This Month at Teen Services Underground

In addition to the blogging I’ve been doing at YALSA’s Hub, I also am a volunteer agent at Teen Services Underground so if you read TSU’s Ask an Agent posts you may occasionally see me sharing tips, tricks, and thoughts on various things (like some programming ideas for Banned Books Week).

More to the point: I have a guest post there that posted earlier this month on Maker Kits:

What are Maker Kits?

Maker Kits are low-cost, versatile materials for open-ended creating put together in one container around a themed craft. Each kit filled with supplies that are easy to use with minimal supervision if not entirely self-directed. I used Ziploc Big Bags to house my kits but storage bins or some other container option would work just as well. The main thing is they should be mobile–don’t just dedicate a cabinet shelf to all the designated supplies.

You can read more about them and how I’m using the kits in library programming over at my TSU guest post.

Three Dark Crowns: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare BlakeOn the island of Fennbirn, a reigning queen gives birth to triplets each generation. Once the triplets are born, the queen’s rule is over and she is exiled with her consort to his homeland. The triplets–all equal heirs to the crown–are separated and raised according to their magic until the year they turn sixteen when the real battle for the throne begins. By the end of the year the crown will go to the last queen left alive.

Katharine has been raised by the poisoners, arguably the most powerful group on the island and the ruling class for generations. But Katharine is weak. Even the simplest poisons wreak havoc on her body– a fact that she and her guardian are determined to keep hidden at any cost.

Mirabella is a powerful elemental with the ability to summon storms and conjure fire. Her power is unprecedented drawing even the supposedly neutral temple priestess to champion her bid for the crown.

Arsinoe has found familial love and friendship in her home among the naturalists. But she has not found her magic. She cannot control animals of any size or make the smallest plants bloom–something any naturalist should be able to accomplish from a young age.

As Katharine, Mirabella, and Arsinoe contemplate their fate they all have their eye on the crown. Katharine knows the crown is her only chance at revenge. Mirabella feels the crown is her right as the strongest heir but she isn’t sure if she wants it. Arsinoe knows she is unlikely to survive the year but she is determined to try to survive for as long as she can. Three sisters, three dark magics, one crown in Three Dark Crowns (2016) by Kendare Blake.

Three Dark Crowns is the start of a trilogy. The book follows Katharine, Mirabella, and Arsinoe in close third person narration. Snippets of the story also follow those closest to the sisters as all three move inexorably toward the battle for the crown.

Blake expertly brings the island of Fennbirn and its strange customs and fierce traditions to life. Evocative prose and vivid landscapes make the island a secondary character in the novel as different parts of Fennbirn are revealed in each chapter.

Magic on this island has a cost, as does the right to rule, and throughout the novel all three sisters pay dearly. Katharine, Mirabella, and Arsinoe are distinct characters with ambitions that have demanded they harden their hearts and make great sacrifices.

Three Dark Crowns is dark fantasy at its finest and most tense. Page-turning action contrasts with moments that will leave readers breathless. Intricate plotting, surprising moments of intersection between the characters, and shocking twists make this a must-read. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2016*

Mighty Jack: A Review and Our Favorite Fairy Tales Blog Tour Post

mighty-jack-blog-ad-1Mighty Jack is my first time reading a Ben Hatke comic (although I’m already a big fan of his picture books) and it won’t be the last as I’m eager to see what Jack, Maddy, and Lily get up to next. As a long-time fan of fairy tales and fairy tale retellings, I am thrilled to be part of the blog tour for Mighty Jack.

Now that I’ve told you how much I enjoyed this fairy tale retelling, I’m also sharing my favorite fairy tale adaption. For me the answer is immediate and obvious: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine.

My mom got me my copy of Ella Enchanted (a loose retelling of Cinderella) when she was doing freelance data entry at HarperCollins a year or so after the book had received its Newbery honor. I devoured the story and, unlike a lot of childhood favorites, wound up keeping my copy safely on my shelves. Years later I wrote an entire scholarly paper about why Ella Enchanted is such an effective feminist text (and why the movie is not). Being the type of person I am, I told all of this to Gail Carson Levine when I met her a few years ago and had her sign my beloved copy.

Onto the review!
Mighty Jack by Ben HatkeJack is not excited about the summer vacation. While other kid’s are goofing off and hanging out with their friends, Jack has to watch his autistic sister while his mother struggles to make ends meet with extra hours at her two jobs.

Watching Maddy is a lot of responsibility and not always easy since Maddy never talks. When Jack and Maddy accompany their mom to a flea market, Maddy unexpectedly tells Jack to trade the family van for a box of strange seeds.

Jack’s mom is understandably disappointed and upset. But Jack and Maddy go forward with planting the seeds. The plants look normal. At first. But then Jack, Maddy, and Lily (the girl next door) start to notice strange things in the garden like onion babies and seeds that can turn a person blue.

The more Jack learns about the garden, the more he wonders about the seeds and their purpose. With dangers looming behind every leaf, Jack will have to decide how far he is willing to go for adventure–and how much he’s willing to risk to keep his family safe in Mighty Jack (2016) by Ben Hatke.

This retelling of “Jack and the Beanstalk” blends familiar elements with Hatke’s unique interpretation. The graphic novel remains faithful to the original text with Jack’s dubious trade and the magical seeds growing. This story focuses more on the early parts of the tale as Hatke sets the stage for future installments.

Jack’s responsibilities at home and his complicated relationship with his mother and sister all come through in the text and expressive illustrations. (It’s worth noting that Maddy is never identified as autistic in the story itself only in the jacket copy.) While Jack sometimes resents the pressures of having to watch out for his sister and act responsibly for his mother, the family’s affection and unconditional love is obvious which is refreshing in a story that plays with fairy tale tropes.

Like many comics, Mighty Jack is a fast read. With so much excitement and adventure, readers will be eager to get to the last page (and even more eager for another book to see what happens next). The illustrations feature Hatke’s signature artwork as well as full color illustrations. The text and dialogue throughout is a decent size and can be read comfortably. Recommended for fans of the author, comic readers looking for a new adventure, and readers who devour fairytale retellings.

Possible Pairings: Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Kate and the Beanstalk by Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by Giselle Potter; Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan, Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde, The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde

Be sure to check out the other stops on the tour:

Week in Review: September 25

missprintweekreviewThis week on the blog you can check out:

This week a lot of my fall projects are gearing up or wrapping up at work. I also got to review two of my most anticipated fall releases on the blog this week which was really exciting.

I leave you with this encouraging note I found near my place of employ:

If you want to see how my month in reading is shaking out be sure to check out my September Reading Tracker.

How was your week?

Banned Books Week Display

Since blind books are always a hit, I decided to bring back a wrapped/blind book display for Banned Books Week.

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This year I started with a black background (foam core as usual) and tried to streamline some of my graphics. I printed a giant “banned” to put on the side and then made my “Do You Read Banned Books?” image with a stock photo featuring letters on it. This year I realized I could save myself some time by making the actually BBW graphic separate so that I can conceivably reuse my other graphics down the line. (I also saved the stock image I used for background because it turns out they are not easy to find at all.)

I really like the way the display looks with the black background. Here it is fully stocked with banned books:

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I stocked the display with wrapped books. I pre-printed the banned graphics which I did save from last year and then just worked with a second sheet of paper to make sure that the books were all fully wrapped.

Here’s a close up of one of the books:

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Because we have barcode checkout (and self-checkout options) I also made sure the barcode on the back is visible even when the book is wrapped:

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This year I put my Banned Books Display up very early (start of September) to coincide with a coworker’s interactive display (she printed out pictures of frequently banned books and prompts patrons to use stickers to mark off the books they have read). It’s been interesting having the display up so early to see how patrons are interacting with it. I have routinely come back to restock the display to find it filled with unwrapped books or book wrappers that have been abandoned. The “sexually explicit” books I have put out have been opened several times to the point that I had to make new wrappers from scratch because they got so beat up.

If you want to know more you can visit BannedBooks.Org. The American Library Association also has a handy Banned Books Week landing page with a lot more information. School Library Journal also has compiled many useful resources.

What are you doing this year for Banned Books Week? Tell me in the comments!

Wondering how scandalous your reading history might be? Take this BuzzFeed quiz to find out (and share your results in the comments).

Here’s how I did on the quiz:

How Scandalous Is Your Reading History?

You ‘ve read 28 out of 93 banned books! You’ve dipped a toe into the pool of banned books, and you’re not afraid of at least some of life’s more illicit themes, like drugs, sex, and/or spooky monsters.

The Queen of Blood: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth DurstThe land of Renthia has always had spirits. Tree spirits help plants grow and flowers bloom. Ice spirits change the seasons. Water, Fire, Air and Earth spirits control the elements. As much as the spirits create, they also yearn to destroy and rid the land of humans whose very existence interferes with nature.

Only women are born with an affinity to control the spirits and even then it is often a weak power commonly found in hedgewitches throughout the villages. Few are strong enough to enter the academies and train to become queen.

Queens in Renthia are incredibly powerful, binding the spirits to their will so that the spirits will not harm humans. Queens rarely have the chance to grow old. With so many threats, and such great need, young women are trained to become candidates and vie for prestigious positions as heirs so that no part of Renthia is ever left without a strong queen.

Daleina rarely lets herself think so far ahead. Instead she focuses on learning enough to use her gift to protect her family and the rest of Aratay. Ven, a disgraced champion, fights the spirits on the outskirts of Aratay as their attacks become bolder and more frequent.

Ven and Daleina are unlikely heroes and strange allies. It will take both of their unique talents to discover the insidious root of the increasing attacks and save Aratay before the spirits’ thirst for blood grows even stronger in The Queen of Blood (2016) by Sarah Beth Durst.

The Queen of Blood is the start of Durst’s adult fantasy trilogy, The Queens of Renthia.

Set in the kingdom of Aratay, this story begins when Daleina is a child and follows her through adulthood (she is nineteen by the end) as she learns more about how to control the spirits and chases her dream of protecting Aratay.

Written in close third person point of view, The Queen of Blood mostly focuses on Daleina’s story although other chapters follow Ven and other relevant characters. While there is a subtle romance element, this story primarily focuses on the cost (and threat) of power as well as its incredibly capable heroine.

Durst presents an intricate and well-realized world filled with brutal spirits and villages that sprout from trees in a vast forest. Careful attention to detail and complex characters make this a multi-dimensional and thoughtful high fantasy novel. Durst also avoids the trap of creating an overwhelming white fantasy world with a cast that is as varied and surprising as one would expect from an imagined world.

While the backdrop and plot of The Queen of Blood are immediately engrossing, Daleina remains the true heart of this novel. Unlike many heroines, Daleina has no illusions about her strength and power. She knows that her road to train to become an heir (or even queen) will not be easy. Her power is hard-won and she is not always the best or even the strongest. But, like many young women, Daleina is sincere, kind, and inventive–traits that are not always seen together in one character.

The Queen of Blood is a complex and nuanced high fantasy novel filled with unexpected twists, clever characters, and a rich world. This scintillating series starter is a must-read for fantasy readers who will surely be waiting eagerly for the next installment. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Shadow Queen by C. J. Redwine

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Be sure to check out my interview with Sarah about this novel!

Author Interview #8: Sarah Beth Durst on The Queen of Blood

Sarah Beth Durst author photoSarah Beth Durst is one of my long-time favorite authors to read. She is also one of my favorite authors to interview here on the blog. Today Sarah is talking with me about her latest novel, The Queen of Blood which starts her adult fantasy trilogy, The Queens of Renthia.

The Queen of Blood is a fascinating high fantasy novel set in a world filled with nature spirits who control everything from the change of the seasons to the wind and rain. They also hate humans setting up a dangerous and uneasy balance between these spirits and humanity–particularly the women who use their magic to bind and control the spirits as Queens of Renthia’s various lands.

Miss Print (MP): What was the inspiration for The Queen of Blood?

Sarah Beth Durst (SBD): I fell over at a writing retreat.

Seriously, that was it. I can trace the moment that this book was born to a single moment of supreme klutziness. I’d just arrived at a writing retreat and was walking up to an adorable little cabin in the woods, where I’d be writing for the weekend, and I was looking up at the trees (and not down at my feet) and I tripped and fell on my face. Cut my lip. When I sat down to brainstorm an idea for my next novel, I looked out at the trees, tasted a bit of blood, and… boom, inspiration! Bloodthirsty nature spirits.

THE QUEEN OF BLOOD is the first book in an epic fantasy series from Harper Voyager called THE QUEENS OF RENTHIA, and it’s set in a world filled with bloodthirsty nature spirits. Only certain women–queens–can control them and keep them from killing all humans.

MP: The Queen of Blood is the start of your Queens of Renthia trilogy. In your acknowledgments you mentioned that your editor is the person who initially suggested that Daleina’s story start the trilogy. Can you talk a bit about that? How did you go about plotting the series? Did you know the arc of all of the books before you began?

SBD: After that somewhat-painful brainstorming session, I wrote about 90 pages of a novel about a queen in danger and a woodswoman with immense power who doesn’t want to use it, for fear she’ll die an early death and leave her children motherless. (A very reasonable fear in Renthia!) I sent it to my agent, who sent it to David Pomerico at Harper Voyager. He said, “This is great, but I have a question…  Can this be book two?” And I said, “Sure!”

I am so grateful to him for that idea, because now that THE QUEEN OF BLOOD is written, I can’t imagine the series starting any other way.

Because I’d already written such a large chunk of book two, I had a very clear idea of where I wanted book one to go. The best part of this was that it made the writing process very smooth. The worst part was that since I knew the fate of all the characters, I ended up falling in love with characters that I knew couldn’t survive!

MP: Renthia is home to a few lands. The Queen of Blood focuses on Aratay where locals live in trees grown and shaped by their Queen with help from the spirits. What kind of research went into bringing Aratay to life? Where did you begin imagining this part of Renthia?

SBD: Renthia is a world filled with the extremes of nature: towering trees, endless glaciers, sky-piercing mountains. THE QUEEN OF BLOOD is set in the forests of Aratay, which is a land filled with massive taller-than-Sequoia trees. The people live in houses grown from the trees themselves, halfway up the trunks. Villages are connected by bridges and ziplines.

Writing this world was such an immersive experience. Every day when I sat down at my laptop, it felt like stepping through a portal.

I love worldbuilding. Always have. As a kid, I used to spend hours drawing maps of imaginary lands. The key is to start with a single decision (in this case, to populate the world with a plethora of very powerful and very active nature spirits) and then follow it through until you’ve played out all the logical implications. It will often cascade into a series of decisions that build on one another until you suddenly have a brand new world, ready to explore.

MP: This book plays out on a grand scale with a story that spans years and a stage the encompasses much of Aratay. How did you go about planning for so many moving parts? How did you decide where and when key plot points should occur?

SBD: I always outline. I don’t always follow the outline, but I do always outline. And for these novels, I’ve actually been color-coding my outlines to make sure that all the storylines are balanced and progressing forward. I also always do one late-stage revision that’s purely technical, making sure all the information is seeded at appropriate intervals and making sure there aren’t any continuity issues.

Revising a novel is a bit like playing with a tapestry–you tug on one string and then see how it all weaves together. It’s actually one of my favorite parts of the whole writing process.

MP: Daleina is a great heroine. I really love that she has to work for everything in this story. She isn’t always the strongest or the most powerful but she makes up for it with ingenuity and heart. Daleina knows early on that her road to becoming Queen will not be as easy as it is for others, but she still has the requisite ambition to want to become an Heir or even Queen. How did you go about balancing these aspects of Daleina’s personality?

SBD: I wanted a hero who wasn’t a Chosen One. It’s not Daleina’s destiny to be a hero. She should be living a quiet life in a village, most likely as the local hedgewitch. But she wants to do more than that–she wants to protect her family and save her world. Noble goals, even though she doesn’t have the innate talent or skill to back it up. She has to work and work hard to even be on the same playing field as others.

I wanted to write a character whose true “magic” is her determination. She’s an ordinary person who tries to do extraordinary things.

MP: A big part of becoming a Candidate (and eventually an Heir or even Queen) is being able to control spirits. During her training, Daleina has to learn how to control all types of spirits though she seems to have the most fun with an ermine-like Air Spirit. If you were in Renthia, which type of spirit would be your favorite? Which would you least want to meet?

SBD: Definitely Daleina’s air spirit! I picture him as looking like Falcor from The Neverending Story.  Except this Falcor would most likely try to kill me . . .

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

SBD: The next twelve months will be the busiest of my writing life! In April, I have the release of my next kids book, JOURNEY ACROSS THE HIDDEN ISLANDS, about two princesses, a winged lion, and a whole lot of monsters. In June, my very first picture book comes out. It’s called ROAR AND SPARKLES GO TO SCHOOL, and it’s about dragons on the first day of school. And in July, the second book in THE QUEENS OF RENTHIA series, THE RELUCTANT QUEEN, comes out — this is the book I mentioned earlier, the one I started writing before THE QUEEN OF BLOOD, about a queen in danger and a woodswoman with immense power.  Also in early 2017, my YA novel DRINK SLAY LOVE will premiere as a TV movie on Lifetime!  I’m ridiculously excited about all of this!  And I’m not expecting to sleep very much…  :)

Thanks so much for interviewing me!

Thanks to Sarah for taking the time to answer my questions!

For more information about Sarah and her books you can also visit her website.

You can also check out our previous interviews discussing Sarah’s other novels Enchanted Ivy, Drink, Slay, Love, Vessel, Conjured, The Lost, Chasing Power, and The Girl Who Could Not Dream.

If you want to know more about The Queen of Blood be sure to check out my  review.