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!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

The Girl of Fire and ThornsConfessions, first: when I saw the sale announcement for this book, I cringed. It sounded terrible. Like, jaw-droppingly, pass-it-around-to-friends-and-laugh awful.

Then, when I read the first paragraph, I was hooked. And I had to wait and wait and wait to tell people about it.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson (HarperCollins - Greenwillow) is set in a Spanish-flavored fantasy world, and Princess Lucero-Elisa is the one person born in every hundred years to bear a Godstone, a blue jewel in her belly about which there are many legends.

Elisa doesn’t know much about the Godstone, and stress and a lack of self-confidence related to her mother’s death and her older sister contributes to Elisa’s tendency to overeat and her preoccupation with her weight. This is one of those things that could go either way with individual readers, but I really identified with Elisa’s image/weight/food issues. It's complicated--she overeats, but she also likes and appreciates food and is a hungry girl. Later in the book, her relationship with food changes against her will, and while she still desires it, she has more of an understanding of food as both fuel and enjoyment, and she’s forced into so much activity that she ends up stronger and slimmer, but muscle-y, not skinny or magically "healed."

Anyway, Elisa has been engaged to Alejandro, the much older king of a neighboring land, in order to cement better relations. When she leaves for her new home, she’s immediately tested--mentally, physically, spiritually--and finds that she’s not only capable of more than she thought, her Godstone may force her to be responsible for more than she thought. When she arrives in Joya D’Arena, Alejandro keeps their marriage secret, tasking her with spying on her peers, which she does...until she’s kidnapped by a fringe group that is already at war on the borders of the kingdom. Elisa’s always loved books on war and strategy, but can she help her captors, and help her king and country? If she can, what price war?

I love this book. It is my fall must-recommend, especially for fans of Kristen Cashore and Tamora Pierce. This is one of the most mature and well-concepted YA fantasies I’ve read in ages. It has a really wonderful, flawed, smart protagonist, struggling with herself in believable fashion as she struggles with things outside herself and how both intersect. There is romance, but it’s not the foreground. It hits a lot of my buttons. It comes out in September.

The cover linkable via Amazon is nice, though I don't like the middle (and only weeks after seeing it have I figured out that that's supposed to be the Godstone, I think); check out the UK edition for one that's a little more evocative of the setting. I suspect that version would have been a no-go in the U.S., and that's a shame.

I read this in advance copy that I stole from a friend.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Diversify Your Reading Challenge

I've been meaning to post about the Diversify Your Reading Challenge for a while. Basically, read good stuff, write about it!

But why do it? If you're not sure, read on.

When I was small, I very much wanted to read books that felt like they were about me. I looked for girls with green eyes (more prevalent in fiction than in real life, I think), for example, and contrary to the rumor that girls will read books about boys, I tended to shy away from those! Now that I am not small, I have a better appreciation for the idea that everyone should be able to find something on the bookshelf that feels like me. Whether you take up the challenge to contribute to diversity in circulation statistics at a library, to encouraging profit and loss analyses that tell publishers you'll buy more diverse books, to reading to better understand what's not like me or seeking out more books like me, I think you'll find that there are more good reads out there than you expected.

When I was small, I didn't know that it was okay to read about not like me. I didn't know how to talk about it or if it was okay to talk about it. I wasn't even entirely sure what like me meant beyond superficials. I still don't know. It is okay to read something and not understand all of it. Really.

In a sense, I've been doing this challenge for a while now. Once you've made a conscious effort to try new things, to try things that aren't being recommended by the faceouts in big bookstores, the books that--let's face it--don't always get the promotional pushes, it's suddenly much easier. This book leads to that one, and that one and that one, and you wonder where you were all this time.

I'm being vague, deliberately so. I know that this challenge could mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. The reason I'm posting is that I've seen a lot of positive changes in my life, in my ability to understand literature, in my ability to understand other people, as I've diversified my reading (along many axes) over the past few years. It hasn't made me a perfect human being, by any means, but it has helped me be more thoughtful, more curious, more aware.

Good luck to you, now, and go forth and read.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Don't Pirate Us; We'll Pirate You?

I'm not the greatest NetGalley user. I occasionally sit down and pick out a bunch of titles I'd like to read, review, and (with luck) recommend. This year has been a surprisingly busy one, however, and the multi-step process of getting a book onto my not-Kindle is one I tend to avoid, not to mention the part where I am, really, trying to not only read books I scheduled for this year, but those on my shelves I've never read, as a book collection downsize is in order.

But that part's me--my not-blogging responsibilities, like work and volunteering, and my technology quirks. The other part, however, is something I've been thinking about for a while. I thought it was an isolated incident, and was willing to accept the not-answer I received about it when I inquired. I've been going through acceptances for e-galleys and I found another.

As I've received this from more than one publisher, I'm just going to quote the most offensive part:
By submitting a review through NetGalley, you agree that [redacted] and/or its related companies may use your review (in whole or in part) for promotional purposes relating to [redacted] products in any and all media with appropriate attribution. Please be sure to include the following when you post your review: • Name of the publication/blog/outlet where your review will be published/posted • Run date for when the review will be posted/published...
Hold on there, cowboy. This isn't a contract. It's probably not enforceable. It's certainly not enforceable if I don't ever review your book, or if I don't submit my review back through NetGalley's system. (I am not a lawyer; I just hang out with them sometimes.) It also seems to be in opposition to NetGalley's  FAQ:
If you do choose to write a review, you can use NetGalley to send the review to the publisher. Your review is shared with the publisher as a courtesy — but the content and publishing rights for that review belong solely to you.
Right. This shouldn't need to be stated specifically, but I'm glad that it is. When you write something original--when you "fix" a creative work--it's yours to do what you please with it (in the U.S., anyway, for a certain length of time). I might have some other situation: I might license someone else the right to use my review, whether for free or for compensation. I might enter into a work-for-hire relationship, where my employer gets the copyright for all the work I do for that employer (in exchange for a salary, one hopes). Some folks prefer Creative Commons licenses. I don't; I can specify the same things that those do, if I want to, under existing laws.

And that's why I'm so concerned by the statement that companies may use your review (in whole or in part) for promotional purposes. I understand that publishers circulate reviews internally to find out what's working, what the buzz is, and so on, and I don't mind that. I don't care if I'm quoted in the media (including blogs), though I appreciate appropriate attribution. I don't even care if you read this post and write a very similar one, because I believe strongly that people can simultaneously, unknowingly create similar works--and that most written work is remixing something you've seen before.

Beyond that, however, I would expect to be asked if a publisher wanted to use a quote I've written for a promotional reason. Promotional reasons are not fair use, like it would be if, say, a reporter used my quote in a story or a teacher used my quote as jumping-off point for a classroom discussion. Heck, if you're a teacher, I've been there. Print this out and give your whole classroom copies if you want.

I would most definitely expect to be asked if a publisher wanted to use an entire review for a promotional reason. Attribution is not a fair use defense, nor it is sufficient to explain why one has used the entirety of a work. I do not want to waive or license my copyright before I've even read the book, something similar to how publishers ask that reviewers don't quote from advance copies, not that this e-mail notice is likely sufficient to waive or license anything. (I am also very wary of being quoted out of context now, too!) This article, though it's specific to the film industry, provides a more in-depth look at what I mean.

This is all hypothetical today. I don't write sound bites. I often review older books. The places where I'm most influential are not public, and when I recommend books in those realms, I'm not thinking about writing for the public eye. I can't imagine that a publisher would want any of my reviews--in whole or in part--for any reason at all, and thus, I can't imagine that I'd end up in a position to have to ask a publisher to cease and desist. But I am very concerned about the phrases in some publishers' NetGalley e-mails that seem to frame my reviews as solely for their promotional purposes, and in my case that bloggers are reviewing solely for the purpose of providing free advertising for books. (Sure, some are. But that's not what I'm talking about. And sure, there's a potential side effect of a review creating welcome buzz for a book, and there's the possibility that a blogger is happily promoting something or someone she loves, but giving any one of those as the whole of what's going on simplifies the blogosphere way too much for my comfort.)

It makes sense for publishers to use their resources wisely--to match advance copies of books with people who will enjoy them and create buzz for them, to match books with people who will review them honestly, and to get books into the hands of people who buy or influence buyers. Go promotional machine! I simply believe that legal overreaching is not the way to do it, and I won't review books where the publisher has an expectation that, in exchange for a copy, I must be a willing participant in its marketing and advertising, that I must give up copyright in my review as a condition of providing feedback for free. When a book is great, and I am not required to love it, I'll happily tell people in public, in private, at bookstores. Maybe I'll suggest that author be a guest at a conference I plan. Maybe that book will be the one I buy for everyone I know.

But I'm stubborn, and I like to make those decisions on my own.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Giveaway: Chasing Brooklyn by Lisa Scroeder

Chasing BrooklynI started Chasing Brooklyn by Lisa Schroeder (Simon and Schuster - Simon Pulse) last fall, got distracted in the middle and returned to it to finish late this spring.

I haven't read many novels in verse, and I have this idea that I don't appreciate poetry (which isn't true; I am most likely to appreciate it as song lyrics, or childhood rhymes, or something similar, though). While I don't think I'm quite converted to novels in verse yet (I have a handful more to read to help me get to know the--I don't know, is genre the right word?), I think I get them more.

First, white space: so much less intimidating than paragraphs, so much easier to fly through a book. You probably know some reluctant readers, some struggling readers, and here is a book that they and their more accomplished reader-friends can read together. That is no small potatoes, people.

Second: words, arranged, have a beauty of their own. There's a moment in this book ("d a n c e," for lack of a better reference) that, whenever I recall it, makes me wriggle in my chair. Given how quickly I clear out brainspace for the next book--my draft entries are looking at me and glaring and asking why I am struggling to write reviews of what I read six months ago--remembering something like that is, again, no small potatoes for me.

Third: here is a complete plot, with much for the reader to fill in and imagine. The nature of this book is that the plot is sketched in atmospheric pastels, where a non-verse book would focus on tight curlicued ink details. Readers want and need both, I think.

Would you like to read this book? I'm working on my great shelf-clearing project of 2011, and I'm happy to send this to a new and loving home. To win this book, you must...

1. Leave me a comment: What's your favorite poem, poetry collection, poet, or novel in verse? Include your e-mail address, but please mangle it (like, myname at to cut down on spam.
2. Leave that comment by midnight on Tuesday, July 19.
3. I'll choose a random winner who must be able to give me a U.S. mailing address.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Picture Books!

I hope that before this auto-posts, I'll have time to have written up what I love in picture books. If it turns out that I haven't had time, I'll wish I had talked about:

picture books as amuse-bouche, perfect bites
first experiences with language (spare, lush, bouncy, lyrical)
tales that stretch young minds (but that's not a requirement)
meaningful moments in lives of kids
eye candy

Buglette, the Messy SleeperAfter that, two recent favorite picture book reads are below. Buglette, the Messy Sleeper by Bethanie Deeney Murguia (Random House - Tricycle Press, which is shuttered, but the book isn't) highlights some of my criteria for "great picture book." Buglette is a very neat bug by day, but her nighttime wriggles--despite being amaaaaaazing--are not just messy: they attract the very scary bug-eating crow. Buglette has to save the day!

Now, that might sound too scary for bedtime, but it really isn't. It's about a small being figuring out how to take care of a problem. Transfer that to something like "I'm four and I'm really scared of spiders, and here's one in my shoe; what do I do about it?" Transfer that to "I've spilled this glass of water; what do I do about it? Can I do it on my own?" Problem-solving skills: good for kid development! All that aside, I love this short, compact story with its playfulness and whimsy, and I LOVE the art. Check out her blog, which links out to her site as well.

Little White RabbitAnother recent PB read for the younger crowd was Little White Rabbit by Kevin Henkes (HarperCollins - Greenwillow). I saw this in f&G (folded and gathered--the loose pages without a binding) a long time ago (I think) and was really, really, wriggly-like pleased to receive a copy at BEA's children's authors breakfast, and even more intrigued to hear what the author had to say about it, particularly about the pictures. This book might mislead you: you might think it's going to be quiet and sedate, the sort of book that aunt you don't like wants to read to you because it will make you yawn and yawn and somehow magically play quietly. (I don't have an aunt like that.) Instead, the little white rabbit has a wild, wonderful imagination that encompasses multiple dimensions, and wonders what it might be like to be green, or tall, or a rock... This is perfect for those kids who go to bed in puppy mode one night and wake up barking you good morning. You probably know at least one. (Oddly enough, these puppies are quite interested in pizza and other non-dog foods.) Check out the author here.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale; illustrated by Nathan Hale

Rapunzel's Revenge
Why, hello!

I think I have (nearly) cleaned up all my messes of having a month-ish without reliable computer access. I haven't cleaned up the work--not the piled-up inbox, nor the computer-related tasks, nor things that must be done/read/written by a week ago--but in a few programs' installation time, I can start in on tackling

In between trips to New York (for BEA) and New Orleans (for event planning boot camp class, with a morning at ALA) (note: while fun, you can do lots of fun things and stay connected to people and books without attending either, and I'm happy to expand on that), and a long weekend with family, I read, among other things, Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Deal Hale, with illustrations by (no relation) Nathan Hale (Bloomsbury).

Any graphic novel review I write should come with a disclaimer: I don't entirely "get" graphic novels, comics, manga, and other panel-illustrated writing. It's not because I have some big reason to not appreciate these forms of storytelling; it's probably most accurate to say that I'm very word-visual and linear about that--I read those Choose Your Own Adventures in story chunks, and then read the books from front to back. I love word ambiguity, but not linearity ambiguity, which panel-illustrated stories can sometimes have. I want more words and fewer pictures!

But: I liked this book, and in particular, I liked the first third, where Rapunzel's story is retold in drab browns where Mother Gothel has stripped the countryside bare and enslaved its people, and in vivid greens where Rapunzel is confined to a tower-tree which grows and prompts Rapunzel to grow as well. The next section is a quest to return home and rescue family, and the rest of the story is more episodic, with Rapunzel mostly saving the day, until the Big Confrontation. It's fun to see bits of other fairy tales get hinted at here and there, though.

I don't have a best of last July post, as I only posted giveaways, but it's going-to-the-post-office, no-snow season, so look for more of those coming up.
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