A Little Bit of Everything

So, going to an amazing writer’s conference and being inspired, then coming down with the stomach flu left me with lots of thinky thoughts. I had so much I wanted to say that it became nothing because I couldn’t form a coherent thought. Still working on that, actually, but I needed to sort some of the words rattling in my brain for you, dear readers, and this is what I came up with.

1. Our “Barnes & Noble” Experiment

Barnes--Noble-in-New-York-006A part of me feels like it ends up being a bust because after visiting a few different stores, as well as talking to folks, and folks reporting in, it seems like each Barnes & Noble’s diversity numbers is different depending on the location. The one that sparked the post was not nearly as diverse as the one near my mom and the one near my house was in the middle of the two. One reader stated that the B&N in Manhattan was incredibly diverse, while the one near her home in Long Island was not. After hearing so many diverse (pun intended) responses, my angry balloon deflated a little because how could I really accuse a large book chain of discrimination when the product in each store differs so greatly. I live in a very diverse neighborhood, so I don’t understand why the store I went to was lacking, but I feel I need to take up my issue with the individual store, rather than the entire company. I feel like if the manager of the store I frequent knew of my concerns, he or she could work to making sure that particular store was as diverse as store in another city. I know Barnes & Noble could still work on being more diverse, but as someone suggested to me, we should also express our displeasure to the publishers as well. I intend to send a letter to the buyer at my local B&N expressing my desire to see more diverse books on the shelf, and I hope, if you find your B&N in need, you will do so as well.

2. Holy Blogosphere!
shannonThe internet has been buzzing lately with some great articles on the need for diverse texts, specifically in Children’s & Young Adult literature. On the eve of her book, Dangerous, release Shannon Hale wrote a post entitled “On Neutral Characters and Relating to the Specific.” The post was about Maisie, in her specific-ness, and how Hale was advised to make her more “neutral” so readers could relate better. Thankfully, Hale followed her instincts and continued to write the book her way and a lovely character of color is on the shelves. Her post sparked a good discussion and she later followed up with a post about the default male.

Walter-Dean-Myers-with-son-ChristopherAnd then…over the weekend, father and son, Christopher and Walter Dean Myers, gave the New York Times a one-two punch with their OpEd pieces, “The Apartheid of Children’s Literature” and “Where are the People of Color in Children’s Books?” Both articles were quickly quoted and spread among Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr (I’m sure others, but that is the extent of my social media). Both authors do not hold back in their assessment of the dire situation of diversity and children’s/Young Adult literature. I found myself wanting to stand up and clap so many times. I feel all publishers need to read both these articles and then take a good look at their author list and really work to make significant, effective change. As a writer and a reader, by standing up and using my voice, I hope to be a part of a positive change in the publishing industry so that when my beautiful niece and nephew become teenagers, they will be represented in the literature they choose to read.

3. What about the children?
This article “You Can’t Do That! Stories have to be about White People!” has been on my mind lately. Published in December, it ever so often springs up in the continuing conversation of diversity and Children’s/YA literature. This particular blog article resonated with me because it took the issue from a teacher’s perspective and dealing with the issue of the types of characters students create during creative writing activities. I could commiserate with the author, especially when I scared a few students who, when I was giving them assignment about writing a hero’s story, one child asked, “Can we make our main character a girl?” and I was a little too enthusiastic with my “Yes”.  The fact that she asked that saddened me because it spoke to the idea that “girls can’t be heroes” because there is a lack of women represented in today’s hero-driven mass media. I’ve always been hyper aware of the ethnic make-up of the characters my students create, and luckily for my students, because I have them read books with diverse characters, they are able to see themselves reflected in the books they read therefore they are able to create diverse characters. This was ever so apparent in the superhero paper dolls my students made of their main characters. I posted all 145 on the walls outside my classroom and it was a lovely collage of the human rainbow. That rainbow is what the publishing industry should be reaching for – to have all the beauty of the world represented in our books.

Whew, that was a lot of thoughts and as I write, more keep rushing forward. I’ll stop here, but I encourage you to check out the articles and share your thoughts with me. Let’s have a conversation and brainstorm what we can do to bring about change.

Book Review: Ignite Me

courtesy of Goodreads

courtesy of Goodreads

Title: Ignite Me
Author: Tahereh Mafi
Genres: Speculative Fiction/Dystopian
Pages: 408
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: On Shelves now

Summary: Juliette now knows she may be the only one who can stop the Reestablishment. But to take them down, she’ll need the help of the one person she never thought she could trust: Warner. And as they work together, Juliette will discover that everything she thought she knew-about Warner, her abilities, and even Adam-was wrong. (Via Goodreads)

Review: Sigh. Another series ending and another disappointment. Maybe I had built up too much in my head, or maybe I had hoped for a meaningful conclusion, but either way, I was less than thrilled by the final book of Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me series. This installment focused less on the rebellion and more on the developing romance between Juliette and Warner. Maybe because Warner is one of my least favorite characters that I didn’t enjoy the direction this book took, or that Adam seemed to be acting completely out of character for the entire book (though Juliette does comment on it), I just felt like this last book was all about the “love triangle” and not about Juliette becoming free from the Reestablishment. I felt like Mafi wanted Ignite Me to go in a certain direction and forced that direction by having the reader (via Juliette) learn that events from previous books were not what they seemed to be. I feel like I was manipulated to like Warner, and have him be the best romantic lead ever, when in reality, despite learning more about him, he still reads, at least to me, as an ass. I know we are creatures made from our surroundings, but some of the things Warner does, even when you can see his rationalization, makes him still a jerk. I just don’t like him and as the book progressed, my enjoyment of the story continued to decline. I was just not feeling the romance angle of the story, and it seemed to occupy about 90% of the plot! I liked Adam from the beginning, and granted because Juliette has changed so much that she outgrew their relationship, his behavior towards her throughout the book was appalling. The way Mafi wrote him, he was a completely different character. I kept waiting for an apology or for some explanation as to why he was acting so strange, but it never came. To me, the decision to make Adam so crazy and never explain it is a loose end that Mafi needs to wrap up somewhere. Speaking of loose ends, I don’t feel like the story is finished. As I was reading, I was noticing my remaining pages were getting low, but there was still so much more story, at least I felt, to go. The novel just kind of ends. I would have liked an epilogue or something – just to know what happened after. Maybe Mafi has more hiding up her sleeve, but I know that also added to my dissatisfaction with the novel.

On the plus side, Mafi’s writing is as beautiful as ever. So many wonderful passages written like poetry and she is able to wield stream-of-consciousness writing like a master swordsman; her prose was made me fall in love with the series in the first place. As Juliette became more sane, the style of the writing changed, but in Ignite Me, there is a wonderful balance. There is one chapter that after I read it, I had to put the book down and just linger in the beauty of the language, the exquisite metaphor used. Mafi also makes a daring choice in one chapter, a moment between Warner and Juliette that I hadn’t seen in a YA book before, and I applaud her for it. I feel like in that instance Mafi didn’t insult her readers and beautifully dealt with an aspect of relationships that other YA books work hard to avoid. It was handled in a way only Mafi can do and allowed the reader to truly feel how Juliette would be able to be so daring.

Recommendation: I don’t want to say wait a while, but I don’t say read it now. However, if you’re a fan of the series, you’ve probably already read it. However, Juliette is a good character and her growth throughout the series is beautifully done. If you are in the mood for reading about a young lady discovering her self-worth and becoming empowered, the Shatter Me series is a good place to start.

Experiment Update!!!

The night I posted my blog post about the Barnes & Noble experiment, I spent some time talking to folks about their experiences finding works by authors of color in Barnes & Noble. Turns out that while my experience wasn’t uncommon, a number of Barnes & Noble stores are diverse in the books that they sell. I kept that in the back of my mind as I went out to perform my experiment. I chose to explore a Barnes & Noble during a visit to my mother, hence it was not my local Barnes & Noble. She lives in an area that is fairly diverse, but with my prejudice in hand, I expected to find her store to be lacking in diversity. I am willing to admit when I am wrong, and in this instance, I was. I was quite surprised how diverse their selection was. A number of books by authors of color were facing frontwards, and even Amy Tan was highlighted at the check out.

Behold my amazing photograph skills.

Behold my amazing photograph skills.

Coe Booth, an author I’ve actually never seen stocked at Barnes & Noble before, was! I turned her novel, Bronxwood, frontward so she’d been seen more. In fact, I did that for a few other books.


Malinda Lo’s Adaptation was a standout, facing frontward at the top of the Teen Fantasy shelf. There was only one copy there, but I’d like to believe that it was the last copy left instead of the only.

All was not sunshine and roses, though. Ellen Oh’s “Warrior” was no where to be seen and even though Tahereh Mafi and Marissa Meyer had books come out on the same day, both popular series mind you, Marissa Meyer’s book was on the New Teen Releases shelf at the front of the store, while Tahereh Mafi’s book was in the Teen section.

Overall, I was quite surprised at the diversity I found in my mother’s Barnes & Noble, which supported what other folks had mentioned to me about their Barnes & Noble. However, I think B&N can do better and I intend to visit a few more B&Ns to get an accurate depiction of the large chain’s diversity. I hope that maybe I was just having an off day that chilly day in January and that the other stores I visit do better.

I’ll have another report ready for you in March.

New Releases

A whole slew of new books coming out this week! How very exciting and my reading list just keeps on getting longer and longer. Is there anyone out there who would pay me to just read books? Anyway, onto the list. We have 2 series ending this week, 2 sequels, a historical novel, and well…one that seems to be purely sci-fi fun.


The Worlds We MakeBy Megan Crewe

The virus has taken away Kaelyn’s friends, her family, her home.

And now a deadly enemy threatens to take the one hope she has left: THE CURE.

When Kaelyn and her friends reached Toronto with a vaccine for the virus that has ravaged the population, they thought their journey was over. But now they’re being tracked by the Wardens, a band of survivors as lethal as the virus who are intent on stealing the vaccine no matter what the cost.

Forced onto the road again, Kaelyn and her companions discover the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta is their best hope for finding scientists who can reproduce the vaccine. But with the virus already spreading among them, the Wardens hot on their trail, and hundreds of miles to cross, Kaelyn finds herself compromising her morals to keep her group alive. Her conscience seems a small price to pay if protects them and their precious cargo. Unless even that is not enough…

In the final installment in Megan Crewe’s captivating the Fallen World trilogy, Kaelyn is on the run from her biggest adversaries yet. While she continues to face horrific loss, her resolve is still strong. But to survive this shattered world, will she have to sacrifice all that’s left of the girl she was?


feral by Cynthia Leitich Smith

The second installment of New York Times best-selling author Cynthia Leitich Smith’s thrilling Feral series delivers danger, romance, and suspense in an all new action-packed adventure.

The adopted daughter of two respectable human parents, Kayla is a werecat in the closet. All she knows is the human world. When she comes out to her boyfriend, tragedy ensues, and her determination to know and embrace her heritage grows. Help appears in the lithe form of sexy male werecat Yoshi, backed up by Aimee and Clyde, as the four set out to solve the mystery of a possessed antique carousel while fielding miscast magic, obsessive strangers, and mounting species intolerance. Paranormal fans will go wild for this rousing second Feral adventure.


gameworld by Christopher John Farley
Black Sheep

Dylan Rudee’s life is an epic fail. He’s bullied at school and the aunt who has raised him since he was orphaned as a child just lost her job and their apartment. Dylan’s one chance to help his family is the only thing he’s good at: video games. The multibillion-dollar company Mee Corp. has announced a televised tournament to find the Game-Changers: the forty-four kids who are the best in the world at playing “Xamaica,” a role-playing fantasy game that’s sweeping the planet. If Dylan can win the top prize, he just might be able to change his life.

It turns out that Dylan is the greatest gamer anyone has ever seen, and his skills unlock a real-life fantasy world inside the game. Now actual monsters are trying to kill him, and he is swept up into an adventure along with his too-tall genius sister Emma, his hacker best friend Eli, and Ines Mee, the privileged daughter of Mee Corp.’s mysterious CEO and chief inventor. Along the way they encounter Nestuh, a giant spider who can spin a story but not a web; Baron Zonip, a hummingbird king who rules a wildly wealthy treetop kingdom; and an enchantress named Nanni who, with her shadow army, may be bent on conquering Xamaica and stealing its magic.

In order to save his sister and his friends, Dylan must solve a dangerous mystery in three days and uncover secrets about Xamaica, his family, and himself. But will he discover his hidden powers before two worlds–Xamaica and Earth–are completely destroyed?


willowby Tonya Cherie Hegamin

In 1848, an educated slave girl faces an inconceivable choice — between bondage and freedom, family and love.

On one side of the Mason-Dixon Line lives fifteen-year-old Willow, her master’s favorite servant. She’s been taught to read and has learned to write. She believes her master is good to her and fears the rebel slave runaways. On the other side of the line is seventeen-year-old Cato, a black man, free born. It’s his personal mission to sneak as many fugitive slaves to freedom as he can. Willow’s and Cato’s lives are about to intersect, with life-changing consequences for both of them. Tonya Cherie Hegamin’s moving coming-of-age story is a poignant meditation on the many ways a person can be enslaved, and the force of will needed to be truly emancipated. – Cover image and summary via IndieBound


tinker king by Tiffany Trent
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Science and magic mean danger in this sequel to “The Unnaturalists,” which “School Library Journal “called “an entertaining mix of steampunk and fantasy.”

After Vespa, Syrus, and Bayne defeated the Grue and restored order to their world in “The Unnaturalists,” they thought their future was secure. Empress Olivia, committed to peace and equality for humans and Elementals alike, was a fair and just ruler. And the Creeping Waste had vanished, giving them hope for the first time.

But rebellion is brewing in the far-off city of Scientia, and dark Elementals are plotting war in the ruins of New London. Before they know what’s happening, Vespa, Syrus, and their friends are plunged into a new swamp of intrigue, deception and magic–and the cost of survival may be more than any of them are willing to pay.  – Cover image and summary via IndieBound


three by Kristen Simmons

Tor Teen

Kristen Simmons’ fast-paced, gripping YA dystopian series continues in Three.

Ember Miller and Chase Jennings are ready to stop running. After weeks spent in hiding as two of the Bureau of Reformation’s most wanted criminals, they have finally arrived at the safe house, where they hope to live a safe and quiet existence.

And all that’s left is smoking ruins.

Devastated by the demolition of their last hope, Ember and Chase follow the only thing left to them—tracks leading away from the wreckage. The only sign that there may have been survivors.

With their high profile, they know they can’t stay out in the open for long. They take shelter in the wilderness and amidst the ruins of abandoned cities as they follow the tracks down the coast, eventually finding refugees from the destroyed safe house. Among them is someone from Chase’s past—someone he never thought he’d see again.

Banding together, they search for a place to hide, aiming for a settlement a few of them have heard about…a settlement that is rumored to house the nebulous organization known as Three. The very group that has provided Ember with a tiny ray of hope ever since she was first forced on the run.

Three is responsible for the huge network of underground safe houses and resistance groups across the country. And they may offer Ember her only chance at telling the world her story. At fighting back. — Cover image and summary via IndieBound

Book Review: Warrior by Ellen Oh

warriorTitle: Warrior
Author: Ellen Oh
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 327
Publisher: Harper Teen
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: On Shelves now

Summary: Kira, the yellow-eyed demon slayer who protected her kingdom in Prophecy, is back . . . and her dramatic quest is far from over. After finishing Ellen’s first novel, Prophecy, School Library Journal said they were “ready for a sequel.” Well, here it is Filled with ancient lore and fast-paced excitement, this page-turning series is perfect for fantasy and action fans.
Kira has valiantly protected her kingdom–and the crown prince–and is certain she will find the second treasure needed to fulfill the Dragon King’s prophecy. Warrior boasts a strong female hero, romantic intrigue, and mythical creatures such as a nine-tailed fox demon, a goblin army, and a hungry dragon with a snarky attitude. – cover and summary via Indiebound

Review: First Julie Kagawa ends The Eternity Cure with a cliffhanger and then Ellen Oh does the same thing with Warrior! Really, ladies?! Why must you be so cruel? Why must you break my heart so? I will say, based on the ending of Warrior, the third book will probably be amazing and I can’t wait to get it into my eagerly awaiting hands. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Warrior picks up just days after Prophecy leaves off,  the events of the first book still very fresh in the hearts of Kira and her family. The book also deals with the political fallout of the events and Oh spends some time dealing with the issue of what would happen to a kingdom that has lost both its King & Queen and is now ruled by another. I greatly enjoyed this aspect, exploring the after effects of war both from a psychological and political perspective. The reprieve is short lived when the new King is assassinated, and Kira’s life and that of her cousin Taejo is put in jeopardy. In Prophecy, Kira was tasked to find the first of three magical objects signifying the fulfillment of the Dragon King prophecy and this new threat to Kira and Teajo’s lives is the catalyst for them to go in search for the jeweled dagger. Off their troupe travels, this time meeting new mythical helpers as well as fighting an even creepier demon army than before. Seriously, this demon army that the Demon Lord creates is effective and deadly. There were times when I seriously wondered who would get out alive in the battles and was praying for some of my favorite characters.

One of the treats of this novel, for me, is that Oh explores more of the world of the Seven Kingdoms. This time we head north, via an adventure at sea and then traveling through the snow to the mountains. I love watching Korean Dramas, and after watching so many, I have a visual picture in my mind of the landscapes that Oh describes so beautifully. I imagine the world that I’m familiar with layered with the fantastical elements Oh adds. The strength of the novel lies in Oh’s descriptions of her world and having us truly feel what the characters are feeling. The cold that Kira and her group experience as they travel towards the mountains, I could feel in my bones. Many times I curled up tighter in my blankets because I could clearly imagine the chill that Kira felt.

While I’m angry that Oh just ended the story on a cliffhanger, I know that the next novel will be a thrilling conclusion to the series and I can’t wait.

Recommendation: Go buy it now!

Mad Words Turn To Positive Action

On the 4th day of this year, I had an experience that I was tempted to write a long rant about. However, I didn’t want to start off 2014 on a negative note. I pondered and pondered what I would write and then came up with this experiment and call to action. First off, a bit of background.

Between Christmas and my birthday, I received quite a bit of book money, including a gift card from Barnes & Noble. I went through my book list, trying to decide what books I wanted. List in hand, I went to Barnes & Noble hoping the majority of my book list would be at the store. I knew a number wouldn’t because they are books by authors of color. What ended up happening had me steaming mad.

flames on the side of my face
The second book of Ellen Oh’s Dragon King series, Warrior, had just come out 5 days before I went to the store, so I expected it to be there. The book was a new release by Harper Teen, not a small imprint in the least. It should have been in the newly released section. I should have found it. I didn’t. I searched and searched and a brand new book, a second book from a popular series, was not on the shelves of one of the largest book sellers in America. In fact, only two of the books on my list were there Matt De La Pena’s “The Living” and N.K. Jemisin’s “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms”, of which I bought the ONLY book.

warriorthe livingJemisin_Hundred-Thousand-Kingdoms-TP

Needless to say I was vexed at Barnes & Nobles’ dismal representation of diversity and was kinda mean to the checkout person (sorry!). I ranted to my husband, who ultimately ended up saying, “well, how will you let them know?” And after I tired myself out from my tantrum, I thought about what he said. I let it settle in my heart and thought…what is the most productive way to express my rage? How do I let Barnes & Noble know that their stores are lacking in diversity and while yes, I can order the books online, book store visibility helps novels by authors of color been seen and sold. Barnes & Noble needs to do their part in promoting diversity and not just shelving books by authors of color in their respective “ethnic” section.

So I propose an experiment, a call to action, and I urge many of you to take part. Here is what I would like you to do:

1. Make a list of books you could potentially buy – all by authors of color (this even includes non-YA books).

2. Visit your local Barnes & Noble and check the shelves. If a book is listed, note how many and where it is shelved. If it’s not, note that as well.

3. Go to the checkout and ask the sales clerk, or even manager (remember to be nice) and ask why the books you want are not there. Ask why they are not shelved, not visible and that you would like to see these books (and others like it) sold at the store and not just online.

4. Write a letter (or email) to Barnes & Noble about your experience.
Barnes & Noble, Inc.
Attn: Jaime Carey, Chief Merchandising Officer
122 Fifth Ave
New York, NY 10011
Email: jcarey@bn.com
(I hope this is the right address. If someone has better GoogleFu than me, please let me know and I can update this post.)

5. Report back here with your findings and/or if you have a blog, turn your letter into a post and share the link.

In my February essay/OpEd, I’ll share my findings and letter and hopefully some of your experiences. Hopefully we can get a movement going and have Barnes & Noble change their business practices. Let’s put our frustration into action.

Please signal boost this post. The more voices calling for change, the better.