Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Breaking Down the Walls: Getting the Reader (Completely) Involved (a guest post by author Kimberly Pauley)

I have decided to do something crazy and it’s all because of the dedicated fans who have emailed and facebooked and twittered at me for the last two years asking when the next Sucks to Be Me book will be available (some on a weekly basis!).  I’m finally continuing the award-winning series with the direct help of my readers. You could call it “crowd sourced Choose Your Own Adventure.”
Mini Paris inspired TPiB: So I am currently raising a Paris obsessed Tween and here are 10 fun Paris inspired craft ideas.  You can also download the FilterMania 2 app onto your iPhone and create a beautiful Eiffel Tower framed picture.

Titled (also with the help of fan comments solicited on my website) Still Sucks to Be Me…Even in Paris, the book is being released every two weeks (on a Friday) one or two chapters at a time via my newsletter. At the end of every “edition” I include three or four possible different directions the story could go in. Readers then have until the next Tuesday to respond with their vote. After all the votes are in, I spend the next week and a half writing up the chapter(s).

 I’m also sharing little extras from the writing process that people would normally never get to see like photos I’ve taken of locations or people. There’s even a pretty good chance that frequent voters will have their names featured in the book. I’ve already had people email with specific ideas beyond the standard questions that I ask them too so who knows what ideas might wind up in the book!

People who join up late (and I do hope people will continue to jump on the bandwagon) can simply ask to receive all the chapters available to date by emailing me. I’d really love to see 1,000 readers signed up in the next few months. You could be one of them! Just sign up at http://www.kimberlypauley.com/newsletter

It’s a crazy way to write a book but so far it’s been lots of fun. It’s actually rather freeing (though also terrifying) to not have an editor or a copy editor looking over my shoulder. It’s especially frightening (for me) to know that I can’t go through a normal revision process and make any major changes to scenes or reshuffle the order of things. I usually write a first draft and then go through numerous iterations before anyone else ever sees the book. I’m sure that I’ll be pulling my hair out later on as more twists and turns are built into the story but I’ve given myself permission to just let go and have fun with this. After all, it’s for the readers.

Some people have asked me “Why now?” and there are a few reasons. I finished writing the book I was working on last year and am about to go into editorial revisions on it. You’re actually the first to officially hear this as it hasn’t even been announced in Publisher’s Weekly yet, but my next book, (tentatively titled) Ask Me, is being published by the lovely folks at Soho Teen. But, it won’t be out until Spring 2014. I do have some other manuscripts-in-progress but right now is the most free time I will have for a while. And the fans…I mentioned them, didn’t I? This is for them. And also to relieve me of the author guilt of not finishing Mina’s story! I’ve wanted to finish it since the original publisher closed the imprint it had been published under.

Once the book is completed, I plan on releasing it as an Ebook and potentially also as a physical book. But no matter what, it’s going to be a fun ride!

Kimberly Pauley

Kimberly Pauley is the author of the award-winning Sucks to Be Me series (YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers and VOYA Best Sci-Fi Fantasy) and the multicultural fantasy Cat Girl’s Day Off. You can find out more about her and her books at www.kimberlypauley.com 

Follow the white rabbit:

On my latest: Cat Girl’s Day Off
“Populated with wonderfully eccentric and endearing characters, this lighthearted comedy will be an instant hit…” — School Library Journal

Book Review: Dualed by Elsie Chapman

You or your alt, only 1 will survive.

In Chapman’s vision of the future, families give birth to a child who has an “alt” in the world; another child that is a combination of the two families DNA.  At some point, you are activated and then you have 30 days to kill your alt or be killed by it.  Only one can survive.

Synopsis: The city of Kersh is a safe haven, but the price of safety is high. Everyone has a genetic Alternate—a twin raised by another family—and citizens must prove their worth by eliminating their Alts before their twentieth birthday. Survival means advanced schooling, a good job, marriage—life.

Fifteen-year-old West Grayer has trained as a fighter, preparing for the day when her assignment arrives and she will have one month to hunt down and kill her Alt. But then a tragic misstep shakes West’s confidence. Stricken with grief and guilt, she’s no longer certain that she’s the best version of herself, the version worthy of a future. If she is to have any chance of winning, she must stop running not only from her Alt, but also from love . . . though both have the power to destroy her.

Elsie Chapman’s suspenseful YA debut weaves unexpected romance into a novel full of fast-paced action and thought-provoking philosophy. When the story ends, discussions will begin about this future society where every adult is a murderer and every child knows there is another out there who just might be better. (from Goodreads)

Since I mentioned Dualed in my Mind Games review earlier today, I thought I should go ahead and review it.  Dualed joins a growing list of post Hunger Games seeming books where we see kids killing kids in some sort of test to see who will survive and to try and build the “best” possible society.  There are elements of the story that are interesting, although also quite disturbing.  As hard as it is to imagine going into some type of arena to fight to the death, it is even harder to imagine a world where there is another with the same DNA mix out there that you must assassinate.  Some background is given for how this version of the world came to be, but it is hard to imagine that there was a lot of buy in to this scenario.  The very premise of this book stretches credibility and plausibility to extremes, which means that  the others elements must be spot on to create buy in from your readers.  Unfortunately, they don’t.

Our main character is West, who begin our story anxious to train.  After the first few chapters, she has literally lost everything.  And yet, when she is activated, she goes on the run.  This element of the story was problematic for two reasons: 1) it was inconsistent with how her character is initially portrayed and 2) it slowed the pace and gave you a lot of time to think about the first issue.

“Be the one, be worthy.”
Elsie Chapman, Dualed 

There are elements of the world building that are done well, some behind the scene touches, such as the way that West avoids key areas because of the check-ins required, that illustrate that Chapman has spent some time really developing her story, which is why the parts that don’t work stand out so much.  West has literally gone out and killed any number of alts for pay, so why does she go on the run when she is asked to kill her own?  I can imagine that there would be a lot of psychological issues that come in to play when you are asked to kill someone who in a sense is another version of yourself, but that element needed to be more deeply explored.

Dualed lacked a real emotional connection, the inconsistently and under development of West’s character creates a barrier to attachment, or even understanding.  And there are very few characters here.  Even Chord, the supposed love interest, spends a great deal of his time watching over West in the shadows and keeping his distance, so there is not a lot of opportunity to develop any feelings here either.  And although there are flourishes of insight into this strange world, it too has a coldness about it that keeps readers at an emotional distance, it doesn’t fully explore the how and why of this world.  In the end, Chapman has created a cold, violent world that is hard to understand with no real characters to cheer on and no real meat to discuss.  This is an optional purchase. 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: Mind Games by Kiersten White

Two sisters, bound by impossible choices, are determined to protect each other—no matter the cost.

James’s frozen face melts into a smile. “Do you want to know the trick to getting in trouble under the watchful eye of a psychic?”

I think of the nailed-shut windows. I think of Clarice. I think of the two, the two, the two who are now zero. Tap tap. “Yes, I absolutely do.”

“Don’t plan it. Don’t even think about it. The second you get an inkling of what you could do, do it then. Never plan anything ahead of time. Always go on pure instinct.”

I smile. “I think I can do that.” – Mind Games, Kiersten White (synopsis from Goodreads)

Having just read Dualed, and any other number of books with teenage assasins, I was a little skeptical going into Mind Games, a little weary of this polot point you could say.  But this book is so very good and I could not put it down.

Fia, short for Sophia, knows when things aren’t right.  She feels it in her gut, quite literally.  In fact, she takes the concept of instinct to a whole new level, and hers are never wrong.  She has sworn to protect her sister, Annie, who is a Seer.  Annie is blind, but sometimes gets visions of the near future.  There are a lot of people who would do anything to have Annie’s power, but Fia has a power they have never seen before.

Fia and her sister, Annie, have been manipulated into joining an “academy” who recruits girls that have special powers, and only girls seem to have them, and then exploits those powers to their benefit.  They are not the only players in town, however.  And it is hard to know who is doing what: is there a good team, are there good guys?  Thus the mind games.

Mind Games has everything you would want in a thriller.  Fia is a feisty, twisted young lady, pushed to the brink by a shady organization that wants to bring her so far in she can never escape.  This is an interesting character, bound by a loyalty she often resents, she is not always nice to this sister that she loves.  In fact, she often spirals into a despair so dark that the “readers” around her get nauseous migraines.  In this world where it is hard to keep secrets, Fia has quite a few.

Mind Games switches between past and present and between the two girls.  It is really important that you read the chapter headings so you know whose head you are in and when.  This to me was the only real cumbersome aspect of the story, but once I figured it out, I made sure and paid attention.  Of the various novels of this sort that I have read recently, and it really does seem to be a trend right now, Mind Games seemed ahead of the pack in pacing and characters. Even the bad guys – if they are indeed bad guys – were interesting and I wanted some them to turn out to be good guys.  I really enjoyed Fia and am definitely rooting for her, I love the intelligence she possesses and how even though she is flawed – deeply, deeply flawed after years of abuse and manipulation – she begins to understand the situation she is in and attempts to take control.

Annie I am less enamored with, she tends towards selfishness and doesn’t put the pieces together as easily as Fia, but she has her moments.  And the relationship between the two is definitely interesting; they both seem bound by a strong sense of loyalty, but they struggle between a sense of self-preservation and this commitment they have made towards each other.  It is by no means a healthy sibling relationship, but these are by no means healthy individuals either.

If White keeps up the tension, pacing, intrigue and characterization, this should be a hit.  Mind Games is all about, well, the mind games.  There is no strong sense of world building – when does this take place, what does this world look like, how rare are these various seers, readers, feelers?  But the psychological elements of this are truly fascinating. 4 out of 5 stars. Highly recommended.

More teenage assassins: Nobody by Jennifery Lynn Barnes,  Dualed by Elsie Chapman

Mind Games by Kiersten White.  Published by HarperTeen, March 2013. ISBN: 978-0-06-213531-5

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: True confessions of a recovering anorexic, body image and YAlit

I am anorexic.  You wouldn’t know that to look at me, but they say it is something you never fully recover from – so I guess I am not recovered, but am recovering.  I eat now.  Sometimes too much and sometimes for the wrong reasons.  I am definitely in no way slim any more.  But neither am I at peace with my body.

 TLT Posts on Body Image:

I stopped eating in the 8th grade.  In the 7th grade I was diagnosed with Scoliosis and fitted for a back brace.  This brace ended up being a piece of fiberglass that was shaped like a corset.  It distorted my body and changed the way I had to dress; now, I could only where elastic, over sized pants and because I did not want people to know, I chose to wear loose, baggy shirts.  So the fiberglass cast and the clothing all served to make me look bigger than I did. (Read my previous post on the subject: The Girl in the Fiberglass Corset).

The first time I had to wear it out in public I threw up.  Not on purpose, I simply was anxious and that is how my body responded.  But it changed something in my mind and I knew from that moment on that I would never eat the same.  I began to skip lunch, which was convenient because I was obsessed with music and movie stars and would use my lunch money to buy magazines like 16 and Bop so it seemed win/win.  Eventually, skipping lunch didn’t seem like enough.

By the time I graduated high school I was eating either one blueberry muffin or one granola bar a day, never both, and drinking one Pepsi.  I was almost 5 foot 9 and weighed right around 100 pounds.  I will never forget the time when I started healing and went to the doctor; at that time I had gained 5 pounds and now weighed 105 and the nurse commented that I was a nice thin girl.  That’s how pervasive our cultural obsession with being thin is – the nurse, a medical professional who should have known better, was congratulating me for being anorexic and at an unhealthy weight.

Here’s the deal about not eating food: it sucks!  I don’t know about you, but that constant gnawing hunger in your belly made me mean.  And I slept all the time because, well, it turns out your body needs food for energy.  And I threw up a lot and did a lot of damage to my stomach because all that acid, it does damage.

What turned things around for me?  Two things: my faith and my husband.  Being in a relationship with The Mr. involves a lot of food.  That man can eat.  And because I have come to understand that he loves me and accepts me for who I am, it has gradually made it easier for me to love and accept myself for who I am over time.  It’s not that he saved me, but that I chose to save myself because I wanted to be with him.  That’s an important distinction.  I decided that I wanted to be healthy and enjoy life so I could enjoy life with him, and be a good mom to our two little girls.

The other thing that saved me was my faith.  I sincerely believe that my faith calls me to be loving and serve others in God’s name.  That’s kind of hard to do when you have no energy and you are ragey mean because your stomach is eating itself and your muscles are atrophying.  I have always known that I wanted to work with teenagers, in part probably because I thought being a teenager sucked so much.  I want to be a mentor and a positive force in their lives.  I want to create environments where teens can embrace self and become a positive force in the greater world.  In order to do that, I have to be what I am trying to inspire them to be.  So with a lot of grace, a lot of love, and some positive people in my life (thank you M & M), I learned over time to be the very thing I wanted to inspire my teens to be.

I still get ragey, but it is no longer out of hunger.  No, I get ragey because I see the culture that we live in still continues to tell our children – and our adults – that they must look a certain way in order to be worthy of love and achievement, and that way is often a very unhealthy goal.  Oddly enough, I turn to Lady Gaga today as an inspiration.  She recently has been criticized in the media for putting on some weight but rather than excuse it, she seemed to embrace it and mentioned that she was trying to find balance in her life.  That’s what we are all searching for: balance.  So then she launched a new campaign called Body Revolution 2013 where she posted candid pictures of herself online in her skivvies.  On the one hand, this is a bold move that sends a healthy message.  But on the other hand, it reinforces some of our cultural issues because here is this woman who is now an average size and she is being criticized in the media for being too big.  When our kids look at those pictures and hear the media saying she has gotten “fat”, what message will that send to them?

I am the mom to a tween girl.  She takes karate and walks to school every day.  And right on schedule, she told me the other day that she needed to “lose a few pounds.”  She doesn’t actually.  But in that moment, my heart broke for her because I know it only gets worse for our children – boys and girls – from here on out.  They will see image after image in the media of thin, beautiful people rewarded for being thin, beautiful people.  Their peers will divide and conquer the school grounds and lunch rooms based upon who wears the best clothes from the right places and has the blondest hair and bluest eyes (or whatever the look du jour is).  They will stand in front of the mirror with tears running down their faces as they compare themselves to Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez or whatever person is the “it” thing that day.  And they will fail in comparison because they don’t understand the time, money, and airbrushing that goes into creating those sellable brands.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7qm1kPurZds]

As a culture, we fail our kids and teens every day.  We set up unrealistic standards and send messages that we no longer even try to hide.  We sell BBQ sandwiches by sexualizing and objectifying women (thank you Carls Jr. whom I will never eat at again).  Sex and beauty, those are the two primary messages of our advertising.  Sex sells, but what does it sell?  It leaves us with a culture that forgets to value intelligence, individuality, innovation, creativity and community.  It sets up standards that divides us as we measure each other against an unrealistic measuring stick.  It tells our children that beauty, sex, and celebrity are the end all goals.  It sets our kids up for failure.

This is part of the reason while I value well written ya lit.  Here a wide variety of truths are presented: we are not all the same, but we all struggle with the same things.  We can hope, we can dream, we can achieve.  The power to move can be found in the pages of a book.  When we write honestly and openly, we break down barriers and show our children, and ourselves, that the world is both more glorious and more complex than we can ever imagine – and that in the end, we are all the same on the inside.

TPiB: TTW13- Check In at the Library

I don’t know why Teen Tech Week always sneaks up on me.  Maybe because March is always when summer reading planning seems to be at it’s fullest.  Or maybe because it always seems to fall during my school systems’ spring breaks. Or it’s because I’m waiting for spring.  Who knows.  All I know is I’m always scrambling to find easy programs to do because I’m short on staff and my brain is shot. The YALSA NING for TTW has some awesome ideas for this year’s theme, Check in @ The Library, and you should definitely check them out.  However, if they seem to ambitious, try some of mine.  And if you’re doing something for Teen Tech Week, share what you’re doing in the comments!


These movies break the way to some excellent discussion topics with teens, and a lot of them are topics that need to be discussed- from privacy settings to what image you’re projecting to making sure they’re being safe online, you can create discussion guides to hand out beforehand to get your teens thinking, and start the discussion afterwards.

CATFISH- the documentary that started the TV show. Talk about how to tell if how you’re talking to is really who you think they are, and what your profile says about you.

HACKERS- aside from showing a young Sherlock from NBC and a young Angelina, it shows that determined teens can change anything. Explore ideas of code cracking, and how safe your information is online and on your devices.

WARGAMES- yes, “old” but talk about how even though the tech has changes, the basics of hacking is the same. How safe are things when everything is connected to a computer, and all someone needs is a secret code?
THE SOCIAL NETWORK- How Facebook got started (and the new Spiderman, BTW), talk about privacy settings and passwords, and what people can see and search for.


I was lucky enough to meet Darren Shan at ALA Midwinter, and That Guy and I were able to get two of his new series signed for giveaways for Teen Tech Week at my library.  Since my teens are off for Spring Break during TTW, I’m creating this:

They will have to get four stamps (complete four squares) in order to be entered into the drawing for the book, and thereby will be “checking in” at the library. You could definitely alter it to use for your programs.  (If you want the layout, let me know- it was really easy to create).  I gave them a variety of options, including volunteering, reading, helping me plan summer reading, and doing their homework early.  My favorite is the chocolate- we’ll see if that actually happens.  


The other big success that I’ve had during tech week is when I’ve got low tech/no tech during gaming programs.  I’m always surprised by when I have a huge knowledge of games that my teens have no comprehension of.  Case in point: Clue.  I was SO excited the first summer I was at my current job, and set up a LIVE CLUE.  I had a duct tape body and EVERYTHING.  None of them had played, so it died.  Literally.  And then they teased the littler kids that it really was a dead body, and I had to reassure a parent that no, there wasn’t a murder in the library, it was just connected to our summer reading program.  *sigh*  So I really like take low tech/no tech games and having a gaming afternoon and getting them involved.

Book Review: Homeland by Cory Doctorow

“Marcus,” he said. “Have you noticed how messed up everything is today? How we put a ‘good’ president in the White House and he kept right on torturing and bombing and running secret prisons?  How every time we turn around someone’s trying to take away the Internet from us, make it into someone kind of giant stupid shopping mall where the rent-a-cops can kick you out of if they don’t like your clothes?  Have you noticed how much money the one percent have? How we’re putting more people in jail every day, and more people are unemployed every day and more people are losing their houses every day?”

“I’ve noticed,” I said. “But haven’t things always been screwed up? I mean, doesn’t everyone assume that their generation has the most special most awful problems?”
“Yeah,” Ange said. “But not every generation has had the net.”

“Bingo,” Jolu said. “I’m not saying it wasn’t terrible in the Great Depression or whatever. But we’ve got the power to organize like we’ve never had before. And the creeps and the spooks have the power to spy on us more than ever before, to control us and censor us and find us and snatch us.”
“Who’s going to win?” I said. “I mean, I used to think that we’d win, because we understand computers and they don’t.”

“Oh, they understand computers. And they’re doing everything they can to invent new ways to mess you up with them. But if we leave the field, it’ll just be them. People who want everything, want to be in charge of everyone.”
“So we’re going to win?”

Jolu laughed. “There’s no winning or losing, Marcus. There’s only doing.”

In this stand-alone sequel to Little Brother, Marcus lands his dream job as a webmaster for a crusading politician, when a former girlfriend hands him access to her security then disappears in the clutches of their archnemesis.  Now Marcus must decide what to do- because leaking the information could save Masha, but if he’s found out, he’d lose his job in the process, and he can’t go anywhere near his old sphere without being recognized.  And the information Masha has is damaging to a lot of people.  Is it even the right thing to do?  But he has to decide fast, because dangerous forces (old and new) are closing in, and they have no compunctions about who they hurt.

Marcus was M1ck3y, the hacker who created the darknet and let everyone know what the government was doing to his friends and others when martial law was declared in San Francisco   Now, however, California’s economy has collapsed, his parents are struggling to find jobs and to hang onto their home, and he’s dropped out of college and is completely lost.  Escaping with his girlfriend Ange to Burning Man, his past comes back to him full force in the form of Masha, who is running from their old enemies and has a slipped Marcus a thumb drive and a mission: if she disappears, seed the information throughout the internet. And disappear she does, right with Carrie Johnson, who was responsible for Marcus’ torture years ago. 

Back in San Francisco, Marcus and Ange call in favors and start looking at what Masha has collected, and realize it’s extremely dangerous.  And Marcus has just taken his dream job as web master with a politician who wants to change everything, and can make those changes through legitimate channels.  Faced with moral and personal decisions, somehow Johnson has discovered that Marcus has Masha’s key, and now is again fighting for his life. 

Homeland is extremely gripping and fast paced, full of tech references and making the reader think about all the everyday things we take for granted. For really thought provoking discussions, mesh with Feed by MT Anderson, or Ghost in the Wires by Kevin Mitnick.  4.5 out of 5 stars.  (Goodreads currently has Homeland as 4.08 stars as of Feburary 26, 2013.)

I was gripped by Homeland, and could not put it down, even though it made me paranoid about all the tech in my house and made me bug That Guy about everything we own.  As well anyone should be- there are really spooky things that go on with tech, and people are too trusting. Do you really read your software agreements? Do you know what you agree to when you update your apps? Do you know that even when your GPS is off, your phone still knows where you’re at?

That is the underlying point within *all* his works: think.  If you think it’s a little far fetched, take a look at what Microsoft wants to do with its new Kinect rollout. Or google some of the stuff that pops up in Homeland. It’s there, and online even in the mainstream Internet.  Even as I write this, the US is getting new anti-piracy software through our INTERNET providers, who will evidently decide who are the pirates and who are not.  

The world Marcus inhabits is not very far-fetched, which is what makes it so creepy and riveting at the same time. You don’t know who to trust, and with the final betrayal near the end you get your heart broken just as you’ve put your trust in that character. It’s wonderful stuff, an excellent for teens and adults alike.  For more information, and to learn about Cory Doctorow’s views on Creative Commons for his works, check it out here.

TPiB: Steampunk in the Library

“I cannot imagine how the clockwork of the universe can exist without a clockmaker.” – Voltaire

Steampunk: Steampunk is a subgenre of speculative fiction, usually set in an anachronistic Victorian or quasi-Victorian alternate history setting. It could be described by the slogan “What the past would look like if the future had happened sooner.” It includes fiction with science fiction, fantasy or horror themes.(Urban Dictionary)
Steampunk is not tricky, it’s a way of looking at the world through a different lens.  Worlds that exist in the books of Cassandra Clare, Kady Cross, Kenneth Oppel, Cherie Priest, and Scott Westerfield and HG Wells help set the ideas that you’re looking for, and with these crafts to tie into those worlds, your teens will be into steampunk in no time….  Have ideas that have worked for you?  Share in the comments!


For day wear with a twist, think about creating a charm bracelet with shrinky dinks and old world charms added in.  If you don’t have the means to make the photos at your workplace, think about making them at home and bringing them in the day of with using teen volunteers to scouring old magazines for images. 

 Over the Cresent Moon’s blog has this example:

For a top hat with steampunk style and duct tape pizzaz, take a look at what Cut Out and Keep has on their site:
Or for your special someone, how about a button ring?  Lana Red has an easy tutorial: 

For those who have a writing bent in them, what about creating smash books (scrapbook by way of a junk drawer) with your teens?  Over on the Craftster site, there was some interesting ideas to get you started, like this one:
It starts from scratch, but if you get a DIY journal from Oriental trading like these, you could easily add embellishments to steampunk them out.
You could also collect all those metal tins (mints, gum, etc.) that your staff and teens have around, and make mini scenes and modge podge pictures into the insides and outsides of them.  Go Make Something has a good tutorial for prepping them (although I’m sure there’s others):

And the Guides from the Mesa Library has an awesome directory for steampunk and other crafts…

Steampunk 101 with author Suzanne Lazear

Steampunk has been around for decades, but has really gained popularity in the past few years. But what exactly is that Steampunk stuff anyway?

Imagine a world where steam and natural gas, not coal and electricity, are the primary power sources. Steampunk transports us to a place abounding with airships, gas lamps, gears, cogs, and brass goggles and populated with mad scientists, philosophers, adventurers, and air pirates. Steampunk stories are filled with exploration, optimism, curiosity, technology, and rebellion. They boldly go new places, explore and invent new things, and ponder the what ifs and never wases of technology and history. HG Wells and Jules Verne are huge inspirations for Steampunk. Examples include League of Extraordinary Gentleman and Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker.

It seems to me that by its very nature Steampunk is a genre meant to challenge itself. Lately, Steampunk has grown from its SciFi roots to really cross genres and boundaries. We have paranormal Steampunk, like the popular Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger and God Save the Queen by Kate Locke. We have “steamypunk.” We have clockpunk with steampunkatude. We have steampunk retellings of classic stories, like Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross. In YA especially, there’s a whole crop of steampunk mashups, where authors explore the breadths and depths of steampunk to the very limit, sometimes creating something new altogether. 

My Aether Chronicles series falls into that “mashup” category. I call it “Fairytale Steampunk.” I sought to combine my favorite things—fairies, Steampunk, and fairytales—into one book. I didn’t want to steampunk an existing fairytale, I wanted to create my own.

Book 1, Innocent Darkness tells the tale of sixteen-year-old Noli Braddock, a mortal girl who’d rather fix cars than attend balls and who’d like to save her family by going to the university and becoming a botanist, not getting married—something unacceptable in her world. A single wish tears her from her realm and throws her into word filled with wishes, bad bargains, huntsman, and evil queens. 

Charmed Vengeance, which releases 8-8-13, continues the story of Noli, V, James, and Kevighn. Book two is set mostly in the mortal realm and is an adventurous tale of quests, automatons, airships, air pirates, and cake.

One of the things I love about Steampunk is the 19th century aesthetic. There’s something about all that brass, the balls and bustles, and the ornate details, that just call to me. However, technology is an important part of Steampunk. There could still be extraordinary technology all done with 19th century materials and in 19th century styles. There can be Steampunk airships, spaceships, computers, and brass robots. In Innocent Darkness I have flying cars and hoverboards, in Charmed Vengeance we see a lot more Steampunk technology, since a large portion of the book takes place aboard an airship (run by air pirates, of course). 

Steampunk stories are hardly limited to Victorian London. They can be set in the past, in the future, or on another planet. They can be set in Victorian London, the Wild West, Asia, another world entirely – you are only limited by your imagination.  The Aether Chronicles series has a very heavy Victorian feel to it and takes place in an alternate version of the early 1900’s, where technology has evolved a little faster. Book 1 is set in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and the Otherworld. In Book 2 we revisit those places but also get peaks at other cities, such as Denver, Boston, and New York City.

One of the things that really makes Steampunk attractive to me is that it IS so many things. There literally is something for everyone in Steampunk. There is so much to explore. No two Steampunk worlds are alike, so if you don’t like one Steampunk tale, try another. Steampunk is also more than just stories—there’s music and art, handicrafts and beautiful clothing, conventions, balls, and so much more. Put “steampunk” into etsy.com to get just a peak at what it’s become. Go, explore steampunk and see what you can find.

Let the adventures begin.

~Suzanne Lazear

Suzanne Lazear is the author of the YA steampunk fairytale series The Aether Chronicles. INNOCENT DARKNESS is out now. Book 2, CHARMED VENGEANCE, releases from Flux 8-8-13. Visit the series site at www.aetherchronicles.com. She’s also part of the Steampunk group blog Steamed http://wwww.ageofsteam.wordpress.com  

Book Review: The Girl in the Clockwork Collar by Kady Cross

Wildcat turned her attention to Finley. “I know you. You’re the one that was here with the Irish witch.”

“She would prefer to be called a scientist” came Finley’s drawled reply. “I’ll give her your regards.”

The dark girl turned back to Jasper. “She’s almost as much a smart-arse as you. She all you brought?”
“I got a driver, but he’d rather see me dead that do me a favor.” Then he grinned. ‘But if you know my friend, you know she’s enough.”

The girl nodded, grime-streaked face serious. “All right, then. You know what has to be done.” And then she stepped across the threshold,  a baseball bat in her hands. Its wood was smooth and stained brown with old blood. A dozen other girls and fellas followed after her- some armed, some not.

“Jasper?” Finley asked warily. “What the devil’s going on?”

He turned to her with what he hoped was a suitably apologetic expression. “When I left the piece with Wildcat, she told me if I ever came back she’d ‘beat the snot out of me.'” Technically, he hadn’t left he part with Cat. It had gotten left behind when she kicked him out. He was simply relived she still had it.
Finley’s eyes widened. “Are you telling me we have to fight? All of them?” she gestured at the gang standing in the street behind Wildcat.

Jasper nodded. “That’s exactly what I’m saying.”

Jasper Renn, taken back to America from the Greythorne estate supposedly to answer for a murder in San Francisco, has disappeared into the hands of his former friend, Reno Dalton.  Held against his will, Dalton wants to Jasper to piece back together a machine they stole together- a wondrously evil machine that can change a man’s fortune, or a thief’s life- and Jasper’s former love Mei is being used against him to make him cooperate.  One false move from either of them, and the clockwork collar around her neck tightens.  And tightens.  Griffen, Finley, Sam, and Emily are in New York trying to help from the outside (and inside as well) but can they figure out what the machine is, and what they can do to help Jasper and Mei, and stop Dalton, before time is up?
The second installment in Kady Cross’ Steampunk Chronicles finds the reader transported from 1897 London to New York, where evil is lurking in former friends, and betrayal is in surprising places.  Moving faster than The Girl in the Steel Corset (mainly because the author assumes you know about the world by now), Griffen and his “special branch” move into the Waldorf Astoria and infiltrate New York society (both high and low) in order to find Jasper, and thwart Dalton and his master plan.   The team still doesn’t quite trust each other yet, and the triangles in the first book carry over into the second, adding tension.  Growing abilities, and the work of Dr. Telsa and his machinery add to the danger as well.  Readers interested in ties to New York in the late 1800’s could read The Luxe series, while steampunkers would definitely feel a tie for the Leviathan and Airborn series with the emergence of Tesla in this book.  3.5 stars out of 5.  Goodreads has Girl in the Clockwork Collar rated at 4.08 stars as of February 10, 2013.
I enjoyed Clockwork Collar a little more and a little less that Steel Corset for different reasons.  I wanted more character building of the original characters, and Clockwork Collar  is more Jasper’s story- even though we get more of Finley and Griffin’s relationship and their bumps about trusting each other, it’s all about Jasper’s back story.  For a character who will not be continuing on, I wish that the focus was somewhere other than Mei- and I know what was going on with her about a third of the way through the book, so to be proven right made a difference I think.  I loved Finely’s and Emily’s relationship, and the more hints and reveals about Emily’s past, that made me love the book more.  I like that both Finley and Emily can take care of themselves, and that is made abundantly clear throughout the book- in fact, there is no shortage of female characters throughout this series that can take care of themselves.  
I didn’t like that Griffin made excuses for how he treated both Finley and Emily (there’s a passage in the book when Finley confronts him where he silently justifies to himself that that’s the way he was brought up)- hopefully he’s broken of that train of thought quite quickly.  I also didn’t like that the author didn’t quite explain what was going on with Griffin’s abilities, or Telsa’s inventions, or the malformations in the Aether, but I can hope that there will be more books to come that will assuage my curiosities.  I’m itchy when there are unresolved plot points in a book.

On moments that matter

I know that you think the life of a librarian must be chic and glamorous, but the truth is that there are a lot of days where it is exactly what you think it is: a job.  It is a job filled with paperwork and budgets and decisions and trying to relate to people, both in the workplace and your patrons, who are oh so very different then you.  There are days when I walk into work overwhelmed by the amount of things I need to get done and can’t figure out to where to start.  And there are moments sitting at the reference desk when I think please, someone, anyone, ask me a fun, challenging question.

But then, there are THOSE moments.  Those moments when a patron walks up and says I am looking for a book that I read a couple of years ago, I don’t remember much about it but . . . and you go, Oh, you mean The Book Thief and you walk right over to the shelf and pull it off and put it in their hands and they think you are some kind of magical superhero with a mega brain.

And there are subtler moments, too.  Those moments when a woman with a bruised face asks you for books on relationships and you find a way to subtley give her the information for the local domestic violence shelter.  I am just waiting for him to calm down she says, and then reads a self-help book to find out what she is doing wrong.  You hope that one day she’ll figure out that it’s not her, it’s him and call the number that you gave her.

Working primarily with teens, I have seen my fair share of heartbreak.  I have sat with teens who have just lost a beloved classmate to an automobile accident or suicide.  I have listened as teens struggled with the realization that they are pregnant.  I have seen them fall in and out of love.  I have seen them graduate.

But I have also seen them go to juvie hall, drop out, and fall apart.  So many of them you simply lose touch with, because life is nothing if not ever changing.

But then there are THOSE moments. The glorious ones . . .

We have a teen reviewer here, his name is Cuyler.  Cuyler wants one day to be a writer and has, in fact, written 2 novels, one of which he self published.  A few weeks ago, I asked Cuyler if he wanted to go to the Montgomery County Book Festival with me and he said yes.  There, we met Jonathan Maberry.  This was a really big deal to both of us because we are FANS. Not crazy, stalker fans – just, I highly respect your work and think you are doing amazing things fans.  So Cuyler stood there talking to Jonathan Maberry, who is a delightful and gracious man, and he mentioned that he had written a book and brought a copy for him, and Jonathan politely said oh, well then go get it.  Cuyler hadn’t just brought the book, he had brought it in a gift bag with tissue paper and everything as a genuine gift for Mr. Maberry.  As he went over to get this gift, Cuyler looked at me and said, “Oh my goodness I can’t feel my legs, I can’t believe this is happening.”  Upon receiving his gift, Jonathan then kindly asked him to sign the book for him because he was, after all, an author and that’s what authors do – they sign their books.

Later, Jonathan Maberry would go on in his keynote speech to talk about how a Middle School librarian had introduced him to Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson and how those men help him in his writing.  And I realized, Jonathan Maberry was in fact paying it forward.  He was able to give generously to Cuyler because others had done the same for him.

And then there was Ceci.  Ceci is one of our two tween reviewers here, and she is also my Godchild.  Her mother and I met through the Hypermesis Education and Research Foundation (www.helpher.org) after I had suffered at a horrific pregnancy loss.  Ceci recently had an assignment where she had to write a letter to someone she admired and she wrote to author Lisa Schroeder.  And Lisa Schroeder was kind enough to write her back (she is writing a post about it, so I won’t elaborate).  Last week I was talking to Ceci and her mom and she asked, “Do you have any ARCS of the newest Cupcake novel?”  Here’s an honest confession: I had no idea that Lisa Schroeder wrote anything other than YA.  So, I quick Tweeted Lisa Schroeder while we are talking and she remembered Ceci and said she did, in fact, have an ARC.  There was some high pitched squealing on the other end of the phone.

The thing is, we can’t underestimate the impact that these moments have on the lives of our tweens and teens.  The power that comes from knowing that an adult cares; those moments that come from having a moment of boldness. 

Having a positive impact on the lives of others around you takes boldness on your part.  You have to go the extra mile, to reach out and dare to ask, “how can I help you?”  And then you must follow through.

And moments that matter don’t have to be big, sometimes they are tiny.  A simple conversation.  Just knowing that someone put down what they were doing and took a moment to really stop and listen.  Be on the lookout for the moments that matter, they make it all worth it in the end.  These moments were brought to you courtesy of this blog – which makes all the other moments totally worth it.

Special thanks to Jonathan Maberry and Lisa Schroeder for helping me make these moments possible.