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Monday, February 25, 2013

Tucson Festival of Books Author Spotlight: Jacqueline Woodson

If you like realistic fiction about teenagers with problems, like Crank by Ellen Hopkins or Monster by Walter Dean Myers, you should pick up something by Jacqueline Woodson. You're in for a treat. She'll be a guest speaker at the Tucson Festival of Books this year, which is a huge gathering on the U of A campus to celebrate books, authors, and reading.

The first book I read by her was If You Come Softly. It's a sad, kind of Romeo and Juliet-esque story. Jeremiah's black, and Ellie's white. They meet at a private school and fall in love without being prepared for how society views their relationship. On her website, she writes that it was inspired by a poem by Audre Lord, which begins:
If you come softly
as the wind within the trees
you may hear what I hear
see what sorrow sees.

She's written many books for children and teens. She generally features characters of color and writes about many different African-American themes, also focusing on gender and class. The themes might seem familiar to you, but she makes you think about things in new, groundbreaking ways.

One of her books, Miracle's Boys, won a Coretta Scott King award. It's about three biracial kids who had to raise themselves after their mother dies. It's a fast, gripping read because it's mostly told with dialogue.

Maybe you've wondered what it would be like to be in the witness protection program. One of her most popular books, Hush, is about a 12-year-old girl who finds out what it's like, after her father, who's a cop, witnesses a murder by two other, crooked cops. The fact that he's black and the crooked cops are white complicates things, and soon they're finding themselves shunned. The whole family finds out out a lot of things about themselves when they enter the program and have to change everything that seemed familiar, from their city, to their religion, to their names.

If you're a rap fan, you'll love After Tupac, which is about two girls who bond over his lyrics. And even if you're not a fan when you start the book, you might be after you see his music through their eyes.

She is also a lesbian who writes realistic gay and transgender characters, like the young protagonist in The House You Pass on the Way, and one set of parents in The Dear One. I really like this quote from The Dear One: "People are going to judge you all the time no matter what you do...Don't worry about other people. Worry about you."
Happy reading, and I hope to see you at the Festival of Books!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Tucson Festival of Books Author Spotlight: A. S. King

Some authors find their groove and stay there--think Meyer (vampires), Rowling (wizards) or Paolini (dragons). If you like their stuff you are set, unless they crash and burn after a few books! A. S. King is definitely "groovy", but don't try to pin her down. Since I can't reduce her books to one word, I will have to try two: reincarnation and pirates, death and justice, bullying and Vietnam, and sexuality and fear. And by all accounts, her new book coming out in October 2013, Reality Boy, is about reality tv show child stars and runaways. Okay, I'm cheating a bit there but you get the idea! What she lacks in consistency, however, she more than makes up for in ingenuity, and that is a rare talent indeed.

Her latest book is called Ask the Passengers, and it is fantastic! The central character is Astrid Jones, a brainy, wordy senior in high school whose favorite hobby is lying on the backyard picnic table, sending her love to the airplane passengers overhead. That is when she isn't having philosophical conversations with Socrates, aka Frank, about life, love, and truth. I said this book is about sexuality and fear, but it is also about questions and gossip and labels and families and magic and small towns and addiction. Even if you are not Q-for-Questioning in the spectrum of LGBTQ, you will recognize her search to define herself on her own terms as the universal dilemna that it is. And if you happen to see A. S. King at the TFOB, ask her how she manages to be so groovy yet "grooveless"! To find out more about A.S. King, check out her website at:

Monday, February 4, 2013

Tucson Festival of Books Author Spotlight:

Janette Rallison's books often make me laugh out loud, so I was excited to find out she will be attending the Tucson Festival of Books this March. I was looking at the bios in her books to try and see what little tidbits I wanted to mention, when I discovered that they are each different. For example, in It's a Mall World, her bio talks about things she learned as a mall connoisseur. In Just One Wish she mentions how she wished for a pony that has never arrived. The facts that stay the same are that she lives in Arizona with her husband and children. Now that I know how amusing her bios are I will be looking forward to reading them as well, but if you are interested in checking out something a little more substantial, like her books, I recommend My Fair Godmother and it's sequel My Unfair Godmother.

In the traditional fairy tale a Godmother often makes it all work out. But what happens if your fairy godmother didn't pass fairy training and needs to do some course makeup? That's the premise for these imaginative fairy tales. Chrissy ties these stories together as the failing godmother in training. She would rather be shopping and doesn't listen to the girls wishes very well. Unfortunately they end up stranded in the middle ages playing out pieces of various fairy tales, with hilarious results. If you enjoy her stories, be sure to check her out at the book festival as I imagine she will be just as enjoyable to listen to as to read.   Read more about Janette Rallison at her website:

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Tucson Festival of Books Teen Author Spotlight: Maggie Stiefvater

Maggie Stiefvater is a YA author who specializes in paranormal and urban fantasy. She has a gift for lyrical prose, and her books are always rich with atmosphere. Luckily for us Tucsonans, Ms. Stiefvater is going to be attending the Tucson Festival of Books! If you've never heard of her or are a die-hard fan looking for more of her work, there are a lot of good choices.

Ms. Stiefvater's first book was Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception. In it, Dierdre Monaghan is a painfully shy musical prodigy. She is also a cloverhand--a human who can see faeries. She and her best friend James are about to become embroiled in an ancient faerie war; there are two faerie assassins on their way to kill Dierdre before her music captures the Fae's attention. The story continues in the sequel, Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie, and involves Nuala, a deadly faerie muse.

The Wolves of Mercy Falls Trilogy is set in the icy winter of Minnesota. In Shiver, Grace has always been obsessed with the wolves that live in the forest behind her home. What she doesn't know, however, is that the wolves are actually werewolves, who turn human in the summer and wolf in the winter. One of the wolves, Sam, has loved Grace from afar for years, and a threat to the pack brings the two together. The story of Grace and Sam continues in Linger and is concluded in Forever.

The Scorpio Races is a standalone novel about the small island of Thisby. In the water around the island live the capaill uisce, bloodthirsty water horses that have ended the lives of many of Thisby's citizens. Every year, the Scorpio races are held, and competitors try to ride the capaill uisce and stay alive long enough to reach the finish line. The story follows Puck, the first female competitor in the races, and her rival Sean, the returning champion.

Her most recent book, The Raven Boys, is the first book in the Raven Cycle series. The story follows Blue, an ordinary girl from a clairvoyant family, who has been told since birth that she will kill her true love with a kiss. Every year she stands with her mother and writes down the names of spirits that her mother sees--these souls are the people who are going to die in the coming year. Blue has never seen a spirit herself, until the night when she sees Gansey, a rich Aglionby boy--the boy that Blue might very well kill.

Maggie Stiefvater is a master of intricate, fantastical stories, and she has something for everyone to enjoy. So grab a book and get ready to meet her at the Tucson Festival of Books!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tucson Festival of Books Author Heather Brewer

Halloween passed and I was finally finished reading all the zombie/vampire/evil creatures of the night books I had checked out. I had just vowed to take a break from the supernatural/horror genre when Off the Shelf was commissioned to spotlight some of the authors that will be here for the Tucson Festival of Books. One of the few names I recognized was Heather Brewer, an author known for her vampire books and spectacular orchid colored hair. "The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod" is a series I've been meaning to read for a while and after I read that she has a coffin couch, I was that much more excited about reading it.
"Eight Grade Bites" starts the series with eighth grader Vladimir Tod having some issues. Several years ago his parents died in a mysterious fire leaving him to live with his mom's best friend Nelly. He's got the school bully after him, and he can't quite work up the nerve to talk to his secret crush Meredith. Also, Vlad happens to be a pale blood-sucking vampire hybrid. Now his favorite teacher has disappeared, a weird substitute has taken his place, a bizarre symbol keeps popping up in odd places, and he's got something to do with a strange vampire prophecy; life just became a lot more complicated. 

There's also a spin-off of the series called "The Slayer Chronicles." It follows Joss McMillan, a vampire slayer who guest starred in "Ninth Grade Slays," as he discovers his slaying abilities and works to avenge his sister killed by vampires.

The thing that I, as a someone who sits around looking for stuff all day and a vampire fan, really liked was the regular references to vampiric stuff -- like books, movies, and legends. The most obvious of these references is Vlad himself, who is named after the man thought to have inspired the original vampire stories, Vlad the Impaler. Other stuff is not so easy to spot though, like that "tod" is the German word for "death." I encourage you to look up some of the names of places and people to find their reference to vampires.

Heather Brewer also has a non-vampire series, "Legacy of Tril," a fantasy about a land called Tril. In "Spellbound" a girl named Kaya is destined to be a Healer but would rather be a Barron, the warriors that fight against an evil king. While training at the Shadow Academy, she meets two men who she asks to train her in secret, something that will end up changing their lives.
To find out more about Heather Brewer, visit her website at:

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Margaret Peterson Haddix


Caught by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Simon and Shuster 2012
Among the Hidden by
Margaret Peterson Haddix
With the current craze for dystopias, we often forget that the genre has existed for decades already. I remember one dystopic series that blew my younger mind, and that was Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix and its sequels.

In a world where population control has limited families to two children only, twelve-year-old Luke's very existence is unthinkable, forbidden, because he already has two older brothers. Unable to attend school or have friends, Luke can at least go outside because his parents' farm is hidden and remote. Then a new housing development goes up, and that small freedom is denied. Stuck in his attic bedroom all day, Luke can hardly believe his eyes when he sees somebody else in one of the new houses, somebody he's never seen before.

Another third child?

Meeting Jen opens his eyes to a world of "shadow children," who are fighting for their right to exist. But the government is fighting back, just as hard. This addictive series is filled with adventure, danger, and sacrifice.

We're incredibly lucky that Margaret Peterson Haddix will be at the Tucson Festival of Books, March 9-10 on the University of Arizona campus. Besides the Shadow Children series, she's written many others, including one of the popular 39 Clues series. Her latest, Caught, is part of a time-travel adventure series. Don't miss her in March!


Monday, December 31, 2012

Introducing Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Under the Mesquite
 by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Publisher: Lee & Low, 2011
 Meet Guadalupe Garcia McCall, a fresh, new voice in Mexican American teen fiction.  Her award winning book, Under the Mesquite, speaks a familiar language to us dwelling on the borderlands.    Reading her book you step lightly yet deeply into the world of a Texas border town teen. The novel, written in verse, flows easily and sweetly and still manages to tell a difficult and poignant story. We begin when Lupita is just 14 and entering high school in Eagle Pass, Texas, her family's home since she was just a little girl fresh from Mexico. Lupita notices that things don't seem quite right with her mother and soon her fears are confirmed when she finds out that her mother has cancer. Despite the burden of helping to care for her seven younger siblings, Lupita manages to take on the challenges and fun of her high school's drama team. We get to know the tenderness she feels toward her mother as they both watch tear-jerking telenovelas. This story may bring on the reader's tears as well as we follow Lupita through the four years of high school and the ups and downs of her family's struggle with cancer. In the end, it is a story about the blessings of family. Author Guadalupe Garcia McCall has said that she likes to write about the complexities and magic of growing up. Look for her appearances at the 2013 Tucson  Festival of Books to meet her and find out about another novel she has on the way.  Find out more about Guadalupe at