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Jenny is the splendid and prodigious co-host of the Reading the End bookcast. She blogs about books and other sundries at the funny and entertaining Reading the End, where you can go for even more book recs in genres other than YA. She is also a champion library patron and is kind to all librarians.

Did y’all enjoy that inadvertent summer break from my YA recs? Summer is a quiet time for American YA releases, so I improved the shining hour by staying inside and sulking about the heat that makes it impossible for me to walk anywhere and the humidity that turns my hair into a tumbleweed. But now it’s September, which means it’s still hot as hell but I at least have college football and the prospect of coolish weather someday. As such, I am now able to return to YA excitement—and just in time, because L. L. McKinney’s A Blade So Black deserves to be screamed about!

Cover of A Blade So Black

A Blade So Black is a black Alice in Wonderland, which is probably enough to bring you in on it, but in case not: Alice’s father has just died when she stumbles across a Nightmare from another world. She’s saved in the nick of time by the sexy, mysterious Addison Hatta, who trains her as a warrior and defender of Atlanta (and like, all of earth!); she’s brilliant at it, but being a Nightmare warrior doesn’t mean she’s not on the hook for schoolwork, supporting her friends, and keeping to her protective mom’s early curfew.

And now, Five Questions for YA Authors (and one just for L. L. McKinney!)

Author photo of L.L. McKinney

What were you watching, eating, and listening to when you were working on A Blade So Black?
Coffee. Always coffee. And sometimes red bull. If I went to a cafe, I’d get a chai latte and pumpkin something. Maybe pumpkin bread or a muffin, or a scone during that season. As far as watching, lots of TNT reruns, and Frozen. My nephew was in love with Frozen. When it came to listening to stuff, for the most part, I listened to a particular playlist. Before Spotify, it was a watchlist of music videos on YouTube. Now, well, we got Spotify. I think you can still find both lists if you search A Blade So Black on either platform.

What were your favorite and least favorite things that you researched for this book?
My favorite thing would have to be areas in Atlanta, because that meant visiting. Oh, and making sure my timeline fell just right so my character could attend Dragon Con when I said she was going. And the stuff that went into the fight scenes. I acted them out with friends. As much as I could, anyway. Ain’t no one over here jumping 15 feet into the air.

Least favorite? Hmmm. That’s tricky. Probably looking into the hospital and the surrounding area where Alice’s father passes. That . . . that was not fun. Chose that hospital because of personal experience with it, as well. Friend wound up there one year. Also not fun.

What changed in the book between your initial idea for it and the final manuscript?
Lots of stuff, I mean a crap ton. For one, there was no Black Knight, there was just the Black Queen and she wasn’t what she is now. Alice’s friend Courtney played a more antagonistic role. Alice’s mom wasn’t as present in the story as she is now. Those were just a few things.

Who was your favorite character to write? (And did you have a character who was particularly challenging to write?)
Alice’s mom was my favorite character to write. Definitely. I pulled from interactions with my mom and my Granny, rest her soul. There’s so much of those women here in little bits and pieces, I love it.

Who was a challenge? Lots of them, for lots of reasons, but to avoid spoilers . . . I wanna say Odabeth. We meet her later in the book. She’s kinda spoiled, but she’s also a whole human . . . wonderland-being? And I didn’t want people to dislike her too strongly.

What are you reading now?
Seafire by Natalie C. Parker, and greatly enjoying it.

A Blade So Black is a portal fantasy, but a huge portion of the action takes place in contemporary Atlanta. How did you find the balance between Alice’s real-world problems and her supernatural adventures?
Kind of the way I find balance between work and life and writing, and then remembering trying to balance things when I was a kid. It was hard balancing school and friends and things I was embarrassed to admit I liked like anime and cosplay and conventions, because I had to find time for them in secret. I really embrace all of that now as an adult, but it wasn’t exactly cool to be a geek back in the day, especially a black girl nerd. I embrace that side of me, now, though. All love, no shame.

But, truth be told, Alice doesn’t really find a balance. Not a perfect one. That’s one of the things that drives the book, and one of the things I think drives life itself.

Thanks so much to L. L. McKinney for indulging my questions. You can check out A Blade So Black wherever books are sold!

Unlike the stupid football-free summer months we’ve been living through, September has more exciting YA releases than you can shake a stick at. But I’ve made an effort to highlight the best of the best!

And the Ocean Was Our Sky, Patrick Ness and Rovina Cai (4 September, Walker Books)
Though my favorite Patrick Ness books will always be the Chaos Walking series, I will never not scream with joy over a new release from him. And the Ocean Was Our Sky appears to be a comic (yay!) and an allegorical sort of parable (boooooo) about a pod of whales who attack ships in the hopes that they’ll find the infamous Toby Wick, whale-killer. So like, reverse Moby Dick? In comic form? I will be very real with y’all and admit that I did not like Moby-Dick either of the two (two!) times I had to read it in college; but I think the situation would have been much improved by adding gorgeous evocative pictures. So my hopes are, like, medium. (I really don’t like allegories.)

Summer Bird Blue, Akemi Dawn Bowman (11 September, Simon Pulse)
A second equivocal rec! After this I promise unqualified enthusiasm. Summer Bird Blue is about a girl who’s sent to live with an aunt in Hawaii after the death of her sister, and who tries to find her way back to writing the music that she and her sister shared. As one of four girls, I tend to steer miles clear of dead sister stories, but Bowman’s debut novel, Starfish, was so extraordinarily lovely and good that I don’t have it in me not to read her sophomore outing. Expect all the emotions, and trust that Bowman’s hand on the feelings wheel is a delicate, lovely, and steady one.

Pride, Ibi Zoboi (18 September, Balzer + Bray)
One, how gorgeous is this cover? B of all, I do not anticipate a day when I will feel weary of Jane Austen adaptations. I’m especially all about Ibi Zoboi’s second novel, which follows the adventures of Zuri Benitez, her four sisters, and the Darcy family that moves in across the street from Zuri’s family home in Bushwick. The Goodreads synopsis mentioned Zuri’s love interest Warren, a name that reminded me that if anything is eternal in this life, it’s my appetite for watching versions of Elizabeth Bennett get fed up with George Wickhams and move onto greener Darcy pastures.

Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens, ed. Marieke Nijkamp (18 September, Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
How brilliant is it that we’re doing all these YA short story anthologies nowadays? Especially in the same year that I started reading short stories? THE STARS HAVE ALIGNED. Unbroken features a range of disabled authors writing about disabled protagonists, a line-up that puts absolute stars in my eyes: Heidi Heilig, Keah Brown, Francisco Stork, and Kayla Whaley, among many others. With so much crappy disability rep in YA fiction now and for the past, I dunno, ever? it’s wonderful to be able to look forward to reading the words of authors who have lived these experiences.

American Road Trip, Patrick Flores-Scott (18 September, Henry Holt and Co.)
SIBLING ROAD TRIP. I’d like to say some sensible and coherent things about American Road Trip, but it honestly would just very quickly devolve into me screaming SIBLING ROAD TRIP directly into your faces. T’s adored older brother Manny returns from a tour of Iraq with severe PTSD, and T’s sister Xochitl gets the idea of helping him by taking a SIBLING ROAD TRIP (toldja) with both her brothers, stopping along the way to visit people who love Manny. I am getting choked up even thinking about it.

Analee, in Real Life, Janelle Milanes (18 September, Simon Pulse)
If I have a YA bias, it’s a slight preference for SFF over contemporary YA, particularly for debuts by authors I’m unfamiliar with. But the synopsis of Analee in Real Life just wouldn’t stop winning me over. It’s about a Latina gamer who copes with her mother’s death by spending hours in her favorite online game talking to her gamer friend Xolkar. But then (omg I’m so excited) a sexy sportsball boy at her school asks her to FAKE DATE HIM to make his ex-girlfriend jealous. Oh, y’all cannot conceive of how badly I want them to real date and how much I want Xolkar and Sexy Sportsball Boy to be the same person.

For a Muse of Fire, Heidi Heilig (25 September, Greenwillow)
I adored Heidi Heilig’s first series, about time-traveling pirates, and the new series that begins with For a Muse of Fire looks massively strange, more ambitious, and more complex. Jetta is a bipolar puppeteer who must conceal her magic from the colonial army that rules her country. As if those words aren’t thrilling enough—I will throw myself on any SFF book that explores colonialism, to be frank—Jetta’s narration is interrupted by telegrams, letters, and play scripts. Glorious!

Get at me in the comments for the YA books you’re anticipating this month!

Date: 2018-09-17 06:10 pm (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
Your pictures aren't displaying, and when I clicked on the placeholder icon I got an error message saying "unrecognized file type". Apparently DW has issues with .png images.

Re Analee, mileage definitely varies; I wouldn't have considered a guy who wanted to fake-date me to make his ex jealous to be worth wasting my time on even at that age. If the author decides to have him realize how stupid that is (and how insulting to the girl he wants to fake-date!), that might redeem the book. Maybe.

OTOH, I'll definitely be checking out A Blade So Black -- I've been having generally good luck with black recastings of classic tales recently.

Date: 2018-09-18 08:18 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] hippogriff13
Justin Ireland's "Dread Nation" (although I think it's already been out for a couple of months--sorry if you've already covered this and I missed it). Jane, the protagonist, is an African-American girl in a version of 1880's America where the Civil War got cut short by the dead from both sides suddenly rising and attacking everyone in sight a few days after the Battle of Gettysburg. The surviving society has had to change drastically (more drastically in some ways than in others) to deal with this. One result is that some black girls now have the somewhat dubious opportunity of training to be an Attendant--a combination bodyguard/chaperone for rich white women who can fight off any zombies who try to eat their employer's brains, while also protecting her from the potential social threat of suitors who might put her in a compromising position. It's sort of like the "downstairs" version of "Pride and Prejudice with Zombies," with much better world-building.

Date: 2018-09-18 05:03 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Ha, the fake dating trope! Have you watched To All the Boys I've Loved Before? Light, sweet, has sisters in it.

Very excited about Pride. For a Muse of Fire sounds really interesting (also time-travelling pirates sounds worth checking out!). And if anyone can do allegory, Patrick Ness can. A comic reverse Moby Dick? I'm in!

I'm really looking forward to Laini Taylor's sequel to Strange the Dreamer.

Date: 2018-09-18 05:04 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
This is Kim Aippersbach, btw!


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