Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Some Cybils Fantasy/SciFi Titles And Authors

Sheila Ruth has the list of 2009 Fantasy/SciFi Cybils Nominees up at Wands and Worlds. I noticed some familiar titles and authors. Among them:

The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan.

Ottoline Goes To School by Chris Riddell.

Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carman.

Stonewall Hinkleman and the Battle of Bull Run by Michael Hemphill and Sam Riddleburger.

Authors I've read with nominated titles I haven't read:

Joni Sensel, Jonathan Stroud, Anne Ursu, M. T. Anderson, Angie Sage, Derek Landy, Michael Buckley, P.J. Haarsma, and Holly Black.

And, finally, I noticed that Pamela F. Service is nominated for Camp Alien. It's been years since I've read anything by Service, but she is memorable at Chez Gauthier for Stinker From Space.

For someone who isn't a major fantasy fan, I seem to have read a lot of it.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

A Complete Adventure

Into the Volcano by Don Wood is another one of the elementary/middle grade graphic novelCybils finalists I'm determined to tell you all about.

Volcano is a well-done graphic novel (no narrative and plenty of wordless panels where the images carried the story) that is also a realistic adventure. It has that classic kidlit device of the missing, mysterious parent, but in this case she is not some fantasy figure but (be still my heart) a scientist! (This feminist-leaning woman of a certain age could just weep.) She's also sort of an adventurer out to collect some kind of pearl. She has a falling out with her sister who is also a partner in her pearl gathering scheme. Her two sons, who had been living in what appeared to me to be the United States with what looks to be their wealthy father, are invited out to visit their aunt, who plans to use them to help find scientist mom and the pearls.

In a volcano.

So the kids take part in a dangerous adventure that is resolved by the end of the book. Personally, I'm always satisfied when a story is wrapped up at the end of a book, and this one also involves a change for one of our main characters. Meaning readers get some character development with their adventure.

In the event that you are one of those adults who can't resist pushing a little education with your kids' recreational reading, you can check out Wood's Story Behind Into the Volcano for an account of his research--told graphically.

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

You Will Believe You Are At Camp

Chiggers by Hope Larson made me feel that I didn't miss anything by not having gone to summer camp. On the other hand, I recognized a lot of what was going on in this charming graphic novel, because summer camp sounds a whole lot like college dorm life, minus the sex and drinking.

Chiggers is about young Abby's experience at summer camp. She was looking forward to more of the good times she'd had in previous years with her friend, Rose. But Rose, an older camper, is now a Cabin Assistant. So Abby is on her own, struggling with making new relationships with new people who often aren't in the same scheduled activities she's in and who sometimes talk about her in the bathroom and who she works things out with, after all, in time for everyone to promise to write when camp's over.

It could be argued that there's no real story here, with a traditonal plot and a climax. It's one of those Zenny books that you just have to enjoy moment to moment.

And I did.

As a graphic novel, Chiggers works very well. I will admit that there were a couple of characters I had trouble keeping separate for a while, but otherwise the graphics did what they were supposed to do--they showed setting and background and action. The opening pages, in particular, did a wonderful job of showing us a young girl getting ready for and going to camp. And, though I've never been to camp, I've left some kids off at one, and the pages where Abby is lying on her bunk by herself waiting for more people to show up expressed exactly what I think must have been going on for the young Gauthiers. For that matter, it's what goes on when you're the first one to arrive at the dorm in the fall. Except for the lying down part, it's what happens when you're the first one to arrive anywhere.

I do wonder how boy readers will react to Chiggers, if it's just a little too estrogen-ridden for them. That's not a complaint, though. I'm just curious.

Chiggers is a finalist for a Cybil in the elementary and middle grade graphic novel category.

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

I Forgot The Easy Readers, Too

I forgot to direct your attention to the Easy Reader finalists for the Cybils. Easy readers, like graphic novels, are of particular interest for me. Not that the rest of the finalists aren't interesting.

I seem to be really struggling to get over Christmas this year. I suspect that if I went back and looked at my end of the year posts, I'd find that I have trouble getting over it every year. Though who has time for that? I have reason to hope to be back to my so-called normal rituals by Tuesday. Then, of course, I leave for a week's vacation next Saturday.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

It Did Grow On Me

This fall I've been hearing quite a lot about Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki. When I finally got hold of a copy, myself, I felt a little let down.

Skim is a goth girl Wicca wannabe in a private girls' school. She and her best friend are those outsider girls you always see in teen movies and, well, teen books. Skim and her best friend get on each other's nerves and grow apart. Skim falls in love with a teacher. Someone commits suicide. A popular girl is also depressed. Skim and the popular girl have something in common.

I felt that this wasn't a particularly original situation or storyline. However, I will admit that I finally got drawn in to the story. I just can't say I was bowled over by it.

I wonder if this is a YA book that really is best appreciated by YAs. I certainly believe that depression and misery are part of adolescence, but now that I'm no longer an adolescent, myself, I tend to find that scenario trite. A teenage reader of this graphic novel may very well feel that she's stumbled onto Truth. I found the teacher/love interest, Ms. Archer, who kisses Skim and then abandons her, damn close to a predator, and at the very least creepy. I had a feeling, though, that she was meant to be more benign than that. My jaded grown-up eye may have just perceived her differently.

Skim is nominated for a Cybil in the YA graphic novel category.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

And You Think Things Are Bad Now. It Could Be A Whole Lot Worse.

I'm going to say right up front that as a general rule, I'm not terribly fond of apocalyptic novels. They tend to be very similar, I think. Everything's dreadful. People are suffering. Humankind usually brings the whole thing down on itself through messing with nature, religion, war, science, global markets. Somehow it's my fault.

In the graphic novelIn the Small by Michael Hague we're brought down by a mysterious blue light. After the light is gone, all of humanity (or so it appears) has shrunk. How will people survive when almost every creature on the planet is larger than they are and evidently carnivorous? Personally, I was impressed by how many family pets had been waiting their chance to turn on their human masters.

The survival aspect of the story is interesting and moves along quickly. However, the main character, Mouse (that's got to have some kind of meaningful significance) Willow, has premonitions or visions that make it possible for him to know just what needs to be done. What's more, as he's leading a group of co-workers from his father's office out to the 'burbs, he runs into one of those stereotypical street people who also has visions. Street guy's visions mesh very nicely with Mouse's.

The whole vision thing seemed out of place to me. It seemed like a quick and dirty way of giving a teenage boy a leadership position. His sister back home is quite a mighty sprite, and she doesn't need any visions.

Though some of the human figures in the panels seem a little roughly drawn, I don't think that's unusual in graphic novels. This is a color novel with glossy pages.

In the Small has been nominated for a Cybil in the Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novel category, though the publisher describes the book as young adult. Since the main character and his sister, the other big figure in the story, are teenagers and there are no major child characters in the book, young adult seems a more appropriate classification to me. reviewed this book back in October.

Michael Hague was interviewed on In the Small at Newsarama.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Still More On Graphics

Fuse #8 reviewed Cybils nominee Jellaby earlier this year.

Cybils nominee Skim has been named one of the New York Times Best Illustrated Books for 2008. Take that, Governor General.

J.L.Bell has more on the demise of Minx at Oz and Ends.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Perhaps Some Day Werewolves Will Be The New Vampires

Colleen at Chasing Ray interviewed Martin Millar, whose Lonely Werewolf Girl has been nominated for a Cybil in the Young Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction Category. The interview is part of the 2008 Winter Blog Blast Tour.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Some Graphic Links has a few more posts up on Cybils nominess in the graphic novel category:

Little Vampire by Joann Sfar Oops. Dans Anglais

Johnny Boo by James Kochalka From Burlington! I love Seven Days!

Knights of the Lunch Table by James Cammuso.

under the covers has a post up on How to Write Comics, which both Bibliovore and I think ought to have some relation to writing graphic novels.

And, finally, Oz and Ends writes about
Sons of Liberty , a historical fiction graphic novel.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Very Classy Frankenstein Story

A Frankenstein story is one in which scientists play God, messing with nature to create life. The end result is rarely good. (Think Jurassic Park. Or Alex Award winner Never Let Me Go.)

Like Never Let Me Go, The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson is a very high quality Frankenstein story. Its characterization equals its plotting, and it's very elegantly written. The outcome for The Adoration of Jenna Fox is far different than the outcome in Never Let Me Go, though. It's not your run-of-the-mill Frankenstein story ending.

Jenna Fox has just come out of a lengthy coma at the beginning of her story, which is set in a future United States that has suffered your usual futuristic disasters involving disease, earthquake, and economic breakdown. She seems in remarkably good shape, though, and the only medical person she sees is her father, the head of some kind of biotech firm. She has survived a horrendous accident that she can't recall. Things come back to her slowly. Things come to the reader slowly.

Slowly, in this case, is not a bad thing.

This book deals with some big issues, such as what it means to be human (I'm sorry, I kept thinking of Data on STTNG--not that there's anything wrong with that), parental love, rationing health care, and identity. But it doesn't do it in a pretentious, heavy-handed way. The Adoration of Jenna Fox has a scifi/thriller aspect that keeps it from feeling like too much of a problem book and a teen angst problem aspect that keeps it from falling into scifi/thriller cliches.

Personally, I could have done without the epilogue, but I never like epilogues.

I think some might argue that The Adoration of Jenna Fox ends the way it does because it's YA and YA must be hopeful. But I think that doesn't give it credit for asking an interesting question about the traditonal Frankenstein scenario--Is it really wrong to do this?

The Adoration of Jenna Fox is a Cybils nominee in the Young Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction category.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Maybe Graphic Nonfiction

I remember enjoying a book when I was young about a girl who disguised herself as a man so she could fight in the Civil War. So the premise behind No Girls Allowed: Tales of Daring Women Dressed as Men for Love, Freedom and Adventure by Susan Hughes and Willow Dawson certainly appeals to me.

I have to say, though, that I didn't find this graphic presentation of short pieces on seven different women particularly successful. A lot of the panels required those little narrative boxes to explain what was going on, and I still sometimes found myself confused. The snakes that appear in the story of Alfhild, a Viking princess, threw me, for example. A prince arriving to see her kills two snakes that appear out of nowhere. The princess then says, "Sir, you have killed my vipers." He apologizes and says, "It was the only way for me to win your hand in marriage!" The next page includes a confusing panel that suggests the king had set up the kill-the-vipers-marry-my-daughter scenario. The scene appears to show Alfhild discussing the marriage proposal with her family. In fact, we're told in a box that that is what she's doing. But at the bottom of the panel, another box of text appears in which we're told that her father delayed consulting her. The graphics and text actually appear to contradict one another.

Some of the women's motivation for taking on the life they do isn't very clear, either. That's particularly the case for Alfhild and Esther Brandeau.

The accounts of nineteenth century women work better, probably because there looks to be more documentary evidence and more for the writer and illustrator to work with.

Another confusing aspect of the book: Some of the stories are based on historical fact, while others are based on legend. I think that makes the overall project less focused than it could have been.

So I didn't feel the book worked all that well, either graphically or as nonfiction. The subject matter may be of high interest to young readers, but I'm not sure if twenty-first century children feel the narrowness of women's lot in life the way children of earlier generations did.

For a different reaction and an interview with the author see Big A, little a's New Voices Blog Tour: No Girls Allowed.

No Girls Allowed is a Cybils nominee in the graphic novels category. (Though it definitely isn't a novel.)

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Does This Sound Deep Or What?

Another graphic novel post at Oz and Ends. This one is about 2007 Cybils nominee Robot Dreams.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

More On Graphic Novels has a few reviews of Cybils nominees:

Benny and Penny in Just Pretend by Geoffrey Hayes

Babymouse Monster Mash by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Nightmare on Zombie Island by Paul D. Storrie

The New York Times reviewed Cybils nominee Skim by Mariko Tamaki with illustrations by Jillian Tamaki

Then J.L. Bell at Oz and Ends talks about how graphic novels are treated in Great Divides in the Comics World. Included in the post is a link to a Christian Science Monitor article, Graphic novels, all grown up, which includes a definition for graphic novels: "...extended-length illustrated books with mature literary themes..."

Of course, mature means different things when you're talking YA versus adult graphic novels and something else entirely when you're talking graphic novels for kids. But for those of us who are educating ourselves on the subject, it's a start.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Graphic Novel Column Covers Cybils Nominees

Colleen Mondor has a Graphic Tales column up at Bookslut that includes a number of Cybils nominees:

Skim and Emiko Superstar by Mariko Tamaki,working with Jillian Tamaki and Steve Rolston, respectively;

Coraline by Neil Gaiman, adapted by P. Craig Russell;

The Good Neighbors: Kim by Holly Black with Ted Naifeh.

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Saturday, November 08, 2008

Okay, This One Was Good

Though I've enjoyed some of Neil Gaiman's work, I'm not what you might call a Gaiman Groupie. I'm not enthralled by everything he does.

His new novel, The Graveyard Book, is really good, though.

The book begins with a multiple murder, for those of us who enjoy getting right into the action. The one survivor, a toddler, ah, well, toddles off and ends up in an old cemetary where he is taken in by ghosts, adopted by a couple who've been members of the spirit class for a few hundred years, and given the run of the place. He's raised by the cemetary dwellers in the graveyard, the only save place for him because his family's murderer is still looking for him.

Personally, I think that's enough of a description to hook anyone. But I will add that the book is structured in what are pretty much short stories (Gaiman says so, too, in an interview with Jessa Crispin, which is really more him talking to her than her interviewing him), each one an adventure with our protagonist at a different age. And there's a lot of dark humor about the dead.

I have a couple of nitpicks. One, how did Bod know to go to a pawn shop or even how to find one when he left the graveyard to try to raise some money? Two, I found the art work odd. There's quite a bit of it, when you consider this is a novel, which is just fine. But the details in the early illustrations gave me the impression that the book might be set in the early twentieth century. It's definitely contemporary. Plus Bod is described as dressed in a winding sheet in the text early on, but he's shown in clothes in the illustrations.

But, yes, that is nitpicking.

The Graveyard Book is a Cybils nominee in the Fantasy and Science Fiction (Middle Grade) category. I think middle grade is a better description of it than YA, which is how it's categorized at my local library.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Yes, It Does

Personally, I believe there's an under-the-radar sort of genre involving books about early-twenty-something characters who are coming to terms with the fact that life, well, sucks. That pretty much describes, in a nutshell, the graphic novel Life Sucks by Jessica Abel, Gabe Soria, and Warren Pleece.

The basic set-up for this book is just brilliant. Two years before the start of our story, our hero, Dave Miller, applied for a night job at a convenience store so he could attend community college during the day. The store owner, Radu, (who prefers to be called Lord Arisztidescu) is an immigrant (from some eastern European country, I'd guess)who turns Dave into a vampire. Now Dave must be Radu', Lord Arisztidescu's...low-wage slave--through eternity! As if that isn't bad enough, Dave can't tolerate the idea of blood so he can't go around preying on humans. This means he'll never become a strapping, healthy vampire, just a miserable, little weak one with a job working permanent nights. Really permanent.

Yes! Life does, indeed, suck!

While not necessarily roll-on-the-floor funny, Life Sucks definitely is drole and clever, particularly if, like me, you enjoy dark, subtle humor. There's lots of humorous takes on traditional vampire lore. And, I guess, traditional convenience store lore.

I can't say I loved the art, but it is dark and moody to fit the subject matter, and it carries the narrative very well. I read a rather lame graphic novel a couple of weeks ago that had to use a lot of what I think you might call narrative boxes because the graphics weren't telling the story by themselves. Nothing like that here. The art carries everything but the dialogue.

This book would be a big draw for your older, edgier YAs who are already beginning to suspect that life sucks. While I was reading it, I was wondering who I knew who might like it for Christmas.

Life Sucks is one of this year's graphic novel Cybils nominees.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Art And History In One Lovely Package

My impression of the nineteenth century is that it was a time when people had a big interest in things outside themselves—natural history, art, and philosophy, for instance. At the same time, you saw some remarkable bigotry. Susanna Reich's biography of George Catlin, Painting the Wild Frontier: The Art and Adventures of George Catlin, confirms my feelings about that incredibly interesting century.

You may not be familiar with George Catlin's name, but you've probably seen his work, particularly The Cutting Scene. Catlin was a nineteenth century artist who made painting American Indians (the term Reich uses) his life's work, both in terms of art and business. Early in Painting the Wild Frontier, Reich says of him, "Would people pay to look at paintings of Indians, he wondered, the way they paid to look at the Greek statues and the paintings of Revolutionary War heroes in Peale's museums?"

He gambled that they would.

The first part of Painting the Wild Frontier deals with Catlin the artist and adventurer. He believed the Plains Indians were still relatively untouched by contact with Europeans and seemed sincerely interested in documenting them and their lives with his art. Except for a few unattractive incidents that indicate that he was, indeed, a nineteenth century man, (the buffalo he shot but didn't kill and allowed to struggle in pain so he could sketch it from better angles, for instance, and his insistence on visiting a quarry considered a sacred site, even going so far as to take a sample of the rock away with him) Catlin comes off well during his productive years.

Making a living from art is almost always a problem, and in Catlin's case, he appears to have been a better painter than businessman. Though he ran successful exhibits in the United States and London, he wasn't able to hold on to money. An argument could be made that he also exploited Indians who appeared in his exhibitions. In his later years, he could have been a model for the artist tragically fallen on hard times.

When literary agent Nathan Bransford described his fantasy MFA Program he said, "Good nonfiction has an underlying arc and a satisfying conclusion." Reich definitely finds an underlying arch in George Catlin's life story, and while its conclusion may not be satisfying in terms of happily ever after, it's satisfying in terms of being a conclusion that fits in with what came before. While I kept hoping he would redeem himself as I read the latter part of the book, I can't say I was surprised when he didn't.

The art of our past is important because before cameras it was the only way to preserve how people and things looked. Archaeologists sometimes use art to help them date items--if a cup is similar to one in a painting from the late eighteenth century, then it, too, may very well come from that period. Thus Catlin's art is important no matter what we may think of him. Painting the Wild Frontier includes enough of it to almost be considered an art book. Some of the illustrations are in black and white, some are in color, and all are beautiful. Captions not only discuss the work, but identify the individuals in the paintings, making them real people who lived on after they were painted, who had families and perhaps descendants walking among us today.

Pay particular attention to the timeline at the back of the book, in which Reich shows us what was going on in the U.S. at various points in Catlin's life. While reading Painting the Wild Frontier, you'll definitely get a feeling for the nineteenth century world, but it's here in the timeline that you really get hit with some of the inconsistencies of the period. In 1838, for instance, while Catlin's Indian Gallery exhibit is a big hit with the citizens of four eastern cities, 4,000 Cherokee Indians die on the Trail of Tears while being forcibly relocated by the federal government.

This is a piece of work that could really get young readers interested not only in the subject covered but in reading history, period.

Painting the Wild Frontier has been nominated for a Cybil.

You can read a lot more about Painting the Wild Frontier next week, when Susanna Reich will be doing a blog tour. She'll be getting started on Monday at Becky's Book Reviews and stopping here on Thursday when we'll be talking history.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Coraline Goes Graphic reviews Coraline. I wasn't looking forward to reading the graphic version of Coraline because, like the reviewer at Parenthetical, I wasn't crazy about the original book. This review makes the graphic novel sound more enticing. also reviewed Three Shadows.

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Merchant of V.

Pink Me reviews Cybils nominee The Merchant of Venice. Gareth Hinds also did a graphic novel version of Beowulf, by the way.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Skeleton Buddy Book

The Bony One is back in a new adventure, Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing with Fire. (By Derek Landy.)

I liked the first book, and I liked this one, too. I had some trouble working out who the bad guys were and just what was going on at first. But with Skulduggery books, the main interest is the repartee between the buddy main characters, the ageless skeleton detective/sorcerer Skulduggery Pleasant and his apprentice, Stephanie Edgley, who has renamed herself Valkyrie Cain. (Sort of like Beyonce and Sasha Fierce.) Enjoying them carried me along until I was up to speed again.

Stephanie/Valkyrie is twelve (or maybe thirteen in this second book, I'm not sure), and that's a pivotal age in kid books. It's the youngest age at which authors can pull off having their child characters take part in adult-like adventures with any degree of believability. Valkyrie is more believable than many fantasy protagonists because author Landy came up with a duplicate to leave in her place at home, which explains why she's able to have adventures without her parents wrecking things by, say, having her locked up. She also learns that she's descended from magical folk, which lends some logic to her being able to do things like create fireballs. (Assuming you can accept the logic behind magical folk, themselves.)

Finding out you're special is common in kid fantasies. (You know, like Harry Potter.) Not that there's anything wrong with that. I'm just saying.

Though Skulduggery is a marvelous, clever, anti-heroic hero, there's no doubt that Valkyrie is the main character in Playing with Fire. Which is exactly as it should be, because this is a kids' book!

The Skulduggery Pleasant website is one of the best book sites I've seen. Many of them are lame or at least tedious. And many of the sites for popular books (like this one) are filled with bells and whistles and not much else. This one actually has the things I want to know about easily accessible--The Books, The World, The Author. (Watch out for The Extras, though. I got caught in some kind of loop that kept my computer desperately opening pages while making a horrendous noise as if it were about to go into space.) In The World, you'll find a great interview with Skulduggery.

Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing with Fire has been nominated for a Cybil.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

The Graphic Novel Nominees

The Cybils site has this year's graphic novel nominees nicely listed for you. They've broken them down into two categories: Elementary, Middle Grade and Young Adult.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

My Heart Leaped

A family member found a package from a publisher in the garage on his way into the house this afternoon. Ah, just like those glory days last winter when I was on the Cybils SciFi/Fantasy committee and could expect books to arrive at any time.

As it turns out, it was a paperback copy of The Fetch by Chris Humphreys, which was, indeed, a Cybils nominee. It will be released in paperback on May 8.

Michelle reviewed The Fetch at Scholar's Blog during the Cybils reading period.

Other blog reviews:

Book Moot

Library Goddesses


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Still Here

The Cybils site hasn't gone into hibernation during this non-nominating, non-reading period. In fact, a new interview with Sylvia Long, author of the non-fiction winner An Egg Is Quiet, has just been posted.

And speaking of all things Cybil, Confessions of a Bibliovore recently reviewed one of my favorite nominees, Larklight.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Cybils Nominees Make Another List

Three Cybils nominees from the science fiction and fantasy category made the 2007 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers list: Blue Bloods, New Moon, and The Last Days.

Thanks to bookshelves of doom for the link.