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January 2013

Get Smitten With Zombie Romance

Warm BodiesIt took a while, but ultimately Beauty saw something special in the Beast. Then there's Bella, who just couldn't help but chase after that centuries-old vampiric hearthtrob Edward.

Let's face it: ladies like a little ... okay, a lot of challenge in their loving. And with the adaptation of Isaac Marion's Warm Bodies hitting theaters, we might just be witnessing the beginning of a whole new Hollywood epidemic of cinematic monster crushes.

Of course, the film world will find no shortage of material from which to choose; the popularity of zombie romance has been spreading like a virus among young adult readers for quite some time as quirky one-offs and entire series base themselves on these brain-eaters.

For genre purists, the story involves at least one undead protaganist. Marion, for example tells his story in first person from the zombie's point of view, allowing us to experience his emotional reanimation as he falls in love. For the more lenient, a zombie romance can be any love story told in post-apocalyptic setting.

Intrigued? Sink your teeth into some of these:

I Kissed a Zombie Chivalry is Undead Forest of Hands and Teeth

Married With Zombies The Z Word: Apocalypse Babes Breathers

Dearly, Departed Love With a Chance of Zombies My Life as a White Trash Zombie

YA Wednesday: 2013 Printz Award

I don't know about the rest of you, but this year's Michael L. Printz picks were a bit of a surprise to me.  InDarkness200 Don't get me wrong--the winner, In Darkness by Nick Lake, is a book to rave about (one reviewer even compared it to The Wire) and I'm really happy for the author to receive this show of book love. Lake's raw narrative tells a story of brutality and courage, and in his hands a Haitian boy trapped in the wreckage of an earthquake captures universal experiences of teens (or adults, for that matter), be it love, loss, or hope against all odds. Winning the Printz award will hopefully bring In Darkness the attention and readership it deserves.

I was also thrilled to see a couple of my favorites of last year make the Honor list, including Code Name Verity and Dodger--my surprise came from the omission of a couple books that I was almost certain would make the cut and didn't (I'm thinking of Every Day and The Fault in Our Stars). 

What books on the list did you love?  Any you would have included in your own Printz line-up?

2013 Printz Winner and Honor books:

CodeNameVerity180 AritstotleDante Dodger180 WhiteBicycle180

Ayana Mathis: Why Are We Drawn to Suffering Characters?

Ayana Mathis, author of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, continues her run on the New York Times best seller list, and Oprah continues her conversation with Ayana. In this short video, they discuss why readers are drawn to characters in torment.

One Legend to (Hy)Rule Them All: Celebrating Zelda

Today is a great day for video game fans in the United States: after over a year, the fervently anticipated and debated The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia is at last available in English (and, as of this writing, it’s currently #1 on our bestseller list in all of Books). Originally released in its native language in Japan, the oversized tome—a love letter to Hyrule, the fictional realm where much of the series takes place—was sought after, imported, scanned, and pored over worldwide by fans. At last, here it is in all its translated glory—fret not, Zelda fans. This one is worth all the hype.

In February 1986, The Legend of Zelda video game premiered in Japan, followed by a US port on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1987. Over 68 million units of that adventure game have since sold worldwide—and there were 15 (or so) more games to follow in the franchise.

It’s important to note that most of Hyrule Historia is not a behind-the-scenes look at the making of these individual games, rather it’s a history of the fictional world they inhabit. It opens with an introduction by series creator Shigeru Miyamoto and then immediately gets serious with the chronology, opening to a long look at the “first” game in the series’ in-world history, Skyward Sword. Then it’s off to a 60-page study of “The History of Hyrule.” This section attempts to make sense of 16 games’ worth of cyclical plots, villains, heroes, princesses, and lore. It’s a complex, daunting, and brow-furrowing read, and I loved every page.

HH_link.pageI suspect more studious fans will debate and contest this official timeline, but Nintendo (who created the book) wisely states: “This chronicle merely collects information that is believed to be true at the time…As the stories and storytellers of Hyrule change, so too does its history.” My suggestion is to appreciate the effort on the first two pages in this section but dwell more on the wonderfully unspooled history in the following 58 pages. There’s “The Legend of the Three Goddesses and the Hero,” a translation of Hylian writing, character bios (highlighting the various forms of series villain Ganondorf), a look at the Master Sword, character resurrections, the Princess, and—maybe I should stop. There’s so much covered in this section, and so much of it brought back memories that I do not want to spoil the experience for fresh readers. I will note that there is a significant amount of information in this section that is new to me (or maybe I’ve forgotten it), and I consider myself a relatively big Legend of Zelda fan.

The “Creative Footprints” chapter looks at over 80 pages of character sketches, concept art, weapons, maps, “spirit crests,” and settings throughout the series. I especially liked the reproductions of images from the original game manual, where series hero Link is much more impish than the stalwart man of action that he is today. There is also a catalog of all the games (including cover art for foreign editions) and it features plot summaries and factoids throughout.

Hyrule Historia closes with an afterword by series producer Eiji Aonuma and an original manga by Akira Himekawa, produced exclusively for the book. After about 20 minutes with this collector's item, I gave up trying to read it without a nostalgic bias. This is a book built upon nostalgia! Hyrule Historia deserves all the fan clamor it has generated and the accolades it will receive. Nintendo and US publisher Dark Horse have treated the series with love and its fans to a package that is as valuable as any rare item found in the games.


 P.S. “It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this.” (I had to, folks.)


2013 Children's Book Award Winners


Today the American Library Association announced the winners of the biggest children's book awards of the year at a ceremony here in Seattle.  It was really exciting to be in the audience with publishers, authors, librarians and booksellers as we all waited anxiously to see if any of our favorites made the list and each announcement was greeted by a "love bomb" of applause.


2013 is the 75th anniversary of one of the most prestigious awards, the Randolph Caldecott award for illustration and I could not have been more thrilled when they announced that This Is Not My Hat, my own number one pick for the Best Picture Book of 2012, was the winner. Author and illustrator Jon Klassen also took home a second win, a Caldecott Honor for his illustration of Extra Yarn

The One and Only Ivan took home the Newbery Medal for children's literature and is so deserving of the prize.  Ivan made our Best Middle Grade Books of 2012 list with its touching narrative and memorable characters--it is right at home with other classic animal stories of friendship and courage.

Here is the full list of the winners and honor books for 2013's Caldecott and Newbery Medals. You can see more 2013 Children's Book award winners here.

Randolph Caldecott Medal: This year there were an astonishing four Honor books in addition to the winner

Green180 ExtraYarn180 SleepTiger180









John Newbery Medal:

3TimesLucky180 Bomb Splendors180

Happy Birthday Mr. Darcy: "Pride and Prejudice" turns 200

Pride and PrejudiceToday marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

Here are some other fun facts about Pride and Prejudice: It was originally called First Impressions and, under that name, it was rejected for publication. Sixteen years later -- having undergone significant revisions including a title change -- Pride and Prejudice became Austen's second published novel.

In the two centuries since, Pride and Prejudice has done more than raise young women's expectations for what a man should be. (After all, even children of the '80s have to admit that Mr. Darcy is the original Lloyd Dobbler.) It has consistently been considered one of Jane Austen's most popular books. It has been a consistent part of English class reading curriculums. It has spawned multiple film and television series adaptations and interpolations. It's been given an artistic update as a comic book by Marvel. It has even been translated into a board game, a trivia game and a casual computer game.

But perhaps the true wonder, and a phenomenon unmatched by other classics, is the ongoing reimagining of the story by modern authors. This classic story has not only withstood the test of time, but it has, in a way, grown as new authors hone in on specific characters or offer creative new approaches to the tale itself.

Whether you've always longed to read the chapter after the last, or you've wanted to know more about Mr. Darcy's younger sister, or you've dreamed of Mr. Darcy as a vampire, or if you've imagined fiesty Elizabeth's reaction to zombies invading the English countryside, plenty of authors have answered your call.

There are many, many Pride and Prejudice-related books to choose from, but here are a few standouts.

Vampire Darcy's Desire Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Death Comes to Pemberley

The Darcys of Pemberley Georgiana Darcy's DiaryMr. Darcy's Refuge

The Whys, Whats, and Wherefores of Story Arcs

WritersdontcryClimaxSay you have an awesome book—but it’s long. Too long. So you cut it in half: now you have two books. Easy enough, right? For fixing page count, sure! But when it comes to the enjoyment factor of the book itself, it can have a remarkably harsh effect. See, in a traditional story arc, the climax—or peak of the arc—is pretty close to the end of the book. In between the beginning and that climax, there’s a whole bunch of stuff, like the introduction to the characters and setting, the inciting incident, and a ton of obstacles the characters have to overcome—including usually one spectacular failure--in order to grow and achieve their goals.

So, if you cut the book off half-way that means your stunted plot gets through the introduction, the inciting incident, and maybe a problem. But the tension is only starting to ramp up at the very end of the book, there isn’t a climax, and you’ve not generally hit that critical failure point yet. Meaning, unless you’re really careful, your book is going to feel slug-slow and crazy unbalanced—even if it’s perfect as one huge book.

This isn’t to say that you can’t start at different points in the traditional arc, that you can’t have several arcs going at the same time, or that you can’t have a completely nontraditional arc. You totally can! In fact, those things often make for some of the most popular books and movies. But, that being said, it’s important to know why each of those pieces of the arc pie are there—what purpose they serve, and how they work with the other pieces—before deconstructing the whole pie concept and making crazy substitutions.

So, to those ends, here are some of the basics on the average story structure—what each piece does, and what you need to provide if you’re planning on cutting it out or changing it. You can also use this list as a basis for an outline, making sure you have each piece of this basic puzzle in place before filling out all the juicy details.

Continue reading "The Whys, Whats, and Wherefores of Story Arcs" »

Be the Super Bowl Party MVP

Attention sports fans. As you know, Super Bowl Sunday is Feb. 3. Whether you're throwing a party or just attending one, you know there is only one competition that comes close to the one that will be on the screen. No, it's not who can eat the most hot wings in 2 minutes or who wins rock-scissors-paper for the inevitable half-time beer run. It's who has managed to cram the most otherwise meaningless information into their noggin. Of course!

You can never know too much obscure trivia in situations like these. And we've got you covered with a few handy books guaranteed to help you hold your own in stat-rattling conversations.

 Self-described as "the ultimate reference to the ultimate game," The Ultimate Super Bowl Book: A Complete Reference to the Stats, Stars, and Stories Behind Football's Biggest Game -- and Why the Best Team Won leaves little room to misinterpret its content. Explore the games themselves with analysis and play-by-plays and learn about the star players and coaches for each Super Bowl.



 Who currently holds what record? Who broke which record when? Study up on NFL records and stats with NFL Record & Fact Book 2012: The Official National Football League Record and Fact Book. Updated annually, it's considered essential reading for die-hard football fans.




 You'll blow your fellow fans' minds when you're able to offer insights that cross-reference baseball, basketball and more. Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won is co-written by a behavioral economist and a Sports Illustrated writer. You'll have your (forgive the off-sport pun) bases covered with this one.

Graphic Novel Friday: Chasing Alabaster: Wolves

Reading Alabaster: Wolves by Caitlin R. Kiernan and Steve Lieber feels as if I’ve been dropped mid-way through a horror film. There are monsters, a four-headed angel, a talking bird, a haunted church, and an albino hero who comes loaded with cryptic backstory. It is also the best comic I’ve read so far in 2013.

This the first work I’ve read from Kiernan, whose bio is an impressive resume of genre projects in novels, short stories, and comics for DC/Vertigo. Kiernan’s heroine, Dancy Flammarion (yes, you read that correctly), is a character from her novels but prior reading is not required. Like most contemporary fantasy heroines, Dancy is a reluctant Chosen One, and she alone must stand against the forces of darkness in order to—well, we’ve been here before, but what sets her apart is that she isn’t sexualized. Dancy isn’t fancy; she wears cargo pants and long sleeves underneath a t-shirt. She has a bad haircut, red eyes, and plenty of bruises and scuff marks. She’s a storied hero, and part of the fun is hearing other characters refer to her past exploits—one villainess asks, “All us monsters you done laid low, and you don’t believe in werewolves?”

Then there’s the spitting-angry, four-headed, fiery angel that looms over Dancy. What is the story here? Readers aren’t given much to go on, but there’s clearly a tale or two to tell should Kiernan ever feel like Alabasterenlightening new fans (please). The angel directs Dancy to her supernatural targets, but at the outset of the graphic novel Dancy is already chafing at her duty and questioning the angelic monster:

  And me, I’m silently asking it, “Just this once. Just this once you could do the deed your own self. Seems like I’ve earned that much. Just this once, please.” But I know better.

Another aspect that sets Wolves apart from its peers is the citing of music that Kiernan and artist Steve Lieber listened to while working on each chapter. I admit that most of it went above my head (All Eternals Deck by the Mountain Goats, for example), but again, that’s the fun here—the reader is out of his or her element. We aren't privy to everything in Dancy’s world, because we haven't been with her from the beginning. We’re catching up with her as she catches her demons. There are twists and revelations that remain still-spun and unrevealed by the book’s end.

The last page finishes with a rare “The End”—the idea that there aren’t more Dancy stories is perhaps the scariest moment in this horror comic.

Alabaster: Wolves releases next month!


Oprah Winfrey Continues her Conversation with Ayana Mathis

Ayana Mathis's debut The Twelve Tribes of Hattie continues to live on the New York Times best seller list a month and a half after being named to Oprah's Book Club 2.0. In this video, Oprah talks to the author about some of the most interesting things that have been said about the book.