readergirlz is a literacy and social media project for teens, awarded the National Book Foundation's Innovations in Reading Prize. The rgz blog serves as a depot for news and YA reviews from industry professionals and teens. As volunteers return full force to their own YA writing, the organization continues to hold one initiative a year to impact teen literacy. All are welcome to "like" us on Facebook!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Joe Golem and the Drowning City by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden

Run - don't walk - to get Joe Golem and the Drowning City by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden, especially if you like steampunk.

I've recommended Christopher Golden's books here at readergirlz many times, and for good reason: his stories rock, and they often feature a strong female protagonist. In the heart of Manhattan, you'll find 14-year-old Molly McHugh. Described as "all freckles and red hair and youthful vigor," Molly is a force to be reckoned with. The girl's got moxie, and she can certainly hold her own. She trusts her gut, which has helped her to survive in the Drowning City.

Just what has happened to the once-glorious city? Here's a little backstory:

Fifty years ago, earthquakes shook Lower Manhattan, submerging the city and forever changing the landscape and livelihood of all who lived there. As the years passed, the gap between the classes widened: the wealthy live and thrive in Uptown, where they grow wealthier, as the poor people in submerged Downtown try desperately to survive in what is now known as the Drowning City.

It is in Downtown that aging magician Felix Orlov resides. Molly, his energetic and devoted assistant, lives the floor above him. Dark dreams, a seance, and an attack lead to Orlov's abduction and cause Molly to run away - and enlist the help of Simon Church, an investigator, and Joe Golem, the bodyguard to end all bodyguards. If Hellboy were mixed with Eliot Spencer from Leverage and dressed in clothes from some classic Warren Beatty films, he might just be Joe Golem.

Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola make me want to live in the Drowning City, to meet the wonderful characters they've created and help them defeat the monstrous villains. They've also offered up a short story, Joe Golem and the Copper Girl, but I still want more. Mignola's black-and-white illustrations are, as always, memorable. One only hopes that the movie, which is currently in development, captures the spirit and intensity of this book. The submerged city, falling buildings, and fight scenes need to be Inception-level awesome on screen. This captivating story deserves all of that, and more. I also recommend this novel to fans of Fringe. (Hello, Manhattan and alternate history!)

Want to know more? Read my full review at my blog, Bildungsroman.

Monday, July 23, 2012

rgz Everett HOST: Carole Estby Dagg & others LIVE, this Friday!

How many times do you get to visit with nine teen authors at one event? If you live in the Seattle area, don’t miss this event Friday, July 27, at 6:30 P.M. Find your new favorite summer read among these new, well-reviewed titles:
Megan Bostic, Never Eighteen 
"Bostic writes this graceful, affecting tale without pretension...Perhaps it's because of that simplicity that the story concludes with such a powerful emotional punch." --Kirkus
 Jennifer Shaw Wolf, Breaking Beautiful 
Part romance, part mystery...a persuasive  portrait of guilt and recovery.”--Publisher's Weekly.
J. Anderson Coats, The Wicked and the Just 
"This debut novel reverberates with detail, drama, and compassion."--School Library Journal, *starred review
Carole Estby Dagg, The Year We Were Famous 
"The journey in itself is amazing, but Dagg's tender portrayal of a mother and daughter who learn to appreciate and forgive each other makes it unforgettable."--Publishers Weekly, *starred review
Helen Landalf, Flyaway
"Watching Stevie, a loving person at heart, struggle with her freshman year, family, friendships, and her future during her time at her aunt’s in Seattle is ultimately encouraging.”-- Booklist
Kendare Blake, Anna Dressed in Blood 
"Abundantly original, marvelously inventive and enormous fun, this can stand alongside the best horror fiction out there.”—Kirkus Reviews, *starred review
Diana Renn, Tokyo Heist
"A van Gogh heist, a trip to Japan and a yakuza attack: Could there be a better summer? . . . A proficient caper spiced up by Violet's eye for art." --Kirkus Reviews
Marissa Burt, Storybound
“Readers who love fantasy may see an opportunity to snuggle up with a cup of cocoa and unravel the plot, which twists and turns in on itself, with happy surprises.” --Kirkus Reviews

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times for Teens, Megan Fouch, etal.  
This collection will encourage, comfort, and inspire teens, showing that, as tough as things can get, they are not alone.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Rgz Street Team: Olivia reviews The Amanda Project: UNRAVELED

In the fourth and last book of the Amanda Project series, Unraveled, the mysteries surrounding the disappearance of Endeavor High School student Amanda Valentino are finally solved. When the series began, Amanda’s classmates Hal, Callie, and Nia were only concerned with finding their missing friend--however, as they dug deeper into the mystery they discovered that the truth was more complex than it may have appeared, and involved many more people than just Amanda.
Unraveled was written by Cathleen Davitt Bell, and narrated by Zoe Costas, a character introduced in the third Amanda Project book, Shattered. Zoe had been another one of Amanda’s friends in Orion—though she had also known Amanda before, as they had been childhood friends in Pinkerton, where they both previously lived. Zoe calls herself the “secret guide,” and has been shadowing Callie, Hal, and Nia on their escapades during the first three books, only revealing herself to them in the third.

Zoe seems to have the power to basically turn herself invisible, and is also very gifted in picking up on the thoughts and emotions of others. In Shattered, the other three guides began to recognize their powers as well—Callie is very strong, Hal is able to see the future, and Nia can sense things about the past—and these powers become very important in Unraveled as they work to discover the truth and avoid being captured by the evil forces working against them.

From the very first page of Unraveled, the guides investigate and begin to solve the large and small mysteries that have surfaced since Amanda’s disappearance. Some of these mysteries, such as Vice Principal Thornhill’s mysterious computer database and the secret behind the Orion Pharmaceutical College, are uncovered early on, and these major developments give the guides a better understanding of Amanda’s predicament. This comes in handy when they follow a set of clues she has left for them on a school trip to Washington, D.C., and are pursued by the same people who are pursuing Amanda. As the guides navigate their way through national landmarks while completing a required scavenger hunt, they discover more about the mysterious past of Amanda and many other people in their town—and come across several very unexpected characters.

Unraveled is unique when compared to the rest of the Amanda Project series, as the guides can be slightly more open about their investigation, and are almost constantly in danger while being pursued on their school trip. Several characters also make startling reappearances, reveal surprising truths about their identity, or are discovered to have played a much larger role in the mystery than previously assumed. Perhaps most notably, the massive secret behind the whole mystery comes to light, and readers are finally given answers to many of their questions. As mentioned before, there is also a more supernatural focus, as the special powers of the guides and Amanda herself become extremely important to the story.

Overall, Unraveled was a very satisfying end to the Amanda Project series, and provides a conclusion worthy of the complex mystery developed in previous books. The book is engaging, fast-paced, and also educational, as the guides learn about topics including genetic structures and events in U.S. history while following Amanda’s clues. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who has read the previous books in the series, as it provides a strong sense of closure and resolution to Amanda’s mystery, and was my favorite book in the series so far.  I would suggest that any new readers start with book one, Invisible I, as they would likely be at least somewhat confused jumping into the story near the end. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Cover Stories: Preloved by Shirley Marr

Today, Shirley Marr is here to share her cover for Preloved. It's such a sweet title, right? And the concepts are as emotional as the final cover. Here's Shirley:

"I'm a very visual  and 'big picture' person, so with every new novel I start, after I come up with the storyline and title (which I make happen at the same time), I look around for an image which I think best sums up what I am trying to write. Preloved is a vintage-flavoured romantic ghost story with themes of second chances and second hand things. I found a particular image with the theme, motifs (whimsical vintage bike!) and 'feel' I was going for.

"So yes, I make myself an 'unofficial' cover. I don't go as far as putting my own name on it, but the image itself is as influential to me as any notes and research I collect, I will often glance at it for inspiration.

"I didn't have any input into the covers that were created..."

Read the rest of Shirley's Cover Story at melissacwalker.com.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

rgz Seattle HOST: Interview with Amy Ackley!

Our Seattle HOST, Stephanie Guerra, is here with a stellar interview! 

Hi girlz! I attended the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award ceremony in June, and had the pleasure of meeting the 2010 winner, Amy Ackley, author of Sign Language. Amy spoke eloquently about her passion and persistence, and thanked Amazon for giving her a chance to break into a very tough industry.

Did you always want to be a writer?

Growing up, I was that introverted kid that always felt like I was on the outside looking in at life.  I found the world complex and fascinating, and was always looking at a situation and thinking, “What if?”  On long car rides, I would watch out the window as farmhouses and small towns passed by, and imagined I was a girl living in that farm, who had a best friend that went to that church, and they spent hours together playing hide-and-seek in those cornfields … my active imagination ensured that I was never bored or lonely.

I loved to read and write, and, to me, English classes were my reward for getting through math.  My father was a high school English teacher and writer who tried to get his work published to no avail.  He’d send in a story to a magazine, get a rejection letter, and scrap that story to write another.  His only fault may have been his lack of tenacity, or self-confidence.  Early on, this is what prevented me from pursuing a writing career - the fear of not being good enough, and not “making it” as a writer.  That, and the belief that all authors were rich people that lived on the East Coast, or writers with connections in the publishing world. 

I was living on my own at 16.  I worked three jobs while finishing high school, and supported myself by working full time at a courthouse while attending college at night.  When it came time to choose a career, pursuing writing seemed about as practical as becoming a sunscreen salesperson at the North Pole.  I’d eaten enough Ramen Noodles to last me a lifetime, so I decided to pursue a career that would afford me stability and a decent income.  I finished undergraduate and graduate degrees in Human Resources and landed a job as a labor relations specialist with one of the Big 3 automakers.

Yet the desire to write never faded.  It only grew stronger.  When my first daughter was born, I took a leave of absence from work, and to keep my brain from turning to mush I decided to try what I’d always wanted to do: write a novel.

I wrote that first book, and it was terrible.  This writing thing wasn’t as easy as it looked.  I studied the craft, read everything I could get my hands on, and started on another book.  And another.  When I lost two friends to cancer, both of whom had left young children behind, I decided to write about my own experience losing my dad to kidney cancer when I was a teen.  It began as a memoir, but in time the characters took on lives of their own.  SIGN LANGUAGE was born.

I sent an early version of SIGN LANGUAGE to several agents, and after getting many rejections, finally found an agent that wanted to represent me.  She helped me revise the manuscript to make it stronger, and sent it in to a few publishers.  All rejected it, and the agent told me she didn’t think it was going anywhere, so we parted ways.  I wasn’t about to give up on the book, though.  I took the feedback I’d received from the editors at the publishing houses and used it to improve the manuscript.  I then set it aside until I learned that the sponsors of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award were adding a Young Adult Fiction category for 2010.  I dusted the old manuscript off, sent it in, and, long story short, it won the contest and SIGN LANGUAGE was published by Viking Juvenile in August 2011.

I now have an agent for a second young adult book, and am working on a third.  I won’t let the fear of striking out keep me from pursuing my writing dreams.  And I’ve gotten my kids used to eating Ramen Noodles, just in case.

How much of your writing is based on your own experience as a child or teenager?

SIGN LANGUAGE, while fiction, is very much drawn from my own experiences.  I lost my dad to cancer when I was 13.  Losing a parent at such a young age – at any age – is something you never get over, but learn to get through.

In other books I’d read about the death of a parent, the parent was referred to in past tense.  These books focused on the teen’s grief after the parent had passed.  I hadn’t come across a book that focused on the effects on the family when a member is dying of a terminal illness.  When writing SIGN LANGUAGE, I wanted readers to really get to know the dying character as a person, to better understand the void he left when he was gone.  When a family member is terminally ill, the grief process – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – starts before the actual loss occurs.  I, myself, clung to denial for a long time, as does the main character, Abby, in SIGN LANGUAGE.

Some of the events and details surrounding the father’s illness in SIGN LANGUAGE are taken from my own experience, because it is what I know about cancer and how I recall the reactions of those around me.  The emotions are 100% authentic.  While writing this book, I was able to take myself back to the sad, scared, confused teen I was back when my dad was sick and, looking back through an adult lens, was better able to understand my sometimes erratic behavior after his death.  Losing a family member as a teen is especially difficult, as many of a teen’s peers have never experienced such a loss yet and cannot understand how it changes absolutely everything.  It is my hope that, for some readers, Abby can be that friend that understands. 

The other books I have written and continue to write do not so closely parallel my real life, but there will always be elements of me in the characters.  The most gratifying thing as a writer, for me, is to hear from readers that talk about the characters I write as if they are real people that they can identify with.  To me, that means I have done my job by telling the truth, my truth, in my fiction.  It is so gratifying to learn that others experience the world the way I do. 

Do you have any advice for young writers? 

While I wouldn’t suggest veering as far away from an English degree as I did, having majored in Training and Development in college, I had to write training programs and make hour-long presentations in front of large groups of my peers and professors.  It terrified me, but proved to be extremely beneficial to me as an author.  By forcing myself to gain a level of comfort with public speaking, this introvert was able to break out of her shell, and it has helped me get through, and enjoy, book signings and events.  Get yourself out there in front of others.  Push yourself out of your comfort zone, for that is where the magic happens.  Consider studying communications or marketing in conjunction with writing.  Writing a fantastic book is only half the battle … you have to let people know it exists!

Other advice?  If you’re going the traditional publishing route, try to finish more than one manuscript in a particular genre before submitting to agents or publishers.  Publishers don’t just want to find great books; they want to develop great authors.  Before winning the ABNA award, one editor at a publishing house had asked if I had a second young adult manuscript to submit along with SIGN LANGUAGE.  I didn’t have another YA book that was camera-ready yet, so they weren’t willing to gamble on me.  Having several works to submit proves that you are in it for the long haul.  And the possibility of a multiple-book deal?  You could do worse.

Finally, be persistent.  Keep writing.  Keep submitting.  Remember that every author gets rejected.  Learn to embrace and appreciate criticism.  Getting feedback of others will make your writing even better.

 Are you working on anything now?

I’ve finished a second contemporary YA novel, and am represented by literary agent Jennifer DeChiara.  If all the stars align correctly, I’ll have news about this book to report soon!  In the meantime, I’m working on two other YA manuscripts.

How can readers find you?

Website:  http://www.amyackley.com
Twitter:  amyackley73
Facebook page:  Sign Language, Young Adult Fiction

Thanks and congrats, Amy! And thanks, Stephanie!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Cover Stories: Buried by Linda Joy Singleton

Linda Joy Singleton has been here to share her Cover Story for Dead Girl Walking, and she's back to talk about her latest novel, Buried: A Goth Girl Mystery:

"For this cover, I actually thought they would show more of a Goth girl. I wanted something with a girl in dark flowy clothes, netting, piercings combined with a mysterious setting. "Flux usually asks me for suggestions and I did a search on Goth girls and sent some of my favorites in as examples. I wanted something beautiful, edgy and mysterious.

"When I first saw the cover, it was a surprise, not what I visualized but dramatic and mysterious...."

Read the rest of Linda Joy's Cover Story at melissacwalker.com.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Cover Stories: And Then Things Fall Apart by Arlaina Tibensky

Arlaina Tibensky's debut novel sounds like something I need on top of my pile. ("Sylvia Plath and an old typewriter usher an angsty virgin through the worst summer of her freaking life.") Also, the cover spoke to me. So I spoke to Arlaina about it. Here she is: "I had this fantasy that the cover of And Then Things Fall Apart was going to be a newer, updated version of a classic The Bell Jar cover, like the one with the creepy letters and the rose, or the Victoria Lucas (Sylvia’s pen name) with the dark purple letters, or even the cool one with the spirals. Like one of those, but 'updated, for the youth of today!'

"I mentioned my 'Updated, for the youth of today!' idea to my editor… and we never spoke of it again.

"At first first first, I thought the cover was a little too cute. But too cute or not I fell in love, immediately, with the typewriter. The BLUE TYPEWRITER. And my huge ego loved that my name was right there in the middle. I was also happy there were no bodies on it, no anonymous 'teens' acting 'quirky' in stripped tights and pink hair..."

Read the rest of Arlaina's Cover Story on melissacwalker.com.