Spotlight: Maggie Stiefvater

I don’t often do this. In fact, I never have. But I want to take a moment and talk about an author that I’ve developed quite an appreciation for. This may become a regular thing… like an author spotlight or something… But for now, I’ll just gush about my latest author crush.

Maggie Stiefvater

maggie stiefvater raven boys

Her books preceded her. I heard about “those new werewolf books” (The Wolves of Mercy Falls) several years ago but refused to pay them any attention. In fact, I didn’t even associate her name with the book series because I forced myself to be THAT uninterested. It was probably because I was too turned off of teen paranormal romance at that time. Thanks, Twilight. Then as one of the first choices for a book club that I joined, we were tasked with reading The Raven Boys. I found the audiobook available on Overdrive and started listening.

Loved it. I’ll spare the premise, since I’m focusing on Maggie, here. But it’s awesome. Go read it. In fact, read all of her books. Cuz I pretty much have, now.

Maggie lives in Virginia – SCORE
After I moved away from the Bahamas, I lived at a boarding school in Virginia, went to college in Virginia, and ended up living there almost 10 years. Virginia has always been my home away from home. Maggie has written several of her books set in Virginia. The Raven Boys, specifically, is even about guys in a boarding school. Without needed to say much more, it was so incredibly easy for me to relate.

Maggie is an artist – AWESOME
I’ve always loved art. When I was little, I toted around a stuffed Crayola Bunny that had a pocket in its overalls to hold a few crayons. I was so obsessed with those color names too. In fact, at my primary school, I identified my peers to my parents by what color their skin was by Crayola standards: peach, tan, brown… And I was so confused when people said they were white or black, because THEY DIDN’T MATCH THE CRAYON!  My love for art continued throughout my high school career, expanding my craft into dark room photography, which I ultimately majored in when I went to college.

Maggie is a musician – OMG
For many years I played piano. I really enjoyed it, until I had to start composing my own pieces for these examinations… then I felt burnt out. Though I never practiced at home, my teacher said I showed great talent – and just imagine what I would be like if I DID practice at home! It’s been years since I’ve played, but it’s one of those things I hold dear and have such an appreciation for.

Maggie is a race car enthusiast – SERIOUSLY
Okay, so I don’t have much to say about this point, besides race car being a fun palindrome. But come on, guys… how many people do you know zip around in neat cars with custom license plates (cuz it’s so darn cheap in Virginia!) and graffiti their car in 3.5 minutes?? Seriously, check out the video on her website.

Maggie writes some seriously fantastic books – DONE!
After breezing through The Raven Boys, I decided (with some hesitation) to try out The Wolves of Mercy Falls Trilogy, then Scorpio Races. Most recently, (cuz I have to do all of these in audio now) The Dream Thieves. For a typical contemporary Young Adult author, her stories are remarkably fresh and original. The bits of romance in WoMF were tender, honest and realistic. Scorpio Races was enchanting — come on, a girl enters the ‘wild & crazy water horse’ race to save her struggling family? Who comes up with this stuff? This chick does. Oh, and she also composes and performs the music for the audio books.

Done, done, done! Subscribe me +1000 times! Fav, retweet, blast that out.  Maggie Stiefvater is a rock star. I told her once. She proved it:

twitter maggie stiefvater

Have I said enough? For an author that wasn’t even on my radar, she has sprung up out of nowhere and completely captured me. Like a bear trap, actually. Or a snake with big fangs. But a nice snake. A colorful, cheeky, magical snake. She has sunk her sharp and witty teeth in to my unsuspecting self and pumped in her intelligent prose and beautiful imagery. So read (or listen) to her books. I’m going to pine over her Tarot card illustrations and maybe dance to a tribal summoning song  and hope she comes out to Western Mass one day. Hey, there’s a thought…

 

 

Down With Dystopia: The Rise of the Royal Court

When I tried describing a book to someone last week, I realized that I was mixing up characters and plots, pulling from multiple titles I had recently read. Finally setting aside some time, I decided to look into these books a bit more, and then I fell down a rabbit hole. Suddenly, I’m not seeing dystopian books a-la Hunger Games and Divergent anymore. Now, books about princesses and kingdoms (and magic – ooo!) have taken the floor and are proudly waltzing by.
dystopia royal court princess

Is anyone else noticing this? Does this mark the end of depressing dystopian worlds? Is historical fiction donning a fancy new Y.A. get-up? We still have strong female characters completely dominating young adult literature; however, rather than the run-of-the-mill dystopia once dominating popular books, our heroines are now featured in the high courts of fantasy realms and fairy tale retellings.

I’m not saying this is a problem, but, does my observation carry greater meaning when I point out that many…most… of these books are written by debut authors?  I get that these things come in waves, but this seems more like a tsunami. Below are a number of recent, and soon-to-be books that include some aspect of royal courts:

  1. Red Queen (et al) – Victoria Aveyard
  2. Shadow & Bone (et al) – Leigh Bardugo
  3. Girl of Fire and Thorns (et al) – Rae Carson
  4. Graceling (et al) – Kristin Cashmore
  5. The Selection (et al) – Kiera Cass
  6. The Healer’s Apprentice (et all) – Melanie Dickerson
  7. The Jewel (et al)- Amy Ewing
  8. Deception’s Princess (et al) – Esther M. Friesner
  9. Princess of the Midnight Ball (et al) – Jessica Day George
  10. Seraphina (et al) – Rachel Hartman
  11. Cruel Beauty (et al)- Rosamund Hodge
  12. Princess of Thorns – Stacey Jay
  13. Stolen Songbird (et al)- Danielle L. Jenson
  14. The Queen of the Tearling (et al) – Erika Johansen
  15. Grave Mercy (et al)- Robin LeFevers
  16. Winterspell (et al)- Claire Legrand
  17. Stitching Snow – R. C. Lewis
  18. Throne of Glass (et al)- Sarah J. Maas
  19. Cinder (et al)- Marissa Meyer
  20. Suspicion – Alexandra Monir
  21. Legendary (et al) – L. H. Nicole
  22. Queen of Hearts: The Crown (et al)  – Colleen Oakes
  23. Snow Like Ashes (et al) – Sara Raasch
  24. Camelot Burning (et al)- Kathryn Rose
  25. Legacy (et al) – Jesikah Sundin
  26. Stray (et al) – Elissa Sussman
  27. A Wicked Thing (et al) – Rhiannon Thomas
  28. Crown of Ice (et al) – Vicki L. Weavil
  29. Storm Siren (et al) – Mary Weber
  30. Illusions of Fate (et al)- Kiersten White

That’s well over a two dozen titles, not including the respective continuations and sequels, e-book prequels or e-book short of some kind. (Those marked by ‘et al’ indicate some continuation in their series or intended series.) Of the authors that I’ve pulled into this list, there are only three that do not explicitly note a continuation of story.  I have a sneaking suspicion that we’ll see more than just one entry in these remaining three all the same.

So what’s with this sudden spike in popularity? Here are some observations:

Women authors — At least in this genre, it seems as though unless your name is George R.R. Martin, most fantasy books are being written by women. There are a few men that are writing for young adults: John Green, Rick Yancey, Patrick Ness, Scott Westerfeld, Rick Riordan… but they’re not necessarily explicitly ‘fantasy’ authors. Where is the new blood? Where are the male debut authors? And where are the male debut fantasy authors?

Princesses — I don’t think I need to point out the dream every little girl (and some boys!) have of growing up to be a princess. Rags to riches, coming of age, reluctant hero(ine)… and other themes are common in such princess fantasy stories. Also present are kings, queens, princes, duchies, nobility, lords, ladies, and the like. Everyone loves to play dress up. Everyone also loves coming from modest beginnings,  and not necessarily entitled to the fame and fortune, but, of course, deserving. Humble = likable.

Gossip — I really, really don’t want to go there, but there’s also a clear connection between certain elements in this genre (such as spies, assassins, espionage…all of which boil down to gossip, lies, and general underhanded-ness,) that are present in many stories with women characters. Perhaps it’s simply an aspect of the everyday feminine culture that is handled in different ways from book to book, but it is undeniable that gossip is a common thread.

**NOTE: There’s much hesitation, self-awareness, and self-censorship I exercise in writing this entry. I feel like feminist readers of my blog will tear me to pieces… but these aren’t meant to be pokes or jabs at the nature of feminism or female culture. I’m not criticizing these points I bring up, but rather I seek to open a thread of conversation to be had with a purity of motive.**

~    ~   ~

At this year’s Horn Book Awards Colloquium, held at Simmons College (Boston, MA), there was an interesting panel held on the diversity of literature for children and young adults. This was headed by individuals in the publishing world, all of whom claim to scour for talent every day trying to find diverse books to publish. Unfortunately, without the talent… there’s nothing to publish.

So much of this time I had been blaming the publishing world. I’d thought, well, of course they are the reason there is not more diversity in books – because they want to take something popular that makes them money and drill as far down into the well as they can… Further illustrated by my list above. Or is it? Are books like these getting published because that’s just what the writing talent is currently producing? Is it because these books are easily marketable to the established audience? Are there writers out there producing diverse literature and the work is just ‘not good enough’ yet to make it to print? I think it’s unfair to place the blame on any one faction of the book world. Everyone simply has to work harder to produce and promote diverse literature.

My final question is this: Does the list above demonstrate the diversity we are all working so hard for?

A Fever in my Blood

 

Boy, this took me long enough! I finally, finally, got around to reading Rebel Heart by Moira Young, book 2 in the Dustlands trilogy. I happened upon Blood Red Road (book 1) while I was in Canada one summer. Without having heard much about it before, I picked it up, because I couldn’t leave a bookstore empty-handed. Honestly, I didn’t begin reading it until a few months later, but once I did, I flew through the pages. Once I realized there were to be two more books following, I pre-ordered the titles as soon as they became available. That was a few years ago now, and since I loved BRR so much, I wanted to be sure Rebel Heart made it on my list of books to read this year.
Rebel Heart, Blood Red Road, Dustlands, Moira Young

 

The first thing you’ll notice about the Dustlands trilogy is the way it is written. That may sound sort of generic, but flip through the pages and you’ll see there are no quotation marks indicating speech. It is also written in the vernacular of the world. G’s are dropped from words ending with ‘-ing,’ instead of ‘for’ it’s ‘fer,’ rather than ‘afraid’ it’s ‘afeared,’ ‘can’t’ is ‘cain’t,’ etc. Honestly, it felt really odd for the first 40 pages or so, but soon you find yourself in the rhythm and you don’t even notice. Sometimes, the line spacing even makes the prose feel like verse… which may sound weird, but it works!

Moira Young does a marvelous job of supplying the reader with just enough detail. Sort of like a watercolor painting, her words suggest description while leaving us to fill in the specifics with our own imagination. It’s remarkable how liberating that feels… but I didn’t realize it until after I was through reading the book. It’s not like other writers that will ramble for pages about the bark of a tree.

Rebel Heart starts with a shift in perspective – we hear from another character’s point of view. Immediately I thought about Ally Condie’s Matched trilogy, wondering if this book would follow the same pattern: book 1, one perspective – book 2, two perspectives – book 3, three perspectives. In this case, the shift serves as a prologue. The book picks up pretty much where the first left off. (I’m purposefully leaving out characters and plot points for spoilers — Yeah, I’m being nice this time. You’re welcome.) Again, it took me a little while to get into the stylized rhythm, but I adjusted. The character names were all familiar, but I had to remind myself who was who from the previous book.

Saba, the protagonist, is the same as she was – stubborn, fierce, and unrelenting. After the events of the first book, it’s rewarding to see her struggle and develop through this next installment. She’s not perfect. Often I feel as though these strong-female-protagonists-in-a-post-apocalyptic-dystopian-world-for-young-adults all start to blend together. Not so with Saba. Her inner conflict is so… I wanna say textured, but that sounds weird… It’s pebbly and rocky, if that makes sense. And a few times, her decisions made me go “what?!” — and THAT’S what makes her such an interesting read. Saba is easily my favorite protagonist in this genre so far.

Oh, and speaking of genre. Something I should mention: this is very much a Western. That may shock you readers, but I urge you to give it a try. There are a lot of John Ford and John Wayne influences… In fact, does anyone remember The Searchers (1956 film)? If you liked that, you’ll definitely like this series. Now that I think about it, I suppose book 1 sort of follows along that same kind of story too.

Hopefully it won’t be another 3 years before I read the final book, Raging Star!

 

“You’re Hired”

Can I talk about this yet? I think so? Yes!

To those in the blogosphere that may not follow me on Facebook or Twitter and may have missed my ecstatic postings of jubilation, I was chosen out of many-many-many candidates as the new Young Adult Services Coordinator at The Jones Library. It was quite a process, but I got the job. I’m simply over the moon with excitement, and at the end of my 2nd week, I feel great. Everywhere I go in the library, I meet people who say “Oh, YOU’RE the new YA person!” and they congratulate and my face flushes while I thank them and wave off the compliment… but it is so invigorating to feel so accepted and appreciated in this new place. It’s so refreshing to walk in to that building, and I couldn’t be more honored to be selected for such an important position.

Don’t get me wrong, after four years of employment at my previous retail job, I was taken care of, and I really do respect my old coworkers…I would not trade that time or experience for anything. I hope people out there realize how important customer service really is, and understand that it’s NOT difficult to be nice and smile, even when you’re having a bad day. Lashing out and being a DB doesn’t gain any respect or make you friends. So please… everyone… be nice to everyone else! (At least pleasant!) Okay – end of lecture!

Next step: graduation! With only four courses left, my MLS degree is nearly complete. Soon I can officially call myself a Librarian – with a capital L.

A Heart Full Of Love

Living on an island is sort of like living in the Midwest, right? One experiences the same feelings of isolation and note the distinct lack of cosmopolitanism… at least I did, especially in middle school. Though, admittedly, I didn’t quite know what I was missing until I left for boarding school and realized how big the world really was. Might I add: my boarding school was next to The-Middle-Of-Nowhere, Virginia, and I thought THAT was the big, wide world! Had I gone to New York City, I most certainly would have come down with a case of the vapors.

better nate than ever tim federle

 

So I commend our little Nate Foster for not fainting as he stepped off that Greyhound bus, having the wherewithal to navigate the city, and the balls guts to crash an audition. Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle is the first (I think) middle-grade book I’ve reviewed for this blog, and if any others are as enjoyable as this (Five, Six, Seven, Nate!) I may find myself branching out to a new audience.

Having met Tim on his Tequila Mockingbird book tour – a book for a very different audience! – middle-grade readers had never crossed my mind, because I’m always overwrought with YA. Maybe it was the boozy (delicious) literary libations that weakened my predisposition, or perhaps Tim’s charm, but I very soon found myself with a copy of his wonderful book. Now… that was over a year ago… but that’s also why I chose it as one of my Must Read books of this year, and devoured it this weekend.

For those seeking an elevator speech for Better Nate Than Ever: it’s about a young boy from a small town in Pennsylvania who is bursting with joie de vivre, and hatches a grand plan with his best friend to somehow make it to New York City and audition for E.T. – The Musical.

For those seeking a bit more: my heart aches with love for this book. Sort of like when your cat does something remarkably sweet like (not puke on the floor) tilt their head and nuzzle your leg… and your heart grows three-sizes bigger, Grinch-style, and you break the wire-meter-x-ray-screen-thing. Not only does Tim capture the energy and essence of what it’s like to be thirteen, his humor and style capture ,and keep me in, the world of Nate Foster’s NYC, but he also ensnares the heart… An untainted, honest, hope-filled love.

“There is such a rush into Port Authority, exiting the bus and then mazing through a series of escalators, that all I have to do is lean just slightly back and the crowd literally surges me along.”  … “Exactly. Good luck kid,” and he leans back and gets swept up in the surge, his head bopping along…”

THAT is New York. I’ve felt the exact same way each time I visit the city, even now in my 20’s. Can’t you just picture it happening? Or what about…

“I’m mumbling through a mouthful of horrible rye toast, toast that tastes like it was baked three years ago and set out in the sun.”

I’m dying. This is why I hate rye bread.

“Sometimes there is no greater act of adulthood than swearing in front of your own mother.”

And how true is that??

Though I’m quite a number of years beyond this book’s intended audience, Tim has so aptly included little nuggets that appeal to older readers. It is so clear to see why Better Nate Than Ever is a book that teachers and librarians are raving about. This is a book that teaches so much. It kills me to hear that some of Tim’s appearances promoting this treasure have been cancelled, especially in his own hometown. (You deserve better!) We need diverse books. It’s 2014, people – time to update your profiles and realize the world is changing, so why don’t you lean back, just slightly, and ride along. Pick up Better Nate Than Ever, you’ll fall in love, and that’s exactly what this world needs.

The Young World

A review by Alyssa Lacross

 

the young world chris weitz

My loving boyfriend (who is not a book lover at all and tends to read exclusively postings on “The Truth About Cars” website) won an ARC of The Young World from our awesome (not-so-local) bookstore The Odyssey while attending a YA Author Panel.

 

I was a mix of excited and skeptical, the concept sounds great, but another Hollywood-type trying to be an author? (If you are less than familiar with the Hollywood crew, he was the director of New Moon.)

 

I’m telling you now, this is one of those books you either love or hate…and based on the very teenaged plot and constant references to Google, 2012 top charts songs, Facebook, and partying like it’s the end of the world all meant dreams of my boyfriend picking up this book were zero.

 

The book is set in post-apocalyptic New York City, where a strange sickness has killed all children and adults, leaving behind only teenagers. The two main characters Jefferson and Donna are part of one of many heavily armed tribes in New York. When Jefferson becomes their tribe’s leader he, Donna, and a misfit gang set out, traveling through lands of other tribes where they are constantly in danger to to try and save humanity and cure the sickness. The book has a lot of action, a little bit of romance, and some things that are just down right strange, all in a way that plays out like a movie script, which is great because the film rights were picked up by Warner Brothers already! I have to say my love of all things YA and my nearly embarrassing appreciation for pop culture means I’m definitely curious.

 

I don’t think its really a “timeless” book because of the many pop culture references, but in the present it will definitely make some hype once teen readers find it on the shelves of their local libraries and bookstores. Keeping in mind the cliffhanger ending and the adorable potential love story between Jefferson and Donna, they’ll soon be clambering for the sequels too as it is set to be a trilogy.

 

The book is to be released on July 29th, so check it out!

 


 

alyssa brian

A little about me ☺

My name is Alyssa Lacross. I’m from Connecticut. I wear many hats, including a children’s and teen librarian hat, at a few libraries in CT and MA while obtaining my Master’s in Library Science with a concentration in School Libraries from Simmons College. I love to read (but only children’s and YA books), binge watch Netflix, listen to the radio (but only in the car) and run (but badly). That’s the boyfriend in the picture with me, since this post came from him winning the book!

A Hero’s Impact

Why didn’t I read this when I was younger? I had to go back through my old Amazon.com orders to remember when I purchased this book, and it turns out it was part of one of the last orders I ever made when I was still living in Richmond, Virginia. I ordered this book along with The Meaning of Matthew by Judy Shepard, the Enchanted DVD, and a Pokemon graphic novel — a pretty odd assortment, yet strangely appropriate.

hero perry moore

 

Of the sixteen books that survived my Gauntlet, this was actually one of the first I finished. (My hold for the audiobook version came in before some of the others, which was remarkably well done.) Also of the ones I’ve read from the list, this may be one of my favorites… and it is so bittersweet. I think I said bittersweet in one of my last reviews… it is so tragic.

Hero is about a teenage boy named Thom. His mother is presumed to be dead. His father is a smidge gruff  and stern, but still lovable.  They live in a world where Superheroes exist. !n fact, his father is a Super, but has become estranged from The League. Like many teenaged boys, Thom is trying to live up to his father’s expectations… but also hide some pretty big secrets: 1) he has superpowers and 2) he is gay. Throughout the book, Thom struggles with acceptance, fitting in, dating, discovering who he really is… which is all quite typical in my opinion. So what makes this book so appealing?

First, superheroes are awesome. The cast of characters in this novel are incredibly memorable. Thom has to go through an initiation of sorts at The League’s headquarters and is assigned to a team of similarly skilled budding new Supers, including Typhoid Larry (walking CDC nightmare), Scarlett (flying, fireball-throwing pizza delivery girl), and Ruth (chain-smoking, future-seeing old crone).  Oh, Thom’s power is being able to heal things. The team is sent out on little missions and things, and start to uncover conspiracies within The League… all really solid elements. Good good good.

Second, and I point this out second because it’s not the main part of the story, Thom’s sexuality, accepting himself for not only being a Super, but for also being gay, and discovering a bit of romance. There is a tenderness to Thom that makes him so likable. He is also self-deprecating in an endearing sort of way. (Because what teen isn’t a little self-deprecating?) There are so many wonderful passages in Hero… the prose is not only elegant, but also witty. I want to paste oh, so many of them here… but instead I’ll tell you to go read the book.

As for the tragedy: Perry Moore died of an accidental drug overdose in 2011. He was the executive producer of The Chronicles of Narnia film series (2005 – 2010). He was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, he graduated from Norfolk Academy, interned at the Virginia Film Fest… And I knew none of this at the time I purchased the book. Moore was working on a sequel to Hero sometime before he died. Thankfully, I don’t think a sequel would be necessary, but it would at least satisfy everyone’s questions of “what next?” Hero was wrapped up pretty well. There were a few surprises that spurred on some tears, but I attribute that to the impact of the audiobook.

And so, Hero entered my life some four years ago in a rag-tag Amazon order, in the author’s hometown (that I will always fondly think of as another home,) and made the journey with me to forge a new life, where I “became more and more of who I really was, and less of this person I thought wanted to be.”

“Once in a while, life gives you a chance to measure your worth. Sometimes you’re called upon to make a split-second decision to do the right thing, defining which way your life will go. These are the decisions that make you who you are.”

Thanks, Perry Moore – your Hero made quite an impact on this reader.