Monthly Archives: August 2014

Little, Brown Children’s Book Editors Talk to Dogwood

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Little, Brown Children’s Book Editors Talk to Dogwood

Almost a year ago now, when I was Managing Editor at Dogwood, I interviewed two Children’s/YA book editors at Little, Brown. Check it out!

Dogwood: A Journal of Poetry and Prose

by Maria Mazzaro, Dogwood Managing Editor 

“There’s a fine line between cannibalizing your own sales and putting out two things that are very similar and realizing that readers will read it all.” Leslie Shumate, Editorial Assistant at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, shared this insight with me after I asked her about the Twilight phenomenon.

It’s a precarious situation, she and Connie Hsu, Editor at Little, Brown, explained. After Little, Brown enjoyed the success of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, the house wholeheartedly rejected any submissions that had a werewolf or a vampire, or even an Edward-Jacob love triangle dynamic.

“I think we learned something twofold,” Hsu admitted, acknowledging that the reading community—teen and adults alike—soon found itself in the midst of a vampire craze.  “It was a learning moment where we learned that teens, when they’re done with that one series, are hungry for more.”

So would…

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A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

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I’ve gone ahead and subtitled the first installment in the All Souls Trilogy “The Adult Twilight.”

And who doesn’t want an adult Twilight? It was the greatest streamline enjoyment for YAs (and greatest guilty pleasure for non-YAs) of its time, what with its vampire – forbidden love – love triangle trifecta. And an adult version of that would just, you know, take our leads out of high school and make them slightly less post-pubescent and grammatically incorrect.

A Discovery of Witches may not have a love triangle (at least not in this first installment), but it does have a beautiful vampire and his non-vampire love interest. Diana (the non-vamp) is not a human, but a witch who had forgone her powers in her youth because of her parents’ mysterious death. Little does she know, there is a reason she can’t easily summon up her witching powers—and her beautiful vampire can help her find out why.

Let me say, to begin, that this is worth the read. It’s characters are lovable yet fallible — this is a quibble I have with an array of young adult novels. Characters can still seem perfect to their love interests if they have flaws! Sure, Matthew is a vampire. He is insanely handsome, uncannily intelligent, perfectly graceful and suave — but he also is roughly over-protective, secretive, and controlling. Despite this, Diana loves him. (And so do I.)

It’s also got originality — yes, it’s the adult Twilight, but it’s also got a mind of its own. And so does Diana’s house (have a mind of its own, I mean).  It makes up rooms when it wants, locks doors when people want to be alone, shelters old ghosts and ancestors, throws houseguests across the room when it’s mad, and hides knitting from the knitter. It’s like the changing staircases at Hogwarts, only better.

In the quibbles, department, this novel is long and it feels long. I’m all for 600-pagers (who didn’t love Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince?), but there were times where this one could have used some edits. Sometimes, it’s a novel. Sometimes, it’s a college history lecture. (Author Deborah Harkness is currently a professor of history at University of Southern California in Los Angeles. She’s brilliant, and it shows. But I graduated college. I figure most of the readers have too.) Continuing with minute particulars, Diana might be narcoleptic – she’s always falling asleep. And it’s convenient that Matthew happens to have been on a nickname basis with every famous historical figure throughout history, from Shakespeare to Washington. I’m sure he was also best friends with John Lennon, though he doesn’t seem to mention that in the first book. Later in the series, perhaps?

But, all in all, this novel is definitely going places. There are basically three major plots fueling the story: Diana’s trying to summon her witching powers, a mysterious manuscript that everyone wants, and the creatures who are trying to break up the witch-vampire romance. I’ll admit, I’m going to wait before going straight into the second book – I need to break for a book that’s just a little less smart – but read it I shall. 

GoT (A Song of Ice and Fire) Update

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This is my best friend. She’s a reader/writer/Oxford comma-lover too.

I’m reblogging because I am having the SAME EXACT problem with a book I’m currently reading: A Discovery of Witches. #BestFriendTelepathy

I won’t give up either. I promise…

AlexandraPub

Well this is the first post about it. So it isn’t an update. 

I started reading A Game of Thrones and I love it. (LOVE) But…

Here’s the real issue. There is a lot going on and some chapters are slower than others. Leave me with Daenerys Targaryen for a little while longer please! Not that I don’t love Jon and Arya, but when I am stuck with Sansa and Catelyn and Eddard for too long I get bored. A summer of Young Adult novels has warped my brain. And I just bought ten more (YA novels). But not to worry! I have not given up! I know that there is so much greatness to come that I would never dare. 

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The Infernal Devices Series by Cassandra Clare

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For a few weeks now, I’ve been trying to adequately express to others how this is the best YA series that I’ve read in a very long time. This is what I’ve come up with:

“This is the best YA series that I’ve read in a very long time.”

Cassandra Clare quickly grabbed my interested within the first hundred pages of New York Times bestselling novel City of Bones, the first book in her Mortal Instruments series (more to come on this later). So when I finished the first five of those six books, and before the sixth book was released in late May, I decided to take up The Infernal Devices.

For a week and a half, I didn’t prep for my new job, I justified to myself why I had to stay up until ridiculous hours when only me and my Nook were awake, and I avoided making plans, just so that I wouldn’t have to stop reading. Pathetic? Well, that’s a different story for a different day. But the bottom line is this: Infernal Devices is addicting.

The three-book series incepts as Tessa Gray arrives in England from her home in 19th century America while her soon-to-be Shadowhunter (demon-slaying and peace-keeping) friends battle demons on the streets of London. Tessa is supposed to be meeting her brother, her only living relation; whom she meets is actually the Dark Sisters…and that’s where all the drama begins. Tessa discovers she has powers at the hands of the Dark Sisters, who, despite cultivating her powers, are horrible people. Tessa then must escape and find refuge in London’s Institute. And this is all in the first fifty pages.

What follows is a search to and from the Magister (who plots to capture Tessa), a dysfunctional family dynamic revealed, and, of course, a love story.

The love story begins in typical YA fashion: Tessa meets Will, an obvious romantic interest; then Jem, another great guy (or, in this case, Shadowhunter) appears on the scene, and a love triangle ensues. But this triangle, for sure, is unique in its approach, development, and conclusion (definitely conclusion!); in this matter of Tessa’s heart, I can assure you, there is no obvious choice. And, looking ahead to the series’ finale, there is no disappointment. I promise.

Did I mention I am obsessed with Cassandra Clare?

She doesn’t assume ignorance of her readers, which is perhaps her strongest quality as a writer. She imagines and develops complex plots, characters, other-worldly powers, and intriguing creatures, and does not assume, as YA readers, that we need to be re-capped to, or dumbed-down for. She gets that her readers are actual YAs alongside some As who wish they were still Ys too. It’s a delicate balance, but she strikes it.

In terms of logistics, here’s what I suggest: read the first three books of The Mortal Instruments series. (While The Infernal Devices is a “prequel” in time, you’ll want to have The Mortal Instruments background first, and the first three of these books come to a decent stopping point.) Then, break Mortal Instruments for Infernal, and read all three. Give a good sad cry, good cry, everything cry, and then read the last three Mortal Instruments books. This is probably the best bet for absorbing the interlocking plots of the two series. I would also advise against reading five Mortal Instruments, three Infernal, and then the final Mortal Instrument book. Because, as was aforementioned, there is no ending better than the ending of Infernal Devices. And after that ending – well, everything, even the sixth Mortal Instrument – inevitably paled in comparison.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

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I’m a sucker for books-turned-movies. So when I saw the trailer for this one, I downloaded it as soon as my nook had charged up.

In this short novel, Mia watches through an outer-body experience the events of her unconscious hospital stay after she’s involved in a car crash that instantaneously kills both her parents.

For starters, first lines always do it for me. When I am about to purchase a book, I always read it’s opening line, and it’s always seemed to work for me for so long, to either suck me in or push me away. And If I Stay has a great first line, one that instantaneously hooked me on the protagonist’s voice. The line was sharp and dismissive, exactly what you would want from a seemingly tragic novel about life and death: an avoidance of a cliche.

But in the end, I think my first-line theory failed me.

At the novel’s close, I was wholeheartedly underwhelmed by what the protagonist, Mia, was able to capture about her surroundings as a silent, invisible third party. She saw characters, their emotions; but she didn’t see through them. I was hoping for a YA coming of age story, in which the surreal helped give way for growth as a symbol of rebirth and getting to know things about her fellow characters that she hadn’t known before. But the characters were all two dimensional stereotypical grievances: her grandfather, seemingly unemotional, was a crier; her parents’ friend, a nurse, the crutch that somehow manages to run the hospital for which she does not work; and her best friend, the mother to her own mother, the glue that stays whole while Mia’s boyfriend breaks down. It was all very surface; there were so many characters whom I feel like I – and for that matter, Mia – did not truly know.

Of course, it had it’s bright moments. The part at which Mia’s grandmother rambles to the unconscious Mia is a beautiful portrayal of stream of consciousness writing that managed to move me to tears. There is also decent use of backstory to detail Mia’s key moments with the many characters of the book; however, the way in which these back stories were developed somehow warped each and every one of them into a routine that proved to be more repetitive than developmental; if I didn’t know by page 50 that Mia was into classical music while her parents and boyfriend were into rock, I would have been, quite simply, a moron.