Review - Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): He's a Pirate by Klaus Badelt [Pirates of the Carribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl soundtrack] .

My reviews are a bit different than most. As an undercover superhero (ordinary girl extraordinaire), my purpose is to try and uncover hidden gems lost from the familiar radar. Because of this, I have set up some guidelines for myself (just like the pirate code). :)

I will focus on YA and Children's literature (with very rare exceptions).
I will not review any book that is one of the top 25,000 selling books (based on Amazon ranks).
I will try and aim for books 100,000 or larger.
I will review recent books or books of great merit (preferably both).

Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins
Published: July 1, 2010
Publisher: Charlesbridge Publishing
Pages: 272
Current Amazon Rank: #446,751

Author's Website:

The First Line:

Teachers wanted. Applicants must take examinations in person. Salaries start at---
"Chiko, come inside!" Mother calls through the screen door, her voice low and urgent.

My Take:
This book is probably one of the best reads I've come across this year. It is haunting and beautiful at once, full of courage and strength and as a glimpse into modern-day Burma, it is eye-opening.

The story tells two different sides of the same story. The first is of Chiko, a studious Burmese boy who must be kept inside for fear of his own government kidnapping him and drafting him into service. His father has already been arrested for helping "the enemy" and they know nothing of his whereabouts, even though they are required to send in a monthly allowance to support him, and they are not sure if he is still alive and if the government is only lying to them. Deceived by a newspaper advertisement, Chiko is indeed taken without warning to a remote jungle location to be trained to fight the "barbaric" Karenni, one of the many ethnic minorities in Burma.

There he finds a friend in Tai, a street boy also taken, who is desperate to get back to his sister. They train together and help each other survive in ways they could not on their own. Chiko is then drafted to go on a "secret mission" into the jungle--as a mine tester. The story then switches to Tu Reh's perspective, a Karenni boy barely older than Chiko and filled with hatred for what the Burmese has done to his people. Here the two stories converge.

It is a very difficult thing having multiple perspectives in a story. Often you become attached to one character and could care less about the other and only suffer through their chapters to get back to your favorite. That is not the case here. Having been thoroughly invested in Chiko for half the book, it is a brilliant stroke on Ms. Perkins part to reintroduce Chiko the moment the perspective's shift instead of going "back to the beginning" to tell Tu Reh's story. You pick it up seamlessly as the story progresses. And I can see the importance in the character shift. You needed to hear both sides of this story. Both of them grow in great ways and therin lies Mitali Perkins' greatest strength. Her characters are complex and real. Even the side characters had a depth to them that made me feel like I truly understood them (and I have to admit, I was completely in love with Tai's character. He was awesome). Even the love stories on both Chiko's and Tu Reh's parts were lovely. And her descriptions of the world draw you in. The details of the humidity, the fruits and plants, the threats from the jungle, everything. It felt like you were there with them, and I loved that.

Overall, a wonderful read I would highly recommend.

The Final Word: Simple, courageous, and beautiful, this book is one I won't lightly forget. It helps open your world and leaves you changed.

Quotes from Banned/Challenged Books

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Dry Your Tears, Afrika by John Williams [Amistad soundtrack].

Quotes from Banned/Challenged Books

"But you see, Meg, just because we don't understand doesn't mean that the explanation doesn't exist"

"Nothing is hopeless; we must hope for everything"

"Suddenly there was a great burst of light through the Darkness. The light spread out and where it touched the Darkness the Darkness disappeared. The light spread until the patch of Dark Thing had vanished, and there was only a gentle shining, and through the shining came the stars, clear and pure"

"You're given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is completely up to you"
- Madeline Le'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time (challenged/banned for religious content, challenging religious beliefs, witchcraft, listing of Jesus "with the names of great artists, philosophers, scientists, and religious leaders).

"They're certainly entitled to think that, and they're entitled to full respect for their opinions... but before I can live with other folks I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience."

"I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do."

"I think there's just one kind of folks. Folks."
- Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (challenged/banned for racism, use of rape as a plot device being "immoral" (1966), language).

"You will be faced, now, with pain of a magnitude that none of us here can comprehend because it is beyond our experience. The Receiver himself was not able to describe it, only to remind us that you would be faced with it, that you would need immense courage."

"Our people made that choice, the choice to go to Sameness. Before my time, before the previous time, back and back and back. We relinquished color when we relinquished sunshine and did away with difference. We gained control of many things. But we had to let go of others."

"With his new, heightened feelings, he was overwhelmed by sadness at the way the others had laughed and shouted, playing at war. But he knew that they could not understand why, without the memories. He felt such love for Asher and for Fiona. But they could not feel it back, without the memories. And he could not give them those."

"It was not a grasping of thin and burdensome recollection; this was different. This was something that he could keep. It was a memory of his own"

"Well..." Jonas had to stop and think it through. "If everything's the same, then there aren't any choices!"
- Lois Lowry, The Giver (banned in 2001 for being sexually explicit, having occult themes, and violence. Challenged or banned for "promoting" infanticide, and euthanasia).

'I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues."
- Dr. Suess, The Lorax (banned in 1971 for "criminaliz[ing] the forestry industry")

"Both of them got eaten up (in full daylight, mind you, and on a crowded street) by an enormous angry rhinoceros which had escaped from the London Zoo. Now this, as you can well imagine, was rather a nasty experience for two such gentle parents."
- Roald Dahl, James and the Giant Peach (banned or challenged for language, being too scary for children, possible sexual references with the spider "licking her lips", references to snuff, tobacco and whiskey, and encouraging children to disobey adults.)

"Lincoln did something brilliant. Next to SLOW, he drew two neat perfect-size dots, one like a period and the other a little above it. Lucky knew it was a colon and it made the sign mean, "You must drive slow. There are children at play"
- Susan Patron, The Higher Power of Lucky (challenged/banned because of the use of the word "scrotum" on the first few pages. One objector said: “You won’t find men’s genitalia in quality literature.”).

"When people don't express themselves, they die one piece at a time. You'd be shocked at how many adults are really dead inside -- walking through their days with no idea who they are, just waiting for a heart attack or cancer or a Mack truck to come along and finish the job. It's the saddest thing I know."

Sometimes I think high school is just one long hazing activity: if you are tough enough to survive this, they'll let you become an adult. I hope it's worth it.
- Laurie Halse Anderson, Speak (banned/challenged for sexual references, in regard to the subject matter about the main character being raped).

"Surely it was a good way to die, in the place of someone else, someone I loved. Noble, even. That ought to count for something."
- Stephenie Meyer, Twilight series (banned/challenged for being too sexual and going against religious beliefs - banned in 2010 in Austrailia for this).

"Some times somebody will say hey lookit Frank, or Joe or even Gimpy. He really pulled a Charlie Gordon that time. I don't know why they say it but they always laff and I laff too."

"It may sound like ingratitude, but that is one of the things I hate here - the attitude that I am a guinea pig. Nemur's constant references to having made me what I am, or that someday there will be others like me who will become real human beings. How can I make him understand that he did not create me?"

"They had pretended to be geniuses. But they were just ordinary men working blindly, pretending to be able to bring light into the darkness. Why is it that everyone lies? No one I know is what he appears to be."
- Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon (banned/challenged for being "filthy and immoral" where the main character, Charlie, struggles to understand and express his sexual desires)

"'I'm fine,' said her mother.
'Is that true?'
'No, it's a lie. I'm a wreck. And your father's at a soccer game so I couldn't call him to say you were missing again.'"
- Caroline B. Cooney, Face on the Milk Carton (banned/challenged for sexual reference to possible "first encounter," and "challenge to authority.")

"I have four sisters. And I'd trade them all in for a good dog."

"He believed her because here in the shadowy light of the stronghold everything seemed possible. Between the two of them they owned the world and no enemy, Gary Fulcher, Wanda Kay Moore, Janice Avery, Jess's own fears and insufficiencies, nor any of the foes whom Leslie imagined attacking Terabithia, could ever really defeat them."
- Katherine Peterson, Bridge to Terabithia (challenged/banned for profanity or inappropriate language, promoting witchcraft, the occult/satanism and violence, disrespect of adults, and "an elaborate fantasy world they felt might lead to confusion").

"It's really a wonder that I haven't dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart."
- Anne Frank, The Diary of Anne Frank (banned/challenged for being to sexually explicit, and in some cases for being too graphic or depressing for the age group).


Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Perfect Day by Hoku.

Yes, you heard that right. Plural. There were so many wonderful comments and such excitement for these books, I couldn't help myself. So instead of one, there are three winners today (but oh how I wish I could give you all books. You don't know how this pains me just to have three).

And no, I won't hold you in suspense.

Much. ;)

The first winner is Onge wanting a copy of whatever I pick out (bwa ha ha ha!)

The second winner is Em with a brand spankin' new copy of Silver Phoenix!

And the third winner is Kasey with a copy of Showdown winner, The Thief!

It's kinda nice how it worked out and how everyone gets a different book. Let the love of YA Fantasy spread! And don't let not winning stop you, these are some really great books that were featured throughout the showdown. And keep coming back. You have pulled at my heartstrings. I may just have to pull from this list again on a rainy day and award another book most randomly. :) Congratulations everyone! Thank you for everything, truly.

P.S All winners contact me within the next 48 hours or I will have to pick new winners. I'm sure everyone else here won't mind if you're late though. :)

Winner of YA Fantasy Showdown Contest is coming...

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Fidelity by Regina Spektor.

The winner will be announced later today! I'm so excited!

Monday's Muse, 21st edition.

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): So Far Away by Staind.

This was originally an idea from Au Courant started in March, an idea she has graciously let me run with. (Note: Since Au Courant is no longer continuing her blog and hasn't been for some time, after this week I will be taking this part out and adopting this as my own, though I will leave the link still active in the early posts. It is a wonderful idea she had, and I want to thank her very much for it).

The idea is to introduce you to unknown, forgotten, or overlooked fiction that has been lost from regular radar. I am WriterGirl. I am in the business of saving lives, one book at a time.

What I do is go to amazon, narrow it down to a YA field and type in a random word, any word that comes to mind. I then take a sampling of some I have never heard of before, or only vaguely heard of (and hopefully you as well). No infringement is intended for any description I take for the books. It's purely for promotional reasons. I will try and cover as many genres as possible that are fitting for the random word. Simple but it really uncovers some incredible gems. I will be doing this every other Monday. If there are any words you want to prompt me with, go ahead and fire away.

Today's random word:

The 13 Clocks by James Thurber

"The great New Yorker humorist James Thurber wrote a few children's books, the best of which may be The 13 Clocks, a 1950 tale of a wicked duke who thinks he has stopped time. Newly reissued, with an intro by Neil Gaiman — who calls it ''probably the best book in the world'' — Clocks is the equal of any modern kid classic. By the time he wrote The 13 Clocks, Thurber was too blind to provide his own usual scratchy but vivid illustrations, so he enlisted his friend Marc Simont to do the drawings. Simont provided beautifully cartoonish yet subtle mini-paintings that convey Clocks' varying moods of gloom, menace, surprise, and joy." --Entertainment Weekly.

Counter-Clock World by Philip K. Dick

Released in 1967 and 1956, respectively, these volumes offer Dick's usual bleak outlook for the future. In CounterClock World, time begins moving backwards, and, as a result, there is a reanimation of the dead, including a religious leader who has amassed a sizable number of followers since his demise. Back above ground, he finds himself worshiped by millions who will do anything he says, making him quite dangerous. Japed follows a similar theme in the character of Allen Purcell, a highly placed politico who has the power to change the world. Dick fans and Blade Runner nuts will be glad to see these. --Library Journal.

The One O'Clock Chop by Ralph Fletcher

It's the summer of 1973 and fourteen year old Matt spends his days working on a boat as a clam digger to earn extra money. His nights are another story--he spends time with his free-spirited cousin Jazzy who is visiting from Hawaii (and just happens to be beautiful). Matt can't deny that his affection for Jazzy moves beyond a crush, and everyone knows you can't fall in love with your cousin. Just when Matt decides to act on his feelings, Jazzy does something that changes everything between them.

Like the one o'clock chop--the strong breeze that blows across the Long Island Sound--Matt's summer proves to be as inevitable as a force of nature. Told with pitch-perfect angst and realism, Ralph Fletcher tells a gripping story of a teenager's life-altering summer.

The Wonder Clock by Howard Pyle

Famous and influential as a preeminent illustrator, Howard Pyle was also a gifted writer beloved by millions — young and old — for his endearing and enchanting fairy tales. The Wonder Clock is a delightful, magical collection of whimsical stories: twenty-four stories for twenty-four hours. And each a timeless masterpiece. Peopled with jolly kings and queens, lovely princesses and evil witches, sly foxes and mischievous ravens, ogres and giants, dashing princes and nasty dragons, these are old fashioned fairly tales in the best and most beautiful sense that can be enjoyed by readers of any age.

Pandora's Clock by John J. Nance

Imagine that a man carrying the deadly Ebola virus is aboard an international aircraft that is headed for New York and full of people eager to be home for Christmas. Nance, accomplished pilot, author, and currently aviation consultant for Good Morning America, brings such a nightmare to life in this unforgettable thriller. Captain James Holland has his hands full trying to get his packed airplane safely home yet he also has to deal with a cocky young copilot and demanding passengers (including a jabbering TV evangelist and an important U.S. ambassador). These obstacles are nothing, however, compared to the pressure he faces when he's forced to make an emergency landing after a passenger dies of a heart attack, and he discovers that every country, including the U.S., is refusing him entry. It seems that the man who died had been exposed to a rare virus strain crafted by the Soviets--an omega strain with a mortality rate of 100 percent. Captain Holland is a sympathetic character; the reader detects his primal fear yet respects his commanding demeanor. A uniquely suspenseful and terrifying story. Mary Frances Wilkens, Booklist.

The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby

Three ordinary children are brought together by extraordinary events. . .

Giuseppe is an orphaned street musician from Italy, who was sold by his uncle to work as a slave for an evil padrone in the U.S. But when a mysterious green violin enters his life he begins to imagine a life of freedom.

Hannah is a soft-hearted, strong-willed girl from the tenements, who supports her family as a hotel maid when tragedy strikes and her father can no longer work. She learns about a hidden treasure, which she knows will save her family -- if she can find it.

And Frederick, the talented and intense clockmaker's apprentice, seeks to learn the truth about his mother while trying to forget the nightmares of the orphanage where she left him. He is determined to build an automaton and enter the clockmakers' guild -- if only he can create a working head.

Together, the three discover they have phenomenal power when they team up as friends, and that they can overcome even the darkest of fears.

Feature Fun Friday - Banned Book Week 2010

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): This is War by 30 Seconds To Mars.

Banned Book Week is next week. Read a banned book. Celebrate your right to read.

This announcement brought to you by the department of awesome

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Home by the Goo Goo Dolls.

I have a big announcement to make. I am on the first round of judges for the YA SF/F category for the Cybils Awards for 2010!!!

*spins and dances*

*gets dizzy*

*doesn't care*

Here are the rest of the awesome and amazing judges for the Sci-fi/Fantasy category:

Panelists (Round I Judges), MG/Elementary:
Anamaria Anderson, Books Together
Gwenda Bond, Shaken & Stirred
Cindy Hannikman, Fantasy Book Critic
Aaron Maurer, Coffee for the Brain
Nicole Signoretta, Booked Up
Charlotte Taylor, Charlotte's Library
Karen Yingling, Ms. Yingling Reads

Panelists (Round I Judges), Teen/YA:
Steve Berman, Guys Lit Wire
Tanita Davis, Finding Wonderland
Leila Roy, Bookshelves of Doom
Sheila Ruth (see panel organizer)
Angie Thompson, Angieville
Hallie Tibbetts, Undusty New Books
Heather Zundel, Secret Adventures of WriterGirl

Round II Judges:

Melissa Baldwin, One Librarian's Book Reviews
Kate Coombs, Book Aunt
Emily Mitchell, emilyreads
Nancy Tsai, Kidsmomo
Tanya Zavestoski Turek, Books 4 Your Kids

Emma Carbone, Miss Print
Anne Levy, Cybils
Sam Musher, Parenthetical
Sarah Stevenson, Finding Wonderland
Steph Su, Steph Su Reads

This is such an honor, and when I saw the other panelists I would be joining, I nearly died. Talk about rubbing shoulders with the giants of the blogging world! I am so grateful and trying not to squeal like a kid who just found the secret entrance to Wonka's chocolate factory.

This is going to be intense, but it is so going to be worth it. And I've done hard things before, right? I mean, I survived the YA Fantasy Showdown, right? Those sightings of Howl and Katsa have gone way down, I promise. And I don't sleepwalk anymore. Much.

Don't forget, nominations start October 1st. Go ahead, hit me with your best shot.

The (De)Evolution of a Writer

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Awakening by Mae.

I found this on Kiersten White's blog and it was far too fabulous/hilarious not to share. From her friend, Natalie Whipple - The (De)Evolution of a Writer.

Words That Are Not Enough.

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Amazing Grace by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

I am grateful to live in a world where those who are normally silent speak up when they feel a need for a voice to be heard.

I am grateful to live in a world where people care about each other and where the well-being of another is a real concern and earnest desire.

I am grateful to live in a world where knowledge is so abundant and we have so much freedom to learn and grow according to our own personal desire and motivation.

I am grateful for stories - ones that can, have, and do change lives. No story is unimportant and I am so grateful for so many that have helped me in the quiet and dark hours others know nothing about.

I am grateful for the freedom of speech and thought, and the general recognized consensus that it is a basic human right and that it is important to retain it. In fact, it is vital to everything we cherish.

I am grateful for good people in the world, who truly want to help and support one another. I see it in small ways every day and it gives me courage and hope that this world is truly good.

I am grateful for things I cannot begin to express here. I am grateful for people, for thoughts and ideas, for courage spoken and unspoken, in ways many do not recognize as courage. I am grateful for people who stand when it is hard, get back up when it's harder, and for others who offer a hand when they cannot stand on their own yet. I am grateful for the human condition and the chance we have to learn and grow in this life - to stand, to help, to speak. I am grateful... for so much.

Feature Fun Friday - Paranormalcy Trailer (and Interview)

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Dreams by The Cranberries.

So. There's this book out. That came out last week. That sounds so amazing I could die. That is both funny and dark. That has a shapeshifter as a love interest. So he can be Gale/Peeta/Howl/Jace/Jacob/Edward/OMG all in ONE. (Why did no one ever think of this before?!) Because seriously, shapeshifters rock. Hardcore. And that, in a word, is Paranormalcy. :)

And here's an interview with the fabulous Kiersten White!

Announcing Tu Books First Titles!

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Lux Aeterna by Clint Mansell [Requiem for a Dream soundtrack].

Today is the exciting news I mentioned last week. As you know, I'm a fantasy geek (among just about every other genre out there). But too often, I see the same familiar story against the same familiar backdrop. Now, I'm not saying all fantasies are of the medieval Europe breed with dragons and knights and quests and famous lost sons growing up as farm boys. It is much more diverse than that, as was so well proven by the YA Fantasy Showdown (woot!). But what if the story took place in a pseudo Africa setting and the main character rode a giraffe instead of a horse? Now that just sounds cool. And that is the goal of Tu Books, to bring diverse, multicultural stories to us in the form of Young Adult science fiction and fantasy. I have been watching them eagerly from the beginning and watched as it grew from a fledgling idea into a full-on imprint. And now, they have announced their first two titles!

Stacy Whitman at Lee & Low Books has acquired the first novels for the Tu Books imprint, which launches in fall 2011. The imprint will focus on multicultural MG/YA science fiction and fantasy. For the launch list, Whitman has acquired World rights to a YA paranormal thriller tentatively titled Wolf Mark by Joseph Bruchac, author of Codetalker and Skeleton Man. When Lucas King’s black-ops father is kidnapped and his best friend, Meena, put in danger, Lucas’s only chance to save them is hidden away in an abandoned, monster-guarded mansion. The deal was done by Barbara Kouts of the Barbara S. Kouts Agency.

Whitman has also bought world rights to Galaxy Games by Greg Fishbone, a MG science fiction trilogy about an incoming asteroid that turns out to be an alien spaceship, visiting Earth to recruit a team of kid athletes to compete in the upcoming Galaxy Games Tournament. The first book, tentatively titled Preliminaries, will be published as part of the Tu Books launch list in fall 2011. The three-book deal was completed by Garrett Hicks of Will Entertainment.

There are great stories out there, and I can't wait to see more of them.

Review - The Book of Jude by Kimberley Heuston

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Tonight by The Afters.

My reviews are a bit different than most. As an undercover superhero (ordinary girl extraordinaire), my purpose is to try and uncover hidden gems lost from the familiar radar. Because of this, I have set up some guidelines for myself (just like the pirate code). :)

I will focus on YA and Children's literature (with very rare exceptions).
I will not review any book that is one of the top 25,000 selling books (based on Amazon ranks).
I will try and aim for books 100,000 or larger.
I will review recent books or books of great merit (preferably both).

The Book of Jude by Kimberley Heuston
Published: April 2008
Publisher: Front Street
Pages: 217
Current Amazon Rank: #1,317,547

Author's Website:

The First Line:
We aren't exactly hiding.

My Take:
This books is like fresh lemonade in summer. It is cool and refreshing, but is meant to be savored and drunk slowly. Jude is a vivacious and wonderfully imaginative young girl in a New York Mormon family in 1989 (a nice refreshing change for a "historical" novel. Usually they are hundreds of years in the past. It was fun to see things like pop tarts mentioned). However, she has flashes of anger which are not helped when Jude's mom whisks their entire family away to Czechoslovakia on a Fullbright Scholarship she's received there to study art. Jude does not take well to the move and slowly, with her, you begin to see and feel her life unravel as her imagination quickly deteriorates into a previously unknown mental illness as she becomes unable to differentiate between reality and nightmares as the Iron Curtain country around her shifts between iron-fisted control into chaos.

This is a deep and heavy book in many ways (everything from religion to mental illness to the political turmoil of the Iron Curtain and sustaining complex family relationships to boot), but the author deftly weaves it in such a way that it is beautiful. Her language and ability to pull you into Jude's world is incredible. Everything is so carefully wrought, from the historic details you don't gloss over (did you know Shirley Temple was an ambassador to Czechoslovakia later in life? I didn't) to the subtle language used as you are pulled further into Jude's madness, you barely notice the impending tidal wave as it draws up on you. You feel you are in Jude's world, and that is an extremely difficult task she accomplishes well.

It is a slower read, so I could call that a complaint. But if you go in thinking of it like a summer's day and realize that is how it is meant to be, then there is no problem (and as a shout out to Green Bean Teen Queen and others who complain about teens only reading classics in books - Merry, Jude's twin, reads Ender's Game within the first four pages. So rock on there). The story and the backdrop are wonderful and it shows one of the most honest portrayals of an average Mormon family I've seen in YA lit. And the characters are even better. For those of you who don't know, I am a twin, and so I am very hard to please with any "twin" story. Here is one of the very rare examples where I felt she got it almost exactly right. It is one of the most authentic feeling relationships I've read. And all the relationships felt that way, and I really liked that.

It is an incredible story that is meant to be drunk slowly and savored as you experience a new world in setting, but also in a state of mind.

The Final Word: A beautiful story not often told in a wonderful and unique backdrop. Like lemonade, it is meant to be savored and enjoyed.

Monday's Muse, 20th edition.

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Ruten by Twelve Girls Band.

This was originally an idea from Au Courant started in March, an idea she has graciously let me run with.

The idea is to introduce you to unknown, forgotten, or overlooked fiction that has been lost from regular radar. I am WriterGirl. I am in the business of saving lives, one book at a time.

What I do is go to amazon, narrow it down to a YA field and type in a random word, any word that comes to mind. I then take a sampling of some I have never heard of before, or only vaguely heard of (and hopefully you as well). No infringement is intended for any description I take for the books. It's purely for promotional reasons. I will try and cover as many genres as possible that are fitting for the random word. Simple but it really uncovers some incredible gems. I will be doing this every other Monday. If there are any words you want to prompt me with, go ahead and fire away.

Today's random word:

Shapeshifter by Holly Bennett.

Sive has received genetic gifts from each of her magical parents. From her mother she has inherited a soaring voice capable of (literally) enchanting those who listen. From her father she has the ability to shift into animal shape. That paternal gift may be the only thing to save her once she is noticed by the evil dark lord Far Doirche, who has plans to enthrall her and use her voice to build an empire. Bennett returns to familiar Celtic ground in this rich, slightly revisionist retelling of an ancient Irish legend. Basic human emotions—fear, love, greed—move the tale along, and short first-person narratives that personalize the action are interspersed throughout. Some will stumble over the Irish names, but Bennett thoughtfully includes a pronunciation guide as well as notes on the more traditional version of Sive's story. Offer this to fans of Bennett's earlier book, The Warrior's Daughter (2007), as well as those in search of shape-shifters or Celtic legends. --Booklist.

Mistwood by Leah Cypess.

For centuries, the kings of Samorna have depended upon the immortal Shifter for protection. When the Crown Prince Rokan ventures into the Mistwood to find the Shifter, she again allows herself to be caught, to be tamed, and to be tangled into the deception and danger of the human court. The Shifter is uneasy, though. First she woke with no distinct memory of the past and now she finds that she is unable to change shape. As she adapts to palace life and painstakingly hides her inability to embrace her past abilities fully, she seems to become more the Lady Isabel as she is known in court, unwittingly displaying human emotions and hesitating in her bound duties to the crown. As Rokan becomes king, he is thrust into danger, seemingly from all sides. Isabel learns much more than she bargained for as she hunts among courtiers for conspirators and finds her loyalties divided. This story unfolds gracefully, mirroring the slow path Isabel must travel to begin understanding herself and her place in the world. Her journey in self-acceptance takes place within a country in turmoil. Fans of Megan Whalen Turner's "Attolia" books (HarperCollins) will be drawn to similar hidden political currents within the court, and fans of Kristin Cashore's Graceling (Harcourt, 2008) will wholeheartedly embrace Isabel as a reluctant warrior heroine treading in unfamiliar waters of the heart. An excellent addition for all collections with a strong fantasy following.—Jessica Miller, New Britain Public Library, CT

Sorceress of the Himalayas by Ketaki Shriram.

I read SORCERESS OF THE HIMALAYAS, by Ketaki Shriram, and enjoyed it tremendously: both as fantasy adventure sure to appeal to younger readers, and as a truly astonishing achievement for a young author with a great career ahead of her. I was struck by the depth of the characterizations in the book: Tien Ming, the heroine, is a girl of a mixed-race background who must overcome prejudice, loss, danger, suffering, and her own inner demons to unlock the secret of the marvelous spellbook on which rests the fate of the alternate world the author has created. A richly imagined landscape -- both familiar and fantastic -- is peopled with intriguing characters -- both human and non-human -- who often reveal themselves as tempted, conflicted, heroic or corrupt. It is a tribute to the author's skill that these beings are never simply the one-dimensional figures that too often are found in fantasy novels. A plot filled with surprises will pull readers in from the start, and draw them along through the fast-paced narrative, to a conclusion that is bittersweet, yet deeply satisfying --Robert D. San Souci, author of BRAVE MARGARET: AN IRISH ADVENTURE and FA MULAN: THE STORY OF A WOMAN WARRIOR, the basis for the author's screen story for Disney's MULAN.

Little Sister by Kara Dalkey.

Searching for the wandering soul of her beloved sister, Mitsuko enlists the aid of a host of supernatural friends in this colorful fantasy, set in 12th-century Japan. As a member of an eminent clan, Mitsuko has spent her first 13 years in a courtly, constricted world. When part of her family is set upon, first by warrior monks who leave her new brother-in-law Yugiri dead and his wife (her sister Amaiko) dazed and numb, then by an ambitious local lord with marriageable sons, Mitsuko finds the courage to flee into the forest--and to accept the company of Goranu, a mischievous, immortal shape-changer. Sure that Amaiko's soul has followed Yugiri's into the land of the dead, she sets out to reclaim it, sped on her way by several Buddhist and Shinto spirits, some kind, some dangerous. Although elaborate courtesies, a round of poetry parties, and stylized conversation slow the beginning, Mitsuko will win readers over with her determination and the forthright way she faces the powers of heaven and hell. --Kirkus Reviews.

The Sleep of Stone by Louise Cooper.

Ghysla is the last of her race of winged shape-shifters who were common before human beings proliferated. She is content with her solitary existence until the day she sees and falls in love with Anyr, a prince. Understanding that her clawed, sharp-toothed appearance could shock or frighten him, Ghysla uses her abilities to become various animals--most successfully, a seal that Anyr looks forward to greeting--and accompanies him through field, forest, and coast. Ghysla is happy with this strange relationship until the day that she learns Anyr is to marry. Blinded by unrequited love, she casts the ``sleep of stone'' on his betrothed, Sivorne, and takes her place at the wedding, unaware of the tragedy she has set in motion...While Anyr and Sivorne could be any beautiful folkloric couple, their feelings and desires make them realistic and believable; Ghysla is a truly unique creation, almost human but not quite, with a combination of morals and desires that suit her origins. Mornan, the sorcerer that Anyr consults to save his true bride, is another fascinating character with secrets that change the course of events. Impossible to put down, this will captivate and surprise readers. --Susan L. Rogers, Chestnut Hill Academy, PA, School Library Journal.

Shapeshifter's Quest by Dena Landon.

In the spirit of Tamora Pierce's work, Landon constructs a fantasy world under siege. The world's savior is 18-year-old Syanthe, a shape-shifter who can change from human to animal at will and who learns that she alone can save her race from the destruction of an insidious illness that saps strength from living things. On her journey, Syanthe joins a caravan of disguised warriors who share her goal. Despite an action-packed and highly detailed plot, Landon creates a quiet, spiritual tone, emphasizing Syanthe's physical and emotional connection to nature through many conduits: she can touch the spirit or mind of water, plants, animals, and even insects. Fantasy fans will enjoy this plucky heroine and her richly imagined world where magic abounds.

Half Human by Bruce Coville (editor).

Mermaids, selkies, centaurs, all in contemporary settings, are part of this collection of 10 short stories by such well-known authors as Jane Yolen, Tamora Pierce, and Nancy Springer. The stories revolve around the fascinating premise of creatures that are half-human, people who are half-animal. A young girl wakes up to the ultimate bad hair day--a head of snakes. A princess must learn to resist the dragon inside her. A young man brings his 300-year-old grandmother the gift of death. With each story, an intriguing computer-manipulated photograph illustrates the individual struggle with the animal side of human nature. Younger teens will be drawn to the horror and fascination of the stories; older ones can be nudged to see the myths, fairy tales, and legends that inspired the writers. All readers, however, will be intrigued with this unusual collection of well-written fantasies that illustrate the adolescent challenge of discovering both our animal and human natures. --Frances Bradburn, Booklist.

Feature Fun Friday - Old Spice Style

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Death is the Road to Awe by Clint Mansell [The Fountain soundtrack].

I don't know about you, but I seriously love the Old Spice guy. Really, I may have to go buy some Old Spice to exchange the hours spent in fits of giggling on his behalf. Besides being one of the best pick-me-ups when I'm down, he also has some very important stuff to say, this time about libraries. Enjoy and have a great weekend, everyone! There is some cool stuff coming next week - a review, a new Monday's Muse, and a very cool announcement/discovery (not mine, someone else's, but still very cool).

Best Graffiti Ever

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Don't Stop Believing by Journey (what else?).

This is probably the best graffiti I've ever seen in my life.

Firepetal Books - A Bookstore Review

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Wayfaring Summer by Arborea.

Ever since hearing that a bookstore exclusively for teen and children's literature was going to open, I've been dying to see it ever since. Well, I finally had the chance to go to Fire Petal Books in Utah, and I must say, it - is - awesome.

Tucked into a corner just off of main street in Centerville UT, it small but in a cozy, perfect way. Michelle Witte, owner and all around awesome gal is sweet and knowledgeable as they come. I cannot say how much I admire her for taking such an initiative and going boldly ahead with her dream. And what an awesome dream it is.

The first thing I noticed and fell in love with was the colors. Just look at them!

They made me want to stay in there forever.

Besides being a book gal of awesome, Michelle is a bit of an amateur artist. Love that picture (by the way, "Fire Petal Books" was inspired by her young niece when Michelle asked what she would name a bookstore).

Look at that beautiful couch! Don't you just want to curl up with a good book and maybe take a nap?...

Besides an absolutely heavenly environment, the selection of books was incredible. When I went they had just opened and had not received all of their shipments yet, but the books they had on hand were so good. They even had signed copies already. There were some books I had not even heard of, and that always makes me excited (yet another reason why I love independent bookstores).

I was going to buy more than usual, just to support them because the first year of a new business is always brutal, but then I started seeing the books… and I ended up buying even more than I anticipated. And one of the books I bought there is a little-known book and is probably one of the best books I've read this year.

But beyond psychedelic colors of coolness and books that make you want to spin around in joy, they have other literi merchandi.

Like "Team" Shirts - old school style. :)

Literary action figures, and this - zombie and unicorn playsets! This should so be sold with Diana Peterfreund's Rampant. :)

An awesome bookstore all around, and I would highly recommend anyone living in Utah or the near vicinity take a stop by there if you can. It is well worth it. And I have a feeling things are just going to get better as time goes on. :)

Feature Fun Friday - How Lord of the Rings Should Have Ended

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Africa by Toto.

So there's this amazing site called How It Should Have Ended. It is seriously the best part of the beginning of every month. They takes movies and show how they really should have ended. Pure joy, I tell you. Luckily for us, lots of movies are based off of books, so there is much enjoyment to be had. But this one is a real kicker for me, because I remember reading Lord of the Rings when I was fourteen and thinking this exact same thing. Have a fantastic long weekend, everyone! Stay safe!

Behind the Scenes 7 - YA Fantasy Showdown

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Still Alive by Lisa Miskovsky [Mirror's Edge soundtrack].

Alright. So the long awaited answer to the question: Will there be another YA Fantasy Showdown? A lot of you have already pledged your support (thank you), presented some great ideas and given some good suggestions on how things might be done better/differently. I've taken all of them in and thought over each and every one.

This showdown was fantastic in so many ways. It was bigger and better than I ever imagined. Did you know I was going to be happy if a couple hundred people showed up for the event? Well, let's just say there were a few more than that. :) I had such a blast, but it was a ton of work, more than I could probably try to explain and not go into PTSD. The undertaking was enormous. You mentioned several books you had never heard of before. We had to not only know them, but know them inside and out. Trust me, we heard from people if we didn't. :) So when someone said (I think it was a couple of people, actually) to make this showdown a bi-anual event, I literally almost fell off of my chair.

I loved this event, and your enthusiasm was truly infectious (I really was vowing that this would be a one-time gig), so the official answer is - a definite maybe.

But probably not for another year, at least.

The Logistics behind it:

The most obvious is the books themselves. The reading involved is crazy. Like I said, people know these characters and they are passionate about them. And if we were to do another one, we would have to be well versed long before the tournament opened, and that is not easy for a small team (like the one we had here) to do. It was suggested that we make this completely open-ended, give everyone the opportunity to write the battles, and then pick the best one and put that one in. It is a good idea and an ambitious one, but also requires it's own kind of intense work (depending on the level of submissions). But what if no one submits a battle for one? What then? (I'll tell you what then. It involves me, chocolate, ice cream, and all kinds of fun). This isn't to discourage anyone, but these are real concerns, and ones we faced this first time around. What if someone dropped out? What if it turns out someone hadn't read the book? Because that's a biggie. We can stack the first round, try and make it as even and fair as possible, but it becomes a Russian Roulette the second you open the gates. And it goes fast. There is no way you can predict who will be up against who. And so the people involved have to know almost all the books going in from the get-go. Is anyone willing to take that on?

Other things to consider - do we include old characters, or always pull in new ones?

Who would you want to be in the next tournament?

How big should it be? I think 32 characters was a wee bit too intense, especially for anyone else who might want to jump aboard. 16 is more manageable, plus, I kind of want to leave this one as a precedent, and keep it as something special. Let it be a hallmark to the first showdown we ever achieved.

Now, I love the idea of doing a villain version of the showdown (it sounds positively epic, actually), but do you realize what kind of undertaking THAT would be? Bad guys are usually fairly removed from a story. They are a force the main character must face in the end. Rarely do we get to see a story from their perspective. And that makes it infinitely harder when trying to write a battle of all baddies that doesn't involve a whole lot of maniacal laughter and little else. Because that would get boring, really fast. You have to get inside a character's head, and with villains that would be especially hard to make them both distinct and likable. But I'm all for it if it's possible. Another problem to consider is the availability of well-known or distinct villains. Voldemort instantly comes to mind, and maybe a few others. The villain version may have to be a much smaller tournament of maybe eight characters (so, three rounds, instead of four or five). And as a part of this brainstorm, I'm always open to suggestions.*

So in the end, it is a very distinct possibility, though I do not know exactly when. So keep an eye out on the YA Fantasy Showdown website. I will leave it up, static and available for everyone. And who knows, you may just see something pop up one day with the whispers of something new coming your way. :)

*Suggestions and tips are always welcome for this. This was an experiment and we really learned as we went.

Contest Time - YA Fantasy Showdown style.

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now) Antebellum by Vienna Teng.

Alright, I know anyone who is reading this blog this week is waiting for my answer of whether or not there will be another YA Fantasy Showdown. That is coming tomorrow, I promise.

But if you have to wait, this is a pretty good day to wait, because it is time for a contest.

I was so dumbfounded by the response to the showdown. You guys really were the ones that made it so incredible (did you realize there were 33,000 hits the first day alone?). I could not stop reading the comments you left because you guys were just so awesome. I was humbled and in awe, really. And I would like to give a fraction of my gratitude back to you, if I can. So here's the deal:

I'm giving away one of those books.

The winner will get to pick a book from the tournament that they'd never heard before but are now curious about/itching to read. I'll buy it and lickety-split it over to you. :)

So what will it be?

The cool, soul-tormented Daniel?

The mysterious, but often hilarious shape-shifter Goranu?

The fashionable, nine-lived sorcerer, Christopher Chant?

The insanely powerful but oh-so-awesome Katsa or Alanna?

The pale-skinned girl who can travel into death, Sabriel?

The girl who loves food and can throw herself into other's spirits, Ai Ling?

The unicorn killer (evil unicorns, mind you), Astrid?

The Viking girl with a foul mouth and an axe to match, Thorgil?

Or perhaps you just want to find out who this mysterious winner is, Eugenides.

All you have to do to enter is... tell me which book you want. No strings, no "must follow, must tell people" bits. That isn't what this is about. I love stories. And I love sharing great stories with people. That is why I did the showdown in the first place. Sure it was to celebrate Mockingjay and because I was going stir crazy waiting for it to come, but more than that, it was for the worlds undiscovered and the hopes someone might find something new and marvelous they hadn't known existed before. I love that, and I love sharing it.

So fire away. Tell me which book you want if you win (and a way to contact you, preferably. I'll post the winner, but in case you miss that day). Happy hunting, and I hope you find some place wonderful along the way.

Contest runs through September 25th (2010) at, oh for old time's sake, 9:00 PM EST. :) Thanks everyone, for making this whole thing such a joy to do!

EDIT: You can choose ANY book from the tournament. These were just a sampling to get your juices going. :) Good luck, everyone!