Saturday, December 31, 2011

Cybils: SF/F YA Lightning Round N-Z

The final round: A selection of quick blurbs about some titles starting with N-Z. Books marked with a * are my favorites in this list. My favorites don't necessarily reflect any discussions or preferences of the other first round Cybils judges--nor do they represent any opinions but my own.

*Red Glove (Curse Workers, Book 2)
Holly Black
Margaret K. McElderry
If you liked White Cat, this is White Cat=n, and n+1. Red Glove's magical mafia/con/noir is built on the events of White Cat, and a complete story arc on its own, like book 1 was. Nobody else is doing this kind of stuff, and you should read it.

Mandy Hubbard
I have been getting angry about books set in Washington since Twilight. I am a sucker for books that read like the author has at least visited. Handily, Mandy Hubbard has, and then some. Ripple is a romance about a girl who's coming to terms with being a Siren, and what that means for her love life.

Slice of Cherry
Dia Reeves
Simon Pulse
I am always weirded out by Dia Reeves' books, and super glad she's writing them. Slice of Cherry is set in Portero, like Bleeding Violet was, and about two sisters who go for a horror-novel style of vigilante justice. Good, evil, and the veil between the real and maybe-not world all come into play. Actually, given how much my generation loved stuff like Evil Dead1, I'm surprised that this kind of thing hasn't caught on among YA authors.

1. Please note that I think Evil Dead is a really barfy movie, however.

*Steampunk!: An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories
ed. Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant
Candlewick Press
The cover of this book is not all that compelling, even for steampunk fans, but don't judge. I was spoiled as a kid by extensive access to Windling/Datlow anthologies, and so I expect short story collections to get down and deliver--to deliver stories that I love or love to hate, that feel perfect or unsettling, and that offer something in a small package. While I'm pretty open-minded about the structure of short stories, a lot of anthologies miss the mark, including stuff clearly meant to be filler, advertisement, or worse, stuff that just cut off due to a time crunch. My favorite story in the bunch was This anthology focuses on taking steampunk away--temporally and physically--from Victorian England. Libba Bray's old West gang of girl bandits and, erm, clockmaker-physicists was my favorite, but I found nearly all to be strong stories.

Karen Sandler
Lee and Low (Tu Books)
Tankborn, one of the first outings from newbie imprint Tu Books, is also one that I've struggled to write about. The review on Parenthetical says what I would have said, kinda. I thought it needed some more beginning and some more time on friendship; I was thrilled to have some dystopia that felt like it wasn't pulled out of a hat.

*Texas Gothic
Rosemary Clement-Moore
Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers 
Amy (Amaryllis) and Phin (Delphinium) are spending the summer house-sitting--tiny ranch-sitting--for their aunt. Amy's the grounded one, and Phin's the mad magical scientist. They can't help getting involved when a ghostly legend swirls into real-life injuries following a nearby archeological find, and it turns out that Amy might be pretty good at communing with the dead. And there's a cute cowboy next door.

The Boy from Ilysies (Libyrinth)
Pearl North
Tor Teen
I didn't read Librynth, the first book in this series, but The Boy from Ilysies has prompted me to go back and read more soon. What grabbed me was how this flips gender roles and expectations in a way that doesn't often find a home in YA SF/F.

*The False Princess
Eilis O'Neal
Egmont USA
Nalia's life is just fine until her parents tell her she's the girl who was swapped in for their daughter at birth. A prophecy predicted that the king and queen's daughter would come to harm before her sixteenth birthday--and now that the danger has passed, Nalia can take up her old name and clear out so the princess can come home. Adjusting to a new and harsher life is one thing, but Nalia suspects that the danger isn't over, and that there may be more imposters in the palace. P.S. Nalia has to change her name, of course, and give the old one to the princess, but for the purposes of this blurb, that's all you need to know.

The Gathering (Darkness Rising, Book 1)
Kelly Armstrong
Maya's paw-print birthmark might have something to do with all the mountain lions hanging around. Or maybe it has something to do with the creepy company town where she lives. Or part of her heritage that she thought was legend. Whatever it is, it's dangerous, and people are dying, and Maya's not sure whether to trust her old friend Daniel or Rafe, the new-in-town bad boy.

*The Girl of Fire and Thorns
Rae Carson
I reviewed this here. I LIKED IT A LOT GO READ IT.

*The Name of the Star (Shades of London)
Maureen Johnson
Putnam Juvenile
Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux moves to London, goes to boarding school, gets some culture shock--and finds out that she has unique skills that might help her solve the string of copycat Jack the Ripper murders happening in her neighborhood.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer
Michelle Hodkin
Simon & Schuster
Mara can't remember what killed her friends. They went to a house, one night. And now she lives in Florida, and she's not sure what she sees, half the time. Is it real, or is it her imagination? Why is she losing big chunks of time? The story is a slow burn, but very atmospheric and creepy.

*The Vespertine
Saundra Mitchell
This is like if you crossed the Luxe books with A Drowned Maiden's Hair, except there's no scam involved. Is she seeing a terrible future, or is she causing a terrible future?

And that's it for this year. I'm sorry that I'm not able to review everything I read. Sometimes, I just don't have anything to add to what's out there about a book, or I read it a long time ago and need to reread before I can give a thoughtful review, or whatever. Now you: go forth, read, and gobble up stories in the new year.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Cybils: SF/F YA Lightning Round G-M

The next round: A selection of quick blurbs about some titles starting with the letter G-M. (Note that some titles starting with "The" will come up under T, I think.) Books marked with a * are my favorites in this list. My favorites don't necessarily reflect any discussions or preferences of the other first round Cybils judges--nor do they represent any opinions but my own.

For the curious: Cybils by the numbers. There ended up being something like 170-180ish books nominated in the YA SF/F category that were ultimately deemed to be in the right spot and eligible. I reviewed 144 (I think), which includes everything I could borrow, everything I could buy (not part of the judging expectations, but I can buy some books, so I do), and everything I received as a review copy from publishers by the time we went to judging panel. I was reading right up until the day we made the first round shortlist. But, also, and I am sorry to say it, and I'm sure it was exacerbated this year by when the holidays fell, I know there are probably eligible books that got shipped out too late that will show up in mid-January, and I will be sad.

It's not at all easy to make the first round shortlist, either. I mean, it was easier for me because I got to be a first round judge last year, and I expected that the shortlist would reflect a group decision--that some of my favorites wouldn't be on that final list. I think every one of us in the first round group would have made a different shortlist, if it were just an individual thing; there would have been some overlap, but we would have recognized a wider range of books. What that should tell you, though, is that YA SF/F is a really, really strong category full of good reads.


*Glow (Sky Chasers)
Amy Kathleen Ryan
St. Martin's Griffin
At first glance, this looks like it's another of the many, many books this year that gets very personal about teens and fertility. A colony ship headed out to a new planet catches up with the advance team, and the colony ship is attacked, its fertile teens captured, ovum harvested. This is icky all on its own--and not treated lightly--but for me, the really interesting part of this book was the underlying theme of power/abuse of it, particularly when there's a charismatic religious leader involved. Also, I like self-rescuing people, of all sorts.

Scott Westerfeld
Simon Pulse
Despite so many recommendations, I haven't found time to get into this steampunk series yet. Goliath made me want to go back and read the rest (and not just because I was missing a chunk of context).

How I Stole Johnny Depp's Alien Girlfriend
Gary Ghislain
Chronicle Books
This is one of the quirkier nominations this year. Firmly rooted in classic SF, it takes the alien Amazon woman stories of the past and brings them into today. By that, I mean that those stories where sexual, warrior-like women from another planet gets re-imagined in today's world, not that this solves all of the problems of those sorts of stories. Still, on the whole, I found it funny, and appreciated the nods to the past and to SF culture (Tor and Baen get shout-outs, for example). I suspect that adult readers will appreciate this as much, if not more, than teens.

Malinda Lo
Little, Brown
I like it when girls get swords and have adventures. Huntress, set in the same world as Ash, rewinds back in time to the story of Kaede and Taisin, two girls who are part of a prince's expedition to meet with a fairy queen and resolve the environmental disaster plaguing the kingdom. Fate, destiny, love (not just Kaede and Taisin's, but mother-daughter, father-daughter, etc.), power, and magic are all important themes.

Imaginary Girls
Nova Ren Suma
Dutton Juvenile
Imaginary Girls is a eerie, dreamy tale of two sisters whose relationship is hard to unravel. Chloe thinks--the whole town thinks--that her older sister Ruby is the compelling one, the one who leads all the adventures and spurs all of the misadventures. After spending time apart, Chloe finds that Ruby cares about her more than she expected, with disturbing results for reality.

Ally Condie
Dutton Juvenile
Matched is probably the most well known of the "government intrudes in teen love and lust" books of the past year, and rightly so. When Cassia is Matched with her best friend Xander, it looks like she's going to have a happy future--and when she finds out that he might not have been her true Match, she starts to wonder what else the government is wrong about. My high school ran some sort of computer-matchup program as a fundraiser, and you know we're all curious if there's a perfect ONE.

*Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Ransom Riggs (GO 'SC)
Quirk Books
Ransom Riggs' cinematic, photo-inclusive story of children in a timepocket in Wales has been slated to be a Tim Burton movie, and if you've seen even the cover of this book, you have an idea why. Jacob is seeing things, just like his grandfather. Now he wants to find out about his grandfather's childhood, about the monsters that go bump in the night, and, whether he likes it or not, about the children in the pictures.

My Favorite Band Does Not Exist
Robert T. Jeschonek
Clarion Books
I think this alternate-or-is-it-alternate-reality, weird book is a perfect read for fans of Fade to Blue. I'm not sure how to describe it (or, really, Fade to Blue), but if you liked one, try the other.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Cybils: SF/F YA Lightning Round C-F

The next round: A selection of quick blurbs about some titles starting with C, D, E, or F, and one that I wasn't done reading from the A group. (Note that some titles starting with "The" will come up under T, I think.) Books marked with a * are my favorites in this list. My favorites don't necessarily reflect any discussions or preferences of the other first round Cybils judges--nor do they represent any opinions but my own.

Mike Mullin
Tanglewood Press
When the apocalypse comes, it's coming from Yellowstone. I can't turn off the TV when volcanic disaster shows are on, and I couldn't sleep after reading Ashfall, because I was too busy figuring out the priority order of life-saving tasks in the event of an eruption. If there's just one of me, I do this, and if there's a friend around, we have to buyupfoodcovertheventsfillthebathtubfinddustmasks... I've seen two eruptions in the past (from a safe distance), but it's only a matter of time.

Franny Billingsley
Briony would like to confess and be hanged. Now, if you please. Chime covers a lot of ground on emotional manipulation without necessarily focusing on abuse, and the prickly, unreliable narrator seems to be a tough one for a lot of readers. But if Charlotte Brontë wrote fantasy, this is what she'd write. Fabulous language.

Dark of the Moon
Tracy Barrett
Theseus and Ariadne retelling. You know you need more minotaurs in your life!

*Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Laini Taylor
Little, Brown
Lush, non-linear romance. Quirky Karou, an art student, draws amazing creatures in her sketchbooks, and her friends think she's got quite an imagination. Not exactly; instead of going home to milk and cookies, she goes home to monsters and demons, her much-beloved family. And she's not imagining the angel, or the closing of the doors she uses to jump around the world, running errands that involve gathering human teeth and getting paid in wishes. Her imagination only goes so far, though, and the biggest mystery to solve may be her own origin.

Drink, Slay, Love
Sarah Beth Durst
Margaret K McElderry
Vampires, vampires, everywhere--and this has a funny, my-family-is-unbearable take on the genre. After a run-in with a unicorn, safe-in-the-daylight Pearl is tasked with attending to high school, all the better to lure unsuspecting victims to the biggest vampire foodie event of them all.

Dust and Decay
Jonathan Maberry
Simon & Schuster
A worthy follow up to Rot and Ruin, one of my favorite reads from last year. The gang's back together and the simply can't stay in their isolated Californian town, waiting for the zombies to get them, so they take off in the hope of finding somewhere safe--and as always, the undead are waiting in the wings.

Claudia Gray
Harper Teen
Tess has to be an obedient servant until she and her employer reach the other side of the Atlantic, and from there, she has grand plans to make it on her own. The only problem is that they're not riding the waves on the QE2, but on the RMS Titanic. With werewolves. I love the details of everyday life in the past; I'm much more interested in stuff like fashion and food than who won what war, so this speaks to my particular historical interests.

Cat Patrick
Little, Brown
London's memory works backward. Each day, her past is gone, and the future spools out ahead in her mind. Careful note-taking helps her get by until she meets a boy she can't remember. She's tired of waiting out fights with her best friend and wondering whether she's losing her future mind, and tries to change things in order to bring her world to come into alignment.

*Fury of the Phoenix
Cindy Pon
Where Silver Phoenix was an adventure, Fury of the Phoenix is an emotional journey as much as a physical one. Ai Ling follows Chen Yong on a boat trip to find his family, and is overwhelmed by visions of her past as Silver Phoenix. Long ago, she and her tormentor, Zhong Ye, were lovers; she slowly remembers his descent and fall. This is still, I believe, based in the wuxia tradition, but from a different angle than that taken by Silver Phoenix. Pon's writing and skill at storytelling is improved by leaps and bounds in this sequel, and the story is successful in charting the tragedy and romance of the story-world's past.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Cybils: SF/F YA Lightning Round A-B

If I had to sum up the past two months, it would be: Rocks fall, everyone is covered under a pile of rocks. I have been covered under a pile of books and personal, off-line things, which means that I have not reviewed the YA SF/F Cybils nominees ( as much as I would like.

So: Lightning round! A selection of quick blurbs about some titles starting with A or B. (Note that some titles starting with "The" will come up under T, I think.)

A Long, Long Sleep
Anna Sheehan
Candlewick Press
A Long, Long Sleep takes the Sleeping Beauty theme and gives it a futuristic twist. Rose has been asleep for a very, very long time, and now her parents are long gone. Now that she's awake, she finds herself in charge of an intergalactic business empire--but does she want it, or would it be better to just go back to bed? Not really a retelling, however.

Meg Cabot
A retelling of Hades and Persephone, with modern atmosphere.

Accused: The Fourth Ganzfield Novel
Kate Kaynak
Spencer Hill Press
Scientifically-induced telepathy? Check. Now Maddie has to use her waning powers to not just get herself and her boyfriend out of jail, but to keep other supernaturally-enhanced friends safe. Romance readers will probably prefer to start with book 1 in the series.

Across the Universe
Beth Revis
One of the best first chapters I've ever read. A girl who's in stasis for a journey to a new planet gets woken up--years before the colony team is set to arrive. In the meantime, the ship's society has been bent by odd leadership, and its denizens have all been intermarried so that they all look the same, so the redhead Amy, almost an artifact, is exotic.

Angelfall (Penryn and the Book of Days, Book 1)
Susan Ee
Feral Dream
Penryn's NoCal is now post-apocalypse, and she wants to get her mentally ill mother and wheelchair-user sister to safety. While on the run, they get in the middle of a war between angels, and Penryn must align herself with the beautiful Raffe to uncover her sister's whereabouts.

Anna Dressed in Blood
Kendare Blake
Tor Teen
Cas has followed in his father's footsteps, and he kills dangerous ghosts. He and his mother move to Canada so he can take on one of the most intriguing: Anna Dressed in Blood, who kills everyone who enters her haunted home. Anna's not like the others, though, so how can he stop her from killing again?

Ilsa J. Bick
Egmont USA
Alex is out hiking when an electromagnetic pulse wipes out--well, she doesn't exactly know. She "adopts" a young girl named Ellie, and with Tom, a solider she meets, she's got to figure out how to keep herself safe, not just from the zombies that were created by the pulse, but by the societies that have cropped up in the absence of all electronics.

Ashes, Ashes
Jo Treggari
Most of the population got wiped out in the environmental apocalypse, and Lucy hardly remembers what it was like to not spend all of her days just trying to keep herself warm, dry, and fed in her camp where she lives alone in what used to be NYC. When she meets Aidan while running from a pack of dogs, she can hardly remember how to speak. After a tsunami takes out her camp, she joins up with Aidan's people, a ragtag group of children and senior citizens who weren't affected by the post-apocalyptic plague--which puts her within reach of a mysterious group of scientists who kidnap pretty much anyone they can get their hands on.

*Blood Red Road
Moira Young
Margaret McElderry
Saba, Lugh, and Emmi live on the banks of Silverlake, which is drying up. They might never have left--except that a group of armed men kills their father and takes Lugh away. Saba wants to rescue her brother, and Emmi tags along. The world outside Silverlake is harsher than they could have imagined, and Saba is captured and forced to fight in cage matches. Three losses, and she'll be killed. Another fighter, Jack, and a group of "lawless" fighting women, the Free Hawks, want her to lose--because that might be her path to freedom for all. This is a weird read; conventions of standard English are set aside for the book's particular dialect. Despite this, I was completely engrossed, and I recommend giving this a try if you like women warriors.

Megan McCafferty
Now that the adult population is largely infertile, teen girls are encouraged to do what they can to populate the world, including surrogacy. Fake baby bumps have replaced dolls and bicycles. The best of the best at impregnating and being impregnated are tomorrow's teen idols. Melody and Harmony, twins separated at birth, meet and discover the bonds of sisterhood aren't quite so strong when you don't know each other--even if the world thinks conservative Harmony is about to provide a million dollar baby. This funny, wry book takes apart some of the less logical aspects of the fertility-fear science fiction books crowding the shelves, and offers an alternative--and much more scary--future. The ending is a little abrupt, but it's certainly worth a read.

Books marked with a * are my favorites in this list. My favorites don't necessarily reflect any discussions or preferences of the other first round Cybils judges--nor do they represent any opinions but my own.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Cybils! Australia! Other Things!

The 2011 Cybils awards are in full swing. I bought a boatload of e-books before I left on vacation, so I'm not too terribly far behind in reviewing YA SF/F titles, but I'm certainly far behind on blogging about them. When I knew I had the privilege of being a first-round judge for a second year, I set aside a dozen almost-finished titles and started in on the (something like) 180 nominated books for this year. I've hit about a third of them so far, but my personal judge-o-meter wants to see as many as possible before we have to narrow down to a finalist list. Last year, that was about 80% of the nominations in my category, which means I need to read about 80 more books in the next two weeks... I have about 50 stacked up and ready to go, though, so that shouldn't be too hard. Thank you to the publicists and publishers who've so thoughtfully provided copies. I know that only a few will be shortlisted and that there can only be one winner, so it's fantastic to see your support for your authors.

This is always an interesting task, because for most of the year, I'm not reading so comparatively. I mean, I AM; I'm always evaluating, thinking about how this book has appealed or might appeal in the future, and so on. But creating a short list of books that fit the award criteria--as a committee--is not quite the same as if I were creating a short list of books that hit all my buttons.

Because I won't be able to blog about everything I've read, no matter how hard I try, I'm planning to do some themed posts, grouping books into like reading experiences.

I was the very, very fortunate recipient of a trip to Australia this month. I had a fantastic time! I have about 1,000 unread e-mails! I have pictures to label, out of order, because I e-mailed some from my phone when I could find a wireless hotspot! I'll post some travelogues here, and please feel free to skip if you're only here for books.

Other Things!
While I was gone--well, the month before and after a conference are some of the busiest of the year. There are a lot of late nights and early mornings. There's a lot of figuring what can wait until later and what has to be done now. One right-now thing, that went up just as I left, was the 2012 update for Sirens, a small conference focused on women in fantasy. This means books and media, for all ages, written or created by or consumed by women. Next year's event will be held outside Portland, Oregon, on the Washington side of the Columbia River, and the theme is "tales retold," meaning fantasy connected to existing stories. Two of the guests of honor are Malinda Lo and Kate Bernheimer (I'll have to keep mum on the third for now, sorry).

Narrate Conferences has been working on a YA conference for a while, but the economy has been miserable, and in the meantime, I've found these retreat weekends to be really invigorating, smart, and thoughtful, and a great way to connect with fantasy that, being a YA-person, I wouldn't necessarily think to pick up on my own. And, what I meant to say from the get-go, is thank you to the staff who worked so tirelessly through October and November, and who made it possible for me to go on a vacation.

More Other Things!
Photobucket went to a commercialized photo service, so I had to wipe everything out of there.  I'm trying to figure out what to do with my photos now. I'm enjoying Windows Live Essentials as an on-computer editor, because it is one click to some interesting features, like straightening up photos and the like!

Tip: Check the expiration date on your sunscreen before you hike two hours to a deserted, shadeless beach with a very inviting swimming area.

Overland Equipment's Donner bag is handy for carrying just enough and it has handy side pockets for water bottles, tickets, and small electronics.

It's almost the end of the year! I'd like to write a big long post on giving to charity, but I'll just give you these tips: 1) Give because you want to give and because you support the charity's mission and admire their work; your personal income and expenses might not mean you actually get any tax credits, 2) Give as directly as possible; small, local charities can use your help, and some workplace giving programs take HUGE percentages off the top, 3) Give unrestricted money as often as you can; charities can direct it to areas of most need, and won't have to deal with things like disposing of unusable items (think about how many too-old or too-dirty for use sofas Goodwill probably gets every year), and 4) consider offering your time and/or services, either for a short-term program or a project. The last probably isn't tax deductible--the cost of your time or services isn't--and you may be turned down, because it's never a best practice for a charity to put people to work if they can't provide appropriate supervision/training, or when they just don't have anything they need help with, but there are lots of ways to help if you can't give $.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How Tia Lola Came to (Visit) Stay by Julia Alvarez

How Tia Lola Came to (Visit) Stay (The Tia Lola Stories)Sometimes, I am really glad to have reviews stored up, because as I write this, Amazon Associates is down. I don't link to books in a way that you are buying them and giving me a kickback (at the time of this writing, anyway), but I do love the widget for book covers.

How Tia Lola Came to Visit Stay by Julia Alvarez (Random House - Knopf) is about two kids (but mostly about the older brother) who move to upstate New York when their mom and dad get divorced, and mom brings her sister Lola from the Dominican Republic to live with them during the transition. This is Tia Lola; I'm missing the accent, but Tia Lola is Aunt Lola. See how I just let on that this is a translated term without going all "...someone said, which means aunt in Spanish"? This book has a lot of Spanish text in it. Repetitious, perhaps, if you're completely fluent in both languages--or maybe interesting, as you compare the subtleties in what is and isn't always conveyed--but it's very appropriate that this book is bilingual, given that its characters are (and sometimes aren't) and that its characters are dealing with biculturalism (and I'm using that term loosely), moving between cities, countries, cultures, and other split situations.

Tia Lola is sometimes an embarrassment, sometimes magic (figuratively, not literally), always family, and I think this is an awesome book that I’d have read in one sitting if I’d had time for sitting when I was reading it. Beware, however: I read this as an e-book and the formatting is so awful I was not always sure what was going on. It’s an utter mess. I don't think anyone looked at it. It's not just the characters needed for Spanish, it's everything.

On the up side, there are sequels! A good middle grade read about family.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

When a Fan Hits the Sh*t by Jeanine Renne - A 2005 Read

By the time you read this, I'll be out of the country for a bit; I found this while scouring and shutting down an old blog. If you've participated in an online fan community, you know how easily, and how frequently, people use those interests and relationships to scam others, even though most people are kind and trustworthy.

When a Fan Hits the Sh*t by Jeanine Renne chronicles the Bit of Earth scandals of 2003ish and thereabouts. I didn't pay too much attention to this at the time it was going on, not being in the Lord of the Rings fandom--and besides, even in book form, the story is very convoluted and confusing.

The book starts by jumping back and forth between the beginning and end of the story, alternating chapters. If I'd known the players better, I'd have liked that more. It would make great cinema, but it's a little confusing, though I did figure it out. Something else: stories and parts of stories get repeated several times throughout, but I think the book had to be done that way; sometimes, the time-shifting is necessary to explain a certain specific happening, but telling the whole story at that point in the book is either unnecessary or confusing because other details can't be revealed at that juncture.

The basic story is this: A 19-year-old girl named Amy Player goes on the internet and adopts the pseudonym Victoria Bitter. Victoria Bitter writes slash. VB channels hobbits. VB gets fangirled, and when she's (supposedly) hospitalized and at her worst, Abbey "Orangeblossom" writes her a poem. It is the beginning of a very strange relationship.

Later, Abbey leaves her husband and gets involved with a boy named Jordan Wood. Abbey and Jordan are major players in Bit of Earth, which is both a website and a wanna-be charity. They are at the helm of a big line party for LotR II, build a children's reading garden with Sean Astin, and go on to organize film festivals and band festivals and even a fan convention. OR DO THEY?

Not to spoil anything, but nope. We even get into e-mails (e-mail is forever!) where we find that Jordan Wood and Abbey lied and manipulated some otherwise smart folks, including publicity agents and stars, that money disappeared, and that others were continually covering their asses in terms of events that were canceled and fell apart, including the fan convention that had only 28 tickets sold. There are fake suicide attempts, phony donations to charity, manufactured realities, and a detective who wants to know what happened to Amy Player. It's a fascinating read for people interested in scams and fan interaction. Like the reviewers on Amazon say, it's almost too strange to be true.

As a side note, this story is about real people who do still appear in the online world, and that have had other stories and criticisms leveled at them in the years since, probably easily found through your favorite search engine. And as a side note, as I'm out of the country and unable to moderate any discussion, I'm turning off comments on this post.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Guardian of the Spirit (Moribito) by Nahoko Uehashi

Guardian Of The Spirit (Moribito)I read Guardian of the Spirit (Moribito) by Nahoko Uehashi (Scholastic) last March--right at the height of the news about the earthquake and following disasters in Japan, and right in the middle of the debates in children's blogging circles about reviews, and whether or not anyone who was interested in publishing, at all, ought to write "bad" reviews. (The scare quotes are because there really wasn't a single definition of bad, and some of the example reviews, well, I didn't think they were all that bad...) I ended up writing this, explaining my position, but I didn't want to post this review at the time. I felt bad for anyone with a direct connection to Japan, vaguely guilty that I kept buying travel guides to different countries and that they all had huge natural disasters right after I did so, uncomfortable because I love the IDEA of this book so much.

So, let me outline in brief why I didn't enjoy it, but why I still recommend it.

Guardian of the Spirit is the first in a series of popular Japanese books that have been (maybe are being) translated into English. They follow Balsa, an adult martial artist. She rescues Chagum, the son of the Mikado, and is then tasked with keeping him safe from the father who would have him murdered--as well as an ancient, mysterious monster that only shows up every hundred years.

On a personal level, I often struggle with books in translation; I often find them flat, or rough, or awkward. So it's maybe no surprise that I felt this way about Guardian of the Spirit; at the same time, I know that it is very difficult to translate from language to language, and I think most of the issues I had were rooted in the original. There's a lot of telling where I wished for showing, a lot of coincidental or sudden revelations without support in the text, for example, and I wished for more emotional connection to Balsa and Chagum. I also felt a little adrift, because the story has one adult and one child point of view, but I didn't feel like the story was really middle grade or adult, and that it also wasn't universal enough to be all-ages--a very silly complaint, and one that puts too much faith in marketing categories to encompass everything readable, I know, but I can't quite articulate why this didn't grab me there. Finally, this seemed to me to read like a novelization of anime (maybe manga); the pacing and conventions of anime are there, but they didn't seem to work on the page as compared to how they would have worked on the screen. I was missing the quirk of a mouth, the sparkle in the eye, the wind of chi that accompanies a visually stunning battle. The story is available as an animated series, and I suspect I'll like that more than the written version. Maybe it's unfair to not give more leeway for a different storytelling style, and I admit that, and maybe I'm too tied to my ideas of how things should work. I'm still thinking about this, months later, and I'll be thinking about it when this posts in November, when I'm halfway around the world.

But now I will tell you why I feel an affinity for Guardian of the Spirit anyway.
  • I love that this book is...chancy. Risky. It's not a marketing category fit; books aimed at/marketed to younger readers rarely have an adult heroine at the heart. Sometimes marketing categories fit, like any other classification system, and help us make decisions and generalizations, but I also like when things break the mold.
  • I like that this book exists at the same time as the animated series does; there's potential for fans of one or the other to cross over. Readers get to experience a particular style of storytelling, and watchers get to reinforce the story by reading it.
  • I really appreciate the care taken in packaging Guardian of the Spirit. There's beautiful art, beautiful chapter headings, and a hint at the visuals that would go with the story. It's "just" a paperback, so that didn't have to be done, but it was anyway.
  • It is always good to have more diversity in the books available--for all ages. I could give all sorts of additional thoughts there, but I think that I'll leave it at that today.
Despite my personal quibbles, I'd hand this to children age 8-12, probably, first, and I think this is a good read for people who like adventure stories. If I were working with middle grade or young adult readers, I'd have this in my library.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sugar Changed the World by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos

Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and ScienceSugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science

This YA-marketed nonfiction book traces the world history of sugar and the industry’s ties to things like slavery, Caribbean/Hawaiian economics, Ghandi, immigration, and so on. One of the weirdest things I took away was the idea that during the so-called Dark Ages, Europe was not the superpower in the world that it is today, and that it was busy treating its own like dirt. 

I like histories like this that tie together things I know about, and I learned a lot and got a better idea that some things were happening simultaneously in history, but I also think that in their enthusiasm, the authors, particularly in their wrapup/conclusion, gave sugar a little more credit for the world’s woes and triumphs than it might deserve.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Devilish by Maureen Johnson

DevilishBefore I talk about this read, I want to note that I read it back in February and stored the review for November because I'll be spending the next few weeks on vacation. I'm very excited, but I don't know how much reading I'll get done while I'm away!

I can't believe that I hadn't read anything by Maureen Johnson before Devilish (Penguin - Razorbill). This one gets both a fantasy and a science fiction tag, because it's the sort of story that doesn't fit neatly into either bookstore shelf.

Jane's friend Allison is a little, well, bumbly. Jane's been getting her out of scrapes forever, it seems, but one day, just a day after all the girls at their Catholic school witness Allison's mishap (which involves puking), Allison seems to have gotten it together. So together, in fact, that there are mysterious phones and clothes and other nice things. A little investigation and Jane figures out that Allison is sold her soul to the devil, and Jane, like always, will do whatever it takes to help her best friend.

It's a little funny to read this so long after it first came out. I can see shadows of today's YA, a genre that has really exploded in the meantime. One shadow: the book clocks in at about 250 pages. Today, it would be a hundred pages longer. (Maybe not the end of the world, even though I gripe about books that are too long for the stories within; I'd have liked to know more about Jane and Allison's friendship.) Also, I don't want to spoil anything, but there's a romance that presages a certain best-selling paranormal in a fairly funny way.

If you're looking for paranormal with a dose of humor and a dearth of angst, give this a look.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fodor's Australia

Fodor's Australia, 20th Edition (Full-Color Gold Guides)Last year, I brought a bunch of travel books into the house, and each country for which I bought a book suffered a major disaster. I'm starting to think that maybe I should--well, not buy travel books, I guess.

I particularly like the Eyewitness Guides and Fodors, the first because of the amazing pictures and diagrams (useful when you wander into, say, a museum or park), the second because it has a variety of items and suggestions that tend to be a little less expensive than some of the luxury-oriented guides and a little more mainstream than some of the no-frills guides.

My brother has started a tradition of taking a family member along on his vacations, and this November, I get to accompany him to Australia! We'll be visiting Melbourne, Cairns and the Daintree Rainforest area, Hamilton Island, and Sydney. This is the travel guide that gave me the best orientation to those areas.

Next month, all of my posts will be automated. That's not unusual, but I won't be able (or likely) to check on comments or posts while I'm gone. Maybe when I get back I can report on a bookshop or two!

Monday, October 24, 2011


Bunheads by Sophie Flack (Little, Brown - Poppy) is a grownup version of Drina and all of those other books you read when you were me and you were little wherein a young girl became a ballerina or a gymnast or some other thing she'd always wanted to be. Always something that perhaps required a certain body type or degree of natural talent, yet something that seemed achievable with enough hard work and access to coaching. The stuff of dreams for most of us.

It's Hannah's dream, and she's there, a nineteen-year-old in the corps of the Manhattan Ballet Company.

I'm going to jump to the part I didn't like first. First, this was just one in a long line of books with teen girl protagonists wherein it seems like everything is about the teen not following her dreams. Life is going to come along and kick most of us in the butt long before we're famous, so why the predominance of the "give up, because only a few people get to be great" stories? Why, so often, is it the boyfriend that can't handle it when his girl has a life outside of falling in love?

So, once: if he likes you, he'll deal with your heavy schedule. You'll enjoy those moments together all the more because they're special; you'll have more to share when you do catch up. And, sometimes, people need to find ways to enjoy short stretches of time together, to appreciate that we can have lives beyond the moments of romance.

It sounds like I didn't like this book very much, but I did. I adored the inside look at a dancer's life--the excitement and boredom behind the scenes. I could almost smell the particular smell of dance equipment behind the curtain, the paint, the powder, that sharp and cloying smell of sweat. And I did like that the book addressed "What if I'm good enough, but still not the top? Do I still want to do this?" Even those of us talented at one thing or another have to decide if it's enough, so it's interesting to see the struggle in YA books.

Friday, October 14, 2011


I just got back from Sirens (check it out after November 1 for registration...just outside Portland, OR, next year!)--and went off to a multi-day training. My laundry needs doing. My eyes are tired. My inbox is full. My job has been piling up in my absence.

But I did want to make a quick post about the Cybils, for which nominations are closed or closing shortly. (I didn't know if nominations would be open on the 15th or not when I wrote this.) I'll be a first round panelist for the YA fantasy and science fiction category. By the end of the year, I'll have attempted to read however many books get nominated and I'll have participated in creating a shortlist for the second round judges.

This is both awful and wonderful. Some of my favorite books last year didn't make the shortlist, for example. I do think, however, that the shortlists represent a collective decision, even if no particular panelist would have put forth that exact list. And I'm excited to get to participate in such a process--one that, this year, is about 50/50 newbies/oldbies.

I haven't decided how I will review what I read this year. For the record, I'll read about anything. I don't think YA is too dark or explicit; I do think that some books miss the mark on how they integrate dark/explicit/whatever. I wish for more diversity. I love both science fiction and fantasy, protagonists male and female, books driven by voice and by character and by plot.

Last year, I reviewed the best of what I was reading at any given time. I will probably do this again, even though there are some books that I'll love that I won't get around to reviewing, especially as we close in on the end of the year and scramble to read everyone else's favorites. I won't list every book I read, because I don't want to cause undue speculation about why I didn't give them each a full-on review. (I don't review more than half of the books I read here anyway.) Also, I'm pretty critical, and what I'm thinking about when I judge a book is a little different from what I'm thinking about when I'm writing up a blurb for readers. Because I'm reading so many books at one time, it's hard to disengage the Hunger Games-style brain and write blog reviews.

I thought I might comment a little bit on the updated rules:

Books (eBook criteria follow):
To be eligible for a Cybils award, a print book must be:
  • published in the US or Canada only(*please see note). This avoids outrageous shipping costs and double jeopardy when a UK title is nominated a second time after it comes out in the US;
 I think this is a good change. It sounds like people think North America is queen of the world, but that's not the driving force. The Cybils draw participants, authors, and nominators heavily from the US. And here's what happened last year: I had an ARC of a book that was nominated. It was out in the UK, but not the US. It wasn't in the UK judge's library. It is very hard to convince your fellow judges that a book should be on the shortlist when none of them can read it. It's much easier if a book is available in the US to ship it to one judge outside the US than to ask someone outside the US to ship six copies here.

That's not to say that I think all books should be available around the world all at once; that actually doesn't work out so well, necessarily, for authors (who might have been able to sell rights in different locales) or for readers. For readers, the explanation is too complicated for this post, but involves actually not having one worldwide market for books so that regions and countries can have their own thriving book industries, creating jobs and maybe not letting the US publishing industry be the only one in the world deciding what's publishable.

  • published between one contest and the next. For this year, that means from Oct. 16, 2010 to Oct. 15, 2011;

Pretty self-explanatory. Any time you have a deadline, the books right before and after seem to get neglected, but you gotta cut things off somewhere.

  • widely available for public sale. Titles available only from book clubs or publisher websites are not eligible, for example, as we cannot obtain copies easily.

Also reasonable, I think. 

  • aimed at the youth market up to age 18. Books marketed to adult readers that may also appeal to teens are not eligible.
In keeping with the idea of the awards.
Note: This applies only to "born digital" ebooks that have no dead-tree counterpart.
To be eligible for a Cybils award, a born digital ebook must be:
  1. published in both the Kindle and ePub format. It can be published in additional formats (such as PDF), but cannot skip those two;
  2. marketed primarily to Young Adult Fiction and Science Fiction & Fantasy for teen readers. No other genre is accepting born digital titles this year. We'll revisit the idea if all goes well;
  3. put out by a publisher in good standing with the American Booksellers Association (ABA), Children's Book Council (CBC), Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), or Small Publishers Association of North America (SPAN) or their regional affiliates OR;
  4. (alternate to #3) put out by a publisher who produces more than one title a year.
Also reasonable, I think, given that this is a new thing.
Book Apps
To be eligible for a Cybils award, a book app must be:
  1. aimed primarily at kids or teens;
  2. geared mainly toward storytelling and/or literacy and not just gaming;
  3. be readable on an iPad.

This is interesting, because the book apps I've read (and not reviewed, I realize!), I've read not on an iPad. I have access to one, but I don't currently buy things for it. So, interesting. Also interesting was that when I was sorting through apps I wanted to nominate, I couldn't find a publication date for any of them, and had to guess based on media stories and stuff.

Also, this is a posted change to the judging:
We no longer have a 50-page rule. Each panel commits only to making sure every nominated book is read at least partway in by at least one person. You can set the book aside if it clearly isn't competitive with other nominated titles. This prevents wasting time on marginal books.

Having a 50-page rule helped me as a newbie, at least for the first 20 or so books I read. The biggest pressure was having books pile up, and knowing that I only had time to finish so many. By the second week, I could tell by the first paragraph of a book--and often, the first sentence--if I was going to want to read on when I hit page 50. I was right 99% of the time, at least. I will probably make a rule for myself--chapter one, chapter in the middle, chapter at the end--to help guide me in what to put down. That sounds harsh, but it's no different from the choices readers make about books every day, and is in line with my strong feeling that if there's nothing that's hooking me into a book by, say, page 25 or so, then that book might not be strong enough to win an award.

Anyway, judging is tough. It's hard to articulate subtleties in gut feeling and to find a coherent way to talk about books that cause passionate reactions, to negotiate a balanced list.

Probably not as hard as writing, though.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Best Of: One Year Ago

Last October, I had already started plowing through the approximately 150 young adult science fiction and fantasy books nominated for the Cybils awards. I was afraid that if I waited for the nominations period to close, I wouldn't get through everything! Luckily, I only sidetracked into a couple of books that ended up not being eligible or that were moved to other categories.

From there, the first couple of books were the hardest. If you're a teacher, or someone who works for an educational testing company, you might go through a norming process--you might, in a small group, read and score essays, and then compare each individual's score. Through discussion, and through more scoring and comparing, the idea is that you train the group to align each individual's idea about what deserves a 5 out of 5, or a 4 out of 5, or whatever. Even if you have a scoring rubric, it can take a while to get to the point where you're mostly agreeing on scores. (From there, you still might drop a high or low score, or one that's out of line with the rest of the group.) Anyway, that's what I was doing with myself: trying to get to a place where I could say that a book I was reading was a good as or better than other books I'd read, and often, trying to understand what other judges saw in books that they admired and I didn't, or trying to get to a place where I could explain why I really loved a book and everyone else should too.

Dark Goddess (A Devil's Kiss Novel)So, October is almost impossible to think about now. I think the honorable mention has to go to Plain Kate for stretching the boundaries of its genre-mates--I think it really told the story of a secondary character, for example, and the structure of the story wasn't as neat as is usually found at the border of YA and MG. Fade to Blue is one of those books that is so weird, a lot of readers won't get it, and even if they think they do, it's worthy of heated discussion. I loved Evanjalin in Finnikin of the Rock, was baffled by Hanna in Bleeding Violet, and so on, but I have to say that I especially admired Billi in Dark Goddess for breaking the fantasy heroine mold, taking on Baba Yaga, and keeping me interested when I hadn't read the first book in the series!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

So, it seems like the Amazon/CA tax spat is, perhaps, the reason why the Amazon Associates Blogger widgety thinger isn't loading. I don't use it for kickbacks, just for adding book covers to my posts, but I really wish it would be available again.

Without it, I can still tell you about a book I finished a few days ago. How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) is the first book I've read from the author; I often get her mixed up with someone else whose books aren't quite to my taste, and I keep accidentally avoiding Zarr. Oops, because this was really good.

Jill is a senior in high school who's coping with her dad's death and her mother's desire to adopt a baby. When soon-to-be mom Mandy, hardly more than a child herself, arrives in Denver to stay with Jill's mom ahead of childbirth and her open adoption, Jill can't believe what's happening to her family. Mandy can't, either; she's never been loved, but she knows what it feels like to be without love, and she wants her child to have a good home. Jill hates Mandy instantly, and suspects her story and motives. Mandy is suddenly unsure about everything besides her desire to get away from her mother and her mother's abusive boyfriend. But, maybe, Jill and Mandy have something to learn about the meaning of the word family.

What I loved: I was totally sucked in by How to Save a Life, even though it sounds like an "issues" book that I wouldn't be so interested in. This is a story where the issues are part of the story, as opposed to a story where the issue is the story. The latter tend to not work so well. Also, Bechdel test. Also, in alternating chapters, Jill and Mandy narrate the story and have distinct voices--something I'm finding to be rare of late. Jill is cynical, bold, suspicious; Mandy is straightforward but secretive, childlike, needy. Fantastic work.

I received this book in advance copy from the publisher.

Posted by e-mail. Tags and graphics TK.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Steel Trapp by Ridley Pearson

Steel Trapp: The ChallengeSteel Trapp: The Challenge by Ridley Pearson (Disney Editions) is a middle-grade thriller about a kid named Steel Trapp, who gets involved in solving a kidnapping and terrorist plot on the way to the national science fair. His foil is Kaileigh, a runaway who's on her way to the science fair too, and whose help Steel will need if he's going to figure out why this strange woman was trying to leave a briefcase on the train, and what it has to do with a missing person.

I liked this more than I thought I would, especially given how much I hated an adult thriller I read by the same author. This kid thriller doesn't have as much science or tension or spies as I'd like, but unlike adult thrillers, it doesn't have the casual misogynism, racism, etc. that so many do. It's tough to get middle grade kids in on the action, but this worked for me.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

Grace Lin's Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (Little, Brown) is one of those books you start hearing about, and you don't have, and then later, you wonder what took you so long to get around to reading it.

First, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a gorgeous book. The cover is beautiful. The interior is beautiful. There is color and nice paper. Even as I read more books digitally--in order to keep from feeling like I'm going to be buried by falling shelves, to avoid dust and illness--there are books I would always prefer to read in treebook format. I'm glad to have held this in my hands.

I'm pretty sure I read Where the Mountain Meets the Moon in March, so I can't quite remember why I didn't totally love the first twenty pages, but I'm pretty sure it was random personal preferences in how I feel about particular words and sentence construction. Nothing exciting there. I do recall that I put the book down for a couple of days, and when I picked it up, I was sucked in for good.
My remaining impression is that WtMMtM is utterly charming--gently whimsical, adventurous without brashness, positive. Lin provides a bibliography of resources for the many Chinese tales that served as inspiration; I've seen a lot of people comment that even when they're familiar with the originals, they don't know how the original works into the plot. I think that's fascinating! Retellings are tricky, but it's also tricky to turn lots of influences into something new. Let's face it: we love particular tales so much that we've handed them down over and over, problems and prickles and all, so it's not easy to let go in just the right places to make something feel both fresh and timeless.

Minli and her parents live in the Valley of Fruitless Mountain, and they have to work hard to eat. Minli's mother wants more, and Minli wants more for her, so she sets out to find the Old Man of the Moon and ask him to change her fortune. Before long, she's teamed up with a dragon and a talking goldfish, and before long, she's relying on the power of story to guide her to the end of her journey and home again. The power of story is a very nifty thing in this book. With no spoilers, let me just say that it's a book that manages to be both simple and sophisticated, that manages to address the mundane in a magical way.

Marketed as MG, the prose is accessible even for early readers (perhaps with an assist here and there), and there are multiple levels on which one can read the book, so it's a worthy pick for all ages.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and SweetI read The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (Random House - Ballantine) back in February. Yes, I am behind on reviews. (Only about 15 more books to catch up on, though!) I'd recommended the book as a gift for others, but hadn't gotten around to reading it myself, and I kept putting it off; I think I had the wrong idea about it from the cover, or maybe from not looking closely at the cover. (I was expecting something set along a boardwalk-like place in Italy. I have no idea why.)

If I had had a better idea of what the book was about--I was avoiding spoilers!--I might have read it sooner. The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is set in WWII-era Seattle and the modern day. A (first-generation Chinese) man, whose wife has just died, passes by a hotel that has been closed for many years, and sees that the belongings of Japanese families who were interned were retrieved from the hotel's basement. He remembers a Japanese-American girl he knew as a child, as well as what was happening with internment camps, politics (particularly local ones), music, discrimination, and the like, while--in the present story--trying to sort out his feelings about his wife's death, about his relationship with his son (who's marrying a white girl), and what happened to his friend Keiko.

I had a hard time getting into the first couple of chapters; they felt rough, to me. But, after that, I was completely hooked on this story of lost love--and the history, the setting, the story. Some of it shocked me; for example, there's a mention of two adults not able to be married because of their skin color, and I realized that it hasn't been nearly long enough since that was how things were. I recognized some of the same (often irrational) fears that drive people to do things not in keeping with human civility. And so on.

While I've never lived in Seattle, I've spent enough time there to enjoy the city as character; for example, there was mention of a street that's now a place to get on and off I-5, an exit that's always my nemesis when I visit. I've driven through some of the areas where the characters live and work on my way to other places.

Despite my interest in WWII-era music, I don't recall spending a lot of time on WWII in history classes, and I've always been much more interested in culture and pop culture of time periods than I have been in who was at war with whom and the details of battles. The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet isn't a history book, but it opened my eyes to some things that I never knew had gone on so near to where I lived. I would be very interested in reading more by this author, no matter what the subject.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Pretty Monday

How about a collection of nifty kidlit book trailers? See them at -- and have a great Monday.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Best Of: One Year Ago

Last September, I was deep into the Tomorrow series by John Marsden. I really, really love Ellie. I really love how that series makes war no fun at all, but keeps you hanging on the characters' every move. You want them to fight--and you want them to go home and rest.

Room: A NovelBut if I had to pick a best book from that month's reviews, I'd have to go with Room for being that book that you simply can't forget. It's horrible, thought-provoking, and amazing. I was at turns disgusted and at turns laughing at Jack, the five-year-old narrator. I couldn't believe the resilience of his mother. I wondered what was going on in the brain of their captor. I was angry. I plotted escapes. And when I was done, I was certainly exhausted. But if you're up for a read like this--one disturbing in many ways--I very much recommend Room.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sirens Registration Deadline

Registration for Sirens -- -- ends in just a week. If you're a fantasy writer (or aspiring writer), an academic who's interested in fantasy, or a reader who wants to read about women and girls as characters in fantasy books, please consider coming out to a cozy retreat-style conference designed just for you. This year's guests of honor are Justine Larbalestier, Nnedi Okorafor, and Laini Taylor. Presentations range from formal papers to workshops to (often lively) small-group discussions, and just because you're in the audience doesn't mean you're expected to be a passive listener. A number of communal meals are included with registration; we also like oddball fun things like author readings where everyone shows up in their spa bathrobes and has hot cider. Because the event is small, it's possible to meet and connect with everyone over the course of the weekend.

Happy Wednesday, the day on which I hope to start getting caught up on things! I had a major crisis of time management this week, but at the breaking point, I saw a little beam of light in the dark and murky clouds of my inbox, so I have hope again.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Nonfiction Roundup

Long for This World: The Strange Science of ImmortalityYeah, sometimes I read books that aren't marketed for kids. Who knew.

I somehow received an advance copy of Long for This World: The Strange Science of Immortality by Jonathan Weiner (Ecco). From where, I don't remember, but that's not really the point. I love "narrative nonfiction," even if I'm not always certain that my definition is the same as that of others. I like Smithsonian Magazine. I like the stories behind the dry side of science, history, and so on.

This is a science nonfiction narrative about aging. The first third spends too much time for my taste on philosophy and the ideas of one particular scientist who has his own ideas about how to stop aging. The middle third gets into the science in a way that (I think) is followable if you had biology and chemistry in high school, and I did find this interesting. The final third touches a little bit on ethics and considerations--like, if you live 200, 300 years, is driving a car an acceptable risk, who'll pay for anti-aging care, how do kids work if you're only going to be fertile before the first bone marrow transplant (and what does this do to the age spread and jobs and etc.). Nowhere is whether or not you ever get to retire discussed, which I found interesting. In summary, I found the last third of the book the most interesting; I wanted more science in my science.

Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create DifferenceDelusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine (W. W. Norton & Co.) delves into the poor construction of most of the research about differences in brain function between men and women, and decides that there's not so much difference as there is bad science and social conditioning; by the time they're several months old, babies know about differences between men and women and are picking up on--perhaps categorizing--differences in what men and women do, even in the most gender-neutral parenting households. Fine touches briefly on how small children might cling to ideas of being girls or boys because, with few life experiences, they don't have other ways to construct a sense of self; there's no "I'm a kindergartener" or "I'm an engineer" or "I'm a Star Wars fan" to make meaning. I wished for more about this, but as it's shifty and she's focused on provable things, I can see why she didn't go there.

Most interesting bits: studies on how women are in fact as good at rotating 3-D objects in their heads, as long as they're not told that men are better at it ahead of testing (and being told that women are better at a task improves outcomes on tests for them; also interesting were reports on studies where the same resumes were submitted to hiring groups with a typical woman's or man's name on the top, and women's were perceived as worse).

No Lifeguard on Duty: The Accidental Life of the World's First SupermodelAn old, old read from my old (private) reviews, which I'm still finding and transferring:  No Lifeguard on Duty: The Accidental Life of the World's First Supermodel by Janice Dickinson (HarperCollins - HarperEntertainment). Janice Dickinson slept with a lot of people, drank a lot of things, snorted a lot of things, and sometimes she modeled. I hear the sequel (yes, her memoirs have sequels) is happier. But it's probably less scandalous. It's always--okay, sometimes--interesting to peek into other people's trainwrecks, especially when you don't know any of the people involved. When all of this stuff was going on in Janice Dickinson's life, there was no Google, just gossip mill, and it's odd to think about how many more people today have to cope with being not just famous, but infamous, and infamous where the entire world can see.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Mare's War by Tanita S. Davis

Mare's WarBy the time this posts, it will have been many months since I read Mare's War by Tanita S. Davis (Random House - Knopf Books for Young Readers) and some weeks since I wrote this review, but probably only a few days since I last thought about the book.

Octavia and Tali are planning a nice summer in San Francisco. The thing is, their grandmother--she prefers "Mare"--who wears high heels and drives a fast car, wants road trip buddies for her trip to a family reunion in the southern U.S. The generation gap is a huge one, and the tensions between Mere and her granddaughters, and between Octavia and Tali, are the unwanted passengers riding along.

The soundtrack of the trip is Mare's stories about growing up: about the life she might have had and the one she left, about her complicated relationships with her own family, and about her stint in the Women's Army Corps during WWII, in the U.S. and in Europe.

Mare's WarI loved this book, and if you're wondering if a book about "grandma" could be YA-friendly, I assure you that it's fantastic. Mare is a firecracker of a character, and I don't think it's just my interest in WWI/WWII music that kept me turning pages throughout her scenes. I also was intrigued by the modern-day storyline, how the generations of women would figure out how to relate to one another, and the contrasts between how people mother, how sisters relate, and how each of the characters  understands family make for a fascinating read on many levels. Mare was my favorite, though, and I could have read a whole book just about her.

This was one of the first e-books I bought, and it had the cover at the beginning of this post. There's an updated cover with a more realistic photo take on the girl in the helmet; unfortunately, that's not showing up in the Amazon results that allow you to link the image. I'll try, but I suspect there'll be nothing but a broken link here...

Friday, August 12, 2011

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Daughter of Smoke and BoneLaini Taylor's upcoming Daughter of Smoke and Bone (Little, Brown - Books for Young Readers)...well, we don't want to spoil you for it. Instead, here are just a few details of the book that will be out this fall. A girl with blue hair whose name is Karou, who draws amazing beings in her notebook, who wishes her way through the day, partly for convenience, partly to protect her family from discovery. By day, she's an art student, and also, upon summons, courier of human teeth. She feels like something is not quite right, and that, despite her odd family's devotion, that she belongs somewhere else. When she meets Akiva, a strange, powerful man who seems otherworldly, she finds out that things are more dangerous than she could have imagined, and a war between chimaera and seraphim may be her undoing. The question is: who are the monsters and who are the saviors? A flexible approach to time makes the mystery unwind in compelling fashion.

This review originally appeared  in the Sirens newsletter.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and Wonderstruck

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
As I’ve mentioned a couple of times recently, it can be disconcerting to read a childhood favorite and find that it’s not quite the read one remembers. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (Simon and Schuster - Atheneum) proved to hold up far better on a reread than I could have dreamed.

Claudia decides that she wants something. Something to know about, to make her different, special, changed. She wants to be--and to be, she decides, she will run away to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. For starters, how is that NOT awesome? Perhaps I just really enjoy kids on the lam stories; I liked The Boxcar Children and Secrets of the Shopping Mall, and my roommate played “Barbies run away from the government” when she was little, and Nancy and Plum touches on running away as well as survival without adults. I remember looking for the perfect little copse of trees along the road to hide in on long car rides even while I realized that camping out would only be fun so long as it wasn’t cold or raining (the local norm) or until I needed the bathroom or a shower, so running away to a place would be the brilliant solution.

Claudia is good at planning, but her younger brother is good at money, so she invites him along, and soon, they’re sleeping over at the museum and having a better and more meaningful adventure than Claudia anticipated: can they figure out who sculpted the angel that Mrs. Frankweiler donated to the museum? Running away--bathing in the fountain, eating not quite enough in cafeterias, hiding out in the bathroom at the end of the day--wouldn’t be nearly so much fun if it were all about the mechanics.

My heart aches a little at how hard it would be to create a modern adventure story for middle graders and teens. Now, the police would have you on a security camera before you were past the bus stop.  Can you even get a post office box without adult I.D.? You’d call home and caller I.D. would reveal your location (if your cell phone hadn’t been triangulated, or your mom didn't have your phone on GPS). A kid would just want to peek at Facebook. A museum would be alarmed to the hilt. And if you showed up at Mrs. Frankweiler’s house, and she called to tell your parents that you could stay the night and talk about statues before going home, Child Protective Services would probably surround the house and demand everyone out, hands up. Maybe Mixed-Up Files is, today, an off-grid fantasy.

Set in--I think--the 60s, there are the moments of low-tech awareness and older attitudes toward unaccompanied children over a certain age, and just a few passing moments that made me frowny (for example, I recall Claudia remarking that it would take men to move the statue; maybe upper-body strength would be handy, and such a situation likely, but I had a tiny little bristle over that, as I know several women whose biceps I envy, and who would be happy to lend a hand). For a book of its time period, I expected that Mixed-Up Files would be much more dated than it seemed to me.

I love it when kids can function in books, when they have the agency to think things through--the lesson of growing up. Maybe the best part, however, is that this is a middle-grade friendly story that emphasizes seeking adulthood without losing the wonder of childhood.

WonderstruckI heard Brian Selznick talk about Wonderstruck (Scholastic) at the BEA children's authors breakfast, and skimmed right through it on the way home. This story is part running away to a museum (nods to The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler are deliberate), part, well, running away to a museum. I have a copy of, but have never read, Hugo Cabret, so I didn’t really know what to expect.

The very thick book is a regular-length middle-grade novel with a second story interwoven in pictures. The text version is a boy dealing with becoming deaf in the 1970s, and a series of life-changing events prompt him to run away to New York City to find his biological dad, where finds a friend and a new way to communicate before he gets to the end.

The other story, the visual story, is about a deaf girl in about 1920 who is being forced to learn to lip-read, and whose world is changing faster than she’d like (silent films, her refuge, are being replaced by talkies, and this ties into a huge betrayal, but it would be a spoiler to tell you more). Both of the stories converge at the museum, and on the boy’s resolve to unravel the mystery of his family, no matter what. At the beginning of the visual story, there’s an illustration trick that is repeated a couple of times in a row (and thus loses some of the power of its amazingness and trickery), but after that, this is a totally suck-you-in read about self-concept, family, and friendship.

This copy was provided at the BEA breakfast, one assumes by the publisher. Thanks!

Fun stats: This post was in draft for almost five months. I lost the disk with the review on it for a while... I have 14 more drafts, and a half-dozen books from the last month or two that I haven't even gotten into draft form yet, with 12 reviews scheduled for later in the year. After that, I have a couple hundred to move from my old, unstable blog. Anyone else out there behind schedule too?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


So, readers, I plan conferences sometimes, and one of those conferences is a series focused on women in fantasy--authors, readers, other professionals, academics, characters...

This year's theme is "monsters," encompassing not just the vampire boyfriends so prevalent in fantasy of late, but the monstrous, particularly the female as monsters and, in the abstract, monstrous. Guests of honor this year are Justine Larbalestier, Nnedi Okorafor, and Laini Taylor, and they'll all present keynotes; beyond that, anyone is welcome to propose a presentation to the programming vetting board. Here are the results:

I'm expecting a rich, fabulous discourse at the conference--most presenters build in time for discussion even if they're, say, reading a paper. Sirens is very interactive, as well as small, cozy, and supportive. If you can't join us this year, you might consider purchasing a supporting registration to ensure that the conference sticks around until that year when you can attend--and you might start thinking about putting together a presentation, gathering a group of friends to share a hotel room, or saving your pennies to buy all those books you won't be able to go home without!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Giveaway: Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

Finnikin of the Rock
As it happens, there are multiple copies of this at my house, so surely I can give one away to a good home. I reviewed Finnikin of the Rock here: not quite for me, but as you know, that doesn't mean it's not for anyone else! I like matching books with people, and it's often more fun to match that book that wasn't quite for you up with a reader who will enjoy it wholeheartedly.


To enter the giveaway, please leave me a comment no later than midnight Friday with your e-mail address (okay to break it up @ your e-mail to stop spam) and your favorite story with swords in it, and why. You must be a follower to win, but that's on your honor, as there are lots of ways to "follow" (and to be honest, I don't even check).

When I wake up on Saturday, I'll choose a random winner, and ask for a U.S. mailing address. I don't get to the post office as often as I'd like, but while the roads are clear for summer, I go about every other week.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Best Of: One Year Ago

Watership Down: A NovelLast August, I was posting a lot of giveaways and freebies. I reviewed one of my favorites, Watership Down, which is an ongoing curiosity, as (I've mentioned) it seems to have everything I dislike in books in it. And, yet, it has those moments of triumph, like Bigwig defending the tunnel and the triumph of overcoming oppression. I keep meaning to read the book of stories that goes with it, Tales from Watership Down, as I hear that there are more girl bunnies in that one, and that it's an interesting expansion of the universe.

Tomorrow, When the War Began (The Tomorrow Series #1)That month, I was also reading Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden, and enthralled by the survival and war aspects of the books. Ellie, the heroine, is one of my favorite girls in these sorts of stories; Katniss would want to have Ellie on her team, for sure, for her brain and for her humanity. I loved that the idea of war was always a struggle, even when the group of kids had no choice but to be involved in it. Since I read this, I've read some critiques about how the series addresses--or, more properly, doesn't--Aboriginal folks, who seem to be missing from the narrative and the world, and read some really interesting discussions about cultural tensions and relations in Australia.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wildefire by Karsten Knight

Ashline Wilde will fight you. She'll kick you in the groin if you deserve it. She'll knock your teeth right out. And her destructive, runaway older sister Eve might egg her on. Maybe even take things too far. She flees to boarding school in California, and you'd think that in the remote north coastal woods, a girl--even the sort of girl like Ashline who has a fake I.D. and isn't afraid to use it--would be able to keep out of trouble. Or no worse trouble than a rebellious teenager could get into at a prep school.

When Ashline and her new crowd foil a kidnapping, things start to change. It's no longer just about sneaking out at night, or that intriguing college student-slash-park ranger that Ashline's interested in; it's about a veritable pantheon of superheroes, gods, and amazing powers. As a hint, Ashline's Polynesian heritage comes into play both for her and for her sister.

But what's really scary is the moment Ashline realizes that maybe, just maybe, she shouldn't be in the woods alone at night. What's lurking just off campus, and what's a volcano goddess to do about it?

Not particularly relevant to my review: I was amused to see a reference to Fern Canyon (do an image search!), where I once hiked as a stop off on a Seattle-Los Angeles driving trip, sort of, because there was too much water and I didn't actually have appropriate gear and I could only wade so far, and even more amused to find out that some of Jurassic Park: The Lost World was filmed there, as I am scared of dinosaurs. Had I known, I might not have taken the steep, glorious drive over the coastal hills and through the stream to the trailhead. You never know when a velociraptor will just come out of nowhere chased by a T-rex.

Wildefire by Karsten Knight (Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers) is the start of a three-book series, and is officially out today out yesterday. I received a copy through S&S GalleyGrab. Thank you so much!
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