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


Bookish.com 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.


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