Of Rats and Reviews

(Which is not to say that I am calling reviewers rats… these are just two separate thoughts tucked together in one post. And they both started with R, so there you go.)

First the review part...  Fuse #8 is asking people to vote on which 2009 book should be her last review of the year, and THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. is on her maybe-list.  I’ve long enjoyed the thoughtful reviews on this blog and would love to hear her take on Gianna Z, so I’d love it if you’d click here and vote if you haven’t already! 

Now the rats… 
We’re headed to Montreal tomorrow to pick up two baby Dumbo rats, a belated Christmas present for my daughter. I thought we’d have her unwrap the cage on Christmas and then drop by the pet store the next day to pick up the rats.  But Dumbo rats are apparently not that easy to find, or so I discovered after calling every pet store in Northern NY and Vermont and some in New Hampshire. Finally today, I found a breeder in Montreal, and after several hours of emailing back and forth in French (those four years of high school French helped…some…), we are headed north tomorrow to pick up two residents for the cage in the basement.  Here’s one of them. 

I think his big ears are cute.  I also think after all this, the rats should probably have French Canadian names, but we’ll see…  Any suggestions?

Great Books Coming in 2010: DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS by C.J. Omololu

Book by book, I’m reading and recommending my way through the fantastic ARCs I picked up at NCTE. I had been looking forward to C.J. Omololu’s YA novel DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS for two reasons. First, I know Cynthia online and had read about her book sale. And second, my Walker editor  Mary Kate is also the editor of this book, and I know how excited she is about it. I read DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS in a single sitting — on the plane home from NCTE, actually — and it kept me turning pages long after I should have been sleeping.  

It’s a great, compelling read. This YA novel takes place over a mere 24 hours, but what a 24 hours it is. It’s the day when everything changes for Lucy, a girl whose mother is a compulsive hoarder. For years, that fact has shaped her life. She’s worried about the smells of her family’s kitchen following her out of the house, worried about friends who invite her to sleep over when she can never reciprocate, and worried that someone will learn her family’s dirty little secret. In the very early pages of this novel, a tragic turn forces Lucy to make a decision about how to handle her mother’s hoarding…and her own future.

Powerful and page-turning, this book would be a great choice for literature circles in grades 7 and up, particularly because it has an ending that will get readers talking in a big way. I still can’t stop thinking about it. Highly recommended.

MAGIC UNDER GLASS by Jaclyn Dolamore

My editor was kind enough to send me an early copy of MAGIC UNDER GLASS by Jaclyn Dolamore, and I finished this book so recently, I can still hear the ticking of the clockwork automaton in my brain. It’s a story that will stay with me for a long time, set in a world that was pure delight to visit.  I can’t wait to buy a few more for my classroom. I already have a mental list of students who are going to love it.

The world created in MAGIC UNDER GLASS is one firmly grounded in social classes and politics, yet it still swirls with spirits and fairies that are completely believable. The main character, Nimira, is a dance-hall girl who finds herself taken into the home of a wealthy sorcerer, where she’s commanded to sing with a clockwork automaton who plays the piano. It turns out, though, there’s more to him than cogs and gears, and that "something more" captures Nimira’s heart and mires her in a seemingly impossible plot to save him.

I love the strength of the girl characters in this book, not only the charming, clever Nimira, but also the supporting characters, right down to the maid who pulled out a move that had me cheering near the end of the book.

While the book is officially being labeled as YA fantasy, it’s also perfectly appropriate for younger advanced readers who appreciate fantasy and romance. MAGIC UNDER GLASS a beautifully written story that somehow has the feeling of being completely fresh and a classic all at once. Highly recommended…especially if you need a last-minute gift for a tween or teen girl.  MAGIC UNDER GLASS comes out this Tuesday, December 22.

Note: This is the UK cover, which I think I might like even better than the US cover above.  They’re both gorgeous, though, befitting a beautifully written book.

Agent Appreciation Day: With Gratitude to “Literaticat”

I’m late to the party, but someone has declared today Agent Appreciation Day. Since I think it’s always a great idea to celebrate people who do great work, I’m sneaking in a quick post about my literary agent, Jennifer Laughran of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (She’s here on LJ and on Twitter, where she talks a lot about books and says wise things about the industry.)

For blog readers outside the world of publishing, a literary agent is someone who negotiates much of the business part of writing for authors — the book deals and contracts and any other film or foreign rights that grow out of something an author has written. Some agents, like Jennifer, also offer editorial advice to help get an author’s manuscript in the best possible shape before it’s submitted to editors. Agents help authors to shape their careers and generally act as advocates for writers and their work.

Given all that, I’m so very glad that Jennifer is in my corner. For starters, she’s sold six books for me in the two years we’ve worked together. But beyond that, Jenn is one of the smartest, funniest people I know and works harder than anyone I’ve ever met. She is a great communicator with an unflappable positive attitude, and she’s a tireless advocate for her clients. She cheers for our books both before and after they’ve sold. And she loves books just as much as I do.

Thanks, Jenn, for all that you do!

Because I loved too many 2009 books to have a Top Ten…

Here is a big, whomping list of 2009 titles that I read and loved. They’re linked to my reviews, author interviews, or IndieBound, and sorted in ways that I hope will help you buy them for holiday gifts. Everyone needs books. Especially these…

For your dystopian fiction fan…
CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins (but you already knew about that one, huh?)
CANDOR by Pam Bachorz
GENESIS by Bernard Beckett
GIRL IN THE ARENA by Lise Haines

For your supernatural romance fan…
NEED by Carrie Jones
HUSH, HUSH by Becca Fitzpatrick
SHIVER by Maggie Stiefvater
WINGS by Aprilynne Pike

For your middle grade fantasy & fairy tale lover…
ASH by Malinda Lo
THE DRAGON OF TRELIAN by Michelle Knudsen

For fans of historical fiction…
RIOT by Walter Dean Myers
WINNIE’S WAR by Jenny Moss
DAY OF THE PELICAN by Katherine Paterson
THE STORM IN THE BARN by Matt Phelan (magical, historical graphic novel!)
(and these last two are for older HF fans…)
FLYGIRL by Sherri L. Smith
BUG BOY by Eric Luper

For YA readers who enjoy a good cry…
20 BOY SUMMER by Sarah Ockler
IF I STAY by Gayle Forman

For coffee-shop romance lovers… (How’s that for a distinctive category?)
COFFEEHOUSE ANGEL by Suzanne Selfors
THE ESPRESSOLOGIST by Kristina Springer

For fans of realistic YA fiction…
ONCE WAS LOST by Sara Zarr
WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson
HATE LIST by Jennifer Brown
PURGE by Sarah Darer Littman
HOW TO SAY GOODBYE IN ROBOT by Natalie Standiford

For tween readers…
SCAT by Carl Hiaassen
OPERATION YES by Sara Lewis Holmes
WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead
ANYTHING BUT TYPICAL by Nora Raleigh Baskin
11 BIRTHDAYS by Wendy Mass

For fans of nonfiction…
MARCHING FOR FREEDOM by Elizabeth Partridge

For your older teen reader ready for adult books…
THE MAGICIANS by Lev Grossman

For the teacher in your life…
THE BOOK WHISPERER by Donalyn Miller

Are you still here? What are you waiting for? Go on… Get book-shopping!

Great Books Coming in 2010: WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON

When I attended NCTE last month, I came home with a pile of advance reader copies of 2010 novels. (So many, in fact, that at one point, the bag in which I was carrying them exploded in a rather spectacular fashion, strewing ARCs in about a ten foot radius around the conference center floor, but that is a whole ‘nother story.)

Anyway, because I understand how important these early copies are to authors and publishers and because I know they cost a lot to produce, I only take them with a promise to myself to share recommendations wherever I can. So this will be the first in a long-ish series of bookish thoughts from NCTE. All are from review copies supplied by publishers unless otherwise noted.

WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON is a collaboration between YA legends John Green and David Levithan, which is probably enough information to make you want to read it. But if not…also know that it is an amazing book.

A few things occurred to me after I’d read just the first couple chapters.

1. There are lots of YA books that are great to share with my 7th grade middle school students. This is not one of them. It’s really a book for high school and up.

2. This is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. Laugh-out-loud, snorting-milk funny. And smart.

3. Personally, I wish this book could be required reading for anyone who still believes that it is somehow okay not to give gay people the same rights as straight people. It’s a book that fosters understanding and empathy as well as anything I’ve ever read.

What else is WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON? It’s about two guys named Will Grayson who meet serendipitously. It’s written in both their voices (John Green writes the Will Grayson who writes with both upper and lower case letters, I confirmed when I asked about it via Twitter)

It’s a book about friendship and looking for love, about finding it and losing it, about dusting yourself off and trying again. It’s about skipping in the parking lot and singing — loudly — no matter who’s listening or what they say.

There’s a Broadway-esque musical within the novel that pretty much captures the whole spirit of the thing. You know those great Broadway shows, where the ending is so feel-good and cheesy but at the same time, so amazing and perfect that it couldn’t have ended any other way? And then when it’s over you just want to stand up and hug the stranger next to you and rush out and change the world? It’s like that.

It’s a wonderful, wonderful book. (Coming from Dutton in April 2010).

NYC: A story of snow, signing, sparkles, & soup dumplings

This weekend’s Books of Wonder signing in Manhattan was one of those author-moments I’ll tuck away and keep for pretty much ever. It was just that special, in part because we made a family weekend of the event, driving down to New York Saturday afternoon. We actually stayed here…

…in a tiny bed & breakfast that a delightful artist runs out of her three-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side. The place was beautifully decorated, cost about a third of what a hotel room would have run on this busy weekend and gave us a view of city life that you don’t get staying at a midtown high rise. Plus, it was only a block from the train, so right after we unloaded the car, we hopped on the subway and headed downtown to see the lights.

We walked to Rockefeller Center in the snow-sleet-rain-slush mix to see the Christmas tree.

It’s a little blurry because I was shivering.

So we hustled a few blocks over to Joe’s Shanghai for some of these soup dumplings that I learned about from Alvina Ling on Twitter.

These are the crab soup dumplings. To eat them, you plop one in a big spoon and sort of nibble a bite out of the top to let the soup inside cool a little bit. Then you can slurp it out and eat the noodle and the rest of the filling. They were delicious and warmed us right up.

Sunday was a day of strolling along Fifth Avenue, checking out the window displays until we made it down to Books of Wonder on 18th Street, where I was signing THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. along with seven other debut authors and their awesome books.

2009 Debut Author Event

MICHELLE ZINK Prophecy of the Sisters
JON SKOVRON Struts and Frets
MEGAN CREWE Give Up the Ghost
SHANI PETROFF Daddy’s Little Angle: Bedeviled #1
KATE MESSNER The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z
NEESHA MEMINGER Shine Coconut Moon
DEVA FAGAN Fortune’s Folly

My family actually ran into Deva Fagan, the author of FORTUNE’S FOLLY, at City Bakery right before the event, so we walked over to the bookstore together and were greeted at the door with this big, beautiful display.

Here’s Peter Glassman, the man behind the incredible Books of Wonder. He introduced our panel to the audience, and everyone gave a short reading before the Q and A session.

Here’s part of the audience for the panel – and check out the cool children’s book art on the walls!

Here I am with Anna Dalziel, publicist for Bloomsbury/Walker, who wore her autumn leaves shirt just for the occasion. (Thanks, Anna, for coming out to the event on your day off!)

Here’s Anna with Rebecca Stead, whose 2009 novel WHEN YOU REACH ME is one of my all-time favorites.

It was so great to see all the authors who came out for the event (wishing I’d taken more photos!) like Laurie Calkhoven and Heidi R. Kling. I also had a chance to chat with Barry Lyga, whose YA novels I’ve admired for a long time. I’ve said it before, and I thought it a million times this weekend… The people I’ve met through my books are truly one of the best gifts of writing.

Thanks so much to everyone who came out on a busy Sunday for our Books of Wonder event…and know that if you missed it but want a book signed by any of the authors, you can call Books of Wonder (212-989-3270) to order one, and they’ll happily send it your way.

I have to mention two last things.

1. The Book

Books of Wonder has a big, beautiful book of author/illustrator autographs from its events over the years, and we all got to add our notes of thanks. It was pretty cool to be signing a book with Suzanne Collins and Ann Martin just a page or two away…

and 2. The Other Book

The one that my E had signed by Deva at the event. She read it all through dinner.

Thanks, Deva! And thanks to Sarah, Neesha, Michelle, Jon, Megan, Shani, Peter and all the other Books of Wonder people, and everyone who came out for our event. It was an afternoon to remember, for sure.