February 28, 2011

Review: Please Ignore Vera Dietz

If you're wondering who won the preorder contest, I kept that secret since I kept track of it by e-mails. The SOLITARY winners were Mad Scientist of Steam Punkery and Book Reviews and Jessi E. of The Elliot Review.

Vera Dietz Please Ignore
By A. S. King
Available now from Alfred A. Knopf (Random House)
Printz Honor Book
Review copy
Read my review of DUST OF 100 DOGS and Amy's guest blog

I read quite a bit of this novel in the back of my car. Fitting, since Vera Dietz spends quite a bit of time in her car like a good pizza delivery person. (She also takes shots of vodka like a bad pizza delivery person.)

What to say? Here's what I didn't like about the book:

Jenny Flick is mean and cruel and evil and completely flat. It makes sense, since neither Vera nor co-narrating (from beyond the grave) Charlie Kahn have any reason to make an effort to see her good side. At the same time, she's one of the main external antagonists. Vera deserves a better enemy. A. S. King crafted a sharp, funny, and tragic heroine. It seems almost laughable that such a fully realized character is pitted against a deranged bully.

But it does fit, at the same time. Jenny Flick is not the main antagonist, though she would like to be. Vera's her own worst enemy. Her love is the best weapon she can turn against herself. And there are worse things in her life - and there were worse things in Charlie's - than Jenny Flick.

Here's what I liked about the book:

The structure. (It reminds me of THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS by Arundhati Roy.)

God of Small Things

The flowcharts. Chart jokes are always funny.

The black humor. There's a running joke about a pickle that will break your heart.

The heart breaking. This isn't a maudlin, Lurlene McDaniel, saddest little cancer patient story. You know Charlie is dead, you know he was on a downhill slide when he died. You know that. King breaks you slowly by showing just how close he came to making it despite his few chances in life. She breaks you with the knowledge that Vera might not make it, that she might end up like Charlie despite having so much potential.

Smart people are excellent at doing dumb things because they think they know better.

(Perhaps, sometimes, they want to do dumb things.)

PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ is one of the reasons YA is such an exciting genre.  It's an example of why writing for young adults shouldn't be underestimated.  It should already be on your shelf, nestled by gems like DANGEROUS NEIGHBORS and GOING BOVINE.

February 27, 2011

I Eat Words and Leah Cliffords Sponsor Books for Kids

A Touch MortalToday, Kristi of The Story Siren posted about Britney and Farrah of I Eat Words and their Books for Kids campaign. Debut author Leah Clifford just sponsored them to help them extend their campaign. All you have to do to help? Like the video below. You can also donate directly through their PayPal or sponsor them for more "likes."

Kristi's post that started it all
Phoenix Children's Hospital Donation Guidelines (Child Wish List)
Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children Donation Guidelines (Toys, Books, and Games Needed)

If you have physical books you want to donate yourself, don't forget that you can donate books to hospitals and shelters in your area. Also, don't forget that Half Price Books's Half Pint Library Drive runs through March 31st this year. You can donate new and gently used children's books at your local Half Price Books.

In My Mailbox

From the library:
BEFORE I FALL by Lauren Oliver


BLISS by Lauren Myracle
SNAKEHEAD by Anthony Horowitz
CROCODILE TEARS by Anthony Horowitz

Bad Apple

BAD APPLE by Laura Ruby
CLOCKWORK ANGEL by Cassandra Clare

The Mockingbirds


Skipping a Beat: A Novel

Received for review:
SKIPPING A BEAT by Sarah Pekkanen

February 26, 2011

The Tragedy of Werewolves

Clare B. Dunkle's tour continues!  I reviewed BY THESE TEN BONES on Tuesday and now Clare is here to talk about why she's fascinated by werewolves. She has a unique way of approaching the folklore.  You can also find her at Mundie Mom's on Monday. You can also check out her interview with the Ravenous Reader.


Shapeshifting may have its dangers, but I’ve always thought of tragic werewolves as the “true” werewolves. These are the werewolves, remembered in folktales across Europe, who become killers through no fault of their own. Such werewolves have either been bitten or, in Italian tales, have been born on Christmas Day, and doomed by this accident of nature, they are a massacre waiting to happen. Sooner or later, changed into wolves, they kill the people they love best. According to some folktales, they kill their parents, but most often, the victim is a young bride.

My lifelong fascination with the werewolf has paralleled my lifelong dread of something disturbingly real: the deadly disease of rabies. In both cases, the fatal affliction strikes at random. In both cases, it may be transferred through a bite. In both cases, the victim changes from a loving human being into a menacing monster ready to injure or kill. (Even in our sanitized modern times, rabid humans must be tied down in restraints.) Rabies and lycanthropy are two sides of the same coin.

As a small child, I was afraid of rabies. The United States went through a spike in animal rabies cases when I was in grade school, so adults warned us children in the direst tones about the dangers of this illness. We heard about rabid skunks and bats and occasionally even saw them; I once spotted a skunk roaming about in the daytime, a sure sign it was rabid according to my mother. (This isn’t true, but it does point out that not all folklore is ancient.) And, once or twice a year, my classmates and I heard about some poor boy or girl who had made the mistake of picking up a bat or playing with a kitten and who had gone on to die in agony. Rabies stories produced in me the same morbid thrill that werewolf stories had produced in my distant ancestors.

Family history brought this disease uncomfortably close. Many times, my grandfather regaled us with the story about the day his favorite dog had turned rabid. Grandpapa was the seventh son of a seventh son, a poor sharecropper’s child. “As the youngest boy,” he would tell us, “I had to get up first to light the fire, and every day, our big shepherd cross would be so glad to see someone downstairs, he would be all over me. That morning, he jumped up and licked me all over my face. And that afternoon, he went mad.”

I can still feel now the shiver of horror I felt as a small child. In my mind, I could see it all: the beloved pet, now savage and drooling, ready to tear his family apart. The stern patriarch, my great-grandfather, with his rifle in his hands. And then: the questions. The realization. The worry and fear. Grandpapa has been directly exposed—his eyes, nose, and mouth so many gateways to the dog’s saliva. In that time and place, they are powerless to save him. All they can do is wait.

To this small child, already an avid reader of folklore, that story was mythic. It buried itself into my consciousness beside the stories of Cuchulain and Tam Lin. It held all the terror and passion of Beth Gelert. My own grandfather had almost become a werewolf.

By These Ten Bones

Consequently, it was this family story that shaped my thinking most when I set out to write BY THESE TEN BONES. The werewolf in my story isn’t a monster, he’s a victim—a patient with a deadly disease. The unseen pathogen within him provokes violence wherever he goes. To be a werewolf is to be infected with madness and death.

February 22, 2011

Review: By These Ten Bones

What have I been doing lately?  Cooking, mostly.

Here, have an authentic Scottish recipe (not):

1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
3 tbsp sugar
1/2 c butter

Preheat oven to 350.
Mix ingredients with a pastry cutter (or fork) until crumbly mixture is formed.
Knead by hand into a smooth ball.
Form into an 8" circle. Cut into 16 wedges before cooking.
Sprinkly with large grain or colored sugar if desired.
Bake at 325 for 25-30 minutes.  (Center should be set when done.)
Cut into wedges again while still warm.

By Clare B. Dunkle
Review copy
Available now from Square Fish (Macmillan)
Read my review of THE HOUSE OF DEAD MAIDS and Clare's guest blog

By These Ten Bones

Maddie lives in a small village in Scotland, where the people call themselves Christians but older traditions still have a strong hold.  At the market, she meets a silent boy who carves wood.  She's instantly drawn to him.  And that's before he ever talks to her.   Then an evil presence raids the village and Carver is hurt.

Clare B. Dunkle's language is simple and direct, most of the time.  She becomes more romantic when describing environments, but never reaches purple.  Her choice of diction is well-suited to BY THESE TEN BONES's setting - and the setting is definitely a strong point.  A village wherein everyone knows each other is claustrophobic to a boy with a secret.  The people of the village believe more than one thing, but the older religion might encompass a way to save Carver. 

I liked Maddie.  She's not a heroine who falls in love with danger.  She has no notion there might be danger until she's pretty far gone.  But when danger comes, she steps up.  First, she researches in order to discover the best course of action.  Then she acts, knowing the possible consequences of her actions.  She's determined to help people, even when she has reasons to dislike them.

Carver is a bit harder to like, since he keeps quiet most of the time.  At the same time, he clearly returns Maddie's affections.  He also does his best not to hurt anyone and resists Maddie's more foolhardy plans.  He's a good love interest.

BY THESE TEN BONES does its best to stand out from the paranormal pack.  While the love story is somewhat familiar, I do think it succeeds based on the strength of the setting.  But maybe I just enjoy a good werewolf story.

February 10, 2011

RIP Brian Jacques

Brian Jacques died this weekend at the age of 71.  Tor.com blogger Matt London wrote this lovely blog post about his own personal reflections on the author and his works and for the community to comment with their own memories.

Jacques is not the first author I've loved to have died since I started this blog.  It feels a little rude to make a post commemorating him when I did not do the same for them.  But I have a memory I want to share, so I'm writing this post anyway.

Mossflower (Redwall, Book 2)

The first Redwall book I read was MOSSFLOWER.  My friend Xu gave it to me as a birthday gift.  A gift for my twelfth birthday, in fact.  A birthday notable because it occured a little less than three months after my parents' divorce.  At the time, I knew that my mom was going to move with my sister and I to be closer to her family.  Only one of my friends knew, and I asked her to keep it a secret.

From kindergarten to sixth grade I went to school with the same people.  I had no idea how to tell them that I was leaving.  I had no idea how to leave them.  My mom wanted to move closer to her support network, but at the same time it was going to pull me away from my network.

In MOSSFLOWER, Martin the Warrior comes to the Mossflower Woods.  He develops and leads a resistance to the wildcat Tsarmina, the wicked tyrant ruling Kotir Castle.  It reminded me of my favorite book, WATERSHIP DOWN.  Like many other books I read during that time, it also reminded me that moving could be a good thing.  Homes wait in unexpected places, if you're willing to put in the effort to create a home.

Plus, nothing could have been more distracting than hunting through the school and city libraries to read the rest of the books in order and competing with my best friend to read them first.

February 7, 2011

Lisa Simpson: Wanted for Reading

I love Tumblr.  Who can deny the awesome that is Hot Guys Reading Books or Women Reading Comics in Public?  (Although the latter is, sadly, defunct.)  Okay, I go to this one for lovely bookish pictures too.

Simpsons Comics, #81 - Lisa Simpson's Book Club

But just a few days a new and exciting Tumblr began: The Lisa Simpson Book Club.  Go forth and find out what Lisa's been reading all these years.  If you have a screencap of Lisa reading, send it in!

February 3, 2011

More Disappointing News: The "100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader" List

A list celebrating 100 feminist YA books?  Sounds good.  Written by BitchMedia, which isn't the powerhouse it once was, but still the producer of an awesome magazine? 
Tender Morsels

But then people started complaining in the list's comments and then books were replaced.  John Scalzi wrote a nice summary of the problem.  Scott Westerfeld wrote a longer argument that further explains how BitchMedia acted unprofessionally.  Karen Healey provided her own list, on which she has read all the books she's promoting.

Guardian of the Dead

Be sure to check out the links because there is excellent discussion going on.  At the very least, people are talking about feminist YA and what feminism means, which isn't a terrible thing at all.

February 2, 2011

Mourning, Maybe Moving On

I grew up without Borders.  I never lived near one until I was thirteen.  I didn't like the chain at first - the selection wasn't as good as Barnes & Noble, Bookstop, or most of the other stores I went to.  Then they started offering coupons over e-mail.  Then they started a free rewards program.  Then I started getting Borders gift cards due to a credit card cashback program.  Borders earned my loyalty by allowing me to buy more books for my money.  (It was also the closest bookstore and the employees kept offering me free coffee and cookie samples every time I went, which also generates a lot of goodwill.)

Now, Borders Group Inc. has announced that it may file for bankruptcy as early as next week. 

I may support independent bookstores, but I loved Borders.  So here's to the memories, good and bad. I can only hope that my Borders isn't one of the ones that closes its doors.

Coleman-Lochner and Keehner's article on Borders's impending bankruptcy closes with this sentence: "The retailer has also been slow to embrace digital reading, which continues to gain popularity with consumers."

I'm in the middle of embracing digital reading myself (more on that later) and my ereader is the Apple iPad.  Which means that my welcoming embrace may soon be scorned.  Apple, for all the beauty of its products, loves to micromanage content.  Now the app policy is changing so that content purchased elsewhere might not be accessible on the iPad. Considering I own several Kindle ebooks that I bought on my laptop, I am less than pleased by this news.

Dreaming Anastasia: A Novel of Love, Magic, and the Power of Dreams

In good news, right now you can download a free copy of DREAMING ANASTASIA from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or iBooks to celebrate the release of Joy Preble's HAUNTED.


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