YA New Releases – November Edition

Hello gentle reader,

There are A LOT of YA books coming out this month! Here are the ones I’m most eagerly anticipating… they’re all coming out on 5th November 2013 (blurbs are from Goodreads).

palace of spies

Palace of Spies by Sarah Zettel (HMH Books for Young Readers)

Historical Mystery

A warning to all young ladies of delicate breeding who wish to embark upon lives of adventure: Don’t.

Sixteen-year-old Peggy is a well-bred orphan who is coerced into posing as a lady in waiting at the palace of King George I. Life is grand, until Peggy starts to suspect that the girl she’s impersonating might have been murdered. Unless Peggy can discover the truth, she might be doomed to the same terrible fate. But in a court of shadows and intrigue, anyone could be a spy—perhaps even the handsome young artist with whom Peggy is falling in love…

 

Cold Spell

Cold Spell by Jackson Pearce (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

Fairytale retelling

Kai and Ginny grew up together–best friends since they could toddle around their building’s rooftop rose garden. Now they’re seventeen, and their relationship has developed into something sweeter, complete with stolen kisses and plans to someday run away together.

But one night, Kai disappears with a mysterious stranger named Mora–a beautiful girl with a dark past and a heart of ice. Refusing to be cast aside, Ginny goes after them and is thrust into a world she never imagined, one filled with monsters and thieves and the idea that love is not enough.

If Ginny and Kai survive the journey, will she still be the girl he loved–and moreover, will she still be the girl who loved him?

Jackson Pearce, author of the acclaimed SISTERS RED and FATHOMLESS, returns with a unique vision of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”.

Daylighters

Daylighters (The Morganville Vampires #15) by Rachel Caine (Allison & Busby)

Paranormal (vampires)

Something drastic has happened in Morganville while Claire and her friends were away. The town looks cleaner and happier than they’ve ever seen it before, but when their incoming group is arrested and separated—vampires from humans—they realize that the changes definitely aren’t for the better.

It seems that an organization called the Daylight Foundation has offered the population of Morganville something they’ve never had: hope of a vampire-free future. And while it sounds like salvation—even for the vampires themselves—the truth is far more sinister and deadly.

Now, Claire, Shane and Eve need to find a way to break their friends out of Daylighter custody, before the vampires of Morganville meet their untimely end…

(NB: this is the last book in the series!)

Which books are you looking forward to reading this month? Let me know below!

What is Young Adult Fiction?

I was at the London Book Fair last Monday and I had the chance to attend a few thought-provoking seminars and to meet a few interesting publishers/writers there. What was obvious to me from what I heard during those meetings/discussion groups is that nobody agrees on what YA literature is/should be.

The American Library Association describes YA fiction as anything someone between the ages of 12-18 chooses to read. It can include different genres: contemporary, historical, paranormal, fantasy, science-fiction, mystery, etc…

However, this definition cannot be definite, for two reasons:

-          people well over 18 read YA books every day

-          you don’t read the same books when you’re 12 and when you’re 18

I remember going to a seminar on YA literature three years ago and the writers invited there all agreed on the fact that you cannot include violence, sex and swearing in a YA book. However the writers who were at the London Book Fair this Monday disagreed with that point of view, stating that older teenagers deserve to have a literature that deals with those more difficult themes.

To my mind, one cannot give a definite characterization of YA literature. But we can attempt to say what YA books always include and what they don’t have to include to be YA books.

What YA fiction NEEDS to include:

-          The journey of a young person who is becoming an adult. Along the way, this character needs to find the answer to the most important question in life: “Who am I and who do I want to become?” In Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, the whole point of the series is to explore what kind of adult Bella will become, regardless of external factors.

-           Choices and their consequences. Growing up is all about finding out things for yourselves and to understand that the choices you make have consequences in the future and for others. The main protagonist in a YA book needs to be faced with interesting choices that will offer the reader an opportunity to reflect on those decisions. Which is why YA books can include violence/sex/difficult themes, as long as the consequences of such behaviors are explained and explored. For example, you can include children turned into killers (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins), forced marriage (Wither by Lauren DeStefano), graphic violence (This Is Not Forgiveness by Celia Rees) and so on.

-          Themes that are relevant to teenagers: friendship, first love, independence, school, religion, racism, parents’ divorce, bullying, teen sex, teen pregnancy, ecology, politics… But YA books can also tackle issues that are not directly based on the lives of teenagers that read them but are nonetheless important because they open their eyes to problems dealt by others in other times (see YA historical and dystopian novels on slavery, witch-hunts, bleak future, etc…) or in other places (see YA contemporary novels on child labor, child soldiers, child trafficking, etc…)

What YA fiction DOESN’T NEED to include:

-          A first-person narrative. Writers! Third-person narrative is fine! The Morganville Vampires series by Rachel Caine is not a first-person narration and it still is a NY Times best-seller.

-          Parents that are dead/gone/out of the picture/bad at parenting in general. The Line by Teri Hall includes a main protagonist with a loving mother, yet she still manages to learn to make her own choices and to become independent.

-          A teenage girl as the main character. Hey, boys are cool too.

-      A school. A boarding school. Details on the main character’s school life. Usually, writers get them wrong, so unless it’s incredibly relevant to the story, don’t bother recreating in details a biology lesson that will sound nothing like an actual biology lesson.

-          A love triangle/An impossible love. A regular love story between just two people can be complicated enough, you know.

-         Vampires and/or werewolves. Characters with superpowers/magic powers in general. Gods. Sirens. Witches. Contemporary novels with regular people sell well too.

-         A bad boy with stalking habits whose heart melts for the main female protagonist. Seriously. Fictional characters deserve more than to be stereotypes.

So what do you think? What is YA fiction according to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

This post was inspired by two excellent blog posts that I suggest you check out:

Defining YA literature http://bookalicious.org/2012/04/ya-101-defining-ya-lit/

The YA Drinking Game http://www.ricklipman.com/drinking-game/

You might also want to read : Campbell’s Scoop: Reflections on Young Adult Literature by Patty Campbell (Scarecrow Press, 2010)

A writer in the spotlight: Rachel Caine

Today I’m starting a new blog topic: writers’ interviews. I figured published (and bestselling) authors were the best source of advice for us, would-be-published writers. And the wonderful Rachel Caine has agreed to be the first author to be interviewed!

A writer in the spotlight – 1

Author : Rachel Caine
Genre : Urban fantasy, paranormal, young adult literature, short fiction
Location:  Texas, USA
Website : www.rachelcaine.com

Books :
The Weather Warden series (9 books, 2003-2010)
The Red Letter Days series (2 books, 2005-2006)
The Morganville Vampires series (15 books, 2006-2013)
The Athena Force series (1 book, 2007)
The Outcast Season series (4 books, 2009-2012)
The Revivalist series (1 book, 2011)

Bio:

Rachel Caine is a New York Times, USA Today and internationally bestselling author of more than 30 novels. She had received numerous literary awards and attended over a hundred conventions and conferences in the past twenty years. She has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Texas Tech University and she has worked in many jobs, before becoming a full time writer in 2010.

My interview with Rachel (24/03/2012)

On writing:
1.    Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
Oh NO! I was going to be (in order) an astrobiologist (age 9), a detective (age 12), and a professional musician (ages 14-30). I was a *hobby* writer. But I wrote consistently from age 14 onward.
2.    When and where do you write?
I do my best work in the mornings, the earlier the better, so I try hard to get up at 5 am or so, and work about 8 hours, then knock off for lunch. I usually run errands in the afternoons and work on business items at night.
3.    Do you ever experience writer’s block?
Sure, I think everyone does — but it’s really more of a “day off.” It’s easy to let that day off turn into two, then a week, then a month, and that’s when you’re in trouble. So I never let myself take more than one day off, unless I’m sick. If I get stuck on a story, I try reading it from the beginning, which often does the trick, or if it doesn’t, I jump forward to the next thing I want to write in the timeline.
4.    What do you say to people who want to be writers? How difficult is it to get published?
That’s a complicated question now — much more so than when I started. The easy answer is “not difficult at all” because things like Kindle Direct make it possible to write something and put it out for sale digitally immediately. The HARD part of that is that when you do that, you’re likely doing it way too soon. Becoming a writer is a craft and a skill … something you acquire slowly over time, usually. Your first efforts probably won’t be that great (mine certainly weren’t). In fact, your 10th effort may not be great, either. People grow at different rates in their craft — and the way you find out you’re not ready, in traditional publishing, is that you compete with others for the limited opportunities available. The better you get, the more chance you have to grab that chance. It’s a process that creates not *more* writers, but *better* writers, which is why I still like it.
But more than likely, things will change even more over the next few years … so the answer is: yes, it’s probably pretty easy now. But easy isn’t always a good thing. And it’s still hard to get in with the big professional publishers, and always will be.
5.    Is it better to outline and plot your novel or “go with the flow”?
That depends. Some people work better to go “seat of the pants” … and some won’t start a road trip without a map. I’m a bit of both … I like a road map, but I’m not averse to taking interesting side roads too. I usually have a loose outline.
6.    Do you set goals for yourself as you write?
The deadlines really set them for me — I have a book due every three months, at 100,000 words, so that means I have to write a thousand words a day. The more days off I take, the higher that number gets!

On “The Morganville Vampires” series:
7.    To write this specific series, where did you get your inspiration from?
In the beginning, it was the idea of the town itself … all the layers of secrets (Vampires! Sick vampires! Sick vampires who are the last of their kind! With a secret enemy! … and on and on.) That really excited me.
8.    How did you come up with those characters? Are they based on real people?
I don’t base my characters on real people as a rule, but some of the vampires are historical people. I started with Claire and figured out what she was like, and then filled in characters around her. (And continue to do that!)
9.    What type of music do you listen to when you write this series?
I listen to many different kinds of music, and I find I need NEW music every book … so the first thing I do when I start is pick a few songs to start out with, and look for more music as I go. I tend to like alternative music, with a good sprinkling of pop, rock, some classics, even soundtrack music.
10. What are you working on now? Is it a Morganville Vampires book?
It is! I’m working on Book 13, BITTER BLOOD. And it’s due next week!

Reading advice:
11. Which authors inspire you now?
Every author I read inspires me in some way. We’ve all got strengths and weaknesses as writers … I look for what the other writer does especially well, because it’s usually something I *don’t* do as well. Most of the writers I’ve met are inspiring people as well … beautiful and gracious people!

Oh, okay, if you want me to be *specific,* … Charlaine Harris. Richelle Mead. Melissa Marr. Kelley Armstrong. Jim Butcher. George R.R. Martin.

12. Which YA books would recommend?
There are SO many good ones! I will always recommend Jackie Kessler’s Four Horsemen series … it’s brilliant. Tough and uncompromising, but brilliant. Heather Brewer’s books. Suzanne Collins. Beth Revis. The fabulous Cassandra Claire. Ann Aguirre. And ALWAYS Holly Black. But that only scratches the surface … there are so many amazing writers in YA, and more coming daily — just dig in! It’s a literary feast!

Rachel Caine will be in England from May 4th to May 24th 2012. Check her website for more details.

Vampire books

What’s on my bookshelf ? 1

Toward the end of the 1990’s, long before the craze about vampires that has taken hold of the Western world for the past 5 years, I started reading Vampire books. I have never stopped, and I now find myself with an entire bookcase dedicated to the genre, filled with the best and the worst of Vampire novels.

 If you’re interested in the topic of Vampires in literature, but don’t really know where to start, here is a guide of what to read first, and what to avoid at all cost. Then it is up to you to make up your own mind about these titles.

 

1-    Dracula, Bram Stoker

When diving in the huge pool of Vampire books, why not start with a classic? Dracula was written in 1897 and is still a landmark in the Vampire literature. It is an epistolary novel depicting the vampire Count Dracula in his attempt at relocating from Transylvania to England while Professor Van Helsing tries to destroy him. It is fast-paced, gothic, creepy and still attention-grabbing.

 

2-    Interview with the Vampire/The Vampire Lestat, Anne Rice

Moving on from Dracula, the next landmark in Vampire literature is the work of Anne Rice. Written in 1973 (published three years later), Interview with the Vampire is the most famous of The Vampire Chronicles series. It tells the story of 200-year-old vampire Louis, as he himself recounts his life during an interview with a reporter in New Orleans. My favorite novel in the series, however, is The Vampire Lestat, written in 1985. The book tells the story of Louis’ maker, a French vampire called Lestat de Lioncourt. 560 pages long, the novel is incredibly well-written and fluid for its length, and wonderfully gripping.

 

3-    The historian, Elizabeth Kostova

A debut novel and a masterpiece. Published in 2005, the book mixed three different narratives to tell the stories of Vlad the Impaler, his fictional equivalent Dracula and a history professor looking for Vlad’s tomb. Filled with amazing descriptions of setting and rich themes, the novel also has a riveting plot and an eerie atmosphere. It refers to a long tradition of gothic/Victorian/detective/horror/historical novels as well.

In the 1990’s, Vampire novels moved on from the traditional stories centered on the vampires themselves to introduce human heroes (usually heroines) having to deal with vampires. However, since Anne Rice had proven earlier that vampires didn’t have to be the bad guys of the story, this new kind of vampire books often showed the vampires in a good light, turning them into the heroine’s love interests. Among those books, you can have a look at:

 

4-    Blood Books, Tanya Huff

A strong-willed PI investigates strange cases and comes across a 500-year-old vampire in Toronto, Canada. Together they face supernatural threats, while slowly falling for each other. What I enjoyed about this series was the vampire character, Henry Fitzroy, who is witty and just creepy enough. The books have been turned into a Lifetime TV series called Blood Ties in 2007.

 

5-    The Southern Vampire series, Charlaine Harris

As of today, the series has 12 titles and has been turned into a very successful TV show called True Blood by HBO. I have only read the first two books, as I wasn’t very fond of the main (human) character Sookie Stackhouse and of the fact that vampires are only a background to the main story. If I’m advertized vampires, I want vampires!

 

6-    Undead and Unwed, MaryJanice Davidson

A hilarious book, first in a series of 11 books (so far) published since 2004, Undead and Unwed is a sort of Sex and the City with vampires. It tells the story of a thirty-something unemployed former model who dies in a stupid accident and wakes up a vampire. From then on, it’s mostly a romance novel, with some very funny pages and an original plot. I have only ever read book 1, so I wouldn’t be able to say if the rest of the series keeps up with the witty and original quality of the first book.

After the 1990’s shift in Vampire literature, came the 2000’s landslide of teen vampire books.

 

7-    The Twilight Saga, Stephenie Meyer

Everything has probably been said and/or written on the Twilight Saga, but there is no denying that the series has put vampire literature back in the spotlight. Published between 2005 and 2008, the four books depict the love story between the human narrator, a teenage girl named Bella Swan, and a vampire called Edward Cullen. I personally waited until 2007 to read Twilight and its sequels, and I have to admit it is an easy read with a few original ideas (“sparkling” vampires and the warfare among supernatural beings). However, I was annoyed by the focus on the human girl rather than the vampires, whose characters were, to my mind, rather under-developed. I wish it had been the story of the Volturi rather than Bella’s. But that’s just me.

 

8-    The last vampire, Christopher Pike

An example of vampire books rediscovered after the success of Twilight, The last vampire (published in 1994) tells the story of a 5000-year-old vampire girl named Sita. To my mind, it is a very strange book, primarily focused on the history of India and the Hinduist religion. It reminds me of Anne Rice’s books, as Sita is a very old vampire who is depressed and trying to find a way to die.

 

 9-    The Vampire Diaries, L. J. Smith

First published in 1991, the series has found a new success after the release of Twilight. It is about a human teenage girl, Elena Gilbert, who falls in love with two vampire brothers. The books have been turned into a TV show by the CW in 2009. An easy read, The Vampire Dairies are mostly romance novels, which, you’ve by now guessed, are not my cup of tea.

 

10- The Blue Bloods series, Melissa de la Cruz

I was really hopeful when I started reading this series in 2007, but I have to say I have been disappointed. Set in Manhattan, NY, the books are about a group of teenagers belonging to the city’s oldest and most influential families, who find out on their 15th birthday they are in fact vampires. To me, the problem with this series is that it is more about the Upper East Side, its private schools, its select parties and its shallow inhabitants than about vampires. And frankly, there’s only some much clothes descriptions that I can take before feeling I’m reading an ad for Barney’s.

 

11- Jessica’s guide to dating on the dark side, Beth Fantaskey

At last, a good teenage read about vampires. Published in 2009, the book follows the adventures of an adopted high school girl who finds out on her 17th birthday that she is a vampire royalty engaged to a complete stranger. As her betrothed invades her life in a hilarious attempt at winning her heart, she tries –and fails- to continue her life as a normal teenager. It’s funny, it’s witty, the vampires are (finally!) the main characters again and Jessica is a great narrator.

 

12- The Morganville Vampires series, Rachel Caine

With 11 books published since 2006, and 4 more to come, The Morganville Vampires series is about… vampires living in the town of Morganville, Texas. As the main character, a 16-year-old university student, finds out that her housemates are not all human, she embarks on a one-way journey into the secrets of the vampire-run city. The books are short but packed with action and suspense. Claire is a great example of strong-willed heroin and the vampires are delightfully complex characters.

 

13- Vampire Academy, Richelle Mead

I’ll probably lose a few readers by writing this, but Vampire Academy was to me an absolute disappointment. Praised everywhere, I dutifully read the first book, eager to see what the fuss was all about. To this day, I have no idea. Published in 2007, the novel has an original setting (vampire teenagers trained to protect the country’s royalties in a special school) but I felt it was more about teenage hormonal changes than vampires. Predictable and annoying, I wouldn’t recommend it.

 

14- Infinite Days, Rebecca Maizel

Published in 2010, this is the first book in what will be The Vampire Queen series. I am currently impatiently waiting for the second book, as I loved the first one. It is about a 500-year-old vampire named Lenah, who is given the opportunity to be a 16-year-old human again. She has to adjust to her new life while her coven seeks to have her back as their queen. It is an incredibly original plot, the kind of story you read and wonder: why didn’t I think of that? I highly recommend it.

Moving on from teen reads, these past two year have brought vampire literature back into the adult corner of libraries. I will mention two books:

 

15- The Passage, Justin Cronin

A 900-page novel, The Passage is the first book in a trilogy. Published in 2010, it is the story of an apocalypse: after a failed experiment in 2018, the human population is decimated by a virus which creates vampire-like creatures. The remaining humans struggle to survive over the next 90 years, desperately trying to find a cure for the virus, which they will find in the shape of a 100-year-old little girl. So, as of now, I am still undecided about The Passage. There are some beautifully written pages, as well as a wonderful main character (Amy, the “little” girl). But there are also huge chunks of the book that I personally think should have been edited/deleted. 900 pages is too long to tell a story that can, in the end, be summarized on a single A4 page. The author spends dozens of pages introducing characters who then just die. He describes settings forever without ever having any action actually happening in these settings. I really loved the first 100 pages, as well as the last 100 ones, but I believe the 700 pages in the middle could have been shortened into another 100 pages, making it a nice, readable and enjoyable 300-page book. But that’s just me.

 

 16- The Radleys, Matt Haig

Unlike The Passage, The Radleys is not long, and it’s a delight to read. It is also quite innovative, as it introduces us to a family of vampires living a quiet life in an English suburb. Published in 2010, the book is a nice change from the usual vampire literature, and I loved the idea of Dracula meets Desperate Housewives.

Still on my reading pile:

-          Lost souls, Poppy Z. Brite

-          Vampire Empire, Clay & Susan Griffith

Any suggestions on vampire books I should read ?