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I’m very excited to bring you my very first app review on the blog! (It’s part of a bigger secret project to come in the next few weeks.) And what an app this is! It’s Nosy Crow’s Three Little Pigs, A 3-D Fairy Tale, and it’s available now in the iTunes App Store and via your iPad. The full book is available for $7.99 and there’s also a free “Lite” teaser app for your playing pleasure.

There are many competitors in the Three Little Pigs arena. Since this well-known story has kid appeal and no licensing fees, many developers have come up with offerings. Having played a lot of these, though, recent and not so recent, I have to venture and say that Nosy Crow’s take is the best yet.

Nosy Crow is an independent book and digital book publisher out of the UK. Immediately, I can tell that they’ve got a great eye for art and design. A lot of the other Three Little Pigs apps available have cartoonish art that, to my picture book-honed sensibilities, looks cheap and one-dimensional. Not so with Nosy Crow. In fact, not only does Ed Bryan’s art and animation have its own charming and quirky aesthetic, but it is very much three-dimensional.

One of the coolest effects in this story has to do with the point of view. Using the iPad’s built-in accelerometer (which detects the device’s acceleration, tilt, motion, and rotation), readers can tilt the iPad up and down and to the sides in order to see past the story’s “frame.” There are also surprises — like a very cute spider and things that fall when you shake the iPad — for those kids who move around each page by tilting, shaking, and zooming/pinching. And it really does feel 3-D, which is all the rage for movies, TVs, and even phones these days. While some of the rendering was buggy and maneuvering around each spread got jerky at times, especially if zoomed in, it’s still a wonderful concept that enriches the feeling that you’re diving into a (very visually appealing) story world.

The story itself is winning and simple, the voice energetic and very kid-engaging. Readers can flick characters to make them jump and flip, trigger dialogue by touching hot spots, and help the pigs build their houses. The coolest part is that kids are encouraged to blow into the iPad’s microphone to help the wolf in his nefarious scheme! (Some apps, like Ocarina, are actually responsive to how and when a user blows on the mic. That is not the case here, as I was disappointed to learn. Even if you don’t blow on the microphone, the wolf will still go through the “blowing” sequence. Still, it’s a really fun concept.)

Kids can choose the “Read to Me” option, which plays the app straight through, the “Read by Myself,” without the narrative voice guiding the story, and “Read and Play,” which features the narrator but lets the reader “drive” the pacing. Each option lets readers interact with the characters, the scene, and the wolf.

One concern I had was the pacing/dialogue. On one spread, for example, we’re told that the wolf is trying to blow the brick house down. On the same spread, then, we’re told he can’t. That latter revelation would’ve been a much better fit for the next page. More suspense that way. The three piglets also have several phrases of dialogue on each page that they cycle through. Some phrases introduce the page’s action, others react to the page’s events. Sometimes, though, the pigs will seem to speak out of order as they loop through their soundbites. So one pig could be saying, for example, “Here comes the wolf!” while the next says “Good riddance!”

Another concern is the intricacy of the thing. This is a breathtaking app with beautiful art and really rich user interface. Are we shutting some of the younger kids out of the action, though? The pigs try to curate the story by guiding a reader from one hot spot to the next. Some younger users, however, may not get through a page’s events/dialogue in the order the designers intended. And it took a few plays to realize that the menu is also a tutorial. There’s just so much to do on each spread that the forward momentum could get lost. But I’d rather have an app that’s too engrossing rather than a flat, boring, and one-dimensional experience!

My favorite things about this app are the art (so stylish!), the interactivity (so many different layers), and the brilliant attention to every detail, from multiple perspectives. Everything has been thought through and through and I would recommend you check out this app today. I firmly believe that quality, visual appeal, and innovative functionality will be the hallmarks of the next generation of app developers, nay, artists. With their first digital release, Nosy Crow has become one to watch.

Speaking of watching, check out the app’s video preview, courtesy of Nosy Crow.

ETA: Added illustrator name, as there is indeed a credit screen.

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screen-shot-2010-09-01-at-74143-amTo keep up with my other book review this week (and since book reviews are much easier to write when you’re trying to leave for vacation and make sure the blog is all stocked up with posts!), here is another book review, this time of WRITING GREAT BOOKS FOR YOUNG ADULT by literary agent Regina Brooks.

This is, quite frankly, the book I wish I’d written. It covers everything from character to plotting to getting published.

The scope of this book is much larger, so there’s not as much deep focus on the writing craft itself, but you do gain really valuable insights from the publishing world, as Regina contacted editors all across the children’s books spectrum to contribute thoughts and mini-essays on the topics at hand. So not only do you get to hear her take on it, but you get to hear how editors talk and think on the subject, too.

I think Regina’s advice on plotting is definitely worth a read. Since she’s an agent, she takes a more commercial bent in giving writing tips. And this book is specifically geared to people writing for the young adult market, so all of her writing advice squares well with the quirks needs of teen readers and of YA publishing.

I’ve been meaning to crow from the rooftops about this book for a while, and I’m glad to finally be starting up my non-fiction reviews, as this one definitely deserves a shout out. It’s a quick read, with writing advice and even a few prompts to get you thinking. And it comes from an agent, so all of the tips are geared in a direction that will make your YA fiction more saleable. This is a solid resource, especially great if you’re diving into YA and want an overview, but meaty enough where YA veterans will also find depth and new perspectives.

If you’re planning on seeking it out, it was published by Sourcebooks in 2009. The ISBN # is: 978-1402226618.

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review_spilling_inkNow, if you’ve been following the blog for a while, you know that I used to do book reviews, and that I still occasionally recommend books to my readers.

Reviewing fiction is tricky for me these days. As my clients’ books get closer and closer to publication, I’d like to use this space to feature their work, since I’m deeply invested in their success. And so I hesitate to highlight the work of other authors unless I have a great reason to. That makes sense, right? Also, while I never made it a practice to rip books apart (If you’re just going to snark, why bother writing a review? Snark is all about showing off, not about communicating anything to your reader…), I don’t feel like I can be totally objective anymore. What if I have lukewarm praise for a book…and then want to work with that book’s editor? Oops. So I’ve been out of the fiction review game for a while and will stay out, unless I have something to recommend that I’m crazy about and that has a great lesson for writers in it.

However, enough writers have been asking me for book recommendations on the craft of writing that I thought I’d dive back into the review pool a little bit and recommend non-fiction.

On my bookshelves, I have fiction, picture books, graphic novels, and then a whole shelf of books about writing, both inspirational and informational. I think a shelf like this is essential to any writer or publishing professional. Not only do you want to read great writing, you want to read great things that smart people have said about creating great writing. So I’ll start writing recommendations for these types of books, since they’re so important. SPILLING INK by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter (with illustrations by Matt Phelan) is the newest book on my writing non-fiction shelf, and I absolutely love it.

You may be thinking, “Illustrations, eh?” Yes. This book is actually geared toward kids and teens who want to write. It’s touted as “A Young Writer’s Handbook.” But since we know that stuff geared toward kids and teens is just as rich and complex — and almost always more fun — than stuff geared toward adults, this book is a must read for writers of any age group.

Anne and Ellen gloss over a lot of the really nitty-gritty writing stuff, like POV definitions and fancy pants MFA terminology, but they really do strike at the heart of character and plot. And, best of all, they are personal counselor and mentor and cheerleader, rolled into one. Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter are widely published and beloved children’s book authors, both of them, and they pepper these pages with their own experiences, both uplifting and disappointing. It feels like they’ve opened up their hearts and their writing salon to aspiring writers, and they’re sharing the best and the most challenging of what they’ve learned on their writing journey.

The style of the book is warm and encouraging and effortlessly candid. I read it in one sitting and wished I had a crate of these to give away and to send out to all of my  novel-writing clients. Not that my clients need a How To manual, but I’m convinced that every writer, no matter what level, will glean something from this charming book, even if it is the refreshing feeling of two new writing friends, Anne and Ellen, rooting for you from behind this bright yellow cover.

Check it out today and stock, or start, your own writer’s bookshelf. If you’re seeking it out, the publisher is Flash Point/Roaring Brook, it came out in March, 2010, and the ISBN # is: 978-1596435148.

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I read a lot of books in my line of work. Most of them are unpublished, sure, but I still have to make time to keep up with the market. I read tons of ARCs (Advance Reader or Review Copies, sent by publishers to reviewers, bookstores and librarians before the book’s release date… I get them through bookseller friends or at industry events) and already-published books. I used to do a lot more in terms of book reviews on here, but now I think I’ll put together lists of my recent favorites a few times a year. In the spirit of Christmas, here’s a quick and dirty last-minute Holiday Gift Guide with recommendations for some things I’ve read lately and loved.

Support the industry you want to work in by buying two copies of each of these… one for the favorite teen in your life and one as research for yourself, the writer!

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flashburnoutcoverFLASH BURNOUT
by L.K. Madigan
Young Adult (336 pages). Houghton Mifflin, 2009.
ISBN: 978-0547194899

For Readers: You don’t need lil’ old me to recommend this book to you. It is a PW Flying Start, a finalist for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award and beloved by everyone. But I will anyway, because it is just that good. You will love Blake’s voice. The main character manages to be hilarious and poignant from one moment to the next, a feat that’s not easy to pull off. Author L.K. Madigan has crafted a story where you’ll be frequently put-off by Blake and his choices, but you’ll be rooting for him anyway, all while laughing your ass off. There are some sexual situations, so this might be a good fit for the older teen set.

For Writers: This is what I mean when I say “voice.” A lot of you are still confused on that subject, or you want to see it in action. Just read this.

buckfeverBUCK FEVER
by Cynthia Chapman Willis
Middle Grade (240 pages). Feiwel & Friends, 2009.
ISBN: 978-0312382971

For Readers: I feel like I have to include BUCK FEVER here because I don’t usually cover a lot of MG and I don’t usually cover a lot of boy MG especially. This book features an unlikely hero, a boy who isn’t one of those self-conscious nerd geniuses like the character in FOOD, GIRLS, AND OTHER THINGS I CAN’T HAVE (Read my review). He’s sensitive and shy and genuinely wants to make a difference in his world and to belong to his family, neither of which he’s been able to do very well so far. A sensitively-written novel that’ll appeal to both girls and boys, this MG pits its hero against a really big moral choice… and, in my opinion, that’s the heart and essence of middle-grade right there.

For Writers: If you’re writing more literary or more old-fashioned middle-grade, pick up BUCK FEVER because it puts to bed the myth that these kinds of books have to be slow and boring. There’s a lot going on and the pacing moves briskly. There’s also a great mix here of internal conflict, of the main character and his struggles to define himself and to live up to his father’s expectations, and external conflict, with a local hunting family and the deer that he’s supposed to kill. Yes, it’s a hunting book, and that will turn some people off, but it’s still worth a study.

timothydragonTIMOTHY AND THE DRAGON’S GATE
by Adrienne Kress
Middle Grade (368 pages). Weinstein Books, 2009.
ISBN: 978-1602861091

For Readers: Hilarious hijinks ensue in Adrienne Kress’ second book. Middle-grade readers who want just the right touch of whimsy and don’t want to dip their feet into wizards and dragons will love the author’s unique take on fantasy/adventure. This will appeal to both boys and girls — a rare feat — and will leave readers clamoring for more. Good thing they’ll find it in Kress’ debut ALEX AND THE IRONIC GENTLEMAN, which shares characters and plot with the follow-up. Well worth a read!

For Writers: This is another example of great voice. Kress’ work is a study in the self-conscious narrator. What do I mean by that? It’s a narrator who is very much a part of the story him- or herself. They break the fourth wall, make asides to the reader and otherwise participate. The narrator’s voice colors everything. Kress’ books are also great middle-grade adventure novels with pirates, theatre, quirks galore. They’re over-the-top and they’re romps but there’s also some serious craftsmanship going on. This style worked very well for Lemony Snicket and, if you want another hidden gem example, definitely pick up TIMOTHY.

goodbyerobotHOW TO SAY GOODBYE IN ROBOT
by Natalie Standiford
Young Adult (288 pages). Scholastic Press, 2009.
ISBN: 978-0545107082

For Readers: I have made no secret of my burning love for this book. It slays me. If I had read it in my incarnation as a geeky, profoundly introspective 15- or 16-year-old, it would’ve changed my life. I think it has pretty much done that anyway. This book is truly for those special readers: the observers, the quirk-ridden, the deep thinkers, the lonely hearts, the painfully awkward. And that’s an amazing thing. I think this simultaneously heart-warming and heartbreaking story is one that will reach out of the pages and grab its readers, never to let them go.

For Writers: “Quirky” is such a cheap word now. Too many people think they have what it takes to write a truly quirky character and instead they emerge with a mish-mash of incomprehensible traits that don’t make a fleshed-out person. Natalie Standiford has created characters who are almost too real. Their interests, their passions, their needs are achingly authentic. They are truly quirky, without being cute or contrived about it. And they don’t harp on their quirks or their loneliness, like most other characters do. I don’t know exactly what lesson a writer can take from this book. I’ve taken so many, over several rereadings, that I really do urge you all to just read it and discover it for yourself.

gothgirlGOTH GIRL RISING
by Barry Lyga
Young Adult (400 pages). Houghton Mifflin, 2009.
ISBN: 978-0547076645

For Readers: Kyra won’t be for everyone, but those who read her and resonate with her will carry her voice and her story for a very long time. Lyga’s angsty, fully-formed character has been waiting for a chance to tell her story and I can’t imagine a better one to showcase her side of things. Despite some very difficult and emotional moments throughout, the ending resonates will a rare, well-earned hope.

For Writers: Barry Lyga is a guy. But he writes an edgy teen girl with all the skill and conviction in the world. Many writers ask me if it’s okay to step so far outside yourself to find a character’s voice. Guy writers, especially, worry that they won’t get credibility writing from a girl’s POV. And I think that’s a valid concern, especially for men writing a first-person woman (I think women writing from a guy’s POV have it slightly easier in terms of criticism, as did L.K. Madigan in FLASH BURNOUT, above, but that’s another bucket of fish). If you are finding your current first-person protagonist is a stretch for you, pick up GOTH GIRL RISING and see how seamlessly the writer a) maintains the writing voice he’s well-known for, and b) slips on a whole new skin.

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And for the love of goats, go buy these at your local independent bookstore or online at IndieBound.org.

For other books that I have loved this year, click on the “Highly Recommended” tag in my blog sidebar. You’ll see things I’ve reviewed and loved from earlier.

Disclosures: This list includes friends as well as ABLit clients. Books have either been purchased by me, obtained at BEA, passed along from friends, or sent to me by the author in ARC form.

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I recently read Justine Larbalestier’s LIAR (Bloomsbury, September 29, 2009) and Libba Bray’s GOING BOVINE (Delacorte, September 22, 2009) back to back. Both books are similar in that they blur the line of “reality” and leave the reader wondering what really “happened” and what didn’t. The reason for the gratuitous quotation marks (lest anyone accuse them of being unnecessary) is: this is fiction. Technically, none of it is real.

But even with fiction, the reader tends to assume that most things they read are true. Just like Micah says in LIAR, people expect truth, they need it. They want to believe. Similarly, readers want to believe a narrator, especially a first person one.

That’s what makes an intentionally unreliable narrator like LIAR’s Micah — who revels in the falsehoods she spins, sometimes with (dubious, perhaps) apology, oftentimes without — so challenging and so delicious. In the case of Cameron, from GOING BOVINE, his unreliability isn’t necessarily a choice, seeing as his brain is quickly deteriorating from the variant Creutzfeltd Jakob virus, or mad cow disease. Nonetheless, his view of the world is extremely skewed. Both narrators spend their arcs in the messy gray area between what might be happening in a realistic, linear plot and what they insist is the true story.

Two such similar books — that question truth and reality and how easily these things can be manipulated in a reader’s experience of fiction — coming out in the same month makes me think that we might be entering a new phase of postmodernism in YA literature. These books don’t just tell a story, they comment on the medium of the storytelling, on the life inside the story and outside of it, on reality itself, for both the characters and the reader. Postmodernism, in terms of literary criticism, refers to art that is self-conscious, self-referential. Metafiction, also at play here, means fiction that never lets the reader forget that they’re reading something somebody made up.

I think these books are an important bit of evolution, especially when I consider the young adults who will be reading them. The question of what reality is posed here is apt for teens growing up today, whose reality is augmented by technology, the Internet, social networking and virtual worlds that seem to nestle within each other like stacking dolls, among many other things. Reality has a different flavor, more layers of experience and a faster tempo right now than it ever has before, and YA is changing to reflect this.

Every art form has a moment when it begins to fold in on itself and comment on the established tropes, the form, the function of its ancestry. I think this point has arrived for YA — at least for the rich and extremely meaty incarnation of the genre that has developed into a market powerhouse over the last ten to fifteen years. More so than before, this fall and books like LIAR and GOING BOVINE seem to be leading the charge. I’ll be very curious to see if more and more boundary-bending, metafictional YA starts to emerge. Also, I can’t wait until reactions from teen readers pour in. I want to know whether or not these stories will resonate with a generation that gets more and more postmodern, that seems to press against it like a plane nosing the sound barrier, with every passing every nanosecond.

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by Kate Messner
Middle Grade, 208 pages.
Walker Books for Young Readers (2009)
ISBN: 978-0802798428

Gianna must collect and identify 25 leaves for a school project but life keeps getting in the way… In a small, understated book that delivers a multi-faceted plot with a gloriously well-developed character in Gianna Z, Kate Messner gives us an impressive middle grade debut.

THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. joins some of my recent favorite middle grades like VIOLET RAINES ALMOST GOT STRUCK BY LIGHTNING, LOVE, AUBREY (Read my review) and WHEN YOU REACH ME (Read my review) as a book where family, identity and friendship mingle in a completely truthful way. Gianna wants to forge her own path at school, where a bully and academic setbacks frustrate her, but she also longs to define and deepen the relationships that mean the most to her: those with her family. As a character, she embodies the balance that’s so important in middle grade literature.

For Readers: Gianna will resonate with readers because she’s flawed — and that’s exactly why we love her! For the life of her, she can’t seem to concentrate on her project. She loses her temper. She can’t always hold her tongue. She’s not afraid to make mistakes, but she does suffer the consequences. THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. is all about one girl defining what’s important in her life… a process readers young and old can relate to on a fundamental level.

For Writers: Middle grade — when done right, as this is — features characters in a very turbulent time in their lives. They want to define themselves by their choices and their social status at school… but they might not be ready to leave the embrace of their family just yet. They need to strike out as individuals… but want reassurance that they’re on the right path. They like their independence… as long as there’s a shoulder to cry on. They have deep friendships with members of the opposite sex… that sometimes blossom into something more. Middle school is hormonal, enlightening, impossible and exhilarating. Writers who understand these nuances are in high demand.

Disclosure: Kate Messner is an ABLit client.

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by Allen Zadoff
Young Adult, 320 pages.
Egmont USA (2009)
ISBN: 978-1606840047

Andrew Zansky can’t stand the label on his Levi’s jeans because it exposes his 48 waist size for the world to see. At the beginning of his sophomore year in high school, Andy can’t help feeling like something needs to change. He wants more (and not just lasagna) from his life. When an opportunity to play varsity football comes along, he can’t believe his luck. But will his new identity among the jocks change more than his size-48 outside?

Debut YA novelist Allen Zadoff wrestled with some very conventional high school tropes — loser makes his way through the popularity ranks, the unattainable girl starts paying attention — and came up with a hilarious, completely unique voice to carry this familiar story in a new way. Zadoff, who has made no secret of his own struggles with weight (he is the author of HUNGRY, an adult memoir) gives us an unforgettable character in Andy, and a great title for Egmont USA’s inaugural list!

For Readers: FOOD, GIRLS, AND OTHER THINGS I CAN’T HAVE has been getting lots of great press recently because it gives center stage to a complicated, funny and completely relatable plus-size character who is — drum roll please — a dude. And the book portrays the problems that a larger kid faces in an honest, sarcastic and ultimately triumphant way. Even though it’s always good to see body diversity in books, readers of every shape will flock to Andy because his insecurities and quirks are unique yet universal. Plus… it’s a hilarious read that actually had me slapping my knee. It hits shelves on September 8th, so pick up a copy at your local indie!

For Writers: As if writers don’t already have a lot to consider when crafting a character! Well, I’m here to add another ingredient to the mix: physicality. Andy’s physicality is central to FOOD, GIRLS because his is, partly, anyway, a story about being a fat kid. However, every character has a body and, unless you’re writing paranormal, they’re usually tethered to that body and aware of it 24/7. When crafting a person out of thin air, when creating a character who, by definition, doesn’t exist, it’s easy to forget that they’re supposed to be meat and bone, complete with all the various aches, pains, embarrassments, rumbles, heft and weight that flesh entails. Read FOOD, GIRLS and see how grounded Andy is in his particular mass. Then see if you can’t add a similar sense of physical reality to your character’s life.

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by Michelle Zink
Young Adult, 352 pages.
Little, Brown Young Readers (2009)
ISBN: 978-0316027427

Shortly after her father’s death, Lia Milthorpe finds herself the centerpiece of an ancient prophecy. She also discovers she’s in direct opposition to her twin sister, Alice, at a time when she feels most alone in the world.

Lia must find secret clues her father left behind, figure out her role in the prophecy and stop Alice from unleashing dangerous evil that threatens the world as they know it.

An 1890′s historical novel, set in the Gothic landscape of upstate New York where the sun never seems to shine, PROPHECY OF THE SISTERS is a chilling glimpse of evil, of other dimensions and of the dark side of human nature.

The writing here is very atmospheric and evokes a dark, somber mood of dread that keeps the tensions high. As Lia and her friends and family get more and more enmeshed in the mythology of the Prophecy of the Sisters, the world around them gets even more creepy.

The various clues they uncover and the mythology Zink creates kept me interested in the story, as did the tension between Lia, who sees the good in human nature, and Alice, who has joined the dark side, as it were.

My only complaint about the story is that the entirety of the narrative is spent on characters doing research, hunting for clues and getting ready for the epic battle of good v. evil that we know is coming up in a subsequent book. If anything, this felt like prequel and preparation, not the main event. Still, it is a warm-up that I’m glad to have, and I’m sure that the other books in the trilogy will deliver the action so tantalizingly promised here.

PROPHECY OF THE SISTERS officially comes out August 1st but is already available on Amazon and at many stores. Links: Shop Indie Bookstores, Amazon

For Readers: Fans of paranormal, Victorian or dark fantasy will love this book. It brings up a lot of questions about what it means to be part of a prophecy and to be responsible for the fate of the world. Usually, this kind of plot lands on the shoulders of some fantasy kick-ass action hero or heroine. Lia’s quiet, introspective character being saddled with this kind of responsibility is a new twist on a well-worn plot, and will win fans who’ll see themselves in the main character.

For Writers: There are a lot of prophecy books out there. If you’re writing one, I’d highly recommend picking up PROPHECY OF THE SISTERS because it delves deeply into the psychological impact that this prophecy has on the main character. A lot of heroes get slapped with a prophecy and then dive into it without looking back. How Lia handles her new role in the war between evil and good, as well as how this prophecy changes her family dynamic, is very realistic and human. Well done and well worth a thorough read.

You’ll also be smart to check out how Zink creates an entire mythology for the workings of this prophecy. The world she imagines is very thorough, with some great rules, and even encompasses seven Otherworlds! This aspect of the novel is airtight, very specific and totally believable.

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by Maggie Stiefvater
Young Adult, 400 pages.
Scholastic Press (2009)
ISBN: 978-0545123266

“Once bitten, twice shy” does not apply to Grace. Ever since an amber-eyed wolf rescued her from his pack, she has been combing the woods for him, reveling in his silent gaze every winter.

What Grace doesn’t know is that her wolf has a name, Sam, and a human body, but only after the temperature rises past a certain degree. She also doesn’t know much she will love him. Or that this year is his last as a human before the cold wins out and he becomes a wolf forever.

Can their love thaw him for good? Better yet, how could Grace have survived her own wolf bite without turning were? Does that mean there’s a cure?

Edward who? SHIVER is poised to usher in the Age of Werewolf and dominate the glut of vampire and faerie books on the shelves. The only difference between this novel and some of the paranormal romance out there is that it’s actually good. Well-written, haunting, imagined so well and so completely that the world, the love, the wolves, and Grace’s self-deprecating and funny voice are all achingly real.

Maggie Stiefvater (author of LAMENT and the upcoming BALLAD) delivers a love story full of obsession, danger, high stakes and simple, nuzzle-your-face-in-the-hollows-of-his-neck bliss. That’s pretty much the epitome of how any great romance feels, and she captures all angles, from the stupid fights to the hope, against, in this case, some pretty long odds, that love is enough to overcome any obstacles.

And, unlike some romances out there, the two characters aren’t drawn together by inexplicable invisible magnets. There is a very real and visceral explanation for Grace and Sam’s love, and it dovetails with the rest of the book both emotionally and plot-wise, which is so refreshing.

Overall, a well-written, raw and powerful love story that just so happens to have tons of fierce werewolf action and mythology. Seriously: what more could you possibly ask for?

SHIVER officially comes out August 1st but lots of stores and Amazon are selling it early. Here are some links: Shop Indie Bookstores, Amazon.

For Readers: Read it. Now. Before all your friends start talking about it and you feel left out. There’s something here for everyone. Paranormal action, heart-melting romance, high school drama. It’ll take a couple hours to get through and you won’t be able to stop. For me, that’s the mark of an excellent story.

For Writers: SHIVER will take paranormal romance to a more serious and realistic level. Some of the specimens out there now have been following some old cliche that throws two unlikely but insanely hot partners together and goodness forbid anything wrench them apart, even if they have very little in common. This convention goes out the window here. The characters have great motivation to be together, the love between them feels very real (both the good and the bad of it) and they take the notion of sacrifice to an entirely new level. If you’re writing teen or paranormal romance, just know that the bar has been raised, and then go buy the book that’s raising it.

This novel is also written in very compelling alternating POV chapters, so if you’re working with two or more narrators, especially if one is a guy and one is a girl, check it out and see how Maggie does it. It really is very well-crafted.

Disclosure: Maggie is an ABLit client.

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by Rebecca Stead
Middle Grade, 208 pages.
Wendy Lamb Books (2009)
ISBN: 978-0385737425

“There are days when everything changes, and this was one of those days.”

Miranda thinks she has her life as a latchkey kid figured out: her frazzled mom is dating Richard, Sal is her best friend, the crazy man in the street sleeps under the mailbox, the spare key is tucked into the fire hose.

Then a series of mysterious letters, written by someone who knows the future, shake up her world and things begin to change.

A WRINKLE IN TIME is lauded in the acknowledgments for WHEN YOU REACH ME and that is no accident. L’Engle’s classic has influenced this book thematically and plot-wise. Both books, you see, happen to feature time travel.

At first, that really surprised me about WHEN YOU REACH ME. Rebecca Stead has created a very convincing real world full of authentic, idiosyncratic characters, spare description and witty, engaging writing. The extra twist of time travel was unexpected but fascinating. By the time the climax comes together — with two of the same person, one from the present, one from the future, colliding in a gripping scene — I was riveted.

Best of all, this book reminds me of LOVE, AUBREY (Read my review), my favorite middle grade book of the year. Surprise, surprise, both are from Wendy Lamb’s imprint. Bravo! WHEN YOU REACH ME adds another quiet, unassuming but completely engaging and heartfelt book to an already amazing list.

WHEN YOU REACH ME came out July 14th. Here are links if you want to buy: Shop Indie Bookstores, Amazon.

For Readers: This book will be a hit with smart kids, teens and (cough cough) kidlit-lovin’ adults. It is a blazing-fast read. No joke, I polished it off in, like, three minutes and wanted to read it again. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Well, Stead has paid her tribute to L’Engle and, at the same time, has created an emotional, intelligent and intricate story that could easily become its own modern classic.

For Writers: WHEN YOU REACH ME is a perfect example of my favorite “genre.” I put that in quotes lest all the MFA and PhD students in the world  jump down my throat, for it isn’t really a genre, per se, but a term from literary criticism. For me, though, “magical realism” is the only way to describe this book. Magical realism is our world with a twist, a little magical quirk, like time travel. The people are like us, the world is our own and easily recognizable, but something is a little off and the characters must react to it.

For me, that term aptly fills the gray area between genres like sci-fi/fantasy/paranormal (that usually feature a world not quite our own) and what you’d call “contemporary” or “literary” fiction (that feature no crazy anything). If it isn’t a genre you’ve tried writing, then do. It is so much fun and such a treat (as long as you’re clear when you set the rules of the magic and stick to them, of course).

Also, I’m pretty much a stickler about the use of the 2nd person in fiction (more on this later) but Stead has used it here to great effect and as a surefire way to keep tension and stakes sky high. Definitely check it out to learn more about that.

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