September 22, 2011

Banned Books Update

Remember this? Well, parents and guardians can now check out SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE and TWENTY BOY SUMMER from a secure section of the school library, according to this Reuters article.

What a victory.

Banned Books Week runs from September 24-October 1. You can use the resources provided by the ALA, as well as at the site itself, to help fight.

I'm considering making my first vlog for the Virtual Read-Out.

September 16, 2011

Livi's Annotated Guide to QUILTBAG YA and YA-Appropriate Novels

QUILTBAG seems to be the new acronym and I like it because it's easy to remember and has the "A." YA-Appropriate is defined as "appealing to teenagers" - this does not preclude sexual content, violence, or language. This list only includes books I've read (and some I've bought and intend to read soon). I may expand it in the future as I read more. I was inspired to write this list by the "Say Yes to Gay YA" discussion.

This list is not intended to be political. It is, like everything else on this blog, intended to help people find books they want to read.

The list will be updated with links to my reviews and some cover pics when I have time.


Forster, E. M. Maurice. Happy ending! Happy ending!

Wolff, Virginia.  Orlando.  If you're unwilling to brave modernist writing, the film version with Tilda Swinton is decent.


Atkins, Catherine. Alt Ed. This terrific novel flew under the radar. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy.

Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home. This graphic memoir is the book I would promote if I had Oprah's influence. It's also a great jumping off point for other queer lit.

Burd, Nick. The Vast Fields of Ordinary. Some people don't like the ending to this slice-of-lifer, but poo-poo to them. Review of The Vast Fields of Ordinary.

Cameron, Peter.  Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You.  A psychological study of James, who is conflicted about whether he wants to go to college.  The fact that he is gay is unimportant  to the novel.

Diaz, Alexandra. Of All the Stupid Things. I wasn't super fond of this one. Not terrible, but I wouldn't expend a ton of effort seeking it out. Review of Of All the Stupid Things.

Flinn, Alex. Fade to Black. Not my favorite by Flinn, but it's hard to beat my favorites by her. This book tackles the knotty subject of AIDS.

Garden, Nancy. Annie on My Mind. One of the lesbian books, but it left me underwhelmed.  She also wrote The Year They Burned the Books.

George, Madeleine.  The Difference Between You and Me.  Novel about a girl struggling with her relationship with a closeted girl as well as other high school problems.

Green, Bette. The Drowning of Stephen Jones. Green is one of my sister's favorite authors, so I'm supposed to dislike this one on principle.

Green, John and David Levithan.  Will Grayson, Will Grayson.  This is the book that gave the world Tiny Cooper, who is possibly the largest person who is also very gay.  Excellent character-based story.  (Acknowledges that asexuality exists.)

Hartinger, Brent. Geography Club. This book and its sequels are classics. There are gay, bi, and lesbian characters, so almost everyone gets covered.

Hubbard, Jennifer.  The Secret Year.  The main focus is a heterosexual relationship, but a secondary character comes out to varied reactions.  Gay character has a boyfriend.

Johnson, Maureen. The Bermudez Triangle. I like many of Johnson's other books better, but don't ignore this story by one of the Queens of YA.

Kephart, Beth.  You Are My Only.  Main character is neighbors with a lesbian couple.  Kephart is a treasure.

Kerr, M. E. Like the later entry on David Levithan: too many titles to list. Kerr's books may be old by the standards of this list, but they'll feel fresh. I guarantee it.  Her most famous is Deliver Us From Evie.

Kluger, Steve. Almost Like Being in Love. My Most Excellent Year. Both bought due to strong recommendations.

Lecesne, James. Absolute Brightness. I liked this one, but I know people who didn't. It reminded me of What Happened to Lani Garver?, which is listed far below. Review of Absolute Brightness.

Levithan, David. Do I really need to list out titles? Gimme a break, guys.

Medina, Nico. The Straight Road to Kylie. This one is just cute. A few contrived plot points, but still cute.

Oates, Joyce Carol.  Sexy.  Not my favorite of Oates' YA titles, but appropriate for the list.  Given the title it's not surprising that Sexy involves sexuality.  Also, sexual harassment.

Peters, Julie Ann. Rage. Peters has written a number of QUILTBAG novels. Rage isn't the best, but at the moment it's the only one I can guarantee I've read. Review of Rage.

Ryan, Sara.  Empress of the World.  It's been a long time since I read this one, but it's one of the most recommended lesbian novels.

Sanchez, Alex. Rainbow Boys. Sequels Rainbow High and Rainbow Road. Sanchez has written other stuff since that's gotten good reviews, but I haven't read them yet. The Rainbow High books were too trite for me.

Scott, Elizabeth.  Miracle.  An older lesbian is a prominent character in the story.  People's reactions to her sexuality are discussed.

Seth, Vikram. The Golden Gate. A Suitable Boy. Let's get some literature up in here, eh? Very different books, but both are good.

Trueman, Terry.  7 Days at the Hot Corner.  I haven't read this one, but I have enjoyed several other books by Trueman.  This one is about a jock struggling with his best friend's coming out.

Walker, Kate. Peter. I own this one but haven't read it yet. I've heard indifferent things.

Walker, Melissa. Small Town Sinners. This one is borderline: there's a supporting character who may or may not be struggling with his sexuality. It's well-handled, so I'm listing it. Review of Small Town Sinners.

Wittlinger, Ellen. Hard Love. Sequel Love & Lies. Wittlinger is a badass, ya'll. Badass. Check out Parrotfish too.

Wolff, Virginia Euwer. True Believer. Wolff is an incredible author. Please read this one, please.


Atwater-Rhodes, Amelia. Wolfcry. This is the fourth in a series (The Kiesha'ra) and unfortunately not the strongest. Worth reading to complete the series, but not a great standalone.

Battis, Jes. Night Child. The OSI series (urban fantasy-meets-CSI) contains major bi and gay characters. I find them fun. Review of Inhuman Resources.

Bennett, Danielle and Jaida Jones. Havemercy. I wanted to love this series. Metal dragons? Too awesome. But the first one had too many gender issues for me to really get into it.

Black, Holly. Tithe. Sequels Valiant and Ironside. This is a terrific series. The gay, lesbian, and bisexual characters are handled beautifully and all contribute to the plot.

Ed. Black, Holly and Justine Larbalestier. Zombies vs. Unicorns. Several of the stories in this collection feature gay or lesbian characters. My favorite is Alaya Dawn Johnson's "Love Will Tear Us Apart."

Block, Francesca Lia. Dangerous Angels. Most everything Francesca Lia Block has written contains at least one QUILTBAG character. I love her dizzy, lyrical writing but her prose isn't for everyone.

Bray, Libba. A Great and Terrible Beauty. Sequels Rebel Angels and The Sweet Far Thing. I like her crazy contemporaries better than these Victorian fantasies, which have weird racial politics among other problems. But again, a ton of people love them, so go for it.

Brennan, Herbie.  Faerie Wars.  In this fantasy series, the protagonist's mother recently left her husband for her female lover.  Hilarious books.

Brennan, Sarah Rees. The Demon's Lexicon. Sequels The Demon's Covenant and The Demon's Surrender. Fast-paced, funny, and full of sexual tension between almost every character. Brennan made the transition from fandom to traditional publishing brilliantly. Review of The Demon's Lexicon.

Brennan, Sarah Rees and Justine Larbalestier.  Team Human.  The story centers around several heterosexual couples, but there are secondary bi and lesbian characters.  There's also an offhand mention of a famous gay couple. 

Briggs, Patricia. Moon Called. There's a supporting gay character and much discussion of how that works in a heteronormative wolf pack in this popular urban fantasy series. (Her traditional fantasy is better.) Review of Bone Crossed.

Cabot, Meg.  Abandon.  Sequel Underworld.  One of the secondary characters is a gay man.  His partner even appears on page in the sequel.  Not my favorite series, but lots of people love it.

Carriger, Gail. Soulless. There is a lesbian character in later books of the Parasol Protectorate series and gay characters in all of them. This steampunk series doesn't quite do it for me, but it's somewhat witty and fun enough.

Carey, Jacqueline. Kushiel's Dart. This trilogy and it's sequel trilogies are some of the best-selling and most entertaining fantasy in recent years. Too purple for some people, but I think it works wonderfully with the setting and characterization. Don't miss out. Review of Naamah's Kiss. Review of Naamah's Curse.

Carey, Jacqueline. Santa Olivia. Badass in book form. Read it.

Cashore, KristinGraceling.  Companion Fire and sequel Bitterblue.  Acclaimed fantasy series contains QUILTBAG characters.  Fire the most notable for QUILTBAG content.  Review of Graceling and Fire.

Clare, Cassandra. City of Bones. The Mortal Instruments series (there's more than three now, I'm not listing them all) isn't my favorite. (I liked Clockwork Angel quite a bit, however.  And the spinoff series is also QUILTBAG friendly.) But many people love this urban fantasy series, so go for it. Review of City of Ashes.

Chabon, Michael. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. It won the Pulitzer, people. You need another reason to read it?

Coville, Bruce. The Skull of Truth. Coville was one of my favorite authors when I was young, so I'm including this book even though it's MG. The protagonist's uncle comes out in the course of the story. Well-done.

Cremer, Andrea. Nightshade. Sequels Wolfsbane and Bloodrose. The secondary characters include a happy gay couple. Review of Nightshade. Review of Wolfsbane. Review of Bloodrose.

Crow, Kirby. Scarlet and the White Wolf. Sequels Mariner's Luck and The Land of Night. The romance is slow and believable and the world-building is superb. Be warned that the author's Angels of the Deep is not YA-friendly.

Duane, Diane. So You Want to be a Wizard. The excellent Young Wizards series has Tom Swale and Carl Romeo, gay couple and mentors extraordinare.

Duncan, Hal. Vellum. Sequel Ink. I bought Vellum due to Deimyts's recommendation several years ago. I've never read it because I've heard such good things that I'm terribly afraid of being disappointed. I can't live with the disappointment if this isn't the best gay ghostly experimental fantasy whatever I've ever read. (Note: it has to be, because I've never read a book that fits that description.)

Flewelling, Lynn. Luck in the Shadows. The Nightrunner series and its prequel, the Tamir trilogy, contain major gay and transgendered characters. The earlier books are better, but all of them are worth a read.

Goodman, Alison. Eon. Sequel Eona. I liked this fantasy novel, with it's nicely realized China-esque setting, until the ending. (Bit of handicap!fail.) Plus, the main character annoyed me sometimes. I'd still read it, but I recommend it with caution. Review of Eon.

Grossman, Austin. Soon I Will Be Invincible. I liked this one less than I thought I would, given the whole superhero thing. Still worth a read.

Grossman, Lev. The Magicians. Sequel The Magician King. I just bought this one during the Border's closing, and I'm trusting an unvetted source that there's QUILTBAG content.

Hartinger, Brent. Shadow Walkers. Own, but haven't read yet. I like his contemporary novels.

Harrison, Kim. Dead Witch Walking. This is one of the best urban fantasy series around. One of the major characters is a lesbian with her own romantic entanglements separate from the protagonist.

Hawkins, Rachel. Hex Hall. Sequel Demonglass. The lesbian character may only be supporting, but she gets her own romance. This boarding school series is pretty fun. Review of Hex Hall.

Healey, Karen. Guardians of the Dead. Just ordered.  Contains an asexual character.

Hines, Jim C. The Stepsister Scheme. Hines's Princess Series is a ton of fun and not just for fairytale lovers like myself. The major lesbian character is a bonus. Review of The Stepsister Scheme.

Hobb, Robin. Assassin's Apprentice. I love this series, and its sequels. There is one very complicated relationship between two of the male characters.

Kushner, Ellen. Swordspoint. Sequel The Privilege of the Sword. There's also a prequel, with Delia Sherman, titled The Fall of Kings, but I've heard it's not as good. Basically, there's a reason mannerpunk never became a huge genre. It's because there is no way to follow Kushner. No. Way.

Lo, Melinda.  Ash.  A lesbian re-telling of Cinderella.

Marr, Melissa. Wicked Lovely. This five-book urban fantasy series contains bisexual characters. The books vary widely in quality, but overall I enjoyed reading them. Review of Fragile Eternity. Review of Radiant Shadows.

Martin, George R. R. A Game of Thrones. Considering I started reading A Song of Ice and Fire in high school, it counts as YA-Appropriate. Now, you can even cheat by watching the HBO series!

McGuire, Seanan. Rosemary and Rue. The October Daye novels contain gay, lesbian, and bisexual characters. Not a major aspect of the series. Reviews of A Local Habitation and An Artificial Night.

McLaughlin, Lauren. Cycler. Sequel Re-Cycler. This duology, in which Jill turns into Jack part of the time, is hard to classify. I was highly disappointed by Cycler, but then Re-Cycler hit all of my buttons. Review of Cycler. Review of Re-Cycler.

Moore, Christopher. Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story. Sequels You Suck and Bite Me. Moore is ridiculously funny. There's a supporting character who is gay in this trilogy and Moore has quite a bit of fun being as ridiculous as possible. (The books are set in San Francisco. It would be strange if there were no QUILTBAG characters.)

Moore, Perry. Hero. Unfortunately we'll never see the sequel to this superhero story due to Moore's death. It was a wonderful YA debut and I'm not just saying that because I like superheroes.

Morgan, Richard. The Steel Remains. Sequel The Cold Commands. This high-fantasy novel has both a gay main character and a lesbian main character. Refreshing! Even better, it's an excellent story well told.  Probably too explicit for younger teens.

Pierce, Tamora. Bloodhound. Sequel to Terrier. The Beka Cooper series of fantasy crime procedurals are a prequel to her Tortall works. Bloodhound, second in the trilogy, contains a transgendered character.

Pierce, Tamora. The Will of the Empress. This sequel to The Magic Circle and The Circle Opens series reveals one of the main characters as gay. She has characters in all her books that are Word of Gay. Pierce is one of my favorite authors, so I highly recommend her even though the QUILTBAG content is low. Review of Melting Stones.

Smith, Cynthia Leitich.  Tantalize.  Sequels Eternal, Blessed, and Diabolical.  I don't believe Tantalize contains any QUILTBAG characters, but all of the sequels do.  Smith is an outspoken advocate of diversity in literature.

Smith, Sherwood. Inda. This four book epic fantasy series is boatloads of fun, if you like political maneuvering the way I do.

Snicket, Lemony. The Miserable Mill. I'm allowing A Series of Unfortunate Events on here even though it's middle grade because I love it so. There's a subtly gay couple that first appear in the fourth book.

Spotswood, Jessica. Born Wicked. There's a small bit of lesbian content in this Victorian-era alternate history about a trio of witch sisters. There may be more QUILTBAG content in the sequels; no way to tell yet. Review of Born Wicked.

Thorne, Hayden.  Rise of Heroes.   Sequels Evolution and Ordinary Heroes.  The Masks series is perfect for the YA fan who also loves superheroes.  The relationship takes a backseat in the second two books to the protagonist's maturation. 

Thurman, Rob. Nightlife. The Cal Leandros series and its companion Trickster series contain gay and pansexual characters. Thurman is one of my favorite authors, so I'll stay away from trying to be impartial. Review of Deathwish. Review of Blackout.

Various authors. Runaways. This Marvel title is about the children of supervillains who become a group of superheroes. The quality varies depending on writer and artist, but I regularly enjoy it.  Contains a lesbian character as well as a character who can change gender at will.

Vaughn, Carrie. Discord's Apple. I liked this modern take on old stories. This standalone is perfect for reading after you've read The Odyssey or The Aenied for school. Review of Discord's Apple.

Waters, Daniel. Generation Dead. Sequels Kiss of Life and Passing Strange. In this zombie series, one of the main characters is a lesbian and the zombies are pretty darn metaphorical. I like it, but I know several people who aren't big on it. Review of Kiss of Life.


King, Stephen. Cell. I enjoyed this one even though King's latter-day works rarely approach his earlier stuff. (Cell phones turning people into zombies? So obvious.) There's one small line revealing that a character is gay . . . but I'm still going to count it.

King, Stephen. IT. One of the scariest novels ever. You can't call Adrian Mellon a main or supporting character, but I'm not gonna count out a book that shows hate crimes in a terrible light.


Jaffe, Michele. Rosebush. Jane must unravel the mystery of who tried to kill her as she recovers in the hospital from a near-fatal car accident. No main LGBTQ elements, but there is thoughtful exploration of bicuriousity.

Lanyon, Josh. Fatal Shadows. Lanyon's written many books, but I've only read the Adrien English mysteries. They're wonderful and they're set in a bookstore. Too cool, right?

Mitchell, Saundra. Shadowed Summer. Pretend you don't know the book belongs on this list when you read it, m'kay? Review of Shadowed Summer.

Ucci-Plum, Carol. What Happened to Lani Garver? So it's an unsolved mystery. This book is sheer brilliance. A favorite.

Waters, Sarah. Fingersmith. Not quite a mystery, but I think it fits best here. Plus this section was getting lonely. I am so glad Lenore handed me this super-twisty book.

Science Fiction

Banks, Iain M. Consider Phlebas. The Culture is one of my dad's favorite series, which is how I ended up reading it. Members of The Culture can change their sex and sexual orientation.

Le Guin, Ursula K. The Left Hand of Darkness. I've heard some people call this one dated. Don't let that put you off of a Le Guin. She's amazing.

September 15, 2011

Say Yes to Gay YA

Yes, I am late to the linking.

Book Cover

I was super excited to learn through the comments on the article that there is a recent YA novel with an asexual character - Karen Healey's GUARDIANS OF THE DEAD.


$7.20 at Amazon? You just made a sale, ma'am.

In addition to the lists linked in the article, here's a nice list of adult SFF with LGBTQ characters. Meg's list is very impressive.

Malinda Lo's awesome post charting LGBTQ characters in YA is sobering and has been updated today with bibliographies. (Also? Gay Utopia is a fab phrase.)

The agent posted a response today. The comments are worth reading. (Rachel Manija Brown briefly responded in turn.)

The always amazing Tiger Beatdown has an article on why we shouldn't confuse books featuring minority characters with issue books. They may overlap, but they aren't the same thing.

This is another agent's response saying what you can do to help.

September 12, 2011

It's not new book smell, but . . .

Because I'm blind, I just noticed Karen Harrington's comment on this post.


Paddywax has a library collection. "Poe" sounds like my kind of scent - cardamom, absynthe [sic], and sandalwood.

Scent geeks might also be interested in Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. They have scent collections inspired by everything from comics, fantasy novels, authors, literature, and the Hero Initiative. Pretty cool, huh?

Neither one is really in my candle/perfume budget, but they look like a good value based on the sites. Anyone have experience with either company? (Or know of any other fun bookish scents?)

September 10, 2011

Cool Bookstore

I'm rarely about to attend Forever Young Adult's book club at the Highball in Austin. (It's worth attending, if you are in the area.) But I'm still on the mailing list. Rebecca Halpern sent out this letter about Recycled Reads, which I've actually been to but never posted about. (I know, I'm bad.)

I just wanted to let you know about a little gem of a bookstore located in north/central Austin. It's Recycled Reads, Austin Public Library's bookstore and all youth books are 50 cents each so you can gorge on books and still have money for rent and cocktails. In fact, if you are ever in need of a lot of copies of your monthly pick for your club, let us know! We might be able to scrounge some up and save 'em for you. Then, let everyone know where to come get the cheap goodies! (All proceeds go to support the library!)

Plus, if you're interested, we take donations from the public if you need to weed your personal collections. Anything that comes into the store will be sold, donated to philanthropic organizations that promote literacy programs, turned into book art, or transformed into building materials. Nothing goes into a landfill, which is awesome.

Anyway, keep up the good work and let us know if you'd like us to keep our eyes out for any titles that come in. Or just drop by and browse our collection!

I know most of ya'll don't live in Austin, but you might check if your city's libraries have a similar program.

August 23, 2011

Young Wizards Updating

Book CoverThe Young Wizards series, by Diane Duane, is one of my favorites. I just bought A WIZARD OF MARS, the ninth book, at a local Borders. It reminded me to get online and look for news about the tenth book. Unfortunately, there's no publication date yet for GAMES WIZARDS PLAY.  Instead, I discovered that Duane is updating the first four books in the series. 

Book CoverI love my copies of SO YOU WANT TO BE A WIZARD, DEEP WIZARDRY, HIGH WIZARDRY, and A WIZARD ABROAD. I have the 1996 covers, which are far more attractive to me than the current cartoon covers. (The Cliff Nielsen covers, which I own for books 5-9, are quite nice too.  I am a Nielsen fan, if only because he's done covers for many of my favorite books.) 

But this isn't a cover issue. SO YOU WANT TO BE A WIZARD was first published in 1983 - six years before I was born and far longer for kids just discovering the series. The Young Wizard series is one of the strongest influences on my own writing. I loved how Duane blended fantasy and science fiction. But the early books are less accessible nowadays due to that focus on science and technology. Duane explains more about what technological updates are needed, as well as fixing a few timeline issues caused by a series that's been published with long gaps between books.

The new edition of SYWTBAW should be out September 1 and will be available here. Even though I own and love the old editions, I am excited to see the changes.

For those who haven't read the series, you can get an ebook bundle of all nine books for $39.99. (Or less, if you use 10 % off discount code COMPLETE. Instructions on using discount codes here.)  I do advise you to check it out.  Nita and Kit's adventures are clever and exciting.  Though I recommend starting at the beginning, I will confess that my favorite is A WIZARD ABROAD.

August 19, 2011

Book Sneakers

Everyone knows I love bookish fashion. So I was excited to see these kicks in Shelf Awareness. THE SCARLET LETTER may be one of my favorite books, but I prefer foreverRebuilt's take on Robert Heinlein's THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS.


Which shoe is your favorite?

August 12, 2011

Review: Small Town Sinners

By Melissa Walker
Available now from Bloomsbury
Read my review of VIOLET IN PRIVATE
Read Melissa's guest blog and watch her guest vlog

Book Cover

If there's one thing I learned from the comments section, it's that nothing turns IBWB readers off more than a mention of religious themes. Well, tough. SMALL TOWN SINNERS is chock-full of religion and it's a wonderful book.

Lacey Anne Byer is a sixteen-year-old girl, excited about performing in the Hell House put on by House of Enlightenment, her church. The Hell House is similar to a haunted house, but each room represents a sin. Lacey wants to be Abortion Girl, because that's the message she's compelled to share. But several things begin to change her worldview. Her best friend Starla Joy Minter's older sister gets pregnant. Her other best friend, Dean Perkins, is being bullied and none of the adults will do anything to punish the bully. And Ty Davis comes to town, attractive and willing to talk with Lacey about her doubts.

You don't have to be raised in an evangelical Christian home to sympathize with Lacey. She's at the age where she can see that her parents and other adults are not infallible. They do the best they can based on what they believe is right and wrong. Lacey has to decide on her own values.

Lacey is an extremely likeable heroine. While she's not sure what she believes, she's got a good grasp on listening to and caring for others. Compassion is something that evangelical Christianity, sadly, can lose sight of. As for the romance between her and Ty? It never goes beyond kissing, but it's still hot. Melissa Walker writes with emotional authenticity and Lacey's feelings for Ty are scorching. But Walker doesn't give too much weight to the romance. It's balanced well with Lacey's friendships and questions.

I can't think of another recent teen book that does friendship as well as SMALL TOWN SINNERS. C'mon, high school relationships can be intense, but friends are the most important part. Lacey, Starla Joy, Dean, and Ty are comfortable with each other. (Which leads me to a side point: the outdoors scenes are brilliant. I love every single one. I love what Walker does with sunlight.)

Lacey's parents are also well done. Her father is the children's pastor, so she expects quite a bit of him. But Lacey feels like neither of her parents listen to her or trust her . . . so she starts sneaking out. (Oh, teen logic.) SMALL TOWN SINNERS is fair to the Byers. They can be intolerant and overly strict, but they're good parents who are there for their daughter and other children in the community.

Really, that's the strength of SMALL TOWN SINNERS. It lets people be complex. And yes, evangelical Christians are just as complex as everyone else.

August 8, 2011

Super Cool Libraries

Let's face it, we all love libraries.

Book CoverBook Cover

The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library is fighting back against the school board in Republic, MO that decided to ban SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE and TWENTY BOY SUMMER from their school libraries and curriculum. Republic High School students can go to their website to request a copy of SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE. You can donate to help offset shipping costs.

(As a side note, the ebook edition of TWENTY BOY SUMMER is on sale for $2.99.)

While Republic, MO. earns a frowny face, Kansas City, MO. gets a smiling one. I just discovered the Kansas City Library.

IT IS SHAPED LIKE A GIANT BOOKSHELF. How did I not know about this before now?

July 31, 2011

Review: Original Sin

By Beth McMullen
Available now from Hyperion
Review copy

Book Cover

Lucy Hamilton lives in San Francisco with her husband Will and son Theo. She's a stay-at-home mother who just got a call from her old job. When she quit, she knew that she could be called back at anytime. That's because Lucy Hamilton is actually a spy known by the codename Sally Sin. Her old nemesis Ian Blackford has been making trouble, despite being dead, and her boss needs her help. (At least he's willing to help with finding a baby-sitter.)

ORIGINAL SIN is no gritty, realistic spy story. It's funny and moves along quickly so that you don't dwell on the more ridiculous happenings. I liked Lucy's voice - she's competent and tough, but a little frazzled and sleep-deprived due to the pressure of taking care of a three-year-old. Children in stories can be annoying, but Theo and Lucy's interactions were cute. I also liked her husband Will and felt bad that he was left out of the loop.

In ORIGINAL SIN, frequent flashbacks are used to flesh out Lucy's backstory as Sally. I enjoyed these sections, but I wonder if Beth McMullen revealed too much in the first back. It seemed as if Sally Sin's career highlights were covered by the end of ORIGINAL SIN.

Many elements of ORIGINAL SIN are predictable. The domesticity often adds a pleasant twist, but doesn't change the overall trajectory. If you like spies and want something quick and light, it's well worth picking up. If you're more of a Ludlum or le Carre fan, McMullen's debut probably isn't your speed.

July 27, 2011


I am so excited for this book, you don't even know. (And it's not just because I'm a fan of the Decemberists.)

Book Cover

The AV Club seems excited too. After all, they have an exclusive trailer. The voice acting is terrible, but the animation is superb.

You can read the first four chapters on Facebook. I haven't read them myself because I don't do well with excerpts when I can't buy the book immediately. The suspense, it kills.

Not too long now, luckily. WILDWOOD by Colin Meloy and illustrated by Carson Ellis will be available August 30th.

July 22, 2011

Brazenhead Books

There's No Place Like Here: Brazenhead Books from Etsy on Vimeo.

A friend in my magazine workshop group just shared this video. I love it! A secret, illegal used bookstore hidden in an apartment in New York City? I'd say that I'd look up the shop and explore there tomorrow, but I'm planning to hit up some of the Harlem Book Fair events. Maybe Sunday? (So much to do, so little time out of class.)

Nifty Links!

These tabs have been open on my computer for awhile because I wanted to share them but kept getting distracted by school things.

Philip Hensher eloquently defended fiction in The Independent. I don't think this is anything ya'll don't know, but it's well-written and I like it when people talk about why fiction is compelling and useful.

British author Jen Campbell tracks weird things customers say in bookshops. There are several posts full of quotes and all of them are hilarious. She's announced a book deal, and other booksellers can contribute. Timely:

Customer: Which was the first Harry Potter book?
Me: The Philosopher's Stone.
Customer: And the second?
Me: The Chamber of Secrets.
Customer: I'll take The Chamber of Secrets. I don't want The Philosopher's Stone.
Me: Have you already read that one?
Customer: No, but with series of books I always find they take a while to really get going. I don't want to waste my time with the useless introductory stuff at the beginning.
Me: The story in Harry Potter actually starts right away. Personally, I do recommend that you start with the first book – and it's very good.
Customer: Are you working on commission?
Me: No.
Customer: Right. How many books are there in total?
Me: Seven.
Customer: Exactly. I'm not going to waste my money on the first book when there are so many others to buy. I'll take the second one.
Me: If you're sure.
One week later, the customer returns
Me: Hi, did you want to buy a copy of The Prisoner of Azkaban?
Customer: What's that?
Me: It's the book after The Chamber of Secrets.
Customer: Oh, no, definitely not. I found that book far too confusing. I ask you, how are children supposed to understand it if I can't? I mean, who the heck is that Voldemort guy anyway? No. I'm not going to bother with the rest.
Me: ... right.

Finally, I just learned about KidLitCon from Jen Robinson's Book Page. Fellow bloggers might want to check it out.

July 21, 2011

Crush Control

By Jennifer Jabaley
Available now from Razorbill (Penguin)
Review copy

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The beginning of CRUSH CONTROL is winning. Willow returns to her hometown after years as her mother's assistant in Vegas. She knows how to hypnotize a crowd, but not how to interact with people her own age. And she desperately wants to fit in, because her hometown contains Max, the boy she stayed in touch with and secretly crushes on. The boy she hypnotized to be her best friend forever.

Then Willow meets Quinton, who is hot, available, intelligent, and athletic. Perhaps there are other guys out there. She also makes two good friends who have her back in all things romantic: TV addict Georgia and cheerleader Mia. Just when things are coming up Milhouse, Willow starts to use her rudimentary knowledge of hypnotism on her peers without thinking about the consequences.

To this point, I devoured CRUSH CONTROL. Seriously, I got through the first half in thirty minutes or less. Then the story becomes very conventional and Willow misplaces her brain. No really. She starts trusting in e-order witchcraft to solve her problems. Even that is not as frustrating as knowing where everything is going. You know how Quinton's condition will go wrong. You know how Mia's requests will go wrong. Jennifer Jabaley's voice is charming, but not enough to overcome the thin plot. (Nor is it enough to make the final plot twist anything other than lame. Max really needed more to do during the story.)

Strangely, I cannot remember anything in the first half that was noticeably unconventional. I think there was the potential for a more unusual story. Part of the problem is that Willow is the only dynamic character. Her mom and grandmother reconcile, but they're still the same people as when the story began.

CRUSH CONTROL is excellent summer reading. It's a book to sit back with and have a few laughs. There's nothing more to it than that. It could be any of a million beach books. But for a moment, I thought it might be something more rare.

July 9, 2011

The Book Cover Archive

I discovered this site last night and I've been pouring over it since. The only covers represented are lit fic, but they're beautiful. There also links to other great sites/blogs about covers.

Now we just need someone to take over for Jacket Whys for children's and YA covers since it hasn't been updated since October.

July 8, 2011

Harry Potter and the Work of Fans

The release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 has led to a variety of articles about HP fanworks.

This article in Parade is disappointingly slight. A group of fans created rules for a magic-less version of Quidditch. Their creation is now played at the intercollegiate level. It's an amazing story, but there are no details about how what the rules are.

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Lev Grossman, author of THE MAGICIANS, wrote an article for TIME based on the more controversial subject of fanfiction. He covers a great deal of information in a short amount of time and does it without being judgmental. It's the most balanced view of fanfiction I've seen in a major publication.

For anyone wondering why I don't hate fanfiction when I want to go into publishing, please remember: the people who write fanfiction are fans. They buy the books, they buy the dvd box set, they buy movie tickets, they buy shirts, they buy whatever their fandom has to offer. They make a work more profitable by spreading the word. Fans introduce fans to other fandoms. They're passionate about the original work, which is infinitely valuable.

July 7, 2011

June 30, 2011

Summer Reading, Part 1

Book CoverSummer reading suggestions for kids of all ages by Jo Walton (via Shelf Awareness)

This article caught my eye since the suggestions came from Abu Dhabi and I used to have family there. The suggested reading is standard but solid.

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On the YALSA blog you can find information about their Sync Audiobook giveaway. It's two books a week through August 1st. This weeks books are LITTLE BROTHER by Cory Doctorow and THE TRIAL by Franz Kafka.

Until midnight Greenwich Mean Time you can download an abridged version of Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. It's read by the fabulous Derek Jacobi, so I highly recommend dropping by AudioGO to get your copy.

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Open Road Media is having a sale on 50 titles through July 12th. Open Road Media does ebook originals, ebook versions of print books by independent publishers, and ebook editions of out-of-print works. Some titles of interest to younger readers are COUSINS by Virginia Hamilton and two Boxcar Children collections.

The Persistance of Memory

Book CoverAbout a month ago, I read Aimee Bender's THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE.

It's a brilliant book. The basic conceit is that Rose Edelstein tastes the emotions in food. Her mother is crushed by despair; a local baker is impatient and frustrated. One point is almost unbearably creepy, but it's instantly lifted by Rose's greatest discovery. Aimee Bender's writing is lovely and affecting, but my favorite part was the way she analyzed the human relationship to food. I, myself, am a stress baker. I love to bake. I love to take a recipe, make it, taste it, then fiddle around and improve it. If I'm having trouble thinking through something, I just whip up a batch of something delicious and give myself time to refresh.

Bender's story is not just about the secrets people keep. It's a great theme, but one that's common. It's about how we approach one of our greatest needs and desires. In what ways do we sustain ourselves?

I'm writing about it because of this blog post by Ann Summerville. Until I came across this post today, I'd forgotten there were no quotation marks. It didn't matter to me with THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE.

For me, the experience mattered more than the details.

Forget baking.  I love to read.

June 29, 2011

The Atlantic YA Series

A certain set of WSJ pieces (no I'm not linking) has the YA community up in arms, as well it should. The research is shoddy and the argument is ill-constructed. Perhaps the WSJ missed Harvard Magazine article about Lauren Mechling:

Lauren Mechling ’99 spent a week in the “young adult” corner of a New York City Barnes & Noble. She hadn’t been in that section in a decade, by her estimate, and what she found surprised her. The moralizing tone of the books she remembered from her own teenage reading was gone. “It seemed like the books were really being written for teenagers, not for their parents to buy them,” she says. “There was something kind of ‘Wild-West’-y about it.”

At the beginning of this month, The Atlantic published a four article series about YA today.

From Alyssa Rosenberg's first article:

Young adult fiction offers a promise to all of us that there is no suffering that's not worth it, no agony that goes unrewarded down the line. If you're a teenager, those promises might be false, but they're a temporary balm. And if you're an adult, too old to believe that the balance of life comes out even, you can suspend your disappointments as long as you're immersed in a story that promises something different.

Now that's someone who actually knows something about YA. Let's pass it on.

June 28, 2011

Interview with Deborah Cooke

PhotobucketDeborah Cooke is the author of the Dragon Diaries series. The first book, FLYING BLIND, came out this month and I reviewed it here. But some of ya'll might already be familiar due to her paranormal romance series, Dragonfire. She also writes as Claire Delacroix, has a large backlist available in various places, and spends her time doing crafty things like knitting.


1. FLYING BLIND is set in the same world as your adult paranormal romances (the Dragonfire series). Do you think the audiences for the two series will crossover?

I have no idea. I try not to think so much about marketing stuff - I'm just a writer, following the stories.

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2. You've written before about writing books in a series to be "the same, but different." Do you hold to that concept when writing books in different series, but the same world?

Well, sure. There has to be a thread of continuity through any author's work, in order for readers to know what to expect from that author. I think that happens automatically at a high level - there are certain kinds of stories and certain kinds of story elements that appeal to certain authors. I also, though, think that series in themselves have to have a stronger thread of continuity - so, all of the Dragonfire books are romances, for example, and each one features a dragon shape shifter hero. They feature a cast of continuing characters, occupying the same fictional worlds. These books also are sensual, but I think the action scenes (the dragon fights) are a big part of what makes them distinct for readers. On the other hand, if we look at Dragon Diaries, the books are structured as Zoë's journey, or coming of age. They're all written in first person, and have romantic and paranormal elements. Structurally, they're different from Dragonfire, even though they take place in the same world with a number of the same continuing characters. One thing I did think about in writing the YA series was the action, which so many readers expect from Dragonfire books. In a real sense, fighting is part of the dragon nature, so I thought there had to be action and fight scenes in the YA too. I'm not sure how typical that is in the broader YA market - I haven't read many YA's with a lot of fight scenes - but it's a continuity element from the Dragonfire world which I believe is a reader expectation.

Which is a long-winded way of saying "yes"!

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3. Your biography states that you read medieval vernacular literature, which tends to be overlooked even by English majors. What are some of your favorite works? Medieval writers tell stories quite differently from modern writers. (For one thing, there's no interest in explaining the psychology of the characters.) Do you think your interest in medieval fiction affects the way you write?

What's wonderful about medieval literature is that it shows the assumptions of contemporary society quite clearly. As you note, they don't explore psychology of the characters much, because it's a given to them that this kind of person would act in that kind of way in a certain situation. A knight, for example, presented with a beautiful lady who desires him, would hop into her bed. There's an ideal of behaviour or expectation that's a given. That's interesting, especially when the stories change or take a different focus. My favourites are the ones we'd now call paranormal or fantasy romances, and they first appear in Europe during the crusades - this is when real people are encountering foreigners (for lack of a better world) for the first time, and trying to make sense of their own reactions. Marie de France tells a story, for example, about a knight who shifts to a wolf. It's called Bisclavret. I think this is a thinly veiled story of an outsider - a foreigner - becoming a landholder and nobleman, and the distrust of some people toward him and his differences. (And of course, Marie told her stories at the Norman court, and the Normans were outsiders in England who ruled the country.) As a nobleman, this hero is a great favourite of the king, but his wife betrays him because of his nature. She thinks his nature is wicked and she's justified in stealing his clothes, taking his property and marrying another guy. The end of the story is very hard on the wife. The shifter hero gets his land and title back and the wife is both scarred and exiled - the implication being that outsiders can be noble and heroic, they can be property holders, but marriage with the locals probably won't work out well for them.

I do think that medieval stories affect my own writing. There's a very strong thread of morality in these stories, of the importance of acting honorably, and there's also a lot of action and humour. The stories are entertaining, but often leave the reader with something to think about. I like that balance, too.

4. Why dragons?

I just think dragons are so cool. And a hero who could shift to a dragon would be one sexy beast, as far as I'm concerned.

5. Your blog is titled "Alive and Knitting," making one of your hobbies clear. How did you get into knitting? What's the most complicated project you've finished?

My grandmother taught me to knit when I was about four. It's one craft that I come back to over and over again. I think that's because it's so flexible - once you understand the structure of knitting stitches, so much is possible. Kind of like words and stories.

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6. In addition to FLYING BLIND, you've recently released DARKFIRE KISS and you've been rereleasing your backlist on Smashwords. How do you promote several books at once?

Well, I don't! Promotion isn't really my best trick. I'd rather write! I do my blog and also keep my Facebook pages - there's one for Deborah Cooke and one for Claire Delacroix - plus update my websites. I'm indebted to Teen Book Scene for setting up this blog tour for me - otherwise, I wouldn't have known where to start. As for the re-released backlist, that's mostly a favour for readers so I haven't done much promo at all for those books. A lot of those older titles are unavailable in print and were never available digitally. Some fans want to read them all - when I have the rights and the digital file, it's pretty easy to pop the book up on Kindle and Smashwords, to make it available to people.

June 26, 2011 will launch later this summer. Hachette, Simon & Schuster, and Penguin partnered to found the site, with AOL providing advertising. But it is a publisher neutral site - in six months, nobody at Hachette, Simon & Schuster, or Penguin will be involved. The site will also launch with books from all publishers.

Bookish is a response to the problem of discovery. With many bookstores closing or devoting floor space to ereaders, it has become harder to find new books. Bookish's central feature is a recommendation engine based on factors like content and writing style. (In contrast, Amazon's engine is based on what other people purchase.)  While books will be sold on Bookish, it is not an attempt for publishers to become booksellers.

Bookish will also contain Q&A's, book trailers, and other multimedia content.

I've heard mixed thoughts on the site, but I think it will be well worth checking out.  You can go there now and sign up to be notified when the site launches.

June 25, 2011

Review: Last Night at Chateau Marmont

By Lauren Weisberger
Available now from Atria
Review copy

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If you've read a book by Lauren Weisberger before, you know the basics of the experience. It will be set in New York; it will deal with the difficulty of balancing careers and personal lives. Her books also have a nice authoritative tone - you feel like you're getting real dish.

Right now HBO is developing a miniseries about the history of Chateau Marmont. For those who haven't heard of it - I hadn't before Weisberger's LAST NIGHT AT CHATEAU MARMONT - it is a hotel that has been hosting celebrities since the 60's. In the case of the novel, the celebrity is Julian Alter.

Brooke Alter is a nutritionist who has been supporting her husband's musical career. They can only afford a small apartment, where they live with their adorably named dog Walter Alter.  And it pays off when Julian gets a deal with Sony. Soon he's appearing on Leno . . . and both of them are appearing in the tabloids. As her husband leaves home more and more often to make appearances, Brooke feels increasingly stressed and isolated.

Weisberger sets up LAST NIGHT AT CHATEAU MARMONT well. The book takes awhile to reach the promised stay at the Chateau, but that gives the reader time to see Brooke and Julian's relationship before it is strained. When Julian is at his worst, Brooke's continuing hope for their relationship is understandable.

The insider tone was briefly ruined for me. The characters go to the Hula Hut in Austin . . . which is neither a dive restaurant nor famous for its queso. It's a mid-priced Tex-Mex/Polynesian fusion restaurant on Lake Austin. It makes me question how well other locales are described.

But it didn't bother me too long. LAST NIGHT AT CHATEAU MARMONT is funny and quick. Things do reach a low point, but I would not say it gets as depressing as some chick lit.  Ultimately, the book is about Brooke and Julian's marriage and whether it can survive unwanted celebrity and the rock-and-roll lifestyle.

(And can I add that it was super cool to be in New York when the state legalized gay marriage?)

June 11, 2011

Review: Flying Blind

By Deborah Cooke
Available now from NAL Trade (Penguin)
Review copy

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I can be a stick in the mud sometimes, so I'm starting this review with a PSA moment. When someone is threatening to destroy your personal property and asks you what you're going to do about it, you say, "I'm going to make you pay for the replacement." You can fairly easily, in fact. You know a lawyer. It may be the parent of a band/choir/orchestra/whatever friend or someone who attends your religious institution of choice. You know one. Explain the situation and ask him or her to send a letter on official letterhead. People react when they get a letter from a lawyer. NEXT, AND VERY IMPORTANT: If someone breaks your face, you do not accept him or her telling the teacher you fell down. You press charges. Let me repeat that. YOU. PRESS. CHARGES.

Onto the story!

FLYING BLIND starts at Zoë Sorensson's school. The popular girls bullying her friend pushes her to shapeshift for the first time. Unfortunately, she's not supposed to let people know she's a dragon shapeshifter. Fortunately, her dad decides to punish her by sending her to boot camp. Boot camp is where the young Pyr go to figure out how to use their powers. Zoë really needs it since she's the Wyvern: the only female shapeshifter, who is supposed to be able to see the past and the future. But mostly she wants to go because Nick will be there.

There are several spanners in the works, however. There's Isabelle, a Pyr's adopted human daughter, who is beautiful, sophisticated, and also attending boot camp. There's Jared, Nick's human cousin, who looks like a pirate and flirts with Zoë. There's also Adrian, an outside Pyr who doesn't fit in, but does defend Zoë against her friends' expectations.

Zoë and the other boot campers felt like true, young teens. They're petty and impulsive. Sometimes their inability to just state their feelings or to try to get along grates, but luckily, there is an explanation for the worst behavior. I also liked the romantic storyline. Zoë wrote a story in her head about what her life would be like, and now she's having to face reality.

The worldbuilding is disappointing. Each scene has a good sense of place, but there's no sense of the larger world. The kids are all excited about winning the newest messenger, which seems to be something like an iPod Touch. Is this a way to get around using trademarked names, or is it some kind of future technology? The scenes at school and in the library seem contemporary, not futuristic. While humans don't know dragon shifters exist, they do know that dragons exist. How would a world with dragons develop differently than ours? What attitude do humans who aren't in the know have toward dragons?

FLYING BLIND is a fine character-driven fantasy, but Deborah Cooke made a few missteps. I am tempted to read her adult Dragonfire novels as well as future Dragon Diaries. I would like to find out more about the world, and hope she chose not to write about it here because it's in a different book.

June 6, 2011

Some Things Strike You Suddenly

When updating my packing list today, I realized being in New York this summer means I can probably attend some of those signings in New York that always sound so exciting. Anyone know of some good ones I can tentatively put on my schedule?

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I also just realized that the Summer 2011 issue of Subterranean Magazine is a YA issue. I think I'm most excited to read Alaya Dawn Johnson's story, "Their Changing Bodies," since I loved her contribution to ZOMBIES VS. UNICORNS.

June 5, 2011

The Opposite of In My Mailbox

I bought two books this week: the Oprah's Book Collection edition of A TALE OF TWO CITIES/GREAT EXPECTATIONS and S. M. Stirling's A TAINT IN THE BLOOD. I also received a big box of books to review for TGTBTU. I'm not writing all those down, but I will tell you I am currently reading MAGIC SLAYS by Ilona Andrews.

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When putting together my box, Sybil called me. She tries to tailor the boxes to the reviewers, since it's in everybody's best interests for the reviewers to like the books. She asked me about Lyn Benedict and I said I'd never heard of her. Then I went home and saw GHOSTS & ECHOES on my bookshelf. I'd bought it for a dollar at my dad's Borders before it went out of business.

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Then, I was talking to my mom about Sarah Pekkanen after she read my copy of SKIPPING A BEAT. She mentioned OPPOSITE OF ME, which I've never read. She pointed out that the library has two copies, which I already knew. But then, when reorganizing part of my room today, I noticed OPPOSITE OF ME in a stack of books.

I have reached the point when I no longer remember what books I own.  In some ways, I can't believe it took so long.

June 3, 2011


Oddly, in the years I've been writing this blog, the spam has not been uncontrollable. I was worried, with the prominently posted e-mail and such. Then, about a month ago, I started getting at least 30 spam messages a day. Luckily my spam folder is catching most of them. I tried setting my controls to be more strict, but then an unacceptable number of real e-mails were caught by the filter. So if I take a little longer to respond to you than usual, I apologize.

May 31, 2011

Trawling the Net

In addition to doing my homework, I've been reading Doug LeMoine's blog, which has been around for a ridiculously long time. A friend linked it on Facebook. Specifically, she linked to where he'd typed up English Sentences Without Overt Grammatical Subjects, a satirical linguistics paper that is NSFW. (His actual entry about pornolinguistics is here.) Since I like circular things, he has posted about Facebook grammar, from the era when status updates had to be in the third person.

I've been doing other things too.  Just thought ya'll might find this one interesting.

May 28, 2011

Review: The Invasion

By K. A. Applegate
Available now from Scholastic
Review copy

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I started reading the Animorphs shortly before the eleventh book was released. I was in third grade then, and too old for the series when the last book came out. But I was still following the series, because the Animorphs were my favorite. I drove my parents crazy whenever a new one came out. (I ordered most through Scholastic book clubs, but that wasn't always possible.)

Since I've been saving mine in a box to give to future generations of my family, the re-release couldn't have come at a better time. My eldest baby cousin is just now old enough to read them and now she can buy her own copies. Based on THE INVASION, Scholastic has not updated the books. The characters are too young to have cell phones. Most references to video games are made-up, whereas most pop culture references are to enduring stuff like Star Wars or Star Trek. I can mostly think of future references that will have aged (Alanis Morisette, NIN), but will still be understandable. I hope Scholastic continues to leave the books as they were.

The story begins when Jake and his best friend Marco meet up with three other kids at the mall - his cousin Rachel, her friend and his crush Cassie, and odd-man-out Tobias. They decide to go home together (smartly) and to cut through a construction site (dumbly). There they meet a dying alien who gives them the power to morph into any animal they touch, for two hours at a time. But he gives them this power because Earth is being infiltrated by parasites that will enslave humanity. Five normal junior high schoolers are now the only ones with the ability to save the world. They can't trust that anyone isn't already infected - not their families, not their teachers, not the police.

What parents should know about the Animorphs is that it is a dark series. I remembered how dark the books got at the end, when the kids are suffering the effects of waging a long-term guerilla war, but forgotten that they were never light. It's easy to forget, since the books are extremely funny and full of absurd situations. In THE INVASION, a good person dies within the first three chapters. The main characters are constantly in mortal peril. In their first engagement with the evil Yeerks, the main characters fail in their objectives. Jake, Marco, Rachel, Cassie, and Tobias accomplish amazing things throughout the series, but they're always at least one step behind their enemies.

Reading THE INVASION reminded me of how awesome this series is. There's excellent character development and lots of adventure. Kids with non-nuclear home lives are affected by their circumstances, but never pitied or ridiculed. Animal lovers and budding sci-fi fans will be especially intrigued by the series.

Since the Animorphs have been previously published, fans on a budget can readily find the books at secondhand stores.

May 27, 2011

Review: The Hypnotist

By M. J. Rose
Available now from Mira (Harlequin)
Review copy

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M. J. Rose's Reincarnationist series is popular, but I've remained skeptical. I find reincarnation kind of goofy. Objectively, reincarnation is far less goofy than vampires or fairies, which I like. I prefer to treat it like magic instead of something serious, however, because if I take it seriously I find it kind of horrifying. But I did enjoy Kirsten Miller's THE ETERNAL ONES, so I decided to give Rose's THE HYPNOTIST a chance.

I have not read the first two books in the series, but I caught up pretty quickly. Lucian Glass is an FBI agent specializing in Art Crime, who is obsessed with proving that Malachai Samuels is a criminal. Samuels is a member of the Phoenix Foundation and dedicated to proving that reincarnation exists. In order to do so, he is trying to find Memory Tools, mystical objects created long ago to help people remember past lives. I found most of Rose's approach to reincarnation palatable, but I'm still giggling over the Memory Tools (which include a "fragrant pot of wax").

At the same time, there are a variety of odd things happening at the Met. There's a legal battle over the ownership of a dilapidated statue of Hypnos. Paintings that had been bequeathed to the museum, then stolen, are now being returned - in pieces. The construction crew on the new Islam wing keeps losing workers. And all of these things are possibly related.

The subtitle proclaims THE HYPNOTIST to be a novel of suspense. Rose takes an approach I'm not overly fond of - you know whodunit from the beginning, but you don't know why. (Well, there are a ton of crimes in THE HYPNOTIST. You know who done most.) At the same time, discovering why is most of the fun. Rose keeps the pages turning, which is the most important thing for me in the suspense genre. As I said, there are a lot of crimes to explore. Rose thankfully doesn't linger over the terrible things that happen to her characters. The violence is never described in loving detail. At the same time, much of THE HYPNOTIST is in villain point-of-views. It sometimes feels icky.

Most of the crimes in THE HYPNOTIST revolve around art and antiquities theft, which I find very interesting. Cultural heritage is an ephemeral but powerful thing. I might've enjoyed the book more without the reincarnation aspect, but I still found THE HYPNOTIST to be a good read. The plot is tight and driving and the good guy characters are likeable enough.

May 26, 2011

You Are What You Read

Scholastic's new social networking venture is There is a children's version available here and teacher guides for younger readers and older readers.

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The main thrust of the site is sharing your Bookprint: five books that shaped your life. Personally, I'm still working on mine. I know WATERSHIP DOWN by Richard Adams, THE TRICKSTERS by Margaret Mahy, and THE VISCOUNT WHO LOVED ME by Julia Quinn deserve to be on it. But then I think, perhaps not those. As for the other two, there is some fierce fighting going on among my bookshelves. (I can see THE SCARLET LETTER and A TALE OF TWO CITIES* gearing up to have an Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny.)

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Not that I think my Bookprint is that interesting, compared to the variety of people who have contributed to the site. Users include Tom Hanks, Oprah Winfrey, and Suzanne Collins. Here are two top ten lists generated by the site:

The 10 most influential books picked by adults on

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

2. The Holy Bible

3. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

4. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

5. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

6. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

7. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

8. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

9. The Giver by Lois Lowry

10. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

The 10 most influential books picked by kids on

1. Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

3. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

6. Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan

7. Heroes of Olympus: The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

8. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days by Jeff Kinney

9. The 39 Clues: The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan

10. Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

View a video about the site here.

*Please note that the linked edition is $2.24 at Amazon.

May 23, 2011

Review: Hotel No Tell

By Daphne Uviller
Available now from Bantam
Review copy

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I didn't really know what to expect with HOTEL NO TELL. I hadn't read the first book about Zephyr Zuckerman, SUPER IN THE CITY. But the press release promised comedy and the cover struck me as a modern update on noir. I'd just seen Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, and had visions in my head of a funny update and deconstruction of noir detective tropes.

Not so much.

And yeah, I can be harsh on books when they aren't what I was expecting. But I liked HOTEL NO TELL and identified with Zephyr almost immediately.

HOTEL NO TELL gives about equal weight to Zephyr's life with her family and friends as to her case. She recently broke up with long time boyfriend Gregory, because he wanted kids and she didn't. Everyone is acting like she's silly to break up a good thing for a stage she'll grow out of. Since I don't want kids of my own, I know how pushy people can be when you bring up that fact. (Even my family does it, and they know I have no maternal instincts.) She also has to help two close friends with their personal crises: one isn't adapting to suburbia and the other . . . well, people she comes in contact with have a tendency to die in freak accidents.

As for the case? Now a junior detective with the New York City Special Investigations Commission, Zephyr gets her first chance to go undercover. $100,000 has been embezzled from a small hotel. Shortly after going undercover, Zephyr finds the owner's nephew in a customer's room, dying from an Ambien overdose. As with any good detective story, the two seemingly unrelated cases are intimately related.

Daphne Uviller's prose style didn't capture my attention at first, but I liked her vocabulary. After a couple of chapters I managed to get into the rhythm of HOTEL NO TELL. From there the story was fast-paced and funny, if rarely hard-boiled. Zephyr's world is somewhat cartoonish, but there's a strong emotional core. I certainly intend to spend more time in her world.

May 11, 2011

Read Every Day Charity Auction

Scholastic's Read Every Day program is hosting a charity auction to raise funds for Reading Is Fundamental and Reach Out and Read, two literacy programs that recently lost federal funding. The auction is here and features original artwork by twelve children's artists. Lots close on June 5, so don't wait to long to bid if you're interested.

For those interested in owning one of the works but unable to afford the original, poster-sized reproductions will be sold after the auction closes. The proceeds from these sales will also benefit RIF and Reach Out and Read.

Artists include Mary GrandPré (Harry Potter, pictured above), Norman Bridwell (Clifford), Bruce Degen (Magic School Bus), and nine others.


Book CoverIn other Scholastic news, the first two Animorphs novels by K. A. Applegate are now available for purchase. You don't even know how crazy I was about this series.  You will soon . . .

But the thing you should know is that everyone is in danger. Yeah.  Even you.

ETA: 4/29/12:  Reach Out and Read has a three-star rating from Charity Navigator.  Same for Reading is Fundamental.

May 10, 2011

Conflicted Reviews: Wither and Nickel Plated

I haven't been reviewing much lately. One problem is that I keep reading books I'm deeply conflicted about.

Book Cover

WITHER by Lauren DeStefano showed up at my house unexpectedly. I was ridiculously excited and started it immediately. A number of bloggers that I respect reviewed it well. I could soon see why they were enamored. Rhine has been married to Linden, a rich young man. However, she does not love him and was kidnapped from her home with her brother. She wants to return to her previous life, before she dies in four years. There's a strong emotional core to the story. And it's a good story.

But the premise is awful. Men die at twenty-five and women at twenty, due to genetic engineering. Yep, an entire generation was modified at once and they all die at exactly the same ages. If the science wasn't ludicrous enough, people react in strange ways. There are still older generations alive to keep things running. But Rhine's generation isn't going to school and going into research science and medicine. Nope, society totally collapsed and it's all rich guys marrying pretty girls. (Lots of women get killed. Why, if you want to propagate the species, would you kill women left and right?)

So, over a month later, I still haven't finished WITHER. I can see why others find it compelling, but the story can't overcome the premise, for me. Lauren DeStefano invests energy into the setting. It is the Chemical Garden trilogy, after all. Normally I would love that emphasis on setting. But in this instance, it kept forcing me to confront my issues with WITHER. I'm too interested in genetics to let it roll off.

Book Cover

Another novel I've been having trouble with is the more obscure NICKEL PLATED by Aric Davis. Nickel is a 12-year-old runaway who makes his money as a detective - and a drug dealer and blackmailer. The blackmail is fine, since he's blackmailing pedophiles and turning them in. The drug dealing is less fine, but at least it's only marijuana. Still enough to get the poor kid he has selling it in trouble. (I don't just mean with the law. I mean with other people who might consider the high school their territory.) But a good detective does need some gray shading, especially in a noir-style novel.

Nickel has just been hired by a teen girl to find her younger sister. The girl was kidnapped, but her parents thought she just ran away. Interspersed with the mystery are scenes from Nickel's day-to-day life and infrequent explanations of his past. Pretty intriguing stuff until he agrees to help a woman launder counterfeit money.

Not cool. There's a reason some governments execute people for counterfeiting. It kills. It destroys economies and the poor are always hurt the worst. That's not a shade of gray. It's wrong. And the text doesn't acknowledge how wrong it is. There's no hint that we're supposed to see Nickel as anything other than a struggling hero. It really turned me off a book I was enjoying. The reviews on Amazon are good, so clearly others were more charmed by Nickel's ambiguity in NICKEL PLATED.

There you go. I just keep coming across books with stories I love but other aspects I find repellant.

May 7, 2011

Free Comic Book Day

It's Free Comic Book Day! The AV Club has deets on which books will be given out this year. The store locator is here. So go find a shop near you and try out some comics for free.

April 29, 2011


SUPER WHY! is a free app from PBS Kids. Well, it's free right now. At some point in the future it will cost $2.99.

So why am I recommending SUPER WHY!? It's a children's reading app, that's why!

The description bullet points:
-Play four original games that help build literacy skills
-Practice the alphabet, rhyming, spelling, writing, and reading
-Interact with main characters from the TV series SUPER WHY!
-Learn from your mistakes in a fun way
-Please note that this application requires an additional 17MB download

There aren't many reviews yet, but so far reviews are good. It looks like a fun set of games and it's hard to go wrong with free.

April 28, 2011

Celebrate Día De Los Niños in San Antonio (or anywhere)!

From the press release:

REFORMA, the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, and Scholastic will host a FREE "Dia de los Niños Celebration" with music, dance, storytelling, crafts, food, and a free book give-away, courtesy of The Caravan. The Caravan offers storytelling, family literacy activities, and free books for kids. The celebration also includes dancing by the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center Folklorico dancers, crafts presented by various organizations, and refreshments for all. Join us to celebrate children, families, books, and reading!

Friday, April 29th
5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.
Guadalupe Theater
1301 Guadalupe Street
San Antonio, Texas

2011 is the 15th anniversary of Día de los niños/Día de los libros. Check out the ALA page about Día for more resources, such as a map of events across the country and a list of books. If you've never celebrated Día before, this is a good year to start.

Review: 5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth

By Matthew Inman (the Oatmeal)
Available now from Andrews McMeel Publishing
Review copy

5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth (And Other Useful Guides)

Okay, I often don't talk about what format I read a book in. I read the epub version of 5 VERY GOOD REASONS TO PUNCH A DOLPHIN IN THE MOUTH, which is relevant because the resolution wasn't all that awesome. You couldn't really zoom, which meant some bits were almost impossible to read. Judging by the reviews on Amazon, that hasn't been fixed. So printed is the way to go. Not that I expect many people to be more interested in the e-version of this. It's easier to browse through the random comics with a book or on the site than in an ebook.

I was excited for 5 VERY GOOD REASONS TO PUNCH A DOLPHIN IN THE MOUTH because I'm a big fan of the Oatmeal, author Matthew Inman's humor site. There are great infographics about such things as grammar, vocabulary, cheese, and coffee. There are also fun quizzes and some delightfully surreal comics, such as the eponymous work. It's nice to have some favorites collected and at hand.

At the same time, when idly browsing on the internet I never noticed how often Inman jokes about hookers. Not particularly good jokes, either. It got kind of uncomfortable after awhile.

Between being underwhelmed by the format and overwhelmed by (dead) hooker jokes, I was less impressed by 5 VERY GOOD REASONS TO PUNCH A DOLPHIN IN THE MOUTH. I'll continue to check the website, but I don't think I'm going to purchase the book for myself or as a gift for friends.


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