Diana Wynne Jones - Witch, Writer, Friend.

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Into the West by Annie Lennox.

I never met her. But all the same, that inextricable link between writer and reader was bridged long ago and I feel like I have know her for years. I wish I could be among the ranks of those honored enough to have known her. Pratricia Wrede thinks of her as the best kind of witch. Emma Bull remembers what it was like to be with such an absolutely electric personality. Neil Gaiman calls her a friend. To meet such a mind and a soul must have been something powerful and at the same time instantly natural, like family.

Her books reopened my imagination and gave to me the full idea of possibility. I will forever be indebted and grateful to her for that. She gave me the peculiar and the wonderful, the unique and the powerful. She showed me the strange, and that it was perfectly okay.

So many have said it better, and this is a weak memorial in comparison to those who knew her and who have written it far better, but I would not leave my voice out for all the words we know or stars in the sky. Like so many girls growing up, I was in need of hope, and strength, and a way to expand my view of the world and see it in a was I had never thought of before. Diana Wynne Jones gave that to me in rich abundance and so much more. In her stories there was almost always something there, something deeper and hidden behind the curtain, but she left it up to you to discover it. Nothing was ever simple, and rarely what it seemed on the surface. I imagine she herself was like that.

Thank you, Diana. For all you gave to those lucky enough to know you, personally, or like me, through the pages of a book. You changed me in more ways than I can here say.

I think another blogger concluded it well:

I fancy that Fantasyland has fallen very quiet today. And that every pennon of every castle, from the Tower of Sorcery to the Dark Citadel, has been lowered to honour the passing of the queen of fantasy.

And My Absolute Favorite Entry from The Tough Guide To Fantasyland

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Cymbeline by Lotreena McKennitt.


Oh yes. It is awesome.

Horses are of a breed unique to Fantasyland. They are capable of galloping full-tilt all day without a rest. Sometimes they do not require food or water. They never cast shoes, go lame or put their hooves down holes, except when the Management deems it necessary, as when the forces of the DARK LORD are only half an hour behind. They never otherwise stumble. Nor do they ever make life difficult for Tourists by biting or kicking their riders or one another. They never resist being mounted or blow out so that their girths slip, or do any of the other things that make horses so chancy in this world. For instance, they never shy and seldom whinny or demand sugar at inopportune moments. But for some reason you cannot hold a conversation while riding them. If you want to say anything to another Tourist (or vice versa), both of you will have to rein to a stop and stand staring out over a VALLEY while you talk. Apart from this inexplicable quirk, horses can be used just like bicycles, and usually are. Much research into how these exemplary animals come to exist has resulted in the following: no mare ever comes into season on the Tour and no STALLION ever shows an interest in a mare; and few horses are described as geldings. It therefore seems probable that they breed by pollination. This theory seems to account for everything, since it is clear that the creatures do behave more like vegetables than mammals. It also explains why ANGLO-SAXON COSSACKS and DESERT NOMADS appears to have a monopoly on horse-breeding. They alone possess the secret of how to pollinate them.

And there isn't any entry on Fairies/Faeries, Susan! I was absolutely shocked. But I also have the original version. I'll get the newer copy from my library and tell you if that one has an update!

The Tough Guide to Fantasyland

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Undisclosed Desires by Muse.

Besides creating strange and wonderful worlds for me to discover, Diana Wynne Jones left me another legacy, this one with far more practical application. If you couldn't guess from my blog's title, I am a writer. And if you didn't guess from yesterday's post about Howl's Moving Castle, I love fantasy. I love the idea of having possibility at your fingertips. The problem is, many stories of pure possibility fall into ruts.

Who has ever heard of the knight saving the princess story? Or how about the young, poor boy who falls in love with the princess story? I'm sure there are some more than a few ruts about pirates, prophecies, and heirs to the kingdom stories too.

That is where The Tough Guide to Fantasyland came in.

I've heard from quite a few sources that this was originally meant to be a companion book to her novel The Dark Lord of Derkholm. But it has since become something of an underground bible for fantasy writers.

It navigates you through almost every trope and cliche in the fantasy genre. And it is hilarious. I dare you to read this and not be on the floor gasping for air by the end. (Seriously, if I'm ever having a bad day, I pull this out and read a few entries. I feel better almost immediately. It's like cure-all).

Just like a travel guide brochure, it tosses you right into the action. With OMTs (Official Management Terms) and helpful cross references marked in CAPS for easier accessibility, it is a breeze. The Management (the author) has made this available to make your tour (the novel in question) easier. And from that you begin.

I'm not going to speak any more, because you'll know from the entries why this has become an underground gold mine for so many.

Incidents should happen at regular intervals on every tour. You should not be able to travel more than fifty miles without something happening. Usually the start small and work up to big,
1. Small Incidents include: AMBUSH (by BANDITS or LEATHERY-WINGED AVIANS); BETRAYAL, arrest by Imperial GUARDS; attack by prehensile TREES; SEX with a Tour Companion; an encounter with a WIZARD/DRAGON/MINION OF THE DARK LORD/Fortune Teller; bad WEATHER; crossing a RIVER; an arrow shot suddenly from nowhere (it will miss everyone and stick in a tree); stealing something from a MONASTERY/TEMPLE; a near-fatal visit from VAMPIRES in the night; stumbling into QUICKSAND...

Government in Fantasyland is another word for KING or TYRANT. Most AVERAGE FOLK seem to get on perfectly well without any of it.
See also POLITICS.

Weather is always wrong for what you are doing at the time. It varies from heat/drought, if you must travel quickly, to heavy rain, if you just need to travel. If you need to sleep rough, there is always a frost; invariably, if you have to cross MOUNTAINS, there will be a thunderstorm or blizzard. Some of the reason is that, despite obvious drawbacks, the Management nearly always arranges for Tours to set out in late autumn or early winter (see SEASONS). The rest is natural perversity. Weather is, too, remarkably apt to reflect the emotions of the Tour party. It is sullen and gray if the party is quarreling among itself, bright and springlike if everyone is happy. It is also very susceptible to MAGIC, particularly at sea, where STORMS can be raised in instants (see STORM CONTROL), and in DESERTS, where dust storms can be created almost as quickly. The general advice here is to keep smiling and avoid annoying WIZARDS.

Stew (the OMTs are thick and savory, which translate as "viscous" and "dark brown") is the staple FOOD in Fantasyland, so be warned. You may shortly be longing passionately for omelette, steak, or bakes beans, but none of these will be forthcoming, indoors or out. Stew will be what you are served to eat every single time. Given the disturbed nature of life int his land, where in CAMP you are likely to be attacked without warning (but see BATH) and in an INN prone to be the center of TAVERN BRAWL, Stew seems to be an odd choice as staple food, since, on a rough calculation, it takes forty times as long to prepare as a steak. But it is clear the inhabitants have not yet discovered fast food. The exact recipe for Stew is of course a Management secret, but it is thought to contain meat of some kind and perhaps even vegetables. Do not expect a salad on the side.

Legends are an important source of true information. They always turn out to be far more accurate than HISTORY... But no matter how improbably the story, it will always turn out to be the exact truth and only by following it accurately can you hope to succeed in your QUEST. The Management will never allow anyone to tell you a Legend unless it is going to be important for you to know.

This book at one time was not widely available. I had to pay an obscene price for an old 1996 copy. But in 2006 they released a revised and updated copy, though I must admit I am quite fond of my old cover.

So again, thank you Diana for making my life lighter, my writing better, and teaching me that High Priests are always evil, water is almost always safe to drink (unless given to you by an enchantress), and that everyone thankfully speaks the same language or a "Common Tongue." :)

Howl's Moving Castle

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now) Learn to Fly by Foo Fighters.

"In the land of Ingary where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of the three. Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes."

The moment I read those words, I knew I was in for something special and wholly wonderful. When I read them I was in high school and thought I knew everything. First of all stories, and especially any story with smallest fairy tale elements, never happen to the oldest sister. It is a near-cardinal law of the fairy tale universe. It is always the youngest who happens to always always be the prettiest. I hated that. I hated it. I am the oldest and all those stories seemed to teach me was you had to be fair, quiet, a princess (and the youngest princess at that). This was... different. To quote Nightmare Before Christmas, it was something new. Sophie is the oldest and a hat maker, and if that didn't turn my head, her turning into a ninety-year-old woman from a curse by the Witch of the Waste certainly did. So she must take refuge with the lecherous wizard Howl, who is said to eat girl's hearts. But of course, little is as it seems, as is so appropriate to Sophie's appearance.

To see Sophie (and indeed all the cast of Howl's Moving Castle) opened my eyes in a real way of who and what a book character could be. It was as if I had just taken off thick opaque lenses that had covered my entire vision and a much wider world opened up to me.

I knew stories and I knew fairy tales.* The girl was supposed to be sweet and charming and possibly even brave, but kind-hearted and good to the core. The hero would come and they would fall in love. He was dashing and kind. Diana Wynne Jones showed me a girl who were obstinate and contradictive, stubborn and who sometimes screamed and didn't always see things clearly and that was okay. She gave me a girl who fought with her at-the-time unknown love about whether to kill or keep spiders. She showed me a girl who made mistakes (many mistakes) and in turn it only made her more endearing. She showed me - myself. Not that I am that girl, but she gave me someone real, someone unique and someone I felt I knew.

But Diana also gave me something infinitely more valuable with this book. She gave me back my imagination. She took me back to the time when it was new and shiny, completely untouched, where anything within it was possible. I don't know how it happened, I certainly never noticed to slow, gradual closing of my vision, but my imagination became limited to a certain field, as if that was the definition and it knew what imagination and fantasy was.

Through many years (delightful years, mind you) I read story after story about poor orphan boys, and runaway children, chosen kids of prophecy with quests and swords and magical objects of untold power, simple horror stories and mysteries. Simple. Predictable. Safe. They weren't bad. I thoroughly enjoyed them. But they closed my limit of the world.

Then she came in and put a hole in my wall. She didn't come in by force or even in person. She just gave me a book, a story of my own to read, something new. And it changed everything. It blasted that veneer* and gave me castles that could move, doors that could take you different places with the turn of a knob, heroes who oozed green slime when they threw temper tantrums. It was like a breath of new air. Or very old air, because it was like remembering how to imagine again where there were no limits and anything was possible.

And it didn't end there. There were wizards with nine lives, stars who became dogs, good guys assigned to be bad guys for tourist's entertainment from an evil CEO, and so much more.

But this was the first, the first of a great many wonderful stories. And I will be forever grateful and indebted to her for that.

A few favorite quotes from Howl's Moving Castle

"Go to bed, you fool," Calcifer said sleepily. "You're drunk."
"Who, me?" said Howl. "I assure you, my friends, I am cone sold sober." He got up and stalked upstairs, feeling for the wall as if he thought it might escape him unless he kept in touch with it. His bedroom door did escape him.

"Yes, you are nosy. You're a dreadfully nosy, horribly bossy, appallingly clean old woman. Control yourself. You're victimizing us all."

"You've no right to walk into people's castles and take their guitars."

"You must admit I have a right to live in a pigsty if I want."

"I feel ill," [Howl] announced. "I'm going to bed, where I may die."

It is quite a risk to spank a wizard for getting hysterical about his hair.

"I'm delirious. Spots are crawling before my eyes."
"Those are spiders."

*I keep comparing this to a fairy tale, but it is not anything like one at all. It has elements common to fairy tales such as three sisters, and magic, and seven league boots, but little else. Like I said, it is something new. :)

Feature Fun Friday - Fury of the Phoenix

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Varuna by E.S. Posthumus

I must tell you about a story and sequel that has not been getting nearly enough love. Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon is lush, well written and unique because it is a freakin' Asian fantasy for heaven's sake (how often do you see those, seriously?), and it has enough gorgeous descriptions of food that you'll be wanting to clamor into the book to get a taste. <--true statement.

And the sequel, Fury of the Phoenix, comes out on Tues. They are brought to you by the incredible Greenwillow Books, the same team who does such amazing books like Howl's Moving Castle and Megan Whalen Turner's The Queen's Thief series. So you know you're in good hands. And plus, it's been endorsed by Cassandra Clare, if you needed any more convincing. ;)

So here is the trailer for Fury of the Phoenix! I'm also including the trailer for Silver Phoenix because I think it captures the atmosphere and feeling far better (and plus the music to the SP trailer is just swoonworthy). So you get two for the price of one! Have an amazing and fantastic weekend, everyone!

WriterGirl - An Introduction

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Heather's Song by Andy McKee.

Do you ever come to one of those crossroads and realize you're standing on a cliff and just saw how far down it is? That is how I felt about a week ago when I realized just how many followers I had.

Before, I'd been a little, under-the-radar, no one really noticing me, I-can-jump-around-and-be-silly-and-do-whatever-I-want kind of blog. But through the enormous generosity of others (I can hardly account for these surges myself, I promise), my followers have grown exponentially.

It has kind of made me feel like this.

I don't know where to begin. It feels like the spotlight is on me and I'm supposed to do something amazing, but... I don't know what. It's kind of terrifying (but new, too). What do I say? I'm a fairly private person, though you would probably never guess it. I love trying new things and sharing them. It brings me joy. But now the spotlight is on. What do I share? What is too much?

As a superhero, should I tell you how amazing and incredible I am?

The reason I chose the name WriterGirl, besides loving writing so much it aches, was because I wanted to be a superhero. I really did. But not the normal kind, with punching through walls or flying or anything like that. I wanted to be a superhero by being average. I wanted to show that if even I, who was the most ordinary girl out there, could have amazing adventures, no matter how big or small, then you could see them in your own life, and see yours is amazing too.

So instead, let me do this

Yeah, that's good. :)

Review - The Hollow Kingdom by Clare B. Dunkle

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Born To Be My Baby by Bon Jovi.

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 bestselling 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 Hollow Kingdom by Clare B. Dunkle
Published: October 1, 2003
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Pages: 240
Current Amazon Rank: #364,884
Author's Website: Here
Want it? Find it here.

The First Line:

She had never screamed before, not when she overturned the rowboat and almost drowned, not when the ivy broke and she crashed into the shrubbery below, not even when Lightfoot bucked her off and she felt her leg break beneath her with an agonizing crunch.

My Take:

First of all, welcome to all my new followers! This is so exciting, and I'm glad I can share such a wonderful book with you today. Now you've all heard of a plethora of paranormal romances out there. It is one of the most popular subgenres in YA right now. But I'm taking you back to an early one, long before there was much in the way or faeries, sirens, and all manner of paranormal beastie love interests. You've heard of werewolf and vampire love stories. You've perhaps even heard of rarer ones with descendants of the Fates, Furies, Gorgons, ghosts or even tengu. But how about a goblin love story? Well get ready, because that is exactly what this is.

Now you might be surprised because a goblin, even a goblin king, as a love interest sounds less than appealing. And you're right. And that is the point. And that is what makes this love story so engaging. Kate doesn't love Marak. He kidnaps her, for heaven's sake! She loves the woods, the moon and stars and outdoor things, but she is trapped underground where she is never allowed to leave and she will give birth to one child only and it will be hideous monster like all the creatures she is surrounded by at every turn. It is not an idealized picture, and Clare B. Dunkle does not paint it as anything less (in fact, I read once her inspiration for this story was the idea of captured brides from different cultures and how they must have felt). Marak, the goblin king, does not make light of it, nor does he ever trivialize her pain. But he is also practical and very pragmatic, and he needs to have a human bride to have an heir and he is responsible to take care of his people. And he cares for her, and falls in love himself, much faster than she does. This combination of circumstance and sympathetic characters from all sides make for a very engaging and unique story.

And fall in love, they do. It is slow and gradual process, but that is what I like about it because it feels more real and it is so much fun to watch as it develops before your eyes. Then, things change again. I'm not going to tell you what, but Kate has to leave the underground kingdom to save a people she once feared, but now cares for deeply. This East of the Sun, West of the Moon-like turn was another of my favorite parts and quite revealing of just how much things have changed for her.

It is the characters I love most. Kate is strong and intelligent and resourceful. How she evades Marak so long is hilarious to watch, especially seeing his frustration mount with each new failed attempt. And let's not forget Marak himself. Practical and always honest (as all goblins are), this particular trait actually becomes quite funny as he points out and says things that just aren't said in "polite" society. Which brings up an interesting point. Through the course of the story we see that our world isn't as bright and beautiful as we make it seem to be, especially in comparison to something like goblins. It was this other perspective that I thoroughly enjoyed. The rest of the cast, even the minor characters were well done. Several of the goblins with their strange combinations of different animals parts will grow on you. And I'm not saying who this character is, but Charm is fantastic. :)

Now this is a part of a trilogy, but after this book it shifts to different and sometimes new characters, as is problematic with many trilogies that stray from the original characters you fall in love with.

Because, honestly, I fell in love with these two first.

The Final Word: A quick read that has a lot in it. An excellent and unique book for paranormal or fantasy lovers looking for something different.

Monday's Muse, 30th edition.

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): The Plant-Boy's Song by Phillip Glass.

The idea of Monday's Muse 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:

Jane and Air by Angela Berrio.

Jane is plagued by disturbing thoughts—thoughts so terrible she doesn't dare reveal them to anyone. She performs needless rituals to distract her mind from these unwelcome, intrusive thoughts.

"Jane and Air" is the story of one unlucky girl’s rise above mental illness. The story begins near the end of Jane’s life. A therapist has suggested Jane work on overcoming her fear of water by spending time near large bodies of water. Jane misinterprets the advice and decides to start swimming at night in a reservoir near home. At this point in the story, she is obsessed with recovery more than she is afraid of death.

Then, in a flashback, we learn about Jane’s childhood. She was raised in an active, but atypical religious family. Jane’s mother obsesses about alternative health trends, and has indoctrinated Jane and her brother with fears of sin and disease. Her father lived overseas with the military for seven years, though, strangely, Jane does not remember meeting him until after his return, and now that he is back in her life, he does not speak to her. During a youth rafting trip, Jane almost drowns, spurring a lifelong obsession with dangerous bodies of water. Jane credits divinity for sparing her life and promises to never tempt God again by risking her life in any size of water larger than a bathtub. After graduation, and a particularly harrowing experience with her reclusive father, Jane decides to move away from home and attend college in another town. Jane becomes involved in an unlikely relationship with a college professor, fifteen years her senior, who, impressed by her intelligence, hires her as his teaching assistant.

When Jane becomes a mother, her intrusive violent thoughts lead her down a path of destruction and self-loathing. Jane struggles to preserve the integrity of her marriage and save the life of her child. Her diagnosis is simple. She has OCD. In an attempt to uncover the catalyst of her disease, her therapists encourage her to discover that nature of an early abusive episode which she remembers only vaguely. In a therapeutic attempt to forgive herself, Jane must first forgive her husband, and then she is forced to confront the darkest period of her life and walk in a child molester’s shoes.

The Balloon Boy of San Francisco by Dorothy Kupcha Leland.

This lively tale of Ready Gates, a teenaged boy growing up in 19th century San Francisco, is based on historical fact. Ready and his struggling family have recently arrived from the East coast with an eye toward making their fortune in the gold fields of California. But first, they must raise some money. Ready's father works in a brick factory, his mother is a seamstress and keeps boarders and Ready helps by selling daily newspapers on the streets. San Francisco is a rough and tumble city at this point in history, and the author does an excellent job of portraying the diversity and excitement of a bustling port city. Ready's dream is to go to the gold fields with his father, but his dream is delayed when his father is injured on the job. Ready must work harder and begins his career on the inside of the newspaper business. In the meantime, he meets a young girl, Lydia, searching for the brother from whom she has become separated. Ready spends his time between working and helping his friend search for her brother. When he notices an advertisement about a balloon ascension, Ready convinces his brother they should sell oranges at the event to make money. On the day of the event, the balloonist has difficulty launching the balloon. Ready, being lighter, offers to take the balloon up. The balloon takes off and does not come down until it reaches Sacramento. Ready is famous as the boy in the balloon and through his travels back to San Francisco locates Lydia's brother. Middle-school students will enjoy this fast-paced adventure with its descriptions that provide a lively look at being a teenager 150 years ago in America. -- Meredith Kiger.

Fever Crumb by Phillip Reeve.

Reeve's "Hungry City Quartet" (HarperCollins) remains a landmark of visionary steampunk imagination, with a future where traction cities roll about chasing down smaller cities, which they devour for parts in an exercise called Municipal Darwinism. Returning to this future, Reeve gives readers a story that takes place decades before the rise of the traction cities and examines the social and political milieu that led to that major societal change. Fever Crumb is the adopted daughter of Dr. Crumb, and the only female member of the Order of Engineers. Taken from the safety of the Order into the streets of London, Fever discovers a world where bands of Skinners have virtually exterminated a mutant race of people with speckled skin known as the Scriven. Suspected of being a Scriven herself, Fever must elude capture while she searches to find out who she really is. The answers she finds have far-reaching implications for the future of the world. Reeve is not just an excellent writer, but a creator with a wildly imaginative mind. The future London setting of this story is well imagined and feels like a place Charles Dickens might have described had he been a science-fiction writer. Plot details such as the origin story of the resurrected cyborg Stalker Shrike will resonate with fans of the earlier titles, but this book can also be read independently by those who are new to Reeve's work. A must for any fantasy collection.—Tim Wadham, St. Louis County Library, MO, School Library Journal.

Death in the Air: The Boy Sherlock Holmes (#2) by Shane Peacock.

After the harrowing experience of losing his mother while solving a brutal murder in London’s East End, young Sherlock Holmes commits himself to fighting crime … and is soon involved in another case. While visiting his father at the magnificent Crystal Palace, Sherlock stops to watch a remarkable and dangerous trapeze performance high above, framed by the stunning glass ceiling of the legendary building. Suddenly, the troupe’s star is dropping, screaming and flailing, toward the floor. He lands with a sickening thud just a few feet away, and rolls up almost onto the boy’s boots. Unconscious and bleeding profusely, his body is grotesquely twisted. In the mayhem that follows, Sherlock notices something that no one else sees — something is amiss with the trapeze bar! He knows that foul play is afoot. What he doesn’t know is that his discovery will put him on a frightening, twisted trail that leads to an entire gang of notorious criminals. Wrapped in the fascinating world of Victorian entertainment, its dangerous performances, and London’s dark underworld, Death in the Air raises The Boy Sherlock Holmes to a whole new level.

B for Buster by Iain Lawrence.

Set during the spring of 1943, Lawrence's novel is a harrowing account of combat told from the perspective of 16-year-old Kak. Like Jack in Harry Mazer's The Last Mission (1979), Kak lies about his age in order to join the air force. But Jack, a Jewish American, wants to fight Hitler; Kak, nicknamed for his tiny Canadian hometown, just wants to flee his loveless, abusive parents and "like Captain Marvel . . . change [himself] from a boy to a hero." After his first "op," though, Kak is deeply shaken. Bert, who cares for the pigeons, finds a way to comfort the boy by putting a prize pigeon in his care. The dense mechanical specifics of planes and equipment may slow some readers, but the tender lessons of courage that Kak learns from Bert and his bird are captivating. In Kak's young, raw voice, Lawrence writes a gripping, affecting story about the thrill of flying, the terrifying realities of war, and the agony of reconciling personal fears and ideals with duty and bravery. --Gillian Engberg, Booklist.

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel.

Matt Cruse is a cabin boy on the Aurora, a huge airship that sails hundreds of feet above the ocean, ferrying wealthy passengers from city to city. It is the life Matt's always wanted; convinced he's lighter than air, he imagines himself as buoyant as the hydrium gas that powers his ship. One night he meets a dying balloonist who speaks of beautiful creatures drifting through the skies. It is only after Matt meets the balloonist's granddaughter that he realizes that the man's ravings may, in fact, have been true, and that the creatures are completely real and utterly mysterious.

In a swashbuckling adventure reminiscent of Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson, Kenneth Oppel, author of the best-selling Silverwing trilogy, creates an imagined world in which the air is populated by transcontinental voyagers, pirates, and beings never before dreamed of by the humans who sail the skies.

Midnight Blue by Pauline Fisk.

Bonnie, a girl torn between the harsh reality of her mother's weaknesses and her grandmother's strong will escapes her home one day by sneaking into her neighbor's hot air balloon. But instead of flying into the clouds and back down, she lands in another world, something like her own, but both kinder and somehow much more terrifying. She's not sure if she can ever leave this nearly parallel world and return to her own. And if she did, she isn't sure she'll be able to bring back with her the sense of warmth and love she has grown to cherish. Amazingly, she does both.

Feature Fun Friday - Beyonders Launch Party

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Still Reaching by Fictionist.

Holy Swiss cheese, Batman. THIS is how a launch party should be. Sad I didn't go now (though that crowd is enough to make even gorilla blanch. Reminds me of The Twilight/Host signing I went to, but the average height is a bit smaller, I think). And why yes, that is indeed James Dashner, author of The Maze Runner and Shannon Hale, author of the Bayern books, on stage in full costume. Have a great weekend, everyone!

Are you ready to type fast?

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Speed of Sound by Coldplay.

Wow. Wowowowowowow. You know what? We're ending this. This ends, right here, right now. Yeah, that's right, get your fingers in gear. Meg did not email me. Repeat: Meg did not email me. So that means the prize us up for grabs again, and I am true to my word. The first person to comment and email me within the hour gets the prize, the whole kit and kaboodle. I don't even care if you're a follower anymore. If you live in the US and you comment and then email me, it's yours. If by some MIRACLE (but trust me, I'm really believing in a whole heck of a lot of unbelievable things after this) the first commenter does not email me with their email address, then in the second hour, the second commenter has an hour to email me, and so on and so forth. Like I said, this ends tonight *said in a deep, ominous voice* So, yes.



That is all.


HOLY HEAVENS, YES! We have a winner! I am so happy, I could cry. Thank you very much everyone for making this, uh... an extended treat. ;)

My Books Are Haunted. Or Cursed.

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Ghostbusters Theme. (yes I picked this one, but seriously, dudes).

I never in a million trillion and a half years expected this. My prize is cursed. Sure, when I nicknamed it the "book booty" I was referring to it being pirate treasure, because well, that's awesome, but I never thought it would go all Curse-of-the-Black-Pearl on me. *cue Hans Zimmer music* Meg didn't email me yesterday. I want to give this prize to you. I REALLLLLLY want to give this to you. Can I tell you how much I want to send this on its merry way? Like, a lot. A lot a lot. (and not this kind of alot).

(Any who don't get the reference, please refer yourself to Hyperbole and a Half and enjoy a newfound form of hilarity).

So Meg, you have until 5:00 PM EST time today before I pick a new winner, and this time I swear it's going to be the first one to put a comment down (in a new post. Don't worry, I'll tell you when/if the frenzy is going to begin. Easy guys, down). So yeah... I'm living with a cursed pile of books. Who knew? I wonder if I put them under the moonlight if they'll go all zombieified. I'm so testing that out tonight. *rubs hands together gleefully*

Contest Epic Winner

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): X & Y by Coldplay.

Nope, I'm not going to make you wait this time. The winner (hopefully!) of my Contest Epic is...

Meg! As in, like, four from the bottom of the comments Meg. Congratulations!!!

Email me you address and if you have an idea of the books you already want, go ahead and send those too and we'll get those prizes to you. Congratulations again! Wow, that was definitely a wild ride. Thanks everyone for coming along with me. :)

Feature Fun Friday - Book Domino WIN!!!

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): The Four Seasons Op. 8 Nos. 1-4, Concerto No. 2 In G Minor (L'estate/ Summer) by Sarah Chang.

This is awesome. Easily the best book domino video I have ever seen (uh, no, that doesn't mean I've been looking at book domino videos for a long time trying to find a really good one. I'm not that sad, lurking on YouTube that much. *shifty eyes*). Have a fantastic weekend, everyone!

Contest Epic REOPENED!!!

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Shadows by Au Revoir Simone.

Contest Epic has been reopened! But listen carefully because I don't want to have any other unfortunate mix-ups again. You must put a comment at the bottom of this post to be entered (that should get rid of the follower ID problem). You must be a follower to enter. You must come back to claim your prize. And the contest ends Friday, March 11, 2011 at midnight PST (tomorrow night). To make it fun, tell me your favorite YA fantasy book of all time and why. :) Alrighty then! Now that that's cleared out of the way, let's show you again what is in the booty. :)

Eleven of these deliciously wonderful books (the ones that have not already been claimed, of course)

And all of... this.

(oh, and since this is such a heavy item, this is for U.S only. I'm sorry international people! But if you have a friend/family in the U.S I can ship it to them). Winners announced Monday!

Very Excited and Happy to Spread the Love

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Message in a Bottle by The Police.

Don't worry, we'll get to the contest tomorrow (so make sure you check back - really). But today I want to talk about three things I am very excited for.

1. WriteOnCon. For those of you who are aspiring novelists yourself, this is something you don't want to miss. This is a writing conference that is free. Conferences are a fantastic (and sometimes debated "essential") way for networking and connecting with other writers and industry professionals. But the cost can be fairly steep at times. Hotel + airfare + transportation + conference registration fees = nightmare, not to mention your wallet gasping. But this is something completely new and different. Because it is online, it is free (did I mention it was free?) and you can come in and out as you need, because everyone's lives are very busy. AND it is focused on YA and Children's Lit. I cannot tell you how cool that is. And there are industry professionals participating, and these are superstars of their field. It takes place August, so I'm telling you in advance so you have no chance of missing it. Here is their website.

2. C.O.L.O.R. I won't say much about this for now, but I will be featuring this and the lovely Ari in the very near future. She has a wonderful idea on her hands.

3. Bookie Woogie. Those of you who have been around for any length of time know how much I love this blog. It is in fact perhaps my favorite book review blog on the web. Why? Because it is run by kids, by a family, in fact. Their dad is an illustrator (who is awesome at it, by the way) and they have over 3000 books in their library. But what is cool is that right now, he is doing an incredible contest, and I want to support them in any way I can. His new educational picture book is coming out, Chuckling Ducklings and Baby Animal Friends. To help promote it, he is offering to draw your favorite baby animal, one for every 5 comments (literally) that he receive on this post. So cool I would highly highly recommend buying his book. His other book, Hiccupotamus, is hilarious, and I expect nothing but the same quality in this one as well. Plus, it's World Read Aloud Day (or so I'm told), so what better way to celebrate than to go buy a book you can, you know, read aloud. :)

Well, this is weird.

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now) Stars by Switchfoot.

So, um, more developments in Contest Epic. The second winner never claimed the prize either. You know, the big UBER prize with eleven books and a ton of swag? Yeah... this has never happened before. I'm in kind of a quandary about what to do. The form asked for your follower ID and email address, and I'm wondering if this made people think I was going to contact them directly if they won. The real reason behind the email address was so I could verify I had the right winner in case of a common name (I saw several names like "Misty" "Sarah" and the like as the followers started coming in) and most blogs have an email to contact them. Because I always wanted (and really hoped) the new followers would want to come back.
I'm not sure what to do.

A couple of options:

Email the first winner (Stella - Ex Libris) and give her the prize?
Pick a new winner?
-but if so, how?

Any ideas would be welcome. I want this to be fair (and fun, goodness. Really, this is so weird). Good news I suppose, the Uber Prize pack is potentially back on the market. That's got to make a few people smile.

P.S All other prizes have been mailed and are now on their way. :)

Monday's Muse, 29th edition.

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): (born in the 80s) by Juno Day.

The idea of Monday's Muse 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 Girl Who Was on Fire: Your Favorite Authors on Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games Trilogy by Leah Wilson (editor).

Praised by writers from Stephen King to Stephenie Meyer, Suzanne Collins’ New York Times bestselling Hunger Games trilogy is dark, captivating, and deeply thought-provoking. Part straight-up survivalist adventure, part rich allegory, and part political thriller, the series has become a new YA favorite.

The Girl Who Was On Fire offers even more to think about for teen readers already engrossed by the Hunger Games. From the trilogy's darker themes of violence and social control to reality television, fashion, and weaponry, the collection's exploration of the Hunger Games by other YA writers reveals exactly how rich, and how perilous, protagonist Katniss’ world really is.

Forgotten Fire by Adam Bagdasarian.

Forced to watch his father escorted out of their lives by Turkish police, his brothers shot to death in their backyard, his grandmother murdered by a rock-wielding guard, and his sister take poison rather than be raped by soldiers, 12-year-old Vahan Kendarian abruptly begins to learn what his father meant when he used to say, "This is how steel is made. Steel is made strong by fire." Up until 1915, Vahan has lived a cosseted life as the son of a wealthy and respected Armenian man. But overnight his world is destroyed when the triumvirate of Turkish leaders, Enver Pasha, Talaat Bey, and Djemal Pasha, begins the systematic massacre of nearly three-quarters of the Armenian population of Turkey, 1.5 million men, women, and children. Soon Vahan is an orphan on the run, surviving by begging, pretending to be deaf and mute, dressing as a girl, hiding out in basements and outhouses, and even living for a time with the Horseshoer of Baskale, a Turkish governor known for nailing horseshoes to the feet of his Armenian victims. Time and again, the terrified and desperate boy grows close to someone--and loses him or her to an appalling, violent death. Through three years of unspeakable horror, Vahan is made stronger by this fire, and by perseverance, fate, or sheer luck, he survives long enough to escape to the safe haven of Constantinople.

Brutally vivid, Adam Bagdasarian's Forgotten Fire is based on the experiences of his great-uncle during the Armenian Holocaust. The absolutely relentless series of vile events is almost unbearable, but the quiet elegance of Bagdasarian's writing makes this a novel of truth and beauty. Parental guidance is strongly suggested for younger readers of this extraordinary, heartbreaking account. --Amazon Review.

Secrets in the Fire by Henning Mankell.

The powerful story of one girl's indomitable spirit after surviving a land mine in war-ravaged southern Africa.

It is the wise old woman of the village who teaches young Sofia about the secrets in the fire. Within the flames hide all things past and all things yet to be. But not even old Muazena can see the horrors the fire holds for Sofia and her family -- not the murderous bandits who drive them from their home, and not the land mine that takes Sofia's legs.

In her long journey toward recovery, Sofia must still deal with growing up. Along the way, she discovers friends, and foes, in places she'd never expected. Through it all, Sofia draws on a strength she never knew she had, a fire of her own that's been a secret all along.

Real-life land mine victim Sofia Alface is the inspiration for Henning Mankell's stunning novel which puts a very human face on the suffering in Africa.

Dandelion Fire by N. D. Wilson.

Henry York never dreamed his time in Kansas would open a door to adventure—much less a hundred doors. But a visit to his aunt and uncle’s farm took an amazing turn when cupboard doors, hidden behind Henry’s bedroom wall, revealed themselves to be portals to other worlds. Now, with his time at the farm drawing to a close, Henry makes a bold decision—he must go through the cupboards to find the truth about where he’s from and who his parents are. Following that trail will take him from one world to another, and ultimately into direct conflict with the evil of Endor.
The Girl Who Was On Fire covers all three books in the Hunger Games trilogy.

Isles of Fire by Wayne Thomas Batson.

"A great explosion rocked the crowded harbor. Flaming debris screamed into the sky and then rained down into the burning water below. The ferocious blaze engulfed ship after ship expanding the circle of destruction in mere heartbeats. The fire rain had been unleashed."

As Cat's memory returns, he realizes that he has lived two very different lives: One as the son of the ruthless Bartholomew Thorne; the other as the recipient of friendship and kindness from Declan Ross and the crew of the Robert Bruce. Now Cat must choose whether to return to the ways of his notorious father and join the evil Merchant, or defy the Merchant and risk his life to save his friends.

The best-selling Isle of Swords adventure continues in Isle of Fire as ancient mariners rise from legend and cut an all-too-real swath of destruction across the Atlantic. The newly formed Wolf Fleet scours the Caribbean, hunting the pirates they once called comrades. And in the pitiless winds of a monstrous hurricane, whole fleets will be blasted apart and devoured.

Fire Bringer by David Clement-Davies.

Clement-Davies makes an impressive writing debut with this multilayered animal fantasy featuring red deer, who refer to themselves as the Herla, as the main characters. Rannoch is born on the night that Drail, the leader of his herd, and Drail's corrupt and power-hungry advisor, Sgorr, overturn the order of the herd and establish a new regime. Rannoch is a threat to Drail's command; the oak leaf-shaped mark on his forehead is the mark of an ancient prophecy among the Herla. At first gifted with the ability to hide in plain sight, Rannoch eventually is forced to flee along with some of his friends, and he begins the long quest to unravel his identity and fulfill the prophecy. Although the suspenseful, well-paced plot is typical of many high fantasies, Clement-Davies weaves deer lore, a societal structure, and mythology into the tale, infusing it with multiple layers of meaning. Rannoch, for example, reflects on issues of faith and of the misuse of faith as he encounters different reactions to Herne, the Herla's god. None of these elements are intrusive; the author makes them integral to the story. The narrative is gripping and engrossing, right up to the satisfying climax and conclusion, and it has wide appeal across age and intellectual levels. The characterizations are strikingly complex and convincing, whether hero or villain, staying true to throughout their development. There are a few awkwardly written passages, but overall, the writing is rich, lucid, and sure to win loyal readers. --VOYA.

Firelight by Sophie Jordan.

A hidden truth.
Mortal enemies.
Doomed love.

Marked as special at an early age, Jacinda knows her every move is watched. But she longs for freedom to make her own choices. When she breaks the most sacred tenet among her kind, she nearly pays with her life. Until a beautiful stranger saves her. A stranger who was sent to hunt those like her. For Jacinda is a draki—a descendant of dragons whose greatest defense is her secret ability to shift into human form.

Forced to flee into the mortal world with her family, Jacinda struggles to adapt to her new surroundings. The only bright light is Will. Gorgeous, elusive Will who stirs her inner draki to life. Although she is irresistibly drawn to him, Jacinda knows Will's dark secret: He and his family are hunters. She should avoid him at all costs. But her inner draki is slowly slipping away—if it dies she will be left as a human forever. She'll do anything to prevent that. Even if it means getting closer to her most dangerous enemy.

Mythical powers and breathtaking romance ignite in this story of a girl who defies all expectations and whose love crosses an ancient divide.

Fire by Robin McKinley and Peter Dickinson.

Master storytellers Robin McKinley and Peter Dickinson, the team behind Water: Tales of Elemental Spirits, collaborate again to create five captivating tales incorporating the element of fire.

In McKinley’s “First Flight,” a boy and his pet foogit unexpectedly take a dangerous ride on a dragon, and her “Hellhound” stars a mysterious dog as a key player in an eerie graveyard showdown. Dickinson introduces a young man who must defeat the creature threatening his clan in “Fireworm,” a slave who saves his village with a fiery magic spell in “Salamander Man,” and a girl whose new friend, the guardian of a mystical bird, is much older than he appears in “Phoenix.”

With time periods ranging from prehistoric to present day, and settings as varied as a graveyard, a medieval marketplace and a dragon academy, these stories are sure to intrigue and delight the authors’ longtime fans and newcomers alike.

Feature Fun Friday - Goodnight Dune

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Don't Cry Out by Shiny Toy Guns.

This is for the screaming nerd inside of me. The novel Dune? Awesome. The book Goodnight Moon? Awesome. Combine them together? Most epic bedtime story ever.

(this is a fan reading, but still - so cool). You can see the original here at goodnightdune.com. Thank you Julia Yu! Have a fantastic weekend, everyone!

New Winner!

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Transformation by Phil Collins [Brother Bear soundtrack].

Okay, new winner! Isn't this exciting? Colene Murphy, will you please email me by tonight (preferably) but no later than tomorrow night. I really would love to get these prizes to everyone as soon as possible. Congratulations!

Review - The Butler Gets a Break by Kristin Clark Venuti

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Courtyard Lullaby by Loreena McKennitt.

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 bestselling 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 Butler Gets a Break by Kristin Clark Venuti
Published: October 12, 2010
Publisher: Egmont USA
Pages: 240
Current Amazon Rank: #1,082,866
Author's Website: Here
Want it? Find it here.

The First Line:

[Coming Soon].

My Take:

How on EARTH does this have such a low amazon ranking? Really, how? Seeing it in the 1,00,000 mark when it just came out last year makes my heart sad. Because really, this is a sweet and positively adorable book, you guys. Check it out of the library if not buying it outright (I sure as heck am).

This is a second in (hopefully) an ongoing series of the most eccentric family you've ever seen and the butler who holds them all together. We have Spider, the fourteen-year-old boy who loves animals, but only if they are endangered and can possibly decapitate or poison you in some way. Then there's Ninda, who loves to help people, even if it is against their will. The mad scientist father (in every sense of the word) and the artist mother who will never stop painting. Oh, and the triplets who love general mayhem and destruction and call it art. In the first, Leaving the Bellweathers, Tristan Benway is about to do just that. But by the end (and I don't think this is a surprise for anyone considering the title of this book), he decides to stay. But the triplets are up to their usual antics, making art with chainsaws and other such harmless devices. This time they are focusing on "negative space" - literally - as Benway soon accidentally discovers when he falls down a rather large hole in the stairs and breaks his leg.

While he is recovering and they feeling terrible, the family tries to find a temporary replacement because they really cannot function without Benway. But, it turns out, for some strange reason, no one will take them on. So... they make up a pretend butler so Benway can make a full recovery without worrying. But in their trying to hide the truth from one of their most loved members of their family, this "new" butler seems all too perfect, and Benway begins to wonder if he was ever needed at all, even as things are falling apart at the seams.

I love the further development of this story, and the small hints of growth seen in all of the characters. It's subtle, but wonderful. And the trouble they get into! Before, Benway had to deal with a rather snippy albino aligator. This time, it is viscous man-attacking squirrels. I love the added depth to the characters continuing from the first book (and we find out our rather prim butler is quite the die-hard for soap operas). ;) As one point of growth, Spider tries to reign in the attack-squirrels that are now on the loose himself (though that is not entirely his fault, as you will see). And there are many more antics to boot from all members of this wonderful family.

This story is sweet, hilarious, and endearing. I really love it. Granted, I don't like whenever the triplets talk they talk in ALL CAPS. However. It does make a strong impression when they start whispering and the hairs begin to rise on the back your neck because you know they are Up To No Good. Really, I love this story. I love this series. I want there to be more of them but I am not sure how likely that is given the poor selling of this latest one. This is definitely a hidden gem in every sense of the word. This is reason why I do these reviews. This book is... so good. It should have never fallen to the wayside.

The Final Word: Love the characters, love the story. It is sweet, eccentric, and endearing. Randomness abounds. Hilarity ensues, all while warming your heart. Definite recommend.


Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on ipod right now): Come and See by Young Galaxy.

[Edit]: If the winner of the Uber Prize Pack does not contact me by tonight (3.2.11), I will use the randomizer again and pick a new winner. Possible good news for some of you. :)

I'm so torn on whether to torture you and force you to scroll an inordinate amount or just announce it straight out of the gate. Who am I kidding? You're probably scrolling anyway. Hmm... what if I make it tiny print so you pass by it? Nah, no fun in that. But that doesn't mean I can't force you to work for it! Bwa ha ha! Exercise that tiny finger, go!

For those of you who have stuck around, rock on. You're will power is great indeed. It is like a shining, glowing aura that.... glows. But for those of you who have stuck around, here are the winners of the referral packs, who get first picks even before the Uber Prize Pack (DO YOU HEAR ME DOWN THERE, YOU CHEATING SCROLLERS? *echoes*)

Ellz from Ellz Reads = 2
Chloe from YA Booklover = 2
Lexie from Book Bug = 3
Roxo Trevol = 1

I am giving Ellz and Chloe 2 books because they were insanely close from the second marker. Also, Michelle, Roxo, and Avery, if you want a poem or short story, email me ASAP. Or if you don't want one, that's fine too.


Now it's down to the Uber Prize Pack. (Don't worry scrollers, I'm sure you'll see this on your way back up). ;) Filled with eleven glorious books of wonder and enough swag to choke a horse. Are you ready for this?




Nope. Not there yet.

Not even close!

*checks watch*

*taps it to see if it's working*

Tired yet? ;)

I told you I'd make you work for it. ^_^

You know I'm timing this to music, right?

Think I can last a whole chorus? :)

Yep. That's a chorus. :) Shall we try for the intro to Stairway to Heaven? ;)

Nah, I'm not that mean.

Ready? The winner is coming up...



Congratulations Stella (Ex Libris)!!! Be good an wise with all uber prize awesomeness. Everyone who has won, please email me your book choices and your addresses so I can get them to you as soon as possible. Thank you guys so much for making this so much fun! I'm hoping I can do this something like this (i.e lots of cool prizes to give away) again some time in the future. Thank you again! :D