Katia Raina

The Magic Mirror

Giveaway Winner And Happy Pub Day To Nan Marino!

April Middle-Grade Month is rolling along here at the Magic Mirror. Last Monday I talked to Shannon Hitchock, my fellow Namelos debut author.  Well, really, you guys did! Those of you who sent your questions, I thank you for participating. That was so much fun. The answers were really illuminating to me, and I don’t think you can find some of those elsewhere in cyber space 😉 Once again, Shannon, congratulations on writing such an exquisite song of a book.

Those of you who didn’t win, if you’re into history and beautiful writing, I hope you get a copy, both in support of Shannon, and also because I think you owe it to yourselves, I really do!

And now…it’s time to announce the winner of the giveaway! My daughter is in school, and thus unavailable to help me pick a name out of a hat the way she usually does for these contests. (Yes, I like a personal touch.)

That's my girl Lucky So I asked my other daughter to step in. Lucky is very good at pointing. She took the job seriously.

Good girl. Good girl! Hey! You’ve already picked! Now leave my hat alone! Leave it! That’s my favorite hat!!!

Anyway. [Clears throat]. The winner is:….. CLARA GILLOW CLARK!

Clara is a fellow author and a longtime supporter of the Magic Mirror. Yay, Clara! I already have your email address, and so I’ll be in touch later today. I am thrilled that you won. Thank you so much for participating.

Next week, I am planning to talk to my super writing friend Nan Marino. (Yes, she’s both a super writer and a super friend).

I’ll be talking to Nan about her second book, Hiding Out At The Pancake Palace: a middle-grade title featuring music, friendship and secrets set in the Jersey Pines. Hiding Out is officially released tomorrow! Woo-hoo! I know how hard you’ve been working on this book, Nan.

Tomorrow, I’ll be going to the launch party, and I am beyond excited. I’ll have you know I’ve never been to a book launch party before. Is there a dress code?

Congratulations on what I am sure is going to be another amazing success!

Next Monday, look for an interview/post all about Nan and her writing awesomeness.


April 15, 2013 Posted by | Book Impressions | 4 Comments

Middle-Grade Month Giveaway: The Ballad Of Jessie Pearl

Ballad of Jesse PearlI am pleased to start this middle-grade giveaway month with The Ballad of Jessie Pearl by Shannon Hitchcock, a Namelos author.

Shannon and I have met around ten years ago at an SCBWI retreat on the Jersey Shore, both of us newbies in the world of children’s literature (well, I know I was!) Rooming together in a small country club, Shannon and I shared our manuscripts, our anxieties, our dreams. Now, Shannon and I are pub. house mates!

I am proud to celebrate Shannon’s debut, which really does read like a ballad. Richard Peck, who had read Shannon’s manuscript back in its beginning stages, and then again, last year, puts it beautifully: “With the poetry of plain speaking, Shannon Hitchcock recreates the daily drama of a vanished world.”

There is plenty of drama in the Ballad of Jessie Pearl: death and birth, love and rivalry, dreams of a better future. Jessie manages to be both spunky and a dreamer, true to her time (finely and authentically rendered early 1920s) and in many ways a flighty, stubborn teenager. Most of all, Jessie is a smart, inspiring heroine facing some difficult choices.

Her son’s eighth-grade school assignment and her own family’s history inspired Shannon to write about Jessie. Shannon Hitchcock

Even though the main character is a young woman coming of age, the story is equally suited for younger, middle-grade audiences interested in history (and of course, their teachers).

If you’ve heard the buzz and have been curious, now is your chance to win your own paperback copy! To enter the giveaway, leave a question for Shannon right here in the comments. Whatever you’re curious about: the writing process, the book’s birth, the challenges Shannon faced, or the history she wrote about, ask away — Shannon graciously promised to try and answer.

The giveaway ends at 5 a.m. next Monday, April 15, and I plan to announce the winner by noon that day. Let’s make it good, fellow readers and writers! Let the questions roll in!

Shannon, I’ll go first: what were the biggest surprises about the publication process and beyond? What’s it been like for you, to see it all come together at last? Thanks again so much for doing this!

April 8, 2013 Posted by | Book Impressions | , , , | 16 Comments

Middle-Grade Month!

No, it’s not an April Fool’s joke — this month the Magic Mirror is going Middle Grade!

I will admit, I am a YA writer first. But lately, middle-grade stories have been on my mind. Maybe it’s my daughter growing up. Maybe it’s allthe younger me...a total dreamer and believer in magic this wonderful reading I’ve been doing as part of the Vermont College of Fine Arts Writing for Children and Young Adults program. But I’ve been discovering a younger girl inside me wanting to be heard — all these younger ideas zinging through my mind and my heart.

We will see.

What I love the most about middle grade books is their shortness and elegance — the ability of a writer to tell a rich story with fewer words. That, and a certain optimism, a sense of possibility, that idea that the world is still a frontier, waiting to be explored and understood. Of course, young adult books can — and do — also achieve these things that in a middle-grade story are basically a requirement. Whatever we read and write, from picture books to YA and beyond, middle-grade novels are filled with many wonders we can absorb and learn from.

To celebrate the wonderfully diverse tradition of literature for the young, adventurous, smart middle-grade minds, this month I would like to host giveaways to celebrate three wonderful MG authors, two of them my writing friends (one of them my publishing house mate!) and another just a fabulous new writer.

I will start next week with my friend and fellow Namelos debut author Shannon Hitchcock and her elegant Ballad of Jessie Pearl, which has been gathering much (well-deserved!) critical acclaim since the story came out in February. So stay tuned!

In the meantime, tell me, what is it about middle-grade stories that speaks to you?

April 1, 2013 Posted by | Book Impressions, Personal Mirror, Writing Mirror | | 8 Comments

“The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” by Emily Danforth

Balzer & Bray, 2012

The reviewers have been raving, the readers have been buzzing, and someone in the industry whose opinion I respect very much fell in love with this book. So when I picked it up, I hoped to fall in love, too.

Well, I’ll be honest, the beginning — the first chapter or so — had me worried. Who was this Cameron Post, and why did I care? I wasn’t quite sure yet. The slow pace and the long chapters increased my doubts, but not enough to make me stop reading.

By second or third chapter, I was in love.

Set in the 1990s, this is a coming-of-age and a coming-out book about a lesbian teenager who gets sent to a sort of a fundamentalist Christian boarding school that promises to  cure homosexuality. It’s probably not for everyone. You’d have to be a pretty open-minded person just to pick up this book in the first place. But then, it also is for everyone, in my opinion.

It seems like most of the other YA books I read with gay protagonists are more geared toward gay readers, who need books like this while they are struggling to come in terms with their identity in a hostile world. Other gay books I’ve read have been mostly that, “gay books,” written in an emotional language specifically meant for those teens. This book — it is written for any teenager or grownup who feels they are still growing, always growing.

If you do pick it up, and I really, really, really hope so, this book will open your mind further. It will challenge every stereotype etched in your head (and I am not just talking about gay stereotypes, I am talking stereotypes about Christian fundamentalists, stereotypes about human beings, period). This book, if you let it, will make you see the world in a richer light.

I think the reason for this is because this book is written with such compassion. Even good guys are doing some messed-up things here (things like smoking lots and lots of pot, and stealing), but the more they mess up, the more the reader loves them. As for the bad guys, there aren’t any here, not really, just people, loving, scared and vulnerable, doing “the best they can.”

The other thing that got me about Cameron’s story is its’ freshness. Every person’s thought, their every action feels like a revelation, like something I haven’t seen before. And that’s not even talking about the main character, Cameron, who is in turns, noble and cruel, wise and sometimes a total fool (though even then, she knows it). Everything she does, feels, describes, seems at once unique and beautifully ordinary.

I could go on and on and on. I could write an essay. I’ve learned so much as a writer just from reading Cameron’s story. This recent historical title is going on my list of best contemporary historical fiction for young people, for sure. “Miseducation” is going to be a classic, I predict. And one of its copies, the one on my shelf, will get dearly dog-eared, as I plan to re-read it, again and again, paying even closer attention, learning even more.

May 5, 2012 Posted by | Book Impressions, Contemporary History | , | 4 Comments

New List!

I am putting together a new “Best” list for you guys, and I need some advice to get me started. This one will include one of my favorite genres — and I think one with a lot of potential — historical fantasy fiction.

I am looking for the AWESOMEST literature for young adults that takes place in a real historical time and place, with all the usual elements of historical fiction, but has magic driving the story, or at least its parts. (Adults’ books are fine too, for a separate list, but I am thinking I won’t find as many…)

I already have a few great titles on my mind.

“Revolution” by Jennifer Donnelly deals with the present age and the French revolution, with the two coming together through scary ghostly magic.

“Book Thief,” by Mark Zusak, set during World War II in Germany, is told from the point of view of Death.

In “Apothecary,” by Maile Meloy, three cold war era-kids use magic and alchemy to stop villains from setting off an atomic bomb.

This is going to be so much fun.

Have you ever come across something amazing that would fit this list? I’ll take recommendations! 🙂

December 9, 2011 Posted by | Book Impressions, Updates | 4 Comments

“Inside Out and Back Again,” by Thanhha Lai

Harper, 2011       

The winner of this year’s National Book Award for the best YA title of the year just happens to be another great find for my Best Contemporary Historical Novels list, and I couldn’t be more excited!

This aching and spare novel in verse (which totally deserves the honor!), tells a story of a ten-year-old girl, Ha, whose family must escape from Vietnam in the last year of the war, and start over in Alabama.

I think it’s the details that really brought this story to life, and made it great — the taste and look of papaya, Ha’s favorite fruit; her apt descriptions of people in her home country and in the new land; her struggles with English and with being made to feel “dumb.”

That, and the characterization of the tough, spunky heroine who knows what she wants and what she doesn’t. And the voice, at once spare and lyrical.


My new teacher has brown curls

looped tight to her scalp

like circles in a beehive.

She points to her chest:

MiSSS SScott,

saying it three times,

each louder

with ever more spit.

I repeat, MiSSS SScott,

careful to hiss every s.

She doesn’t seem impressed.

I tap my own chest:


She must have heard


as in funny ha-ha-ha.

She fakes a laugh.

I repeat, Ha,

and wish I knew

enough English

to tell her

to listen for

the diacritical mark,

this one directing

the tone


My new teacher tilts

her head back,


an even sadder laugh.


Isn’t this beautiful?

I think this is especially perfect for a middle-grade social studies classroom. Kids would learn a lot about that period of time by reading this book. And not just kids — I know I have.

Congratulations, Thanhha!

December 2, 2011 Posted by | Book Impressions, Contemporary History | 9 Comments

Thankful for Books, Part 3

To conclude my series about the books that left a deep imprint on my psyche, I want to tell you about Ray Bradbury.

I don’t remember how old I was — I want to say, ten? — when I fell hard for Ray Bradbury’s legendary short stories. I remember the Martians with their beautiful golden eyes. I remember a children’s bedroom with Safari-themed wallpaper (or something) that came alive.

But the story that touched me the most was one called “Tomorrow’s Child.”
In the story, a family is using some sort of a crazy-futuristic-experimental procedure to have a baby. And of course, there is a problem. The baby is born — um, a triangle. No it isn’t a deformity or an extra chromosome  — through some sort of weird accident the baby got born into another dimension, and that is why he looks this way to his horror-stricken parents.

The parents try everything.  In the end, they come to the best solution of all. Instead of trying to change their child, they decide to use the weird-experiment-machine-process-whatever to enter into their child’s dimension, themselves.

Here is what the beautiful ending looks like: to the rest of the world, the mother, father and their baby are freaks, some sort of shapes, which ones I don’t remember. But to each other, the three look completely normal. More than that — they look beautiful.

Something about this ending grabbed me and never let go. I just loved it so much, the idea that you can be a triangle, and you don’t have to change. The others can change for you, if they want to.

November 18, 2011 Posted by | Book Impressions, Personal Mirror | 12 Comments

Thankful for Books, Part 2

Continuing my “grateful for books” series and inspired by the amazingly generous giveaway from an absolutely fabulous sci-fi author Beth Revis, here is the ONE book that probably made the biggest difference in my life.

Ready for it?

It’s a novel written in the 1930s, once burned, and barely completed before the author’s death in 1940, but only published posthumously in the late 1960s; it is one of the most outrageously unique stories of all time… my beloved . . . my crazy . . . my favorite …

“MASTER AND MARGARITA” by Mikhail Bulgakov.

The devil visits Moscow under the guise of having a performance contract with the city circus. (And don’t automatically assume the devil is the bad guy. Though the Moscow bureaucrats certainly would say so.) Remember too, that the Soviet Union prided itself for its atheism. Do you now see how this story wouldn’t go over too well in its motherland during the oppressive 1930s?

Here is what else happens in the story:

A rich and beautiful, but miserable woman who is in love with a poor scorned, close-to-crazy writer leaves her husband, and with the help of the aforementioned devil, becomes a witch and runs away with her lover (the writer).

These little summaries are just scratching the surface. The book takes a reader on a wild ride that features the mundane (but hilarious) existence of idiotic bureaucrats and a re-told story of Jesus Christ’s last days (a story that imagines Jesus very differently from the blue-eyed guy we’re all used to).

“Master and Margarita” is a book of love and trickery, the good and the bad forces within us playing together to create what we are.

I first picked up this story when I was 13 years old. I could see where some American readers might think I was way too young then for such a read — for one thing, there is nudity in the story (though no sex!). There is some violence and of course, adultery, and God save me, the book forces you to actually . . . gasp . . . think deeply and question the biggest issues that humans face, such as love, good and evil.

Throughout adolescence and adulthood, I have been reading it the way my son reads the Harry Potter series – over and over and over and OVER don’t ask me how many times. I am reading it still. Sometimes I think my life is one small tribute to that book. My second manuscript, the troubled fantasy some of you might have been reading a bit about on this blog, is based in the same scary time period and the same confusing place as Bulgakov’s masterpiece — the 1930s Soviet Union. My manuscript (which is resting at this moment 🙂 ) is part historical fiction, part fantasy; this book is part fantasy, part contemporary fiction. Yes, he actually witnessed those absurd, hilarious times, he actually became a victim of those restricted times, when a voice like his could not possibly be allowed into the chorus of praise that was Soviet literature.

If any of you are brave enough to venture into the nutty world of “Master and Margarita,” I hope you give this book a try sometime. If you are an adventurous, open-minded soul who likes to ponder what it really means to be a good person, I think you will be richly rewarded!

I know I have been.

November 11, 2011 Posted by | Book Impressions | , , | 8 Comments

Thankful for Books, Part 1

I went to the library the other day to pick up my latest stack of holdings, and was reminded once again of what a junkie I am.

Yes, I am. My name is Katia, and I am a book junkie. 🙂

The library people know me. At my approach, they roll up their sleeves and retreat into the back room, from which they emerge carrying huge stacks of books I have requested. They smile at me and say, “thanks for keeping the circulation going.”

I am amazed that they thank me, because as much as I love to support fellow writers and buy their books, if it weren’t for my local library, I would be broke. 🙂

Anyhow, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wanted to tell you about my favorite books of all time — those early ones that got me hooked. The ones that started it all.

Okay, I have an ulterior motive. One of my fave authors, Beth Revis, is hosting this incredible month-long giveaway, in which she blogs about her favorite books and asks us to do the same, for the chance to win one ginormous prize containing fifty-three gazillion books. Okay, actually, nineteen, but that’s A LOT OF BOOKS, right? With all the people participating in this, the chances of winning are . . . ahem . . . not necessarily in my favor, and I’ve never won a giveaway contest before — EVER! I am not one of those contest people who win prizes — never been, really, but then again, when has that stopped me from trying? 🙂

So, I hereby take up Beth Revis’ “thankful for books” theme. I can’t possibly fit all the important ones in one post — all the books that affected me deeply in those formative years, the books that made me the reader and writer and dreamer and person that I am today. Here are some of them. Watch for the follow-up at the end of the week!

1. Old Soviet picture books

Nope, those weren’t anything like “The Little Engine that Could” and “Goodnight, Moon.” I remember a story about a good doctor who travelled to Africa to cure hippos with chocolate. There was also one about a fly that married a mosquito. And something about a mailman. I loved that one, though I don’t remember it too well right now. Also, I loved the one about the mean capitalist, a clueless American named Mr. Twister, who traveled to the Soviet Union and learned better ways there. 🙂

I remember turning the same pages over and over. I remember the comfort they gave me — the words settling into familiar patterns every night, the pictures like old friends waiting.

2. Fairytales

The Russian folktales featured lots of animals, and moody pale princesses. There were also sets of three brothers, with the youngest being the stupidest usually, who was the nicest of them all, and ended up winning the girl — and the crown. I also loved Christian Andersen’s tales — the tricky soldiers, the abandoned Christmas trees, matchboxes that talked, the sad story of the poor little mermaid (not at all like Disney’s Ariel)… Those fairytales didn’t always have a happy ending, but they did open up a universe of possibilities.

3. Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas

This was my great love at age 11. I read it, then re-read it, about six times, dreaming of one day meeting a brave and passionate D’Artagnan who’d love me. Each time, I cried at the exact same spot, you know the one, at the end. 😦 Over the pages of the book, my heart broke, over and over. Maybe this was mental practice for my turbulent adolescence that followed.

How about you? Is there a title or two that stands out, a bunch of images, or a storyline that calls from your past? Do you want to take up Beth’s challenge and blog about it?

P.S. Just looked at Beth’s contest link again and realized I haven’t done this right, exactly. She wants us to blog about A SINGLE book that made a difference, and, in addition to including a link to her contest, she wants us to include this cool graphic as well:


So, I guess I’ll do it right later this week. But I am still keeping this post. And there may be a part 3 next week as well. This is just too much fun!

November 7, 2011 Posted by | Book Impressions | , , , | 6 Comments

The Winner

Thank you to those of you who responded last week and helped me promote Joyce’s lovely re-issued books. Once again, I let my daughter pick the lucky winner of Joyce Moyer Hostetter’s TWO amazing historical paperbacks, and she chose . . . Medeia Sharif! Which I think is lucky, indeed, because not only is Medeia an avid reader and book blogger, and, of course, a YA author, she is a high school teacher, so the book is just so PERFECT for her on so many different levels.

I hope so, anyway! 🙂

Medeia, Joyce and/or I will be writing to you shortly.


But I am not done here yet. While we’re on the subject of winners, I wanted to talk to you about this year’s National Book Award.

Here is the list of all the worthy (I am sure!) nominees for 2011 which were announced in mid-October:

Franny Billingsley, Chime (Dial Books, an imprint of Penguin Group USA, Inc. )

Debby Dahl Edwardson, My Name Is Not Easy (Marshall Cavendish)

(Love the title — AND the fact that it’s published by an awesome small publisher!)

Thanhha Lai, Inside Out and Back Again (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers)

Albert Marrin, Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy (Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books)

Gary D. Schmidt, Okay for Now (Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

What a diverse and interesting-looking bunch! I look forward to reading each one, and probably reviewing my favorites.

But, I wanted to mention one more title, which, in my eyes, is THE National Book Award winner this year. I know many other writers, readers and YA lit afficionados feel the same way. I am talking about “Shine,” by Lauren Myracle.

Set in a small, religious Southern community, the story follows a 16-year-old girl whose gay friend became a victim of a brutal hate crime. The main character, Cat, is on a quest to find the perpetrator. And while the answer to the mystery seemed just a bit questionable to me (but that’s a matter of a personal opinion), the story was executed with beautiful and aching honesty that took my breath away, the setting was rendered exquisitely, and the real complex characters acting under powerful pressures kept me turning pages. I am one of many who believe that this book deserves the highest literary honors for its powerful story.

Enter the National Book Awards. The committee’s representative called the author, Lauren, earlier this month, telling her that she was a finalist. Joy, congratulations and many cheers in YA lit circles followed by the announcement. Until — oops — it turned out the National Book Awards committee made a mistake. You can read about it here, if you don’t know what happened: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/17/lauren-myracle-withdraws-national-book-awards_n_1015649.html

I could rant to you about the unfairness of it, how poorly and disgracefully the whole thing was handled.

Instead, I am going to focus on what everyone else in the kid lit community has been talking about: Lauren Myracle. In her honesty and grace under pressure, Lauren reminded me of “Shine’s” brave protagonist Cat. So, cheers for all the National Book Award finalists! Cheers for Joyce and her wonderful books as well, and cheers for Medeia, the winner of our contest giveaway. And, finally, cheers for Lauren Myracle and her beautiful, important, miraculous book.

October 28, 2011 Posted by | Book Impressions | 11 Comments