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!
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