Thursday, April 21, 2016

YA Fantasy Books You Should Read

These are some of my favorites - what's on your list?

Throne of Glass novels by Sarah J. Maas

Titles in series: The Assassin's Blade, Throne of Glass, Crown of Midnight, Heir of Fire, Queen of Shadows, Empire of Storms (pub. 2016)

This series follows the trials and adventures of Celaena Sardothien, a teenage assassin in the kingdom of Adarlan with a hidden past and shadowy motive.  Beautiful writing, breathtaking action and solid world building bring this story to life. Highly recommended.

The Seven Realms novels by Cinda Williams Chima

Titles in series: The Demon King, The Exiled Queen, The Gray Wolf Throne, The Crimson Crown

Han, a thief-turned-wizard, joins forces with an exiled princess who is trying reclaim her throne. Solid world-building and intricate plotting are the hallmarks of Chima's Seven Realms novels.

The Song of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce

Titles in series: Alanna: The First Adventure, In the Hand of the Goddess, The Woman Who Rides Like a Man, Lioness Rampant

Alanna dreams of being a knight but women aren't allowed into the knights-in-training program so she convinces her twin brother to switch places.  Alanna is a hot-tempered, stubborn character that never allows someone else to determine what she can or can't accomplish. Pierce's work is characterized by strong female characters and plenty of action. I recommend all of her novels, but especially the ones in her Tortall world.

His Fair Assassin trilogy by Robin LaFevers

Titles in series: Grave Mercy, Dark Triumph, Mortal Heart

When young women need to escape abuse or arranged marriages, they sometimes end up at the convent of St. Mortain where they learn the deadly arts of assassination. Each book in this trilogy features a different main character who's paths intersect in their service to St. Mortain. Beautifully written and quite original, these are solid historical fantasy novels.

Elemental Trilogy by Sherry Thomas

Titles in series: The Burning Sky, The Perilous Sea, The Immortal Heights

Iolanthe Seabourne is the greatest elemental mage of her time, prophesied to bring down the Bane of her kingdom. Prince Titus of Elberon has sworn to protect Iolanthe but his plans become complicated as he realizes the depth of his feelings for her.  Rich worlds, star-crossed love, this fairytale inspired romantic fantasy is intriguing and lovely.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor

Titles in series: Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Days of Blood & Starlight, Dreams of Gods & Monsters

Art student Karou's life is transformed when she discovers that the creatures who have haunted her imagination are real.  I don't have adequate words to describe the lush, complex beauty of this trilogy. It's uplifting, heartbreaking, challenging and so creative I have imagination envy just thinking about it.  A must read for anyone who is looking for an epic fantasy.

The Heralds of Valdemar trilogy by Mercedes Lackey

Titles in series: Arrows of the Queen, Arrow's Flight, Arrow's Fall

Talia has always dreamt about the kingdom's Heralds and their heroic feats but never thought she could become one until she is chosen by a Companion.  This is an oldy but a goody.  Mercedes Lackey is right up there with Tamora Pierce for writing strong female characters that are a joy to read.

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

Titles in series: The Rithmatist, more titles TBA

Rithmatists have the power to bring drawings to life and Joel, the son of the school's chalk maker, wants more than anything to be one but is not selected for the mysterious program.  When Rithmatist students disappear from their dorms, Joel and his friend Melody are assigned to help the professor investigating the crimes and discover deeper conspiracy than they could have imagined.  The Rithmatist is a hard book to describe because the concept is so unique. All I can say is READ THIS BOOK! Wonderfully funny, clever and creative.

The Accidental Highwayman by Ben Tripp

Ben discovers that his master is the notorious highwayman Whistling Jack when his master is mortally wounded.  Determined to draw the pursuit away, Ben dons the highwayman's outfit and finds himself on the run from the Red Coats and beholden to a Fairy Princess.  For readers who enjoy The Princess Bride and similarly whimsical fantasies.

Jackaby by William Ritter

Titles in series: Jackaby, Beastly Bones, Ghostly Echoes (more may be forthcoming)

Jackaby, investigator of the unexplained, sees the truth more clearly than those around him and knows that there's "There are more things in heaven and earth...Than are dreamt of in your philosophy". When mysterious murders occur in his town he must use all his skills and the assistance of Miss Abigail Rook to uncover the murderer.  Doctor Who meets Sherlock in this fun, fast-paced fantasy.  The the right balance of silly and smart.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Selection Committees: Lessons Learned

My first experience with selection committees was as a member of BFYA 2014. For those not familiar with BFYA, it is a YALSA list put out annually that features fiction books "recommended for ages 12-18, meet the criteria of both good quality literature and appealing reading for teens". I had no idea what I was getting in to!

I've always considered myself a voracious reader but I can honestly say that I have never read so many books in a year as I did that first year on BFYA. The official nomination list came in at 175 titles with a final list of 98 titles. But that number does not include all the books that I read but didn't nominate. Adding in the books I read but did not nominate, I probably finished around 200 titles in 2013. My second year on BFYA brought only 113 official nominations and a final list of 58 titles. Next I served on Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, which is a completely different beast than BFYA. The charge of Quick Picks is to suggest titles "that teens, ages 12-18, will pick up on their own and read for pleasure". For the 2016 List we had 181 nominations with 67 final titles and 2 series.

Lessons Learned:
Be prepared to read more than you ever have before!
If you are serving on a selection committee you are likely to read a minimum of 150 books in a year. Remember - you must read every nomination and you will be reading non-nominated books looking for titles to nominate. You won't have time to read non-nominated titles for a majority of the year. You won't have time to stay current on your favorite television shows. You may have to be "rude" and have your nose in a book during family holidays since voting meetings occur in January/February at ALA Midwinter.

Stay on top of nominations.
Stop and read titles as they are nominated by other committee members. Try to have all titles that are nominated before ALA Annual read by the time your committee meets at Annual. It is good practice to alternate between reading a nomination and then a potential nomination. Nothing is more frustrating at the end of a long year of reading than to have a book you really want on a list fall short because some committee members weren't able to read that title.

Take notes!
You need to be able to discuss - in detail - titles that you read nine months and dozens of books ago. Take detailed notes so that you remember characters, plots, and your pros and cons of each title. There are multiple ways of doing this but if you would like a copy of my notes template email me and I'll send you a copy.

Prepare for the final reading sprint.
You will likely need to build time into your schedule for the final reading sprint to finish all nominated titles. (Especially if you are procrastinator like me.) For the last two years of committee work I planned to use a few days vacation in January that were dedicated to finishing nominations. During these days I was often reading 3-4 titles a day. (I don't recommend this as it leads to extreme eye strain!)

Participate in the discussions and get teen feedback!
Don't be afraid to express your opinion about a title. The people serving on these committees are bibliophiles just like you and generous discussion leads to a much better final list. Each of the committees listed above consider teen appeal/interest as part of their selection criteria, so make sure to ask your teens what their thoughts are on current teen titles.

Network with your fellow committee members.
Committee work is a great place to meet people from around the country and is a phenomenal way to network. Participate in online discussions, get their contact information and keep in touch. You'll make friends and colleges and you never know where those relationships can lead.

Make space for all the books!
Each year that I've served on one of these committees I've received over 500 books from publishers hoping that their titles will be nominated. I highly recommend creating an inventory of the titles you receive and setting aside substantial shelf space in advance.  You may also want to invest in a collapsable dolly for transporting all the packages if they are not delivered directly to your front door.

Selection Committee work is a lot of work but it is also a lot of fun and I highly recommend participation. There are opportunities at both state and national levels, so check out your options and look into volunteer opportunities.

Best Fiction for Young Adults (BFYA) - 2013 & 2014
Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers (Quick Picks) - 2015