Creatures is the story of star-crossed lovers, a terrible curse, and their modern-day descendents. It's about family and loss and destiny and has enough paranormal activity and teen romance angst to satisfy the most ardent Twilight-er. It's also really well-written, starting off with a terrific prologue and never letting up from there. There's a host of new books hoping too latch on to the paranormal trend, and this is an excellent place to start.

Carl Hiaasen is a popular and successful adult writer, famous for his Florida settings, humorous characters, and strong belief in the conservation of those few remaining wild spots in Florida. Unsurprisingly, his first YA book, Hoot, is set in Florida, has humorous characters, and has a strong, anti-development/pro-conservation message. It is also, and I apologize in advance for this, a hoot and a half to read.

Hoot tells the story of Roy Eberhardt, recently moved to Florida from Montana. Roy is a smart, well-adjusted kid, able to make friends in new places and deal with bullies(and recognize when further dealing is pointless). While being attacked by a bully on the bus, Roy sees a kid, about his own age, running down the street wearing no shoes. He becomes curious about this mysterious boy and tries to track him down, managing to run into the school's tough girl and get knocked out by a flying golf ball in the process.

While Roy tries to find out more about the kid, we meet the foreman of a construction crew planning to build a Mother Paula's Pancake House on a vacant lot, who's having some problems with survey stakes being pulled up, leading to construction delays while everything is re-surveyed. He reports this officer Delinko, who agrees to try and catch the vandals. Instead, he dozes off and the culprit spraypaints the windows of his patrol car black and goes on about his business. In the process of these fiascos, we learn that small Burrowing Owls have made their home on the vacant lot, and that Mother Paula's is adamantly denying their existence.

These two threads come together in a story that's both funny and thought-provoking and which is well worth a read.

Many things can lead me to pick up a book, but I am a total sucker for a sense of humor. So when I come across a book titled Next to Mexico whose cover carries the tagline “Two countries. Two girls. One Tuba.” I know I've got to see what that's all about. And what that's all about is Lylice (pronounced like Phyllis) Martin, one of the most irrepressible and charming narrators I've run across.

Lylice has just been skipped from 4th grade straight to 6th. She's dealing with a new school and a new principal who she's convinced is out to get her. She is also assigned to be the English Buddy for a new student recently arrived from south of the border named Mexico Mendoza. Lylice and Mexico become fast friends, and this friendship helps them get through school troubles like cliques, mean girls, crushes on boys, bad boys who maybe aren't so bad, budget cuts, protests, and detention, as well as family troubles like separation from family, diabetes, unemployment, and alcoholism.

Lylice is hilarious, and there are some great messages here about friendship, loyalty, and standing up for what's right. Plus tubas are inherently funny. They just are.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Childhood Magic



I have a special place in my heart for books that feature a kid who reads and loves books. Any story that extols reading is aces in my book, but those that encourage and celebrate it for kids are especially fine. Since one of my duties is going up to the local elementary school and reading to the pre-K through 3rd grade kids, I've been spending a lot of time reading kids books (everything from picture books to YA) to find new stuff to share. I've been lucky enough to find some real gems, some old favorites that hold up well and some new finds that more people should be familiar with.

How long has it been since you read Madeline L'Engel's classic A Wrinkle in Time? Trust me, friend, that's too long. L'Engel's story of some special kids who band together to rescue their missing father is a stunner. A Wrinkle in Time has lost none of its power to amaze and enthrall. It's funny, heartbreaking, and pure magic.

How about Roald Dahl's Matilda? Dahl is a master of stories with all of the magic and humor and cruelty of childhood left intact. Mean headmistresses, awful parents, a kind teacher, and a very special girl combine for a tale of neglect and special powers that only Dahl could tell.

More recent but no less worthy is Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted, which is a great take on Cinderella with a fabulous teen protagonist and a lot of humor. Girls especially will identify with the smart, funny, and very competent Ella.

On another level entirely is Marcus Zusak's extraordianary The Book Thief. The story of Liesel Meminger's life in Nazi Germany is narrated by Death himself and is a testament to the power of books to help us through hard times.

But perhaps the bookiest book of all is Cornelia Funke's amazing Inkheart. The story of a man (who binds and repairs books by trade) who reads aloud so well that he actually brings forth characters from the book he's reading and the book-loving daughter who tries to save him is so saturated by a love of books and reading that it practically drips from the pages.

So please, folks, give these books a try, or even better, share them with someone you know who can't get enough of the written word.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Friendly Word of Warning



Even if, for some odd reason, you should be searching for a book about giant carnivorous crabs rampaging through Scotland, by all that is holy do not pick up this one and give it a read.

Or any of its sequels.

Not that I've read them, or anything, because I would never...I mean, well...I just thought...damn.

(Thanks to Rick for the link to I Was A Bronze Age Boy.)