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June 2008

Mirrored Heavens: David J. Williams on the Future

David J. Williams' intriguing Mirrored Heavens is set in a 22nd century in which a space elevator has just been destroyed by a mysterious insurgent group called Autumn Rain. US counterintelligence agents Claire Haskell and Jason Marlowe are assigned to finding out more about Autumn Rain. Superpowers move to the brink of war and Haskell and Marlowe find themselves as much hunted as hunter in this action-packed thriller. The novel comes with glowing endorsements from Stephen Baxter and Nancy Kress, among others. I interviewed Williams recently, via email, to get his thoughts on the future...

Mirror

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Pop Culture Report #4: Bringing the Big Books

Check out my latest Pop Culture Report (#4), in which I look at some great graphic novels, coffee table books, and one huge art book on an iconic dark fantasy figure. This time around, visual reviews of work by Greg Broadmore, Taylor F. Lockwood's Chasing the Rain, Out of Picture 2, Andrew Bolton's Superheroes: Fantasy and Fashion, First Second's Drawing Words and Writing Pictures, Centipede Press' The Art of Lovecraft, classic reprinted Moomim comics from Drawn & Quarterly, and a Fog Mound children's book featured in this week's upcoming Graphic Novel Fridays. As always, this is a DIY, come-into-my-home-and-look-at-some-books kind of video...

Daniel Grandbois' Lucky Unlucky Lucky Days

Daniel Grandbois' writing has appeared in Conjunctions, Fiction, Boulevard, Sentence, Del Sol Review, and the anthologies Freak Lightning and Online Writing: The Best of the First Ten Years. An accomplished musician, he has played in several Denver-based bands. This month his first book, Unlucky Lucky Days hits bookstores. It's an intriguing, nicely-packaged fiction collection divided into a week's worth of 73 short-shorts. Some of these stories are funny, others unsettling. One of my favorite writers, Brian Evenson, has said of Unlucky Lucky Days, "Grandbois is the master of the double-edged word, of stories that both cut through the world like butter and double-back to saw themselves to bits." I recently interviewed Grandbois about fiction, music, and Buckwaldo Mudthumper. Included after the interview is an exclusive excerpt from the book.

Grad  Grandbois

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End-o'-the-Week Kid-Lit Roundup

In this week's Kid-Lit Roundup, we visit Harry Potter in China and eventually come around to dancing with a pig and an elephant:

Learn a Harry Potter spell in Chinese. Heidi and I discovered the hip language-learning site ChinesePod before our trip to China a couple years ago. We still get their e-mails, and we were excited to see this week's lesson using Harry Potter--or "Hali Bote," as he's transcribed in the comments. Harry is pretty popular in China (he apparently has his own statue in a housing development somewhere), and you can find the books in nearly every street-side book cart.

Rogernyc2Podcast Pick: Roger Sutton talks to kid-lit historian Leonard Marcus. Roger Sutton, the head of Horn Book (and a prolific and entertaining blogger besides) recently traveled to NYC and interviewed Leonard Marcus, the author of the acclaimed Minders of Make-Believe: Idealists, Entrepreneurs, and the Shaping of American Children's Literature. The podcast's atmospherics are charmingly NPR-esque (from the herds of schoolkids at MoMA to chirping birds in Central Park), and the short interview is packed with great anecdotes, including a story about members of the 19th-century American Library Association saying, "Children in America are just reading way too much these days."

ALA video blogging with Fuse #8. Speaking of the American Library Association, Elizabeth Bird is trying her hand at video-blogging on her trip to the annual ALA conference, going on in Anaheim through Wednesday. Get started with her arrival. (This year's conference logo features a surfer, so we're holding out hope for some surfboard-mounted webcam footage.)

Why do homes in picture books often look so dated? Kids' book author Erica S. Perl asks the question--and documents the weirdness--in an entertaining and well-annotated slideshow in Slate. For example, when's the last time you saw a corded phone like this?

Llama

Are kids the best judge of what's age-appropriate for them? A couple of opinion pieces have made pretty persusasive, practical arguments to that effect, one from blogger Ann Giles in the Guardian and one from Aussie librarian Miffy Farquharson in The Looking Glass: New Perspectives on Children's Literature.

Brush up on your Jamaican Patois with Dr. Seuss. This just gets funnier and funnier:

(Found via the 100 Scope Notes.)

Elephant and Piggie dance! If you don't love Mo Willems' Elephant and Piggie series, you have a heart of stone. What's the sure cure for a heart of stone? Playing the new Elephant and Piggie Dance Game:

Elephant_and_piggie

I'm embarrassed to say that I played it for so long, I discovered you can set up combo dance moves. If you need homework this weekend, you can join me in trying to perfect your own Robo-Gerald-3000.... --Paul

Friday Night Videos: Origami Book Winner Catherine Cheek--and Eoin Colfer Under the Bright Lights

Welcome once again to Friday Night Videos, where we usually match up book-related videos against each other in mortal combat--to satisfy the blood-sport instincts of rabid bibliophiles. This time, though, it's the origami book contest winner and a cool video in support of Eoin Colfer's summer book tour for The Time Paradox (Artemis Fowl, book six). A programming note: After tonight, this feature will go on hiatus for a little while, returning with a slightly different focus.

First, the origami. Last week, we ran a video on how to make an origami book, along with a contest. The winner would get the coolest tiny book in my house. Turns out it's harder to make one of these things than you'd think. But we do have a winner: Catherine Cheek. Cheek is what you'd call multi-creative, as evidenced by the other cool stuff on her website. She's also recently signed on with Kate Schaefer Testerman to represent her on her cool novel Alternate Susan--and she has short fiction forthcoming in several anthologies and magazines. Here's her origami book, with more photos on her site.

                Kater_book

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Graphic Novel Friday: Greg Broadmore on the Imagination and "Hardly Any Beatings"

Every Friday, Omnivoracious will turn the spotlight on one or more graphic novels, with future installments also including news and special features. You can let me know who or what you'd like to see featured by commenting on this post.

This time out, I interview Greg Broadmore, author of the sensational Doctor Grordbort's Contrapulatronic Dingus Directory (Dark Horse Comics), which I reviewed in a previous installment of this column.

Who is Greg Broadmore, and why should you care? Well, in addition to having illustrated over 30 children's books, he has worked as a designer and sculptor on, among others, Peter Jackson's King Kong and The Chronicles of Narnia. He's also a member of the famed Weta Workshop and a responsible for an awful lot of ray gun designs. In short, Broadmore is one of those multi-talented wretches doomed to spiral off ideas from their giant, imagination-stuffed brains on a daily basis. He's also, as this interview shows, a lot of fun...

Amazon.com: What was your childhood like? Do you remember any early "projects"?
Greg Broadmore: My childhood was good. I was smaller than I am now, and was into Star Wars more... Very little trauma, hardly any beatings. Lived in a coastal town called Whakatane in Aotearoa (New Zealand), which was nice. Yeah, I give my childhood a thumbs up. Early projects? I remember drawing lots of tanks, soldiers, dinosaurs, spaceships, robots... Mostly in scenes of destruction. I suppose that's not really a project. At primary school I did this project where I drew lots of German tanks shooting shit. Not sure what the teachers thought of that. I liked it.

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Falling in Love with Nothing at First Sight

022643700001_mzzzzzzz__2 Oh boy, oh boy, there's nothing like opening the mail, finding a book you requested for a reason you've forgotten already, and, on the basis of a few opening paragraphs, knowing you're going to fall in love. I can't remember what drove me to ask for a copy of William Davies King's upcoming Collections of Nothing, advertised as a "part memoir, part reflection on the mania of acquisition" by a man who has been driven to accumulate a "monumental mass of miscellany, from cereal boxes to boulders to broken folding chairs," but here's how it begins:

On a hot summer day in 1998, I pulled up at the house I still owned with the woman who was soon to become my ex-wife to find that she had delivered every item connected with me to the garage. My surprise was not that she had divvied up our goods, though I would rather have done the work myself, but the spectacle of what an immense and unattractive volume of me there was, much of it retained only because I collect, as a collector collects, compulsively. And then some.

There I was, forty-three, wearing shorts and an old T-shirt already heavy with sweat, in the dusty glare of desert suburbia, Ryder truck still hissing and ticking at my back as the great panel door swung open with a shriek. The door shuddered, and I shuddered too. There were the usual black plastic bags of shoes and canted piles of shirts on hangers, portable radios and razors and power tools, but also the singular multiplicity of diverse collections of nothing, a junkstore dumpstore's highlights, stuff of no clear value to anyone but someone like me.

I am a collector, something a lot of people can understand. My being a collector of nothing will require explanation. I am on the small side. A neighbor told my parents I was the only child he'd ever seen who could walk upright under a table. Eventually I grew to a normal height, but I sometimes think of myself as an overgrown runt. My weight has always hovered just above normal, which is typical, I think, among people who grew up fighting for a larger portion. I have two younger brothers who could easily be cheated, though I chose not to, and an older sister who always wanted it all and could not be cheated because she was disadvantaged, disabled, disastrous, and later insane. Because of her, I tend to measure my fair and healthy share, then sneak a bit more. My eating disorder is in my collecting. I eat nothing, in excess.

I've read accounts of people who one day give away everything, purging themselves of material association. They report feeling liberated, disburdened, and alive for the first time. The moment of my divorce might have been a good moment for me to cleanse myself that way. I did not like what I saw under the bare bulb in that shadowy garage. There, mixed in with my necessaries, shone forth what had doomed me to a life of collecting--that super-superfluity of sub-substance. During twenty years of living with my wife, decades of relentless acquisition, I had found ways of weaving my collections into the lattice of our life. Now, brought out from concealment, arranged in heaps, not carelessly but also not artfully, these things looked like signs of hoarding, which is a diagnosis, not a hobby.

So I transported the cumbersummation of me into the Ryder and into my new, unmarried life, in the hope that I might locate myself somewhere in the midst of it.

What can you tell of a book from the first page and a half? Sometimes a lot, sometimes not, but in this case I'll be stunned (and crushed) if someone who shows this clear-eyed (even cold-eyed) style, with such concentrated power, doesn't end up sustaining it for the 161 pages that remain. Right now I've just begun another piece of candy I've been hoarding for a while (Mark Harris's Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood, a book I missed when it came out in February that's turning out to be as delicious as I'd hoped), but it's going to be hard not to keep going into Collections of Nothing. --Tom

A Book about Books We Loved When We Were Girls

Lizzies_books_3 Every Friday, Lizzie Skurmick writes Fine Lines, in which she re-reads and then reviews the books she loved in her youth, mostly pre-teen and near-adult books from the '60s, '70s, and '80s (think Judy Blume, who she calls "A GENIUS").

Fine Lines has now inspired a book, which HarperCollins will publish next summer. Here are excerpts from some of my favorites (and a warning on the content: the column is geared toward adults--not kids--although older teens will likely enjoy it)...

On re-reading a book she's read "like, 34 times" but thought she'd forgotten (The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare):

"...upon reread, like some annoying little brother who keeps repeating everything you say exactly as you say it, my memory kept catching up with the text in front of me until the entire read was but one self-pleasuring session of deja vu."

On teendom now vs. 30 years ago (The Cat Ate My Gymsuit by Paula Danziger):

"I feel bad for teens today. Their parents listen to them. Teachers are invested in their intellectual development and well-being. Books are published on their optimal care and feeding; violins brandished for their edification; trips abroad marshaled so they may broaden their horizons and spread this wealth to others, eventually spearheading their own microloan organizations and so forth. ..."

  And, "Quit Tesseracting Up" (on A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine l'Engle):

"If I had my way, none of us would have to read this review at all. Instead, we'd join hands, hear a great dark thunderclap, and be whisked off to a rambling house in the country, where we'd view odd things bubbling in a lab with a stone floor, then eat limburger-and-cream-cheese sandwiches while swinging our legs at the kitchen table. We'd sidestep for a moment onto a planet inhabited by gentle gray creatures with dents for eyes, then be inserted into some mitochondria. We battle for the soul of Madoc/Maddox, and eat small crayfish with our lesbian kind-of aunt who insisted on calling us our full name (Polyhymnia). We'd hop on a freighter and solve a mystery, then go to boarding school in Switzerland. We would make a brief detour on the Upper West Side by way of Portugal, and be concerned with cell regeneration in starfish. We'd be smacked on the ass by a dolphin. Most important, whatever happened, we'd know we could get through it--because we are creatures that can love."

Fine Lines has many comments every week, with people sharing their own experiences of these books. I certainly won't be the only book-loving girl waiting for more from this reviewer. --Heidi

A Digital Plague Top Ten from Jeff Somers

Orbit recently published Jeff Somers' second action-packed near-future novel, The Digital Plague, a follow-up to his first novel, The Electric Church. "A strong techno-thriller," (PW) Digital Plague continues the adventures of Avery Cates, killer-for-hire. As the press release reads, "He's probably the richest criminal in New York City. But right now, Avery Cates is pissed. Because everyone around him has just started to die - in a particularly gruesome way. With every moment bringing the human race closer to extinction, Cates finds himself in the role of both executioner and savior of the entire world." The novel was also recently featured on io9, with Annalee Newitz writing, "If you like nano-noir (and who doesn't?), you won't want to miss [it]."

In an Amazon exclusive Jeff Somers has been kind enough to share with our readers TOP TEN REASONS MY DYSTOPIAN VISION OF THE FUTURE IS BETTER THAN YOUR DYSTOPIAN VISION OF THE FUTURE...

Somers

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YA Wednesday: Graces and Magic and Proms, Oh My

In this week's edition of YA Wednesday, some new books, some books to come, and... slumber parties?

Kc_and_graceling_2 This is my Grace: Writing
On her blog, This is My Secret, author Kristin Cashore tells her readers all her secrets--at least the ones about her writing. Graceling, her first YA novel (out in October 2008) and the first in a series of at least three novels, follows 16-year-old Katsa as she learns to master her Grace (a preternatural talent or power) for fighting, among other things. I just finished the book yesterday, and Katsa ranks right up there with the best of the tough girl-angst heroes. (Here, Cashore shows off the notebook where she first sketched out the novel's seven kingdoms.)

New out this week: The Magician, Michael Scott's follow-up to last year's The Alchemyst, featuring a cast of both current day teens and more-than-600-year-old "real-life" characters, such as Nicholas Flamel (alchemist and bookseller, b. 1330; in fact, the series is called, "The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel.") The Magician will likely be a welcome continuation for readers who were thrown by the sudden cliffhanger ending of the first book--not too surprising, as the author has pointed out that each of the six books in the series is just a part of one large, very complex story:

"The entire series is plotted out in great detail. It had to be. With a series of this complexity, it would be so easy to get lost. The notes for book one, for example, are bigger than the book itself."

For girls who like to read, we salute you! Lha_prom_pic
Am I crazy, or does Readergirlz always sound like a big slumber party? This Friday night (yes, Friday night, 6:00 p.m. Pacific) the girlz are getting together on MySpace for a live chat with the authors of How to Be Bad (and giveaways galore!). The Readergirlz MySpace page and website both include fun info and links on Laurie Halse Anderson in celebration of their June pick--her book, Prom--including a link to her prom picture (right) on her blog, and some highlights from her live chat with Readergirlz last Friday. (Note: You do have to be logged in to MySpace to read the content there.)

Guys fall in love, too
"Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy: Guy-centric YA romance," Carlie Webber's article in the most recent Readers' Advisor News, a quarterly e-newsletter from Libraries Unlimited (linked yesterday on Tea Cozy), shows us that romances are not just for girls anymore. Webber highlights several examples, including Steve Kluger's My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins & Fenway Park and Greg Leitich Smith's Ninjas, Piranhas and Galileo.

Bungalow The ultimate intrepid girl hero
In case you missed it, NPR had a story Monday about Nancy Drew, including these comments from 11-year-old Zoe Dutton, whose mom passed on her childhood favorite, The Bungalow Mystery:

"She's always nice to everybody. She's even polite to the criminal after she catches them and knocks them out ... I mean slightly ridiculous, but it's nice if you're her friend."

--Heidi

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