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.
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